HL Deb 12 May 1988 vol 496 cc1285-354

House again in Committee.

Clause 47 [Powers of the governing body]:

Amendment No. 208 not moved.

Clause 47 agreed to.

Clause 48 [Articles of government]:

Lord Tordoff moved Amendment No. 208ZA: Page 42, line 23, after ("arrangements") insert ("to be subject to the jurisdiction of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration").

The noble Lord said: My noble friend Lord McNair, who is smitten with the "dreaded lurgi", has asked me to move the amendment on his behalf. In moving the amendment, I understand that it will be convenient to discuss also Amendments Nos. 208AA and 281E.

The purpose of Amendment No. 208ZA is to ensure that the parents of children at grant-maintained schools retain the right to complain to ombudsmen about admissions and exclusions procedures.

Parents who wish to complain about a decision of a local education authority or voluntary school governing body about the admission of a pupil to, or the exclusion of a pupil from, a school have a right to complain to the local government ombudsman. This right will be removed when the school becomes a grant-maintained school.

The articles of government of a grant-maintained school require the governing body to make arrangements for appeals on these matters, but excludes any right of appeal over the method of disposal of the complaint by one of the ombudsmen. It is our belief that the most appropriate ombudsman to use, given that the grant-maintained schools will be directly funded by the DES, is the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. The amendment will give parents similar rights to parents of children attending local authority schools, which seems reasonable.

Amendment No. 208AA has the purpose to extend the scope of grant-maintained school complaints procedures required by the articles of government to all matters concerning the conduct of the school. The articles of government in regard to grant-maintained schools in Clause 48(5)(e) require grant-maintained schools to make arrangements, for the consideration and disposal of complaints relating to any matter concerning the curriculum followed within the school". However, there is no reference to any other aspect of school policy. Although it is possible to interpret "curriculum" in a tautological sense—indeed, I understand that there is a dispute on the meaning of that matter that may now have been resolved by resort to dictionaries—

Baroness David

That is correct!

Lord Tordoff

I understand that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, and the noble Lord, Lord Peston, are still in dispute on the question. The noble and learned Lord thinks that it is not necessary to refer to a dictionary since he believes that his Greek is better than that of the noble Lord, Lord Peston. As I said, it may be tautological in the sense that it could refer to anything that goes on within the school, since Clause 48(5)(e) refers to, governing body … duties imposed on them under Chapter I of this Part"; that is Part I, the national curriculum.

It appears that the grant-maintained school governing bodies do not have to make arrangements to receive complaints on other matters. One could give a number of examples of complaints that would not be covered, such as misconduct of a member of staff outside his or her specific teaching duties but still within a member of staffs role within the school; the decision of the head teacher on the application of the school's charging policy, such as the recovery of a wasted examination fee, or the decision of the head teacher on a disciplinary matter that was not a permanent exclusion, in other words, anything of that kind covered by Clause 48(5)(d)(ii).

I am sure that this is a sensible amendment, in that it would extend to people in grant-maintained schools the right to complain to the ombudsman that already exists in local authority schools. It does not seem unreasonable to include this backstop in the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Mishcon

Although I was not expecting to speak to the amendment, I support it. There is at present the right to complain to the local government ombudsman. That is to go when the school becomes a grant-maintained school. There is to be no right of complaint to anyone. Although the articles of government for a grant-maintained school require that arrangements be made for appeals, any right of appeal to the ombudsman over the method of disposal of the complaint is excluded. We think that is wrong. Given that the grant-maintained schools will be funded by the DES, it is a government matter and so should be open to the ombudsman.

Amendment No. 208AA is also important. The complaints procedure should not be restricted to the curriculum only; there should be the ability to deal with complaints about the school as regards the conduct of the school in matters that do not concern the curriculum. Something like 75 per cent. of complaints to schools probably concern something other than the curriculum in terms of the conduct of some person or some group of people in the school. I strongly support the amendment.

Lord Trefgarne

I fully understand the safeguards that it is proposed should be added to the Bill. However, it is the Government's firm view that as it stands the Bill provides adequately for the interests of parents of children at grant-maintained schools to be secured, and the amendments are therefore unnecessary. I should like to explain why.

Let us consider the avenues open to parents who believe that their child has been unfairly refused a place at a grant-maintained school. Before the decision is taken, the parents will know the criteria which the governors will apply in reaching that decision, because those criteria and other information about the school's admission arrangements will be published every year.

After the decision has been taken, parents first have a right to have it reviewed by an appeals committee, which will include independent representation and which, if the Committee accepts the amendment which I shall be suggesting later, will be under the jurisdiction of the Council on Tribunals. If the appeals committee upholds the original decision, and the parents still believe that that decision was unsoundly based, they will be able to ask the Secretary of State to consider whether there are grounds for him to issue a direction under Section 68 or Section 99 of the Education Act 1944, which he can do if the governors' actions were unreasonable, or if they were in default of any legal duty.

If the Secretary of State upholds the governors' original decision but the parents are convinced that in doing so he has committed, or compounded, an act of maladministration, then they may seek to involve the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. Alternatively, they could seek a judicial review either of the governors' action or the Secretary of State's, or both. And all this applies equally to appeals against the expulsion of a pupil from a grant-maintained school.

I hope that this exposition is enough to show that there are plenty of safeguards against irrational, capricious or inequitable decisions about the admission of pupils to grant-maintained schools; and I hope that the amendment will not be pressed.

Amendment No. 208AA also seeks to safeguard parents' rights. But I believe that its effect will actually be to constrain, rather than facilitate, the normal and necessary exchanges between parents and schools by which questions and complaints are generally resolved. As it stands, the Bill provides explicitly for grant-maintained schools to institute arrangements for dealing with complaints relating to the admission and expulsion of pupils, and to matters connected with the governors' discharge of the duties placed upon them by Chapter I of the Bill. Most serious complaints about the conduct of a school will fall into these categories. But if a parent is dissatisfied about other aspects of the school's performance, there is nothing to stop that parent taking the matter up with whoever seems to him or her the most appropriate person.

In some cases, the full governing body might need to be involved: here the parent could ask one of the parent governors to make his case, or he could write to the governing body itself. In other cases, the matter might be better dealt with by means of discussion with the head, or with another member of the school staff. Again, a failure to reach a satisfactory agreement could, in the last resort, be referred to the Secretary of State under Section 68 or Section 99; but these cases should be few and far between. It is the Government's view that, for the most part, informal and flexible channels are the best means of dealing with such matters, and that the provision envisaged by the amendment would simply increase bureaucracy to no good effect. I therefore hope that that amendment likewise will not be pressed.

Perhaps I may just touch on Amendment No. 281E, a government amendment which I shall speak to now and move formally when we reach it. I have already mentioned that Clause 48(5)(d) of the Bill provides for the establishment of appeals committees against any decision or action by the governing body of a grant-maintained school in relation to the admission or permanent exclusion of pupils. Each governing body may arrange such a committee individually or jointly with other grant-maintained schools. The amendment places such committees within the jurisdiction of the Council on Tribunals, which already has responsibilities in relation to appeals committees for schools maintained by local education authorities. This measure will help to ensure that they are fairly and efficiently conducted.

Lord Morton of Shuna

Does the Minister's answer mean that, under the Bill as it is printed, the Parliamentary Commissioner, the ombudsman, can come in but only after the Section 68 or Section 99 direction from the Secretary of State? If so, I do not see why giving a direct approach to the Parliamentary Commissioner, cutting out the Secretary of State who is not really equipped to be a judge in such a case, is necessarily reducing bureaucracy.

8.15 p.m.

Baroness Seear

In addition to that I should like to make a point to the Minister so that he can perhaps comment on both questions in his reply. As I understand it, the rights of appeal are largely centred on the failure to be admitted or being wrongfully removed from the school, whereas there can be other matters about which parents feel strongly—the way the curriculum is being covered, the behaviour of the staff or the physical standards of the school. One could think of a whole range of issues in the actual running of the school about which parents may wish to make complaints. We want to be satisfied that if they feel something is serious it can be taken up as a matter of bad administration, through the commissioner.

I wish to make a second point because this matter comes up quite often in the replies given by the Government. We are told that we can go to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State by definition in the grant-maintained schools is the ultimate boss of those schools because they are financed by the DES, of which the Secretary of State is in charge. So one is simply appealing up the line within the system. The whole point of going to an ombudsman is that one would be appealing outside the system. That is what one wants. It is not much comfort to appeal from governors who have not satisfied one to the people who control the governors. We want somebody independent of them. That is the whole point of the ombudsman.

Lord Trefgarne

There is a limit to the avenues of independent review of actions that can be arranged. The fact is that the Parliamentary Commissioner is the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. His remit runs when the Secretary of State has done something or has failed to do something which in the view of the complainant he should have done.

The ultimate responsibility, short of going to the ombudsman if someone believes that the Secretary of State has been guilty of maladministration, or maybe even further for judicial review if one thinks that is right is, of course, that of the Secretary of State. I believe that the arrangements for access to the Secretary of State are right and proper.

Having said that, I hope and believe that the number of occasions upon which the Secretary of State needs to have such problems put to him will be very few and far between. I hope and believe that the vast majority of these matters will be resolved at local level, particularly given the special committee arrangements to which I have referred.

Baroness Seear

I agree with the noble Lord that the vast majority of these cases will be dealt with in the way he suggests, but the whole point of putting such provisions into legislation is to deal with the exceptional very bad case. This matter comes up again and again. The answer we get from the Government is no answer and it comes so often from the Government Benches. In the vast majority of cases there will be no problems. What we are concerned with is the few cases where it will not be all right. It is for those cases that we believe we need legal protection.

Lord Tordoff

If I may I shall follow that merely to ask why it is appropriate that for local authority schools, where the local government commissioner is in the system, this is not regarded as excessively bureaucratic—at least not on this side of the Chamber. The reference to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration is merely put in because that safeguard has been removed by the Bill. The route which is available to people in a local authority is not available to people in grant-maintained schools. Our amendment seeks to put a similar proviso into the Bill. We may be seeking to put it in the wrong place, and the Government can explore some other device whereby grant-maintained schools can still have a right of appeal to the local government commissioner. But we had assumed that that was not possible because of the changes in the Bill. Nevertheless that is a backstop that local authority schools will still retain. The Government are removing that backstop from grant-maintained schools. Our amendment seeks to put something in its place.

If the Government believe in the ombudsman and from what the Minister has said it sounds as though they do not because of too much bureaucracy—let us hear it.

Lord Trefgarne

The noble Lord must not put words into my mouth. The role of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration is to look into cases of alleged maladministration by the Government. That clearly cannot arise until the Government—in this case the Secretary of State—has done something or failed to do something which the ombudsman or the commissioner is invited to examine. There is already the committee I have referred to, which I hope will be conducted under the arrangements of the Council on Tribunals. I believe that that is the right procedure for determining difficulties of this kind. The procedure is a good deal better than exists in many other walks of life. I believe it is the right way to proceed in this case.

Lord Morton of Shuna

I hope that the Minister will at least take this matter away and think about it. It appears to us that his answers have not been very satisfactory. In fact, I have yet to hear the answer as to why it is still appropriate that the local authority ombudsman should have a right to deal with any local authority school.

Lord Trefgarne

That is not quite correct; I do not believe that he does. For example, he does not have the right to inquire into the actions of the governors.

Lord Morton of Shuna

He has certain rights in the administration of schools. Why should that right be removed and not replaced except by the Secretary of State? It may well be that the amendment could have been redrafted to name the local authority ombudsman.

It will not do for the noble Lord to say in his answer that there must be government maladministration before the Parliamentary Commissioner comes in. When Parliament passes an Act providing for the Parliamentary Commissioner to do something, that gives him the power to do it. Therefore, if the amendment were accepted, in general it would involve government maladministration plus this issue. It will be provided for in the Act which will be as powerful as any other Act.

I hope that the Minister will consider again this amendment together with Amendment No. 208AA. The question of whether children are being wrongfully excluded from certain courses because they do not have an expectation of passing certain exams is sometimes an area of great difficulty for governors and parents. It is an area which should be dealt with under the complaints procedure.

Lord Tordoff

I should like to reiterate what my noble friend has said. We accept that there are rare occasions when this kind of procedure should come into operation, particularly in relation to Amendment No. 208AA. One can envisage such occasions and those more acquainted with the facts of school life support this matter. Like the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, I beg the Minister to think about the matter a little more. Under the Bill the Government are removing from parents and schoolchildren the right to appeal to an ombudsman and are apparently putting nothing in its place. It may be the wrong route to take; there may be another and better route by which one can appeal to the local government ombudsman. However, will the Government think again and try to find a way round the difficulty? Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 208A: Page 42, line 25, leave out ("articles") and insert ("instrument of government").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment is largely technical. We have in general applied a distinction whereby the composition and procedures of governing bodies and their committees are governed by the instrument of government, their powers and duties by the articles. This amendment duly clarifies our provisions in the light of that distinction. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 208AA not moved.]

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 208B: Page 43, line 6, leave out ("whom the governing body propose to dismiss").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 208B I should also like to speak to Amendments Nos. 208C, 208D, 208E, 208F and 208G. These are technical amendments which do not change the substance of the provision. The Bill requires the articles of government of a grant-maintained school to include provision for a member of staff faced with dismissal to have the right to make representations before a decision is taken and to appeal against the decision before action is taken to implement it.

As it stands, however, the text might imply that the whole governing body would both decide on dismissal and hear the appeal. Such a procedure would be unfair to the person facing dismissal. These amendments are designed to clarify the position, so that the articles can provide for a person facing dismissal to appeal to a body other than that which has initially decided on his dismissal. I beg to move.

Baroness David

I am pleased to hear about these amendments because we have previously complained of staff not being consulted and taken into consideration as regards grant-maintained schools. The amendment provides them with a little help at least.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 208C: Page 43, line 8, leave out ("the Proposal") and insert ("any proposal to dismiss him by the governing body or any persons authorised under the articles to dismiss him").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 208D: Page 43, line 10, leave out from beginning to first ("to") in line 11 and insert ("may be appointed for the purpose; (ia) for requiring the governing body or any such persons").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 208E: Page 43, line 12, leave out ("their decision") and insert ("any decision to dismiss him").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 208F: Page 43, line 14, leave out ("the governing body have") and insert ("it has been").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 208G: Page 43, line 16, leave out from ("against") to end of line and insert ("that decision before any action is taken").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 48, as amended, agreed to.

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 209: After Clause 48, insert the following new clause:

("Additional provision in Articles of Government. .—(1) Without prejudice to section 48 above, the Secretary of State may include, in particular, additional or supplementary provision in the Articles of Government for a grant maintained school which satisfies the requirements of this section. (2) Additional or supplementary provision satisfies the requirements of this section if it is provision requiring the governing body to have regard to any representations with regard to specified matters, functions or services made to them by the local education authority. (3) For the purposes of this section, "specified matters, functions or services" means matters, functions or services specified by the Secretary of State as being, in his opinion, matters, functions or services that could with advantage be subject to joint arrangements or agreements between the governing body of the school and the local education authority. (4) In determining specified matters, functions or services for the purposes of this section, the Secretary of State shall have regard to any representations made to him by the local education authority.").

The noble Lord said: We have reached the stage in the progress and content of the Bill where we must envisage the possibility that, given the opportunity provided, some schools will wish to opt out of the system. The amendment deals with the situation in which a school exercises all its rights and subsequently opts out of the system together with the impact of that opting out on other matters.

Yesterday evening, I took part in a useful discussion in an Edmonton school attended by the Member of Parliament for Edmonton and over 100 parents. I assure the Minister there was not only interest in all one needs to understand about the opting-out process but also in what will happen to a school not opting out and having relationships with another which has. For example, there are consortium arrangements whereby the provisions in one school are enjoyed by a number. Many community adult educational provisions exist at the school I visited last night.

I am asking the Minister to take on board the need for the Government to ensure that when a school opts out, those provisions will still be freely available to the rest of the community. I am sure that the Minister will understand the anxieties. No doubt I shall be told that relationships will be sweet and that understandings and accommodations will be accepted. I should like to say, "It ain't necessarily so". One can always envisage that there will be no problem until the problem arises.

The amendment seeks to anticipate a need for the Minister to receive advice from a local authority of the necessity to write into the articles of government of the opted-out school provisions that will ensure that the current interests enjoyed by the community are not inhibited and that equal access will be available in the future.

I am sure the Minister will understand that this is a reasonable amendment. I hope that there is some sympathy for it. In subsection (3) I ask that there should be joint arrangements or agreements between the governing body of the opted-out school and the local education authority which will be in the best interests of the community. I beg to move.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne

The noble Lord, Lord Graham, has raised an important issue here. I believe that the Bill already provides an adequate framework within which grant-maintained schools and local education authorities can work together if they so wish. Let me suggest a number of important areas where the Government have taken action on this score. In Clause 47(5) of the Bill we have empowered governors to act as agents for local education authorities in providing youth or adult education at their school.

In Clause 91(3) we have also taken into account the continuing obligations which local education authorities will have towards grant-maintained schools and their pupils—for example, the provision of free school transport to those eligible to receive it, the educational welfare service, clothing grants and assistance in some cases with any board and lodging charges. Clause 91 requires the governing bodies of such schools to provide relevant local authorities with the information they will need to exercise any functions they continue to have in respect of the school or its pupils. I am sure that will be a welcome provision.

But I would be reluctant to go further than this. The very purpose of Chapter IV of the Bill, after all, is to offer schools greater autonomy from local authority control: governors will be able to become masters of their fate and captains of their destiny if they so wish. It would be the height of illogicality if my right honourable friend were to loosen governors' constraints with one hand and tighten them again with the other; yet that is exactly what the noble Lord's amendment would achieve.

It is not for my right honourable friend but for grant-maintained school governors and local authorities themselves to identify any areas of mutual advantage and to agree how that mutual advantage can best be secured. In some cases, for example, the school may choose to invite a representative from the local education authority to serve as a first governor or simply to attend governors' meetings as an observer, but I see no need to force a formal relationship on them. I trust to the common sense of both parties to act in the spirit of the noble Lord's amendment where it is appropriate to do so, and on that basis I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness David

I have never heard anything more patronising for a long time. If the grant-maintained school has chosen to opt out, it may ask someone from the local authority to come on the governing body. That is rather monstrous. If it requires the services of an inspector, welfare and so on presumably it will need to pay for them. Perhaps the noble Lord could confirm that.

