HL Deb 12 October 1989 vol 511 cc568-642

3.40 p.m.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sanderson of Bowden)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Sanderson of Bowden.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [The board of management and the articles of constitution]:

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 1: Page 2, line 25, leave out ("children") and insert ("pupils").

The noble Lord said: This is a drafting amendment. Without it the parent of a pupil over school-leaving age, who in education legislation is no longer a "child" but a "young person," would be disqualified from membership, as a parent, of the board of management. The term "pupils" covers both children and young persons. I beg to move.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

We can accept this amendment. Indeed, it is probably a change in our whole attitude to school education that we expect that people will stay on at school until they are young adults at least. I think it is a nicer expression for that range of people and, as the Minister has said, it covers school people of all ages from their early days until perhaps approaching 20. I am grateful to him for that amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 4 to 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Powers and duties of board of management]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 2: Page 4, line 22, at end insert ("following consultation with the Education Authority.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment seeks to insert the words "following consultation with the Education Authority". The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the Secretary of State seeks the opinion of the local education authority before making a decision concerning the disposal of land by a self-governing school. This may arise on a number of occasions throughout the Bill and reference will be made to the selling off of land and property. Many education authorities, as the Minister will know, operate community schools. The facilities of such schools are enjoyed by a great many local people who could not be considered normal pupils of the school. For several of the communities these facilities provide public amenities, notably the swimming pool, the games hall and in some places, particularly in the Highlands and Islands region, the schools are vital as local libraries. That system is very successful.

Potentially to deprive the whole community of such important and vital leisure and recreation assets because a self-governing school wants to dispose of land and other property because it suited—it may have a legitimate reason in the narrow sense of the tight responsibilities the school felt it had—would be a great injustice to the much wider community which ultimately the school itself feeds on and would make the whole area that much poorer. If in a particular area there was large-scale selling off or disposal of land and property that could be the end of what has been a most successful educational development in Scotland which we know as the community school. Many community schools are operating with great success and are a great credit to Scotland. We should be proud of them. I hope the Minister will give this more consideration. It is asking very little. We are suggesting that the Secretary of State consults specifically. There is no need for him to take advice, but we think he should be made aware by the local education authority of the full range of uses of schools. I beg to move.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

Normally where a board proposes to dispose of land it will be as part of some wider scheme of development at the school, most likely coupled with an application to the Secretary of State for capital grant. In such circumstances the decision is one for the Secretary of State. The education authority at this stage has no role in the management of the school.

If however the property in question had originally belonged to the education authority then there is provision under Clause 37 whereby the Secretary of State can direct that the property or the proceeds of sale should be returned to the authority. In such circumstances the Secretary of State will almost inevitably have to sound out the education authority about the attitude to the proposed transaction before deciding whether to give his consent to the disposal.

Thus in virtually any case where the education authority had a real interest in the matter it would, simply as a matter of good administration, be consulted.

I take seriously what the noble Lord said. I understand that it is perhaps cavilling of the Government to oppose it. Therefore I am prepared to consider again whether it should be a statutory requirement that either the Secretary of State or the board should seek the views of the education authority before any disposal. With that assurance I hope the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment. I shall certainly consider this to see whether I can come back and satisfy him at the next stage of the Bill.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

Yes, I thank the Minister for his thoughtfulness. I wonder whether if I had used the example of the Borders instead of the Highlands area that might have clinched the matter. I am sure that in the areas which he knows so well the school is an important factor and something that everyone values greatly. I am conscious that it would be unlikely that a Secretary of State would not, through his department, make extensive inquiries of the local education authority and those involved and perhaps go even wider. Nevertheless the Minister will be aware that we like to have these things on the face of the Bill. With his assurances and his obvious sympathy, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar moved Amendment No. 3: Page 4, line 26, at end insert ("provided that such education is not detrimental to the provision of school education at the school").

The noble Lord said: The amendment is a safeguard to ensure that the balance between school education and education which does not come under the general ambit is safeguarded. The purpose of the amendment is to draw the Minister's notice to the fact that the primary duty of the self-governing school is not to provide facilities outwith the ambit of school education but to concentrate on the provision of efficient and suitable school education for the pupils, bearing in mind that, if the Bill proceeds in the way it is proposed by Her Majesty's Government, the school will have opted out of the general scheme in Scotland where there has always been an attempt to ensure that pupils develop in all aspects of their school lives, academically, physically and so on. It is essential therefore that the efficient and suitable school education should not be undermined by a school which has opted Out, taking it upon itself to provide other facilities in the school.

The subsection now reads that the school: shall also have power to provide education other than school education at the school provided that such education is not detrimental to the provision of school education at the school". The worry which we on this side express is that commercial attitudes may prevail in the self-governing school. That may lead to a further clash of interests between the basic, efficient and suitable school education for the pupils and the provision of other education—whatever that means—with the normal school education process.

For example, if further education classes are brought in there may be a clash of interests with competing claims for equipment, facilities and resources. In those circumstances, the self-governing school board of management will be faced with a very difficult problem in deciding where the priorities lie between the provision of school education and perhaps an exercise in commercial profit. For example, if the money allocated to the self-governing school is turning out to be insufficient and there is nothing left in the kitty, the board may very well direct its attention to an exercise in commercial matters to fill the gap in the kitty.

A similar restriction on the provision of commercial activities by colleges of further education is provided for in Clause 65(5) of the Bill. As I discussed on Second Reading—I mention it in passing and not to make an issue of it—it is difficult to know what is meant by school education. No doubt the Minister will point to a definition in another Act of Parliament, but I suggest to this Committee that that is not a proper definition bearing in mind that we are dealing with a completely new educational animal in Scotland as regards the opted-out school.

Does "other than school education" mean that there is a time limit and that school education is to be limited to the normal hours of the school; that is, between 9 a.m. and 3.30 p.m.? Does it mean that the pupils who wish to use the facilities of the school in the evening to develop whatever talents they may have educationally in drama and so on, all the exercises and development of the child on which we pride ourselves in Scotland, will be denied the use of those facilities when commercialism rears its ugly head within the system? I beg to move.

Lord Grimond

I should like to raise a matter which has already been raised in correspondence with the Scottish Office by Mr. Wallace. I also attempted to raise this matter in the other place but unfortunately it earned the guillotine and I was prevented from doing so.

It arises from the very matter which has been propounded by the noble Lord, Lord Macaulay; that is, what are the criteria on which the governors of a school will decide whether a non-curricular activity can take place? How are those activities to be dealt with? It arises particularly in relation to Kirkwall and Stromness. Further education in the Orkneys at Kirkwall and Stromness schools is totally integrated with the ordinary education of the school. It is carried on not only in the same building but by the same staff. Obviously great difficulties would arise if the school opted out. We should then have a position where the local authority would be responsible for further education and it would have to come to some arrangement with the school, which might not be easy in regard to either finance or control, bearing in mind that the staff would be the same.

I should be grateful if the Government would consider this problem, which I believe is very difficult. I believe that the local authority would wish to keep control of the main functions of further education but would have difficulty in doing that if the staff were under the control of the school management. At present I cannot quite see how to amend the Bill but this amendment certainly goes to the root of the matter and raises the whole question. I should be grateful if the Minister could consider this matter between now and further consideration of this Bill as it is the only chance we have to discuss it. Perhaps at a later stage I may be inspired to table an amendment.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Macaulay, for bringing forward this amendment. He mentioned Clause 65, which concerns further education colleges. There are important differences between the use of words similar to this amendment in Part II of the Bill and the attempt to apply them to Clause 7(3).

Where a further education college is proposing to engage in commercial activities these will be based on its educational activities and will have educational benefits such as providing hands on commercial experience. We come later to the question of staff in these colleges. However, we accept that on occasion there could be room for conflict over the use of resources between commercial activities such as consultancy and the primary activity of providing further education. It is appropriate therefore to require that such commercial activities should be without detriment to basic provision of further education at the college.

Here, however, we have a self-governing school run by a board of management with a majority of elected parents whose prime duty is clearly stated in Clause 7(1) to be provision of suitable and efficient school education for pupils. It is for that purpose that they will receive their grant from the Secretary of State, and they will not be able to divert resources to subsidise other activities.

There will be occasions when the board of management can and should make use of the facilities of the school to organise day or evening classes for adults and other forms of community provision, as the noble Lord suggests. Indeed, Clause 7(4)(b) places the board under a duty to promote use of the school in this way. Schools are increasingly seen as a resource for the whole community. I know that the noble Lord shares my views that that is a sensible way to approach matters.

We do not believe that it is at all likely that a board of management, most of whose members are parents, would deliberately embark on activities detrimental to the education of their children. The Bill defines clearly enough the duties of a board of management, and we shall come to that later. We believe that this amendment adds nothing in substance and I hope that the noble Lord, having considered what I said, may be prepared to withdraw it.

As he said, I will give him a definition of school education. It is defined in the 1980 Act as: education appropriate to the requirements of pupils in attendance in schools with regard to their ages, abilities and aptitudes". As regards the remarks by the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, about the situation in Kirkwall and Stromness, I should like to look at the position of those important schools. I shall contact him as soon as I can, having considered the matter, and give him a substantive answer to his question well before the next stage of the Bill.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar

I am grateful to the Minister for his courteous reply to these matters raised by the amendment. I find it strange that the Minister is in possession of a definition of school education when the Act from which that definition emerges is not referred to in the interpretation clause of the Bill, or that school education is not for the purposes of this Bill clearly spelt out.

I hope the Government will bear in mind that when these new schools come into operation—it is a matter which will arise later on—they will be run by people with no real experience of management. Therefore, those people must look to the Act for guidance as to what they are supposed to be doing.

A layman may have been elected to the board of management, having perhaps been on the school board for only a couple of months because the Government have set their face against allowing the school boards to settle in so that board members can gain experience of management, accountancy, and so on. That layman must then turn to the statute to see what is school education and what he is supposed to be doing.

It may be suggested that I am stating what is blindingly obvious. However, it is not because I hope that members of the board of management will be drawn—if I may use the phrase—from all walks of life within the community with a broadly based composition. It may very well be that some people will understand what is school education, but some may not. Indeed, as the clause presently stands it could lead to considerable confusion and conflict between members of the school board unless the Government spell out clearly for the guidance of people in the management of these opting out schools precisely what they are supposed to be doing.

I do not suggest for one moment that any responsible member of the board of management would go into a commercial exercise deliberately to the detriment of the school education which must be provided under the Bill. However, time will tell, and perhaps tell against the Government in due course. The Government will not listen to what is said from this side of the Chamber and perhaps time will prove that we are correct and that the Bill is fundamentally flawed.

I do not suggest that anyone will act dishonestly but they may act wrongly if they do not know what they are doing. If money runs out they may find themselves under pressure, not to spend the money allocated by the Government but to start a commercial exercise to make money because they are running out of money. They will be placed in a very difficult position.

However, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. No doubt he will give some consideration to what has been said in support of this amendment by my noble friend Lord Carmichael, the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, and myself and perhaps we shall hear more when the Bill returns on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Grimond

Before the noble Lord withdraws his amendment I thank the Minister for his remarks and I look forward to hearing from him.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 4: Page 4, line 45, leave out subsection (7).

The noble Lord said: I stress to the Minister that this is by no means a wrecking amendment; nor does it seek to cause havoc with the Bill. As the Bill stands I find it difficult to understand why this subsection has been included because it states: Standards and general requirements may be prescribed to which every board of management shall conform in discharging their functions under this Act". I should like to have an explanation from the Minister as to what the standards and general requirements are likely to be. Will the Government establish standards for areas? Will they establish standards for the curriculum performance of the school, for the financial background and financial affairs of the school? How much wider will the requirements go?

I can envisage that if board members, or parents who are willing to be board members, see this they will wonder what they are becoming involved in. The subsection is a little too general. It is possible that this is no more than the Government using "catch-all" phrases in case thay have forgotten something. I wonder whether that is the background to the matter or whether there is a more sophisticated explanation. I beg to move.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael. Indeed I had an idea that he was trying to get behind what the Government mean in this particular area.

The power in Clause 7(7) to make regulations covering self-governing schools as a group exactly matches that in Section 2 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 which applies to education authorities. Clause 7(7) is a necessary component in applying to self-governing schools the same framework of general educational legislation as applies in schools run by a local authority. Existing regulations under Section 2 of the 1980 Act governing the conduct of education authority schools are included in the Schools (Scotland) Code and the schools general regulations. These deal with matters such as arrangements for registration of pupils, the length of the school year and defining the grounds on which a pupil may be excluded from a school.

It is our intention to extend precisely similar statutory controls to self-governing schools. To do so will require the powers in Clause 7(7). With that explanation I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Before I sit down perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Macaulay, as I did not have the opportunity to come back to him on the last amendment, that I believe the management of schools and whether it will be good or not is a matter of opinion, as is the number of people who come forward so to do. I have considerable confidence that there will be many people able and willing to do the work.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar

I thank the Minister for that answer. May we therefore take it that, although the Bill does not say so, the bodies responsible for prescribing the standards and general requirements will not be the boards of management of the schools? In fact, what we have here is a measure that characterises this Bill from beginning to end. Although the Government are preaching freedom and opting out, freedom of choice and so on—whatever education platitudes they to care use—throughout the Bill we find the heavy hand of the Secretary of State.

Are we now to say that a school can opt out and the parents can go to the ballot, and all the rest of it, thinking that they have a new freedom from what other people may regard as local authority restrictions as a result of government impositions? It does not matter what is in the 1980 Act. It is not good enough for the Government to repeat parrot-fashion what is in earlier Acts. Because something is in another Act does not mean to say that it is good or that it can be applied to this Bill.

The Minister has been frank and I believe he recognises that he is introducing to Scotland a measure that is educationally swimming against the tide of public opinion. The Minister must be careful not to shoot himself in the foot by giving the Secretary of State so much power that there will be a reaction among the boards of management in the schools who thought that by having a ballot they would be able to run the schools subject to normal financial restrictions, but find themselves completely restricted within the so-called freedom within the Scottish educational system. This Bill is a piece of administrative nonsense. Why do not the Government heed the suggestion in this amendment that they leave matters alone and allow the boards of management to proceed without having to look over their shoulders all the time?

Where will the regulations finish? The Minister says that the Government intend to do what they did under the 1980 Act. Why not spell out in the Bill the standards and general requirements? I make no apology for going back to my theme. The people who have to administer this Bill should know from reading it, and particularly before voting on opting out status, what standards and general requirements have been prescribed, not by the board of management of the school, not by the potential board which can see the school as it envisages it, but by the heavy hand of the Government.

I find it difficult to reconcile the political philosophy on the Government side of the Committee with the presence of such a clause in this Bill. I respectfully suggest to the Minister that this is a pointless paragraph. It is absolutely meaningless. It may turn out to be constrictive and counter-productive. I ask the Minister at this stage at least to reconsider the subsection.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

Before the noble Lord decides what to do with the amendment perhaps I may make a few further comments. I do not intend to engage in what could end up as a Second Reading speech and I do not want to be accused of swimming against the tide and shooting myself in the foot at the same time.

To be honest, I suppose that if there were no constraints as we have laid down in the Education Act—as I have pointed out these should be carried forward to the self-governing schools under Clause 7(7)—the noble Lord, Lord Macaulay, might very well question the whole basis on which education in self-governing schools is carried out. As I have said, I believe that this is a very necessary clause to have in any legislation which affects the children and the many people who may be involved in self-governing schools. In addition, it is an insurance that the principles laid down by the Government in the Education Act are adhered to.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar

I must apologise for asking the Minister to do the physically impossible. If he were swimming against the tide and he shot himself in the foot he would drown. I noted that the Minister used the word "constraint" which goes to the very heart of my criticism of this subsection. Does constraint involve the hand of the Government constraining the acts of the board of management of the school to which freedom of operation is said to be given within the terms of this Bill?

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My noble friend Lord Macaulay of Bragar has widened the debate quite effectively. It has made me even more confused as to whether the Minister was meaning constraint or whether the word was put in merely as a stopgap. The Minister did not explain the matter fully. If it is essential that the Secretary of State should have these powers and that the standards and general requirements will be prescribed, why is the word "may" included and not the word "shall"? I know that we have had rich debates in the Palace of Westminster over the centuries regarding those two words.

We have the Minister's protestations that the power must be there and that standards and general requirements must be defined. In those circumstances, why have "may"? Does that mean that there may be selectivity? There is no compulsion on the Secretary of State because he may decide to do something or he may decide otherwise. I do not believe that it is a small point because it is one that caused me bewilderment when I looked at the subsection.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I shall return again to this point because the noble Lord raises the question of selection and his concern in this particular area. The regulations under subsection (7) of this clause must be compatible with the general provisions of this Bill and existing primary legislation that will cover self-governing schools. In particular, regulations could not alter the basic characteristics of the school because that can be done only under the ballot procedures contained in Clause 30 that we shall debate later.

I can assure the noble Lord that Clause 7(7) does not provide a means of introducing selection. The other point that I believe the noble Lord, Lord Macaulay, raised was regarding ministerial control. Clause 7(7) is not concerned with powers for Ministers to exercise detailed control over self-governing schools any more than Section 2 of the 1980 Act is used to control every detail of management. Self-governing schools will operate within a broad statutory framework. That is surely the way we should wish to proceed. They will enjoy a real independence from education authorities and central government. They will not be schools run by the Scottish Education Department. Their creation will devolve power from the education authorities to parents at each school and not centralise it with the Secretary of State. There has to be a broad framework within which the schools can operate. That is why we have tied the matter very closely to the 1980 Act provisions.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I am sorry to rise again, but I wish to carry forward the metaphor. I believe the Minister has jumped the gun by speaking about selectivity. I am not talking about that concerning this Bill, but this subsection. Standards and general requirements may be prescribed. Can the Minister give me any example of where they will not be prescribed? The matter started as a very small point and it has grown. I do not wish to make too much of it.

It seemed to me that the Minister was saying that these measures would always be prescribed, and that there would be general requirements and standards whether the school is independent or not within the general framework or totally controlled by the school board. I am not concerned about that. The wording suggests that the Secretary of State can lay down conditions for one school in Edinburgh that was still local authority controlled and different conditions for another school elsewhere. I am asking whether there will always be the same broad requirement. If that is so, why is the word "may" used and not "shall"? It is a very simple point.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

With due respect to the noble Lords, Lord Carmichael and Lord Macaulay, we appear to be going round in circles on this point. I shall read very carefully what the noble Lords have said in order to see if there is more substance in what they are saying. I do not think it is possible to have the matter both ways. Does one want self-governing schools to match public schools in standards or not? That is the simple question. We believe that the provisions should be comparable. That is why we feel that this subsection is necessary.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I am grateful to the Minister for saying that he will reconsider the matter. I did not expect this debate to continue for 13 minutes. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 agreed to.

