HL Deb 22 April 1993 vol 544 cc1718-837

3.43 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

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

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Blatch.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 19 ["Grant-maintained schools"]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 96A: Page 10, line 2, leave out from ("existing") to ("be") in line 3 and insert ("schools to").

The noble Baroness said: In speaking to this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 185A to 185E and Amendments Nos. 185H to 185Q. This group of amendments deals with proposals in the Bill for schools to acquire self-governing status as a member of a group with a single governing body for all the schools in that group. We believe that those proposals will enable small schools which otherwise might lack the confidence to go it alone to enjoy the benefits of self-governing status. Those provisions give effect to the proposals in Chapter 11 of the Government's White Paper Choice and Diversity for clusters of primary schools. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 97: Page 10, line 4, at end insert: ("() A grant-maintained school must be either a secondary school or a primary school.").

The noble Baroness said: I have spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 19, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 20 [Schools eligible for grant-maintained status]:

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede moved Amendment No. 98: Page 10, line 12, after ("(3)") insert ("and (4)").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 100. Special schools are an important element in LEA provision to meet the range, degree and quantity of special educational needs among children for whom they are responsible.

Special schools together with the unit support service and mainstream schools, are intended to dovetail with each other to form a coherent range of services to meet children's needs. Giving grant-maintained status to special schools would remove the control and co-ordination from the LEAs in important ways. An LEA would no longer be under a duty to review provision made at the school, a duty imposed in the 1981 Act and repeated in Clause 151 of this Bill. It would become impossible for the school to become part of a planned response by the LEA to the special educational needs of children in the area since the LEA would no longer have any means of involving itself in such a plan. The LEA would be left with a reactive role, having to object to any proposed change of character of the school with no reassurance that the Secretary of State would take into account the difficulties that such changes would create for the LEA in fulfilling its duties to meet the special educational needs of children in the area.

That would not contribute to a well-planned system, making the most efficient use of available resources. There would also be considerably reduced flexibility for the LEA in deciding how best to deploy its resources to meet children's needs. Significant block reductions from the LEA's standard spending assessment, made in order to fund a grant-maintained special school through the funding agency, would be reduced and would fetter the LEA in a range of options that it might consider to meet children's needs in a competent, efficient and cost-effective manner. I beg to move.

Baroness Blotch

While I understand the aims of the amendment, a special school which becomes a grant-maintained school would cease to have special school status. However, amendments dealing with special schools becoming grant-maintained special schools, should be discussed when we come to Part III of the Bill. Perhaps the noble Lord will communicate my remarks to the noble Baroness, Lady David.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

I thank the Minister for that guidance. I shall be happy to do as she asks. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch moved Amendment No. 99: Page 10, line 33, at end insert: ("() A school of special character, whose methodology is based on an educational philosophy that is acceptable in the view of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, and which fulfils the National Curriculum for those ages for which it makes provision, shall be eligible for grant maintained status.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment would allow certain schools of special character to become eligible for grant-maintained status. It should not be confused with the amendments which are to follow in the name of my noble friend Lord Skidelsky and others which seek to enhance other more general access to grant-maintained status.

The schools that I have in mind are ones which teach according to such philosophies as those held by the Steiner Schools Fellowship, the Montessori Schools, the Human Scale Education Movement and the Froebel Institute. If I may, I shall address my remarks particularly to the case put forward by the Steiner Schools Fellowship. I understand that other Members of the Committee may wish to speak on behalf of other educational philosophies.

My admiration for the educational philosophy of Rudolph Steiner grew from my experience of being fortunate enough to find a place for my mentally handicapped daughter in a Steiner Camphill Community School. But this amendment is aimed at helping the Steiner Waldorf Schools and others which are for normal children to become eligible to opt into the grant-maintained system. There are at the moment 27 such Steiner schools in the United Kingdom catering for some 4,200 pupils.

I am aware that a similar amendment was debated in another place during the Committee stage of this Bill. However, the Government understandably did not feel able to accept it because the Steiner curriculum does not meet the requirements of the national curriculum at all its key stages. That is not to say that the Steiner curriculum does not deliver everything that the national curriculum requires by the time a child is 16; it does, and indeed I understand it may deliver a good deal more than that by that age. The trouble is that, particularly at the primary school level up to key stage 3, the Steiner curriculum starts some subjects later and others earlier and comes at yet others in ways different to what is required by the national curriculum.

I understand that the Steiner Schools Fellowship now accepts that it may not be possible for the Government to allow its primary schools to become eligible for grant-maintained status because such an exception to the national curriculum would defeat its purpose. However, the amendment would allow such eligibility at key stage 3 for 11 year-olds entering secondary education. I understand that by that stage Steiner pupils are fully capable of doing the national curriculum; it is just that they have learnt their subjects at primary school at different ages than those required by the national curriculum.

Even at the age of 11 I understand that there may be perhaps two areas where a Steiner school might need to make a small revision to its curriculum if it is to meet the requirements of the national curriculum fully. One of those areas could be history, where Steiner pupils do not study the Second World War until they are 14 or 15. That is because the horrors of the holocaust and Hiroshima are not thought suitable by the Steiner philosophy for younger children of 11, as I believe may be required by the national curriculum. But it might be possible for a school to reorganise its curriculum in such a way that these disturbing subjects could, for instance, be taught under religious education, perhaps when considering aspects of good and evil, and then integrated across into history by the required age limit.

The other area consists of some scientific aspects of information technology, including micro-electronics and subjects covered by Attainment Target 5 of Information Technology Capability, which Steiner pupils now cover later than is required by the national curriculum. Here again, some minor revision of the Steiner curriculum should allow it to conform to the national curriculum.

There may be other small areas where similar adjustment may be necessary, but I hope that these examples help to clarify the case which I am putting to my noble friend. I feel that this case is also strengthened by Clause 17 ("Exceptions by Regulations") of the Education Reform Act 1988, which reads: The Secretary of State may by regulations provide that the provisions of the National Curriculum, or such of those provisions as may be specified in the regulations—

  1. (a) shall not apply; or
  2. (b) shall apply with such modifications as may be so specified; in such cases or circumstances as may be so specified".
I understand that these powers have never in fact been used by the Secretary of State, but I am not aware of any good reason why they should not be. Indeed, they seem to envisage exactly the very slight modifications or exceptions which may be necessary to allow these excellent schools to opt into grant-maintained status at secondary level. It is in that spirit that I commend the amendment to the Committee. I beg to move.

Baroness Cox

I should like to support my noble friend Lord Pearson in his amendment, which is designed, as he said, to expand choice, diversity and specialisation within the maintained school sector. The amendment would certainly enable schools representing educational movements with specific pedagological approaches to become eligible to opt into the grant-maintained system. My noble friend spoke of the Steiner Schools Fellowship. I should like briefly to give the Committee three other examples of different educational approaches existing in this country, all of which would benefit if given the opportunity to opt in, and I believe it would also enhance our state sector. I refer to the Montessori Schools, the Human Scale Education Movement (the small schools approach) and those of the Froebel Institute.

I shall begin with the Montessori schools. There are about 700 students in the United Kingdom on Montessori teacher-training courses. There are some 18,000 children of nursery school age attending about 940 nursery centres. They also have their own curricula in several private primary schools and they are currently hoping to open a school which will extend beyond the primary years. If allowed to opt in, they would make great efforts and indeed give guarantees that they would expand their primary and secondary school sector much further. Their curriculum already follows the national curriculum to key stage 1 and they are drafting the rest so that it would certainly fit in with all the other requirements of the national curriculum.

The Director of Montessori UK, Mr. David Joffick, has claimed that the ability to opt into grant-maintained status would be, an opportunity made in heaven". In this country the biggest hurdle to delivering the Montessori approach to education, apart from the usual struggles to meet costs, is that many Montessori schools are run from premises such as church halls. Obviously Montessori would prefer purpose-built school buildings and those concerned would be much more able to raise the money to achieve that if they were able to have accredited grant-maintained status. If we look for a moment beyond this country at the international scene, Montessori schools have accredited status in the United States, Germany and the Netherlands among other countries. In all those countries there are Montessori state-funded schools and in the United States they serve pupils up to 18 years of age.

My second example relates to what is called the Human Scale Education Movement, or the small schools movement. The movement is an umbrella organisation for a group of schools whose average number of pupils is very small—perhaps around 35. It has developed a philosophy which emphasises the importance of family and runs its schools by endeavouring to educate the whole child, as those concerned put it, giving equal attention to the creative, moral, intellectual and spiritual qualities of children. Again, if given the possibility of opting in to state funding, each individual school would be more than willing to be sure that it tailored its curriculum to fulfil the requirements of the national curriculum. The current size of the movement is small, but there are many potential opportunities, with eight new schools trying to start up. In both primary and secondary schools the children come from the state and private sectors. Again, such schools are supported by the state in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.

My last example concerns those schools based on the Froebel education philosophy. That philosophy, as most Members of the Committee will know, has had a significant influence on the practice of primary education throughout the country so that much primary school practice actually reflects many of the ideas of the Froebel model. Today the Froebel Institute college has some 1,200 teacher trainees and a 500-strong primary school attached to the college. Again, if this enabling amendment were accepted by the Government, the Froebel Institute would be more than pleased to propose and promote new Froebel schools nation-wide and would ensure that they met the requirements of the national curriculum.

I repeat, the governments in many other Western countries have not been afraid to broaden the scope of their educational provision by accepting schools based on different educational philosophies. I believe that it would be of great benefit if we in Britain were to do likewise. It would be in keeping with the Government's principles of diversity, choice, pluralism and accountability to parents. I very much hope that the amendment will receive a sympathetic response in general terms in principle from my noble friend.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Henley)

I do not know whether other noble Lords wish to speak but, whether or not that is the case, it may be useful if I intervene at this moment to set out the Government's position. As the Committee will recognise, this clause clearly defines which schools are eligible for grant-maintained status. All LEA maintained primary, middle and secondary schools are eligible to seek grant-maintained status via the ballot process.

The provisions of Clause 46, with which we shall deal at a later stage, provide for promoters to seek to open new grant-maintained schools. The intention is that such schools may indeed be existing independent schools seeking to move into the grant-maintained sector. We have also made provision in Part III of the Bill to make special schools maintained by local education authorities eligible to apply for grant-maintained status. After consulting widely, we shall make the necessary regulations, which will in all probability come into force in April 1994. That will enable many special schools to consider the advantages of becoming self-governing.

I understand that the intention of the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Pearson and supported by my noble friend Lady Cox is to allow schools such as those run according to the philosophies of Steiner, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Pearson, or Froebel, Montessori or the small schools movement to which my noble friend Lady Cox referred to be eligible for grant-maintained status.

Clause 46 of the Bill to which I have referred is intended to provide for just that, subject to there being, as I believe my noble friend Lord Pearson stressed, a need for the school in the area and subject to its offering the national curriculum to its pupils. I could say a little more on the criteria for obtaining grant-maintained status, if that were thought necessary. I should make it clear that the educational philosophy on which a school is run is not part of the national curriculum which rather defines the content of what is to be taught and how pupil achievement is to be achieved.

Our conclusion, therefore, is that the amendment seems to be unnecessary. Clause 46 already provides for independent schools to seek grant-maintained status subject to their following the national curriculum. Certainly as that is the intention of the amendment, I must say that the Bill already provides for that. I hope the amendment need not be pressed. With that reassurance I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

4 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

I am most grateful to my noble friend for his comments. I certainly look forward to the debate on Clause 46 which he mentioned and which we are to have. I feel sure that it will meet all the suggestions that my noble friend Lady Cox and I have put forward. With that in mind, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 100 not moved.]

Clause 20 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 100A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Clause 21 [Duty of governing body to consider ballot on grant-maintained status]:

Baroness Hamwee

I apologise to the Committee. I believe there must have been some gremlin in the Marshalled List. I do not wish to move Amendment No. 100B.

[Amendment No. 100B not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 21 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Judd

Clause 21, as it stands, represents continuing destabilisation in the education service. Governing bodies are to be required year by year to consider grant-maintained status as part of the Government's plan under which the best schools are slowly converted to a preferential system and status, and the remainder are pressured by attrition. The grant-maintained programme has, frankly, been a failure in the terms originally set for it, with no observers now seriously expecting all schools to become grant-maintained within even the medium term.

Indeed, there is widespread suspicion that the Government's longer term aims are to drain resources and functions from local education authorities to the point where schools performing at or below average will be left with little choice but to expose themselves to the rigours of the market in which children form the principal unit of currency. The consequences in the meantime are likely to be disastrous for all but a selected few establishments as planning becomes increasingly difficult, good staff are attracted to the grant-maintained sector and capital expenditure is concentrated in that area.

The Government's plan does, however, contain a flaw in that it is obvious that the preferential funding of the grant-maintained sector simply cannot continue as more schools move into that sector. Indeed there is no guarantee that such funding will continue in the future for a school which has made the change and, paradoxically, it is certainly not in the interests of existing grant-maintained schools that many more schools should move across. A large increase in the grant-maintained sector would both provide unwanted competition for existing grant-maintained schools and devalue the presumed status which such schools currently have.

As has been indicated in earlier debates, it is intolerable that the future of one or even two generations of school children should be made subject to the effects of intransigent political ideology. Although the Government would not admit it, parents have, as I tried to emphasise in the Second Reading debate, failed the Government by not responding as intended to their plans. The move to grant-maintained status has been small scale and most parents display a clear preference for retaining the existing status of those schools within the LEA system and for concentrating on the important issues of the quality of education and securing the best for their child at a time of great change.

On this basis I would suggest that there is a strong case to call the Government's bluff and indeed it may yet prove necessary to do so on Report. We might well then introduce a new clause which would put the Government to the test by having a once and for all nationwide ballot of all schools later this year with a commitment to respect the outcome for the next five years. That would, I suggest, be a more honest, candid, healthy and altogether more straightforward approach than the present arrangements which I believe are rather devious.

I believe that if we were to do that, the result would show a resounding rejection from parents for whom the issue is frankly an irrelevance. The period of preoccupying and disrupting attrition would then be at least postponed for a period of five years. However, we have to accept that the rejection of this clause, whatever happens on Report, is necessary as a call for stability in the educational system during a period of crisis for the national curriculum; the testing and appraising systems, and the introduction of delegated budgets. The measure would bring to at least a temporary halt the creeping paralysis which is coming to affect the whole of the school system in which no one in either the grant-maintained or the LEA sectors can plan for more than a few months ahead.

Whatever the case for and against a new clause, I conclude by underlining that the requirements of this clause as it stands are indeed offensive as well as being burdensome and unnecessary. A governing body trusted to carry out so many other responsibilities can surely be trusted to keep the question of the school status in mind in the light of local circumstances and developments. The decision whether to advise parents to vote for opting out is one for the governing body and should be made freely without external pressure from Ministers who do not know the local circumstances and who do not have direct responsibility for a school and have no evidence for their belief that grant-maintained status is best for all schools.

The Government should not in our view pressurise governors into taking a decision on this matter, and certainly not by attrition. Indeed I go further. I believe that the requirement treats responsible governors like children by asking them why they have not done something which mother thinks they ought to do and forcing them to give a reason. I hope that this clause will not be accepted.

Baroness Cox

I wish to take issue with the assumptions on which the noble Lord has based his opposition to the clause becoming part of the Bill. I particularly take issue with his assertion that few schools have opted for grant-maintained status and with the noble Lord's manner of casting aspersions on those which have done so. I wish to turn that argument directly on its head. It is amazing that so many schools have opted out into grant-maintained status given the tremendous opposition —sometimes that is malicious and fierce opposition—facing staff and parents from those with a vested interest in opposing the exit of schools from local education authority control.

I have many friends and colleagues in the state sector who have given first-hand accounts of the intimidation to which they have been subjected when they have sought or even contemplated the idea of opting out into grant-maintained status. Staff have been threatened with losing their jobs and have been told they would never be employed again in the local education authority sector, especially if a Labour government came back into power. Parents have been told dire and untrue stories about what would happen to their children in schools which opted out. Local education authorities have spent enormous sums of money on information designed to dissuade and intimidate parents from supporting opting out proposals. I pay tribute to those parents and staff who have had the courage to take advantage of the opportunity to opt out and to benefit from the freedom that opting out confers.

I should also like briefly to congratulate them on their success. The overwhelming majority of GM schools are great success stories. They are full of enthusiastic staff and pupils. They are performing well by all criteria and developing many exciting initiatives in response to local communities' needs and opportunities. To give one or two examples, many are developing brand new subjects. Forty-two per cent. have increased the use of their own facilities by the local community. Many have increased their provision for pupils with special needs.

It is amazing that so many schools have opted out in the face of all the odds against them and jealous LEAs which do not wish to lose the resources they represent. Aspersions cast on their performance are totally misplaced. Therefore I totally reject the noble Lord's proposition to oppose the clause.

Lord Dormand of Easington

Before the noble Baroness sits down, will she elaborate on what she calls the considerable success of opting out? In the debates on Tuesday we learnt that out of 2,000 schools in Wales, seven have so far chosen to opt out. The last figure which was put before this Chamber in relation to England was about 500 schools out of 23,000. We shall have the up-to-date figures on Tuesday when my Question is answered, but I am pretty sure that the figure is of that order. Does the noble Baroness really consider that a success after all this time?

Baroness Cox

As I tried to indicate, many schools have had to face enormous odds and intimidation in going forward with the proposals to opt for a ballot. Later, when we speak to amendments relating to Clause 46, I shall give further examples. For the moment, I want to put on record that it has taken a great deal of courage on the part of many parents and staff to go against the threats and intimidation to which they have been subject.

The proportions are increasing all the time. The proportion of secondary schools opting out is of course considerably higher than the proportion of primary schools, but the numbers are increasing, and I am sure that success will breed more success if it is allowed to do so.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

There are many parts of the Bill in which the Government's anti-LEA stance is clear. I referred to a number of them at Second Reading: the financial advantages for schools which opt out, the imbalance over admissions, over education associations, and so on. To some extent those provisions show that it is not all that difficult for governors and parents to press ahead with opting out if they want to do so. This is part of a history of treatment of schools which is anything but even-handed.