Lord Trefgarne

That depends on the basis on which the Secretary of State's grant is calculated. In principle I do not see any reason why not.

Baroness Seear

The noble Lord's enthusiasm for the sweetness of human nature is very unexpected. He has not given us any sound grounds for believing that we shall be sharing that faith with him. As I understand it, the whole point of the amendment is that there are now arrangements between some local authority schools and some schools which will become grant maintained where they share playing field arrangements, gymnasiums, use of language labs and so on by agreement. That is very sensible and economical.

The noble Lord is saying that it will now be unilaterally possible for the grant-maintained school to cancel all those arrangements and to leave the local authority schools, which may for years have enjoyed the shared benefits, to find some way of replacing them or else to do without them altogether. Does the Minister really consider that that is satisfactory or has he some other way of reassuring local authorities which are deprived of what they previously had in the grant-maintained schools? Is he leaving it to the sweetness of human nature? I cannot believe that coming from him.

Lord Hylton

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, was rather unnecessarily brusque. I say that because the operative words in this proposed new clause are, "to have regard". That phrase appears twice, once in subsection (2) and once in subsection (4). I may be totally wrong, but I understand the words as meaning to consider some proposition seriously. When one has gone through one's considerations, one might throw out the proposal and decide to take no action upon it whatever. But all that is being asked is that it should be considered in a reasonably calm and rational way, and it does not commit anybody to anything. Perhaps the Government will look more closely at this matter.

Lord Trefgarne

I am rather perplexed because the noble Lord accuses me of being too brusque and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said that I had too much sweetness and light, which she did not believe.

Baroness Seear

Too much sweetness and light for the world in general, but not enough by half to us.

Lord Trefgarne

I am mortified to find that I have not provided the noble Baroness with sufficient sweetness and light. I am not often accused of that. The fact is that we consider that a more informal arrangement along the lines proposed in the Bill is better than the rather tramline arrangement proposed by this amendment. For that reason we do not think that it is a useful addition to the Bill and I hope that the Committee will not accept it.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I do not intend to press the matter at this stage but I believe that the Minister does not understand the real world. He started by saying that the Government have a concept that the opted out schools want to get away from a dependence on the local education authority and that they should stand on their own two feet and be captain of their fate. In doing that they could very well act to the detriment of the community and other schools. The Minister is right that in nine cases out of 10, or 99 cases out of 100, there will be understanding and agreement.

This amendment suggests that the Secretary of State should be given the power to insert into the articles of governors of the new opted out school the ability of the local education authority to have discussions. The noble Baroness raised very relevant issues. I take the example of community use. There are schools used by old-age pensioners' groups, adult education classes and swimming clubs. I would blanch if I felt that a school had opted out for the very good reason that it had an endowment which it thought it would keep to itself but which hitherto had been used by the community. That could be the issue on which whatever changes were to take place would founder. The Minister has given an unsatisfactory and uncharitable view of what will happen in the real world. I shall return to this, but in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.

Clause 49 [Instrument and articles of government: procedure]:

[Amendment No. 209A not moved.]

Clause 49 agreed to.

Clause 50 [Initiation of procedure for acquisition of grant-maintained status]:

Lord Kilmarnock moved Amendment No. 210: Page 44, line 12, after ("passed") insert ("by a simple majority of the total membership of the governing body").

The noble Lord said: At an earlier stage, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, reminded us that the procedure for opting out was not a single act but carried out in several stages. The stage which we voted on earlier—the parental ballot—is the second stage.

These amendments seek to introduce into the prior stage of a resolution by the governing body that such a ballot should be held and should include the same requirement as was introduced by the amendment of the right reverend Prelate into the parental ballot; that is to say, that there should be a majority of those entitled to vote in favour of the process.

I must confess to the Committee that I believe that the passing of the amendment of the right reverend Prelate on the parental ballot has made these two amendments somewhat less necessary, because I am speaking to Amendments Nos. 210 and 211. In the earlier debate I said that in the Bill we were presented with two very weak trigger mechanisms: the weak trigger of the governing body's resolution and the weak trigger of the parental ballot. As a result of the right reverend Prelate's amendment, the parental ballot is no longer a weak trigger. The governing body's resolution to set the parental ballot in motion has to be approved by a second resolution or confirmed by the governing body within 28 days. That gives the opportunity for any governors not present for the first resolution to be at the second meeting and to confirm that resolution, or otherwise.

What is the position if the governing body approves, by the first resolution, the institution of a parental ballot but that is not confirmed by the second meeting of the governors which has to take place within 28 days? If the first resolution is not confirmed by the second I take it that the proposal will fall. If that is so, from the wording of the clause, I am not clear as to what period must elapse before it can be revived—that is, before the governing body can again institute a resolution to opt out and to institute a parental ballot. I simply seek clarification from the noble Lord on precisely how that mechanism will operate if the first resolution of the governors is not confirmed by a second resolution. I seek enlightenment on that point. I beg to move.

Lord Morton of Shuna

I support the amendment. It seems to be as important as the ballot that the resolution by the governing body should be reached by a real majority and not put through by a group which happens to know that for the next six weeks certain governors will not be around. This amendment would make it absolutely clear that a full majority of the governing body has to pass resolutions.

Lord Trefgarne

I believe that these amendments are an unnecessary refinement of the procedures in Clauses 50 to 52, which are already designed to produce ample evidence of the nature and strength of views about grant-maintained status before any formal application comes to my right honourable friend. Let me first emphasise that what we are talking about here is not a decision to become a grant-maintained school. Only my right honourable friend can take that decision. The governors' resolutions to which the amendments refer are simply the first step in ensuring that the issue of whether the school should apply for grant-maintained status is properly aired.

Having said that, governing bodies are going to find that following the procedures for the acquisition of grant-maintained status set out in the Bill is a fairly demanding process. It will require a fair degree of commitment and enthusiasm to carry them through to the point where they are awaiting the Secretary of State's decision. They will know this when they embark on the process; they will also know that the issue at stake is one of the most important things they will ever have been asked to consider as governors of the school.

That is why we have ensured that the process is not lightly begun. Clause 50(1) of the Bill requires there to be two meetings of the governing body before a ballot of parents may take place. At the first, the governors may pass a resolution which, in effect, does no more than signal their intention to consult on whether they should hold a ballot. At the second, to be held not less than 28 days' later, the governors will have to consider any representations made to them on the issue by, in particular, the local education authority and the trustees of the school before deciding whether to confirm their initial resolution. Where a governor genuinely finds it impossible to attend the first such meeting we have given him or her a second opportunity to make his or her views known. But I cannot believe that any governor would deliberately absent himself from either of those meetings—unless, of course, to do so would have the effect of preventing the other governors from passing the necessary resolution. These amendments would allow an opposed minority—and we must recognise that some, at any rate, of the LEA-appointed governors are likely to be opposed—to thwart the wishes of the majority by simply being absent from the meeting.

I might add that these amendments would also introduce an unprecedented provision—

8.45 p.m.

Lord Morton of Shuna

Will the noble Lord give way? If the amendment calls for a vote of the majority of governors that exist to be in favour of the resolution I fail to see how it matters if the minority are present or absent. It does not seem logical. Perhaps the noble Lord can explain the point.

Lord Trefgarne

I shall come to that in a moment. Perhaps I may add that these amendments would also introduce an unprecedented provision because there are no circumstances in which the governing body would currently take a decision at a maintained school other than by a simple majority of those present and voting.

Reverting to the point made by the noble Lord, it is conceivable that governors would absent themselves from a meeting and, by so doing, reduce the number of those attending below the quorum necessary for any business to take place. That is the point I make.

Lord Morton of Shuna

The amendment states, by a simple majority of the total membership of the governing body". If there has to be a majority of the total membership—say there are 20 governors—that must mean at least 11. If there are 11 in favour it does not matter what the nine do. Therefore, I fail to see what the noble Lord's answer has to do with the amendment.

Lord Trefgarne

There may still be circumstances where so few people turn up that the meeting could not take place.

Lord Tordoff

With respect to the noble Lord, that is a totally different situation. I do not propose to lecture the noble Lord on electoral systems or matters of that kind, but this is a much simpler concept. If there is a majority of governors who are in favour of this process—whether the rest are there or not, voting or not voting, for or against it, abstaining or standing on their heads or doing anything they wish—that majority will carry. I do not understand why the noble Lord cannot see that.

Lord Trefgarne

I am afraid my only answer is that I have never fully understood the intricacies of proportional representation.

Baroness Seear

The noble Lord does not understand the principle. This has nothing whatever to do with proportional representation.

Lord Tordoff

I am sorry to say that the noble Lord obviously does not understand simple arithmetic. It is nothing to do with proportional representation, as I have indicated. It is a question of a majority of the governors, present or not. They have to be present to win if they are a majority. Whether or not the people against the resolution are there makes not the slightest difference. That is quite contrary to what the noble Lord said.

Lord Trefgarne

If the noble Lord wishes for a further explanation I am happy to give it. If, let us say, the LEA members decided to absent themselves at least one-quarter of the governors would not be there for the vote. Most of the governors present at the meeting would have to be in favour in order to achieve a majority vote. That is the difficulty I see with these amendments.

Lord Morton of Shuna

The amendment says quite clearly, a simple majority of the total membership". For the sake of argument, if one has 15 governors a simple majority is eight. Nothing is said about the need for a quorum. If one can assemble eight members at a meeting one can get a resolution through. It has nothing to do with proportional representation; it is a question of arithmetic. There is a noble and learned Lord not very far away who knows more about maths than I do and who certainly appears to know more than the Minister. I assure the noble Lord that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, and I are right on this issue and that he is wrong.

Lord Trefgarne

I am extremely sorry if my modest mathematical attainments are not sufficient to enable me to assist on the Education Reform Bill. I am also sorry if I have not made this point as clear as I should have done. If the LEA members were to absent themselves from a meeting, a quarter of of the governors overall would not be present and so very many more than half of those present would have to vote in order to achieve the requirements set out. That is not a proposition I am prepared to accept.

Lord Tordoff

This is not a question of opinion or of politics. It is a question of mathematical fact. It does not matter whether the LEA members absent themselves. The presumption in the noble Lord's mind is that the LEA people will be opposed. If the people who are in favour are there and vote, it does not matter what happens to those who are against it. If there is a simple majority within the governing body and that is represented by people who are present, that is all that matters. If people not in favour are not present, that is their problem. But if there is a simple majority of people in favour of the proposition and they are there and voting, it does not matter a jot what happens to the rest. I assure the Minister that that is a simple fact. It is not a matter of politics.

Lord Trefgarne

I am not going to argue with the noble Lord's arithmetic, which I am happy to concede is likely to be much better than mine. If a large proportion of the governors absent themselves from a meeting, a greater proportion of those present have to vote in order to achieve the requirements set out. That is not the proposition that I am willing to accept.

Lord Morton of Shuna

That is not the proposition in the amendment. If the noble Lord cares to read it, he will see that it refers to, a simple majority of the total membership of the governing body".

Lord Trefgarne

In other words, more than a simple majority of those who may be present at the meeting.

Lord Tordoff

The noble Lord has got it! He is absolutely right. But it makes no difference at all.

Lord Dormand of Easington

It may be of no comfort to the Minister to know that I am not only the worst mathematician in this Chamber but the worst mathematician in the whole country; and I can understand it! I suspect that the noble Lord is far too intelligent to tell us what he is really about here. I suspect that there is something behind it.

A simple majority is what it says. If there are 20 governors, a simple majority is 11. If there are 15 governors, a simple majority is eight. It has nothing to do with what the noble Lord said in his previous three replies. It has nothing to do with people being absent. He should forget that point. The Minister is saying it has. It has not. We cannot carry on repeating this simple arithmetic which has already been set out. Perhaps the Minister will come clean and say something different about this.

Baroness David

It is not my amendment, but I think we have had enough discussion on it. Let us come to a vote.

8.53 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 210) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 30; Not-Contents, 62.

Airedale, L. Kilmarnock, L. [Teller.]
Baldwin of Bewdley, E. Kinloss, Ly.
Birk, B. London, Bp.
Blackstone, B. Longford, E.
Bonham-Carter, L. Masham of Ilton, B.
Boston of Faversham, L. Morton of Shuna, L.
Buckmaster, V. Mountevans, L.
Craigavon, V. Ogmore, L.
David, B. St. John of Bletso, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Seear, B.
Gallacher, L. Seebohm, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.] Stewart of Fulham, L.
Tordoff, L.
Grey, E. Underhill, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. White, B.
Hylton, L.
Aldington, L. Jenkin of Roding, L.
Bauer, L. Johnston of Rockport, L.
Beaverbrook, L. Lindsay, E.
Beloff, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Belstead, L. Long, V.
Blatch, B. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Margadale, L.
Braye, B. Merrivale, L.
Brookeborough, V. Mersey, V.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Butterworth, L. Morris, L.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L. Nelson, E.
Carnock, L. Norfolk, D.
Coleraine, L. Pender, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Rankeillour, L.
Cowley, E. Reay, L.
Cox, B. Renton, L.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Saint Levan, L.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Sandford, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Skelmersdale, L.
Denman, L. Southborough, L.
Dormer, L. Swinfen, L.
Faithfull, B. Swinton, E.
Gainford, L. Thorneycroft, L.
Haig, E. Thurlow, L.
Hanson, L. Trafford, L.
Harvington, L. Trefgarne, L.
Henley, L. Trumpington, B.
Hesketh, L. Tweedsmuir, L.
Hives, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Hooper, B. Wise, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

9.1 p.m.

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 210A: Page 44, line 14, after ("decision") insert (", after the consultations required by subsection (3A) below,").

The noble Baroness said: While speaking to this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 211A, 211C, 211D, 211E, 211F, 281D and 284A.

I said earlier the Government have made every effort to respond sympathetically to the comments and concerns of the Churches on our proposals for grant-maintained schools. I would hope that they now fully accept that our commitment to Church and other voluntary schools is as strong as theirs. We have consistently made it clear that if a voluntary school becomes grant-maintained, the foundation will continue to appoint the majority of governors; the trustees will continue to own all the assets of the school which they already own; and the school will be required to continue to offer religious education in accordance with its practices as a voluntary school. In every sense, therefore, the school will remain part of the broader Church community.

It is for those reasons that the Government do not accept that the trustees should enjoy a power of direct veto on an application by that school for grant-maintained status. However, speaking in another place on 23rd March of this year, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education identified a further area in which the Churches' concerns could be addressed. He said: it would be possible to bring forward amendments spelling out clearly the opportunities that would exist for the trustees in a Church school to make clear the consequences not only for that school but for others in that area. We would expect that to happen in the process of public consultation".

We have considered that proposition carefully and the amendments which we have tabled are the result.

Clause 50(1) of the Bill provides for a ballot of parents to be held on whether to apply for grant-maintained status if one of two events has occurred. The first is that the governing body has resolved to hold such a ballot at a governors' meeting and has confirmed that decision at a second meeting held at least 28 days later. The second is that the governors have received a written request from a given number of parents to hold a ballot. Our amendments will ensure that the views of those currently responsible for that school and for wider provision in the area are properly heard and carefully considered. In the case of a resolution by the governors, our amendments would require the governing body to consult both the trustees (in the case of a voluntary school) and the local education authority, by whom the school is maintained, immediately after the first governors' meeting. The governors will therefore have every opportunity to consider the views of the trustees and the local education authority when they meet a second time to decide whether or not to proceed with the ballot. If they decide to go ahead, they must inform the LEA and trustees of that decision.

In the second case, where parents have mounted a petition for a ballot, the governors will not be able to hold the ballot until at least 28 days after they received the petition. This will provide sufficient time for the trustees and the local education authority, if they so wish, to ensure by whatever means they think appropriate that the voters know their views. I am sure that the Committee will welcome these steps.

The amendments also require that the second governors' meeting, which is needed to ratify the governors' initial resolution to hold a ballot on grant-maintained status, must be held not more than six weeks later. This is to ensure that the decision to proceed with or abandon such a ballot is not prolonged indefinitely. We recognise that it is in everyone's interests that these matters are undertaken with as much briskness as is consistent with careful consideration of the issues. I believe that that strikes the right balance.

We seek also to amend Clause 50 to lay a duty on the governing body of any school eligible for grant-maintained status to give any parent of a pupil at the school, on request, the name and address of the parents of other pupils at the school. Parents may request this information only in connection with a ballot on grant-maintained status. Access to the names and addresses will allow parents to mount a petition under Subsection (1)(b) of this clause, in order to require the governors to hold such a ballot; or, where arrangements for a ballot are already under way, to lobby their fellow voters either for or against the proposition.

I should add, however, that we have introduced one safeguard to protect parents who feel strongly that they do not wish their names and addresses to be released for this purpose: any parents may request the governing body in writing to respect their privacy, and their details will be deleted from the list. Their right to vote in the ballot itself will not be affected as long as their names are still included on the admissions register from which the electoral roll will be derived. I commend all these amendments to the Committee.

The Lord Bishop of London

In welcoming these amendments from the point of view of the Church of England, I think it would be helpful for the subsequent debate in this Committee if I indicated why there may appear to be a difference of opinion between ourselves and the Peers who were speaking on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church. As regards the Church of England, the word "trustees" does not mean the same as it means for the Roman Catholic Church. In our case trustees are local bodies merely representing the individual schools. We are well content and pleased that they should be consulted.

The noble Lords concerned will speak for themselves, but in the case of the Roman Catholic Church I am told that the trustees are normally the diocesan bishops who have a far wider responsibility. In the case of the Church of England that responsibility is taken up into a statutory body (which we have by the nature of the General Synod) namely, the Diocesan Education Committee which we also wish to see consulted. I mentioned this point on Second Reading. After consideration it seems to us much better and proper that we should seek to embody that in a Measure of the General Synod—that is, the proper consultation with the Diocesan Education Committee—rather than bring what by necessity is a domestic matter for the Church of England into a Bill of this kind for everybody.

I thought it would help if I explained our different understanding of the word "trustees" and said that the Church of England welcomes and is satisfied with the word "consult". Through our own legislative process in the General Synod we shall seek later, when the Measure is being revised, to secure that the position of the Diocesan Education Committee be preserved.