4.15 p.m.

Schedule 1 [The Scheme of Government]:

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 5: Page 55, line 20, after ("board") insert ("of co-opted members").

The noble Lord said: This technical amendment, in paragraph 2(c) of Part I of Schedule 1 to the Bill, will ensure that the non-elected members of a school board are correctly referred to as co-opted members in that provision, in distinction to the larger appointed membership of a board of management referred to in the first part of that paragraph. The amendment simply inserts the correct terminology in respect of school boards. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 6: Page 55, line 24, at end insert—

("Parental majority 4. The articles of constitution shall, without prejudice to paragraph 1(2) of Schedule 4 to this Act, provide that the number of parent members shall constitute an Overall majority of the total number of members of the board of management.").

The noble Lord said: The Committee may have noticed that the text of this amendment already appears in the Bill as printed, but has been removed by the issue of a correction sheet. Perhaps it would be helpful if I explained the circumstances. The amendment was tabled for debate on Report in the other place but was omitted by printers' error from the Order Paper on the day of the debate though it had been tabled as a government amendment and had appeared on the Order Paper for the previous day. Though paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 was included in the subsequent print of the Bill I understand that the House authorities thought fit to issue a correction sheet removing paragraph 4 as it had not been formally voted on. This amendment restores the paragraph.

The amendment reflects an undertaking given during previous consideration of the Bill to consider whether boards of management should have an inbuilt parental majority just as school boards will have. The Bill as it stands provides that when a school becomes self-governing the board of management is to have a greater number of parent members than had the school board, that the headteacher is to become a full member and there is an increase of appointed members. But it does not guarantee an overall majority of parents. It was quite clear in the other place that there was a will on all sides of the House to preserve the parental majority and this amendment gives effect to that. I beg to move.

The Earl of Balfour

I wish to raise one small point. As the Committee is well aware, when a paragraph is added to a schedule the sequence of everything else that follows is altered. I draw the attention of the Committee to page 2, and line 23 of Clause 3. I shall read the beginning of the clause: Without prejudice to Section 19(3) of, and Schedule 4 to, this Act and subject to paragraphs 1 to 4 of Part I of Schedule 1 to this Act". When the Bill is reprinted and assuming that the Committee accept this Government amendment, I am pretty certain I am correct in saying that paragraph 4 will become paragraph 5.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I am grateful to my noble friend. As usual he is very adept at seeing faults in the drafting of a Bill. I sought to explain the history of paragraph 4 of Part I of Schedule 1 which is the subject of the government amendment and the reason for its insertion in the Bill. Paragraph 4 is an important measure which was simply omitted from the Order Paper through a printer's error as I have already said. It was omitted on the day on which the Bill was considered at Report. Once that amendment has been accepted by the Committee and is incorporated in the Bill, the correct reference to Clause 3(1) should be to paragraphs 1 to 5 of Part I of Schedule 1. I regret any confusion which may have been generated by the state in which the Bill finds itself at present but I hope that the noble Earl and the Committee will accept the proposed rectifications.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I have objections of a more fundamental nature. The noble Lord was kind enough to try to explain to me that the correction issued in the Bill when it came from another place was purely a technical matter. I suspected at the time that it was not a technical matter and that indeed the provision for a parental majority on the school boards had been deliberately left out by far seeing members of the Government in Scotland. The provision had caused great anxiety in teaching and education circles in Scotland. I hoped that the missing out of the clause was a step forward.

It may be a technical amendment but it is an extremely bad one. It is highly dangerous to have a statutory majority of parents on school boards. It causes disquiet and trouble and could put into the hands of determined cliques a great deal of power which they should not possess. The Bill as it stood without this clause was a great improvement on the present technical correction.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I hope that the noble Lord is not impugning the fact that I am bringing forward an amendment to correct a mistake. I take it rather amiss that the will of another place on this matter, which as I understand it had agreement on all sides, should be questioned at this stage. I know that the noble Lord holds strong views on this matter. We heard about them when the school boards' legislation was before us last year. Nevertheless, I wish to make it clear that this amendment is brought forward to correct what is in fact a printer's error.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 7: Page 56, line 15, after ("child") insert ("(whether or not over school age)").

The noble Lord said: This is a drafting amendment to ensure that a parent is still eligible to be a member of the board of management if his child is over school-leaving age. The term "child" in education legislation means "a person who is not over school age"; that is to say not over 16. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 8 and 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 [Rights of parents in relation to individual pupils]:

Lord Macaulay of Bragar moved Amendment No. 8: Page 5, line 27, at end insert— ("(2) Subsection (1) of section 38 of the 1980 Act (making of attendance orders) shall be amended as follows:

  1. (a) after the words "public school" where they first occur in that subsection, there shall be inserted the words "a self-governing school";
  2. 580
  3. (b) after the word "public" where it second occurs in that subsection there shall be inserted the words "or self-governing").

The noble Lord said: I was perhaps arguing against myself in my last proposition to the Minister that we should not copy from other Acts. The amendment would allow an education authority to make an attendance order requiring a child to attend a self-governing school without having first to obtain the consent of the school's board of management. Under Section 38 of the 1980 Act, where a pupil at a public school has failed to attend regularly or where the education authority is satisfied that a child's parents have failed without reasonable excuse to provide efficient education for the child, an education authority may require the child by attendance order to attend a public school or school provided the managers are willing to receive the child.

The managers of the opted out school will be the board of management. Without some compulsion on them to take back into the school a child who is behaving badly or "truanting", to use the old word, they may be one step on the road to selectivity within the school. It is a matter of common sense that if a child is a complete nuisance the natural reaction of those in authority, if they cannot cope with him within the system, is to get rid of him if possible. I do not say that to castigate the teachers in Scotland. I am anticipating what the natural reaction would be. Children who do not attend school are a menace outwith the school and can get up to all kinds of mischief while they are not where they are supposed to be.

The amendment seeks to remove the requirement in the case of self-governing schools for the managers of the school to be willing to receive the child. Such a provision could be important in a country area where there is only one school and the school has opted out. In a remote area a board of management may, for whatever reason, have opted out. A child does not attend the school and the parents do not fulfil their statutory duties as parents to make the child attend. What will happen to the child if the board of management, in exercising the discretion vested in it, does not take that child back into the opted out school, even if the parents then decide to start sending him to school? If the opted out school is allowed to exercise a degree of selectivity in these matters, perhaps with not very good reason or without attending to the problem of the child, the education authority will have to deal with him in isolation because no school is available in the vicinity. He will then have to go to a school in an adjoining education authority area, assuming that the adjoining education authority will accept him.

This amendment is put forward as a protective measure for children. It is supervisory in nature and seeks to ensure that opted out schools do not take the easy option over children they do not like. It would ensure that the school authorities have to face up to the problem of children who misbehave. No one expects that all school pupils will behave ideally and not truant from time to time. However, where the child becomes a problem, the reasons for that problem have to be faced by the family—once the family finds out—but most importantly of all by the school and by the parents in combination with the school. It may well be that parents have voted for the school to opt out. This amendment puts the problem, initially at least, back where it belongs—in the school which the child attended. I beg to move.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Macaulay, for bringing forward this point. I should like to go through the matter quite carefully because there is a genuine difficulty of balance here which we must try to address. Perhaps I may take two cases in which an attendance order might be made: one is the case of persistent truancy; the other, a case where a child has had to be suspended or excluded because of his disruptive behaviour at school and the parent has then failed to make any move to get the child reinstated or to send him or her to another school.

In such cases the education authority has a policing role, in effect, to tell the parent that he must send his child to a designated school. The school designated could be a public school, or it could be another school (that is to say an independent school, or, in future, a self-governing school) if the managers of that school agree to take the child.

I invite noble Lords to look at two cases—one where the child concerned had been a pupil at a self-governing school and had either dropped out or had been excluded, and the other where the child had not been at the self-governing school, but the education authority wanted to place him, by means of an attendance order, at a self-governing school, for perhaps good reasons.

In regard to the first type of case it may help members of the Committee if I explain at this point that we intend to make exclusion regulations for self-governing schools on precisely the same lines as those already applicable to public schools. Under those regulations a pupil may not be excluded from a school except where his parent refuses or fails to comply with the rules, regulations or disciplinary requirements of the school; or where the child's continued attendance at the school would be likely to be seriously detrimental to order and discipline in the school. In short, a self-governing school will only be able to exclude a pupil when he has become disruptive and if his parent then takes no action to make the pupil's behaviour acceptable nor to place him in another school. It is at that point that it would be appropriate for the education authority to step in and make an attendance order in respect of that pupil. But considering the circumstances in which the pupil will have been excluded from the school it really does not make sense simply to order him back to the school from which he has been excluded, unless indeed the board of management of the school is willing to give him another chance.

My second case was that of a child excluded from a public school. Before making an attendance order the education authority has to give the parent an opportunity to express a view as to which school his child should attend. It is open to the parent therefore to make an application to another school at this point; and that school might be a self-governing school. The board would be obliged to give the application proper consideration, and if they were prepared to accept it the school could be named in the attendance order. It would, however, be unprecedented in our legislation for any school to be obliged to admit a child against the judgment of the school's own managers. That is the position as I understand it. I recognise of course that the buck has to stop somewhere—that is the difficulty we face—and that eventually the public authority may have to find a place in one of its own schools. The authority, at least, is likely to have more of a choice. But I would urge noble Lords opposite to reflect: would it not be unfair to the board of management if the education authority were in a position to post some of their most difficult pupils to a self-governing school without giving that school any say in the matter?

I understand the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Macaulay, as regards this difficult area of attendance. I am perfectly prepared to consider any positive suggestion he may make. However, I do not think that the amendment before us actually addresess the very difficult point as to where the balance should lie.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar

I hope that by putting forward the amendment I have at least focused attention on the problem. I am grateful to the Minister for his most considerate reply to the observations I made. I agree, as would anyone involved in the education process either as a parent or a teacher, that the whole issue is a matter of degree and of striking a very fine balance between the various considerations. It is really quite a horrible problem when such matters arise.

However, I am grateful to the Minister for his informative reply. I can assure him that I shall do my best, together with my colleagues, to supply some sort of alternative. As I said, it is a most difficult problem. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 10 agreed to.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clause 11 [Fees, charges, books etc.]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 9: Page 5, line 32, leave out ("charges as are reasonable").

The noble Lord said: I think that it would be helpful to the Committee if we were to discuss Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 together because there is considerable similarity between the two. The purpose of these amendments is to ensure that the charges made by a board of management of a self-governing school when it provides education other than school education under Clause 7(3), such as facilities for social, cultural and recreational activities and for physical education and training under Clause 7(5), are reasonable.

The provision of adult education or community education as it is perhaps more widely defined, and the provision of educational facilities for community use is a very much valued facet of the Scottish scene and has become more so over the past few years. At present such education is provided either free of charge or at basic cost by many of the local authority schools. For such opportunities to remain generally available to the community served by self-governing schools, we would like there to be provision in the Bill that such charges must continue to be set at a reasonable level. Let us remember that in certain cases if a school becomes self-governing it would be the only major school in the area and would almost certainly be the only school with all the facilities in the area, so this is not a hypothetical matter. Additionally, if a self-governing school were to provide such education or facilities solely to make a profit, there is a danger that that form of activity could ultimately assume greater importance as regards the board of management than the provision of school education.

I am sure the Minister will say that the provision of school education is the prime function of the school board. But there are many ways of making an omelette or cooking a goose—whichever phrase one wishes to use—and it could subtly be a matter of finding a profitable sideline in the school and concentrating on that particular facility. For example, the school may possess a particularly good swimming pool, or a notably good gymnasium with all the other facilities, such as a solarium and so on. Indeed, in certain areas it could be an adjunct to one of the nice hotels which are springing up all over Scotland. I am merely trying to illustrate the fact that we need a safeguard in this respect. There must be provision to prevent a community school becoming a school which is out of the reach of the average person.

We also need to guard against the possibility that a school board in the new situation could become mainly concerned with making money and doing its own thing, so to speak, with the school. It may well be done subtly. I do not think that it would be done deliberately. However, the difficulty could arise where certain things were required for the school but where more time was spent discussing the possibility of extending the commercial life of the school. While commercialism has its place, I do not think that it should be encouraged in a community school. I hope therefore that the Minister will look favourably at the amendments and that he will show a certain sympathy towards them. I beg to move.

Lord Grimond

I should like to say a word in support of the amendment. We have seen in the education world a tendency to press universities to take on fringe activities (running conferences, and so forth) with a view to helping out their general budget. Like the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, I fear that there may be a temptation for school authorities to go down the same road. If anything should be free of means testing, it is general education in all its forms.

To put parents in a position where their children cannot take part in activities in school because they cannot pay would be unfortunate. It is no good saying that there will be alternatives, because in many parts of the country there will be none. In many parts of the country, parents are faced with one school, and one school only. While I agree with the noble Lord that it is not the Government's present intention to use the charging for fringe activities as a means of raising money, that could creep in.

As we have to legislate not for the Government's immediate intentions but for the future enactments which will govern those schools, I support the view that, even if the amendment is not correctly worded, there should be some safeguard to ensure that such activities are kept within reasonable bounds and should not exclude any children from the formal amenities and activities which go on on the fringes of main education.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

The two amendments to Clause 11 attempt to impose some additional restriction on the ability of a self-governing school to levy charges on pupils or on others for provision going beyond school education. Clause 11 has been drawn up—here we go back to the question of "may" or "shall"—in such a way as to put the board in precisely the same position as an education authority operating under equivalent provisions of the famous Education (Scotland) Act 1980.

The basic point is that school education for pupils must be provided free of any fee or charge. Specific items such as books and stationary must also be provided free as set out in Clause 11(3) of the Bill. Questions of whether some particular item must be provided free as part of school education or can be regarded as an extra and charged for are matters for judgment in the circumstances of individual cases. I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, is saying about the schools with a big catchment area.

Education authorities and individual schools have considerable experience in this area. It is some 20 years since a Secretary of State last felt it necessary to offer advice on charging. We feel that the present system works well in Scotland and see no need to follow England and Wales with new legislation trying to define more closely where a school may make charges. Against that background, I have no wish to be drawn into speculation about whether charges would or would not be appropriate in various hypothetical circumstances. Equally I see no reason to subject a self-governing school to anything other than the existing restrictions on education authorities in this field (as defined in Clause 11(3)).

The appropriate level of charges to outside organisations for use of school premises or facilities is also a matter best decided by the individual board. One would expect the additional costs to the school of making the provision to be an important factor. However, there may be occasions when the school is happy to charge below costs as an encouragement to participation in certain facilities. On the other hand, there may be popular activities where the charges levied produce a surplus for the school which the board can use to subsidise other activities. These are normal questions of day-to-day management. If a board were so ill-advised as to pitch its charges either unreasonably high or absurdly low, it would soon find that it had to come to terms with economic reality.

We believe that drawing a balance between statutory and non-statutory control is important, although if a newly established board sought guidance on the matter we should be happy to give it.

As with the previous amendment, it is a question of reaching a balance between too much insurance and no insurance. The noble Lord might reflect on what I have said. I shall look at what the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, said in relation to his area because he made an important point about the level of charges. Our experience is that that has worked satisfactorily. Although it could be said that self-governing schools could take different attitudes, we believe that with the powers that we have in Clause 11(3) we are reaching an acceptable balance in that case as well.

4.45 p.m.

The Earl of Selkirk

What does my noble friend regard as reasonable? One of the problems in most schools is music. How do we deal with music for the limited number of people who want it while not disturbing the school's general schedule? I take it that there will be no objection to some charges being made; for instance, playing the bagpipes is popular and may require some extra payment. As I understand it, there is no objection to that in principle provided that the charge is reasonable. To all intents and purposes the amendment is not necessary. It is covered by the existing law, is it not?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My noble friend illustrates the problem we face in trying to restrict where we draw the line. If he turns to Clause 11(3)(b) he will see that it states: may provide, whether free of charge or otherwise, to pupils", certain items, which it specifies. We shall debate "reasonableness" in another context on a later amendment, when I may have something to say about it. The balance must be drawn. It would be wrong to stop people from having bagpipe tuition if a small amount of money were required to subsidise it.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I thank the Minister for his reply. I am, as always, pleased when the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, joins the debate because he is so sharp and understanding. This time he may be a little over-trusting. We are dealing with a different animal. We do not know what the boards may charge. Some people may not be keen on bagpipes (at close quarters, anyway) and may be selective.

Small organisations have great difficulty in raising the rent for school rooms. The local authorities are understanding in rural areas where there may be few other halls or facilities. As the Minister said, the parents will be in the majority on the boards and in most cases the boards will be understanding, but selectivity may come in. They may decide that they will let a room to one group and not to another. That is why we felt that there should be some understanding in the Bill to ensure that the charges would be reasonable and that facilities for social and recreational activities would be preserved.

After the debate, the Minister must be aware of the feelings on this side of the Chamber. We may look at the matter again on Report to see whether we can put it in a tidier way. I agree that we are dealing with amorphous matters, and that it is not easy. Having listened to the Minister and having expressed some of our fears, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 10 not moved.]

Clause 11 agreed to.

Clause 12 agreed to.

Clause 13 [Initiation of procedure for acquisition of self-governing status]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 6, leave out lines 24 to 27 and insert— ("(a) decide, by a resolution passed at a meeting of the board ("the first resolution") to hold such a ballot and confirm that decision, after consultations required by subsection (2) below, by a resolution ("the second resolution") passed at a subsequent meeting of the board held not less than twenty-eight days, nor more than forty-two days, after that on which the first resolution was passed; or (b) receive a written request which meets the requirements of subsection (4) below.

(2) Immediately following the passing of the first resolution the school board shall consult—

  1. (a) the education authority;
  2. (b) if the school is a denominational school, the church or denominational body in whose interest the school is managed; and
  3. (c) such other persons or bodies as may be prescribed;
with respect to their decision to hold a ballot.").

The noble Lord said: The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, is unfortunately indisposed. She contacted me to ask whether I would add my name to the amendment and move it on her behalf. This I am happy to do. I know that she considers it important, as I do, and I hope the Committee will realise that she was particularly keen that the amendment should be put forward.

The purpose of Amendment No. 11 is to require a school board to consult the education authority and the denominational body, if applicable—as it is in a large number of schools in Scotland—and other parties with a specific interest in the school, before confirming a decision to seek self-governing status. Such other parties would be expected to include staff, the school boards of associated schools in the area, community groups, etc.