Here we have perhaps the most barefaced example of all. In case all the other inducements fail to do the trick, governors may be compelled to vote on the opting out issue every year. That can hardly be in order to give them an opportunity to reject it. This crafty measure ties in neatly with that most unjustifiable of imbalances, the inability of schools ever to opt back in again if they want to do so. The thinking must be—for there can be no other motive—that, if a governing body can be made to vote often enough, sooner or later, perhaps on some 'flu-ridden winter's evening, the "right" result will be achieved; and if the parents can be persuaded to do their stuff then—bingo!—the thing is done. And it is irreversible.

Nothing that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has just said has persuaded me that this clause is anything other than an insult to the intelligence of governors, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said. If they feel that grant-maintained status may be for them, they are perfectly capable of putting it on the agenda at any time without central government breathing down their necks. If they feel that it is not appropriate, because of local circumstances or because they have read the recent reports from OFSTED and the Economic and Social Research Council on the performance of opted-out schools—which do not exactly bear out all the optimistic claims of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, or the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in speaking to an amendment on Tuesday—what could be more time-wasting and potentially divisive for a governing body than ha[...]to keep bringing the subject up? The Government are overreaching themselves here in a quite unnecessary example of teaching their grandmother to suck eggs. It is a dangerous example, given the one-way street of opting out.

Significantly, the proposal to oppose the Motion that the clause stand part of the Bill has the full support of the National Association of Governors and Managers, which represents the people who will be most intimately involved. I hope that in opposing the clause the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and I will receive the support of the Committee.

Lord Elton

The Committee has heard the noble Lord, Lord Judd, say that it would be most unsettling if governing bodies and children were to be subject to the element of choice for years to come. The Committee has also heard the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, say that it will be a great waste of time for the governing body to be faced with that choice continually. I hope that Members of the Committee will remember those speeches when we consider Amendments Nos. 116A and 157A in which the noble Lords propose that that process of option should be open ad infinitum in the opposite direction.

4.15 p.m

Baroness Hamwee

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, spoke of parents having the element of choice for years to come. Even if the clause does not remain in the Bill, they have that choice. Clause 23 gives them powers, and they have the opportunity to raise the matter at annual meetings, and so on.

It may be helpful to return to the subject of the clause. The speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, ranged far beyond the contents of the clause, which provides that the Secretary of State can specify a geographical area and require the governing body of a school in that area to hold a ballot annually.

Baroness Cox

My remarks were in response to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, on grant-maintained schools and I wanted to put the record straight.

Baroness Blatch

I hope that the noble Baroness will also forgive an intervention from me. There is no requirement to hold a ballot annually. There is a requirement only for governing bodies to address the question of whether they would like grant-maintained status and to report their view to parents.

Baroness Blackstone

Is the Minister aware that the National Association of Governors and Managers is very strongly opposed to the clause? Surely it would be right for the Government, and Department for Education Ministers, to listen to what governors themselves think about a matter of this sort. Can she tell the Committee why the Government totally reject the views of governors, who are the people who have to make these decisions?

Baroness Hamwee

I had only another few remarks to make and perhaps it will be more convenient for the Minister to respond to all of them. I accept the Minister's correction and that the Secretary of State has the power to require governors to consider whether to hold a ballot on an annual basis. The clause concerns the governors' response. Those governors are not remote from the rest of the school community. Indeed, they are elected or appointed by the various elements of the school community: the parents, the teachers, the education authority, the local business community, and so on. In most cases they are as representative of the sectors which make up the whole school as one could hope. If those governors, representing the sectors of the school community, are not to be trusted to take a decision for themselves as to whether to address the question, this is an example of the nanny state.

The only point on which I take issue with the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, is that they referred to mothers and grandmothers, whereas I believe that this is a question of a nanny relationship. To allow the Secretary of State this degree of interference takes his involvement to the most absurd lengths.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for his slight puff for my later amendment, Amendment No. 157A, and point out what he may not have noticed; namely, that that amendment does not force anybody to vote on anything, whereas Clause 21 does, and that is why we are opposed to it.

Baroness Faithfull

I wonder whether the Minister can give me some help when she replies. I should like to take up a point made by the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin. Can there not be flexibility? I do not agree with a yearly ballot on whether a school should stay in local authority control or opt out. However, an area may change and a new estate may be built. In that situation, is it not possible for a school to have the flexibility to opt back into local authority control if that is thought to be necessary? I ask that question simply for information.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

I am a little surprised at the excitement to which the clause seems to have given rise. It seems a very moderate clause. As I understand it, it proposes to give the Secretary of State power to require governing bodies to consider, ay or no, whether they wish to take the proceedings which can lead to contracting-out status. That seems a wholly reasonable power for the Secretary of State to have in case there may be governing bodies who for one reason or anther do not believe it their duty to consider that issue. But that is all that the Bill provides. It seems to me that there is undue sensitivity on the Benches opposite about even asking governing bodies, at the Secretary of State's initiative, to consider the matter one way or another. It seems to me an eminently reasonable proposition. I hope that the Minister will stand firm on it.

Baroness Warnock

Although seeking to be as non-political as possible, the issue is important. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to stability and the powers of planning. With regard to the balloting of parents every year, and the requirement to state why they did not wish to take those proceedings, if they did not, I hope that the answer, "Because we did not wish to" will be sufficient reason.

Nevertheless, I believe that the local authority is put in an intolerably difficult position with regard to planning future arrangements for many aspects of the school if the position as to which schools will remain under the power of the authority is so fluid and unstable. Although it may not be a popular view, I sometimes find it difficult to believe that I am talking about the same local education authorities as those organisations to which the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, refers. Those organisations do make plans and seek to do their best for the schools which remain in their power. Those schools are still numerous.

If local education authorities have to leave entirely open from one year to the next the number of schools for which they will be responsible, their position would become even more difficult than it now is.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

I had not expected to take part in the discussion on this clause, but I wonder whether we are making unduly heavy weather of it. I do not see the provision as quite the bogey that it is being made out to be from both sides of the debate. I am surprised to see the provision in the Bill. Of all of the issues which the Secretary of State might pick out to require a governing body to consider annually, this issue seems surprising.

In addition, I am surprised to find the provision in the Bill because it seems to indicate, if I may dare say so, a slight loss of nerve on the part of the Government that the manifest benefits of grant-maintained schools which they always advocate cannot speak for themselves.

I am anxious because there is such a thing as administrative fidgeting. When one has continually to consider an issue by requirement when one does not wish to, it becomes an irritant. I would be far happier if the clause were deleted, but I do not believe that it is the major issue that we make it out to be.

Lord Hylton

When I was younger it often used to be said that only socialists brought in doctrinaire legislation. I do not believe that that can still be maintained. I believe that there are certain analogies between the right-to-buy for houses and the right to opt out for schools. Both have been introduced without sufficient thought for the remaining stock either of houses or of schools. How can it now be said that opting out is such a superior method when it has been available for so few years? The reputation, value and work of a school is not considered over the time that one individual child attends the school but over a much longer period.

We all agree that there is a great deal to be said for decentralised management and local responsibility for schools. But why cannot that be put into practice under a local authority just as well as under the Department of Education and Science and its appointed quango? Why should the interests of the current parents be allowed to change the character of a school permanently? I hope that at least Clause 21 will be deleted.

Baroness Blatch

I believe that for the first time in the Bill, other than perhaps at Second Reading, we are now beginning to see real pique—pique about a democratic process that pushes down responsibility and power to where it really matters, to the schools. Far from being doctrinaire, we have allowed it to be a voluntary principle. If we were doctrinaire, we would make it a blueprint for all schools. We have not done that. We have allowed schools and their governing bodies to make that decision for themselves.

There is hostility to the idea of grant-maintained schools, and much of what has been said stems from that hostility. We are saying that the Bill—and the clause is part of it —enables (it does no more than that) parents and governors to exercise their preference under the law to opt for grant-maintained status. There is no compulsion about that. Within the process Clause 21 addresses part of that procedure. There is a modest requirement. The right reverend Prelate was critical but he said that we are making heavy weather of it and we certainly are. The Secretary of State simply requires that governing bodies of their respective schools should address the question. The provision does not ask them to come to a particular conclusion and it does no more than require governing bodies at an annual meeting to report their views.

The right reverend Prelate is wrong. The provision is not singled out for special treatment. It adds to a raft of information that local governing bodies are required to report annually to parents: achievements of children in schools; how the governing body runs the school; policy for sex education; policy for moral and spiritual education; many curricula issues; and reporting on children. The provision happens to be one more part of that policy.

The noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, challenged my noble friend Lady Cox, asking how she can possibly declare the policy a success. He stated that, after all, there are only seven such schools in Wales. There will be nearly 1,000 ballots in England. The noble Lord misses the point entirely. The road to grant-maintained status is voluntary. Parents can start the process as and when they wish. But with regard to those schools which have chosen the route to grant-maintained status there is a survey that tells us that it has been a success. That is the way to judge the policy.

Lord Dormand of Easington

The Minister does not deal with the point. I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, that the policy has not succeeded. I gave two examples. Perhaps Wales is the best—it may be the worst—example to give. The point was made that the policy is successful. If only seven schools have opted out, out of 2,000, after all this time, we argue that the policy has not been successful on the terms that were put by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox.

Baroness Blatch

The noble Lord misses the point. He has not accepted that it is an enabling Bill which allows schools freely to choose. If schools in Wales wish to go on being LEA-maintained schools for all time, they are entirely free to do so. If they wish to become grant-maintained schools, in the Bill we have made it possible for them to do that too.

However, I wish to say one thing, and with feeling. The reason that the noble Lord opposite, his colleagues, noble Lords on the Liberal Benches, and one or two Members on the Cross-Benches are so concerned—they are running scared—is because there is a growing awareness that grant-maintained status has benefits for schools. However, as long as we live in a free world it will be a free and wholly democratic opportunity for parents to exercise their right under the law.

In Clause 21 we simply ask for a raft of information. We simply require governing bodies to address the question. There is no requirement for them to come to a definitive view. They freely arrive at a view and that view is transmitted to the governing body.

Noble Lords


Baroness Blatch

If the noble Baroness will wait for a moment, of course I shall give way. I just wish to deal with the point that she raised about the reference to specified areas. The only reason for that is that it allows my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales to implement that part of the policy in his own time, as it relates to his area of Wales, and it allows my right honourable friend who is responsible for English schools to make his decision about when it should apply to his area of concern, which is England.

4.30 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee

I thank the Minister for that explanation, although the wording of the provisions would still allow an order to be made in respect of smaller geographical areas than simply the country. The reason I wish to intervene was the Minister's accusation that Members on these Benches and other Benches are running scared. I hope that she will accept that many of us on all sides of the House are school governors who have interests of different kinds in the education of children in the areas which we represent. Some come to it through a local authority background, some through other backgrounds. However, our interest is for the children and the best education; it is not a knee-jerk reaction to protect local education authorities for the sake of it.

Baroness Blatch

I was addressing an inconsistency in the arguments put by the noble Baroness and Members on the Labour Benches. If people are dismissive about there being only seven schools in Wales and between 700 and 800 schools in England, with just under 1,000 ballots, with many schools which have not decided, they have absolutely nothing to worry about. The rest of the schools remain LEA-maintained for all time. I suggest that there is a growing awareness that it is a beneficial road down which to travel and more and more schools are showing an interest; otherwise there would be none. I suggest that the anxiety about this enabling power—and that is all it is—is that it is catching on as a rather good idea. I reiterate that the clause should stand part of the Bill.

Lord Judd

This has been a useful debate and I agree with the right reverend Prelate that it is not the most important issue in the Bill, but it is pretty central to the anxieties about the Bill. What I wish to put to the Minister, if I may have her attention, is that, if she is so committed to democratic decisions and free discussions, why does she not respond positively to the idea that what we should therefore do now is to have a good, honest, national debate about the issue, enable governing bodies throughout the country to vote this year in the context of that debate and then to leave the field clear by agreement for four or five years until we return to the subject. That would be healthy. It would enable all the cases to be honestly put, there could be the maximum discussion in the media and parents could reach their decisions in an open, democratic climate. Listening to the Minister and others, I shall have to give serious consideration to the idea of bringing in a new clause to that effect on Report stage.

Meanwhile, a couple of points must be picked up from what was said. First, there has been a reference to intimidation. It is an easy reference to make, but I ask those who made it please to inform the House where any single charge by Ministers of intimidation has been legally substantiated. I know of no such example, but perhaps I am lacking information.

The Minister talked about democracy, which we discussed the other night. Democracy is about the balance of democracy between the centre and local democracy. The second point which we must recognise is that responsible local democratic representatives have a duty to make sure that people who are considering an important step for their school should address the issue in a climate, as the Minister said, of open discussion, with full understanding of all the factors involved. Therefore, the local education authority has a responsibility to ensure that all the information and relevant factors about such a decision have been taken fully into account.

The other point which I find interesting in the Minister's observations is this. I willingly accept that I may have misunderstood the situation, in which case I hope genuinely that the Minister will put me right. But as I understand it, governors are now perfectly free to decide in their responsible work that this is the time to consider whether to go for an opt-out decision. They do not have to be harangued and told every year that they must have it on their agenda. This is what is so offensive. People are not paid to do this public service; they are doing it voluntarily because of their commitment to the children.

Baroness Blatch

I shall readily respond to that point. There are indeed governing bodies throughout the land—and I hope there will be increasingly fewer of them—which are hostile to the idea of grant-maintained status. I suggest to the noble Lord that it is quite an intimidating process for a parent to be sufficiently pushy to start a petition. We are simply saying that each governing body should address this issue once a year and then tell the parents at the annual meeting what its view is. If the governing body comes back year after year saying, "We thought about it and we don't like it for the following reasons", at least it gives a natural opportunity for those parents who are intimidated by the process.

While I am on my feet, perhaps I may respond to the noble Lord's invitation to find his idea more attractive that there should be one once-and-for-all vote by all schools on one day, at a chosen time to be prescribed in law. Everyone will vote and thereafter no one will return to it for five years. There is a degree of democracy between us here that is serious. I believe that my idea is more democratic. I suspect that the motive behind the noble Lord's suggestion is that there would be a wonderful general election-type campaign, with all the intimidation and hostility that would arise, and the fur would fly until the day when it was all decided. Then people would not be allowed to return to the subject for five years, because the noble Lord's suggestion would dictate that in Parliament.

We simply say: "Governors, address the question once a year and talk to your parents about it. Parents and governors, as and when you think fit, maybe later, maybe sometime, feel free under this legislation to exercise your democratic rights".

Baroness Warnock

Will the noble Baroness answer one question which was asked but which she has not quite addressed? Why should schools not be entitled to opt back into the local education authority if they wish? Choosing every year whether or not to opt out is in a way reasonable. The school population changes. Parents change, and it may seem wrong for one generation of parents to have chosen for future generations of parents. However, why should not those future generations of parents have a chance to opt back in again? I should like to have that question seriously addressed.

Baroness Blatch

That very debate will take considerable time later today. There is an amendment which addresses the point.

Lord Judd

That was again an interesting intervention. I agree with the right reverend Prelate that this is not the most important issue, but it clearly raises a number of anxieties. But what I do not understand in the Minister's position is this. If we had a once-and-for-all vote—and I find the Minister's observations on general elections and democracy rather interesting: that they are intimidating occasions which frighten the electorate—

Baroness Blatch

I said a general election-type campaign with a once-and-for-all vote, not allowing parents any freedom in the following five years to exercise their democratic right.

Lord Judd

The Minister obviously speaks with some experience of general election-type campaigns. If that is how she sees them, so be it. It is not for me to comment. I should have hoped that in a democracy a general election was the high point when people were asked to make a very important decision about the future of their country, a high moment in the life of the nation rather than something about which we should all be anxious.

Returning to the point, even if we had such an open and good discussion and reached a decision, certainly all we suggest is that during the ensuing years there should not be an obligation to consider the matter every year; but whenever the governors wished—say next month, or whenever they wanted—we would be perfectly happy for them to put it back on their agenda by their own decision. But they should not be pressed by the Government to do so.

There is one other point which we overlook, and I am sure that Members on all sides of the Committee agree that to do so would be a little naive. A campaign is being waged by a number of very committed people. I do not suggest that the Minister is actively involved in it, but there are people who are very committed to the concept of opting out of grant-maintained status. It is absolutely certain that if that issue had to be considered, those people would be pressing, persuading and trying to get it onto the agenda. In this case, our anxiety is that the particular governing body might feel in its wisdom that there were more important things on which it should concentrate its precious time in terms of the quality of the school and the education, and of getting on with the job. It is a seriously disruptive and time-wasting exercise to be forced into this debate year after year with all the attendant anxieties for teachers, parents and others. For those reasons, while agreeing that we have more important issues to move on to, we cannot let slip this significant issue and I am afraid I must ask the Committee to divide.

4.41 p.m.

On Question, Whether Clause 21 shall stand part of the Bill?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 141; Not-Contents, 92.