Lord Harvington

I wish to express concern about the position of the trustees in voluntary schools under the provisions of the Bill. The amendment provides for the governors of the voluntary school to consult the trustees. The noble Baroness has done something to meet the position of Catholic schools by allowing consultation to take place at all. But I do not think that it goes far enough. It is the trustees who are the owners of the property. Surely their consent should be required before an application is made for a change of status. I cannot help thinking that the Bill does not sufficiently distinguish between the position in county schools where the owner is the local authority and the position in voluntary schools where a private charitable trust is the owner.

The question of the role of the trustees has caused particular concern to the Catholic bishops. In the case of the Catholic voluntary schools, the diocese is the trustee, except of course for those schools which are owned by the religious orders. The diocese holds the schools in the interests of the Catholic community as a whole.

I know that the religious character of the voluntary schools becoming grant-maintained is safeguarded in the Bill, for which we are naturally grateful. But there is more to it than that. This amendment is not grouped with Amendment No. 224B, to which I know the noble Baroness will be speaking shortly. It is material to the trustee what status a school has. It is particularly material to the trustee when that trustee is the diocese, for the bishop has the responsibility for the welfare of the diocese. Yet under the Bill, he is not allowed any significant place in the procedures by which grant-maintained status may be achieved. It is the thesis of the Bill that change of status to grant-maintained schools is an important change. I cannot accept that this should take place against the wishes of the trustee, particularly when the trustee is a body as substantial as a diocese. I ask that the Government look at this again and perhaps put forward a proposition a little later on in the passage of the Bill.

The Earl of Longford

Also speaking as a Roman Catholic, I should like to support what the noble Lord has just said. We have many advantages, as have members of other denominations, but we do not have the advantage of being officially represented in this House. Of course we listened with great respect to what was said about our position by the right reverend Prelate, and I think he put it very fairly.

I am glad that this protest, because that is what it is, about the Bill from the Catholic point of view comes from someone sitting so close to the noble Baroness. I am against the whole business of opting out. Therefore my comments may seem a little biased or distorted, but the noble Lord could lean over and touch the noble Baroness if he wished. I am sure that great attention will be paid by her and others to the noble Lord's remarks.

I cannot be said to have wearied the Committee up till now; I have not broken my silence. I do not mean to spoil that record now. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harvington, in expressing the hope that we shall have some reassurance. However, I am bound to admit that I doubt we shall receive it tonight. If we do not, then we shall have to consider what can be done at the next stage.

Lord Hylton

I also wish to support what has just been said by the noble Lord, Lord Harvington. It may be helpful if I say something about the nature of Catholic secondary schools. They have by and large much bigger catchment areas than other kinds of secondary schools. Pupils travel to them from far greater distances.

Usually they will have a network of contributing primary schools, but that will not account for the totality of the pupils. There will be other pupils who have not passed through a contributing Catholic primary school. Therefore because of the size of the catchment area the schools are further apart and if one is lost there is a vastly greater hole in the entire network.

Will the Government say what is going to happen if a secondary school is allowed to opt out against the wishes of its trustee, the diocesan Bishop? Will the local education authority be willing to supply a replacement? If not, in what difficulty, with the enormously high present capital costs of new buildings, are the diocese, the local education authority and by implication, through the 85 per cent. machinery, the government of the day going to find themselves? We need a much better explanation.

Lady Kinloss

I wish to support everything that the noble Lord has just said.

9.15 p.m.

The Duke of Norfolk

I have heard the comments made by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the noble Lords, Lord Harvington and Lord Hylton, all of whom, like me, are Roman Catholics. This is quite a big subject. I wish to let the Committee know that the Roman Catholic hierarchy has circulated all the Roman Catholic Peers with a paper setting out its views. I should like to speak for two or three minutes on this. It was a very good paper and I am pleased to say that most of the requirements of that paper have already been met.

I shall go through it quickly in order to emphasise all the points in it. First, the paper required that the importance of religious education should be emphasised. It has been emphasised early on in the debates in the Chamber that religion will now be placed in the forefront of the national curriculum. That point having been made by the right reverend Prelate, it was agreed and supported by the rest of the Committee.

Secondly, the paper asked whether the Bill would preserve the dual system which was initiated by the 1944 Act. That is the case. The Bill preserves that dual system and does not interfere with it in any way. Catholic schools, with their distinctive charitable trust deeds, are run very successfully as a partnership between the bishops, priests and people in the life of the Catholic Church. That system is preserved under this Bill whether or not the schools are opting out. Clauses 71 to 77 and Clause 90 will provide the framework of the detail as a basis in law for this partnership of bishops, priests and people to continue. As I have just said, Catholic schools, whether or not they have opted out, will have full protection, as they did under the 1944 Act.

We are moving on now to opting out. This is where three Members of the Committee have criticised the Government. The situation is as follows. We all know that to opt out a majority of parents must demand that action by secret ballot and the governing body must then implement the procedure. We have heard at past moments in this Chamber how this opting out can start. But the most extreme cases which the Catholic Bishops are apparently worried about is that if a majority of the parents in a Catholic school decide to opt out they can carry the day in demanding that the governors implement this opting-out procedure.

The Catholic Bishops maintain that they have insufficient control in the opting-out procedure. I want to emphasise that that in no way changes the religious character of a school, whether it is continuing in the local government setting or becoming a grant-maintained school. The schools are exactly the same with regard to religion and control by the diocesan boards. The Catholic Bishops object that the trustees, who are the bishops, can only exert control by appointing governors. They say that that control is too remote and that the exercise of their powers through the appointment of governors is not direct enough as regards opting out.

Therefore, the Government are faced with trying to help the bishops. We have heard the Minister say that the Government have produced Amendment No. 211D. The relevant part of that amendment says that: The governing body shall consult—(b) if the school is a voluntary school, the trustees of the school", before the opting-out procedure is undertaken. The Government have given in on the matter by saying that a right of consultation will be given to bishops and trustees.

Unfortunately, the Catholic Bishops are still not satisfied, as was said by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the noble Lords, Lord Harvington and Lord Hylton. I find that a very unreasonable demand. The Government have gone a long way towards giving the Catholic Bishops a chance to be consulted and to share their views. We all know that the procedure is a long one and that there are many gaps in the considerations. However, the Catholic Bishops still insist that they should be asked to give their consent, which they say would never be unreasonably withheld.

If you give your consent and agree that it shall never be unreasonably withheld, does not that amount to being consulted? I cannot see the difference. I shall be interested to hear at Report stage how the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the noble Lord, Lord Harvington, explain the difference between giving consent, while agreeing that it will never be unreasonably withheld, and being given the opportunity to consult. I can see no difference.

I support the amendment. I think that the Government have done everything possible to help the Catholic Bishops. I support the Minister, who as it happens is a Roman Catholic. I am sorry to have bored the Committee with so much Popery!

Lord Coleraine

I should like to support the group of amendments which have been moved by the Minister which will have the effect of ensuring that, where a ballot is initiated by the governors, the local education authority or the trustees shall have a right to point out to the governors the effect of what is proposed.

I pause for a moment to wonder whether a similar right of approach to parents should not be given to the LEA or the trustees if the ballot is initiated by parents rather than by the governors. It seems to me that the principle is the same in both cases.

A number of Members of the Committee have raised the question of an amendment which would give trustees a right of veto. However, that amendment is not on the Marshalled List this evening. The sort of provision which would allow the trustees an absolute veto on the right to go to the Secretary of State would have an entirely undesirable effect of denying to parents in voluntary schools the right that parents in the rest of the maintained sector have.

Lord Morton of Shuna

Perhaps I may raise a non-ecclesiastical issue in this group of amendments and speak about Amendment No. 211F which is at the tail end of the group. It seems perhaps not to give the safeguards which the Government intend that it should.

In the first place, under subsection (8), which is added by the amendment, the governing body is not to disclose the address of a parent who has written to the governing body asking that his name and address should not be disclosed. It is difficult to see that the parent would have thought of that. There may be large numbers of parents who may not wish their names and addresses conveyed but who would not have thought of that beforehand, found this section, read it up, and said, "We must write to the governing body because there may be a ballot in a year's time". It seems to me to be a rather unreal precaution.

The other point is that the governing body has the duty of determining whether the person who wants the list is a parent. I may be wrong, but it seems to me it does not have a duty to determine whether the parent who wants the list genuinely intends to seek a ballot or just wants the list in order perhaps to sell it to some company which might be interested in having a list of parents in the school in order to sell things. I am sure that the Government do not want that and wish to restrict the provision very much for the purposes of balloting or for people objecting to ballots.

As it is drafted, the amendment seems to be an open invitation to any parent of any school to go to the governing body and say, "I am thinking about a ballot, can I have a list of all the parents in the school?" There seems to me to be some danger in that. I wonder whether the Minister can deal with those difficulties.

Baroness Hooper

I fully appreciate the concern of the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church to maintain the unity of Catholic educational provision as has been expressed this evening. I also realise that in expressing their concern the bishops are not setting their faces against the concept of grant-maintained status and that they acknowledge that in some circumstances it may be right for their schools.

My noble friend the Duke of Norfolk was perfectly right when he said that the only thing that will change for the voluntary-aided schools in the circumstances is the source of finance. A Catholic school which becomes grant-maintained will remain a Catholic school providing religious education in accordance with the Catholic faith and, if the governors so desire, giving preference in its admissions policy to pupils from Catholic homes.

In all circumstances, foundation governors appointed by the trustees will be in a majority on the governing body. The assets of the trust will remain secure. The school will continue to be a part of Catholic educational provision in the area.

In relation to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, I believe that his concerns may be met by the arrangements that will be made in individual schools for giving parents information and informing them about those arrangements. I note his concern about the possibility that some lists may be used for other purposes, but I believe that it will be possible to safeguard that information within the arrangements set up by individual schools.

Lord Morton of Shuna

Perhaps the Minister will give way. I am sure that it is possible, but I think that the wording needs redrafting. All I am requesting is that the noble Baroness will perhaps take this back and see whether the provision could be tightened up. It seems that some restriction needs to be added such as that the governors need to be satisfied that the list is to be used for the purpose stated.

Baroness Hooper

To reiterate, there is nothing to stop the governors from informing parents when asking for their name and address that they have the right not to have those details disclosed to other parents. That may be a sensible precaution for the school itself. However, the governing body will need to satisfy itself that the parent is asking for the list for good reason. If it is not so satisfied then it is open to that body not to supply the list. I can reassure the noble Lord that I shall look further at that point.

The Government maintain that the Churches should have nothing to fear from the creation of grant-maintained schools. We stand by our commitment to see their interests safeguarded. We believe that we have done so in the amendments that I have proposed.

The Bill ensures that there is a central place for the trustees in the procedures that lead to grant-maintained status. The Government stop short only at the point where parents and governors could be denied rights and opportunities offered to parents and governors at other schools. We believe that we shall have the backing of many Catholic parents in doing that. Indeed, in my view, if the trustees had the power to withhold consent, the exercise of that power would tend to promote conflict within the Catholic community of exactly the kind that many wish to avoid.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

I do not want to become too involved in this discussion but I do not think that the noble Baroness has answered the important point that has been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton; namely, that Catholic schools tend to look to a wider catchment area than do many other maintained schools. I do not honestly believe that one can fear for the catholicity of these schools in the future, but I think that there could be a situation in which people who have contributed to the foundation of schools over a wide area could find themselves deprived of that facility by a new set of governors who take a rather narrower view of who will come to that school. I may be wrong because I see that the noble Baroness shakes her head, but I think that it is the point to which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, is referring, and it is an important one.

Lord Hylton

I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, for amplifying and intensifying the point that I was trying to make. Perhaps I may just make some further financial points. In many cases when a secondary school in particular has been built the diocese or parish will have provided the whole site free of charge. In addition there will have been a major cash contribution from the Catholic laity, the Catholic Church funds and a variety of Catholic sources to provide at least 15 per cent. of the original capital cost. In some cases— I believe in the early days of the 1944 Act—the proportion was in fact higher. Will the noble Baroness please include that aspect of the matter in her reply?

The Duke of Norfolk

Before the Minister replies perhaps I may raise a somewhat different point. It is well known that by the provisions of the 1944 Act Church schools—of the Church of England, the Church of Rome, the Jewish faith and so on—were allowed to be created and the Government agreed to pay for their running but said that the Churches would have to pay 50 per cent. of the building costs. That is what they have been paying. However, in Scotland the Presbyterians were fly enough to say that they would not pay anything at all, and so the Roman Catholics in Scotland pay nothing. That figure of 50 per cent. has now become 15 per cent. I should most willingly greet some future Bill in which it is suggested that we should pay nothing and not 15 per cent. I wanted to cover that point.

To return to the issue mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, I want to emphasise that in the present situation in no sense is a grant-maintained school in any way different from a voluntary school run by the local authority. The Catholic bishops can control such a voluntary school through the trustees, whom they appoint. That is how they control the school, and I think that it is a very good method. When the school becomes grant-maintained it will be controlled in exactly the same way.

The argument between me and the three other Catholic Peers in the Committee concerns the opting-out procedure. I maintain that the Government have gone a long way to try to achieve this. I also believe that the Catholic laity can be trusted. If the Catholic laity wish to opt out, it is very unfortunate that the Catholic bishops should want to control and maybe veto the decision. I trust the Catholic laity. I am a Catholic layman and I believe that we have done great things for the Catholic Church in this country. I much resent any attempt by the bishops of this Church to imply that the Catholic laity is not pro the Catholic Church in this country.

Baroness Hooper

I shall try to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. I believe that I should have already achieved that. Schools that become grant-maintained will continue with their existing catchment areas, so there is no change on that front. The property continues in the ownership of the trustees, so there is no change on that front. The only change is that the source of finance will come from central government instead of from the local authority. The trustees always have the power, in that they have the right to appoint a majority of the foundation governors. Therefore, I believe that there is no need for the sort of anxieties that have been expressed.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 211 not moved.]

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 211A: Page 44, line 16, after ("days") insert (", nor more than forty two days,").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Dormand of Easington moved Amendment No. 211B: Page 44, line 16, leave out from ("that") to ("or") in line 17 and insert ("notice in writing has been given to parents of registered pupils at the school of the first resolution").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 211B would require that parents of pupils of the school be informed of the proposal by the governors to seek grant-maintained status for the school. The purpose of the requirement of a second resolution in the Bill is that there should be time for reflection and for representations to be made. If parent governors are to function in any representative capacity—and presumably that must be one of the main aspects of their role—the total body of parents must be informed. It cannot simply be those parents who by accident happen to know, or who live next door to a governor, or whatever, who should have access to knowledge of matters to which the majority are denied.

There can be no dispute about the importance of becoming a grant-maintained school. The Government constantly refer to it and they also constantly refer to the importance of the role of parents in the education of children. Indeed, most of our debates emphasise that fact. It is therefore of the utmost importance that the mechanics for achieving those objectives be correct, and this amendment will bring that about.

The Minister may in fact accept that not to provide for the notification of parents in such a manner was merely an oversight in the drafting of the Bill, although I suspect that I am a bit optimistic in saying that. If that is not the case the members of the Committee are entitled to an explanation of what would be a considerable reduction, a considerable diminution, in the importance of the parents' role in this particular matter. The amendment would also bring proposals to hold an opting out ballot into line with existing requirements for local authorities to consult those affected when school reorganisation takes place following the requirements of Section 12 of the Education Act 1980.

In tabling this amendment I tried to deduce whether the Government would say that there are practical difficulties in implementing it. Frankly, I do not see any, but if that objection is raised I say to the Minister that the importance of the principle and of the parents' decision is such that the onus is on the Government to surmount any practical problems which they feel exist. It is not simplistic to say that unless parents are informed of the proposals before the second meeting, there is surely little point in the same governors meeting again to confirm what they have already decided. This amendment reiterates, and indeed strengthens, the importance of parents, and I commend it to the Committee. I beg to move.

Lord Trefgarne

I hope that I shall not be accused of excessive cynicism if I say that I sometimes wonder whether calls for in-depth consultation at every stage represent a commitment not to clarity but to obfuscation and whether the prime objective may be not to ensure that everyone has a say but to make the demands of the process appear so daunting to the governors that they will recoil from entering upon it. The amendment tempts me to that conclusion.

The governors will have met and decided in principle to hold a ballot of all their parent body on whether to apply for grant-maintained status. The resolution is unlikely to have come out of the blue. Parent governors I am sure will have played their full representative part in the discussions preceding the resolution just as they will at the second meeting needed to confirm it. The amendment in practice would do no more than require the governors to consult the parents about whether they wished to be consulted. I do not think that is sensible.

Lord Dormand of Easington

Any obfuscation would arise from the inability of or deliberate action by the Government not to proceed in the manner suggested by the amendment. The Minister's reply is completely unsatisfactory. He has not addressed the central requirement of the amendment. He has not dealt with what I said in moving it in terms of parents needing to be informed about what is happening.

Here we have a major decision to be taken that many parents will oppose. We are saying simply that they should be informed in the clearest fashion. What we have heard from the Minister is very unsatisfactory, and I should like to hear his further comments.

On Question, amendment negatived.

Lord Morton of Shuna moved Amendment No. 211BA: Page 44, line 23, leave out ("twenty") and insert ("forty").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to clarify, and in our view to improve on, the number of parents who can requisition a ballot. Given what was said earlier in Committee, the amendment may be considered with more sympathy.

Clause 50(2) requires that the request must be signed (or otherwise endorsed in such manner as the governing body may require) by a number of parents at the school equal to at least twenty per cent. of the number of registered pupils at the school on the date on which the request is received". On the assumption that most pupils of the schools will have two parents—in certain circumstances, some pupils may have one parent, some may have a step-parent, and in other cases there may be difficulties as to who the parents are—then one in five parents will have to sign. If there are 600 pupils at the school, 20 per cent. will total 120. Therefore, as I read it, just 120 parents will need to sign to requisition a ballot. They may be the parents of only 60 children, if my arithmetic is correct. I see the Minister raising his eyebrows, but I hope I have it right so far.