The school board would be required to hold parents' meetings to obtain a rough idea and ascertain the general views of the parents on whether or not to hold a ballot under Section 12(2) of the School Boards (Scotland) Act 1988. I am sure the Minister is aware that the minute a decision is made to hold a ballot, that is it. The ballot must go ahead. There is no drawing back from it. Therefore a very important piece of groundwork must be carried out before a decision is taken to hold a ballot.

As currently drafted, the Bill empowers the school board to hold a ballot of the parents on self-governing status simply by resolving to do so at a single meeting of the board. At that one meeting, there may be a bare majority of members of the board, a bare quorum, but those members can decide that they will hold a ballot. If there is a simple majority in favour of self-governing status, proposals are published under Section 16. Thereafter they are submitted to the Secretary of State. This is the only time provided in the Bill for other interested parties such as the education authority, the school boards of associated schools, the community groups at large or the religious bodies, the denominational bodies, if applicable. For such bodies this is the only opportunity to comment on the proposals. Their views are submitted to the Secretary of State and not to the school board. He may then reject the proposals or approve them, with or without modification, under Section 19(1).

At no time can the school board withdraw the proposals unless the Secretary of State consents to such withdrawal. No provision is made in the procedure which requires the school board to consider the views of other parties who may have a direct interest in the future management of the school. Only the Secretary of State will be able to consider their views before making a decision as regards the proposals published by the school boards.

We believe that it would be more appropriate for the school board to be aware of the views of others before holding a ballot or drawing up any proposals. In such circumstances, if the board holds a ballot and submits proposals, the Secretary of State will know that those proposals will have been prepared following consultations with the local community. As a result they may be less likely to require modifications. The school board will also be less likely to wish to withdraw its proposals after they have been published because an opportunity will have been given to the whole community. All those interested in the school or who have anything to do with the school will be aware of what is happening.

During the Committee stage of the Bill in the House of Commons, the Minister in charge of the Bill at the time, Mr. Forsyth, accepted that such an arrangement would bring the procedure into line with the equivalent provision in England and Wales in Section 60(1)(a) of the Education Reform Act 1988. Mr. Forsyth went on to add that: The decision by a school board to have a ballot is not decisive. The ballot is far more important and ultimately the whole procedure is subject to the Secretary of State's agreement. The idea of a board having to make a resolution and then confirm that resolution at a second meeting might be appropriate if that resolution were decisive".—[Official Report, Commons, First Scottish Standing Committee, 11/4/89; col. 489.] While the decision to hold a ballot is not decisive in terms of whether a school acquires or should acquire self-governing status—that is a decision of the Secretary of State—once the decision is made, the procedure is irreversible so far as the board is concerned.

We think that this is an extremely important amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, made a specific point of contacting me to ask me to add my name to it. I hope that I have done justice to her ideas in the way in which I have attempted to explain the background of the amendment to the Committee. I beg to move.

The Earl of Selkirk

I wish to support what the noble Lord has said. This is an extremely important amendment. I do not wish to go into the details of what it does, but the whole crux of this experiment in education turns on the understanding and support given by the families, the mothers and fathers, to the scheme. In other words, if they do not understand what is happening or do not support it when they understand, it will not be a success.

I believe that it is immensely important that we should take a great deal of trouble to ensure that families understand the proposals and are given time in which to express their views as to whether they support them. If those families do not suport such proposals they will not go through. It is no good pretending about that. We must give them an understanding of what the proposals attempt to carry out and an opportunity fully to express their views, with plenty of time in which to think over what is wanted. That is why the amendment is perfectly right in principle.

The additional points made in regard to denominational schools and other matters are important. When one introduces a new idea to the public it is extremely difficult to know what the opinion is. As regards numbers and the majority of one, what on earth does that mean? Practically nothing. Perhaps I may give an example of the difficulties that might arise. Milton Keynes recently had some bother and perhaps I may tell a story about it. The council wanted to transfer about 3,000 of its rented houses to a housing association. It thought that there were only four people who objected, but when it came down to it it found that there were massive, overwhelming objections to the transfer. I mention that only in order to show that this correction, this means of obtaining agreement to establishment, is difficult and must be dealt with very carefully. The mere passing of figures or putting them in a box may or may not represent a very ticklish and important question for many families. I hope that the noble Lord will carefully examine this and see whether the significance of the original resolution is in any way underestimated and that the idea is given a proper chance of being explained to families.

Lord Addington

I wish to add the support of these Benches to the amendment for a simple reason. Surely some period in which to consider opting out of local authority control would definitely be a good idea. Consultation with the other affected groups within the local area should take place and soundings could be taken of views of parents. I suggest that this is a sensible move and a proposal which should have been included in the first place.

5 p.m.

The Earl of Perth

I regret the fact that the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, is not here to move the amendment so eloquently as no doubt she would. Never mind. We have had the advantage of hearing the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, who put the case very well. He has been backed up by other noble Lords.

The Government should realise that this is an enormously important step and an experiment in the running of schools. I can easily imagine the situation where a group of parents suddenly decide that it would be a good idea to have a ballot and become self-governing. They do not know what it is about. If the ballot is successful it is not enough to say that the Secretary of State will consult with whoever is concerned. That could be most unfortunate. Having made their first move it would be far better if the parents waited a while and listened to those directly concerned, whether denominational, local authority, or whoever. Only after that, knowing all the facts, should they come out in favour.

I also hope that the Government will consider the amendment. Only 24 days will be lost. If the matter is so important, what is that loss in relation to the whole issue?

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I add to my noble friend's commendation of the amendment. It is important in view of the fact that until now the Government have proposed to allow inexperienced school boards to put forward schemes for opting out. My noble neighbour's amendment is a good safeguard and the Minister should consider it with great care.

Baroness Phillips

I am an ex-teacher and a Sassenach but I hope that I can contribute to the debate. This is one of the many occasions on which I should vote for home rule if I were a Scot. We sit here in Westminster making decisions, and this Government always decide to try things out on the Scots first. Yes, they do—we must not forget that the Scots were the first to have the community charge and there was a Scottish Education Bill.

The self-governing idea sounds splendid. However, I talked to some parents who were overwhelmed by the responsibilities suddenly being thrust upon them. There should be a way in which the taking of such vitally important decisions could be delayed. The matter is to be rushed through with a handful of Members deciding such an important measure. It is important that we move ahead slowly. The education scene is the subject of enough disruption in England and Wales—heaven help poor Scotland! I plead with the Government occasionally to let us have our way in respect of a delay.

The Earl of Lauderdale

I should like to add a few more words from this side of the Committee. I have in mind the community of Lauder which is my home town. It is a tiny community with only 1,000 people. The position of the school within a community is most important. It is a lively focus of community life on many levels. If a decision were taken without the consent of the community at large it may be damaging and socially divisive. I support the amendment and I am sure that the Government will consider it.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I thank all Members of the Committee who have taken part in the debate. At times Scotland has been called a "guinea pig". When I sat here listening to the passage of the Education Reform Bill through this House I understood that the English and Welsh arrangements were put in place a year ago. Therefore we are able to learn by reading the book instead of looking into the crystal.

This important amendment deserves a great deal of consideration. I am sad that my noble friend Lady Carnegy is ill in bed. Perhaps when she hears of it she will realise that the subject was well and truly debated.

The decision to hold a ballot on self-governing status is itself only the beginning of a process which can be halted later either by a majority voting "no" in the ballot or by the Secretary of State rejecting the proposals. Nevertheless, that initial decision taken by the school board alone is a serious step, as all Members have said, and ought to be well considered by any school board. In reply to my noble friend Lord Lauderdale I can well understand the people of Lauder having a go at the parental majority of the school in Lauder if they go against the wishes of those in the town. I have listened carefully to the argument and I accept that there is some substance in it. I think it is right that when a board has taken its initial decision it should consult the managers of the school—that is the education authority—hear what they have to say and then decide whether it still wishes to go ahead with a ballot.

On the general principle I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, said on behalf of my noble friend. However, I part company with one point made in the amendment. I am not attracted by the idea that the Secretary of State should make a set of regulations specifying a range of other persons or bodies which must be consulted. The education authority has a unique and indisputable interest as managers (and in most cases as owners) of the school. In a denominational school the Church also will have an interest which is recognised in statute. But beyond that the list of possible candidates who could claim some interest is long. I know that Members of the Committee will have received many letters to that effect. I do not in the least dispute the fact that many of these claims are genuine, but we should also bear in mind that a board's decision to ballot will inevitably become public knowledge very quickly. From then on any interested party will be free to make its views known to parents and at a later stage to offer comment on the formal proposals.

I invite the noble Lord to consider whether it is altogether fair or wise to burden a school board with too many statutory requirements to consult this or that body. No doubt there will be opponents only too ready to trip up a board for failing on a legal technicality. With her experience in local government my noble friend Lady Carnegy knows only too well how true that can be. I suggest therefore that we should not multiply legal requirements beyond those which are absolutely necessary.

However, I shall reflect on the general substance of the amendment. If the noble Lord will withdraw it I should be happy to bring forward an amendment at a later stage which will provide for two resolutions and some time for intervening consultation. I believe that that assurance addresses the major thrust of the amendment and I hope therefore that the noble Lord will withdraw it.

The Earl of Selkirk

I should like to confirm that my noble friend agrees with the amendment subject only to subsection (2)(c). Is that correct?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

That is correct.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I point out that in subsection (2)(c) of the amendment my noble neighbour does not use the word "shall" but the word "may".

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

We must be grateful to the Minister for going so far. I am taking the general feeling of the Committee which is: why the rush? The schools have existed for a long time and a little longer will not matter. My noble friend Lady Phillips commented on the Scots being used as guinea pigs and she mentioned the poll tax. There are many political reasons why it is easier to do something in Scotland; the Government have less to lose than in other places.

Knowing small areas the noble Earls, Lord Selkirk and Lord Lauderdale, will appreciate the fact that by the time the matter reached the point where the Secretary of State had to stop it the damage would have been done to the local community. Before that stage is reached it is better for the proposal to be thoroughly sounded among the local community.

I have a very high regard for people's basic instincts and believe that by and large they are good. However, a great many people will not realise what it is all about until the ballot takes place. Therefore, any arrangement that gives people the best possible opportunity to discuss the proposal in Selkirk or Lauderdale or wherever it may be, will be an advantage. Such areas have an advantage since in a small town people will discuss the issue because a school is a particularly vital part of the community. The cities need the provision perhaps even more than the small towns.

I am grateful for the help that I have received and to have been able to speak to the amendment on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 12: Page 6, line 29, at end insert ("or a primary school which has less than one hundred and fifty registered pupils.").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to make small primary schools ineligible for self-governing status.

Section 52(6) of the Education Reform Act 1988, which applies to England and Wales and to which the Minister has already referred, provides that a primary school which has less than 300 registered pupils is not eligible for grant-maintained status. However, the Secretary of State for Education may, by order, lower the qualifying number of pupils given in subsection (6) or, if he thinks fit, provide for all primary schools to be eligible.

Given that provision in the Education Reform Act, it is clear that the Secretary of State for Education is uncertain whether small primary schools would be viable as grant-maintained schools. Incidentally, the present Secretary of State for Education is a Scot and I believe attended a small primary school. He will therefore on those two grounds be better equipped to make the decision than the previous Secretary of State.

In the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities' response to the Scottish Education Department's descriptive document Self-Governing Schools, attention was drawn to the benefits to be obtained from the support services which an education authority provides to schools as well as from the benefits of economies of scale which would not be available to a school which had opted out. Why then, after the experience of England and Wales, do the Government consider small primary schools to be potentially viable as self-governing schools in Scotland but not in England and Wales? Would it not be better for the Secretary of State to review the provisions for eligibility in the light of experience of self-governing status for the larger primary schools before considering the status of smaller schools?

The Minister may be aware of the number of schools which have fewer than 150 pupils. Relative to the total number of schools it is not great, although Scotland will have a relatively higher proportion than England because of the sparser population in the Highlands, Islands and Borders.

The amendment draws the Minister's attention to the fact that there is a point at which a small primary school is not suited to becoming an independent school. It would be doing pupils a great disservice if they were not to have all the facilities available to an education authority. I hope that the Minister will have noted the response of CoSLA to the SED on this matter. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some help, as he did on the previous amendment. I beg to move.

The Earl of Balfour

It is many years since I served on the Finance Committee of the East Lothian County Council Education Committee. I discovered at that time that the running costs of small schools in relation to the number of pupils was incredibly high compared with the large schools. There were one or two schools which had only one teacher. The education committee would probably have saved money if it had sent those children to a boarding school rather than keeping the schools open. This was in 1972, but I believe that the astronomical management costs of small schools should be borne in mind. Otherwise, I am not opposed to privatisation.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I hope that the Minister will not say that he knows all and therefore he will decide whether a school is eligible or not. There will be a great deal of trouble with schools opting to become self-governing when that would be ridiculous, as in the case of the size of school referred to by the noble Lord opposite. Without doubt there will be groups of parents who think that their small school is manageable. They will go to all the trouble of trying to make their school self-governing and the Secretary of State in his wisdom will have to stop them. I believe that the laying down of a viable size of school is an essential part of the Bill.

Baroness Phillips

I find it disturbing that anyone should talk in terms of cost when discussing either education or health. When buying furniture or houses, that is one thing, but there are two areas which must be sacrosanct, even under this Government. You cannot possibly say that it would be more economic to send children to a boarding school. The working class have always been very sensible; they do not want to get rid of their children but prefer to have them round them. It is very wrong to discuss anything in the Bill in terms of economics. Education is sacrosanct in that sense.

If there is a village in which the school has one teacher for one child, so be it. I deplore the closures of small schools around the country, some of which, sadly, were carried out under a Labour Government. The idea that children should travel miles because they would gain some advantage from a large school is wrong. The great value of a school is its part in the community, and cost does not come into the picture and should not.

The Earl of Selkirk

It has been said that there should not be too many regulations. This is another regulation. The need for it will have to be proved up to the hilt.

What happens if the number of pupils in a school falls? Does it suddenly automatically cease to be a self-governing school? I believe that the proposal is rather arbitrary. I do not say that there is not considerable force in the noble Lord's argument, but I should hesitate to put this on to the statute book.

The Earl of Lauderdale

Perhaps I may add a few words. The difficulty that I see here is the arbitrariness of the figure. There must be a limit somewhere. I do not know whether anyone in the Chamber or whether the Secretary of State for Scotland knows what the limit should be. I am a little apprehensive about the limit being imposed everywhere. It is vital to keep schools going in very small communities where they want to be self-governing. To be told that they are uneconomic because they are too small is not a good enough argument. I hope that the proposal will be resisted in its present form. The exact limit has not been specified.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

This is an important amendment. I appreciate what the noble Baroness says, particularly about support for small primary schools. I should point out that there are certain differences between England and Scotland. One of the differences is that Clause 34 allows a self-governing school to continue its use of certain support services. There is no similar provision in England.

Perhaps I may now turn to the main point of the amendment which is very important. The amendment seeks to exclude primary schools with fewer than 150 pupils from the scope of the legislation. I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, that that would mean that over one-third of the number of eligible schools in Scotland would be eliminated from the legislation. In our view, that would be a major reduction in parental choice. I can give the noble Lord the exact figures. Out of a total of 2,382 primary schools in Scotland, 994 would fall under that description. That is equivalent to 42 per cent.

I accept that, in some ways, a smaller school has greater difficulties and will face more difficulties as an independent organisation operating within a fixed annual grant. I shall say something about cost in a moment. On the other hand, the scale of the management task in a small school will be much less than in a more complex, larger secondary school. As noble Lords will know from their own experience, smaller primary schools in rural areas are often a focal point in the local community and are well able to call on all kinds of support from parents and others locally. In the independent sector, numbers of schools appear to operate satisfactorily on their own at well under 150 pupils and they do not find the management task daunting. I must declare an interest, having been a governor of a school which had 100 children of under 12 years of age. Although it was not a daunting task, it was certainly not easy. However, it was not an impossible task and the school was a good one.

It may be that, in the smallest schools, parents will be particularly aware of certain benefits from local authority control and less likely to vote for self-governing status. So be it; the choice is theirs. We talked about the permissive nature of the legislation on Second Reading. Viability and the prospects for the successful operation of the school must always weigh heavily with the Secretary of State in reaching his decision following a ballot. I feel very strongly about that. I see no case for an automatic cut-off at a lower limit of 150 or any other figure. That is a point of principle on which I perhaps differ from the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael. That is just a matter of fact.

My noble friend Lord Balfour referred to the costs in smaller schools. I appreciate what the noble Baroness said on that matter. It is certainly true that, calculated as spending per pupil, a small primary school with under 100 pupils is likely to have higher costs. I should have thought that that was pretty obvious. Education authorities already have to allow for that in funding different schools and any assessment of recurrent grant for self-governing schools will have to take that into account. In answer to the noble Baroness, there is no quest ion of simply applying a standard unit cost per pupil across all schools.

Perhaps we may look for a moment at the experience in England and, as the noble Lord quite rightly said, what is in the Education Reform Act. We have had some experience in the past year of small secondary schools seeking grant-maintained status. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has rejected some small schools, but he has accepted others and size might not be the proper criterion. Like some of my noble friends, I feel that an arbitrary cut-off point is not acceptable to Scotland, given the permissive nature of the legislation.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

Will the Minister tell us how far down the scale in England in terms of numbers his right honourable friend the Secretary of State went?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I cannot give the noble Lord the exact numbers of these secondary schools that have been given grant-maintained status. All I can tell him is that my right honourable friend has accepted some with under 350 pupils. I should like to look at the figures and give the noble Lord a detailed reply.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar

Perhaps the noble Lord will assist the Committee on one matter that concerns this side of the Chamber regarding small schools and primary schools. I appreciate that the figure is variable, but the figure of 150 has been picked upon as being a reasonable one for the peculiar geographical and population problems in Scotland. Will the noble Lord tell the Committee how he envisages costing within a school with fewer than 150 registered pupils so far as concerns the provision of education? He is well aware that in the Highlands, for example, we have peripatetic music teachers and art teachers who require access to the services of the education authority. Does he envisage that, if a primary school is allowed to opt out with such a small number, the provision of those services will be adversely affected by the withdrawal of the services; or is he satisfied that that can be compensated for by the operation of Clause 34? Clause 34 states: (1) Without prejudice to section 1 of the Local Authorities (Goods and Services) Act 1970 (power of local authority and public body to enter into agreement for certain purposes) the board of management of a self-governing school may require the education authority to provide them with any administrative, professional, technical or other services which the authority provide to or in respect of schools under the authority's management. (2) An education authority may make such charge as is reasonable for any services which they are required under subsection (1) above to provide; and they shall in determining what charge to make have regard both to the cost of providing the services and to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State in respect of any such charge. Perhaps I may pose a rhetorical question. What will happen to a small school of under 150 pupils, which has to manage its own finances having made itself self-governing, if it does not have the money to pay the education authority for the services that it has required the education authority to provide? If there is a deficit in its budget for one reason or another, perhaps because of some extra call on its resources during the year, will the Secretary of State enter into some form of subsidy to make sure that those educational needs—for example, psychological and medical services—are maintained in the small school at the same level that is being applied at the moment without cost and as part of the public school system in Scotland? I use the phrase "public school" in the Scottish sense.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

The noble Lord, Lord Macaulay, presents us with a hypothetical case. We shall deal with Clause 34 later, but I should like to point out that the whole question of viability and the long-term future of a school of that size in a Highland area, for example, would have to be considered most carefully by the Secretary of State. As I see it, his prime duty is to ensure continuity of education for the children of a particular area.