Division No. 1
Aldington, L. Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Elton, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Faithfull, B.
Annaly, L. Ferrers, E.
Annan, L. Finsberg, L.
Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, L. Flather, B.
Forte, L.
Arran, E. Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Astor, V. Gainford, L.
Attlee, E. Gisborough, L.
Auckland, L. Goschen, V.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.
Bessborough, E.
Blatch, B. Halsbury, E.
Blyth, L. Harding of Petherton, L.
Boardman, L. Hardwicke, E.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Harvington, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Hayhoe, L.
Braine of Wheatley, L. Henley, L.
Brigstocke, B. Hesketh, L. [Teller.]
Brougham and Vaux, L. HolmPatrick, L.
Cadman, L. Hooper, B.
Caithness, E. Howe, E.
Campbell of Croy, L. Ironside, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Jellicoe, E.
Carnock, L. Jenkin of Roding, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B. Killearn, L.
Chelmsford, V. Kilmarnock, L.
Clanwilliam, E. Knollys, V.
Clark of Kempston, L Layton, L.
Colwyn, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Liverpool, E.
Cox, B. Long, V.
Craigavon, V. Lucas, L.
Cranborne, V. Lyell, L.
Cross, V. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Cumberlege, B.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Davidson, V. Manton, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Marlesford, L.
Downshire, M. Merrivale, L.
Dundonald, E. Mersey, V.
Eden of Winton, L. Milverton, L.
Ellenborough, L. Montagu of Beaulieu, L.
Elles, B. Moyne, L.
Munster, E. Simon of Glaisdale, L.
Nelson, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Newcastle, Bp. Skidelsky, L.
O'Brien of Lothbury, L. Stewartby, L.
Orkney, E. Strathclyde, L.
Orr-Ewing, L. Strathmore and Kinghorne, E. [Teller.]
Oxfuird, V.
Park of Monmouth, B. Sudeley, L.
Pearson of Rannoch, L. Swinfen, L.
Pender, L. Swinton, E.
Peyton of Yeovil, L. Tebbit, L.
Quinton, L. Terrington, L.
Rankeillour, L. Teviot, L.
Reay, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L. Trumpington, B.
Rennell, L. Ullswater, V.
Renton, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Renwick, L. Vivian, L.
Rodger of Earlsferry, L. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Roskill, L. Wakeham, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]
St. Davids, V.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly. Walker of Worcester, L.
Sandford, L. Weir, V.
Shannon, E. Westbury, L.
Sharpies, B. Wilberforce, L.
Sherfleld, L. Winchester, Bp.
Shrewsbury, E. Wolfson, L.
Acton, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Addington, L. [Teller.] John-Mackie, L.
Airedale, L. Judd, L.
Allen of Abbeydale, L. Kilbracken, L.
Ardwick, L. Kinloss, Ly.
Aylestone, L. Lawrence, L.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E. Listowel, E.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Blackstone, B. Lockwood, B.
Bonham-Carter, L. Longford, E.
Boston of Faversham, L. Macaulay of Bragar, L.
Bristol, Bp. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Broadbridge, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Mayhew, L.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L. Merlyn-Rees, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Mishcon, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Monkswell, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Mulley, L.
Davies, L. Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Northfield, L.
Diamond, L. Ogmore, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Plant of Highfield, L.
Eatwell, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Ennals, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Ewing of Kirkford, L. Rea, L.
Falkland, V. Redesdale, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Richard, L.
Foot, L. Rochester, L.
Gainsborough, E. Russell, E.
Gallacher, L. Sainsbury, L.
Geraint, L. Seear, B.
Gladwyn, L. Serota, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.] Shaughnessy, L.
Stedman, B.
Hampton, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Hamwee, B. Strabolgi, L.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Holme of Cheltenham, L. Thurlow, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Tordoff, L.
Howell, L. Warnock, B.
Hunt, L. White, B.
Hunt of Tanworth, L. Wigoder, L.
Hylton, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Hylton-Foster, B.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Clause 21 agreed to accordingly.

Clause 22 [Initiation of procedure by governing body]:

4.51 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 100BA: Page 11, line 19, at the beginning insert: ("(1A) Where the governing body of a school which is eligible for grant-maintained status decide by a resolution passed at a meeting of that body (`the first resolution') to hold such a ballot of parents on the question of whether grant-maintained status should be sought for the school, they shall confirm that decision, after the consultations required by subsection (1B) below, by a resolution (`the second resolution') passed at a subsequent meeting of the governing body held not less than twenty-eight days, not more than forty-two days, after that at which the first resolution was passed. (1B) Immediately following the passing of the first resolution the governing body shall—

  1. (a) in the case of a county school consult the local authority by whom the school is maintained, or
  2. (b) in the case of a voluntary school, consult the trustees of the school.
(1C) Immediately following the passing of the second resolution the governing body shall secure that the ballot is held in accordance with section 25 of this Act within the period of three months beginning with the date of the resolution.").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment is grouped with a number of other amendments but I shall speak specifically to Amendment No. 100BA. This is a very practical amendment, although I appreciate that the Committee may feel it is rather a political one. It is certainly fairly long. Its purpose is to reintroduce the requirement in Section 60 of the 1988 Education Reform Act for a second governors' resolution before an opt-out ballot goes ahead. The amendment reproduces the major provision of Section 60 of that Act.

The proposed removal of the requirement that currently exists—namely, that there are two affirmative resolutions before a parental ballot takes place—would have the effect of reducing by up to six weeks the period of notice given to parents that a ballot is to be held. It may be felt that many parents have little idea of how the schools are run under the local management of schools system and even less idea about the implications of grant-maintained status. It is common for governing bodies to take weeks or even months to investigate the factors that they should consider before a decision is taken on what the Department for Education itself describes as such a critical issue.

I am sure that the Committee will agree that parents should not be expected to make a decision in an unreasonably short time. There may be problems with heads or governors not alerting parents to the statutory rights to inspect or have a copy of the list of parents, or indeed have their names removed from the list of parents that is supplied to other people. That is all relevant to the exchange of information and opinion and the debate between parents. Perhaps there would not be a period of time in which to arrange enough meetings. In other words, the short period may inhibit a proper debate of the issue.

The Department for Education's booklet entitled How to become a grant-maintained school states at paragraph 13: That debate … will no doubt be well under way before the ballot is actually held". The Secretary of State has made it clear that he expects such debate to be properly conducted. Reducing the period available for that debate by up to six weeks would considerably reduce the opportunity for parents to arrive at a properly informed decision. It would also make it possible—if I said "easy" it might be an implication as to motives, which I am not sure I necessarily want to make —for governors to pass the one necessary resolution during or perhaps just before a school holiday and start the ballot fairly early at the start of the next term. For instance, this year 111 ballots were held closing between 1st September and 30th October. The term began on or about 7th October and the ballot period therefore was around three weeks in many cases. Ballots begun within four weeks of the start of term hardly gave a chance for the debate to be (I quote again from the department's literature): well under way before the ballot".

I look forward to the Minister's explanation of why and in what way the current provision does not work. If in fact it does work, I suggest that it should be reproduced in the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Judd

In view of the rather large grouping of amendments, I hope that the Committee will forgive me if I speak for a few more moments than would normally be the case. I hope that the right reverend prelate will not feel that I am poaching on his territory. I ought to declare a kind of interest in that I chair the Board of Social Responsibility of my own diocese and therefore have been brought up to date rather well with what has been going on.

I shall speak first to Amendments Nos. 100C and 101A which are intended to continue the requirement for a voluntary school's governing body to consult its diocesan board before initiating a ballot on grant-maintained status. I should like to speak in some specific detail on this matter.

The Diocesan Boards of Education Measure, 1991, provides first that the governors of a Church of England voluntary school who are considering grant-maintained status must receive within 21 days of passing the first resolution the advice of the board for the diocese and have regard to that advice before confirming the decision by a further resolution. Secondly, it provides that the statement sent to the Secretary of state with the proposals shall include an account of the advice given by the board and provide confirmation that the governing body of the school has had regard to that advice and, if it has departed from it, give its reason for so doing.

The Measure received Royal Assent on 25th July 1991 and came into effect on 1st August 1991. In my own diocese of Oxford it was noticed that the advice sent out by the Department for Education on how to become a grant-maintained school made no reference to that provision while appearing to give precise procedural advice to all schools seeking grant-maintained status. The director of schools in the diocese therefore wrote to the Schools 4 branch of the DFE on 28th October 1992 and again on 18th November 1992 but, I am sorry to report, received no reply. In December he telephoned and was told that the issue was under consideration and had an effect on the Bill now before Parliament.

He then wrote to DFE Schools 4 branch on 4th January this year, after consulting national officers and lawyers of the General Synod Board of Education and Midland Diocesan Directors. In that letter he stressed that the DBE was neutral about whether church schools should stay with LEAs or become grant maintained, but it was embarrassing to have to inform governors that the DFE was sending to church schools incorrect printed advice while publicly attacking LEAs for any slightly misleading information which was circulated to parents of schools considering grant-maintained status. He specifically asked whether officials considered the Secretary of State, the DFE and church schools to be required by law to abide by the contents of the DBE measure. He asked: Was it an administrative error or a political decision that the implication of these paragraphs was not included in the DFE publication How to become a grant-maintained school". He also asked whether the DFE intended to remove the opportunity for DBEs to be consulted by removing the second resolution of the Bill and questioned why, in what is now paragraph 22b and Schedule 3, paragraph 11, diocesan boards of education were excluded from the consultation procedure.

He received a reply from the DFE on 8th January 1993—incidentally dated 1992—stating: The Diocesan Measure was introduced after the last edition of the department's booklet was printed. The provisions of the Measure will, however, be referred to in the next edition of the Guidance which is currently under consideration". The reply went on to say that the DFE does not intend to exclude DBEs from the consultative process and that discussions are being held with the General Synod and the Catholic Education Service about amendments.

He replied on 18th January 1993 welcoming their recognition that the DBE Measure 1991 had the force of law, suggesting that the relevant paragraphs from the DBE Measure should be printed on the erratum slip which was included in the copy of How to become a grant-maintained school, which he had received, and looking forward to seeing the DFE proposals for consultation with DBEs.

As I understand it the latest position is, first, a letter from the DFE dated 18th March 1993 stating: The Department consulted the General Synod Board of Education about the Education Bill's effects on the Diocesan Boards of Education Measure. It has been agreed that Governing Bodies of Church of England Voluntary Schools should in future be required to give 7 days notice to their Diocesan Board where they will be considering Grant Maintained Status at a meeting. They will also be required to have regard to any advice the Board gives. Amendments to this effect are planned to be introduced in the House of Lords". Like many other members of the diocese, I find that a nonsense. It is totally unrealistic for the DBE to give advice on that basis. Once the Bill is law all schools will be required to consider GM status once a year. Presumably they will simply be required to send the DBE notice that the item is on the agenda. The practice hitherto has been to give advice relating to each school's specific circumstances. The arrangement as proposed would mean that, allowing for the post, the DBE's staff of about three people would have approximately two days in which to put advice together.

Secondly, meanwhile, as chairman of governors of his local county primary school, Watlington, the director received a letter from the DFE dated 29th March 1993 with three new glossy Citizen's Charter DFE booklets on grant-maintained schools, Questions Parents Ask, Experiences During the First Year and Questions Staff Ask, and the old DFE booklet How to become a grant-maintained school. In the last there is a printed erratum slip which amends paragraph 12 but totally ignores paragraph 10 on the same page, which refers to the procedures with DBEs.

When he spoke to the DFE officers on 5th April he was told that they wanted to include the DBE Measure advice in a newly-written booklet which they have been working on for many months. They totally denied the suggestion that they did not intend to publish it until the Bill became law and superseded the provision within the DBE Measure.

Thirdly, it is now clear that Schedule 16, page 222, paragraphs 132 to 136, change the 1988 Act references to the 1993 in relation to consultation with DBE boards about grant-maintained status, but make no reference at all to paragraph 3(4) of the Measure which required governors to consult the DBE between the first and second resolutions—a duty which the Bill would remove completely or replace with the seven-day proposal.

In all humility I suggest that at best this is a story of bureaucratic confusion of which we have seen far too much surrounding this Bill already or, at worst, I hate to think what it is. The amendment is intended to clarify the situation beyond doubt and to meet the spirit of the 1991 Measure.

Perhaps I can move on and refer to some of the other amendments—for example, Clause 24, page 12, line 21 and the amendments there. The purpose is to make it an offence for the governing body to fail to supply the required information, but at the same time to protect privacy where that is requested by parents.

Failure promptly to supply the parental list when requested to do so by a parent is one of the more widespread abuses of the present opt-out procedures and currently passes without penalty or, apparently, any other detriment to the governing body or hindrance to the ballot. In giving parents the right to be supplied with a copy of the list, it is obviously Parliament's intention that parents should have the opportunity and means to communicate with each other. It is exactly the spirit of democracy about which the Minister was speaking so sincerely this afternoon. Conversely, where parents do not want their names disclosed, that is a right which must be protected and those parents must be free of canvassing by any side in the debate.

The failure to comply with the requirement to supply the list, I suggest, substantially inhibits or may totally prevent that opportunity for parents to contact each other. Such failure sometimes arises because the governing body is unaware of its duty in that regard or has not made the necessary preparations. However, it frequently arises quite cynically, because governors positively intend to inhibit the free circulation of material between parents. It is therefore proper that that behaviour is made an offence with an appropriate penalty attached.

Turning to Clause 28, page 14, the purpose of these amendments is to make the failure to disclose names and addresses of registered pupils sufficient reason for the ballot to be declared void. Where a governing body does not comply with the requirements to supply parents with a copy of the list and thus inhibits parents' rights to communicate with each other and circulate literature in the period of the debate preceding a ballot, it is surely appropriate that that ballot should be declared void and then re-run. I suggest that that is the least that could be done to meet the democratic principles which we have heard underlined from the other side today.

The lack of such a possibility under the present Act means that in the all-too-frequent circumstances where there is delay or obstruction in the supply of the parents list, there is no remedy available and the result of the ballot stands. The knowledge that a breach of Clause 24 could result in a re-ballot would reduce the incidence of such breaches. I beg to move.

Lord Elton

Before the noble Lord sits down perhaps he can help the Committee. He referred to his later amendments by the line and page number—I quite understand his reasons for doing so—while we were struggling with the amendment numbers. Does he have a piece of paper which would enable him to translate one to the other.

Lord Judd

That is a perfectly fair point. I was referring to Amendments Nos. 103, 104, 105 and 112. I apologise.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

We are sorry to adopt shift work on this side of the Chamber but we are talking to so much. For my part, I shall probably withdraw Amendment No. 103, since we agree with the noble Baroness's Amendment No. 102A, which meets my anxieties. I shall address Amendments Nos. 101 and 102.

Under the present system where we require two governors' resolutions, there has been a significant number of schools where the timing of resolutions has been such that much of the period between the second resolution and the ballot falls over or during a school holiday. The proposal to dispose of the second resolution will leave parents far more vulnerable to a surprise ballot shortly after the start of term, thus reducing their opportunity to gather information and discuss the issues.

It should not be permissible to hold a ballot without a four-week period of term time during which parents have time and opportunity to discuss the issues. Therefore the period between the governors' resolution and the dispatch of ballot papers by the prescribed body should include at least 30 school days. There should be a similar time gap if the ballot is initiated by a group of parents.

From the initiation of a ballot by either governors' resolution or parents' petition, there should be a 14-day period during which any checking and/or amendment of the electoral roll of parents should be done. At the end of that period the roll is closed and may be forwarded to the Electoral Reform Society. The ERS requires a few days to make preparations following receipt of the electoral roll before it dispatches the ballot papers. I believe that the period between dispatch of the ballot papers and the close of the ballot is some 21 days. It is therefore clear that from a strictly practical point of view the period required between initiation and closure of a ballot is a minimum of 36 days (15 and 21), plus the time required by the ERS; say a total of 40 days. That represents a period of approximately six weeks; that is, the same period as 30 days during which the school is in session. If parents are to have a genuine opportunity to inform themselves and debate the issues involved in opting out, it is reasonable for the minimum practicable period between initiation and completion of the ballot to be one during which the school is in session.

The current guidance from the Secretary of State—which I believe is contained in the booklet How to become a grant-maintained school—already advises governors that they will have to agree with the ERS a closing date for the ballot which, while being consistent with a statutory timetable, allows adequate preparation time and, if at all possible, falls during term time. The effect of these amendments is to ensure that it is always possible for that to be the case if the shortest timetable is followed. If a longer timetable is adopted parents will have a period of at least six weeks between initiation and completion of the ballot for that purpose. It is important to note that in either case three weeks of the period available are occupied by the ballot itself. Thus, on the basis of the shortest timetable parents will have only three weeks of school time to debate the issue prior to ballot papers being distributed.

I hope that the Minister will consider these to be reasonable amendments that deal with the practicalities of a fair balloting process.

Lord Redesdale

I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 102A and 104. I thought that I would be speaking to Amendment No. 103 but it has been withdrawn from the Marshalled List. A ballot as to whether to change to grant-maintained status depends upon a number of factors that will apply differently to individual schools. Parents should be making an informed decision on whether the school should change to grant-maintained status. Only during term time will it be possible for parents to obtain the information that they need. As parents will be taking part in the ballot and there will be two sides to it, those who wish the school to remain under the LEA should be given a chance to talk to parents who are of a like mind in that situation. These amendments simply try to create a situation in which the ballot can be conducted in a democratic fashion.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

In summing up on all of these amendments I shall address the two amendments in my name, Amendments Nos. 101ZA and 102A. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, seem to be suggesting in Amendment No. 100BA that the Government should reinstate in the Bill the provisions currently contained in the Education Reform Act whereby the governing body must pass two resolutions before it can proceed to ballot parents. The noble Baroness went on to say that the system worked and that if the Government believed that to be so they should leave it alone. The system does work but in the light of experience the Government believe that it could work even better. The amendments that we have put down are a positive response to what governors and parents have said to us.

Experience of the Education Reform Act provisions has clearly shown that the need for two resolutions acts as a hindrance to schools in pursuing the grant-maintained option and delays governing bodies that are keen to open up the issue for determination by parents. That is why the provisions of the Bill will enable governing bodies to initiate the process after a single resolution. The decision whether to apply for grant-maintained status is one for parents. Once a governing body has passed a resolution it is important that parents are given the right to consider the issue and express their views as soon as possible.

I turn now to Amendments Nos. 100C, 101A and 333A tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I recognise that the provisions of the Bill that remove the requirement for a second resolution by the governing body prior to parents being balloted introduce an inconsistency in Clause 3(4) of the Diocesan Boards of Education Measure 1991. That is clearly the issue that the noble Lord is seeking to address in the amendments. Officials in my department have been liaising with representatives of the Church of England. We have agreed that an amendment should be made to Schedule 16 to the Bill to allow the local diocesan board to have written notification of a resolution for a grant-maintained ballot being placed on the agenda at the same time as the governing body and the local authority are notified.

The amendment would also require the governing body to have regard to any advice that the board may put to the meeting of the governing body. This would reflect the arrangements that will also be made in respect of notification to governors and local authorities by virtue of the amendment to the school government regulations which my honourable friend announced in another place. In practice it would ensure that the local diocese is given at least seven days' notice of the proposed discussion and would have an opportunity to offer advice to the governing body which that governing body could take into account at the meeting at which the resolution is to be discussed. I propose to bring forward an amendment along those lines at Report stage.

It is important to recognise that the thrust of the Education Bill is to speed up the ballot process and any provisions for consultations that have to be made in this context. I should emphasise however that our proposed amendment to the measure continues to enshrine the principle that the governors should have regard to advice from the Diocesan Board of Education and in that sense places the board in a more favourable position than other parties that may have an interest in the future of the school.