It seems to me that that is too low a percentage, especially as we now have to have a majority of the parents of the pupils at the school and we shall define later how that voting is to be carried out. It would be better if the ballot were requisitionable only on a larger quantity. For that reason the amendment suggests that "twenty" be deleted and "forty" inserted, which would in effect mean that the parents of at least 20 per cent. of the pupils at the school would need to be included. That would seem to be more reasonable than 10 per cent. Otherwise there would be scope for continuous requests for ballots, even if the vote in the end had gone against the opting-out procedure. I beg to move.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

I understand that this is to be discussed in conjunction with Amendments Nos. 211BB, 212A, 213ZA and 213ZB.

Lord Morton of Shuna

My understanding is that this amendment is being discussed on its own; otherwise I should have mentioned the grouping.

Lord Tordoff

I apologise. I believe I have an earlier grouping here.

Lord Trefgarne

On the assumption that I am replying only to Amendment No. 211BA—I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, if there has been some change of which he was not informed—let me start by emphasising yet again that what we are talking about is not a decision to become a grant-maintained school. Only the Secretary of State can take that decision. A parental petition is simply one way in which a group of parents can ensure that the issue of whether a school should apply for grant-maintained status is properly aired. It would be ridiculous to require that a group of parents equal to 40 per cent. of the numbers of pupils in the school would have to sign a petition which in itself was asking merely that the parental body be canvassed on the question of grant-maintained status.

There are safeguards in the Bill to ensure that the right of petition is not abused. Clause 50(5), for example, prohibits a second ballot from being called within 12 months and there are other safeguards as well. I see no reason to raise the hurdles which the Bill already provides in relation to petitions by parents. I suggest that only those who wish to see no grant-maintained schools at all would think otherwise. I hope the Committee will reject the amendment.

Lord Morton of Shuna

I do not intend to divide the Committee on the amendment at this time of night. I shall read what the Minister said, though to me it sounded unsatisfactory. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Tordoff moved Amendment No. 211BB: Page 44, line 24, at end insert—

  1. ("(2A) Where the governing body of a school is under a duty to secure that a ballot of parents is held under subsection (1) above, it shall first consult the governing body of any primary school from which it considers that a significant number of pupils have been admitted in the previous year, and shall secure that the information specified in section 51(3) below is made available to that governing body.
  2. (2B) The governing body of any primary school subject to consultation under subsection (2A) above shall take such steps as are practicable to seek the views of parents of pupils likely to be eligible for admission within the following four years to the school in respect of which an application for grant-maintained status is being considered, and shall report such views in its representations under the consultation procedure.
  3. (2C) Consultation under subsection (2B) above shall take place so far as practicable within one month.
  4. (2D) The governing body of the school in respect of which a ballot is to be held shall publish in respect of each primary school the results of consultation under subsection (2B) above, circulate a summary to parents under section 51(5) and shall include such results in any proposals submitted to the Secretary of State under section 52(2).").

The noble Lord said: I apologise to the Committee. I now have the correct grouping and I notice that Amendment No. 211BB is not grouped with anything.

Again I speak on behalf of my noble friend Lord McNair who is on his sick bed. The amendment is perfectly clear. It provides for a consultation process to be introduced so that the parents of children who are at local primary schools—those who are going on to the secondary schools—have a chance to have a say in relation to those schools to which their children will be going because they will be affected. Clearly if a school changes its status the children most affected by the change will be those who have entered the school in addition to those who remain after the change has taken place. We make provision for parents to be involved even though they may be the parents of children who may be leaving school. It is clearly more sensible to include children whose future lies within the school; in other words children in local primary schools who are about to enter the school will be as affected by the change, as will the others. At present the Bill does not give those parents any opportunity to have a say in the decisions. This amendment would give the governing body of the potential opt-out school the duty to consult the governing body of local primary schools. Under the amendment all the primary schools within the catchment area from which at least one pupil has been admitted in previous years would be consulted. I believe that to be perfectly straightforward and helpful in obtaining the genuine concern of those most involved. I beg to move.

Baroness David

I support the amendment because it involves consultation only with those parents who may well be attending the school in the future. I believe it to be only fair and right that they should have a chance to express their opinion. The amendment asks that parents should be consulted and that the results shall be given to those who will make the decisions. I hope that the Minister will feel able to accept the amendment or the principle of it. The wording may not be perfect but I hope that he will accept the spirit of it.

Lord Trefgarne

We recognise that the views of parents of pupils in feeder primaries are relevant to consideration of the question whether a school should become grant-maintained. But I am not at all convinced that the provisions relating to the parental ballot are the most appropriate place for such views to be taken into account.

To begin with, I do not believe this amendment to be workable. It takes a decidedly cavalier approach to the problem of the identification of feeder parents. The notion of identifying the parents of prospective pupils of a school four years before those parents will be called upon to make decisions about applications for admission is wholly unrealistic.

In any case, this amendment would place a highly cumbersome and quite unnecessary process on the shoulders of the school planning to hold a ballot on grant-maintained status, and—even more unreasonably—on those of any primary schools which it considers to be a feeder. Feeder parents who feel that they have something to contribute to the Secretary of State's consideration of a formal proposal will be entitled to make their views on such a proposal known to him. The ballot of parents should be left alone. Its role is to identify the views of the parents of existing pupils at the school. Their views must necessarily be pre-eminent, but they will not be decisive. I hope that the amendment will not be pressed.

Lord Tordoff

The Government are remarkably intransigent about some of the issues. The Minister accepts that there is a point. The noble Baroness, Lady David, says that the amendment may not be perfect and I accept that. We are making the point that parents of children in primary schools have a right to be consulted. Why on earth cannot the Government make some kind of concession and come forward with an amendment to deal with what is clearly a problem? I do not expect an answer from the Minister tonight. However, it would be nice to have an indication that he understands that we are not trying to demolish the whole system being put forward but are trying to be constructive.

Baroness David

I should like to add to the noble Lord's comments. The Minister appears to accept that there is a problem and that the parents should be consulted. Is he prepared to come back with his own wording making some kind of consultation process possible?

Lord Trefgarne

I am afraid that I can give no assurance of that kind.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

This is becoming very tiresome. Here we have an absolutely clear case that parents of next year's children are not to be consulted about what will happen in the school that the children are to attend. Instead of the Minister saying that he will take the matter away and look at it—which is what we are entitled to expect—he says that he will not consider the matter at all. I believe that that is quite intolerable.

Lord Tordoff

Clearly the Minister will not reply even to that impassioned appeal made by my noble friend. I wonder whether the Committee is not totally wasting its time at this time of night when the Government have not the slightest intention of listening to what is being said. However, in the circumstances and at this hour of the night, I have no alternative but to seek leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Morton of Shuna moved Amendment No. 211BC: Page 44, line 24, at end insert— ("(2A) For the purposes of subsection (2) above, there shall be cast in each case not more than one vote in respect of each registered pupil at the school exercisable by a parent or guardian of that pupil, or person otherwise responsible for the pupil.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady David and the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 211CA, 212B, 213 and 213ZC. These amendments concern the qualification for voting: who is to vote and how many votes they should have. Amendment No. 211BC states that in respect of each pupil of the school there should only be one vote in the ballot. That is what the amendment says. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch may disagree with the intention but that is what it says. It is undefined in the Bill whether each parent is to have a vote; whether, if two parents have three children, they each have three votes on the basis of one for each child; or whether, if it is a single parent, she or he is considered by the Government half as worthy as the parent who happens to have a spouse.

It seems to us that the amendment is reasonable and certainly that some definition of how the vote is to be counted and how it is to be arranged must be arrived at. It is not enough to say that regulations will be published at some later date. Regulations cannot be fully discussed and amended. That is the purpose of Amendment No. 211BC.

Amendment No. 211CA is to exclude from a vote the parent of a child who is within one year of the end of statutory education or who is above the age of statutory education where that parent has no other child at the school. It is not that we are against children of that age. Our case is that by the time the ballot has taken place and, let us say, the school opts out, the child will have left school. Therefore, it is irrelevant whether or not that parent wishes the school to opt out. That is the purpose of Amendment No. 211CA. Amendment No. 212B is a consequential amendment. I am not sure why it is included in this group; perhaps it belongs somewhere else.

Amendment No. 213 states that not more than one vote should be cast in respect of any registered pupil. It seems to us that that is the only way to answer the problem of how the voting is to be done; otherwise there will be unfairness between the multi-child family, the single parent family and the family which has split up and the parents have re-married which may cause all sorts of problems.

Amendment No. 213ZC again says that there should be only one vote in respect of each child but adds, A parent or guardian of that pupil, or person otherwise responsible for the pupil because there are situations where a child may be in care without a guardian and where the parent is not available to exercise any reasonable choice. That pupil should not be disenfranchised. With that explanation I beg to move Amendment No. 211BC.

10 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne

I am told that there is a view in various quarters that we have not got as far as we should have done in this Bill by this time. I am anxious to help in any way I can. Perhaps I can say that I am prepared to take Amendment No. 211BC away and have a look at it and see whether we can move some way to meet the point which the noble Lord makes.

I have a string of objections to the other amendments which I am happy to recite for the benefit of the noble Lord, but if, on the basis of the concession I have offered on the first amendment, he is happy to take my objections on the other ones as read, I am content to proceeed in that way.

Lord Morton of Shuna

Having heard what the noble Lord the Minister has given us already this evening, I am not entirely certain that I can lake as read anything because I do not know what might emerge. There was some difficulty with arithmetic. There may be even more difficulty over understanding. However, on the basis of the helpful and friendly undertaking, I think the best answer would be to delay consideration of the other amendments in the group, if necessary until the next stage, at Report.

Lord Tordoff

There are some amendments which are the converse of Amendment No. 211CA which we have just discussed, on primary schools. It is the other side of the coin about children in sixth forms and parents not being allowed to vote. I think it is better that we should take that away anyway and consider it in relation to the primary school amendment which we have already withdrawn. I think we would agree to the suggestions of the noble Lord, Lord Morton, and press on.

Lord Morton of Shuna

In the face of the Government's commitment on Amendment No. 211BC, I beg leave to withdraw that amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 211C: Page 44, line 25, leave out subsection (3).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 211CA not moved.]

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 211D: Page 44, line 27, at end insert— ("3A) Immediately following the passing of the first resolution the governing body shall consult—

  1. (a) the local education authority by whom the school is maintained; and
  2. (b) if the school is a voluntary school, the trustees of the school;
with respect to their decision to hold a ballot.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 211E: Page 44, line 34, leave out ("resolution or (as the case may be)") and insert ("second resolution; or (ii) within the period of two months beginning with the date immediately following the period of 28 days beginning with").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 211F: Page 44, line 48, at end insert— ("(7) Subject to subsection (8) below, it shall be the duty of the governing body of any school which is eligible for grant-maintained status, at the request of any parent of a registered pupil at the school, to make available to the parent for inspection (at all reasonable times and free of charge) at the school, and to supply the parent with a copy of, a list containing the name and address of every person who is known to the governing body to be such a parent if the request is made—

  1. (a) in connection with any proposal that a ballot should be held in accordance with section 51 of this Act; or
  2. (b) where the governing body are under a duty by virtue of this section to secure that such a ballot is held, in connection with the holding of the ballot.
(8) A governing body shall not disclose to a parent under subsection (7) above the name and address of any person who has requested the governing body in writing not to disclose that information under that subsection; and accordingly the name and address of that person shall be excluded from the list there mentioned. (9) A governing body who in pursuance of subsection (7) above supply copies of the list there mentioned may charge such fee as they think fit (not exceeding the cost of supply) in respect of each copy so supplied. (10) For the purposes of this section, it shall be for the governing body to determine any question whether a person is a parent of a registered pupil at the school.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 50, as amended, agreed to.

Baroness Faithfull moved Amendment No. 212: After Clause 50, insert the following new clause:

("Re-acquisition of maintained status. .—(1) The provisions of this Chapter relating to an application for grant-maintained status shall apply in relation to any grant-maintained school as if they referred also to an application on behalf of that school to reacquire maintained status. (2) This section shall apply in respect of any school from a date five years after the date of acquisition of grant-maintained status.").

The noble Baroness said: We now move into reverse and I will do so as quickly as possible. I think that is what the Chief Whip wants. Nevertheless, this is a most important amendment. The purpose of the amendment is to make it possible for schools to opt back into the local authority system five years after the date of acquisition of grant-maintained status.

There are several reasons for this. One may arrive at a situation where all the governors do not want to continue to be governors of the schools. Secondly, let us suppose that there is a complete change of environment; and in this day and age that is not an impossible situation. For instance, if parents in a little sleepy and attractive Kent village undertake to be governors and opt out of the system but then find the Channel Tunnel being built with two, three or four thousand people coming to their area from a different part of England—I shall not say with a different ethos, but with a completely different background—perhaps they would not wish to continue and would prefer that the school returned to the local authority. This may be because the parents and the governors feel that it would be in the interests of the new population for the school to revert to the local authority. There could be a complete change of staff, which is not at all unlikely.

There is another point; for example, where there are enough children in the school but not enough to fill it and not far away there is a local authority school that it would like to link up with but one is outside the local authority system and the other is inside it. Therefore, it ought to be possible under certain circumstances and after five years for a school to opt to return to the local authority system. It is a pity not to have that written into the Bill. It may never happen, or it may happen only on rare occasions; but I believe it is wise in legislation to make it possible to happen where necessary. I beg to move.

Lord Seebohm

I support this amendment. The word "irreversible" has been used a great many times today and I do not see the logic of it. If one can opt out then one must be allowed to opt back.

Lord Trefgarne

The amendment seeks to provide for grant-maintained schools to be able to reacquire LEA-maintained status after a minimum of five years' existence. The commitment to become a grant-maintained school is not something to be undertaken lightly. That must be clear to prospective governors and parents from the very outset; there should be no easy way out thereafter if things are felt to be getting a little tough. Possibly, some governors may find that the commitment to run a newly-constituted grant-maintained school proves heavier than they had anticipated. I need not spell out how undesirable it would be if in such circumstances this amendment provided them with a mechanism whereby they could simply change their minds and hand responsibility back to the local education authority.

If a grant-maintained school is to be an effective provider of high-quality education, as we intend, it must be left, once established, to operate in its new status without the continuing prospect of further institutional change. Indeed, it would be in no-one's interest—least of all the pupils—if a school were able to move easily back and forwards between the LEA and grant-maintained sectors.

I do not think this line is unduly harsh. I would remind the Committee that Clause 80 of the Bill contains provision for the governors of a grant-maintained school to publish proposals to close it. I would expect the circumstances in which this step was taken to be most exceptional; and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has consistently made it clear that he would not expect any such proposal to be published within the first 10 years of a grant-maintained school's life. But where he had received and approved such a proposal the local education authority would retain its responsibility to secure enough places for the pupils in its area, and it might consider whether to establish a school in the premises. That is I believe the sensible way forward.

The Government are confident that grant-maintained schools will be successful. The provisions in the Bill ensure that they will be fully accountable to parents. If problems arise, parents and governors will surely wish to seek their own remedies rather than return cap in hand to the local education authority. That is what genuine freedom and responsibility mean, and should mean. I hope that the amendment will not be pressed.

Baroness Seear

I find that a most extraordinary answer. The Minister says that this is freedom. Freedom is also the freedom rationally to change your mind on occasions, especially if the circumstances change and the position is quite different from that in which you made up your mind in the first place. I remind the noble Lord that if it is necessary to have more than 50 per cent. of all the parents entitled to vote—he now understands what that means—it cannot be undertaken lightly because he would need to have the consent of that proportion of all the parents.

The noble Lord has not answered any of the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, especially the important point of what will happen to schools that find themselves with falling rolls. This may happen for reasons that could not have been foreseen when the original vote was taken. Is it not sensible that they should amalgamate with another scheme? What the Minister is saying is that they would have to close and start all over again, whereas the sensible thing in those circumstances would be to make possible an amalgamation with what might well be a local authority school. He has not answered that point. He has not answered the point about a change in the nature of an area. To say that it is freedom to be able to come out, but then to deny freedom to change your mind and to go back in, is the most extraordinary definition of freedom. As on so many occasions, the Minister has asserted that the Government know they are right. That is all he has told us.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

What will happen to the children if the school closes? Will they be left without a school?

Lord Hylton

I should have thought that a transfer or merger is infinitely preferable to closing the whole thing down under Clause 80. If the amendment were modified to allow a 10-year period or even a 15-year period before any new change could occur, would the Government look much more favourably on it than they have done so far?

Lord Trefgarne

The short answer to the noble Lord is, no. The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, asked what would happen to the children if a school closed. The answer is that they would be transferred elsewhere. The likely scenario of closure is where rolls are falling in more than one school. If one school closes, the children at that school would be transferred elsewhere.

Baroness David

Presumably they would then be transferred to a local authority school. That would be the only possibility.

Lord Trefgarne

Not necessarily. It depends on what other schools are available in the area.

The Lord Bishop of London

Below 300 pupils a school cannot seek grant-maintained status. If for reasons beyond the school's control the numbers steadily decline, does the noble Lord envisage that we shall have small grant-maintained schools in an area? If he does, what is the reason for the figure of 300? There does not seem to be any logic to it. If the number falls below 300 and you do not want smaller grant-maintained schools, you have to do something else about it. I do not see what is provided unless the Government are content to have small grant-aided schools because of the position that has arisen.

Lord Trefgarne

We have made it clear that we have no difficulty in principle with the possibility of smaller grant-maintained schools. We believe that it should be a progressive matter. There are powers in the Bill to make that possible. Indeed, there are powers in the Bill to enable it to happen fairly quickly. But as a general rule it probably will not happen until later.

As for the problems of merging schools, the mechanics of merger, which is very often a sensible thing to do, are to close one school and to move the students into another.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

Does the Minister not accept that the freedom of which he speaks pertains only to one generation of parents? In one year one group of parents will have the freedom to chose, and thereafter the parents will have no further freedom in the matter whatever, save only to have the school closed.

Baroness Blackstone

Will the Minister also tell us what will happen to the curriculum in a grant-maintained school if the numbers decline considerably?

Lord Trefgarne

The arrangements for setting up the curriculum were covered in the earlier debate on the Bill and the noble Baroness was involved in those discussions. Naturally, if the number of students at a school declined considerably, then no doubt there would be difficulties in maintaining proper classes in some subjects. It is in such circumstances that schools will consider whether it is sensible for them to continue. However, I very much believe that that is not something they should take it into their heads to do overnight.