However, I come back to the point of principle regarding the arbitrary cut-off point at 150. I believe that there are better ways of arriving at the right conclusions for a school, for instance, in an outlying area of the Highlands, than by just saying, "No, I'm terribly sorry, you lot are excluded from ever considering this route". I come back to the main point that the noble Lord made regarding the education provisions not only for the present but for the future. In the case that he mentioned this would be a very important consideration for the Secretary of State. I should have thought that the long-term viability of the school is absolutely vital concerning that kind of hypothetical question.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

The Minister's reply covered a great deal of ground. He said that there was a difference of principle between us on the Bill. I know he will accept that what is perhaps an ideological difference between us on the principle of the Bill is something quite divorced from our attitude that we must make the eventual measures work. We were thinking in terms of the children and the amendment expresses our concern about the genuine possibility of these provisions not working.

The question of numbers is always a difficult one. It is always quite clear whether something is big and unworkable or small and unworkable. We all know whether or not something is viable, and there are always decisions to be made. I should not like to take the example too far, but I am sure that the Minister will remember our discussion on housing associations when a decision had to be made as to the importance of housing associations in places such as Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee with thousands of houses, and other associations with very small numbers of houses in other parts of the country. One of the small places that I remember being mentioned was Ardrossan where it was considered important that it should hold on to the housing association and that the housing should not be dispersed. The Minister agreed. He reduced the number when the matter was brought back from the other place although he made it less important than I thought it was. Nevertheless, there have to be figures and we are making suggestions, although one is always on dangerous ground with figures and can easily err on one side or the other.

At this point in the Bill we are not unduly worried. We assume that with the powers of the Government the Bill will be enacted. Our task falls into two parts. First, we must point out in good time the great difficulties and pitfalls and that the public may not like the measure. Secondly, we must ensure that when the Bill leaves this House it is in the best state than we can make it. Any contribution that we make should be an improvement.

We believe that there is a figure to be suggested and it will make a primary school of about 150 pupils unsuitable to become an opted out school. We should like if possible to find some formula by which the Secretary of State will be able to review the provisions for eligiblity in the light of the experience of self-governing status in larger primary schools. I made that point in my earlier contribution.

If the Minister will accept that and take the point to the Secretary of State for discussion, I believe that we can leave the matter there. We know that there are pitfalls, but I beg him to understand that we are trying to improve the Bill and make it as beneficial as possible, particularly for the small schools.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I thank the noble Lord. Of course I take very seriously his point about trying to improve the Bill. During the course of this debate we have made some changes and the other side have also made some useful suggestions for consideration. I believe that this matter is not best served by putting an arbitrary limit on numbers.

Costs in small schools have taken up an important part of our discussion. I should like to add, because it is very important, that in assessing the costs the Secretary of State will look at what the authority spends on small schools in similar circumstances. That will cover spending on central services. The small school will therefore have resources to buy back from the authority whichever services it chooses. That, I think, was the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Macaulay. The costs are a factor but I do not think we should deny the fact that sometimes—only sometimes—small can be beautiful.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

Of course we accept that. It could be said on the other hand that some schools are far too big. I agree that they are. I think that the Minister knows our aims and has the best intentions. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 13: Page 6, line 29, at end insert ("or special school, and it may be prescribed that special schools also shall be so eligible").

The noble Lord said: This is one of a group of amendments which the Committee may find it convenient to take as a group; namely, Amendments Nos. 13, 15, 48 and 52 to 54. The purpose of these amendments is to deal with the situation of nursery or special schools. Special schools run by the education departments of the Scottish local authorities provide a valuable and indeed indispensable specialist service to a vulnerable group of young people over a very wide geographic area.

Regional councils in the whole of Scotland have been united in their opposition to the proposal that special schools should be eligible for self-governing status. That unity is not based on narrow political dogma but on a concern for the pupils. Behind it there is a great deal of experience, some of it learned the hard way by some of our local authorities. There is also a great deal of concern for the peace of mind of the parents and a desire to uphold the statutory obligations that are rightly placed on local authorities by the legislation.

The parents of children with special educational needs often carry a greater burden of anxiety than others do. Such families can benefit greatly from the support and advice that is provided through local authorities on a basis of all the professional and social disciplines working as a team that are required to run a special school. It is wholly unacceptable that the burden of anxiety carried by those parents should be increased to include a concern for the future location and quality of the education received by their children.

In addition to accepting and responding to the statutory obligations placed on local authorities by the Scottish education Acts of 1980 and 1981, all local authorities accept the cost-intensive nature of special education in terms of staff, transport and domestic arrangements, along with inter-disciplinary support arrangements, as part of the underlying philosophy of ensuring equality of treatment for all pupils fairly well throughout Scotland. There is a general feeling that it will be fairly well throughout Scotland although it will vary.

The board of management of an opted-out school would have the right to determine admission criteria. That would result in the denial of access to certain pupils in cases in which the board felt that the costs involved could not be justified within its annual budget. One of the strengths of the present system is that the local authorities co-operate closely with each other, which ensures that a range of specialist provisions exist across and throughout Scotland. Any threat to the coherent network of provisions that exists can only be to the detriment of the quality of services available. The education of pupils with special needs is too important to be placed at risk by the fragmentation of the education service.

Anyone who has been associated with the surgery of a councillor or a Member of Parliament will have seen parents with family problems and problems about their children who require special educational facilities. They have no chance other than in a school with an extremely high staff-pupil ratio and the ability to call in facilities from outside. Such a child will ultimately be supported by a network of experienced, caring people who are employed by a single group, and will benefit from its caring medical and teaching facilities for children.

It is a matter on which I feel very strongly. For a short period I was on the Glasgow Corporation social work and education committee. I visited a number of special schools. It seems a long time ago now because advances have been so great. However, even then it was important to have a good, stable staff who knew that, when necessary, they could call on others at very short notice either for advice or for participation for a short period within the school. I hope that the Minister will give a great deal of attention to this series of amendments and will accept at least the spirit of them. I beg to move.

Lord Addington

I should like to add support to these amendments for the following reason. If we are to give support to those who have special educational needs we must have facilities readily available to them. If special schools become self governing, we shall be stripping very important tools away from the local authority's educational function. The facilities must be readily available, be they equipment or the training of staff. If we allow such key elements in the overall picture of education to be taken away from the education authority, or made less readily available, we may commit a very grave error and waste a great deal of human resources.

The Earl of Selkirk

I must go back to what I said previously. We must be careful not to put too many regulations into this Bill. One of my relations was working at a special school with 50 or 60 pupils. Staff were working with pupils whom the local authorities found it impossible to deal with. They were too difficult for the local authorities. This special school dealt with exceptional pupils. One could not possibly have an election because the children came from a very wide area. There was no central body. This was a special school that was run entirely under its own steam by a headmaster of some considerable ability but supported by the local authority. Such schools are unusual but we should not positively exclude them.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, for bringing forward this amendment, and the noble Lords who have spoken to it. It is indeed important. The passage of this Bill through another place was a long one. Much discussion has taken place on this matter of special schools.

These two amendments to Clause 13—I shall deal with the Clause 27 amendments in a moment—are clearly designed to reverse the decision, taken during the consideration of the Bill in another place, to allow parents of children at a special school the same right to seek self-governing status as will be enjoyed by parents elsewhere. I recognise that the amendments proposed to Clause 27 are consequential. The value of this right does not depend on how many individual schools choose to exercise it. This entire Part of the Bill is about extending choice to parents.

There was evidence —to which I shall come in a moment —that some parents involved with special schools saw it as important to have the option of becoming self governing. The Government have responded to that. I have a letter from the Scottish Parent Teacher Council. It is dated of April 1989, but I have good reason to believe that the council has not changed its mind. The letter encapsulates what it would wish on this matter. It states: "SPTC believes that special schools should have the same opportunity as any other school to apply for self governing status". I well understand how much more difficult it is for parents of children with special educational needs whose children may have physical or sensory impairments or other learning difficulties to spare time to take an active interest in the running of the school which their child attends. Indeed I have spoken to some parents on this matter. That being so, when they clearly express a desire so to do, I believe that they should not be denied the choice.

Clause 13 is supported by revised financial arrangements in what is now Clause 27 of the Bill. It provides a basis for assessing grant to a self-governing special school and recognises the continuing role of the education authority in relation to individual pupils with records of needs. It ensures that their education will be fully funded whenever the authority and the parents have, through the record of needs, agreed on the placement at a self-governing school. This will be done by providing for an agreement between the authority and the self-governing school setting out the special educational needs which are to be provided for at the school, and their associated costs.

The involvement of the education authority is crucial since authorities will be concerned with the allocation of specialist services across the whole field—a matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Macaulay, referred in another amendment on another matter. These safeguards and others in the Bill concerning special educational needs will benefit some of our most disadvantaged children.

Clause 27 is important for it will ensure that the costs of providing for the particular needs of an individual child can be taken into account in negotiations for fixing grant to a self-governing special school. The important factor here is that the school will have no financial incentive —that is important—to reject a pupil. If it did, we certainly should not be agreeing to bringing forward Clause 27 in its present form—a form which came forward after the Bill was started in another place.

With the evidence that we have, and the balanced judgment that is needed, we again feel on balance —rather like the case of the cut-off point of 150 pupils —that this provision should be allowed to remain within the Bill.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar

I rise to support the amendment. I find it rather strange that the only justification for the Government interfering with the running of special schools in Scotland appears to be one document from the Scottish Parent Teacher Council. I may have misheard the noble Lord —

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

Perhaps I may intervene. I should also add that SENSE in Scotland—the national association for deaf and blind —has also indicated its support for this proposal.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar

I am grateful to the Minister for that additional information. It does not deal with the point that I wish to make at this juncture. Has the noble Lord received complaints about the services provided in special schools for children with special needs that have caused the Government to look at special schools and to say that the best thing for the schools, and for these unfortunate children with varying degrees of physical and other handicaps, is to get them out of the protective cocoon of the integrated social services which the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, outlined? Is there a demand somewhere from parents? Is there a demand from schools? Or is the special school being tagged on on the basis that the parents should have the same rights as parents at any other school?

One can understand that as a matter of political philosophy, or democratic philosophy perhaps, that no one in the education system should be disadvantaged in any way. I say with the greatest respect to the people who are trying to get self-governing status for special schools that society has differentiated and discriminated in favour of the pupils in these schools. The end result of allowing a school to adopt self-governing status may be that the pupils are disadvantaged.

I have heard of no demand for legislation and no approach has been made to myself or anyone else on these Benches which suggests that there is a demand or a necessity for it.

In another place when the legislation was being debated the Government's initial view was expressed in these terms by Mr. Michael Forsyth: Initially, they will not be eligible to seek self-governing status but, at some time in the future, the Secretary of State may make regulations … that would extend such eligibility to them". —[0fficial Report, Commons 11/4/1989; col. 515.] During the debate the Government accepted an amendment which, contrary to the statement of policy of 11th April 1989, will bring the special schools into self-governing status immediately the Bill receives Royal Assent. The noble Lord may be able to enlighten us about what caused that somersault or volte face, whatever one might call it, the Government having clearly set out their principles in the statement.

The special schools have serious problems of administration with the multiplicity of problems which they have to face. Needs in these schools change, if not daily certainly very dramatically, and money is required to cope with increasing improvements and aids for children with various problems. I am advised that there is now a voice simulator costing £3,500 which is available for children who require that kind of apparatus. If a self-governing school is to meet the cost of one or more of these, that will eat into the budget it has received from the Exchequer and that in turn may cause other fiscal problems within the system.

It is important that the Committee should note that we are not dealing with a large section of the population but with 2 per cent. of the school population who present a special problem. The Government and the Minister in particular recognise the need to give these children every possible care that can be given to make the best of their lives despite their disabilities. But it is a massive, continuing and expanding area and it is difficult to see in reality what advantage there is in leaving them in the self-governing status.

As far as I am aware, the parents do not complain about any lack of facility or attention on behalf of their children. I have a document issued by the Scottish Education Department in 1983. Perhaps it is a little dated now, but I presume the principles still apply. The document is available to parents who are unfortunate enough to have children with disabilities. In the introduction it says: As many as one in five children may at some time need extra help with their education. They are said to have 'special educational needs'. This group of children includes a small number who have real problems in learning and who need to have special kinds of help over several years. Such children are likely to have a description of their needs and what is to be done (called a 'Record of Needs') created by the education authority". I stress the expression "created by the education authority". I am advised that the position would still be the same; even if the school physically were allowed to become self-governing, the recording process and the placement of the children would still be the responsibility of the local authority.

Allowing a special school to become self-governing would create a hybrid situation in the education and supervision of the children with special needs. The Minister will be aware of the various forms of disability which are covered and the tremendous range of difficulties and handicaps. The document goes on to say: Education authorities need to find out how a child's education is likely to be affected and to decide what help is needed. Special kinds of teaching and help can of course be provided in ordinary schools and with recent advances and changing attitudes to special educational needs more and more children with handicaps are attending such schools: others may need the gentler routine, the smaller groups or the very specialised teaching aids available in special schools and classes". That development has taken place within very recent times. There is a sustained effort to try to integrate children with special needs into the ordinary school system. There is a system of inter-exchange among the special schools and the local authority schools. For example, the children might attend a special school for two days a week and attend the local school for a variety of activities on other days. The Minister may be able to tell the Committee whether that will be affected if the school becomes self-governing. How will that affect these children?

Surely these children deserve the full support of the Government without any financial restraints of management or the board of management. Some of them are perhaps not in a very strong position to judge priorities because, as we all know from experience of meeting children and the parents of handicapped children, they are beset 'with daily and continual problems, some of them 24 hours a day. The last thing that these parents need is to be part of a board of management of a school deciding on fiscal matters and priorities for their own child as the case would be. It is for that reason, and in the light of the history which the Minister has outlined and the political history of the exclusion of special schools, that the Minister might wish, as I am sure he will, to reconsider the matter again and the situation relating to these disadvantaged children.

There may be difficulties on the financial side, but the bureaucracy, the civil servants, are not too keen on dealing with such a hybrid situation. That may be another matter which the Minister may wish to consider. How is it to be administered in the light of the problems being faced?

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has received views from the Borders region, the Central region, Fife, Grampian, Highland, Lothian and the Western Isles. I shall not take up the time of the Committee with the various observations, but I can safely say that without exception these authorities are expressing grave concern about the disruption of the well-tested system which has been built up and integrated with a high degree of flexibility between the opted out school and the local school, all for the benefit of this highly vulnerable group of children. For those reasons, I have risen to support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Carmichael.

6 p.m.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Macaulay. I am afraid that I cannot give him any comfort in what I am about to say but I shall try to elucidate some of the points. As to the history of the situation, in another place strong representations were made as to why this provision of choice should not be given to special schools as well as to any other.

There are 194 special schools under local authority management in Scotland which would be affected by this amendment. In addition, there are 149 special departments attached to mainstream schools where any decision on self-governing status will be taken by the parents of the school as a whole. The noble Lord is right that education authorities are used to placing children with records of needs in independent special schools so there is nothing new about schools not being under the management of the local authority.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Macaulay, understands very clearly that the whole purpose of Clause 27 is connected with finance. This is particularly important where special needs figure very largely—and I heard what my noble friend Lord Selkirk said about special schools and how difficult it is at times to place children in the correct school. There may be a need for special schools of the type which my noble friend suggests. Again, given the permissive nature of this legislation I feel that, having gone through this argument very seriously and having listened carefully to what Members of the Committee say, and we have certain evidence which I shall not go into of shortcomings in the system, this question of choice figures large and I am particularly persuaded by the Scottish Parent Teacher Council.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I am not really sure that the Minister has the purport of our amendments although he has given us an answer. The first matter which we should try to clarify is that we are talking about special schools and not specialist schools. I believe that perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, was thinking more of specialist schools for particular talents. Our amendments tend to deal with a slightly different matter; that is, special schools as we know them throughout Scotland.

It is quite true that on occasions places should be sought in special schools for particular pupils. The Minister did not give us any figures but I should imagine that that figure is quite small compared with the total number of pupils in special schools. I know one or two schools which offer a particular sort of education. There is no possibility of those schools having more than 50 or 60 pupils. They have an extremely high teacher-pupil ratio.

I am disappointed that the Minister has not gone further. I am trying to remember exactly what happened in Commmittee in another place. I believe that two of the Minister's colleagues in another place voted in favour of this sort of amendment. Naturally I would say that they were two rather better balanced Members of the Opposition in that Committee. I am disappointed. I think that the facts of which I spoke when opening the amendment and the very powerful case put by my noble friend Lord Macaulay should have convinced the Minister rather more.

We shall perhaps come back at a later stage to the question of the cost of these schools because the Minister suggested that there was another clause involved, and there are some points I should like to make on that. However, at present I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar moved Amendment No.14: Page 6, line 40, at end insert ("; or (c) a school board has not been established for at least two years other than with the consent of the Secretary of State.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is intended to give the new school some form of stability in management before it is established. Clause 13(3) deals with the question of a school not being eligible for self-governing status. The Bill then deals with two other matters which I do not wish to go into, but then my amendment seeks to add: (c) a school board has not been established for at least two years other than with the consent of the Secretary of State". That means that the school would not be eligible within two years of the establishment of the school board except with the written consent of the Secretary of State. Presumably that would arise only in very special circumstances.

The reason behind the amendment is that with the rapid changes taking place in the Scottish education field through the School Boards (Scotland) Act 1988 and this new Bill coming through at a rate of knots, it is perhaps time to stand back and look at what has been created.