It is also important to recognise that the existing provisions in the measure pre-date the requirement in Clause 21 for all maintained schools to consider the grant-maintained option annually. Any new procedure must be compatible with that requirement. Local diocesan boards will be aware that their schools will be considering the option on a regular basis and will be able to provide them with information accordingly.

During consideration of the Bill in the other place the Minister accepted in principle Opposition amendments tabled to require governing bodies to give notice in writing to local authorities, and trustees where appropriate, that a ballot is to be held within two working days of either the resolution or petition. The Government undertook to bring forward amendments on this basis after consultation with parliamentary counsel. Members on all sides of that House were keen that those interested parties received quick notification of the intention to hold a ballot, thereby ensuring that they were in a position to provide information to parents, if they wished to do so, and securing scope for adequate debate before parents were asked to vote on the issue. The spirit of the amendments was to ensure that governing bodies issued their notice to the LEA and trustees no later than two working days after their resolution or petition. In law, the notion of giving notice enables such notice to be sent by post. However, under the normal rules for posting, two working days will not give the governing body sufficient time to send the notice by post.

I am sure that no one wishes to impose requirements upon governing bodies which they will be unable to meet in practice. In the circumstances, these amendments allow governing bodies a period of five working days beginning with the date of the resolution or petition to give notice of a ballot. This remains in keeping with the spirit of the amendments accepted in principle in the other place as it will effectively provide two working days to prepare and post a letter and two working days for postal delivery. It will ensure that local authorities and trustees receive early notification of an intention to hold a ballot while affording schools some flexibility in making arrangements for giving their notice. I commend this to the House and move that my Amendments Nos. 101ZA and 102A are accepted at the appropriate time.

I should now like to turn to Amendments Nos. 101 and 102 tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady David. The Government believe in speeding up the ballot process. We are considering bringing forward an amendment to reduce the statutory length of time in which to hold a ballot from three months to 10 weeks. But we firmly believe that it is for individual governing bodies to determine the timescale for the ballot within statutory limits.

The governing body is best placed to determine what is right for the detailed timing of the ballot. Its knowledge of local circumstances and the particular school concerned makes it best placed to make such decisions. Our policy is to give schools the maximum amount of flexibility in determining their own timescale, within a statutory framework.

Where governing bodies believe they are ready to seek parents' views on the grant-maintained issue, there is no reason for placing unnecessary statutory obstacles in their way. Our policy is to remove obstacles which act as a hindrance to schools pursuing the grant-maintained option and which delay governing bodies that are keen to open up the issue for determination by parents.

The amendment suggested by the noble Baroness would prohibit a ballot during any time in which the school was not in session. That would be a further limitation on the arrangements which the governing body has to make. We believe that schools should be free to ballot at any stage of the year.

The ballot itself is by post; and I see no reason to prevent schools from carrying out ballot procedures during school holidays if they choose to do so, taking into account of course the possible effect on the numbers voting. There is such a gestation period from the start of this process that this will be information well known to parents.

It is for parents to decide whether to apply for grant-maintained status; and once a governing body has taken a resolution, it is important that parents are given their right to consider the issue and to express their views as soon as possible. Our policy is to enable governing bodies to put that issue to parents at the earliest opportunity. This is fundamental to the policy of ensuring that parental choice is the key factor underlying any application for grant-maintained status.

As I have said on numerous occasions, it is for parents to decide whether to apply for grant-maintained status; and once a governing body has taken a resolution, it is important that parents are given their right to consider the issue and to express their views as soon as possible. This clause enables governing bodies to put that issue to parents at the earliest opportunity.

Clause 24 of the Bill places governing bodies under a statutory duty to make available the parental list to any parents who request it in the context of a grant-maintained ballot. Any governing body which fails to make available a copy of the list is already in breach of its statutory duties under the legislation. Clause 24(3) gives parents the option of removing their name and address from the list which will be made available, if they wish to protect their confidentiality. I do not see any reason for placing financial sanctions on the chairmen of governing bodies. In my experience, the fact that a statutory duty exists is generally sufficient to ensure that governing bodies comply with their responsibilities in this respect. In practice, the majority of governing bodies are only too anxious to comply with all their statutory obligations in the acquisition of GM status in order to ensure that their application cannot be subject to challenge.

I am also totally resistant to the idea that we should create a criminal offence—a criminal offence on volunteers!—which impinges on individuals who volunteer for public service as school governors. The noble Lord is looking worried. There is judicial review and a challenge to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

Schools cannot guarantee the confidentiality of the parental list once it is made available to individual parents. In very many cases, the list is simply passed on to third parties who wish to campaign during the ballot. Understandably, parents do not want their names and addresses to become widely available with no control over their dissemination.

This, however, is a different matter to the governing body using the names and addresses within the school's possession to send information to parents. Parents are confident that the school will have the best interests of the parents at heart and would protect the confidentiality of their names and addresses. In view of the governing body's unique position and experience of the school in question, parents are naturally keen to hear the governing body's views about the options available to them. Clearly, if parents do not wish to read information provided by the governing body, they can simply throw it away!

Amendment No. 112 would further increase the Secretary of State's powers to declare void a ballot. However, the provisions of Clause 24 allow for the parental list to be requested by parents at any time during the year; not only once a ballot is underway. We believe that the existing statutory requirements are sufficient sanction for any governing body which fails in its duties under Clause 24.

Let me repeat that I see no reason for placing further sanctions, financial or otherwise, on those governing bodies. In my experience, the fact that a statutory duty exists is generally sufficient to ensure that governing bodies comply with their responsibilities in this respect. In practice, the majority of governing bodies are only too anxious to comply with all their statutory obligations in the acquisition of grant-maintained status in order to ensure that their application cannot be subject to challenge.

I said that I would move my amendments at the appropriate time. Perhaps I may end by addressing a specific point made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. He sought to make something of a mountain out of a molehill as regards the issue of the Oxford diocesan Measure. I assure him that the amendments which he is seeking to the department's guidance to governors on the procedures for holding ballots for grant-maintained status will be included in a new edition of the governors' booklet which will be available later this term. There is no question of our seeking to hold back this information until after the passage of the Bill. Indeed, there is no good reason why we should.

Lord Judd

I am grateful to the Minister for having replied so fully. I find it rather hard to take the point about making mountains out of molehills. The other night the Minister issued an invitation to me which I readily accepted. I should like her to meet some of the people involved in the diocese to discover whether they feel that we are making a mountain out of a molehill. This is a matter which we are all worried about. I know that the Minister cares. I hope that she will take the point that a great deal of the anxiety which surrounds the Bill at the moment is precisely because of what is seen as bureaucratic high handedness. The Minister should come to terms with that.

If something happens on the part of the department which is unacceptable, wrong advice has been sent to schools. That is not making a mountain out of a molehill, particularly when the Minister herself makes so much play of the responsibility of the local education authorities to get matters right. I do not dissent from her view on that. In the same kind of way, what people are worried about is the apparent absence of even handedness. It may not be intended by the Minister. There is an apparent absence of even handedness in the sense that all the wrath of the law can be assembled and used to threaten the local authority should it err, but that the Government are in a much more relaxed position about governors.

I find it interesting how different aspects of the government's responsibilities are covered in different ways. Not many months' ago, and not before time, I was glad to give support to a Bill not least because of my own experience in life. We saw a Bill through this House concerning the revision of charities in this country which introduced very firm obligations on trustees with very real sanctions if they did not fulfil their responsibilities. I do not see that anything which we are suggesting here is different from the same laudable principles that were introduced in the Government's own Bill on charities.

Perhaps I may say in conclusion that I am sorry that we are taking the Minister's concern for democracy seriously. We are suggesting that what is being put forward in these amendments would actually enhance the process of democracy and consideration. We noticed that the Minister said several times that once the governors have decided, it is important to get on with the job. The Minister used slightly different words, but that was the message. That slightly contrasts with her great emphasis on the democratic spirit. What matters is that people are given a real opportunity to debate and get the right result. All of these amendments are designed for that purpose.

It is because of our commitment to the principle of democracy and real discussion which the Minister so firmly underlines—I hope that she will accept my sincerity on this point—that we are determined to pursue these amendments in the Division Lobbies this afternoon.

5.30 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

Perhaps I may be greatly daring and try to come in between the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, especially in relation to Amendment No. 101A which refers specifically to "Diocesan Boards of Education". I do not know whether this is a mountain or a molehill, but I shall for a moment climb on top of a sand castle.

The position as I understand it is that the Diocesan Boards of Education Measure needs amendment because it will now be outdated as a result of the provisions enshrined in this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, has suggested that the Diocesan Boards of Education should be given 21 days' notice, as is the case in the present Diocesan Boards of Education Measure. My own preference would be for 21 days rather than seven days. I say that for two reasons. The first is because in the cases in question the Church is the owner, through trustees, of the church building and any decision about its status would therefore be more far-reaching than in the corresponding case of a local education authority which is administering a building. Furthermore, we do not have the resources of a local education authority and therefore cannot always move with the requisite speed.

Although my preference is for 21 days' notice, we have none the less agreed in consultation with the department that we should work, very properly, on the corresponding notice which is given to the local education authority, which is seven days. The Church must be prepared, unusually, to move rather more rapidly than it sometimes does.

In dealing with this amendment, I am sorry that we do not have sight of the amendment which we have been promised to Schedule 16, but I heard the noble Baroness say that she would be tabling such an amendment. It is on that assurance that I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, will not press his amendment. We have negotiated this matter with the department to the satisfaction of the General Synod Board of Education. Although as I have said, my personal preference would have been for us to be given a little more time, I do not think that we can reasonably claim that and I therefore hope that the position, as outlined by the Minister, is in this respect satisfactory.

Baroness Hamwee

The first amendment in the grouping is the one which I moved. Although it was confined to the question of the second resolution, the worries expressed in it have been replicated by other noble Lords when speaking to this and other amendments.

The Minister said that the alteration to the 1988 Act is in response to representations made by governors to make the procedures even better. She spoke about removing obstacles. I see these amendments as providing for a measured pace—not to go impossibly slowly, but not to go so fast that there is no or too little opportunity for sufficient debate. I give way to the Minister.

Baroness Blatch

I wonder whether the noble Baroness will forgive me, but I have spent considerable time listening and responding to the people who physically went through the process. They said that if they were doing it again, these are some of the changes that they would like us to make. We are constantly being pressed—indeed, criticised—for not talking to teachers, governors and parents about these matters. I have spent a lot of time listening and we have responded, and it is in the light of their requests that we have brought forward these changes.

Baroness Hamwee

I wonder whether the Minister would be prepared to consider a rather different amendment which might be tabled at a later stage. I explained that my anxieties were partly because, in not providing for a second resolution, the time during term when there might be discussions could be very short. If the governors passed their resolution during the school holidays or at a time allowing little opportunity during which parents can naturally meet together to have informal debates, such as those that take place in the school playground and perhaps in the local supermarket when mothers—and fathers—get together—

Baroness Seear

When they are queueing.

Baroness Hamwee

Yes, as my noble friend says, when they are queueing. Would the Minister be prepared to consider an amendment (on times in the school year related to school terms) which might alleviate the apprehensions which I have expressed?

Baroness Blatch

I addressed that point in my full reply when I said that I thought that the question of when they should ballot was entirely a matter for parents and that we should not put anything in their way.

Baroness Hamwee

Like other noble Lords, I have listened to what the Minister has said and although I am not impugning her motives in responding to the comments that she has received from enthusiastic governors—I suspect that the representations that have been made come from governors who are enthusiastic to move to grant-maintained status—the people about whom I am concerned are those who, frankly, find the issue confusing and difficult and who would like some time to pause so that they can get their brains around it. I think that my amendment reflects a number of worries that have been raised and I should like to test the opinion of the Committee.

5.36 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No.100BA) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 68; Not-Contents, 122.

Division No. 2
Addington, L. Dean of Beswick, L.
Airedale, L. Diamond, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Dormand of Easington, L.
Ardwick, L. Eatwell, L.
Attlee, E. Ennals, L.
Aylestone, L. Ewing of Kirkford, L.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E. Falkland, V.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Fisher of Rednal, B.
Blackstone, B. Foot, L.
Bonham-Carter, L. Gallacher, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Geraint, L.
Broadbridge, L. Gladwyn, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Hampton, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Hamwee, B.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Hilton of Eggardon, B. [Teller.]
Hollis of Heigham, B. Ogmore, L.
Holme of Cheltenham, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Hunt, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Hylton, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. Rea, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Redesdale, L. [Teller.]
Judd, L. Richard, L.
Kilbracken, L. Rochester, L.
Listowel, E. Russell, E.
Lockwood, B. Seear, B.
Longford, E. Serota, B.
Macaulay of Bragar, L. Shaughnessy, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Masham of Ilton, B. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Mayhew, L. Tordoff, L.
Merlyn-Rees, L. White, B.
Monkswell, L. Wigoder, L.
Mulley, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Aldington, L. Howe, E.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Hylton-Foster, B.
Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, L. Ironside, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L.
Arran, E. Kimball, L.
Astor, V. King of Wartnaby, L.
Banbury of Southam, L. Lane of Horsell, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Lauderdale, E.
Bessborough, E. Layton, L.
Blatch, B. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Blyth, L. Liverpool, E.
Boardman, L. Long, V.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Lucas, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Lyell, L.
Braine of Wheatley, L. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Brigstocke, B. Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Cadman, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Caithness, E. Manton, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Marlesford, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Merrivale, L.
Carnock, L. Mersey, V.
Carr of Hadley, L. Milverton, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B. Moyne, L.
Chelmsford, V. Munster, E.
Clanwilliam, E. Nelson, E.
Clark of Kempston, L. Northbourne, L.
Coleraine, L. Orkney, E.
Colnbrook, L. Oxfuird, V.
Colwyn, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Cox, B. Pender, L.
Craigavon, V. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Cranborne, V. Platt of Writtle, B.
Cross, V. Quinton, L.
Cumberlege, B. Rankeillour, L.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.
Davidson, V. Rennell, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Renton, L.
Downshire, M. Rodger of Earlsferry, L.
Elles, B. St. Davids, V.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. St. John of Bletso, L.
Elton, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Faithfull, B. Sharples, B.
Ferrers, E. Sherfield, L.
Flather, B. Shrewsbury, E.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Gainford, L. Skidelsky, L.
Gisborough, L. Stewartby, L.
Glenarthur, L. Strathclyde, L.
Goschen, V. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.
Strathmore and Kinghorne, E [Teller.]
Hardwicke, E.
Harvington, L. Sudeley, L.
Hayhoe, L. Swinfen, L.
Henley, L. Tebbit, L.
Hesketh, L. [Teller.] Terrington, L.
HolmPatrick, L. Teviot, L.
Hothfield, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Trefgarne, L. Vivian, L.
Trumpington, B. Wakeham, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Ullswater, V.
Vaux of Harrowden, L. Weir, V.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

5.44 p.m.

[Amendments Nos. 100C and 101 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 101ZA: Page 11, line 29, at end insert: ("() Notice under subsection (1) (b) above must be given within the period of five days beginning with the date of the resolution; but in determining that period no account shall be taken of—

  1. (a) Saturday, Sunday, Good Friday and Christmas Day, or
  2. (b) any day which is a bank holiday in England and Wales.").

On Question, amendment agreed to. [Amendment No. 101A not moved.]

Clause 22, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 23 [Initiation of procedure by parents]:

[Amendment No. 102 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 102A: Page 12, line 4, at end insert: ("() Notice under subsection (3) (b) above must be given within the period of five days beginning with the date on which the request was received; but in determining that period no account shall be taken of—

  1. (a) Saturday, Sunday, Good Friday and Christmas Day, or
  2. (b) any day which is a bank holiday in England and Wales.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 23, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 24 [Information as to parents of registered pupils]:

[Amendments Nos. 103 to 105 not moved.]

Clause 24 agreed to.

Clause 25 [Ballot of parents]:

[Amendment No. 106 not moved.]

Clause 25 agreed to.

Clause 26 [Persons eligible to vote in ballot]:

Lord Gisborough moved Amendment No. 106A: Page 13, line 16, at end insert ("but there shall not be cast more than one vote for each pupil.").

The noble Lord said: Clause 26 defines who is eligible to vote in a ballot on the question of grant-maintained status. It provides that any registered parent of a registered pupil at the school may vote. The electoral role for the ballot should comprise the name and address of every parent registered as a parent. The definition of a parent would include natural parents, unless their rights had been removed by court order, and those people, not parents, who may have parental responsibility for a child. Thus one child might have one parent with one vote whereas another might have four parents eligible to vote. It is hard to believe that that is satisfactory. It would cause considerable argument about the validity of the outcome of any vote when some children have four votes or more whereas others have one only. Means should therefore be found to equalise the voting for each pupil. The amendment makes the point, even if the amendment may be defective. However, it creates the problem of who will cast that one vote. This matter should be addressed. I beg to move.

Baroness Faithfull

I rise merely to ask for information. Under the Children Act, whether one likes it or not, a child may have several parents. A parent from whom responsibility has been taken away by the court is nevertheless a parent. A foster parent may have charge of a child but the legal guardian is the local authority. There are then the grandparents who think that they are responsible. I ask for information on that point.

Lord Henley

Before anyone else responds, I wonder whether we are speaking only to Amendment No. 106A. I accept that the list of groupings is informal, but listed with Amendment No. 106A are a number of other amendments. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Judd, wishes to intervene to address some of the others, or whether the Committee would prefer that I dealt only with Amendment No. 106A. However, I suspect that the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, wishes to make a point on Amendment No. 106A.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

I seek clarification. A father who decides not to live with the mother and moves away is now being forced to pay maintenance for a child. Does that give him the opportunity to vote? A child may have a father living in the home who is not his natural father. If we are charging men to maintain their children, surely they will ask for a vote.

Lord Hylton

I agree that we need much more clarification on this point than we have. My preference would be for one vote per parent who has custody, regardless of how many children the parent has in the school.

Baroness Faithfull

Forgive me for intervening again, but the matter is not clear. If a child is in the care of a local authority, in law the local authority is the guardian of that child although it may be with a foster parent. I am now interpreting the Children Act 1989. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will clarify the point.