Lord Tordoff

Would the noble Lord be kind enough to answer my question?

Lord Graham of Edmonton

Freedom for one lot of parents!

Lord Tordoff

I am sorry to repeat myself at this time of night because it is getting late. I suggested that the Government were offering freedom to just one generation of parents; that is, the generation which chooses to opt for grant-maintained status. Subsequent generations of parents would not be allowed any freedom at all—save only to close the school.

Lord Trefgarne

Student rolls in schools change. One of the feaures of the policy we are now putting forward is that parents should have a greater choice as to where to send their children to school.

Baroness Faithfull

I agree with the Minister to this extent: it will not be the ordinary thing for people to ask to opt back into the state system. However, there are certain circumstances which might make it advisable and wise, giving freedom to parents and governors, and, indeed, to children. It would be a pity not to write into the Bill the mechanism by which people can opt back to the state system, although I realise that such a course of action would not be undertaken often.

I have listened carefully to what the Minister has said. I should like to give further consideration to the matter. I shall think about his comments and bring the matter back at the next stage of the Bill's proceedings. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth) moved Amendment No. 212A: After Clause 50, insert the following new clause:

("Consultation prior to ballot. —(1) Before a ballot is held under section 51 below, the governing body of the school shall consult with such voluntary and community organisations as appear to him to be concerned. (2) The governing body shall allow a period of not less than ten weeks between the time that invitations to voluntary and community organisations to respond to the consultation are issued and the closing of the consultation period.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 213ZA. The combined purpose of these amendments is to ensure that the full consequences of a school opting out are explained and made known to all the parents entitled to take part in the opt-out vote. Schools are about a great deal more than providing formal education for school-age children; they are part of the wider community which therefore needs to be involved in the important decision about opting out.

Voluntary and community groups are involved in many ways with schools. For example, they provide nursery and pre-school education; they provide supplementary education for ethnic-minority young people; and they are major providers of adult education. Some of the arguments have already been discussed in conenction with Amendment No. 209 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, so I shall not repeat them. However, I hope the Minister will find this amendment a more acceptable way of covering some of the same concerns by different means. The community would lose in terms of facilities, but in a sense it is a symbiotic relationship. In the long run, the school could end up being a loser as well, because without those other activities, which link it to the wider community, it would be a poorer and a narrower place. The amendment calls for detailed consultations within a reasonable period with voluntary and community groups before the Clause 51 ballot takes place, rather than relying on an objection after the masters of their destiny have made their decision.

Amendment No. 213ZA would require the governors to send all parents involved the identity of each responding group and a short statement of the broad thrust of their responses. Together, these amendments would allow a more informed debate on the principle of opting out. Parents will be in a better position to make the decision if they understand and take into account the full range of connections between the school and the local community. I beg to move.

Baroness David

I should like to support that amendment to which my name is also attached. I understood that it was to be grouped with Amendment No. 218BF which comes after Clause 66 which concerns the community use. I am sorry, I now understand that that is not the case, and if so my grouping was wrong.

Baroness Hooper

As I understand it, the grouping is of Amendments Nos. 212A, 213ZA and 213ZB.

Lord Hylton

I wish to support this amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on the Government Front Bench will no doubt be familiar with, for example, the village colleges in Cambridgeshire. They are an example where existing school premises are being used, adapted and sometimes newly built to allow a high degree of adult education to take place in them at the same time as normal school education.

That is not the only different purpose for which schools are often used. In my part of Somerset they are frequently used for youth activities. I know of one building which combines a school and a village hall in the same premises. Even where schools do not have formal hall facilities they are frequently used for vegetable and produce displays, for jumble sales, and for all kinds of fund-raising efforts within the local community. Anything that can be done in the present circumstances to save and preserve adult education in a rapidly changing society must surely be of the greatest importance.

Baroness Blackstone

I am speaking to Amendment No. 213ZB. The purpose of this amendment is very simple. There are large numbers of pupils in primary and secondary schools in some parts of the country who do not speak English as a first language at home. Their parents may have some command of either written or spoken English or they may have none at all.

The issues involved in grant-maintained status are very complex. If the English of some parents is poor, they may misunderstand what is entailed. So if no information is provided for them in minority languages, some parents will de facto be disenfranchised when it comes to voting on the issue of grant-maintained status; or they will be voting either way without really knowing what it is all about. They could be victims of manipulation either by those voting to opt out or those voting to opt in.

I am sure all noble Lords will agree that most parents of children in the ethnic minority groups care passionately about their children's education. To exclude them from obtaining the information about something as important as this would, I am sure noble Lords agree, be quite wrong. In some parts of the country the ethnic composition of schools will not give rise to any need for governors to make such information available in minority languages. However, in others it will be very important. In London, for example, some 23 per cent. of pupils do not speak English at home, and if opting out were to be used by some parents to try to create racially segregated schools, it would be all the more important that they should be properly informed.

A recent Harris poll conducted by London Weekend Television found that only 15 per cent. of black Afro-Caribbean parents and only 19 per cent. of Asians were in favour of such schools for their own groups. If we look at surveys nationally, we can see that they suggest that about 8 per cent. of ethnic minority parents speak no English, and that 20 per cent. speak very little. The cost of providing that information in the relative minority languages would not be very great. In many other public services the information is provided and made available where there are non-English speakers concentrated in the area. The benefits will be considerable. Indeed unless the information is provided in languages other than English, the Bill's philosophy (which we are told is to increase parental choice and participation) will be compromised.

Lord Bonham-Carter

I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, has spoken to Amendment No. 213ZB standing in my name. I should like to say how profoundly I support that amendment for the reasons which the noble Baroness has given.

It requires no mathematical knowledge to see its import. It is simply stating that parents who under this legislation are asked to take heavy responsibility should be provided with the information on the basis of which they can take a decision. Let me add that this absence of knowledge of the English language is not confined to what are known as the ethnic minority groups as they exist now. The figures for immigration into this country show that a much higher proportion of immigrants come from the European Community. Those parents will also in many cases be ignorant of the English language.

That is not a temporary problem. It is a problem which will continue into the future. Therefore I hope that the noble Lord who will reply will listen to us in this case because the amendment supports the principles on which the Bill is based. I hope that on this occasion, having listened to the arguments, he will be able to consider in a constructive manner the purpose of the amendment and give us a positive and constructive reply, and that he will not just throw it away without any acknowledgement of the case that we are putting.

Lord Trefgarne

I shall deal first with Amendments Nos. 212A and 213ZA. I do not think that it is particularly useful to require governors and parents to consult voluntary and community organisations, although of course there is nothing to prevent them from doing so if they wish. But again the proper time for such views to be taken into account is when the Secretary of State is considering a formal proposal.

The prospect of an application for grant-maintained status will be an item of intense interest to the local community. One has only to look at the amount of local interest in and knowledge of proposals which local education authorities make about changing the character of or closing a school to know that there is no need to write into the Bill specific opportunities for everyone to make their views known at all stages.

Those who have views on the issue will not fail to make them known. If the ballot favours an application, there will be plenty of opportunity for everyone who has an interest to put forward comments on or objections to the statutory proposals which will result. These amendments therefore achieve nothing except I fear a muddying of the waters. They add unnecessarily to governing bodies' tasks and may turn out to be just a delaying tactic.

If I have been a trifle harsh as regards those two amendments, I am glad to say that I am a good deal better disposed at least to the spirit of Amendment No. 213ZB. The Government believe that the opportunities which the Education Reform Bill offers to parents to guide and influence their children's education are and should be open to all.

The vast majority of parents, whatever their background, want the best for their children and our task is to assist them in that objective. That applies as much to the grant-maintained schools option as to any other aspect of the Bill. I entirely agree that all parents should have an equal chance to consider whether grant-maintained status for their child's school is an option they wish to pursue, and that all parts of the local community should be able to consider and comment on the implications of any subsequent application to the Secretary of State.

As soon as the Bill becomes law, assuming that it does, we shall be offering guidance to school governors on the procedures for applying for grant-maintained status. We shall remind governors of the requirement in Clause 51 that they should give all parents such information as may reasonably be expected to enable them to form a proper judgment on the proposed application. In some cases that may not be possible without some translation or interpretation into other languages, and we shall recognise that in our guidance.

For its part, the department intends to help by providing some standard information in some of the major languages spoken in this country. I believe that our record with the GCSE leaflet has shown that we can deliver. I am not persuaded, however, that those are matters that need to be covered in regulations. Regulations would introduce an unnecessary degree of inflexibility into the relationship between a governing body and parents. It is difficult to see how the Secretary of State, as the promulgator of such regulations, could judge whether the decisions which the governors took were the right ones. They, and not he, know best the needs of the parent body.

Nor is such formality necessary. I believe that the governing body of a school which is seeking grant-maintained status will have the strongest possible interest in demonstrating that the parent body as a whole is behind its application and will take the necessary steps to secure its support. We have said repeatedly that a low turnout in a parental ballot would be an important factor for the Secretary of State to consider as regards any application which may come forward. It is equally important that the Secretary of State is furnished by the community with all the information and comments that he will need to make a sensible decision on a proposal. I should prefer to proceed on that basis.

I hope that in the light of the assurances which I have been able to give—particularly with regard to Amendment No. 213ZB—the noble Baroness and the noble Lord will feel that their anxieties have been assuaged.

Baroness Blackstone

I am grateful for that reply, and especially grateful that the Minister accepts the spirit of the amendment. Can he perhaps say what he will do when cases are drawn to his attention in which the guidelines have not been adhered to by governing bodies?

Lord Trefgarne

I am quite certain that the department would take a serious view of that matter and would wish to make sure that whatever was necessary was being done and that the guidelines were being adhered to. I am also sure that governing bodies, once they are aware of the guidelines, will be anxious to comply with them.

Baroness Blackstone

I had hoped that the position could be made clear in regulations which would have safeguarded it rather better than merely issuing guidance. However, in the light of that answer, I shall beg leave to withdraw my amendment in due course.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

I moved Amendment No. 212A, although other amendments were spoken to. Therefore, perhaps I may thank the Minister for his less than encouraging reply. While I acknowledge some part of what he has said, particularly about publicity, I feel that the role of a school in the wider life of a community and the relationship between school and community are very important.

We are asking for very little. We are asking only that voluntary and community organisations should be consulted and that the results should be made known to parents before they vote so that they will realise the implications of opting out. I am sorry the Minister thinks that that would muddy the waters. In any case, I shall read what he has said and think about the matter. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 51 [Ballot of parents]:

[Amendments Nos. 212E to 213ZC not moved.]

Baroness Seear moved Amendment No. 213A: Page 45, line 19, leave out subsection (4) and insert— ("(4) The provisions of sections 50 and 51 of this Act shall not come into effect until the Secretary of State shall have published a schedule explaining how the word "parent" shall be understood for the purposes of these sections.").

The noble Baroness said: On behalf of my noble friend Lord Russell who, like all too many of my colleagues, is laid low, I should like to speak to this amendment.

This amendment should not be necessary. In a Bill in which voting by parents is a matter of such importance it surely follows that there must be somewhere a definition of what is meant by the word "parent". It may seem at first sight to be fairly obvious what a parent is. However, it has been pointed out during the discussions that a number of people now have not only two natural parents but in divorced families there may be a great many people who claim to be parents. There may also be people who, while not being parents, are the people doing the job of a parent, namely, a grandparent or some official who is looking after the wellbeing of the child. It is essential if we are to make sense of the whole voting procedure that somewhere in the schedule there should be a proper definition of what is meant by the word "parent".

I understand that such a definition occurs in other legislation, but in this Bill it does not exist. For those who complain that it is taking us too long to deal with the Bill perhaps I may say that if it had been better prepared in regard to matters such as this we should have been able to make very much faster progress. I beg to move.

Lord Trefgarne

The amendment would prevent parents or governors from pursuing an application for grant-maintained status until the Secretary of State had published the definition of a "parent" for this purpose in a schedule to the Bill. The Government believe that this would be an unnecessary and over-prescriptive provision; but I can reassure the noble Baroness that we intend to provide, in an appropriate manner, all the information and guidance which governors will require to carry out their duties effectively in this context.

Let me begin by emphasising what governors will not have to do. It is already made clear on the face of the Bill that governors will be required to take all reasonable steps—no less and no more—to ensure that every person known to them to be a parent of a registered pupil at the school is given the opportunity to vote. The duty laid on them under the Pupils' Registration Regulations, as amended, to ensure that their admissions register is up to date, in including the names of every person claiming parental rights in respect of a child at the school, will facilitate that.

The need for governors to do more is carefully circumscribed. Very occasionally a genuine question may arise as to whether a person qualifies as a parent of a registered pupil at the school. In such cases it will be for the governing body to reach a decision, taking account of the legal definition of a parent for the purposes of the Education Acts. These define a parent as including a guardian and every person who has the actual custody of the child or young person, so there may be circumstances where a child has more than two parents. The natural parents of a child will normally qualify, even where they are divorced and a step-parent or other relative is also exercising parental rights—but sometimes a natural parent may have his or her rights and duties removed by a court order.

The burden of proof will be on the person wanting to be recorded on the admissions register as the parent of a particular child. A person who disputed the governing body's decision would have to demonstrate that it was a decision which no reasonable governing body could have taken. All those matters will be discussed in guidance we shall issue to every governor in the country once the Bill has received Royal Assent.

I hope that it will be recognised that the principles I have outlined offer a sensible and thoughtful way of proceeding. I am confident that sensible and thoughtful governors will have no difficulty in applying their common sense to the matter in those few cases where a question arises. I hope therefore that the noble Baroness will feel able not to press the amendment.

Baroness Seear

The Government are incurably perverse so far as concerns this Bill. The Minister has made it quite clear that the position can be very confused. Of course, the right course of action depends very considerably on the amendment which the Minister agreed to take back and look at, which concerns whether it is to be one vote for one child and therefore only one parent. If that is to be the case—and surely common sense dictates that it must be—one can foresee all manner of difficulties about who can claim to be a parent.

I remain totally unconvinced yet again with the Minister's so-called explanation of what will happen. I can see nothing but confusion ahead by a refusal at this stage to decide on some definition, taking the two amendments together: how many votes there will be per child and, if they come to what is surely the obvious conclusion that there will be only one parent, how that parent is to be defined.

In view of the lateness of the hour I do not intend to press this amendment. I shall take it back and no doubt bring it forward again at a later date when, although the Minister has not said that he will consider the matter, I hope that he will do so and give us a more satisfactory reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.45 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 213B: Page 46, line 4, at end insert— ("( ) It shall be the duty of the governing body to give information about procedures for and consequences of acquisition of grant maintained status for a school to teaching and non-teaching staff.").

The noble Baroness said: Many teachers will be unfamiliar with what is entailed in becoming a grant-maintained school. I think it is all too easy for governors to assume that teachers will know all about the matter simply because they are professionals. But they are professional educators; often they are not especially knowledgeable about financial, administrative or employment matters. For example, will they know that carefully worked out and agreed procedures which the local education authority may have negotiated with their representatives about equal opportunities in employment or opportunities for in-service training, say, may no longer apply?

Governor's contacts tend to be with head teachers and their deputies and with any teacher on a governing body, but all those three categories of teacher will inevitably be rather better informed than the run-of-the-mill classroom teacher. The whole teaching staff needs to know as employees and as professional educators what for them will be the consequences of grant-maintained status. Of course, everything that I have said so far about teaching staff applies equally to non-teaching or support staff, who are likely to have even less knowledge of what may happen. I beg to move.

Lord Trefgarne

On the assumption that I am replying to Amendments Nos. 213B and 215BA, perhaps I may say that so far as concerns the former amendment, Amendment No. 213B, I have some sympathy with that proposition and should like an opportunity to consider the matter further if the noble Baroness will agree to withdraw it.

I am afraid that I cannot offer such comfort in regard to Amendment No. 215BA, but in the light of the assurance that I have given on Amendment No. 213B, I hope that the noble Baroness will be content not to move Amendment No. 215BA.

Baroness Blackstone

I am grateful to the Minister for that assurance, in the light of which I am content not to move the other amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 51 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 213C not moved.]

Clause 52 [Proposals for acquisition of grant-maintained status]:

[Amendment No. 214 not moved.]

The Lord Bishop of London moved Amendment No. 214A: Page 46, line 31, after ("majority") insert ("of parents eligible to vote").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 215 had been removed from the Marshalled List.]

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 215A: Page 46, line 36, leave out from ("school") to ("a") in line 37 and insert ("in accordance with section (Publication of proposals and notice with respect to proposals) of this Act or regulations made under that section and any notice with respect to the proposals for the time being required by that section or by such regulations; and (b) submit to the Secretary of State").

The noble Baroness said: The government amendments in this group are intended to clarify the arrangements to be made by the governing body of a school in respect of the publication of formal proposals for grant-maintained status following a successful ballot of parents under Clause 51. Perhaps I should say that I am speaking also to Amendments Nos. 215C, 215E, 215CA and 215CB. In general the arrangements specified follow the model of proposals made under Sections 12 and 13 of the Education Act 1980 for the reorganisation or closure of a maintained school with one significant exception.

A proposal for grant-maintained status is required to contain a very great deal of information about the school in question both in its present and prospective status, as Clause 52 of the Bill shows. This is essential if all interested parties are to be able to take a sensible view of the proposals. I believe that our amendments sensibly balance the need to limit the expense to which an individual school is put in publishing such a proposal against the importance of ensuring that the key items of information are brought to the attention of a wider public. Subsection (2) of the new clause accordingly requires the governors to publish a summarised version of their proposals in a newspaper circulating in the area but leaves it to them to decide whether to publish more than the required minimum of detail. I believe that these provisions strike a sensible balance between openness and financial prudence, and I commend them to the Committee.

I now turn to Amendment No. 215CA. The Committee will recognise that the provisions in the Bill relating to statutory proposals in respect of the establishment, change of character or closure of a grant-maintained school are closely modelled on those applying to the closure or reorganisation of existing maintained schools under Section 12 of the 1980 Act. These require that comments or objections to statutory proposals should be made within two months of their publication; yet, in the case of grant-maintained schools only, the proposers of this amendment seek to make it three.