The school board system has not really met with universal approbation in Scotland and we shall come to that on another amendment. The response of people who wish to be on school boards has not been very encouraging. I believe that 70 per cent. of parents was the top figure and that varies right down the line. However, whatever the figures may be, school boards are being established whether or not we like that. People put themselves forward with the best will in the world but they must have a chance to adapt to the new way of life. It is important to remember that if a person has regular employment, the position on the school board must come second to the obligation to earn some money to support the family and the person concerned. Therefore, the school boards need time to settle in and to gain experience of management before they cut off all ties with the education authority and become self-governing.

Parents and staff will need time to adjust to the new school board and the process will not be helped if the new school board proposes to seek self-governing status within the first two years of office. Apart from anything else, that may cause severe dissention in the ranks when people are trying to settle into their new posts and are then suddenly faced with the demand for self-governing status from a section within the school. That could be very disruptive not only for the school board but also for the school itself. Once there are rumours that change is in the offing the whole school process might very well be upset by the prospect of the onset of self-governing status.

School boards will have a duty to promote contact between the parents, the school and the community. The success in fulfilling that and their other functions should be evaluated before seeking self-governing status. In addition they must have sufficient time to gain experience and the confidence of the parents and staff of the school before any such proposal of becoming self-governing is considered. Apart from anything else, by being on the board for perhaps two years —assuming that the person can stay for that time on the board —a person will get a feel of the school and the community before embarking on a resolution which the board would be entitled to pass in terms of Clause 13(1)(a) to proceed towards the acquisition of self-governing status.

The passage of the Bill through Parliament coincides with the establishment of the boards in Scotland. The publicity surrounding the proposal to allow schools to seek self-governing status has left the impression in the minds of some parents that membership of a school board is a first step to membership of a self-governing board of management. That might have discouraged some parents from seeking election. Acceptance of the amendment would go some way towards clarifying the position by making it clear that the establishment of school boards will not immediately lead to the school opting out of the education authority management. Parents will have time to make due inquiries.

The matter was discussed in another place in April this year. The Government view was given by Mr. Michael Forsyth, the Minister in charge of the Bill who, in his concluding sentence, said: It is one thing to advise schools to wait for two years and quite another to compel them".

The aim of this amendment is, in the interests of the pupils, the schools and the educational system in the area, to state the principle on the face of the Bill that schools should wait for three years before seeking self-governing status unless the Secretary of State agreed that it was appropriate for a particular school to seek such status before two years had elapsed. I beg to move.

The Earl of Selkirk

I have a great deal of sympathy with what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Macaulay. It is extremely important that we should not let school boards fall from lack of experience or lack of understanding of their task.

However, I wonder whether it is worth putting specific regulations, such as are proposed in the amendment, to deal with the matter or whether there should be some other test; that the school board had set itself up, shown itself competent in dealing with affairs and had the staff to handle matters. I do not know whether that is the answer but the important principle is that there should be no going back. We must be careful that there are no failures of school boards when they become self supporting.

I am not certain whether the suggested period of two years is the right way of dealing with the matter, but I do have sympathy with the line of argument put forward by the noble Lord.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I too support this amendment to which I have put my name. It is an important amendment. I hope that the Minister will act in his wise role and proceed to walk before he runs and take account of the fact that 40 per cent. of the eligible schools have failed to establish a school board. That figure may be subject to correction, but it will not be corrected by much.

It is extraordinary that the party of businessmen should conclude that one must rush to the next stage before starting the first stage. This is far too serious a matter to play party-politics. It is a doctrinaire move to go on to self-governing stage without experience of school boards. I do not approve of parent majority, but it is essential to involve parents. However, I believe that this measure will do enormous harm to the whole movement. If one permits eager beavers without experience to rush into self-governing status before gaining experience it is bound to do harm to the pupils and to the community.

Where an admirable body has been established for a year, is keen and is doing extremely well, the amendment contains the provision that the Secretary of State may allow it to go ahead. The whole Bill is permeated with responsibilities for the Secretary of State and a little extra responsibility in this respect will do no harm. The existing proposals will damage the whole concept and bring the Bill into disrepute. I strongly support the amendment.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

The noble Lords, Lord Mackie of Benshie and Lord Macaulay of Bragar, will no doubt wish me to dwell first for a moment on the situation of school boards. That was discussed on the one o'clock news by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. We feel —this may strike a chord with the noble Lord, Lord Mackie —that the present position is commendable.

Nearly two-thirds of schools are due to have school boards by the end of the October elections, and 70 per cent. of pupils will be at schools with boards. In excess of 10,000 parents have come forward to serve on these first boards, though I notice that some members of the Education Institute for Scotland do not believe that to be a very good figure. I believe it to be a very creditable figure.

Perhaps I may also refer to what was said by my right honourable friend in another place on 11th April 1989 in order to put this matter into perspective. The noble Lord, Lord Macaulay, was right in his quotation, but my right honourable friend also said: We want only good candidates for self-governing status, not lame ducks". The Committee will know that the Secretary of State has powers when he considers what schools are suitable for self-governing status and what are not. I cannot accept the case for a wholly arbitrary time-limit of two years before a school is deemed eligible even to apply for self-governing status. I do not expect great numbers of schools to move immediately to hold ballots when the Bill becomes law. It seems that others do expect some such rush which this amendment is designed to prevent. The Government do not have a view about how many schools may come forward seeking self-governing status; that is a decision for the parents in each case. There are already indications that the very promise of a right to choose self-government has made education authorities more receptive to the wishes of parents, and Mr. Malcolm Green had some interesting comments to make on that matter.

There may be many cases where parents will accept existence of this new right as sufficient benefit in itself. Even if they never choose to exercise it, they will enjoy considerably greater influence over the education which authorities provide for their children. In the great majority of schools I would imagine parents would wish to have experience of the school board in operation before contemplating a ballot on self-governing status. Indeed, other things being equal most schools might be well advised to adopt this course. The Secretary of State must be convinced of the prospects for the future viability and success of any school before he agrees to it becoming self-governing. The competence and experience of operating with a school board must be one factor in such an assessment by the Secretary of State.

That assessment cannot be reduced to a simple two-year time limit. Some school boards could be judged competent and well able to take a school forward to self-governing status shortly after the passage of the Bill and there may be circumstances which lead the parents to feel this would be in the best interests of their school. On the other hand, some schools may not have shown themselves ready for the responsibilities of self-governing status even after several years' experience with a school board.

Noble Lords may argue that this amendment provides for my right honourable friend to waive the general two-year rule where he thinks that is appropriate. I find that a strange argument coming from the Benches opposite; a party which has made so much of the extra powers which this Bill is alleged to give to the Secretary of State. I do not think that in this case it is a power that one should vest in the Secretary of State. That is not the Government's philosophy.

We are in favour of devolution in this case—the devolution of control of schools to the people most concerned in them. Though we differ on this matter, the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, knows my views about parental majorities. We much prefer to let the initiative come from the local people. That is the whole thrust of this Bill. This is not an area in which I can give any encouragement to the noble Lord, Lord Macaulay, in regard to the Government's attitude.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

It is illogical for the Minister to say that he believes in devolution when the Secretary of State has an absolute power of veto.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

The intention of the legislation is to give the authority of running a school to the people most closely connected with it. As regards the whole gamut of proposals relating to education in Scotland, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, would not be very happy if we gave a free hand to those self-governing schools to do exactly what they wanted concerning the education of children.

The Earl of Perth

I have listened to the arguments on both sides and I come down very much in favour of the amendment. Everyone wants school boards to be well experienced. One can imagine that one or two will take the opportunity straightaway. If that is the case I am told that the Secretary of State may decide that they have a right to do so. Surely it would be much better for such school boards to realise that they have to show for a period of time that they are capable. Only then should we allow the school boards to go forward. It has to be remembered always that there can be exceptions and that is allowed for in the amendment. I believe that the balance of argument is very much in favour of those who want the amendment accepted.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar

The powerful contribution of the noble Earl, Lord Perth, gives some satisfaction to this side of the Committee, as also does the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. They both give powerful support to this very important amendment which we consider to be fundamental. I shall not refer to the position of the Secretary of State because it has already been hinted that I have made a Second Reading speech and I do not wish to make the same mistake again. Perhaps we may discuss the matter informally at some time.

The figures for the boards given on the radio today do not coincide with those supplied to me from other sources. I shall have to see them in order to discover the position. Obviously this is not the place to argue about figures. The Minister gave an indication that perhaps this Bill is much ado about nothing and that, with the local authorities being given a shot in the arm or a boot in another part of the anatomy, the education system is running along quite nicely with a little compulsitor behind the authorities.

I was tempted to seek the opinion of the Committee on this very important amendment but I am not going to do so at this stage. In keeping with the Minister's high reputation for fairness and consideration as regards all the amendments that come from this side of the Chamber in an attempt to make it a better Bill before it passes onto the statute book, I hope that he will take account of what has been said in this part of the debate. I hope that he will rethink the matter with his right honourable friend in another place. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 15 not moved.]

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 16: Page 7, line 29, at end insert — ("(8) Where, prior to a ballot held in accordance with section 14 of this Act, a group of parents wish to promote an alternative opinion to that held by the school board, they may submit a request to the education authority for access to a copy of the current list of parents of pupils in attendance at the school established and maintained by the authority, in respect of the school, under paragraph 6 of Schedule 1 to the 1988 Act; and where the request is made by thirty parents eligible to vote or a number of such parents equal to at least one quarter of those persons who were entitled to vote at the most recently held election of parent members, whichever is the fewer, the education authority shall provide the group with a copy of the list, which shall be used by the group for the purposes of informing parents of their proposals and for no other purpose").

The noble Lord said: Since tabling this amendment I have reason to believe that, as it stands, it will not be acceptable and I have been convinced of the reasons for that. However, they do not affect the principle that lies behind the amendment. It would be difficult and unfair to implement because of the issuing of a list of parents of pupils in attendance at the school. It would be a very difficult measure to take in terms of confidentiality. Some other method must be found.

Given the importance of the issue of whether or not a school seeks self-governing status, it is essential that the machinery of the process (the electoral roll) is made available to parents eligible to vote in the ballot. That will allow parents the opportunity to organise meetings, distribute leaflets and to assess the level of support for the proposal. It is understood that the statutory position as regards the availability of the electoral roll is different in England and Wales from that in Scotland.

In England and Wales the list of registered parents can be obtained from the school and any parent can have his name deleted from the list before the school releases it. However, the Scottish procedure is different. It is covered by the Scottish Education Department Circular No. 3/89 of April 1989 concerning guidance on elections and ballots under the School Boards (Scotland) Act 1988. Section 2.2.2 of the circular states: They (schemes of electoral arrangements) shall provide for electoral rolls to be used by the Education Authority only for the administration of elections and ballots and for no other purpose; individual parents and staff members shall have the right to check that they are entered on the roll and that the entry is correct, but otherwise electoral rolls shall be confidential and access shall be strictly limited to persons who require access to them for the purpose of maintaining them or of organising elections and ballots". If the electoral roll were to be made available in Scotland in the way suggested in the amendment, there would also need to be a requirement to ensure that parents can have their names deleted. That is an important provision in that it prevents, for example, the address of an estranged marriage partner being made known to the other partner.

When considering this matter I realised that there are so many problems that it would be extremely difficult to implement this amendment as tabled by myself and my noble friend Lord Macaulay of Bragar. However, the principle is there. If the school board has made the decision quite democratically, it has the right to approach all parents. In some cases there may be 1,000 to 1,200 pupils in the school which would involve a fairly large electorate. I believe that in strict law there can be six entitled parents per pupil. There may be severah pupils within one family. I can see puzzlement registered on the Minister's face, but I am assured that that is the situation. I believe that my noble friend Lord Macaulay of Bragar is trying to find examples.

It is a delicate matter. There may be estranged families and cases of illegitimacy which is perhaps not such a big shock as it was at one time. However, people feel concerned about it and they have a right to privacy if they wish. Perhaps I may take the matter from the obverse side to that suggested earlier. If it is known that a school board has made a decision that it did not want to choose independent opting-out status and some parents felt very strongly about it, they should have some means of contacting the parents of pupils at the school in order to muster strength to challenge the decision.

If a decent number of parents feel that the board is not representative it will be possible to make the case at the next election. However, if the matter is very urgent they may need to go to the Secretary of State to say that the board is acting ultra vires or is overdoing things in some way. There must be access for everyone who wishes to inform all responsible parents or guardians of pupils at the school about what is going on. This could be done by the school authorities or by the headmaster undertaking within specified limits, which the board itself could decide, to distribute material or explanations from a pressure group within the school in support of or against the school becoming an independent school.

I hope that the Minister sees the purpose of my argument. It would be wrong if one group held all the aces. In the nature of democracy small groups can exert relatively great influence. We are making decisions here with not as full a representation of noble Lords as we should like. If a small group is so minded it can be the tail that wags the dog. I hope that the Minister will agree to take the point back or at least give me some explanation as to why it would not be possible to find a way around this problem. I beg to move.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I thank the noble Lord and I understand his difficulty in this matter. When I started to look at it I also had some difficulties in understanding what was involved.

The amendment suggests that groups of parents should be entitled to use the full list of names as a basis for putting over their views to all parents during a ballot. However, as the noble Lord pointed out, some problems arise. This is based on a misunderstanding of the use which either the education authority or the school board is entitled to make of that list. I remember debating the point with the noble Lord when the legislation was before the Chamber. Under the school boards' legislation the education authority is obliged to maintain such a list. However, it is not a public document and under guidance issued by the Secretary of State the authority must maintain the confidentiality of the list, using it only for the purposes of holding school board elections. That obligation on the authority persists even while a ballot is in progress.

The school board is entitled under Schedule 3 to the Bill to receive a copy of the authority's list for the purposes of conducting the ballot. Again, however, the intention is that the Secretary of State would issue binding guidance ensuring that the list remained confidential and was used only for the purposes of holding the ballot. Along with the ballot papers the Electoral Reform Society will issue parents with the basic factual information and description of statutory provisions envisaged by paragraph 4 of Schedule 3—nothing more. Neither the authority nor the school board would be able to use the list of parents as the basis of a mailing shot for its own views. Consequently there can be no case for others acting in this way.

It may be convenient if I point out to the noble Lord the provisions of Clause 17 of the Bill. They envisage that the education authority and the school board may wish to spend some money on putting across their views during the ballot. To deal with the obvious disparity in resources the clause will impose a limit on spending by the authority—the kind of provision that applies to candidates in local elections. Where the school board wishes to publicise support for self-governing status it is entitled to receive equivalent funds from the Secretary of State. Clause 17 aims to put the two sides on an even footing. It does not, however, permit either to make use of the formal list of parents.

I understand the noble Lord's predicament in this matter. I see his point as regards information and how a group of parents could put their views across. Under Section 13 of the School Boards (Scotland) Act, 30 parents, or a quarter of the electorate mentioned, are entitled to call for a formal meeting of parents. That is one way. There are various ways to get their views across. Confidentiality of the list is sensitive. We discussed the reasons during the passage of the school boards' legislation. They relate to single-parent families and so on. I hope that the noble Lord will look at the matter again and perhaps withdraw his amendment.

The Earl of Selkirk

What is a "parent"? Is that defined anywhere in this Bill? Do the mother and father both have a vote?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

As usual, my noble friend asks the most simple question which turns out to be the most difficult to answer. Both mother and father have a vote. However, if he asks me to go further to various other cases I would need to look at this and write to him in full.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

Is there any real reason why the list should not be available? I find it difficult to understand. One is not saying whether a parent is a single parent or whether the child is illegitimate. One is merely giving a list. I find it difficult to understand what harm can be done.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I do not want to go into the long discussions we had on this matter at the time of the passing of the School Boards (Scotland) Bill but there are sensitivities and difficult situations which concern families and their circumstances. It was felt at that time—this was across party lines—that the list should be confidential for certain reasons. If the noble Lord cares to look at what was said at that time, I am sure I can provide suitable information for him.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

The Minister has given a helpful explanation. However, why does the school board need to see the register at all? If the Electoral Reform Society is to be involved, why does it not receive the pleas from the different groups and send out the literature? In some areas a relatively small group will know a good deal about what is happening. Human nature being what it is, unless there is some way of impressing strongly on members of school boards the absolute necessity for confidentiality there may be difficulties.

Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, that this is not an ordinary electoral register. It may show that a person is tied up with the parent of somebody else. The information could cause distress to some people. An electoral register sets out only the names of people living at an address —and a good deal of mischief is sometimes caused by that too. Can the Minister help me with this point? Why does even the school board need to be given the register?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

Perhaps I may answer my noble friend Lord Selkirk more fully than I did earlier. I have it to hand that Amendment No. 108 defines "parent". The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, asked why the board needs to have the list. There will be a need to update the list and allow checking before the ballot. The board locally can do this. We do not believe that the Electoral Reform Society would be in a position to do it.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar

On the issue of parents and ballots, I note that the Minister mentioned Amendment No. 108. However, I do not propose to go into the matter now because I believe that we have discussed it before. I seek information under the umbrella of the present amendment. There seems to be a view abroad among parents and headmasters that the list held by the education authority has nothing to do with the right to vote in the ballot for self-governing status or for changing the characteristics of the school. I do not say this in any critical way.

I have had meetings with people and they have advised me that experiments were being carried out in certain schools to find out what the parental roll would be. Lothian has achieved a 50 per cent. success; Grampian 70 per cent.; and the Borders 40 per cent. I understand that an exercise was carried out by one headmaster of just nominating one person living in the house as being the parent who might therefore be eligible to vote in the subsequent procedure under this legislation. It may of course be a complete misapprehension which has arisen as a result of some of the excitement which the legislation has caused. It would be useful if the Minister could write to me to clarify the matter.

The list refers back to Schedule 1 to the 1988 Act. In paragraph 6 it states that an education authority shall, establish and maintain a list of the names of the parents of pupils in attendance at that school". This paragraph is referred to in Schedule 3 to the present Bill. There would appear to be room for the existence of two different rolls: one in the hands of the education authority, and one in the hands of the headmaster relating to people who have come forward for school board purposes. It certainly would clarify and help matters if the list kept by the education authority were to be made the basis of the right to vote.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I note what the noble Lord said. I am unaware of the inference he made about these particular matters. However, I shall write to him after I have read what has been said.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

We have had a good discussion on the matter. I think that much has been said in an attempt to be as helpful as possible. I also think that the Minister has got the point and that he is as concerned about the matter as the rest of us. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 13 agreed to.

6.45 p.m.