Lord Henley

I interpreted signs from Members of the Committee opposite that they wish to deal with the amendment separately. Therefore I have addressed myself purely to Amendment No. 106A and the anxieties that have been expressed. The amendment suggests that there should be no more than one vote per pupil. Clause 26 is fundamental to the Bill and ensures that those with the most direct stake in the school —that is the parents—have responsibility for determining whether the school seeks a grant-maintained status. As the Committee will be aware, parental choice is at the heart of our thinking in education. Schools serve the parents and must be accountable to them. Our reforms have gone a long way to securing that accountability and to empowering the parents.

The option of grant-maintained status gives parents an important choice in the future management of their schools. The school needs the commitment and support of as many as possible of its parents if it is to succeed. That is why the existing parents must be the right people to determine the question of grant-maintained status.

Under the existing proposals each parent is entitled to one vote in a secret postal ballot. Where more than one parent of a child is enfranchised by the provisions of the Act, it does not necessarily mean that all will vote in the same way. The question which was asked by my noble friend Lady Faithfull, and which is fundamental to the issue, was, "What is a parent?". I can advise the Committee that not only can there be more than one parent but there can be more than two or even three parents. The parents are the registered parents of the child at school. It is a matter for the school governing body to decide who the registered parents are. There could be, for example, the two natural parents who have separated and have both remarried. Both natural parents of the child might have care, control and custody—I cannot remember the exact terms in divorce law—of their respective natural child. The two non-natural parents—that is perhaps not the right term but it refers to the two new partners—or the existing parents might, depending on the interests they were taking, also qualify as registered parents. That would be a matter for the school governing bodies in accordance with the guidance issued to them.

My noble friend Lady Faithfull referred to the question of children raised in care. I can confirm and assure her that in such cases the person in whose responsibility the child is—that might be the social worker or the director of social services for the county council—might also qualify as a registered parent. However, the important point to make is that, although we recognise that other members of the local community may also have an interest in the ballot—such as parents in feeder schools or parents in primary and middle schools—it is clearly not feasible to involve everyone with a possible interest to vote on the issue. What is important is that the electorate is as broadly-based as possible and includes all those who have an interest in the individual child going to the school. We believe that because our policy on parental choice is at the heart of the matter the parents should bring entitlement to voting and not the number of children.

Finally, perhaps I may pick up one particular point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher. She mentioned the new Child Support Act and the proper concept that absent parents must pay for the support of their children because they continue to be responsible for that child. The mere paying of maintenance will make no difference to whether the father would be a registered parent, just as the mere paying of maintenance makes no difference to whether the father has access to the child. Those issues must always remain totally separate and distinct. However, that father would still be entitled to be a registered parent if the school considered that he was a registered parent and was taking the appropriate interest. But obviously if he had no access to the child and the courts had so decided, it is unlikely that he would qualify as a registered parent. I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that the mere paying of maintenance should not automatically give those rights just as it does not automatically give rights of access.

I hope with those assurances and explanations my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Seear

Will the Minister clarify one point? Who decides who are the registered parents? Is it the board of governors or the head teacher? In whose hand is it to say, "This is the registered parent"?

Lord Henley

It is the governing body using all reasonable judgment and following the guidance issued by the Secretary of State.

Baroness Warnock

I am still confused. I see the point, although I am not sure that I like it, that the governing body deems somebody to be the parent of a child. However, let us suppose that there is the regular case where the child has two natural parents who are living together and that sometimes one takes the child to school but sometimes it is the other. Do both of those parents have a vote for one child? I understand the amendment to suggest that there would be one child one vote, however many parents there were.

Lord Henley

The Government's position is that there should be one vote for each parent—

Baroness Warnock

I really am in a muddle because I do not know what the difference is. According to the Government's view the absolutely normal case, rare though it may be, is that there will be two votes per child. Is that right?

Lord Henley

If there is only one child at the school the parents are getting one vote each; that is two votes. However, if the same parents happen to have three or four children at the school they will still have only one vote each. The number of parents produces the appropriate number of votes. I accept that that might produce the odd anomaly because there can be as plurality of parents greater than two. However, we believe that that is a fairer way of achieving a solution than taking on the number of children which might, for example, give one lone parent four votes whereas a pair of parents would have half a vote each. How two parents decide on their votes, or if there are four children how their one vote should be allocated among the four, without the risk of judicial challenge of their decision, would be rather difficult to resolve. We believe that one vote per parent is the easiest way.

Baroness Faithfull

Would it not be better to say "natural parent"?

Lord Henley

I expect that my noble friend would then find herself disenfranchising a number of other people who are taking care and control of and an interest in the child. I am sure that my noble friend will be the first to admit that sadly there are many cases of natural parents, or one natural parent, not taking an interest in the development and education of their child.

Baroness Hamwee

Is there not an issue that has been raised and only partly addressed? The Minister says that this is a question of parental choice. However, does he accept that it is parental choice related to the needs of that parent's particular children? Could it not be the case that a parent might feel that one child in the family has a particular need but another child has a different need? Therefore, does not the logic of that take us to one vote per pupil rather than one vote per parent?

Lord Henley

In that case, who exercises the vote, particularly in the case where there is a plurality of votes? One must emphasise that no system will be absolutely perfect because there are occasions on which one can have a plurality of parents much greater than two. We are trying to find the simplest and most practical solution. We believe that one vote per parent is the best way of doing that rather than going down the line of one vote per pupil.

Lord Monkswell

Will the Government give the Committee a little more clarification? We now have a situation where there could be in the school five children or more from one family. They may register only one vote or they may be entitled to four times five votes. At the other end of the spectrum, there could be one pupil with one or five apparent parents and each of those is entitled to vote. To say that the decision on who is to be eligible to vote will be for the governing body will cause immense difficulties for governing bodies. It will create immense difficulties for parents and, through them, the pupils involved.

Members of the Committee have demonstrated a vast range of opinion on this subject, ranging from one vote for however many children one may have at the school to each parent having a vote for each child at the school. The Committee deserves more clarification on this from the Government. I am not saying that the Government should give us a definitive answer now, but in years ahead governing bodies will need clarification on the intentions of Parliament in this regard.

6 p.m.

Lord Henley

I believe that there is a sufficient degree of clarity. It is perfectly straightforward. It is simply a matter for each parent. I might have been slightly flippant when talking of occasions when there could be a vast number of parents. Fortunately those cases are fairly rare. In the vast majority of cases there are two natural parents who have the care and control of their child. Those parents will have a vote each. In the case of a single parent, it will probably be that single parent who has the vote but the absent parent may also have a vote depending on the degree of interest which the absent parent is taking; for example, whether he is a registered parent and so on.

We shall issue guidance to the governing bodies which can then take the appropriate course in deciding who are the appropriate registered parents. I do not believe that that will cause particular problems.

Baroness Faithfull

Would it not be better to say that the person who registered the child at the school should have the vote? What will happen if the parental rights have been taken away from both natural parents by the courts? Is the Minister really telling me that those parents should have the right to vote?

Lord Henley

In the case cited by my noble friend, there is a problem as to who will decide who registers the child. Should it be the father or should it be the mother? I believe that both those parents should have the right to the vote. In the case of a child who has been taken into care and the absent parents are no longer taking an interest in the child and are not registered parents, obviously they will not have a vote. It is those who care for the child who will have the vote.

Lady Kinloss

I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, suggested that we should refer to the natural parents. Will the Minister tell the Committee what would happen in the case of an adopted child?

Lord Henley

I hope that I have addressed that point. The natural parent is not always the one who is taking care and control of the child. There might be an adoptive parent. In that case the natural parent does not figure at all. It may be that a natural parent is still taking an interest; for example, one natural parent may have divorced the other natural parent and married someone else. In that case the parent could still be the registered parent. I do not believe that the use of the words "natural parents" would achieve what my noble friend seeks to achieve.

Lord Renton

The matter must depend on what decision the court has made as to the responsibility for the care of the child.

Lord Henley

Yes, and obviously the court's decision is something which will weigh with the governing body. If the court has not given custody or care and control to one parent, it is unlikely that that parent will be considered to be a registered parent. For example, it may be that the new husband of the parent with care and control might be the other registered parent. However, as my noble friend will know, there will be cases where both parents have care and control despite the fact that they are living apart. In that case, there could be two or even more registered parents.

Lord Renton

If I remember rightly, in those cases one parent is given custody and the other parent is given the right of access.

Lord Henley

I am wary of taking issue with my noble friend on legal matters because I am probably even more out of date than he is. However, I believe that there are cases where both parents have care and control in spite of the fact that they are living apart.

Lord Prys-Davies

Is it laid down in legislation who is entitled to be a registered parent and whether one can be in a situation where the governors can decide between A and B, or are the regulations clear as to who is entitled to be registered so that the governors would have no discretion?

Lord Henley

It is a matter for guidance issued by the Secretary of State to the governing bodies, which will follow that guidance.

Lord Gisborough

I thank my noble friend for his explanation of parentage. However, it does not meet the case where there may be a school with a great number of single parents—and such schools exist. Clearly, when a decision is made and it goes against the single parents, they will say that it was the multiple parents who made the decision. They will say that they wanted one thing and the multiple parents wanted another and although there are only half a dozen or so multiple parents, they got their way because they had so many votes. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede moved Amendment No. 107: Page 13, line 19, leave out ("fourteen") and insert ("twenty-one").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 107, 108, 110 and 111.

Lord Henley

Before the noble Lord continues, will he include in the grouping government Amendments Nos. 109A and 109B? I believe that that may make life easier.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

I shall be delighted to include Amendments 109A and 109B.

The purpose of Amendments Nos. 107 and 108 is to lengthen the time for checking the register of persons eligible to vote in a grant-maintained ballot and to ensure that the time is during the school term.

Currently only two weeks are allowed for checking the register of those eligible to vote in a grant-maintained ballot. They could be entirely during the school holidays. The 14-day period from the governors' resolution to the receipt of the parents' petition is a very limited opportunity for parents to check that they are on the list, and it is even more limited if it occurs within the school holidays. That is particularly true because it normally takes several days before governors write to parents to notify them of the opportunity and often they do not do that at all. Adding a further week would at least give parents a more realistic opportunity to check the list and ensure their eligibility to vote.

The aim of Amendments Nos. 110 and 111 is to increase the time allowed for notice of the second ballot and to prevent a second ballot occurring during the school holidays. It is plainly desirable that the largest possible number of parents should take part in ballots on such an important issue. Where fewer than 50 per cent. of those eligible do so and a second ballot is required, it is far more likely that more parents can be involved if that takes place during term time rather than during the school holidays. So far there have been 64 cases where second ballots have been required. In 24 of those the turnout has remained below 50 per cent. Several of those have taken place during the school holiday period.

It is plainly desirable that the largest possible number of parents should take part in ballots on such an important issue. An extra week would increase the opportunities for encouraging more parents to participate. I beg to move.

Earl Russell

In supporting this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments 108, 110 and 111. I do not know why the Government have chosen 14 days as the necessary interval. Perhaps it has something to do with the minimum interval between stages of Bills in this Chamber; namely, two weekends. But, of course, here we are all in the same place —or, at least, we sometimes are—and it is a little quicker to communicate than it is to communicate all the way across what may be a fairly large area. I have quite often known it take five days for first-class post to get from here to the London borough of Brent. I know that the post is not quite so inefficient as that in every quarter of the country, but we really cannot take it for granted that postal notification will arrive immediately.

What is proposed requires an absolutely immediate response from a considerable number of people. Many of us have quite a lot of other things going on. Therefore, anything—even something of high importance—has to jostle with other priorities to get a claim on our time. I think that the two-week period makes it difficult to get any sort of fair consideration of the issues. It would be much more practical and would involve no sacrifice of principle on the part of the Government to retreat to 21 days.

The other point about the amendments is that the period of notification should not be arranged during the school holidays. Ministers probably know even better than anyone on this side of the Committee quite how difficult it is to track down Members of this Chamber in the middle of the Recess. It can be equally difficult to track down school parents in August; indeed, they may be scattered over a very wide area and they may even be involved in work in another country or in another continent. It is almost impossible to get a regular network of communication around any educational institution, except when that institution is actually in session. People usually take quite eagerly the chance to get away and think about something else.

The other day I happened to be glancing at a letter in which Disraeli reported the results of an investigation into why he was not alerted to the Bulgarian atrocities before Gladstone told him about them. He concluded that the reason was that the ambassadors were all away on holiday. He said that the ambassador to Vienna had returned to his post two days ago and, "The rest are at God knows what waters, probably Liffey". That can also happen among school parents.

Lord Gisborough

I should like to express my support for the amendment. Most of the points have already been made, but I think it will take much explanation to parents in some cases. Time will be needed for that task. There may well be cases where the short fortnight may be taken advantage of by governors, and so on, in order to obtain a result which they might not get if three weeks were allotted.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Henley

Following on the remarks of my noble kinsman, perhaps we may return the parliamentary calendar to the days when Parliament used to rise in August and not come back until February.

As regards Amendments Nos. 107 and 108, we see no particularly good reason for altering the details of the time-scale on which the electoral roll for a ballot is finalised as suggested in the noble Lord's amendments. We believe that 14 days leaves sufficient operational time for the governing body to ensure that its records are up to date and to make any necessary amendments to ensure that the details of those entitled to vote are correct. It also allows sufficient time for parents to check their entries on the admissions register, if they so wish, to ensure that their details are correctly entered so that they will receive a vote in the ballot.

The 14-day period would normally allow 10 working days in which the school can make any necessary arrangements for preparing the electoral roll. Restricting the period prior to constructing the electoral roll to days in which the school was in session could hinder governing bodies in making arrangements for the ballot. The provisions of this part of Clause 26 of the Bill, which are in operation under the existing legislation, allow sufficient flexibility for governing bodies to construct the electoral roll for a ballot. Any restriction on the period to confine it to days in which the school was in session would unduly limit when ballots could be arranged; and I cannot see that any particular advantage would be gained by so doing.

I turn now to Amendments Nos. 110 and 111. As far as second ballots are concerned, again I see no particularly good reason for changing the time-scale, which works very well under existing legislation, as suggested by the amendments and I would urge the Committee to resist such a suggestion. The 14-day period for a second ballot is not designed as a period for further campaigning and debate about the issues involved. By that stage, parents will be fully aware that a ballot is in process. The debate will have been under way before and during the first ballot and parents will have received a wealth of information on which to form their opinion about the options available.

The second ballot is designed to provide schools with the opportunity to seek a more broadly based mandate for applying for grant-maintained status, in circumstances where the turnout at the first ballot is poor. It is concerned with the numbers of parents voting in the ballot. Fourteen days is perfectly adequate to allow for further ballot papers to be issued and returned to the Electoral Reform Society. I can inform Members of the Committee that in the past we have always found that we have received more votes at the second ballot even where that second ballot has been held during the holiday.

Excluding days which are not in the school session from this 14-day period would only lengthen the period before a second ballot and could be a hindrance to governing bodies when they are considering the timing of the ballot process. The thrust of the Bill is to simplify that process and reduce aspects which act as a hindrance to seeking grant-maintained status.

I should like now to deal with our amendments (Amendments Nos. 109A and 109B), which have been tabled to make provision to take account of a tie in the parental ballot on grant-maintained status. Members of the Committee will be aware that the tied result in the recent ballot at Shirley High School in Croydon drew attention to the fact that, under the existing arrangements, there are no provisions to take account of the parental ballot on grant-maintained status being tied. In practice, such a result is treated like a "no" vote and cannot proceed automatically to a second ballot to resolve the issue. While that is clearly not an everyday occurrence—we have come across one such case in over four years—it will naturally cause concern and frustration for the parents and the governing body concerned, who will be keen to obtain a result one way or another so that they can plan for the future.

Under such circumstances, it seems entirely reasonable that the school would wish to rerun the ballot in order to obtain a decisive vote and resolve the issue. The amendment ensures that, in the event of the first ballot being tied, the school would be required automatically to rerun it. While the provision will only be used infrequently, I believe that it is important nevertheless to take this opportunity to ensure that arrangements are in place should the situation arise again. I certainly recommend that particular amendment to the Committee.

In the light of those explanations, I hope that the noble Lord will not feel it necessary to press Amendment No. 107, and those following amendments grouped with it, and that in due course the Committee will be prepared to accept the Government's Amendments Nos. 109A and 109B.

Baroness Seear

Before the Minister sits down, will he at least consider the suggestion that no balloting should take place during the summer holidays? A fortnight is simply not enough time if people are away on holiday. Indeed, it takes a fortnight for a letter to arrive at one's home and then to be sent away to where one is staying on holiday, though of course by that time one is on one's way back. Surely some provision could be brought in at a later stage to eliminate balloting during the holiday period.

Lord Henley

My advice is that virtually all first ballots take place in term time. On every single occasion where a second ballot has been held in the holiday, there has been an even higher turnout than was the case on the first ballot; that is so even when held during the holidays.

Earl Russell

I was fairly disappointed that my noble kinsman said that he could see no significant advantage in the amendments. Their purpose was to try to produce a better chance of getting a fair election. I regard that as a very significant advantage. Instead, my noble kinsman said that the Government would look anxiously on anything that might hinder seeking grant-maintained status. If he thinks that a fair election hinders grant-maintained status, I am pretty disappointed. But that, if he put it forward, is not my idea: it is apparently his.

Lord Henley

I did not say that they were hindering having a fair election; I was merely saying that we thought it right to have the second ballot quite soon and that in virtually every single case where there has been a second ballot—well, in all cases—the turnout has increased. In over two-thirds of those second ballots the "noes" vote has increased more than the "ayes".

Earl Russell

Is my noble kinsman prepared to go a little way to meet us and say that he will agree that ballots should not take place during the school holidays?

Lord Henley

No, I am not prepared to go that far. I have made it quite clear that we see nothing wrong with having ballots in the school holidays. As I said, on the occasions when that has happened, the turnout has increased. In fact, the "noes" turnout has increased even more than that of the "ayes" on two-thirds of those occasions.

Earl Russell

It is in general a good idea in the conduct of elections that we should have a procedure which appears to the majority of the participants to be fair and which as far as possible appears to both sides in the argument to be fair. As far as we are concerned, this measure does not appear to be fair. We simply do not think that the timescale involved is practical. We simply do not think the job can be adequately done. I would be interested to know what the Government would say to a proposal to make it legal to hold a parliamentary election at two weeks' notice during the parliamentary Recess.