I believe that two months is sufficient time for people to form a judgment on the merits or demerits of a proposal relating to the possible establishment of a grant-maintained school, which, in the vast majority of cases, will be more straightforward than its Section 12 counterpart. Interested parties will after all have had a good deal of advance warning that such a proposal is likely to be published: the intense interest which I expect to surround most parental ballots on grant-maintained status will see to that. To begin extending this period would be further to delay determination of the question one way or the other. This is surely not in the best interests of the school whose future is at issue. I urge the Committee to reject this amendment.

Turning to Amendment No. 215CB, I have to say that the Government also consider this unnecessary. We have already amended the list of statutory objectors to make it clear that any 10 local government electors rather than electors for the particular area alone have a statutory right to object. That category will include the vast majority of staff at the school but in any case my right honourable friend has consistently made clear that in considering proposals for grant-maintained status he will take all the relevant factors into account.

I entirely agree that the views of the staff on the question will be important and useful, but adding them to the list in subsection (1) will, I assure the Committee, do very little to make them more important or useful. My right honourable friend's commitment is, I suggest, more valuable than a gesture of this kind. I invite the proposers of the amendment to withdraw it.

Lord Morton of Shuna

I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 215CA and 215CB, which relate to Clause 52(1). The clause states: Before the end of the period of two months … any of the following may submit objections to the proposals to the Secretary of State". From what the Minister has said, I gather that teachers will be able to make submissions to the Secretary of State. If that is the case, what is the point of paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d)? One could just say that the Secretary of State would consider any submissions in the period. To a lawyer like the noble Baroness, the natural meaning is surely that the exclusive groups of people who can make submissions to the Secretary of State are, first: (a) any ten or more local government electors". If there are only nine local government electors, they cannot. Then come: (b) the trustees (if any) of the school concerned; (c) the governing body of any school affected by the proposals; and (d) any local education authority concerned". It is possible for a lawyer to say that those are the only people who may do this, and it is possible for a Secretary of State to take that view.

The Minister has taken the view that this will be M r. Baker. For his sake, I hope that Mr. Baker will not be in the Department of Education and Science permanently. If the Bill lasts as long as the 1944 Act, he will be there for a very considerable time! That surely cannot be the meaning. I think that some more consideration should be given to the question.

If members of the staff are to be allowed to submit objections, why not mention them? It will add only one more line to the Bill.

I deal now with Amendment 215CA in regard to: the period of two months beginning with the date of publication of the proposals". That depends very much on when the proposals are published. If six weeks of the period is a school holiday, it will sometimes be difficult to get the thing done. Three months seems to be a reasonable period for what will be an irreversible change if the proposal goes through. I suggest therefore that there is more merit in these amendments than the Minister was prepared to concede when, in effect, she answered them before they had been spoken to.

Baroness Seear

I hope that the Minister recognises—I am sure that she does—the importance of teaching staff in making the schemes work. If teaching staff see this list of groups of people who have such a right and they are not included on it, they are bound to feel that they are not being given the same kind of consideration accorded to the groups mentioned on the face of the Bill.

Baroness Hooper

To take first the point of the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, on Amendment No. 215CA, if the time limit has served satisfactorily for the purpose of Section 12 of the 1980 Act, I see no reason why it should not do so in this case.

I think that Amendment No. 215CB is unnecessary. If we put into the Bill every single line suggested by the noble Lord, it would become considerably longer than it now is. Nevertheless, I am prepared to take this back for further consideration in the light of what has been said.

Lord Morton of Shuna

I am glad that the Minister is prepared to do that. I can imagine a situation where some of the school staff objected and someone challenged the legal right of the Secretary of State to consider the matter as it was not included in subsection (10).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 215B and 215BA not moved.]

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 215C: Page 48, line 17, after ("beginning") insert ("on or").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 215CA to 215DB not moved.]

Clause 52, as amended, agreed to.

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 215E: After Clause 52, insert the following new clause:

("Publication of proposals and notice with respect to proposals. .—(1) Where section 52 of this Act applies in the case of any school, the proposals for acquisition of grant-maintained status for the school shall for the purposes of subsection (2) of that section be published—

  1. (a) by being posted at or near any main entrance to the school;
  2. (b) by being posted in at least one conspicuous place within the area served by the school; and
  3. (c) by being made available for inspection at all reasonable times at the school or at any other place within that area to which members of the public may conveniently have access.
(2) There shall be published in at least one newspaper circulating in that area a notice with respect to the proposals containing such summary of the proposals as the governing body may think appropriate including, in particular, the information required by subsection (3) below. (3) A notice under subsection (2) above shall—
  1. (a) state that proposals for acquisition of grant-maintained status have been published and submitted to the Secretary of State for approval;
  2. (b) specify the proposed date of implementation of the proposals;
  3. (c) state that, if the proposals are so approved, the school will on that date—
    1. (i) cease to be maintained by the local education authority; and
    2. (ii) be conducted by a newly constituted governing body and maintained by grants paid by the Secretary of State;
  4. (d) give the information required to be specified in the proposals by section 52(7)(f)(i) of this Act;
  5. 1331
  6. (e) state where the proposals may be inspected; and
  7. (f) explain the effect of section 52(10) of this Act."
(4) The Secretary of State may by regulations make such provision (whether by way of modification of, or substitution for, the provisions of subsections (1) to (3) above) as he considers appropriate with respect to—
  1. (a) the publication of proposals for the acquisition of grant-maintained status; and
  2. (b) the publication of such notice (if any) with respect to such proposals as may be prescribed.
(5) References in this section to proposals for acquisition of grant-maintained status include references to the statement required by section 52(5) of this Act to be annexed to the proposals.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 53 [Constitution of the initial governing body of a grant-maintained school]:

[Amendments Nos. 216, 216ZA and 216A not moved.]

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 216B: Page 49, line 46, after ("officio") insert— ("(d) at least one representative of the local education authority").

The noble Baroness said: The purpose of this amendment is to require that the initial governing body of a grant-maintained school should have at least one representative of the LEA. Once the Secretary of State approves an application for grant-maintained status, the initial governing body comes into being and the previous LEA representatives will no longer be governors. The amendment allows a continuing presence of the local education authority. The sound reasons for having a representative still is the need for continuity and there will, presumably, be some need for the continuing provision of LEA services to the grant-maintained schools, such as transport; school meals, we understand; professional services for children with special education needs and other matters as well, and the ability to use the expertise of the LEA to help the grant-maintained school establish itself.

The need for LEA representation on local school governing bodies would assist on the resolution of issues such as conflicting admissions policies. It is very important clearly that the two bodies should get together to decide that they do not have totally dissimilar policies. I speak at the same time to Amendment No. 216C, which I believe is grouped with this. Members of the initial governing body of a grant-maintained school should be eligible for co-option to the governing body of a maintained school in the same area. This is really to achieve reciprocity.

It obviously would be useful for both sides to have representation, one on the other. Because LEA schools have been planned as a whole over a period for many years, it is essential to have cross-representation between the independent grant-maintained schools to ensure that the interests of local schools are not ignored by a grant-maintained school when considering issues such as schools' admissions policies, that I mentioned, or the character of a school when it is proposed to change it.

Local county and voluntary schools have places for the co-option of governors, and the addition of this amendment would direct governing bodies to the membership of local grant-maintained schools' governing bodies when they are seeking to find co-optees.

I hope I have made it clear that we want an LEA governor on the grant-maintained school, and we want the possibility to co-opt a governor from the grant-maintained school on the LEA school. This is a very reasonable request and I hope that these two amendments will be agreed to by the Government.

11 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne

So far as Amendment No. 216C is concerned, while I do not see any need to include such an amendment in the Bill, the objectives of the amendment are quite laudible and I would be willing to consider whether it might be possible to put in some words which met the point which the noble Baroness has made.

I am afraid that I cannot be as accommodating so far as Amendment No. 216B is concerned because I think that that is an unnecessary addition to the Bill. Co-operation is likely to be most fruitful when willingly sought by both sides. There is nothing to prevent a grant-maintained school governing body from inviting the local chief education officer to attend their meetings, either on a regular basis, if they believe that to be justified, or for particular purposes. I am sure that many schools will use this power. Some may even invite an official from the local education authority to become a first governor. A school which opts out of local authority control should be free to make a completely fresh start if the governors so wish. It would not be right to impose upon them the sort of requirement embodied in the amendment.

I hope that, in the light of the consideration that I am prepared to give to the thoughts behind Amendment No. 216C, the noble Baroness will be content.

Baroness David

I am glad, of course, for small mercies, and accept the fact that the Minister is going to take back Amendment No. 216C. However, it is rather a one-way transaction. The local authority is receiving somebody from a grant-maintained school, but the grant-maintained school is making no gesture in the other direction. It is not the same sort of thing to have an officer going there to sit and listen.

I shall not press this amendment now but I will probably come back with this at Report stage because it is quite an important amendment. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 216C, 217 and 217ZA not moved.]

Clause 53 agreed to.

Clauses 54 to 57 agreed to.

Clause 58 [Provisions supplementary to section 57]:

[Amendment No. 2 17ZB not moved.]

Clause 58 agreed to.

Clause 59 [Elections required for determining initial governors: supplementary provisions]:

[Amendment No. 217ZC not moved.]

Clause 59 agreed to.

Clause 60 agreed to.

Clause 61 [Initial government and conduct: further provisions]:

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 217A: Page 57, line 38, leave out from ("the") to end of line 41 and insert ("transition to grant-maintained status of a school in respect of which proposals for acquisition of such status have been approved and the initial government and conduct of a grant-maintained school.").

The noble Baroness said: In speaking to this amendment, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 281A, 218ZA and 218ZB.

These amendments make prudent provision to facilitate the transition of a school to grant-maintained status. They enable the prospective initial governing body of a grant-maintained school to make some preparatory arrangements in the period between approval of the school's application for that status and its formal incorporation date some time later. They also empower my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to provide financial support for this.

A new grant-maintained school will normally be incorporated at the beginning of the school year. But some decisions will need to be taken before September. The new governors will need to put in hand the school's admissions arrangements; they may also need to make staff appointments and sign contracts relating to the period after incorporation. Clearly, these are not matters for the governing body of the school in its old status but for its prospective initial governing body as a grant-maintained school. These amendments therefore provide that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State may by order authorise the prospective initial governing body to take the appropriate decisions or actions.

The amendment also provides for the prospective initial governing body to be able to decide questions arising from Clauses 65 and 66 which relate to the disposal of assets and disposition of staff at the school before it is incorporated. In certain circumstances, where it would be only prudent for it to have a say, provision may also he made for the prospective initial governing body to be consulted by the existing governing body of the school or by the LEA.

Subsection 1C of Amendment No. 218ZA will permit my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to pay the equivalent of special purpose grants to the prospective initial governing body once its application for grant-maintained status has been approved. For example, education support grant moneys in support of financial delegation could be paid to the school from the April before its September incorporation to enable the governors to establish accounting and information systems in good time. These subventions will be limited but useful.

These provisions will further secure the smooth and successful transition of schools to grant-maintained status, and I commend them to the Committee. I beg to move.

Lord Tordoff

I thought that we were also discussing Amendment No. 281A. I had looked forward to the noble Baroness dealing with the proposal at page 170, line 8, after (" 137") insert ("paragraph 1A of Schedule 3,").

Baroness Hooper

I am afraid I do not follow the noble Lord.

Lord Tordoff

I thought that the noble Baroness would speak also to Amendment No. 281A in this grouping.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 61, as amended, agreed to.

[Amendment No. 218 not moved.]

Schedule 3 [The initial governing body of a grant-maintained school]:

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 218ZA: Page 184, line 7, at end insert—

("Transition to grunt-maintained status 1A.—(1) Where the Secretary of State approves proposals for acquisition of grant-maintained status in respect of any school he may by an order or orders made at any time on or after the date on which he approves the proposals and before the incorporation date in relation to the school make such provision as he considers appropriate in connection with the school's transition to grant-maintained status and the impending transfer of responsibility for the conduct of the school to an initial governing body constituted in accordance with the proposals. (2) References below in this Schedule, in relation to any school in respect of which such proposals have been approved, to the prospective governing body are references to the persons named in the proposals as the proposed initial governors. 1B. The provision that may be made by an order under paragraph 1A above includes in particular provision—

  1. (a) for the exercise by the prospective governing body in relation to the school, in such circumstances and in such manner and subject to such conditions as may be specified in the order, of any power so specified corresponding to any of the powers that would by virtue of section 47 of this Act be exercisable by the initial governing body of the school on its incorporation, including in particular power—
    1. (i) to appoint members of staff to take up employment on or after the incorporation date in relation to the school;
    2. (ii) to enter into contracts for the purpose of or in connection with the conduct of the school on or after that date; and
    3. (iii) to determine the arrangements for admission of pupils to the school that are to apply in the first school year beginning on or after that date;
  2. (b) excluding or modifying any powers of the local education authority or of the existing governing body in relation to any matter to which any power exercisable by the prospective governing body in accordance with any provision made by virtue of paragraph (a) above applies;
  3. (c) enabling the prospective governing body, instead of the existing governing body, to give or withhold any consent or agreement required for the purposes of any provision of section 65 or 66 of this Act;
  4. (d) for—
    1. (i) requiring the prospective governing body to be consulted before the local education authority or the existing governing body exercise in relation to the school any function of a description specified in the order or take in relation to the school any action of a description so specified; or
    2. (ii) requiring or enabling the prospective governing body to participate in the exercise in relation to the school of any such function or in the taking in relation to the school of any such action;
    in such circumstances and in such manner as may be so specified; and
  5. 1335
  6. (e) with respect to the proceedings of the prospective governing body and the authentication of their actions (including the making or issue of any instrument by them or on their behalf).
1C.—(1) The Secretary of State may make grants to the prospective governing body in respect of expenditure incurred or to be incurred by them in pursuance of any provision made by an order under paragraph 1A above. (2) The Secretary of State may—
  1. (a) make any payment in respect of any such grant subject to such conditions; and
  2. (b) impose on a prospective governing body to whom any such payment is made such requirements;
as he may from time to time determine (whether before or after the payment in question is made).
1D. The duty of a local education authority to maintain a school in respect of which proposals for acquisition of grant-maintained status have been approved shall not apply in relation to any expenses incurred by the prospective governing body of the school. 1E. At any time on or after the date on which he approves any such proposals the Secretary of State may consult the prospective governing body with respect to the provisions he proposes to include in the instrument and articles of government for the school. 1F. On and after the incorporation date in relation to a grant-maintained school—
  1. (a) any appointment made, contract entered into or other thing done by the prospective governing body in pursuance of any provision made by an order under paragraph 1A above, so far as subsisting or in force immediately before that date, shall be treated as having been made, entered into or done by the initial governing body; and
  2. (b) any consultations with the prospective governing body which have taken place under paragraph 1E above shall be treated for the purposes of section 49(2) of this Act as consultations with the initial governing body;
and any property acquired by the prospective governing body for the purposes of or in connection with the doing of anything in pursuance of any provision so made shall on that date be transferred to, and by virtue of this Act vest in, the initial governing body.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 281ZB: Page 184, line 37, leave out paragraphs 7 and 8.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 62 agreed to.

Clause 63 [Transfer of property, etc., to governing body of grant-maintained school]:

Baroness Seear moved Amendment No. 218A: Page 59, line 27, leave out ("; and").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 218B and 218BF. The purpose of the amendments is to safeguard the position of voluntary bodies and the youth service in access to premises which they had under the old system. I am sure that representations have been made to Members on all sides of the Committee. It is very important to safeguard the position; otherwise the bodies will find it difficult to continue with their present level of work or, in some cases, with any work at all. I beg to move.

Baroness David

I believe that Amendment No. 218BF, which is in my name and the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), is in this group. It has a similar aim; namely, to safeguard the community use and the use by voluntary organisations in a grant-maintained school when it changes status from an LEA school. The clause is similar in content and policy to that moved in respect of schools, subject to financial delegation, by my noble friend Lord Irvine of Lairg on Tuesday.

If the principle of encouraging community use in schools is important in respect of schools subject to financial delegation, it is even more important for grant-maintained schools. First, there is the tendency of the school to take what my noble friend Lord Irvine called a strong and inappropriate value for money line in charging for the use of school premises, ignoring the less tangible but real value to the community of access to facilities, which will be that much greater given the greater financial independence of opted out schools. Secondly, one must assume that none of the safeguards derived from previous legislation applies to opted-out schools.

It should also be noted that the objections of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, to the earlier amendment dealing with the fact that community use does not form part of the budget and therefore cannot be part of the scheme, relies on a misreading of that new clause and is no more true of this one. In both cases the requirement is independent and separate from the scheme and thus stands on its own merit.

Unlike its predecessor, this amendment does not require an opted-out school to allow guidelines prepared by the LEA, which clearly would be inappropriate. However, it requires the school to adopt a public policy, after consultation, on their practice on community use. No one can force a grant-maintained school to allow free or cheap access to the community. However, the new clause would require the decision-making process to be public and open to representations. We are very keen to safeguard the voluntary organisations' use and community use and I hope that the Minister can go some way to accept this, and certainly the spirit of it.

Lord Trefgarne

I am glad of this opportunity to restate the Government's commitment to the view that all schools, including those that become grant-maintained, should be responsible to the needs of their local community, and should play an active part in the community wherever this is practicable. We are well aware that in a fair number of schools education is provided and facilities made available not just for the registered pupils but also for other members of the community, often during the day as well as in the evening. Where such schools apply successfully for grant-maintained status, we intend that there should be no barrier to continued community access to their facilities, provided that the prime educational purpose of their premises is safeguarded and moneys provided for school purposes are not being used to subsidise other provision.

We have therefore specifically provided for such activities to continue at grant-maintained schools on the basis of co-operation between the school and the local education authority. A local authority will be able to contract with the governing body of a grant-maintained school to provide, for example, adult education on its behalf. In such circumstances the Secretary of State would be able to ensure that the governors' duty to carry out this obligation was incorporated in the school's articles of government. This would place the governors under an obligation to continue to provide that service; they could only be relieved of that responsibility with the Secretary of State's agreement.

The Government also believe that it is right and equitable that the legitimate interests and intentions of the local education authorities and of other users of school premises should be taken into account in the process of transferring assets, rights and liabilities to schools which are to become grant-maintained. And where there are facilities which are not used for the purposes of the school, but which have other educational purposes, the Bill provides that they should continue to be held by the local authority and used for those purposes.