Clause 14 [Ballot of parents on question of acquisition of self-governing status]:

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 17: Page 7, line 36, after ("15") insert ("(1)").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 17, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 84. This is purely a drafting amendment to give greater precision to a reference. There is also an identical amendment at Clause 43, page 29, line 44, to which it would be convenient to refer here. The Government have a substantive amendment to Clause 15(2) which we shall come to in due course. But this amendment is independent of that. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar moved Amendment No. 18: Page 7, line 39, leave out ("twelve months") and insert ("four years").

The noble Lord said: This amendment, standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove and myself, is one which we have put down in an attempt to bring stability to the school system. Indeed, we have already dwelt on the matter for some time. The purpose is to replace the period for ballots thereby extending it from 12 months to four years.

The proposal to make a ballot for parents and self-governing status may mean that the school will enter into a period of uncertainty and apprehension until the Secretary of State reaches a decision. Obviously the matter will be discussed by the pupils and the parents, and I think that the remarks I made earlier in the debate apply to this stage of the proceedings. The procedure may also disrupt the educational work of the school. That could be especially serious if the campaigning period —if one can call it that—coincided with the examination period.

To some extent, the situation is unavoidable if schools are to be allowed to consider self-governing status; but the possibility of an annual attempt to change the status of the school is quite disturbing. Apart from the energies which would have to be devoted to the conduct of the election and the unsettling influence on the school, it is questionable whether circumstances would change significantly in one year. Further it would not need many parents, in the light of the provisions of the legislation, to disrupt the school on an annual basis. I think that the Government in another place said that it would be undesirable to have a series of ballots on such a basis. That is the short submission I make in support of the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I have every sympathy with the view that schools should not be subject to the disruption of repeated ballots on self-governing status year after year. We believe that there are adequate safeguards against that without this more restrictive amendment. A school board or group of parents which indulged in a series of annual ballots would rapidly alienate any general support for its views among parents who would blame such people for the uncertainty inflicted on the school —and of course on their children.

There are nevertheless circumstances where a second ballot one year after the first may be entirely appropriate. For example, the first result may have been close and there may be evidence of a swing in parental opinion over the intervening period. Alternatively, external circumstances affecting the school may have changed, perhaps with the education authority embarking on some reorganisation scheme or simply altering its policies in ways which do not accord with the views of parents. In such cases it would be unreasonable to rule out a further ballot for as long as four years.

Certainly my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has the power to agree that exceptional circumstances justify allowing a new ballot within the 12-month or four-year period. Even so, the period stated on the face of the Bill is important as setting the framework within which schools will approach the issue. The precise period set must be a matter of judgment, but we believe that four years is certainly too long. During this time an education authority will have gone through its whole electoral cycle and half or more of the parent body will have changed. I am convinced that, with the one-year period provided in the Bill, there really will be a series of annual ballots.

However, I have listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Macaulay of Bragar, said. I shall certainly be prepared to consider whether some period longer than one year would be appropriate and to bring forward an alternative proposal at a later stage. Nevertheless, I must stress that the period suggested by the noble Lord is too long.

The Earl of Perth

Perhaps I may say how welcome the suggestion is that the Government will consider a period of more than 12 months, even if they cannot agree to a four-year period.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar

I thank the Minister for his reply. It is of course in keeping with the reasonable consideration of the amendments which have been proposed by those of us on this side of the Committee. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar moved Amendment No. 19: Page 8, line 27, after ("any") insert ("reasonable").

The noble Lord said: This is an amendment to Clause 14 inserting the word "reasonable" in subsection (6)(b). It concerns expenses that the education authority shall pay to reimburse the school board in respect of any expenses incurred in connection with, or in contemplation of, legal proceedings (whether or not instituted) arising out of the holding of a ballot or the publication under Section 16(2) of the Act, following the determination of the result of the ballot, of proposals for acquisition of self-governing status for the school.

I am not clear why it should be contemplated that any legal proceedings should arise out of those simple matters. The amendment is proposed because, as it stands, there is a mandatory duty on the education authority to pay any expenses. That would seem to open a cheque book for the local authority.

The word "reasonable" would put some control on the amount of expenses which could be reimbursed by the education authority to the school board. As it stands, there is no test as to whether the expenses are properly incurred. The school board may have gone off at a tangent for reasons of its own and got itself wrongly involved in legal proceedings in relation to the matters covered by subsection (6)(b)(ii), and there is no reason why the public authority should be found liable for the expenses incurred as a result of a fault by the school board. I beg to move.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I beg the Minister to consider the amendment favourably if only because to hear a lawyer talking about "reasonable expenses" is a good thing.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I can see that this amendment is intended to qualify an education authority's obligations to pay a school board in respect of such legal expenses as they may have incurred in any dispute regarding a ballot, or the publication of proposals, in respect of whether a school should become self-governing. I note what the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, said about that. The amendment would have the effect of requiring the authority to reimburse the school board only in so far as the expenses incurred were reasonable. That is reasonable enough, so far as it goes; but in the event of any dispute arising as to what were or were not reasonable expenses, the matter would still have to be taken to a court for a decision.

An alternative approach could be adopted, however, which would be simpler in terms of procedure and yet would retain the substance of the amendment. What I have in mind is an amendment the effect of which, in the context of Clause 14(6)(b), would be that the education authority should pay or reimburse a school board in respect of any expenses which appeared to the Secretary of State to have been reasonably incurred. Thus, in the event of doubt, or a dispute arising as to the reasonableness of expenses claimed, the matter could be resolved by the Secretary of State acting as arbiter.

I undertake to come back on Report with an amendment along the lines which I have outlined. I believe that that is a reasonable response from a reasonable Minister to a reasonable lawyer with a reasonable suggestion.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar

I am obliged to the Minister for that reasonable answer. Reasonableness abounds in the Chamber at the moment. In the light of the generous undertaking that the Minister has given, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 14, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Arrangements in Respect of Ballot of Parents Regarding Acquisition of Self-Governing Status]:

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 20: Page 61, line 7, after ("arrangements") insert (", and the exercise by the school board of any functions in relation to the ballot,").

The noble Lord said: For the convenience of the Committee I shall speak also to Amendment No. 70.

Paragaph 2 of Schedule 3 provides that the arrangements for a ballot made by the prescribed body, are to accord with such guidance as the Secretary of State may publish (in this instance the Electoral Reform Society). However, the first step in arranging a ballot is to draw up an electoral roll, and that is the task of the school board. As the Bill stands, the Secretary of State can issue binding guidance only to the prescribed body, not to the school board. I explained in replying to an earlier amendment that we attach importance to the confidentiality of the electoral roll. That is the kind of matter which we would want to cover in guidance. This amendment enables the Secretary of State to issue binding guidance not only to the prescribed body but to school boards and boards of management. A similar amendment later in the Marshalled List, to Schedule 7, applies the same principle to the ballot conducted under that schedule. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Viscount Davidson

I think that this is a convenient moment to adjourn for dinner. I suggest that we adjourn and return at 7.55 p.m.

[The sitting was suspended from 6.55 p.m. to 7.55 p.m.]

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 21: Page 61, line 17, after ("that") insert ("at least 28 days before the date of the ballot,".).

The noble Lord said: This is another amendment which I was asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, to move on her behalf. It proposes that there should be 28 days before the date of the ballot. That is to ensure that information about the consequences for the school of the acquisition of self-governing status is available at least 28 days before the ballot. Thus the parents who have the right to vote in the election will have plenty of time to consider it and perhaps discuss it among themselves. We believe that sufficient time should be given to parents, particularly in rural areas, to make an informed assessment as to whether self-governing status should be sought.

The period of 28 days would allow time for parents' meetings to be arranged and consultations to be undertaken with associated schools. We all know and are extremely aware of this problem from earlier discussions; in certain areas where a school decided to opt out, it could have very serious effects on associated schools in the area. It is important that parents should be able to discuss all that before they finally cast their vote.

The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, particularly asked me to move this amendment. I think that she hoped that if the Minister was not able to accede to it in full, he would at least accept the intention and be willing to come back perhaps with his own words or some wording that would cover the spirit of the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I am grateful to the noble Lord for moving this amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Carnegy. I am in sympathy with the underlying purpose of the amendment, namely to ensure that parents are given adequate time to consider the pros and cons of self-governing status before casting their votes in the ballot. I shall explain briefly how we see that purpose being achieved.

I refer first to the undertaking which I gave earlier today in response to my noble friend's amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, on Clause 13. It was to the effect that we will bring forward amendments corresponding to the main substance of that amendment, under which a school board will be required to confirm its resolution to ballot by passing a second resolution not less than 28 days after the first. As soon as the first resolution has been passed the question is in the public domain. The school board has forthwith to notify the education authority. Thus the authority will have adequate notice in which to formulate its views and make them known not only to the school board but, if it thinks fit, to the parents as a whole. At the same time the school board is under a general duty, by virtue of Section 12 of the School Boards Act, to ascertain the views of parents, as often as appears to them to be necessary, on matters which are the responsibility of the board.

A board might very well take the view that, having passed its first resolution, it ought therefore to consult the parents forthwith. We might indeed include advice to that effect in general guidance to school boards. And in any case there is another provision in the School Boards Act whereby a group of parents may requisition a general meeting of parents with the board. So even if the board did not act in this way a group of concerned parents could make sure that the issue was brought to general notice and widely discussed.

Even after the second resolution a certain amount of time has inevitably to elapse before the ballot closes. The board itself will have the administrative task of checking and updating its electoral register, which then will have to be sent to the Electoral Reform Society. The actual time limit allowed for the return of papers is of course part of the ballot arrangements for which the society will be responsible, subject to guidance issued by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. That is the effect of the provisions of paragraphs 1 and 2 of Schedule 3. We shall be discussing with the society what those arrangements should be and what guidance should be appropriate; and I have no doubt that the society will have views of its own, based on its considerable experience of these matters, on what is the appropriate time interval. I shall certainly undertake that in the discussions which take place with the society the concern expressed by the noble Lord on behalf of my noble friend will be brought to its attention.

In the light of that explanation I hope that the noble Lord will understand that, while I am in sympathy with the amendment, its provisions may already be covered, thus making it unnecessary.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I thank the Minister for his explanation. It appears that he has gone further than his noble friend Lady Carnegy and I expected. I am sure he realises that it is important that we read his words with care. However, as a result of his comments I find it difficult to raise any objection and am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 22: Page 61, line 22, at end insert ("including information —

  1. (i) about the arrangements which the school proposes to adopt with respect to the admission of pupils, any special emphasis which will characterise the provision of education at the school, and any other proposed changes to the provision of education at the school; and
  2. (ii) the views of the education authority and such other persons or bodies as may be prescribed.").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that certain information enabling the parent to form a proper judgment as to whether self-governing school status should be sought is available prior to the ballot. That is important because if a school becomes self-governing, parents must be aware of its proposed nature before they vote in a ballot to decide whether such status should be sought. Of particular relevance are the arrangements which the school proposes to adopt with respect to the admission of pupils; any special emphasis which will characterise the provision of education in the school; and any other proposed changes to the provision of education in the school.

If such information is included in the proposals published under Clause 16 only once a ballot has taken place, it is quite possible that parents who have voted for school self-government may find themselves opposed to the idea once they have seen the full proposals. On the other hand, the reverse may apply; they may believe that they had missed something and could metaphorically kick themselves at having lost an opportunity to make the school self-governing.

If accepted the amendment would require that the information made available to parents before the ballot should include the views of the education authority and such other persons or bodies as may be prescribed; for example, the school boards of associated schools. On a number of occasions we have tried to stress the importance of looking at the issue in more than merely isolated cases when schools are concerned about whether to apply for independent status. We believe that the possible effect on other schools in the area could be decisive. We also believe that community groups and, particularly in Scotland, denominational bodies should be consulted.

Parents should be aware of the views of the education authority and other interested parties, as well as those of the school board, if they are to be able to make an informed decision. In other words, they must know in the round of the kind of facilities available and the effect on the area of becoming an independent school. The feedback may make their school different from what they had originally believed.

On 4th April, 1989, some of the issues were debated during the Committee stage in another place and appear at col. 498. In the debate the Education Minister, Mr. Forsyth, said: I find it difficult to accept that a school board seeking self-governing status would not go out and sell its case. The board would be interested in a successful ballot result and in gaining support for that. It would want to put forward its arguments as convincingly as possible. I accept that, for the same reason, the board may not wish to emphasise certain aspects".

I am sure that the Minister has discussed the matter fully with his colleague who was then Minister for Education. His right honourable friend had doubts and he said: I accept that for the same reason, the board may not wish to emphasise certain aspects". That makes it all the more important that those aspects should be available to the parents, as he appeared to imply. I beg to move.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

The policy embodied in the Bill is that the ballot takes place on the simple question of principle: whether the school is to become self-governing. Also, that the information given to voters is what they require in order to understand the meaning of the question: "Do you or do you not want this school to become self governing?". Questions of school policy are left to be dealt with in the published proposals of the school board which follow the ballot. I shall try to elaborate on that point.

However, I can readily see how the question arises of what is to happen if parents, having voted for self-governing status, do not like the proposals when they see them. Should they not see the full prospectus before they vote? That is the question underlying the amendment. It is an important question and a matter which we need to consider most carefully.

I fear however that the amendment itself raises as many problems as it attempts to solve. For example, there is the real possibility that at the time of holding the ballot the school board may not be at all committed to seeking to acquire self-governing status. The ballot may have been requisitioned by parents, rather than called by resolution of the board. Even if the board itself has resolved to hold the ballot, that does not imply that it favours a particular result. For example, it might be aware that there is a body of opinion among parents, a strong minority, perhaps, in favour of self-governing status, and it may want simply to test the water.

Moreover, new questions arise if the ballot has been called on a full prospectus rather than on a simple yes/no question. Does the board still go ahead and publish proposals? If so, must they be consistent with the prospectus on which the ballot was held? And what if the Secretary of State then wants to modify the proposals—ought that to go to a fresh ballot?

Rather than involve ourselves in those complexities, I would put it the Committee that the answer to the original question should lie in the Bill as it is. I have pointed out in answer to an earlier amendment that when a school board has taken an initial resolution to ballot it might very well choose to consult immediately with parents, in the manner provided for in the School Boards (Scotland) Act. If the board were really keen to win self-governing status it would want to take parents into its confidence and win their support. But if, nevertheless, a board were to spring some nasty surprise in its proposals the whole point of having the proposals published is that the world can make representations upon them to my right honourable friend. The ability of parents to organise a letter-writing campaign is well proved, as some noble Lords present will be well aware as a result of the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House, and there is no doubt that they would be able to make their views clearly known to the Secretary of State. In the nature of things, my right honourable friend will not give self-governing status to a school which lacks the support and confidence of the parents. He would be bound to give way to such representations, either by modifying the proposals, advising the board to withdraw them and submit fresh ones or by rejecting them outright.

As to the second limb of the amendment, which would require the views of the education authority and others to be circulated with ballot papers, it seems impracticable to contain a public campaign within such a tight statutory framework. Anyone may have a view which he wants to put to the electorate. Nor can there be a clear-cut distinction between those with a direct interest in the outcome and those who have not. For example, the teaching staff have an interest, but what if their views are divided? Similarly, there may be different factions among the parents, which is not unknown.

It is much more straightforward to keep the information going out with the ballot paper strictly neutral and to leave the field free for anyone to campaign by any fair means they choose. I referred earlier to Clause 17, which is a provision not paralleled in the English Act. It makes specific provision for modest funding of a basic campaign on the assumption that the education authority will be against self-governing status and the school board for it. Beyond that it does not seem feasible to contain the public debate within a statutory framework. It is sufficient that there certainly will be public debate on such a matter.

In the light of that explanation, the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, will appreciate that serious problems are raised by his suggestion. Nevertheless, I understand what he is attempting. I hope that he will study my explanation and conclude that it would be better to leave things as they are.

8.15 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I am grateful to the Minister. His answer was a particularly complicated one which requires examination. On this side of the Chamber we always give credit to the Minister. We know that his heart is in the right place and he is endeavouring to improve the Bill, as we are. I detect a certain sympathy for the complexity of the problem. We have never tried to pretend that it was not complex. Perhaps the Minister would allows us to study his words with care and, if dissatisfied or requiring elucidation, to raise the matter again at a later date. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 15 [Fresh ballot]:

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 23: Page 9, line 13, after ("30") insert ("and before the end of the period of fourteen days beginning with the day immediately following that on which the result is determined").

The noble Lord said: The amendment deals with the case where a second ballot is required because fewer than half of those eligible to vote have done so in the first ballot. I am sure that it will be generally agreed that in such circumstances the sooner the fresh ballot is held, the better. The amendment accordingly places a time limit of 14 days on a school board in respect of holding a fresh ballot. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 15, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 16 [Proposals for acquisition of self-governing status]:

Lord Mackie of Benshie moved Amendment No. 24: Page 9, line 16, leave out ("a simple majority of votes cast") and insert ("at least 50 per cent. of those eligible to vote, or two-thirds of those voting").

The noble Lord said: We have gone over the argument several times already in various debates. However, I believe that in a matter of such importance to the community as opting out and becoming a self-governing school the Government have not gone far enough regarding the proportion of votes needed to put the measure through. It is true that there is a provision which states that if fewer than 50 per cent. vote, a fresh ballot shall be held; but I do not believe that that is good enough.

My noble friend and I have said that instead of a simple majority it should be at least 50 per cent. of those eligible to vote or two-thirds of those voting. We proposed 50 per cent. of those eligible to vote because there could be a 76 per cent. vote in which 50 per cent. wanted to opt out and 26 per cent. to stay with the local authority, in which case the will of the electorate would be to opt out.

It is a very simple amendment, one which should draw the teeth of much of the opposition to the Bill and to the concept of self-governing schools. Many people fear that a small clique of parents, with a fixed idea, may take charge while a large number of parents are indifferent. It appears tha1 the majority of parents in Scotland are indifferent, if one considers the number of areas where it has not been possible to form school boards—I say that 40 per cent. of boards cannot be formed while the Minister says 70 per cent. can be formed. In any event, a large number of parents in Scotland do not appear to have sufficient interest even in the school board.

For this much more advanced step the will of the parents should be clearly seen. For that purpose 50 per cent. of the votes cast or a two-thirds majority is required. It is a simple amendment, and it is grouped with other amendments which all have the same purpose, namely to ensure that parents in the area want the change and would be prepared to make it work. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Hayter)

I have to point out that if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 25.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar

I understood that it had been agreed that Amendments Nos. 24, 25, 63 and 64 would be discussed together. It might be convenient for the Committee if I were to speak to Amendment No. 25.