Lord Henley

That is a different matter. We are talking about a situation where the parents know well in advance that there will be a ballot. There will only be a second ballot on certain occasions. The ballot will be postal. As I have stressed, on every occasion that there has been a second ballot the turnout has increased even if it has been in the holidays.

Baroness Seear

Will the noble Lord tell the Committee how many of these second ballots have been held in August?

Lord Henley

I am afraid that, without notice, I cannot answer that question.

Baroness Seear

It is a relevant question.

Baroness Brigstocke

I am not very clear who will run the ballot. Will it be the staff in the school, and will they be called back in the holidays?

Lord Henley

My understanding is that it is run by the Electoral Reform Society.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

May I suggest to my noble friend that he takes another look at this? I can quite understand the desire not to allow a long time to elapse, but it is important that no parent involved in the ballot should feel disenfranchised. If one is going abroad for one's holidays, one cannot be expected to cancel the holiday. This matter should be reconsidered to determine whether there is some way of achieving the speed that is desirable. We do not want to lose any impetus but it is terribly important to get this right. As regards local authorities, one has to be extremely careful about holding meetings when people are away as one can obtain funny voting results. I think that in fairness Members of the Committee have a point here and it might be wise to have another look at this matter.

Lord Henley

Without giving any commitment whatsoever I am prepared to say that we will take this away and have another look at it before the next stage, but I have to say that these procedures have been working very well since the Education Reform Act of 1988 and I see no particular reason for changing them now. There is no evidence that they have not been working well and producing a fair result. But if it is the wish of the Committee that I should take the matter away and have another look at it between now and the Report stage, I am more than prepared to do so.

Baroness Warnock

One of the aspects that another look might reveal would be the size of the turnout, particularly the size of the turnout in the middle of the summer. I distinguish between other holidays and the summer holidays. An enormous number of people go away at that time and it would be interesting to find out the size of the turnout in some of the schools that have had either a first or a second ballot in the summer holiday.

Lord Dormand of Easington

It is a bit strange that there should be a bigger turnout for the ballot in the holidays. I believe that that is what the Minister said. That may strike Members of the Committee as a little peculiar. In view of his final remarks, would the Minister be prepared to put those figures in the Library?

Lord Henley

I can certainly put whatever figures we have available in the Library. But I stress that I am quite prepared to take this matter away and look at it, but I must repeat what I said. I am not going to give a commitment that we will necessarily be able to come forward with any other amendment. These procedures have been working perfectly well up to now. I said we will take the matter away and look at it. If other Members of the Committee feel that whatever we do, or for that matter do not do, is not sufficient, it is up to them to come forward with another amendment. But at the moment I am prepared to come forward with what statistics and evidence there are and make them available. But I have to say that we believe that these provisions have been working very well under the existing legislation.

Lord Dormand of Easington

That is a generous gesture, if I may say so. I think the noble Lord would agree that it would help our judgment if those figures were made available. I see he is nodding his head in agreement. He may believe we will reach the same judgment as the Government, but that is a matter for us to decide. I take it from what is being said that the figures will be placed in the Library so that we can use that information when the new amendment—if there is to be a different one—is tabled.

Lord Henley

Again, I repeat that I gave no commitment to come forward with another amendment. That might be a matter for others. I will make available any figures that there are. My understanding from my noble friend is that all figures that exist are already in the public domain as it is.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

I would guess that the system has worked well except for precisely those parents who have been away on holiday at the time. What I guess is that those figures would not show up in any way so we would probably he none the wiser on that. I believe that that is a point to consider.

Lord Henley

I can only repeat that I shall make available what figures there are and the noble Earl can make of them what he wishes at a later stage in the Bill.

Baroness Blackstone

As this amendment stands in the name of my noble friend who is not at the moment in the Chamber, it would be enormously helpful if the Minister could write to him on this matter, as even if the figures are in the public domain it is quite difficult for Front Bench spokesmen for the Opposition to extract the figures. I give notice that if the Government are unable to produce an amendment on this matter, we shall wish to move the same amendment again on Report.

Lord Henley

The noble Baroness is quite at liberty to do so and I shall certainly write to her noble friend because she has said he may find it difficult to obtain these figures. I shall give him whatever figures are available, but it is entirely a matter for the noble Baroness to bring forward what amendments she wishes at another stage.

Baroness Blackstone

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 108 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 109 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Clause 26 agreed to.

Clause 27 [Second ballot to be held if insufficient votes cast]:

Lord Henley moved Amendments Nos. 109A and 109B: Page 13, line 28, after ("section)") insert ("(a)"). Page 13, line 30, after ("vote") insert ("or (b) the number of votes cast in favour is the same as the number of votes cast against").

The noble Lord said: I spoke to these and I do not think they need be withdrawn in line with the other amendments. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 110 and 111 not moved.]

Clause 27, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 28 [Power to declare ballot void for irregularity]:

[Amendment No. 112 not moved.]

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 112A: Page 14, line 21 after ("State") insert ("or the local authority").

The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 112A I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 112B which is consequential upon it. I should like first to thank my noble kinsman very warmly for his response to the previous group of amendments. I look forward with a great deal of interest to see what happens at the next stage.

The amendment is also concerned with the conduct of elections being fair and appearing as far as possible to both sides to be fair. The clause in the Bill which has caused me some anxiety—I referred to this at Second Reading—is Clause 28 which concerns the power to declare a ballot void if it is, likely to have been influenced to a significant extent by the dissemination of information appearing to the Secretary of State to be to a material extent false or misleading". No one likes misleading information. My name was added to Amendment No. 106 which dealt with the problem of misleading information. This is a problem with which we in the Chamber are very familiar, but very often the difficult question is, which information is misleading? It is not a matter on which we are always unanimous. In fact one could say that very often the basic currency of politics is the disagreement about which information is relevant and correct and which is incorrect and misleading. As this depends so closely on the formation of the questions that we are asking, it is a matter on which not all of us can always be certain that we are impartial all the time, however hard we try. I believe we do try hard in that respect.

The other point is that it is fairly clear that in any ballot on opting out the Secretary of State is in a capacity very close to that of a party. The influence and desires of the Secretary of State are clearly on one side of the argument. In fact, on the basis of everything that he has said—and I would also invoke the entire contents of the Bill to support that—the Secretary of State is parti pris. Here we have a restriction on the conduct of elections providing that no information shall be put out which appears to one side to be misleading. I find that profoundly dismaying.

I am perfectly prepared to have a restriction on misleading information administered by the courts, which are impartial, or one which is equally binding on both sides. That is why the effect of the amendment is to restrict the putting out of information which appears to the local authority to be inaccurate or misleading as well as information which appears to the Secretary of State to be inaccurate or misleading. If such a restraint were applied equally to both sides then there would be provision for the fair and reasonable conduct of an election. But if one party can lay down what information is or is not inaccurate or misleading I find that a profoundly undemocratic procedure.

In such situations it is usually a good idea to imagine the boot on the other foot. I shall ask Members of the Committee on the Government Benches to imagine having to conduct the last election unable to put forth any information on taxation which appeared to Mr. John Smith to be inaccurate or misleading. That would have been a considerable restriction. Speaking for myself, I should be very unhappy about taking part in any election fought on such terms.

I am not certain whether I have found the right form of words to deal with the problem. If the noble Baroness tells me that she can see a better way of tackling the problem I shall listen to what she says with great care and shall be open to persuasion. But as a democrat I find it unacceptable that one side should have the power to ban what in its judgment is inaccurate or misleading information and the other should not. I beg to move.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Renton

I often admire the sincerity and sense of good purpose of the noble Earl. I am trying to understand what his purpose is here. However, I find great difficulty because his second amendment gives rise to a problem. If Amendment No. 112B were accepted subsection (2) would read: The Secretary of State or the local authority may by notice in writing given to the governing body declare the ballot void". If the Secretary of State does not think that it should be declared void but the local authority believes that it should be declared void, what on earth is to happen?

The same point arises in the case of potential disagreement under subsection (2) (b) which would require a fresh ballot to be held. One could say that that would follow from the position under subsection (2) (a).

When the noble Earl modestly said that the drafting may not be right he may have had a worry at the back of his mind just as I have a worry at the back of mine.

Earl Russell

I thank the noble Lord for that helpful contribution. He has understood my intention perfectly correctly. If either the Secretary of State or the local authority considers that the ballot is void it should not be held to be valid. It is in general a good rule that one wants elections which are recognised to be valid by both sides. If the noble Lord can suggest to me a better way of dealing with the matter I shall listen with care.

Baroness Blatch

As it stands, Amendment No. 112B appears to give a local authority power to declare a ballot void and to require a fresh ballot in cases where the Secretary of State considers that appropriate under Clause 28(1). That would be a novel use of local authorities as agents of the Secretary of State, as my noble friend said.

However, I assume—and the most recent elaboration of the matter between the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and my noble friend Lord Renton makes clear—that the amendments taken together are intended to allow a local authority (in addition to the power given in Clauses 21(1) (g) and 28(2) to the Secretary of State) to determine that information disseminated in a ballot was to a material extent false or misleading and by giving notice to the governing body to declare a ballot void and require a fresh one. I also oppose the principle underlying such an intention.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, may have in mind that the local authority would take that action where a third party had engaged in mischief-making and disseminated false or misleading information. However, I suspect that he has in mind that a local authority would be most likely to use the power where it judged that a governing body had disseminated misleading information.

As I have already made clear, the power in Clause 28 is a reserve power, intended to discourage unfair interference with the grant-maintained ballot process and to prevent dirty tricks and mischief-making. Such behaviour is not what I would expect from a governing body or a local authority.

There is no case whatsoever for extending that power so that a local authority can make the judgment about what is false or misleading, or to give it a power to declare a ballot void on those grounds. What would we do about those local authorities which we know are openly hostile? What kind of power would we be putting into their hands? The Secretary of State is required not to mislead, is open to challenge and is required to be wholly neutral in these matters and to provide information which is factual, while a local authority which openly says that it is hostile to this policy would be given the right to be judge and jury in that instance.

Local authorities have no statutory role in the ballot process. It is, of course, open to anyone to ask the Secretary of State to declare a ballot void and to present him with the evidence on which their case is based. Any such requests would be considered on their merits. The local authority itself could declare that in its view there had been inaccurate and factually misleading information.

It has been questioned whether objective proof of interference by third parties of the kind now covered by Clause 28 will be needed or whether allegations would be sufficient. The short answer is that allegations would certainly not be sufficient. The Secretary of State has to judge each case on its merits. As in all other matters, his judgment will be subject to judicial challenge. That, I believe, is the way forward. The Secretary of State is not the final arbiter: his judgment can be challenged, and it is open to local authorities to make the case if they believe there is one to be made.

Lord Skidelsky

I very much agree with one remark of the noble Earl, namely, that he does not appear to have found the right form of words for the intention he has in mind. If it is his contention that the Secretary of State is an interested party in respect of the result of the ballot, then even more so is the local authority, for reasons which my noble friend the Minister has just explained. Therefore, to pursue the noble Earl's line of thought, the right solution would be to have some independent judgment inserted. However, that is not what the amendment says.

Earl Russell

That is a helpful contribution. If the noble Lord would like to suggest any form of words in which that could be done I should be very interested. I should be even more so if I had any indication that the Minister was prepared to respond.

On this occasion I shall not move Amendment No. 112B and I should like to talk to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, further about that amendment. In respect of Amendment No. 112A, who is to decide what information is inaccurate or misleading? I saw no sign whatever that the noble Baroness had understood the thrust of the amendment. The noble Baroness invoked the case of local authorities who she said are openly hostile to grant-maintained status. But would it be fair to say that the Secretary of State is openly hostile to resistance to grant-maintained status? If not, why not? I simply cannot understand the view that the Secretary of State is impartial in the matter.

Baroness Blatch

The noble Earl misunderstood me. If the Secretary of State exercised a subjective judgment that could be deemed to be hostile to resistance but all the evidence proved that there was in fact misleading information, he could be challenged. The final arbiter is not the Secretary of State. His judgment can be properly challenged.

Earl Russell

If the noble Baroness would tell me that the Government will withdraw the new legal aid eligibility regulations, I would be more impressed by the argument. As it is, I believe that the provision will be helpful only to a limited number of people. In the provision we have a profoundly undemocratic procedure. I cannot consent to it without asking the opinion of the Committee.

6.41 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No.112A) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 42; Not-Contents, 109.

Division No. 3
Addington, L. Judd, L.
Ailesbury, M. Kinloss, Ly.
Airedale, L. McGregor of Durris, L.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Masham of Ilton, B.
Blackstone, B. Mayhew, L.
Bonham-Carter, L. Monkswell, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Desai, L. [Teller.] Redesdale, L. [Teller.]
Dormand of Easington, L. Richard, L.
Eatwell, L. Russell, E.
Elis-Thomas, L. Seear, B.
Ennals, L. Simon of Glaisdale, L.
Fitt, L. Stedman, B.
Foot, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Gladwyn, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Tordoff, L.
Holme of Cheltenham, L. Warnock, B.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. White, B.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Young of Dartington, L.
Abercorn, D. Braine of Wheatley, L.
Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, L. Brigstocke, B.
Brougham and Vaux, L
Arran, E. Cadman, L.
Astor, V. Caithness, E.
Belstead, L. Campbell of Croy, L.
Blatch, B. Carnegy of Lour, B.
Blyth, L. Carnock, L.
Boardman, L. Chalker of Wallasey, B.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Clanwilliam, E.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Clark of Kempston, L
Coleraine, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Colnbrook, L.
Colwyn, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Constantine of Stanmore, L Marlesford, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Merrivale, L.
Cox, B. Mersey, V.
Craigavon, V. Milverton, L.
Cranborne, V. Moyne, L.
Cumberlege, B. Munster, E.
Davidson, V. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Orkney, E.
Downshire, M. Orr-Ewing, L.
Eccles of Moulton, B. Oxfuird, V.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
Elton, L. Parkinson, L.
Ferrers, E. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Finsberg, L. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Flather, B. Rankeillour, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Rennell, L.
Gisborough, L. Renton, L.
Glenarthur, L. Rodger of Earlsferry, L.
Goschen, V. St. Davids, V.
Greenway, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Guildford, Bp. Sharples, B.
Hacking, L. Shrewsbury, E.
Harvington, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Hayhoe, L. Skidelsky, L.
Henley, L. Stewartby, L.
Hesketh, L. [Teller.] Strathclyde, L.
HolmPatrick, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Hothfield, L.
Howe, E. Strathmore and Kinghorne, E [Teller.]
Ironside, L.
Jeffreys, L. Sudeley, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L. Swinfen, L.
Kimball, L. Tebbit, L.
King of Wartnaby, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Lane of Horsell, L. Torrington, V.
Lauderdale, E. Trefgarne, L.
Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Trumpington, B.
Liverpool, E. Ullswater, V.
Long, V. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Lucas, L. Vivian, L.
Lyell, L. Wakeham, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]
McColl of Dulwich, L.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L. Weir, V.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

6.49 p.m.

[Amendment No. 112B not moved.]

Clause 28 agreed to.

Clause 29 [Publication of proposals.]

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede moved Amendment No. 113: Page 14, line 39, leave out from ("a") to second ("in") in line 40 and insert ("majority of those persons eligible to vote in the ballot have cast a vote").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to require a majority of those eligible to vote to cast a vote in favour of grant-maintained status. A change as significant as opting out should require a high level of parental support. An absolute majority of eligible parents is not a particularly demanding threshold for a change which commands such support, especially in a community as discrete as a school with the advantage of a free postal vote. In my view there is no real comparison with local or other political elections.

According to a Parliamentary Answer last year, of the 585 ballots in favour of opting out to 6th November 1992, only 316 had the support of an absolute majority of parents. In 15 cases schools have submitted proposals on the basis of less than 30 per cent. support. In several such cases, the schools are now grant-maintained.

At Stantonbury campus, comprising Brindley Hall and Bridgewater Hall schools and the largest grant-maintained school in the country, fewer than 20 per cent. of eligible parents supported the move, yet it was approved. This is an important move, as I am sure we all agree, and for that reason a majority of those eligible to vote would be a suitable requirement for grant-maintained status. I beg to move.

Earl Russell

On behalf of these Benches, and in place of my noble friend Lord Ritchie who is not well, I support the amendment. In doing so I can help to assuage something which has been a great matter of regret to me for a long time. More or less this amendment was moved in the Education Reform Bill in 1988 by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London and it was carried. That should have been the first occasion on which I should have voted in a government defeat, but I happened instead to be in bed with salmonella poisoning which inflicted so many of us then. So it has been a hurt to me ever since that I missed that occasion. To be able to speak to exactly the same issue now is a great pleasure.

Opting out, it appears, is to be regarded by the Government as an irreversible shift. There is to be no way back. I should have thought that that was the big reason for arguing that we need a slightly higher hurdle to clear on the ballot than we would have done for a reversible decision. This is something that will not be altered; it is fairly fundamental; it will affect the character of the school, presumably down to the last syllable of recorded time, if the school should last so long. Therefore, one wants a fairly high degree of consensus in the school that that is what it ought to be doing. For that reason, I believe that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London got it exactly right in 1988. It will go forward on a less contentious basis and be more likely to succeed, once it has happened, if it is subject to the requirement of 50 per cent. of those eligible to vote.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

As the noble Earl has just said, the arguments against a school opting out on a minority vote were well rehearsed at Committee stage of the Education Reform Act 1988, and I think that they have lost little of their force with time. They were thought cogent enough on that May afternoon to persuade your Lordships by 141 votes to 122 to support them; and behind this vote lay a very strong groundswell of popular opinion at the time.

The reasons for this can be briefly stated, and I think they need emphasising. Parental involvement in school affairs is seldom, alas, what we would hope or expect it to be, even on important issues. The noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, on that occasion five years ago, with his great experience of the educational world, pointed out that average attendance at school meetings was about 16 per cent. The danger of special-interest pressure groups, whether from Right or Left, was very much in people's minds. The overriding feeling was, and is, that the most important decision on a school's future—a decision which, for reasons that many of us still find extremely hard to understand, the Government have decreed shall be irreversible—should not be taken by a minority of the parents of just one generation of school children. This was why your Lordships felt that, in common with constitutional provisions under company law and in many other instances, something more than a simple majority of those actually voting was required.