Given this clarification, I hope that it will be recognised that the aims of Amendments Nos. 218A and 218B are already covered.

Amendment No. 218BF would require the governing body of every grant-maintained school to draw up a written statement of its policy on community use. The Government consider that this amendment is unnecessary. As I have already made clear, where a school which provides for the community becomes a grant-maintained school, its obligations to the community will be continued in various ways. Some will be the responsibility of the governors; others may not. It seems best to allow flexibility here: the formal place to provide for such matters, where appropriate, is in the school's articles of government, and the Secretary of State will ensure that this happens.

In the light of those assurances—namely, that the Government have no intention of reducing or restricting the community use of schools which become grant-maintained—I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendment.

11.15 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington

The Minister having very properly, in my view, laid stress on the value to the community of schools, is he in a position to say how pre-school play groups will benefit? My understanding is that there is no provision under the law for such groups. If I dare say this before the Committee, I used to break the law regularly by providing both facilities and apparatus for such groups and this was widely welcomed in the community. Under this part of the Bill would there be any provision to meet the needs of the pre-school play groups?

Lord Trefgarne

Those are the facilities that the Government wish to see continued, as the noble Lord rightly says, in many school premises. They will continue on exactly the same basis.

Baroness David

It would not be the case of an LEA making a contract because presumably that would be done by the voluntary groups who are organising the play groups.

Baroness Seear

What is not clear from the Minister's reply is whether the voluntary organisations have any rights in the matter. I understand him to say that the Government would expect and encourage the grant-maintained schools to continue the kind of obligation that existed before they became grant-maintained. I will read carefully what the Minister said, but I did not understand him to say in his reply that they would be in any position to demand that they should have access or continue the access which they have already. They are very much suppliants—are they not?—under the new scheme.

Lord Trefgarne

This Bill does not change the position in any way. The position of such organisations under these arrangements will in the future be exactly the same as it is now.

Baroness Seear

In view of the Minister's comments I ask leave to withdraw the amendment. I may perhaps bring it forward at a later stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 218B not moved.]

Clause 63 agreed to.

Clause 64 agreed to.

Clause 65 [Effect of pending procedure for acquisition of grant-maintained status on property disposals]:

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 218BA: Page 61, line 47, leave out from ("and - (a)") and insert—("(2A) For those purposes").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment I speak also to Amendments Nos. 218BB, 218BC, 218BD and 218BE.

Clause 65 is intended to protect schools which are in the process of applying for grant-maintained status by prohibiting the local education authority from disposing of their assets without the governors' consent while such an application is pending. These amendments simply adapt the clause to take account of the amendments already made to Clause 50 which require the governors to confirm at a second meeting any decision to hold a ballot of parents on grant-maintained status.

The assets freeze will now begin from the date on which the governors consult the local education authority immediately following their initial resolution. In the circumstances where a ballot has been called because of a petition by parents, the freeze will run from the date on which the governors informed the local education authority of its receipt.

The amendments also provide for the freeze to terminate if the second governors' meeting does not confirm the initial resolution, since that will mean the end of the application for grant-maintained status. I believe that these are sensible amendments and I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Hooper moved Amendments Nos. 218BB to 218BE: Page 62, line 2, leave out from ("occasion") to ("that") in line 6 and insert—

  1. ("(a) where the governing body of the school have decided to hold a ballot in accordance with section 51 of this Act by a first resolution passed as mentioned in subsection (1)(a) of section 50 of this Act, when the local education authority by whom the school is maintained is first consulted under subsection (3A) of that section; or
  2. (b) where such a request as is mentioned in subsection (1)(b) of that section has been received by the governing body, on receipt by that authority of notice under subsection (4)(b) of that section that such a ballot is to be held.
(2B) For those purposes"). Page 62, line 6, leave out ("by reference to the receipt of any such notice"). Page 62, line 8, after ("terminated") insert—
  1. ("(a) in the case of procedure initiated as mentioned in subsection (2A)(a) above, if the period of forty two days after that on which the first resolution was passed has expired and the decision to hold a ballot has not been confirmed by a second resolution passed in accordance with section 50(1)(a) of this Act; or
  2. (b) in the case of procedure initiated as mentioned in subsection (2A)(a) or (b) above,").
Page 62, line 9, leave out ("notice refers") and insert ("consultation or notice relates.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 65, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 66 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 218BF not moved.]

Clause 67 [Maintenance grants, special purpose grants and capital grants]:

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth) moved Amendment No. 219: Page 64, line 34, at end insert— ("( ) Grant regulations shall provide for the payment of special purpose grants and capital grants to meet the needs of disabled pupils and pupils with special educational needs and shall prescribe the circumstances in which such grants are to be payable.").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment seeks to ensure that grant-maintained schools are not deterred from admitting pupils with special educational needs. These schools may well refuse to accept expensive pupils with a disability or learning difficulty if the grants they receive do not take full account of the extra costs incurred. I shall not linger on the details because the arguments are the same as when we discussed the determination of a school's share of the budget.

I say only that on 4th February during Committee stage in another place the Under-Secretary of State suggested that the amendment was unnecessary because "we have built safeguards into the Bill". He did not expand on this point and I cannot see precisely where the safeguards are. Perhaps the Minister can reassure me and point to the safeguards. I presume that if they are built into the Bill they appear somewhere on the face of it. It is essential that explicit reference is made to children with special educational needs to ensure that their requirements are considered no less favourably than those of their able bodied peers. I beg to move.

Lady Kinloss

I should like to support my noble friend Lady Darcy (de Knayth) on this amendment. As she has said, some schools may decline to take pupils with special educational needs because of their expensive individual requirements. That is why during the debate at Report stage in another place concerns about financing special education provision in grant-maintained schools were repeated. How will these schools provide services that are presently organised centrally? Will they be allowed to charge for special services such as educational psychology or speech therapy? The Government could allay many fears by accepting the amendment and stating that special purpose grants are applicable to meet the needs of disabled children in grant-maintained schools.

Baroness Hooper

I am glad to have this further opportunity to make it clear that it is the Government's firm intention that the introduction of grant-maintained schools should not prejudice the integration of children with special educational needs into mainstream schools. As it stands, the legislation includes a number of safeguards to ensure that children with special educational needs will continue to be admitted to schools which become grant-maintained.

Because the Government have built these various safeguards into the Bill, we consider this amendment to be unnecessary. The regulations to be made under Clause 67 will provide that the annual maintenance grant to a grant-maintained school will equate to the funding which it would have received had it remained within LEA control. If the LEA's formula for resourcing that school would have included an allowance for special needs pupils, then that allowance will continue when it achieves grant-maintained status. Thus additional costs incurred for children with special needs will be taken into account in the same way as they would be for a similar school which continued to be maintained by the same LEA.

The Government wish to ensure that grant-maintained schools do not have a financial advantage over LEA-maintained schools. This is why the system of resourcing them is intended to parallel the LEA system. If special purpose grants were payable in respect of special needs, pupils at grant-maintained schools would be treated more favourably than such pupils at LEA schools.

Under the grant regulations covering expenditure of a capital nature, grant-maintained schools will be able to apply to the Secretary of State for a 100 per cent. grant in respect of capital building work, including work designed to meet the needs of disabled pupils and others with special educational needs. This scheme will operate on a bids and allocations basis. The costs of such grants, where approved, will have to be found from the total resources available for capital expenditure on schools nationally.

I can assure the Committee that it is the Government's intention that pupils with special educational needs at schools which become grant-maintained should be treated no more and no less favourably than they would be under local authority control. The guidance which the Government will issue will make that clear.

In the light of that explanation, I hope the Committee will accept that the amendment is unnecessary, and will reject it accordingly.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

I thank the Minister for her reply. I am not sure whether what she said covers the safeguards I wish to have included in the Bill. However, I shall read in Hansard tomorrow morning what she has said. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 220 not moved.]

Lord Dormand of Easington moved Amendment No. 220A: Page 65, line 30, at end insert— ("( ) The amount of any maintenance grant or of any special purpose or capital grant payable by virtue of this section or by virtue of any regulations made hereunder shall be limited to those amounts which would have been applied by or for the purposes of the school had it not obtained grant-maintained status. The Secretary of State shall include within regulations made under this section details of arrangements where such amounts may be ascertained from year to year.").

The noble Lord said: I hope that the Committee will readily agree that it would be invidious for grant-maintained schools to fair better in financial terms than local education authority schools. It would mean that such schools could offer better facilities, and would therefore attract more pupils to the detriment of LEA schools. We would then be well on the way to a two-tier system, and I am sure that the Government would not want that situation to arise.

If the Committee accepts the amendment, it would ensure that grant-maintained schools do not obtain advantages, or privileges, which LEA schools do not have. This would not preclude such schools from receiving the "special purposes grants" provided for in the Bill, nor is it suggested that it should. I wish to make that point absolutely clear. They will almost certainly want to meet the special needs of the area; that is, the special educational needs of some pupils, home and school liaison and other similar matters. Those aspects of service provision are currenly provided by local education authorities, assisted by government grants of' various types. For example, in-service training grants, Section 11 funding for ethnic minorities' special needs and many other activities known to Members of the Committee.

Grant-maintained schools will require similar support, but it should not be at the expense of that provided for local education authority schools, nor should it be of a superior level. The Secretary of State has given assurances that current expenditure for grant-maintained schools will be funded at the same level as for local authority schools. Of course we welcome that assurance; but this issue is so fundamental that it should be included in the legislation. When such assurances are given, whether written or verbal—certainly I do not question the good faith of the Secretary of State—it is usual and proper to point out that we can never be sure whether future governments and future Secretaries of State will maintain the same view. It may be that the Minister will at some time feel that there are good reasons to create what many of us would consider to be a privileged range of schools across the country. Therefore, as this is not the spirit of the proposals which we are discussing tonight, there should be safeguards against it.

The amendment is another of those seemingly small and less significant amendments but which in fact relates to the heart of the more important issues in the Bill. I therefore commend it to the Committee.

Lord Trefgarne

I recognise the purpose of the amendment. It is to place on the face of the Bill a provision enshrining the Government's commitment that schools which become grant-maintained will be in the same financial position as they would have been had they remained under local authority control. This remains the Government's firm intention. I am glad to be able to reassure the noble Lord that provision to achieve that will be incorporated in the grant regulations which will be made under Clause 67. The Government consider that this is preferable to the incorporation of a requirement in the Bill itself for the reason exemplified by the amendment: that it is not practically possible to provide succinctly for all eventualities. I hope in the light of that assurance, the noble Lord will feel able not to press his amendment.

11.30 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington

That is a most welcome and, if I may say so, a most unusual assurance, having regard to the debates that we have had today. But I wonder whether I might press the Minister on one small point. Can he say what form that assurance will take in the regulations? I hope I have made myself clear.

Lord Trefgarne

I am not sure that I quite understand what the noble Lord has in mind; but I shall look into the matter further and write to him if I can help him.

Lord Dormand of Easington

I am very grateful to the Minister. In view of what he has said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 67 agreed to.

Clauses 68 and 69 agreed to.

Clause 70 [Admissions]:

[Amendment No. 221 not moved.]

Clause 70 agreed to.

Clause 71 [General provisions as to religious education]:

Lord Thorneycroft moved Amendment No. 222: Page 68, line 35, after ("collective") insert ("Christian").

The noble Lord said: My noble friend Lord Somers has asked whether I would move this amendment to which I have put my name. I think the idea was to take Amendments Nos. 222, 223 and Amendment No. 228 in the name of my noble friend Lady Cox together. I think that will be convenient.

Baroness Hooper: And also Amendment No. 224.

Lord Thorneycroft

I am just coming to that, if I may. It was originally intended to take Amendment No. 224, and I am happy to do anything I am told to do. However, Amendment No. 224 deals with an entirely separate subject and it would simplify the discussion and be much shorter if I moved it briefly after these amendments and we had the discussion then. It is quite a separate point.

Baroness Hooper

I understood that the grouping in this matter had been agreed. If it is not too difficult for my noble friend, I think we should be happy to have the whole discussion together. Then he can of course move the amendment separately when the time comes.

Lord Thorneycroft

If I may be permitted to say so, it was not agreed with me at any rate, nor with my noble friend Lord Somers. I feel it would be very much easier to debate these quite separate issues separately. It will create utter confusion if we try to discuss everything together.

Baroness Hooper

Certainly if my noble friend feels that then we are content.

Lord Thorneycroft

I shall concentrate therefore on the amendments dealing with religious worship. The first amendment here, Amendment No. 222, which I have moved, is to insert the word "Christian". I very much hope that the Minister will be able to accept this. It is absolutely critical to clauses on the subject of worship that we have the word "Christian" incorporated in them. The definitive and longer amendment dealing with it is in the name of my noble friend Lady Cox, and I shall refer to that in the course of my remarks. The situation as it stands in the Bill is explained in Clause 71(1), which states: Subject to the provisions of this section, all pupils in attendance at a grant-maintained school shall on each school day take part in an act of collective worship". Our amendment seeks to add the word "Christian" after the word "collective" to make that an act of collective Christian worship.

Clause 72(2)(a) of the Bill states: the collective worship required by subsection (1) of section 71 of this Act shall not in a school to which this section applies he distinctive of any particular religious denomination". We also seek to take out the words "religious denomination" above and insert the words "Christian sect". When we talk of religious instruction, I think it may be said that there may be left some room for doubt as regards what is taught. But I should not have thought that we should introduce clauses on religious worship and leave the question of what is being worshipped entirely in a vacuum. One does not worship something in a vacuum. One either worships humbly and devoutly or one should not worship at all.

I am fortunate in that every Sunday, or most Sundays, I worship in the little church of Eastry which is just beyond Canterbury. The Minister knows it well. That church is packed with men, women and children of every age. We move up towards the altar to receive the bread and wine or to receive a blessing. The children also approach the altar. The prayer before communion is: we do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies". That scene is reproduced in church after church in this country, in churches belonging to Catholic, Anglican and many other denominations. The children gain a religious and emotional experience there which they never forget in after life. I do not think that one can take them from that and put them into schools and subject them to acts of worship which are not distinctive of any religion whatever. That cannot be right. I hope therefore that I carry the Government with me in saying that we should quite simply insert the word "Christian" here.

I fully accept that we must make provision for those parents who do not want their children to engage in such an act of worship. My noble friend Lady Cox has put that provision in in detail in her amendment. But I think we should go further. We should make provision for children of other faiths and seek by every means possible to ensure that they have acts of worship. The noble Baroness makes that provision, too.

May I observe that she does not say that there should be an act of collective worship of other faiths. She says that the children concerned should have an act of worship in their own faith. We do not ask the Moslems and the Buddhists and other faiths to join together with the Jews and have an act of collective worship. We are saying that if there are a lot of children of other faiths in the school and the parents want it, each of them should have an act of worship which applies to their own religion.

I hope that these amendments can be accepted. I do not exaggerate what comes from worship by children at that age. For myself, I think it was a moment of quiet. It was a rather peaceful moment, removed from the rush of school life and other things that went on. I do not say that it will alter the flow away from the established Churches which is still in progress, or that it will stop the crime wave. I say that it matters a great deal in later life.

Children grow up and they have the same experiences as other men. It comes to all of us: moments of darkness, moments when we have lost everything we thought we wanted, moments when we lose loved ones or find ourselves abandoned by friends and moments of defeat. In those moments, some men find their way back to their religion. Through the great prayers of the Church and the beauty of the English and Welsh liturgy, they find the ability to worship once again. But they will never again find it if they have never experienced it. The purpose of the amendments is not to deny children that important part of life.

Baroness Cox

I speak in support of the amendment and also of my Amendment No. 228, which carries the names of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, who regrets that he cannot be present this evening, and the noble Lord, Lord Charteris of Amisfield. Perhaps I may say why the amendments are so urgently necessary. As with RE, the letter and the spirit of the 1944 Act are being widely broken. Fewer than 10 per cent. of schools begin each day with a collective act of worship for all their pupils. Sometimes that is due to such practical reasons as lack of space. But even where space is available, many schools choose not to hold an act of worship or refuse to fulfil the spirit of the law by holding worship in smaller groups.

It is not simply the matter of whether or not such an act of worship is available which causes concern. Even where some designated worship is offered, many parents and teachers are deeply worried by the content of what is provided. Sometimes what is provided is a highly secularised, politicised message, as with the pupils who sang a hymn to the tune of "Pop Goes the Weasel": Polaris subs, atomic bombs, germ research and progress, That's the way the money goes. What price the homeless?". There are many more subtle changes which undermine the Christian nature of worship in the form of multifaith initiatives. Those have often developed in good faith, especially in areas where there are large numbers of pupils from families who adhere to other faiths. However, those initiatives result in a reduction of worship to the lowest common denominator of a celebration of shared values. That position was endorsed by the Government earlier this year.

A celebration of shared values may be a worthwhile endeavour. But it is a world away from the worship of Almighty God and from sharing the spiritual experience of prayer and praise. That is the heart of the matter. However much young people may not appreciate worship while they are at school, many testify afterwards to the lasting value of the opportunity to become familiar with the timeless messages of the Bible and the inspiration of the prayers and hymns that are available to them as a spiritual resource later in life.

Anyone who has had the experience of being with people in extremis, as I have as a nurse, knows how often they turn to prayers, songs and hymns learnt in childhood for inestimable comfort. If we deny our young people the opportunity to become familiar with those aspects of our Christian birthright in favour of some celebration of shared values, we are indeed betraying our young people and also our own spiritual heritage.

One reason for such multifaith initiatives is sometimes said to be the presence of pupils of other faiths. But as the noble Lord the Chief Rabbi said last week, and as has been endorsed by representatives of other faith communities, many of those of other faiths prefer to send their children to a school where Christianity is respected and enshrined rather than where all faiths are trivialised.

The wording of Amendment No. 228, as my noble friend has already said, respects the position of those who do not wish their children to participate in Christian worship. It both enshrines the right for them to withdraw their children from worship and also makes explicit provision for alternative acts of worship to be provided for pupils of other faiths if sufficient parents request it. In that respect the amendment extends the provisions of the 1944 Act to take greater account of the interests of families who adhere to other faiths and reflects the changing pattern of our population since 1944.