Amendments Nos. 63 and 64 are consequential amendments following upon Amendments Nos. 24 and 25. I do not intend to address these for any length of time. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, I should say that I appreciate the reasoning behind Amendment No. 24, but, unfortunately it seems to be rather flawed in that it could never be operated. We do not know which of the two votes would be recorded and whether the clause should state, "whichever is the greater". At the moment, the clause would read, "[if] the result of a ballot held in accordance with section 14 of this Act shows at least 50 per cent. of those eligible to vote, or two-thirds of those voting".

Lord Mackie of Benshie

The noble Lord does not understand what I mean.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar

With the greatest respect, I do understand what the noble Lord means. I do not know whether he wishes to press the amendment in the light of any criticism.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I shall certainly not do that.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar

Given that undertaking, I shall move on to Amendment No. 25 on the assumption that Amendment No. 24 will not be pressed.

Amendment No. 25 is crucial to the proper and fair operation of the Bill. I take on board most of what the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, has already said about the importance of working a proper majority reflecting the wishes of the parents into the Bill. Unfortunately, we come back to the old problem, which I know the Minister intends to investigate, as to who will be eligible to vote—whether it will be the people on the list of parents kept by the local authority in accordance with the schedule to the 1988 Act, or whether it will be those on the list kept at the sch000l by the headmaster which I mentioned in passing in discussing the previous amendments. The definition of the word "eligibility" will have to be resolved, along with that of the word "permit".

Obviously, the change to self-governing status will be a major change for a school. If the school is to make a success of self-governing status, the decision must command the support of a substantial majority of parents. Experience in England and Wales has shown that ballots of parents have attracted high percentage turnouts of all parents entitled to vote. Many ballot results have produced a majority in favour of well over two-thirds of votes cast.

If the case for self-governing status is sufficiently strong and the school has a good record as regards parental and community involvement, a two-thirds majority will not and should not be difficult to achieve. In addition, if such a figure were achieved in the ballot, it would allow the school board —the board of management —to feel that it had the confidence and support not only of the parents but of the community in general, and to proceed to the next stage of submitting proposals to the Secretary of State with a considerable degree of confidence.

In the debate on the Bill in another place, the matter was described in the following way by an honourable Member from the Conservative Benches: if there is a small majority, there is the danger of a thoroughly divisive situation … if 51 per cent. were in favour and 49 per cent. against, that would produce a divisive situation in the community served by that particular school. Equally, when there is a small turnout, it is even more important that it should be clear that a large percentage are in favour of the proposal … My honourable friend the Minister tried to play all that down. He pointed out that we are only triggering off a procedure. I accept that, but he must recognise that the ballot is the last real, open test of public opinion. After that, everything happens not exactly behind closed doors, but at people's discretion to consider one factor or another or to consider representations. It is the last real test of public opinion, and, to that extent the numbers voting and the percentage of the vote are absolutely critical in deciding whether a school opts out. My honourable friend said that, if my amendment were accepted, and the vote were just below two-thirds, it would be a negation of democracy if the proposals were turned down on that basis. That is nonsense. We are talking about a very big change, a total constitutional change as it affects a particular school, either in relation to opting out or in relation to the character of that school. It is not undemocratic to have a test higher than 51 per cent. in constitutional changes, whether they relate to public bodies or private organisations. It is nothing unusual, and it is certainly not a negation of democracy, to look for a test above 51 per cent". —[Official Report, Commons, 20/6/89; col. 187.] With respect to the,honourable Member who made those observations in the other place, I could not have put them better myself. A decision to change the essential characteristics of a school is, if anything, more important than the earlier decision to seek self-governing status. It may well be a matter of the utmost importance to parents and future generations of parents and pupils, to the school staff and to the local community. A change in characteristics could involve the introduction of academic selection in whether a school should continue to be denominational or non-denominational and in whether it should continue to be a mixed or single sex school.

I am given to understand —perhaps the Minister will confirm this —that there is a set of draft regulations in connection with these matters regarding the change from a denominational school to a non-denominational school and from a mixed school to a single sex school. Such a change in characteristics would not be allowed as part of the operation of the Bill. It seems to me to be an extraordinary situation if we are to have self-governing schools which are supposed to look after the interests of schools, but which propose to make changes that are then denied by a set of regulations introduced under the Bill. I have only had parts of the regulations read to me, not because I cannot read, but because I have not had time to do so. It seemed extraordinary in such a Bill that the whole exercise of holding a ballot for self-governing status and presenting proposals to the Secretary of State should then be negatived by the Secretary of State and destroy the whole purpose of seeking self-governing status.

A difficult matter arises particularly in Scotland and may arise in a sharper way at a later stage. That is the position of the Roman Catholic schools in Scotland with their protection in terms of the education Act 1922. For example, if a Roman Catholic school whose population is falling on the Catholic side and rising on the Protestant or other sides decides to be no longer a school with a particular Roman Catholic influence—assuming that the Secretary of State does not exercise his power—a constitutional issue would arise in relation to Roman Catholic pupils and parents. Their constitutional rights may well be seriously undermined by the operation of the self-governing process. I raise that point in passing, not because I am Roman Catholic; I raise it as a matter that may arise and which has something to do with the amendment. I hear the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, saying that it has nothing to do with the amendment. It is perhaps tangential, but it concerns the process of seeking independent status. It underlines the importance of one person's vote causing such a drastic and dramatic change in the character of the school and also applies to the change from a mixed to a single sex school.

However, whichever way one looks at the matter, it is essential that a two-thirds majority or something certainly more substantial than a single vote majority, is obtained before a board of management can proceed with proposals to change a school's characteristics. It is not enough to argue that a simple majority will do. A larger majority is necessary.

We are dealing with a body —the school —that is the focal point of the community. It is important to keep the two elements of the school and the community closely linked and take into account the effect that the change might have not only on the school but on the community. We must make sure that any community-based change has the support of the real majority of the people within the community.

The Earl of Perth

I think that this is a very important amendment. Having said that, I am not clear whether I speak to Amendment No. 24 or Amendment No. 25. However it is quite clear that we are embarking on a course of action which I favour; namely, that there should be self-government for schools if they want it.

However, this is a radical and enormously important move. Frankly I think it wrong in every sense of the word that that course should be determined by a simple majority. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, cannot be here at the moment. I speak for him as much as for myself. We both feel very much the same; namely, that ideally one should obtain at least 50 per cent. of the people voting. That is perhaps the sense of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie. Even then, unless there is a two-thirds majority, one is in some trouble. I do not care particularly about the proportion of two-thirds; but it must be something of the order of 60 per cent. as opposed to 40 per cent. It must be substantial.

To go back to the time of the decision about devolution, I recall that another place decided that there must be at least 40 per cent. of the whole of the Scottish people voting in favour. But what could happen here? There could be 50 per cent. of the people voting but of those people only a simple majority might be in favour. So one comes down to 25 per cent. plus one.

I beg the Government to think about this matter again. It is not good enough. This is a major change (which I favour). The idea that that could happen with only 25 per cent. plus one of the whole is unthinkable. So I ask with all the power of explanation that I have, and on behalf of the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, that the Government should please pay attention to this point and accept that there has to be a substantial majority.

Lord Goold

I have listened carefully to the noble Lords who have spoken in favour of these amendments but I wish to oppose them. It is a sad fact that there will be schools where fewer than 50 per cent. of those eligible to vote have much interest in what is happening. It would be quite wrong if those parents who care deeply about the education of their children and the future of their particular schools and who feel that these could best be served by acquiring self-governing status were prevented from action by the sheer apathy of the majority of those who could vote.

If people do not like the proposals they can vote against them. If they do not care and do not vote, they should not be able to affect the result by their inaction. Similarly, if there is a simple majority, I can see no reason why the simple majority decision should not prevail. If it were not to do so because of a requirement for a two-thirds majority, that would be divisive. It would be a sure recipe for a re-run, with all the attendant costs and disruption within a very short period of time. I urge my noble friend the Minister not to accept these amendments.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I am grateful to those who have spoken on both sides of the argument in this debate. I recognise that this is a most important amendment. As I start, perhaps I could say to the noble Lord, Lord Macaulay, that perhaps we may come to deal with the denominational schools when we discuss Clause 30. Quite a lot hinges on what he said and I should like to deal with it at that stage if he agrees.

To answer one of the noble Lord's other points about the electoral lists, there is only one electoral list prepared by the authority for the school boards elections. Where a ballot is called, that register duly updated under the aegis of the board will be the basis of the ballot and no informal list held by the head teacher has any status whatsoever.

In passing I say to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, who remarked that parents were disinterested or uninterested, that of course they have a remedy. They do not have to do anything. As it says in Clause 13(1), where a majority of parents do not wish to change, a majority of "no" votes will stop any change.

As my noble friend Lord Goold says, the whole essence of democracy lies in voting and making one's views known. On that basis we must address this set of amendments. I deal with all the amendments, Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 and the consequential amendments, Amendments Nos. 63 and 64.

As the noble Earl, Lord Perth, must agree, the essential argument for a two-thirds majority must be that no change should take place against the wishes of substantial numbers of parents who vote. Noble Lords have suggested that just such blocking arrangements are used where constitutional matters are voted on in other contexts. That however overlooks the very real difference here that a positive ballot result is not decisive. It does not automatically lead to a change of status for the school. I shall give some examples of that later. Its effect is to require the board to draw up formal proposals, publish them and submit them to the Secretary of State. He will then take the final decision in the knowledge of the precise ballot result, which of course is important. The Secretary of State will also take account of the various representations made to him on the proposals by parents and others, together with all the other circumstances of the schools.

A ballot on self-governing status therefore serves two distinct purposes. Where a majority vote is against the change, that is an end of the matter. No further moves can take place and in normal circumstances no further ballot on the question is possible for at least a year at the present time. That is as it should be. No change can or should take place against the clear opinion of parents. On the other hand where a majority favour the move to self-government the ballot is only the first stage in the process. It allows the issue to go forward and serves as a measure of parental feeling at the school—and like the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, I feel that I have been here before last year.

The suggestion that a two-thirds majority should not be required where a clear majority of all registered parents have supported the change is welcome as recognition of the supremacy of parental wishes. It surely cannot seriously be suggested that even where 55 per cent. to 60 per cent. of parents vote in favour, the views of under one-third should block any submission to the Secretary of State. Nevertheless the basic principle must be that those parents who choose to vote determine the ballot result and that should rule out any application of a two-thirds criterion.

As I say, much of this ground was covered a year ago. As some noble Lords may remember, there was support then for a two-thirds rule but at the end of the day the simple majority was accepted together with a requirement to hold a second ballot. That too is what we are proposing in this legislation. In these respects, the Bill that is now before us follows exactly the provisions already accepted in legislation for England and Wales.

Indeed, there are three schools in England —and I shall give the examples —which have successfully assumed grant maintained status and three more which have been approved under the Education Reform Act which would automatically have been excluded by amendments such as these.

I believe that it is important that we should look at the book rather than read the crystal. I suggest that those who are interested and take this matter very seriously, as indeed I do, should look at the latest figures which give the latest results in England and Wales up to 6th October. They will show that, as I say, six schools have been approved for grant maintained status with percentages voting "yes" of between 50 per cent., which the Government would wish, and the two-thirds majority which is proposed in this amendment. However, it is also clear that in schools rejected for grant maintained status by the Secretary of State —one with a second ballot —in four out of the five cases the majority has been 73 per cent. and over.

This is a very important question. I very much appreciate the views held by the noble Earl, Lord Perth, who has consistently put the point to me over the last few months. However, it is important to look at the experience that we are able to gain—with England being the guinea pig in this connection—and to consider very carefully before adopting north of the Border a course which is inconsistent with what has been passed by this House and which in some respects does not do justice to the overall position that my right honourable friend would have to take into account in considering the ballot and other factors before agreeing to go forward for grant maintained status.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

Will the noble Lord clarify the figure? Did I understand him to say that the Secretary of State for England had turned down applications which showed 73 per cent. in favour of grant maintained status?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

Perhaps I may give the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, a few more figures. Yes, indeed, there are five schools in England which have been rejected for grant maintained status by the Secretary of State. The figures are these. At the school with two ballots, 73 per cent. were in favour. The results at three schools were 97 per cent., 97 per cent. and 100 per cent., and at one school 59 per cent. These are interesting figures. But what is more important is that those with less than a two-thirds majority form 22 per cent. of the total of all schools approved.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar

I find the reference to what is happening in England quite extraordinary. If I heard the observations of the noble Lord correctly, we have a figure of up to 90 per cent. It would be very useful if those of us who are involved in this piece of legislation could be informed, first, what criteria the Secretary of State applied in these cases, and secondly, whether there is any public information available to us to consider how this Bill, if it becomes an Act, as it inevitably will, will be applied in Scotland.

It seems a very strange situation if between 73 per cent. and 90 per cent. of parents —presumably with the best interests of their children at heart —are denied the very provision that this Bill seeks to give to the people of Scotland. I am pleased that the noble Lord recognises the importance of the amendment. I hope that none of the amendments would be considered to have been put down lightly. The Government have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, and the noble Earls, Lord Selkirk and Lord Perth. A dramatic example has been given of a so-called majority which was reduced to 25 per cent. of those eligible to vote, subject to whichever register was being used.

The noble Lord, Lord Goold, makes assertions about apathy on the part of parents. With respect, this Bill has not had a chance to work yet. We do not know whether or not there will be apathy. One way to overcome apathy is to give the public information about what is happening and not to hide it from them prior to any voting taking place. I do not suggest that the Government are hiding everything from them but some of the amendments that have been placed before the Committee in the course of this debate had that very purpose in mind. The greater the dissemination of public information, in whatever form, the more public interest may be invoked.

We know that some parents never hear what is going on in school because though a child used to be given a letter to give to his parents he would throw it away, tear it up or leave it in his bag. The parents never know what is going on. That is why the amendments are designed to increase the public information. The result might be a high vote.

I have heard what the Minister said on the subject. As with other issues raised on important amendments, I am sure that he has, as he always does, listened with care to what has been said on all sides of the Chamber. No doubt he will consider it during the further discussions on this Bill.

8.45 p.m.

The Earl of Perth

As I understand the Minister's position for not making change, it is because the Secretary of State is the defence. Let us help the Secretary of State. We all accept that it is a matter of great importance. It is a step which is significant for schools.

On the subject of a simple majority, if a couple of people who wish to vote against a proposal, are sick or away, the whole matter may be turned around. To me, that is a negation of democracy.

I refer to the situation during the debate on devolution, which in a sense was no more important for local people than what happens to schools. The other place ruled that there had to 13t, a certain majority in favour of devolution for Scotland. Now the rules are being changed. I feel that the Government must think again. I do not care whether the majority is two-thirds so long as it is substantial. The noble Lord, Lord Goold, spoke of apathy. Parents will not be apathetic, or if they are it will be a deliberate choice on their part because they do not like the proposal. Unfortunately, at 8.50 p.m., with a very small attendance in the Committee, this matter, which is of such importance, cannot be satisfactorily resolved.

I beg the Minister to reconsider and to say, "Let us resume this in a way that gives us a chance to express our opinion by a ballot—that is not something that I want—recognising that we are trying to achieve what is right in every sense."

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment. I apologise to the Committee for my careless drafting.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 25 not moved.]

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 26: Page 9, line 32, leave out ("this section") and insert— ("section 19(2) of this Act; (aa) having regard to paragraphs 2 to 4 of Part I of Schedule 1 to this Act, specify the respective numbers of parent members, staff members and appointed members who it is proposed should (with the person for the time being head teacher) constitute the board of management which succeeds the interim board of management;").

The noble Lord said: This amendment concerns the numbers of members of a board of management and places a duty on the school board to set out, in its proposals, the full composition of the future board of management. At present the Bill provides that the numbers shall be specified in the scheme of government, and that the first scheme of government for a school should specify greater numbers of parent and appointed members than had the school board but the same number of staff members. There is, however, no specific provision for the school board, in publishing its proposals, to state exactly how many parents and appointed members it wishes the board of management to have. It is appropriate that the Secretary of State, in drawing up the scheme of government, should have the school board's own proposals on this matter. He may, of course, modify the proposals in this as in other respects, but the starting point should be the school board's own ideas on the matter. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 27: Page 9, leave out line 36.

The noble Lord said: The Committee may find it convenient if we also take Amendment No. 31. These are two extremely important amendments. They seek to ensure that the arrangements for admittance of pupils to a school do not change as a result of the school acquiring self-governing status. Any proposed changes are to be subject to Clause 30. It is apposite to think of the amendment at this stage in the Bill because we have become so tied up with details of the ballot, the voting and the definition of "parents" and "percentages" that we are sometimes apt to forget that schools are all about pupils, the admission of pupils and their education.

When the amendment was debated in another place, the Minister for Education at the time, Mr. Forsyth, made a distinct statement. With the permission of the Committee, I should like to quote his statement. My noble friend, myself and others quoted Mr. Forsyth earlier, but, as he was the person who introduced the Bill into the other place and appeared to be rather enthusiastic about it, it is important that we should examine his point of view to see what he said on important matters such as the admission of pupils to the school. Mr. Forsyth said: The admissions policy for the self-governing schools will be of considerable importance to all parents and prospective parents. Any significant departure from existing arrangements in the school is bound to affect other schools in the neighbourhood. It will therefore be of particular concern to the education authority and to the Secretary of State when considering his eventual decision. I certainly expect admissions policies almost always"— the Minister stressed that— to include some element of preference for those living near the school. But how exactly this will be expressed will, in the first instance, be a matter for the school board in putting forward its proposals. In practice, I expect the school to be more anxious to preserve the status quo than to make changes". —[Offacial Report, Commons, 18/4/1989; col. 782.]

It is the view of advisers to whom we have spoken, particularly the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which represents all local authorities in Scotland, that there should be no provision for the admissions policy of a school to be changed after the acquisition of self-governing status. Such a change should be subject to the provisions of Clause 30. It is inconceivable that a board of management should be able from the outset to refuse a place to a child who would automatically have been admitted to a school when it was under the management of the education authority. Imagine a situation in which all the friends of a child and perhaps his older brothers and sisters had gone to a school and it was assumed that the school was the local school, either secondary or primary, and that the child would automatically go to that school. Suddenly, because the school had acquired new independent status, that boy or girl would not be admitted to the school to which the whole family and all the neighbour's children had gone. That would be quite inconceivable. I hope the Minister will ease our minds.