What has been the evidence of the past four-and-a-half years? As we know, there has been a very slow take-up of grant-maintained status. In those ballots where the vote has been in favour of opting out, as we have already heard, nearly half have involved less than 50 per cent. of eligible parents supporting the change. This is worrying enough in itself. But what makes it worse is that the reason for opting out, in a substantial minority of cases, has been to avoid local reorganisation of school provision — that very saving on surplus school places that the Government, with their left hand, have been urging on LEAs.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, gave briefly the example of the two schools in Milton Keynes and I think it is worth saying a little more about that. They held ballots at a time when a change to selection in the area seemed a possibility, it was in the wind. Turnout was low. The county council then decided against introducing selection. Parental interest fell away at that point, and the second ballot produced a decision to opt out—and there were two schools involved—with only 19 per cent. and 20 per cent. of parents respectively overall voting in favour. And this, I stress again, we must remember—the product of one particular time and circumstance—is a decision for ever.

That is why we believe it is so important that the wiser counsels of your Lordships' Committee five years ago should prevail. The evidence of the way things have turned out on the ground has confirmed the worries that were expressed at the time. I very much hope your Lordships will support this amendment.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

This is a difficult amendment. On the face of it, it sounds as though, given the figures, not enough people had their say. However, anyone who knows about schools, particularly in the less privileged areas—about which, of course, the noble Earl knows—must remember that it is difficult to get all the parents to come to anything. I believe that the Committee must be careful to pay attention to the parents who care in this matter and not allow them to have their wishes frustrated by those who simply do not take an interest. You must take an interest in order to know whether or not you want the school to opt out, you must pay attention.

There will be many parents in some areas who will take no interest at all. Thus, I am afraid that the amendment is increasing a hurdle which will make it more difficult for the people who care to opt out if they wish.

I can understand the local authority's view that it should be as difficult a hurdle as possible so that serious consideration is given to staying with the status quo. But I suspect that the policy cannot work for those who care unless there is a simple majority. It would be seen to be fair by everyone. If you care, you go along. There could be a letter which says, "If you don't come, your vote can't be considered", and that is all right in this case. To me, it is a different issue from the question of the date.

Lord Dormand of Easington

The noble Baroness is quite right to say that it is often difficult—though not always—to have a good-sized meeting of parents, for whatever reason. But with respect, I believe that she misses the nub of the argument by the two previous speakers who supported the amendment, that it deals with such an important matter. That the decision is irreversible—as a number of speakers on these Benches and on the Cross-Benches have said—is something which we cannot understand. For that reason, it is important that there should be the kind of majority proposed by the amendment. Surely, that is the main point.

Lord Judd

To follow that, there is real anxiety here. We have heard the argument again today about the importance of democracy and the spirit of the decision. From this side of the Committee, we tried to extend the opportunity to ensure that there is more time, more space for proper consideration. Our reasonable amendments in that regard have been rejected. Now we are being told that, if there are just a small number of people who are so motivated, we should accept their decision. Surely, the challenge is to make sure that the issue is broadly understood. Once it is broadly understood, the maximum possible number of parents should have the opportunity to record their decision.

7 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My experience is north of the Border, where this situation does not apply, but it is probably the same as that of many Members of the Committee south of the Border. To get so large a number of people to come together—namely, the majority of those eligible to vote—is virtually impossible. One can write to people; they can receive information about what will happen if they do not come; they can be warned, and they can be asked to consider the matter. But, if they do not come, the people who care will not be able to do what they think is right for the school. To be realistic, one has to do this.

Baroness Blackstone

I wonder if I may correct the noble Baroness. We are speaking of a postal vote. Parents do not have to come to the school in order to register their opinion. It is not terribly difficult to fill in a form and reply by post. I must correct her. I think she is making a wrong assumption.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I apologise to the Committee. But I believe that the argument still applies. I do not believe that it will be very easy to get people to do it.

Baroness Cox

I agree with my noble friend. I think there is a problem here, particularly regarding a postal vote. There are many people, especially in the socially deprived areas, where postal voting is an option which is not heavily taken up, as indeed it is not in any kind of context. Also, as I understand it, there is a two-stage process. It is not a one-off ballot. If there are not enough people the first time round there will be a second process. I think it moves as far as it can in the present situation towards making the opportunities available for those parents do care. To set what would be an unrealistic voting figure would be anti-democratic.

Baroness Blatch

If the turnouts in local government elections were anything like as healthy as they are in grant-maintained ballots, it would be a very good thing indeed. Parents are given every opportunity to exercise their vote in a grant-maintained ballot. As I have already announced, the gestation period from the beginning of the process through to this particular point is sufficiently long and there is sufficient contact with parents throughout the whole of that period that it is unlikely—even inconceivable—that parents will not know it is going on. They are given every opportunity to exercise their vote in the ballot and the provisions in this legislation will ensure that they receive full information about the arrangements for the ballot itself and about the options which they are asked to consider.

To ensure that schools have the full backing of their parents, we have, through second ballot arrangements, further provided them with the opportunity to seek a more broadly based mandate for their application in circumstances where the turnout is poor—a point that was made by my noble friend.

If parents are not convinced of the merits of grant-maintained status for their school at a particular time, they are perfectly able to vote against the motion and to reconsider at a later stage. That said, we cannot force parents to exercise their right to vote. I am satisfied that our provisions give parents every opportunity to participate in a decision to seek grant-maintained status. I see no reason for penalising those parents who wish to make a choice during the ballot by refusing to take account of their views unless the school is able to secure such a high turnout to support a favourable vote. My noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour made that point very well.

Some information which may be worth noting I believe flies in the face of some of the perceptions of the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley. Ballot turnouts are consistently high, which is an indication of parental commitment to schools and their future. Of the ballots held as at 21st April, some 70 per cent. had participation rates of over 60 per cent. of eligible voters. The average turnout at ballots is 64 per cent. of those eligible to vote. Ninety-seven per cent. of schools which had applied for grant-maintained status as at 21st April have done so on the basis of a turnout at the ballot exceeding 50 per cent. of those eligible to vote. Those are the facts. We shall talk about facts again in regard to a Question from the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, that I have to respond to in a few days' time. We are very happy to make this information available. It is already in the public domain.

The two-month period of consultation which follows publication of proposals will provide any interested party who is not convinced of the case for grant-maintained status with an opportunity to make an objection to the Secretary of State which will be considered by him when he makes his determination about the proposal concerned. I know, because I am there when such considerations are made, that a very poor turnout is a constituent factor that is taken into account when these matters are considered.

Where parents have the opportunity of a wide and balanced debate in full knowledge of the facts, they will be able to make the appropriate decision for their children's education. By restricting the amount of money which LEAs can spend on influencing the outcome of a grant-maintained ballot and making available corresponding amounts to governing bodies under Clause 33 of the Bill, the Government will ensure that parents are in a position to make an unpressured decision about the future of their children's school. A balanced, accurate and informative debate needs to take place locally during the ballot on grant-maintained status. I believe all the safeguards are there and I hope that the amendment will be opposed.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

We have focused very well on the arguments contained within Amendment No. 113. So far as we on these Benches are concerned, we are trying to set a higher hurdle. The reason is that this decision is to be taken by a single generation of parents and brings about an irreversible shift in the status of the school. Therefore we think it suitable that there should be a higher level of agreement among the parents of that school. For that reason, I have to say that I am not happy with the reply that we have received from the noble Baroness and I should like to test the opinion of the House.

7.6 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 113) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 30, Not-Contents, 99.

Division No. 4
Addington, L. Judd, L.
Airedale, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E. Monkswell, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Blackstone, B. Prys-Davies, L.
Bonham-Carter, L. Redesdale, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Richard, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Russell, E. [Teller.]
Craigavon, V. Stedman, B.
Desai, L. [Teller.] Tordoff, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Eatwell, L. Warnock, B.
Elis-Thomas, L. White, B.
Fitt, L. Young of Dartington, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, L. Jenkin of Roding, L.
Kimball, L.
Arran, E. King of Wartnaby, L.
Astor, V. Lane of Horsell, L.
Belstead, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Birdwood, L. Liverpool, E.
Blatch, B. Long, V.
Blyth, L. Lucas, L.
Boardman, L. Lyell, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Braine of Wheatley, L.
Brentford, V. MacLehose of Beoch, L.
Brigstocke, B. Marlesford, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Mersey, V.
Cadman, L. Mountevans, L.
Caithness, E. Munster, E.
Campbell of Croy, L. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Northbourne, L.
Carnock, L. Orkney, E.
Chalker of Wallasey, B. Orr-Ewing, L.
Clark of Kempston, L Oxfuird, V.
Coleraine, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
Colnbrook, L. Parkinson, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Cox, B. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Cranborne, V. Rankeillour, L.
Cumberlege, B. Rennell, L.
Davidson, V. Renton, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Rodger of Earlsferry, L.
Downshire, M. St. Davids, V.
Eccles of Moulton, B. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Sharpies, B.
Elton, L. Shrewsbury, E.
Erroll, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Faithfull, B. Skidelsky, L.
Ferrers, E. Stewartby, L.
Finsberg, L. Strathclyde, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Strathmore and Kinghorne, E [Teller.]
Gardner of Parkes, B.
Gisborough.L. Sudeley, L.
Glenarthur, L. Swinfen, L.
Goschen, V. Tebbit, L.
Greenway, L. Torrington, V.
Harvington, L. Trefgarne, L.
Hayhoe, L. Trumpington, B.
Henley, L. Ullswater, V.
Hesketh, L. [Teller.] Vaux of Harrowden, L.
HolmPatrick, L. Vivian, L.
Hothfield, L. Wakeham, L. [Lord Privy Seal]
Howe, E.
Jeffreys, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

7.14 p.m.

Clause 29 agreed to.

Viscount Astor

I beg to move that the Committee stage of the Bill be adjourned until 8 p.m. this evening.

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

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.14 to 8 p.m.]

Clause 30 [Withdrawal, approval or rejection of proposals]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 114: Page 15, line 14, at beginning insert: ("() Before considering any proposal under section 29 of this Act the Secretary of State shall consider any proposal from the local education authority to cease to maintain or make a significant change in the character of a school under section 12 of the Education Act 1980 and if such a proposal from the local education authority is approved the Secretary of State shall reject the proposal under section 29 of this Act.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 114, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 289. The purpose of the amendments is to require the Secretary of State to consider any proposal from a local education authority to cease to maintain or make a significant change in the character of a school prior to considering the proposal for grant-maintained status.

Earlier today we heard noble Lords opposite at Question Time claiming that the PSBR is too high and that measures need to be taken to reduce the deficit. We also heard the Minister deny the desirability of spending more money to ensure that all children whose parents want it are able to have nursery education at the age of two, three and four because it costs too much. I am sure that parents of young children who cannot find places for them in a nursery school or class would be interested to hear how low in the Minister's priorities nursery education comes when it really ought to be a child's right. I mention that because at the heart of Amendment No. 114 is the issue of efficiency and how we save money at the statutory stages of education to make it easier to provide things like nursery education, which should be one of our highest priorities.

For some years there has been anxiety about surplus places in both primary and secondary schools. That anxiety is absolutely justified. There is no case for keeping open large numbers of schools which are only half full. They may be half full as a result of population decline or population movement in a specific area. There have also been excellent Audit Commission reports on the matter exhorting local education authorities to be more efficient.

Ministers have frequently criticised LEAs for their failure to grasp the nettle in that respect. Speaking as a former senior officer in a local authority which had a major programme of school closures, I know that it is a difficult nettle to grasp. Anybody involved in trying to close a school will know just how tough it can be. Nevertheless, I agree with the Audit Commission and, the noble Baroness may be surprised to hear, with Ministers that surplus places must be removed.

It was right to emphasise that point in the Government's White Paper published in July of last year. But what I find quite bizarre is that in the creation of the present system of opting out, in the procedures that have been introduced, the Government have totally undermined their own objectives with respect to surplus places. They have also pulled the rug from under the feet of local education authorities which have tried to be more efficient in that respect and made it difficult for them to achieve what the Government asked them to do. As the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, said earlier, many schools that have sought to opt out have done so to avoid closure.

Let me put to the Committee a little evidence to support my case. Of the English schools to hold ballots so far, 114 have been subject to simultaneous Section 12(13) notices on closure. Of those, 27 voted not to opt out—presumably recognising the benefits of the LEA's plans to try to close schools in the area—despite the effect on themselves, because it would mean that they would be closed. However, 85 resulted in votes in favour of opting out. Of those, the Secretary of State approved 42 and rejected 43, and another two are still in the pipeline.

What is obviously happening is that proposals to reorganise provision are likely to provoke opting out as schools seek to protect their own positions, regardless of the impact of local authority plans that may have widespread broader benefits with respect to cost savings and efficiency. In around 50 per cent. of those cases the Secretary of State approved the opt-outs—that is absolutely disgraceful—thereby thwarting the local authority's plans to be more efficient and also acting totally inconsistently with the Government's other objective. I know that they have a total obsession with trying to create more grant-maintained schools, but it seems to me that they should be a little more consistent about the need to take out surplus places.

In that situation it is hardly surprising that many LEAs have pulled back from those kinds of plans. The effect of the amendments would be to enable local education authorities to tackle the issue of surplus places with the confidence that their proposals would be considered solely on their intrinsic merits without the distracting, or indeed politically conflicting, possibilities of opting out interfering with the process. If approved, the LEA plans would be implemented to the benefit of the broader community and the education system as a whole because resources would be freed for other purposes. On the other hand, if rejected, the schools concerned would afterwards be free to apply for grant-maintained status.

I put forward one final statistic. According to an article in the Guardian at the end of July 1992, it was claimed that the number of secondary schools affected by local reorganisation fell by 71 per cent. from 612 in 1987, the year before the first opt-out ballots, to 174 in 1991. We are now seeing sensible proposals for reorganisation which would save substantial amounts of public money being rejected because of applications for grant-maintained status being made by schools trying to save their own skins.

The amendment in no way prevents viable schools becoming grant maintained. It makes it easier for LEAs to pursue sensible policies for closing non-viable schools. I beg to move.

Lord Addington

I should like briefly to support Amendment No. 114 which also bears the name of my noble friend Lady Hamwee. It is a sensible measure which would allow more efficient allocation of resources. Surely it must find some favour on the Minister's side of the Chamber. It would enable people to concentrate funds where they are needed and stop the ridiculous idea of a school that finds itself threatened with closure due to falling rolls trying to opt out and find a second lifeline. It is ridiculous from the point of view of those ultimately in charge of the purse strings who are trying to give adequate resources to other schools in the area. It concerns making the best and most economic use of the resources available.

Baroness Blatch

I can honestly stand at this Dispatch Box and say that I have more frontline experience of dealing with reorganisation of schools, which includes closing schools, than either of the two Members who have just spoken. I know precisely what is involved in the process. I also know that sometimes a kind of arrogance is displayed when it is believed that there is only one option and one set of people who can make a judgment. Certainly, I have never felt that my view should prevail on all those occasions. It seems to me to be absolutely right that there should be full consideration not only of the case for closure as presented by the local authority but also of any other proposal that is put before my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

The other point that has been totally ignored by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, is that many of these cases come to us as part of very large and complicated packages; they do not come as just one school in isolation. The department is always very careful to ensure that it does not take decisions in isolation from whole reorganisations. Not only does the department take great care but also—sometimes sadly for the people who are waiting for decisions—a great deal of time properly to consider all the aspects of such proposals.

The noble Baroness made the point very well that I would myself have made. In each of the 85 cases that have been submitted to my department for determination by my right honourable friend the case for closure was considered alongside the case for grant-maintained status. The department took into account what the local authority was trying to do—whether or not it was to address the question of spare places, which is not the only reason that authorities come to my department with submissions. The figures were about 50 per cent. either way; for every one that we accepted, one was rejected. We believed that the case for closure was greater and we believed that the case for closure was not as great as the case for grant-maintained status.

I believe that the department has a good record. Frankly, if the department had been guilty of what the noble Baroness seemed to be suggesting those figures would be different. All 85 would have been accepted because of some blind view that somehow or other any school that appealed to us should become a grant-maintained school. The department considers viability and the merits of the case in their entirety.

The proposed amendments would abolish the procedures established in the Education Reform Act and re-enacted in Clause 249 of the present Bill. These require both sets of proposals to be considered together but the grant-maintained proposals to be determined first. If the amendments were put into effect, grant-maintained proposals would receive no consideration whatever before a decision on Section 12 proposals was reached. The existing arrangements do not prejudice the Secretary of State's decision in favour of the application for grant-maintained status. Both grant-maintained status and Section 12 proposals will be decided on their merits. We have said many times that we will not allow the grant-maintained process to become an escape route for failing and unpopular schools. That is not in the interests of my right honourable friend, the department, the local authority or, most significantly, the school, if that school is dying on its feet and where its closure is the best solution. Where it is not a clear-cut case, it is important that parents know that full consideration is given to their views. One way of expressing their view is to say that they would like the continuation of the school to be considered. There are schools all over this land, in particular many small schools, that feel very vulnerable. This is one opportunity when those parents are allowed one more lifeline and their democratic right to have the case considered. I hope that this amendment will not be accepted.

Baroness Blackstone

I do not want to enter into a dispute about who has the most experience of school closures. The Minister tells me that she has far more experience than I do. Far be it from me to contradict her. All I can do is to tell her that I have considerable experience of this matter, having participated in a vast programme of school closures between the late 1970s and early 1980s in the Inner London Education Authority.

The Minister is quite right when she says that no school closure should be lightly undertaken. I could not agree more. All of the procedures must be properly gone through; there should be a thorough consultation process and all of the parties' views should be heard. She also said that I had ignored the fact that quite a lot of school closures were part of major reorganisation schemes. I am perfectly aware of that. I also know that some 43 reorganisation schemes put forward by local authorities in order to try to be more efficient and take out surplus places have been rejected. That emerges from a parliamentary Answer given to Mr. Terry Patchett in another place at the end of last year. It was admitted that those schemes were rejected partly because applications for grant-maintained status were involved.

The Minister has said that the case for closure is always considered alongside the case for grant-maintained status. However, I find it very surprising that in about 50 per cent. of cases where that has happened the case for closure has been rejected. That seems to me to be a very high proportion given how careful local authorities are not to put forward schemes or individual proposals for closure without having gone through every conceivable aspect of the viability of the school. Local authorities are fully aware of the difficulties that that creates if they have not done so.