The amendments both extend the spirit of the 1944 Act and help to remedy the problems which have arisen since then. They are designed to ensure that our young people have access to the spiritual birthright which we have inherited. They are necessary and are desired by Christians and many who have spoken on behalf of other faiths. They allow for those who have conscientious objections. They are supported by people of all political persuasions and I hope very much that they will find favour with your Lordships.

11.45 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of London

I very much appreciate the concern for worship in our schools which the amendments demonstrate. The Bill covers religious education and one cannot give religious education by instruction only; worship is an integral part of it. To try to give religious education merely by instruction would be rather like trying to teach science without allowing anyone to go to the laboratory and handle materials. It is an integral part.

We are concerned here with worship in our schools. I was much moved by what the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, said. It was I thought a marvellous description of what worship should be and I very much appreciated what he said. I do not for a moment deny that much of what passes for worship in our schools is not worship at all. I would go further and say that much of what passes for worship is sometimes thinly disguised propaganda for this or that particular stance in matters which are not properly the substance of worship.

I should like to know from the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on what evidence her figure of 10 per cent. is based. Is it 10 per cent. in all schools? I do not know of evidence of precisely that accuracy. Certainly I can assure the Committee that in our Church schools in London—of which there are many, both primary and secondary, and I have visited many—the worship (which was not of that particular nature because I was there) was certainly Christian. If those schools represent part of the 10 per cent., the situation must be very had in some places.

Baroness Cox

The figure came from a survey which was reported two or three years ago in The Times Educational Supplement.

The Lord Bishop of London

I do not take everything in The Times Educational Supplement as the equivalent of factual evidence. I still wonder how one arrives at a figure of 10 per cent. for all the schools in the country. What was the method for assessing that figure?

I do not deny for a moment that there is bad worship. There is that which is not worship at all, and what should be worship is often nothing more than assembly. We have tried to do a good deal about that. So I am not for a moment denying that there is a problem. However, earlier in Committee I said that the undertaking which I gave regarding religious education and instruction would extend to this concern for worship. I can assure the Committee that that is already happening and happening very quickly indeed. I am encouraged by the response that we are receiving.

I very much hope that in this matter the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, will do as they did on the question of religious instruction. Amendment No. 228 is in fact the same as the earlier amendment which the noble Baroness kindly asked leave to withdraw in order that we could pursue the discussions in which we are currently involved.

Having said something about the general position, perhaps I may say something about the particular amendments. I am puzzled by Amendments Nos. 223 and 224. Unless I am very stupid, it seems that those amendments, both with regard to worship and other religious instruction, would permit the giving of instruction in the Moslem, Sikh and Hindu faiths but not in the Christian faith. I cannot make any more sense of them. I have asked people I assume to be wiser than myself and more knowledgeable in interpreting statutes and they give me the same answer. If the amendments are passed, so far as I can see, collective worship can be distinctive of anything except that which is Christian. The same applies to religious instruction. I do not understand these amendments.

Nor do I understand the words "Christian sect" which in many quarters have a very peculiar connotation. The amendments do not just say "Christian". The clause follows the wording used ever since the Cooper-Temple clause; namely, that it is not, distinctive of any particular religious denomination". As will be seen when the amendment comes on Report, I shall be perfectly happy for the word "Christian" to appear. However, I am not at all happy about the words "Christian sect" which conjure up some very strange ideas and are open to strange interpretation by some people. I feel that I must make those points while in no way wishing to underestimate the need for this matter to be dealt with or the aim that these amendments attempt to secure. I say that from the bottom of my heart.

With the assurances that I have given, I hope that these amendments will be withdrawn. We have discussed this matter with the Government, as the Minister will possibly say, and with other faiths and teachers. We have discussed it with all those concerned with worship in the schools. We are not concerned simply with worship in churches but also with worship in schools. That involves other people, and we cannot simply ignore it.

I am greatly encouraged by the way things are going. When we have something specific to say I believe that it will very much encourage those who have proposed these amendments. I hope, however, that the amendments will be withdrawn. I do not wish to appear critical of the methods proposed for securing the aim of the amendments. The last thing I want is to have to vote against an amendment which intentionally desires that things should be Christian. I hope that I shall not be put in that position. It would be most uncomfortable, because I think of the way in which the newspapers would interpret it. Frankly, I do not know what I should do were I asked to vote on these amendments as they are. My heart would be with them but my head would know that this was not the way to go about the matter at the moment.

With that expression of good will and support for what is intended, I hope very much that these amendments will be withdrawn and that we shall be able to continue in a constructive way, trying to secure the end which I am sure the whole Committee desires.

Lord Thurlow

I should like very strongly to support the position set out by the right reverend Prelate. With great respect to the proposers of the amendments—and it is very difficult not to be carried away by the eloquence of the noble Lord and the ardour of the noble Baroness—I submit that these amendments would be counterproductive. I think that all kinds of practical difficulties would arise in relation to attempts to define the term "Christian". That would lead us into a legal and practical quagmire, but much more important than any legalistic considerations is the fundamental point to which the right reverend Prelate referred, that the object of the provisions for the act of worship and for religious instruction is surely to transmit to our children, or to give an opportunity to transmit to our children, proper values and proper morals.

This has to be done with the governors and the teachers that we have and that we are going to have. It will not help if we try to impose on the governors and the teachers a denominational framework, or even, if the term is not too difficult, a Christian framework. I share most of the objectives of the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, but I suggest that these amendments would be counterproductive, and I hope that the movers will be able to withdraw them.

Baroness Hooper

I of course appreciate the significance of these amendments, and the Government have recognised the concerns many noble Lords have expressed during the debates we have already had concerning religious education in schools. I have therefore noted very carefully the views that have been put forward about religious education in grant-maintained schools and collective worship generally. I have to say, however, that I do not think it would be appropriate to take decisions on these matters now.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London has made clear that he will be bringing forward at Report stage a package of proposals relating to the Christian content of religious education and collective worship. The Government support his endeavours to find ways of amending the Bill which will meet the various concerns that have been expressed both today and in our earlier debates in Committee, but which also take account of the views of those directly concerned outside this House.

These are of course difficult and controversial issues on which individuals hold strong and sincere views, and we believe that it would be wrong to pass into law changes which have not been the subject of wide discussion or consultation with the representative interests concerned, and especially as we have the clearly stated intention of the right reverend Prelate to return to noble Lords on Report with proposals which reflect the results of such consultations. I therefore hope that my noble friends will feel able to withdraw the amendment so that we may take a more fully informed view at a later stage.

Lord Swinfen

I feel that we must have the word "Christian" in the Bill somewhere. As Clause 71 is currently drafted, as I understand it—I am not a lawyer—if a school were to set up a model of Paddington Bear and have regular worship of Paddington Bear, a clever lawyer could make a good case for saying that, as the Bill is drafted at the moment, that is legal.

The Lord Bishop of London

I entirely accept what the noble Lord said about the word "Christian" having to appear in the Bill. That has not been a matter of dispute so far in any of the discussions we have had. The question of how it should be included is the crux of the problem.

Baroness Faithfull

May I ask the right reverend Prelate why it cannot appear in its present form as recommended by the proposers of the amendment?

The Lord Bishop of London

Is the noble Baroness referring to Amendments Nos. 223 and 224?

Baroness Faithfull

Collective Christian worship.

The Lord Bishop of London

The first one, Amendment No. 222. First, there is the question of the unity of the school. This has to be gone into. I am not giving anything away; I am simply saying that the problem is how we relate the responsibility for the school worshipping as such to the needs which are met in Amendment No. 228 for individual worship. Does one want the school fragmented? Is that the way to go about it? How is it to be organsied? These are practical problems. If one says only that the worship can be "Christian", one takes no account of a situation that must be taken into account if one is to be able to relate the Christian worship to the school in which it takes place. Let me take that as one example of the kind of problem that has to be faced. If we are to include the word "Christian", it must be in a workable way that takes account of those who will be involved. That is what we seek to do. To insert the word "Christian" by itself not only would not have the result that we expect, but would create difficulties in the future and in the long run, if it is done without the kind of consideration that I have outlined, would not improve the quality of worship in the schools.

12 midnight

Lord Thorneycroft

I am bound to say that I found the Minister's reply disappointing.

I do not draw such a sharp distinction between worship in my church, worship in my school, worship in my home and even worship in this place, where we worship daily. We do not draw distinctions in that way. We cannot have worship of Almighty God in one place and a worship that dare not speak its name in others. Worship is universal. Unless the Minister can give me a reasonable assurance that the words "collective Christian worship" will be included in the Bill, I feel bound to say that my inclination is to press the matter to a Division.

Lord Dormand of Easington

Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord a question that arises from my being genuinely puzzled about the thrust of his argument. As the noble Lord has said, the Christian religion offers the kind of joy, comfort and pleasure that he so movingly described when proposing the amendment. I understood—and I confess that I am not a Christian—that any kind of religious faith provided exactly that kind of response. Does the noble Lord accept that all faiths provide that kind of solace, joy and comfort? In the circumstances, therefore, why should we now relate a major measure simply and solely to the Christian religion?

Lord Thorneycroft

The noble Lord is absolutely right, but I happen to be a Christian, and I am not ashamed to say so. I believe in the Christian religion. I have found great joy and comfort myself, and I want to see it extended to others. Other men hold other views. That is why in the amendments under discussion—particularly that in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox—we make provision for the others. We do not offer to Moslems the opportunity to share in some mishmash act of worship; we offer them the opportunity to engage in Moslem worship.

I absolutely agree with the noble Lord. If we are Christians, give us Christian worship. We are a Christian country. Here are these Christian children; give them at least that, an act of collective Christian worship, with rights to the others to have their religions, but not all put together in some meaningless contrivance.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

I think that if the noble Lord divides the Committee at this moment that would be quite the wrong thing to do.

Noble Lords


Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

It is a very serious subject. We have only a few noble Lords here. I am giving a view. It seems to me that the right reverend Prelate is the third head of our Church. He has said that he is looking into the matter and has asked that we give it further consideration. I think the noble Lord ought to do so.

The Lord Bishop of London

I really feel rather desperate at the moment. What I am being told frankly is that I am barely a Christian because I will not support one particular way of going about this. Frankly, I find that really appalling. Life would have been a lot easier for me if I had followed some mishmash, if I had not stood out over the years for this, that and the other. I am still doing so and am very unpopular at times for it. Life would have been much easier for me. I should have avoided much criticism and acquired popularity. But I have not done that. Therefore I think I can take it, because I am not somebody who seeks to dilute the Christian faith. But I am not prepared. When I look at our schools I say, "Christian worship here. Yes, that is what I want". At the same time I have to ask: are all the teachers Christian? Can Christian worship be given effectively by those who do not believe?

These are some of the questions we have to face. How is our worship to become Christian? I do not want to dilute it in any way. I do not believe that you can do it simply by putting one word in a Bill. I do not believe that you can make people have Christian worship simply by telling them to. If we are to treat people as people—everybody, believers, non-believers, Christians, non-Christians, teachers and everybody involved in this—I believe it demands much more care and responsibility than the simple answer which some people here seem to want to advocate, as if we could solve this great problem as a condition of our worship just by passing a few words in a Bill. That I believe is not a responsible thing for us to do.

I am sorry that I have spoken rather fervently. I give not an inch to anybody in my concern for Christian worship, not an inch in my concern that our children should be given a truly Christian upbringing in every way; but I do not believe that I must be forced into a position where I have to say: "This is the only way, and if we do not go down this way then we are letting the side down". It seems to me that this is what is being said.

Lord Kilmarnock

Has the right reverend Prelate—

Lord Sandford

Over the last 30 years I have frequently asked the Government questions about the unsatisfactory situation we find in our schools, where this act of worship prescribed in the 1944 Act is not being properly carried out. The answer which is almost invariably supplied to the Ministers who have to reply is that the 1944 Act does not prescribe that the act should be an act of Christian worship, and therefore it is almost impossible to keep tabs on what is going on. They do not know what is happening and they will not provide answers, inspect or monitor what is happening.

I understood the right reverend Prelate to give us an assurance that the formula which he is trying to produce for Report stage will ensure that the word "Christian" is on the face of the Bill. That seems to me what my noble friends Lord Thorneycroft and Lady Cox are chiefly seeking. I did not hear that same assurance from my noble friend on the Front Bench. I should be satisfied to leave things as they are if she will give the same assurance that we have had from the right reverend Prelate. Will she do that?

Lord Thorneycroft

In answer to what the right reverend Prelate said, I have uttered no word of criticism whatever of him in my remarks. I have never suggested that there is anything un-Christian in what he does. I have the highest admiration for him and I am a very humble member of his Church. He has his responsibilities and he has many great problems, which I accept. I, too, have my responsibilities. All who are Christians have our responsibilities.

Unless we have "Christian" collective worship in the Bill, the thousands of Christian parents, Christian governors and Christian head teachers are powerless in these matters. They have no leg to stand on, however much they want acts of Christian worship. If they look at the Bill, there is no provision. It could be anything. It is all very well saying that the word "Christian" can be worked into the Bill somewhere. Almost anybody could do that somewhere. We want it in terms which ensure that an act of Christian collective worship is there, so that the parents can ask for it, headmasters can work for it and governors can look for it. Do not deny them that!

Lord Swinfen

The insertion of the word "Christian" would only act as a marker. It does not prevent the right reverend Prelate coming back at a later stage with a better form of words, if he so wishes.

Baroness Seear

I very much hope we shall support what the right reverend Prelate has said. He has been working on this problem for a long time; he knows far better than any of us what the complexities of this issue are.

If I had children, I would send them to a Church school because I would want them to be brought up in the Christian faith. However, that does not seem to me to mean we can say that all schools governed by this legislation should have the same kind of approach to the teaching of religion that we expect to find in our Church schools.

It may be that the right reverend Prelate will come up with something that satisfies those who want to see "Christian" inserted in the way that they have described. Because the right reverend Prelate has been studying this matter and because he is in a far better position to know that the consequences of what is proposed are likely to be very different to what the movers would wish, I hope very much that at this late hour, when the Chamber is very empty, we shall not pass an amendment which would tie the hands of, and make life very much more difficult for, the right reverend Prelate who is trying to sort out an extremely difficult matter. I hope that the movers will be prepared at this stage to withdraw.

Baroness Blatch

I hope we shall be forgiven for being suspicious and for pressing this point. The reason is that there has been the most incredible reluctance to accept "predominantly Christian" when it comes to religious education in school, even given all the accommodation for other religion in our schools that has been built into the amendment.

Secondly, there appears to be a vigorous reluctance to accept collective Christian worship. We fear that at a late hour discussing this Bill we may get the position, for example, that religious education shall be studied, Christianity di-da-di-da-di-da. We are worried that we will have a long string of denominations. This is an unequivocal statement. Unless it comes back in that form, I fear it is going to keep the Committee for many more hours.

Baroness Cox

As one of the movers of these amendments, may I say that I listened very carefully and appreciatively to what the right reverend Prelate said. I respect the complexity of the issues involved. Therefore, I give the assurance that I would be perfectly prepared to withdraw Amendment No. 228 particularly, which has the mark of my own work and similarity with the other amendments upon it. I would be perfectly prepared to concur in the withdrawal of Amendment No. 223 and Amendment No. 224. I do not see that Amendment No. 222 preempts any of the work that the right reverend Prelate may be doing in trying to develop a much more sophisticated and fine-tuned amendment. It is a kind of paving amendment to set the scene for whatever more complex and sophisticated amendments may be necessary later to allow representation for worship for other faiths and so on. I cannot see that there is anything that anyone could take exception to in Amendment No. 222. However, I shall give the assurance that I shall eagerly withdraw the other amendments, and wait for the alternative amendments which the right reverend Prelate has offered to bring back at a later stage.

Baroness Hooper

In view of the many declarations which have been made this evening I should like to start by saying that I too am a practising Christian and feel most strongly about my faith. I should be disappointed if my noble friends felt that they had to press the issue to a vote now. I was glad to hear from my noble friend Lady Cox that that may not be the case. I can only repeat the Government's advice that they should support the line advocated by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. As my noble friend Lord Sandford has reminded us, the right reverend Prelate has agreed that the word "Christian" could and should appear on the face of the Bill. The difficulty is how that should be done. He has given the Committee an assurance that he will come back with a solution.

I believe that all these amendments form a package and will be part of a larger package that the right reverend Prelate has taken under his wing in relation to the previous amendments we have also discussed. We ask Members of the Committee to exercise a little patience on the matter.

Lord Morris

As luck will have it, invariably when this issue arises again at a later stage it will do so at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning. I ask my noble friends Lord Thorneycroft and Lady Cox to have courage. We must vote on this issue now. It is critically important to set the scene for the later stages of the Bill. I am absolutely convinced that the same excuses will be used at the Report stage. Have courage; I plead, take this matter to a Division.

The Lord Bishop of London

I must ask the Committee not to take heed of that remark. At the moment I am much encouraged. I have always said that if one takes one action such as this in isolation, without looking at all the other aspects together, one would feel almost bound to withdraw all the undertakings I have given. I feel almost as strongly as that.

A noble Lord

Good, good!

The Lord Bishop of London

That is why I am made to feel that I am not really a Christian. I am not standing—

Noble Lords

No. Nonsense.

The Lord Bishop of London

This is not nonsense, it is precisely the issue. We are being told that only those who wish to adopt a particular view in this matter can justify the title of standing with the Christian faith. I believe that that is intolerable.

I am saying that to take one single action such as this by itself, far from encouraging people and being a stand, could do irreparable harm in trying to do precisely what is intended by the movers of the amendment.

Lord Thorneycroft

I commend the amendment to the Committee.

12.19 a.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 222) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 17; Not-Contents, 2.

Blatch, B. Morris, L.
Braye, B. Pender, L.
Brookeborough, V. Southborough, L.
Butterworth, L. Swinfen, L.
Carnock, L. Swinton, E.
Clitheroe, L. Thorneycroft, L. [Teller.]
Cowley, E. Trafford, L.
Cox, B. [Teller.] Tweedsmuir, L.
Faithfull, B.
Beaverbrook, L. [Teller.] Long, V. [Teller.]
The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Airedale)

As it appears that fewer than 30 Lords have voted, in accordance with Standing Order No. 55, I declare the Question not decided; and, pursuant to the Standing Order, the House will now resume.

House resumed.