Schools which adopt a special emphasis must not be allowed to select pupils who wish to take advantage of the special emphasis to the detriment of the rights of parents living in the neighbourhood of the school. Currently some local education authority schools specialise in certain subjects; music or dance, for example. That is why in an earlier debate I made the distinction between specialist schools and special schools. Undoubtedly certain children, because of their particular gifts —for good or ill: some of them are happy with them and others grow to become less happy with them —are obviously different from the rest of us. They should go to a particular type of special school. It would be wrong to use this as a reason for sending some children to a special type of school and exempting other children.

The specialist emphasis schools that I was speaking about admit pupils on the basis of a special and scarce aptitude. In such cases, however, the education authority still has the responsibility to provide education for any pupil refused a place at such a school. A self-governing school would not have to provide alternative education for any pupil if rejected. I am not saying that it will happen, but it could happen that a school in an area could so define its admissions policy, not making itself into a specialist school, but so cleverly defining its policy that a number of children in the area would not be admitted to that school. The admissions policy could be on the basis of religion in certain parts of the country. One side of the religious divide has cost us in many ways in Scotland. In some cases a set of criteria could be built up which would prevent children whose siblings and friends had gone to a certain school being admitted to that school. In certain free-standing towns there may not be another suitable school for a long distance. I am thinking, for example, of a place like Dumfries or perhaps Hawick, where one would need to travel a long way to find a suitable school. That would be an abuse that I do not think decent people would want to occur.

Some people can become a little single-minded and perhaps might go overboard and cause a great deal of distress. The amendment needs to be addressed by the Minister. He has been extremely kind until now, looking with a great sympathy at most, if not all, of our amendments and I hope that he will look at these two amendments in the same way. I beg to move.


Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael. I think the proper word is "specialism". Specialisms will come up for debate when we reach Clause 30. However, I address the points he makes here. The first concern is that a self-governing school must admit all who apply where it has places available. It is in precisely the same position as a local authority school. The board of a self-govering school will be anxious to ensure its success and will know that the amount received from the Secretary of State will reflect changes in its pupil numbers. No self-governing school will be in the business of finding excuses to turn away pupils. I hope that gives the noble Lord some comfort.

Because Ministers believe that these schools will be successful with parents, there will be cases where a school receives more applications than it can possibly accept in its present circumstances. That is where the admission policy and arrangements come into play. The Bill provides at Clause 16(3) for the school board to detail the intended admissions policy in its proposals. These are then published for comment by all with an interest and submitted for approval to the Secretary of State. Thereafter under Clause 2 the agreed admission arrangements have to be incorporated in the initial scheme of government for the school. The board of management is then bound to apply them. Any future change could only be made by the Secretary of State.

Certain of the central aspects of admissions policy are already defined in terms of Clause 16(4) as being fundamental characteristics of the school. Examples are the age range catered for, whether the school is mixed or single sex and any form of selection based on the individual aptitude or ability of pupils. These items are considered so basic to the nature of the school that any change requires the consent of parents in a ballot followed by publication of formal proposals and the agreement of the Secretary of State. The noble Lord, Lord Macaulay, raised that matter earlier. Clause 30 of the Bill sets out the appropriate procedure.

The two amendments to Clause 16 suggest that every detail of the admissions arrangements is so important that it must be subject to this same procedure. I take it that Members of the Committee do not intend details such as the annual timetable and arrangements for making applications to be entrenched in this fashion. From what has been said concern is mainly about any admission arrangement giving priority to pupils from certain geographical areas around the school.

These are important. That is why the Bill ensures that admission arrangements have to be covered in the scheme of government. Equally they are not fundamental in the same sense as the Clause 16(4) provisions. Defined geographical areas for a school may have to be adjusted from time to time reflecting the success of the school and local population changes. There remains the important safeguard that any such amendment still requires the agreement of the Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State must look at the wider picture. Where a school has been built to serve the children of a particular area—the noble Lord referred to Hawick—and they have no obvious alternative provision, it is in everyone's interest to ensure they have priority in admissions to that school. No Secretary of State is likely to approve admission arrangements which threaten to exclude them. To do so could well generate a need for the local authority to spend money on a new school for the area. I do not think that that would be very popular with the Secretary of State.

When an education authority wants to change the catchment area of one of its schools it has to consult all the parents concerned and in some cases go to the Secretary of State for consent. In very much the same way, a school board will have to publish its proposals in regard to any catchment area; parents will have an opportunity to make representations on them; and the matter will go to the Secretary of State for decision. This seems to me a very fair and equitable arrangment.

Quite apart from these detailed points and the clear safeguard in the role of the Secretary of State, the amendment misses the central reality of any self-governing school, that such a school will succeed by attracting pupils and meeting the wishes of parents. Through their majority of elected places on the board of management it is the existing parents who will have the decisive voice in the running of the school. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, does not agree with that, but I disagree with him. They will not draw up plans to refuse admission to the children of their local community.

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, raised the point that schools could become religiously exclusive. That is impossible in all circumstances. The 1980 Act decrees that every school should be open to pupils of any denomination. The noble Lord raised that matter and he knows better than I the difficulties which can be created. That has been the law of Scotland since 1872 and will apply equally to self-governing schools.

The other point raised by the noble Lord was as regards denying an automatic right of entry to children. I have said this but I shall say it again as it is important. There is no automatic right of entry for anyone. Where a school is oversubscribed priorities must be applied, and living in the neighbourhood will be such a priority in almost all cases. Self-governing schools will be no different from those still administered by the local authority. All these amendments are important. This amendment about admissions is particularly important and I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me for speaking for so long.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I should just like to clarify one point. Is the Minister saying that, provided a school publishes its prospectus and it is approved, it could exclude a certain geographical area previously served by that school?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

That is perfectly true; it could do whatever it liked in publishing its proposals. That would not be very popular for those parents who have children at the school and who are living in the area which is excluded. However, that is one of the vital factors which the Secretary of State must take into account. As I have made very clear, the Secretary of State will consider most carefully any changes in catchment areas, which, as I have said, are not necessarily bound rigidly because of changes which can occur in demography. However, it is my clear understanding that that is one of the basic factors in arriving at a suitable set of proposals.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar

Is it not the case that Clauses 16 and 30 taken together give people a double chance at changing characteristics? Clause 16(3) states: The proposals shall—

  1. (a) give the name under which it is proposed that the board of management should be incorporated under this section;
  2. (b) describe the arrangements which, subject to the declaration under subsection (6)(a) below, it is proposed to adopt, if the school becomes self-governing, with respect to … (ii) any special emphasis which will characterise the provision of education at the school".
I presume that since the contents of the proposals are mandatory, they will be approved by the Secretary of State. That approval by him of what could be changes in the character of the school could be change No. 1 in the school. So the parents are not voting on status at all.

The guide note at the side describes this clause as: Proposals for acquisition of self-governing status". The word "status" is very important there because the status is changing from local authority to self-governing. However, looking at the clause as it stands, if a group of people were astute enough and had sufficient support within the area, the status of the school could be revolutionised under the guise of these proposals, for which a simple majority would be enough to change the school at that point. Having done that, the group can then have another go at changing the characteristics of the school by operating Clause 13 with a ballot. Perhaps the noble Lord can clarify my mind because, although I am perhaps being somewhat obtuse, this question occurred to me while listening to the interesting debate that was taking place.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I am happy that the noble Lord is interested in the debate and has posed an important question on the meaning of "any special emphasis" in this clause. My understanding is that the phrase is not defined; but from my reading of the Bill, "special emphasis" refers to what characteristics there will be for the school when proposals are put to the Secretary of State. I should like to look closely at this clause and subsection and elaborate on the matter in a letter to the noble Lord in due course.

I should like to refer again to the point concerning the exclusion of certain areas raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. I hope that my answer was sufficient for him, but perhaps I may elaborate further. Catchment areas do not exclude people living outside the area. They give priority to those people living inside the area; but provided there is room in the school any applicant from outside the area must be admitted. However, I endorse my earlier remarks about the question of change in regard to catchment areas.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

Perhaps I may be allowed to explain my anxiety. By a simple majority of approval a group might exclude, in a racist manner, a racially unacceptable area or perhaps, in a rather snobbish manner, a poor area containing children considered not suitable for association with their own children. It is a point of concern in certain country areas where there is little choice of school or only an expensive alternative provided by the authority.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I understand the noble Lord's anxiety, but this must be a major part of the proposals put to the Secretary of State. Indeed, all I am saying to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, is that catchment areas do not exclude people who reside outside the area. I see the force of what he says, but I do not believe that, in practice, it is the sort of exclusion that could possibly be allowed by any Secretary of State—certainly not in this Government.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I am grateful to the Minister for recognising the importance of these two amendments and the subjects they deal with. I also thank him for the extremely full way in which he replied. He will appreciate that his reply was new to this side of the Committee and so thorough and exhaustive that we will need to take some time examining it.

I received the impression that he was listening and took on board a number of points, particularly some of those raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, and specifically the latter points made by my noble friend Lord Macaulay of Bragar. If the noble Lord speaking from the Government Front Bench were chairman of all the boards, we would have no worries at all because his intentions are obviously good and his heart is in the right place. If he could spread his erudition and good will wider that might be of advantage to the Bill and to Scottish education. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 28: Page 9, line 38, after ("school") insert ("having regard to the number and the ages, abilities and aptitudes and any special educational needs of pupils attending the school and the wishes of parents of those pupils").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that schools develop an ethos and an identity which accords with the number and range of pupils in the school and with the wishes of the parents. The ability of a self-governing school to promote its own special emphasis must be developed with great sensitivity to the ability and educational needs of all pupils in the school and to the wishes of the parents.

The proposals should show that these factors have been carefully considered and parents consulted before the proposals concerning a school's special emphasis are drawn up. Schools should not be allowed to develop in such a way that some pupils are left at an educational disadvantage compared with others or that the school attracts some parents and repels others.

Such consideration will be particularly important in schools which are local monopoly providers of education. I am sure the Minister is aware of this tendency in certain schools. We tended to have that with particularly strong headmasters. In many ways Scotland was fortunate in being endowed with such people. It was perhaps unfortunate in other respects. There was always a mix-up between dominie, the teacher, in Scotland, and the close association with dominate. Some of the headmasters tried to imprint their personalities on the school not merely in terms of character and characteristics but also of subjects. In my day it was more likely to involve the classics people. If the headmaster had a classics training, you had classics as well whether or not you wanted it and whether you had an aptitude for it. On the other hand, mathematics may have been the dominating factor.

We feel that if pupils have a school with a specialty of that nature, without proper recognition being given to the wishes of the parents, it may be very difficult for the pupils of that school if it is in an area that does not have schools giving education of a different nature. In other words, we want the education to be given within the guidelines of the area that the schools are in. It is perhaps a badly-worded amendment, but I have tried to explain the sense of it. I beg to move.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I wish to endorse the importance of this amendment. There was an example in our own area of a good academic school in the main town. It had a good academic record but it had a band of vandals in the school who were totally neglected. The school was in favour of the academics with the result that the vandals became very bad citizens indeed. Five miles away in the country there was a very good secondary modern school with a good headmaster. Exactly the same type of boys were studying there with great care. They were well behaved and good citizens. It is important that a school is not allowed to concentrate on one area of education to the exclusion of a minority of pupils.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I have sympathy with the intent of this amendment. I am also happy to say that the points that it raises are covered and safeguarded by the provisions of the Bill. There are certain basic legal obligations which any board of management will have to observe, no matter what has been specified in proposals, and later in the school's scheme of government, as the special emphasis which is to characterise the provision of education at their school. These obligations are contained at a number of different locations in the Bill and it may be helpful to the Committee if I identified the provisions which are relevant to the points raised by the amendment.

Under Clause 7(1) the board of management of a self-governing school is required to provide suitable and efficient school education at the school. The term "school education" has a technical meaning which, by virtue of Clause 80(2), is imported to the Bill from the Education (Scotland) Act 1980. "School education" is defined in the 1980 Act as: Progressive education appropriate to the requirements of pupils in attendance at schools, regard being had to the age, ability and aptitude of such pupils". The definition goes on to state that "school education" also includes "provision for special educational needs".

In its provision of school education, therefore, a board of management will have to make suitable and efficient provision having regard to the age, ability and aptitude of all pupils attending the self-governing school. It has also to be borne in mind that the range of provision made for special educational needs at a school which becomes self-governing will have to remain the same, despite the change in management of the school. The provision for special educational needs will be a basic characteristic of the school which may be reduced only by means of a special procedure, including a ballot of parents, provided by Clause 30. Moreover, under Clause 7(6) a board of management is required to have regard to a need to make improvements in the provision which the school makes for pupils with special educational needs.

Finally, I draw the Committee's attention to paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 to the Bill, where it is provided that, The board of management … shall, in the eltercise of their powers and duties … have regard to the general principle that so far as is compatible with the scheme of government … the provision of suitable instruction and training and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure, pupils at the school are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents". I hope that the above explanation now makes it clear that the Bill already lays down certain basic statutory obligations, to be observed by any board of management, which covers the points raised by the amendment. I hope with that explanation the noble Lord will not seek to press his amendment.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I am grateful to the Minister. He has again given a full explanation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 29: Page 9, line 38, after ("school") insert (", (iii) within reason, any other changes in the provision of education at the school.").

The noble Lord said: The Committee will be aware that this amendment was orginally put down by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour. I have added my name to it at her request in order that the amendment may be aired before the Committee and replied to by the Minister. Perhaps it may be for the convenience of the Committee to take at the same time Amendment No. 30. The amendments are close in their sentiments and to discuss them together would save duplication.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the proposals for acquisition of self-governing status include any proposed change to the provision of education in addition to any special emphasis which will characterise the provision of education at the school. Clause 16(3)(b)(ii) invites a school board to describe any special emphasis which is to characterise the provision of education at the school if the school becomes self-governing. It is not clear from the Bill whether this provision would require a board to define "within reason" all the changes in the provision of the schedule that are being considered at the school. It is essential that the proposals state all proposed changes in the schoors policies, including, for example, changes in discipline and school uniforms. Parents and prospective parents will then be aware of the exact nature of the school under self-government. This is important whether or not the parent voted for or against self-government in the ballot because once the proposals are published parents will then be able to submit representations to the Secretary of State if they object to any part of the proposal.

The Minister may have noted that I include the words "within reason". I realise that these are a minefield in terms of legislation. However, I believe that by this time they must have a certain legal and commonsense interpretation.

Amendment No. 30 seeks to ensure that all aspects of the future management of the school are taken into account in drawing up proposals for school self-government. Arrangements for the future running of the school are too serious a matter to be totally left to the discretion of the school board, which may well lack the management experience and support to draw up a coherent or comprehensive proposal. Minimum requirements should be laid down by regulations concerning what aspects of management policy and practice should be written into the proposals —for example, those concerning arrangements for consulting parents about curriculum choices and other matters, staffing, property maintenance and so on. The regulations should also require the school board to provide a statement of the implications of the school's self-government for the management training of board members.

These two amendments attempt to be helpful. If they are not interpreted by the Minister in the same way I hope he will explain why and give us hints that may help us to put something down at a later stage to achieve the same object. I beg to move.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I am grateful to the noble Lord for taking the amendments together. I shall deal with them accordingly. Clause 16(3)(b) requires the board to include in its proposals a statement of the admission arrangements proposed for the school; a statement of any special emphasis which is to characterise the provision of education at the school; and any other aspects of the management of the school which the board thinks fit to include.

In the guidance that we are proposing to issue on the matter (contained in the draft circular, which I believe will already be in the hands of the noble Lord) which we put out for consultation earlier this week, we advise school boards in drawing up this aspect of their proposals to take as their point of reference the policy statements which each school board has to receive from its headteacher under Section 10 of the School Boards Act; and to indicate whether they intend simply to continue those policies or to vary them in some way. The matters which those policy statements have to cover under Section 10 are the curriculum of the school, the assessment of pupils and discipline, rules and uniform. These are of course just the matters in which parents are likely to be most concerned. I should expect our guidance to have persuasive effect: at any rate a board which diverged from it would be expected to show some clear justification for doing so.

However these matters need to be kept in perspective. The school board's job in drawing up proposals is to lay out only the very broadest outlines of policy. It would not be appropriate for a board to go into every last detail of how it wants the school to be run, for two reasons. In the first place that school board is not going to be the future board of management of the school except on a caretaker basis when the school first becomes self-governing. At that point the school board's job is simply to supervise immediate elections for a new board. If parents are particularly concerned about some aspect of policy it would be up to them at that point to elect a board sympathetic to their views.

I turn now to the noble Lord's amendment. The point about the issues included in formal proposals from the school board is that whatever is then accepted by the Secretary of State must be incorporated in the scheme of government made for the self-governing school. That is part of the statutory framework for the school and in its future management the board would be bound to observe the requirements of the scheme.

If Members of the Committee will look at Clause 16(3)(b), the school board is given wide discretion over which items other than admission arrangements it wishes to include in the proposals. Just what is regarded as important will vary depending on the circumstances and views of the parent body at different schools. I certainly believe that it would be a mistake to include a whole range of detailed items.This might severely curtail the future freedom of that school to respond to new challenges.

Having said that, I recognise the concern which underlies this amendment. It is important that a school board proposing to embark upon self-government should have a proper grasp of the scale of management tasks which it will be taking on. I must make it clear to the Committee that when my right honourable friend receives proposals from a school he will not base his decision purely upon the written evidence of the formal document: he will need to make inquiries; to seek information about the school from the education authority and from the school board. In the course of that investigation any serious defect in the school board's management approach will very likely come to light. My right honourable friend will also issue non-statutory guidance to school boards on questions which they should consider in drawing up any proposals. There would also be a model scheme of government prepared —a matter which was put to the Government by Opposition Members of Parliament in another place. This will provide adequate means to draw attention to specific items which a school board would be expected to consider including in its proposals.

Finally, I should draw attention to the powers already contained in Clause 16(3)(b). These are actually very close to this amendment as regards its wording and intention. Under that provision the Secretary of State can make regulations requiring the proposals to give such other information as may be prescribed.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

The Minister has again been most helpful. However, I have one difficulty. I have checked through the mountain of paperwork which I have received during the last few days and, subject to correction, I do not remember having received the guidance notes to which reference was made. We have therefore been working somewhat in the dark. I am not blaming anyone for the situation but I should be most grateful if the Minister could check up to see whether they have been sent. If they have, I apologise; but if they have not I look forward to receiving them on Monday.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I can assure the noble Lord that I shall see to it that he receives another set of papers as soon as possible.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I thank the Minister, and perhaps he could extend that offer to my noble friend Lord Macaulay of Bragar. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 30 and 31 not moved.]

Clause 16, as amended, agreed to.

Viscount Davidson

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.

House adjourned at half-past nine o'clock.