Baroness Blotch

Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness a straight question. What would she say to a group of parents and governors who came to visit me as the Minister for schools and said, "We understand what our local authority is trying to do. It has a difficulty with spare places. We have an alternative to offer which deals with the issue of spare places, causes less pain to the local community and allows a proper decision to be taken about grant-maintained status? All of that can be considered together rather than cut off because Section 12 has to be considered first.

Baroness Blackstone

I stick by what I have said. If the Government are serious about cost-effectiveness—saving money and taking surplus places out of the system—sometimes they have to say tough things to parents. I do not believe that the escape route of grant-maintained status is one that should be used. We know that parents who have children in a school always want that school to continue. That is absolutely understandable. If I were such a parent I would probably adopt the same position. However, I believe it is double-think to say on the one hand, "We believe in saving money and being sensible and efficient at taking out of the system surplus places", and, on the other hand, saying, "However, in certain circumstances where it suits us politically—because we are desperately keen to get more and more grant-maintained schools into the system—we will do something different". That is why we on these benches are concerned about the procedures that have been adopted.

I know that the Minister does not like our speaking for local education authorities. But I believe that we have to be sympathetic to them in their dilemma. It is very discouraging that when huge amounts of time and effort have been invested at local level to try to get this right central government reject a scheme for what are, in my view, quite often political motives.

I do not wish to press this amendment to a vote on this occasion. However, I do not believe that the Government have given us a satisfactory reply. We will want to return to this at a further stage of the Bill.

Baroness Blatch

If the noble Baroness is not satisfied with my reply perhaps I may ask why she does not press the matter and take the opinion of the House.

Baroness Blackstone

It is entirely at my discretion as to when and whether I take the opinion of the House. I do not believe that at this time of night it is appropriate to do that. I will wait to see whether or not the Minister is able to come up with a better argument at the next stage of the Bill. If not, I will then consider my position. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 30 agreed to.

Clauses 31 and 32 agreed to.

Schedule 4 agreed to.

Clause 33 [Expenses in connection with proposals for acquisition of grant-maintained status]:

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (The Viscount of Oxfuird)

I advise the Committee that should Amendment No. 115 be agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 116A due to pre-emption.

Lord Judd moved Amendment No. 115: Page 16, line 31, leave out subsections (1) and (2).

The noble Lord said: I beg leave to move this amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede and to speak to Amendment No. 116.

The purpose of this amendment is to remove the unnecessary provision for expenses in connection with the proposal for grant-maintained status. I can make the point quite briefly. The two subsections in the Bill allow the Secretary of State to make payments to school governing bodies to cover expenditure made in pursuance of acquiring grant-maintained status. As we understand it, such payments are entirely at the discretion of the Secretary of State. But we see no need for such a requirement and would at the very least like to see restrictions on how such money could be spent. After all, a governing body is likely to be far less prudent if it believes that it will be automatically reimbursed by the Secretary of State.

Amendment No. 116 is about limiting the amount that the governing body can spend on an opt-out campaign. It is about tying the LEA limit to individual schools rather than being authority-wide. In the context of the proposal to limit the amount that an LEA may spend to influence the outcome of the ballots, by contrast the expenses incurred by governing bodies may be paid by the Secretary of State. It is therefore reasonable to restrict the payment to the governing body to the same limit as that applied to the LEA.

The main argument used against a similar amendment in the other place was that the LEA would have economies of scale by distributing the same material to a number of schools. We were not all born yesterday. Besides ignoring the central issue of whether there should be a statutory limit on the governing body's expenditure, that argument conveniently overlooks the material produced, for example, centrally and free of charge, by the DFE for governing bodies.

In this context, perhaps I may be permitted to say a word retrospectively about Amendment No. 106 in this group which we shall not be pressing to a Division tonight. The governing body is entitled to decide—

Lord Elton

Will the noble Lord answer a question?

Lord Judd

I was not giving way at this juncture.

Noble Lords


Lord Elton

Is the noble Lord speaking to Amendment No. 106 which was not moved? That cannot be done. He is talking about Amendment No. 116 which is a different thing, but I believe the noble Lord referred to Amendment No. 106.

Lord Judd

I am referring to a point which was raised by a previous amendment and which I believe is relevant to the two amendments with which I am now dealing.

The point I wish to make is that we recognise that the governing body is entitled to decide grant-maintained status is right for the school. That is clear. But in communicating with parents, while looking at the issue of financial balance, which is what these amendments are about —financial accountability and control—it is also very important to consider what those financial controls are controlling, which is the way the argument is deployed, and the rest.

The point that we must make when talking about expenditure is that it is frequently the case that governing bodies, with or without the support of head teachers, take a particular view on the issue of opting out. They seek to ensure—on occasions with a certain amount of cynicism—that that is the only view conveyed to parents. In reality there is a range of views on the issue. The outcome in individual schools, as Ministers have repeatedly said, should be determined as a result of parents being given the chance to balance the argument both for and against grant-maintained status, before arriving at their own decision. After all, that is the purpose of holding a ballot. That is why the balance and controls on expenditure must be even-handed.

The text of the amendment is not intended to inhibit governing bodies from making their own positions clear to parents—of course they must—but to demonstrate the need for them or others to present to parents information which is balanced, objective and accurate. While others may be in a position to contribute to the debate, to use the Minister's own words, their opportunity to do so is quite often inhibited or can even be entirely blocked, by the attitude of the governing bodies.

What we hoped from the text of that amendment introduced into this debate was that we could at least prevent the situation arising by requiring government bodies to secure that parent's received balanced information. In dealing with the control and accountability of the situation, it would be encouraging if the Minister could make some positive points about the issue. I say that particularly in view of her repeated commitments to the Committee today about democracy. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

I intend to ignore wholly Amendment No. 106. The noble Lord stood before the Dispatch Box and decided not to move it. I do think it is an indulgence by the noble Lord to return to an amendment which was not moved. However, I shall deal with the other two amendments in this grouping.

The amendment to remove subsections (1) and (2) would leave governing bodies in a more disadvantageous position than already exists in legislation. We have always made clear that the Bill seeks to have a level playing field. It is therefore only reasonable that the Act should empower the Secretary of State to make payments in respect of legitimate expenses incurred by the governing body in exercising its functions in seeking grant-maintained status including those incurred in balloting parents.

By the noble Lord's other amendment to this clause, he seems to be suggesting that the expenditure incurred by each single school undertaking the ballot process to seek grant-maintained status, should be limited to the amount which its local authority could spend for the whole financial year on all of the ballots for all the schools that might be held in that local authority. He certainly tempts me with this amendment. If indeed the noble Lord, Lord Judd, confirms this understanding, then I would be tempted to consider this amendment seriously, and I suspect that every grant-maintained school in the land would cheer.

However, it is possible that I might reluctantly be persuaded to believe that in the interests of fairness and of the level playing field, this amendment might not be in the best interests of all concerned.

The Committee may be aware that some anxiety was expressed in the other place about the operation of the provisions contained in Clause 33. In the light of this, we have been looking carefully at the arrangements which we might put in place and we intend to bring forward an amendment at Report stage which will clarify the scope of the provision.

Our amendment will secure a system of monitoring LEA expenditure on ballots within the existing framework of local government accountability. The precise terms of any formula to link LEA expenditure to modest sums payable to governing bodies by the Secretary of State are currently under consideration. They will not be expressed on the face of the Bill, but in secondary legislation. However, if the noble Lord presses the particular amendment that limits expenditure by grant-maintained schools up to all of that spent by an LEA in one year, I shall be tempted to accept it.

Lord Judd

I am grateful to the Minister for what she has said tonight. We shall consider it very seriously. I ask her to believe that she has got to work pretty hard, together with her colleagues, at persuading the country out there that the Government in substance, detail and arrangements, are concerned with the application of the spirit of democratic decision-making which she keeps emphasising. We hear the words, but we do not see the practical evidence in this Bill that this even-handed approach to democratic deliberations at local level is present. The opinion and judgment of most people across the country are that the Government have prejudged the situation and that, in one way or another over time, they are determined to achieve their objectives.

Baroness Blatch

Before the noble Lord sits down, he has not confirmed whether the intention behind the words in Amendment No. 116 is actually what he meant. Does he intend to achieve what I assumed to be his intention in my technical description of the amendment?

Lord Judd

We have heard what the Minister has said and the nation can judge. I shall not pursue the amendment tonight and I beg leave to withdraw it. Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 116 and 116A not moved.]

Clause 33 agreed to.

Clause 34 agreed to.

8.30 p.m.

Clause 35 [Transfer of property etc.]:

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

I must advise the Committee that if Amendment No. 116B is agreed to, it pre-empts Amendment No. 117.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede moved Amendment No. 116B: Page 18, line 7, leave out paragraph (c).

The noble Lord said: This amendment is very much in the spirit of the level playing fields to which noble Lords have referred so much in connection with previous amendments. Its purpose is to ensure that any debts relating to a grant-maintained school's buildings can be passed on to the grant-maintained school itself. The present wording of Clause 35 means that a local authority would remain liable for debts on the buildings of an LEA school which has opted out and become grant-maintained despite the fact that the general property rights and liabilities have been transferred to the grant-maintained school. That would mean leaving a local education authority with a financial burden which may well affect its ability to improve its own schools and, as a consequence, make it reluctant to carry out major works to any school that it believes may be planning to opt out in the near future. That could mean that projects might be delayed or abandoned because of fear of the financial consequences for the authority. I know from personal experience in the London Borough of Wandsworth that such accusations have been levelled at its education committee and have been hotly debated.

The amendment aims to avoid that situation which could have serious consequences for the planning of improvements to school buildings. The amendment would delete the paragraph which creates that unsatisfactory anomaly in the hand-over of liabilities. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

Before I respond to the amendment fully, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord a question about it. Given that the grant system takes the cost of servicing the debt into account when it funds local authorities, if we are to put the debt onto the school, the amount for servicing the debt would have to be removed from the local authority. Is that what the noble Lord is actually suggesting?

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

I am not sufficiently up on the way in which standard spending assessments are decided for the education budgets of local education authorities. We are suggesting that there should be a level playing field for the debts relating to individual schools. If that is taken into account within the standard spending assessments of the education budgets of LEAs, I should be interested to hear it and I may then beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Blatch

That was an interesting reply because the only place from which a grant-maintained school can receive its money as it relates to the local authority is from the local authority, so the debt either resides with the local authority or with the school. The money to service that debt must either remain with the local authority so that it can service the debt at local authority level, or be taken from the local authority and be given to the school. Either way, the effect is financially neutral.

However, the amendment clearly fails the test of practicability and efficiency. On practicability, the determination of historic debts within an overall debt funding package would be a task too horrendous to contemplate within a reasonable time. Effectively, the amendment would require an examination of the position of any outstanding loans taken out on a school, no matter how long ago they commenced. What would happen to a school which was the product of a merger? Would a team of researchers have to trawl through archives to allocate any remaining debt? I doubt that any sensible organisation would wish to burden itself with such a task.

In terms of efficiency, the consequences of such a transfer would be to increase the resources of the grant-maintained schools, coming, of course, from the LEAs. This is because the funding system ensures that schools becoming grant-maintained are no worse off than when they were funded by the LEA. The end result of this amendment would be a messy, time-consuming paper transfer of debt. I am sure noble Lords will agree that this is not an efficient way of doing business.

The subsection is a re-enactment of the Education Reform Act provisions. I see no reason to change from the current simple position to a more complex one. I ask that the amendment be rejected.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Before the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, replies, I am sure that my noble friend will remember that when we considered the previous Education Act I moved an amendment very much like this one in order to find out exactly what this method of proceeding was about. I believe that we did the same thing again recently in relation to the Further and Higher Education Act. Although it is very strange to leave the debt with the local authority, it is the neatest thing to do. As I think that I ascertained, LEAs receive the necessary money for servicing the loan so the arrangement is not a disadvantage to them. That is already happening. I believe that we are talking about a continuation of that practice. Can my noble friend confirm that I am right?

Baroness Blatch

My noble friend is right. Whatever happens, the effect is financially neutral for the local authority or the school in that there has to be a transfer of the money.

However, there is another important point which I have not yet made in response to this amendment, which is that the local authority entered into the debt to benefit the community. The benefit to the community remains. It is a question of where the responsibility for servicing the debt resides—and wherever it resides, it would be for the Government to make sure that it was dealt with through the funding mechanisms. What we have in the amendment is a superimposed administrative burden and for that reason I think that it should be rejected.

Baroness Hamwee

I was glad to hear the Minister's comment about the Government having to make sure that the funding mechanisms recognise the responsibility remaining with the local authority. Can the Minister ensure that her colleagues at the Department of the Environment will take that on board? Can she confirm to the Committee that this departmental matter will be taken up?

Baroness Blatch

It is not a departmental matter. I do not know in what context the noble Baroness makes that point or what is her concern behind it. We are talking specifically about servicing capital debt. If a school remains with a local authority, that local authority will have to continue paying a precise amount of money to service that debt. If the amendment were accepted and the debt transferred to the school, the money in the local authority's coffers would have to be transferred to the school because that is the only source of funding to service the debt. I am simply saying that the system is financially neutral but administratively burdensome.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

I thank the Minister for her reply which, to be frank, I found illuminating. I shall read her answer with interest and am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford moved Amendment No. 117: Page 18, line 8, leave out ("or").

The right reverend Prelate said: In moving Amendment No. 117, I am speaking also to Amendment No. 119 which, in turn, is linked with (although it has not been formally grouped with) Amendment No. 296.

Clause 35 deals with property which is transferred to the new governing body of a school which becomes grant-maintained. Since the passage of the 1988 Act questions have often been raised about whether that Act means that property held by trustees for a school passes to the governing body. I understand that that is not the correct interpretation of the Act, but the position is less than clear. The amendment puts the position beyond doubt. The amendment also establishes that where before the acquisition of grant-maintained status the LEA was holding land which it was obliged to convey to the school trustees, that land does not vest in the governing body.

The amendments put right one of a number of difficulties that the Churches have with the Bill's property provisions. We have set out in detail our several concerns over property, and most, if not all of them, have been accepted by the Government.

I should like to take the opportunity to express my gratitude to the Secretary of State, the Minister and the officials of the department for the time that they have given to these and other technical matters which have been of concern to the Churches. At the conclusion of the Second Reading debate, the Minister rebuked me for not being adequately grateful to the Secretary of State and the Government. I should like to put the record straight. For one moment I felt like a recalcitrant sixth-former being rebuked by the head mistress in front of the school assembly. I hope that I am making adequate apology and putting the record straight. However, I should like to add that, had we been given more time and a less rushed timetable, we might have avoided some of the difficulties that we have got into.

Negotiations about these property matters, as the Minister is aware, are continuing between my officials and hers. We await sight of the government amendments. I have to say, as I am sure the Committee will agree, that this is less than satisfactory. I say that because I hope that the Committee will be kind enough to give time to these matters on Report if, when we have sight of the amendments, there are still matters that are not entirely to our satisfaction. I move the amendment as a token of our concern. I hope for a positive reply from the Minister. In due course there will be other more complex matters to which I think we shall have to give attention. I beg to move.

Lord Addington

I support the amendments, especially Amendment No. 119 to which I have my name. The right reverend Prelate has an important case. We have an unusual group of schools which are attached to bodies which are bigger than just the schools. In view of the amount of good work done by such bodies, they should not suffer.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

The amendment seeks to prevent the Churches from losing assets associated with voluntary schools when they gain grant-maintained status. Understandably, the Church of England, and no doubt other Churches with voluntary schools, will not wish to lose their assets associated with those schools. The amendment seeks to ensure that those assets, whether land or other property, will not be transferred to grant-maintained schools.

This provision is similar to Clause 35 which we have been discussing and which would prevent LEAs being left with the school buildings of schools gaining grant-maintained status. The amendment is concerned with protecting the interests of the body that is losing control of the school which is becoming grant maintained. In this case it is the Churches. I associate myself with the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Addington.

Baroness Blatch

The confession of the right reverend Prelate who felt a bit like a recalcitrant boy pales into insignificance compared to my embarrassment at being considered the headmistress before whom he stood. I sincerely accept the apology. It was the lack of balance contained within the speech that caused the problem. I hope that we can both express our wish for peace in these matters.

It is true that the Government agree with the Churches that there should be an amendment to give effect to the changes described by the right reverend Prelate this evening. I hope that he will accept that the amendment is not perfect in every detail and that it is my intention to come forward with an amendment that will meet his concerns.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

I am grateful to the Minister for that response. With that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.45 p.m.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth) moved Amendment No. 118:

Page 18, line 8, at end insert: ("() any equipment owned by the local authority and held at the school for the use of a child or children with special educational needs, or").

The noble Baroness said: I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 125. Amendment No. 118 is aimed at ensuring that equipment provided by a support service for a pupil with special educational needs does not become the property of the school if it becomes grant maintained. Amendment No. 125 ensures that LEAs will be able to move equipment belonging to them around to where it is needed during pending procedures.

Equipment is often located at a particular school for the specific purpose of meeting the special educational needs of children. That equipment may be part of an LEA's support service, but at any one time it is possible that it may be based at one school only. The equipment may be on loan to a particular child or in a school to help a number of children gain access to the curriculum. We are talking about things such as radio hearing aids, low-vision aids and so forth.

Such equipment sometimes needs to move with a child when it moves to a new school. Children become used to equipment. It is important that they stay with it, if that is what suits them. Equally, a child's needs may change and a different piece of equipment may be needed because of an improvement or deterioration in that child's skills. The Special Educational Consortium feels that the amendment is necessary, because, as the Bill is drafted, it would mean that on becoming grant maintained a school would keep equipment in use in the school at that time, as provided in Clause 35. Under Clause 42 the LEA would not be able to move it around from the school during the pending arrangements. That is what the amendments seek to rectify.

There is, above all, a need for a flexible approach to ensure that the children's needs are being met in the best possible way as they change over time. In view of the Minister's response to the previous amendment, I hope that she will be able to say something positive about this one, either accepting the amendment or saying that she will come back with something of her own. I beg to move.

Lord Renton

The amendment is one which should be considered seriously by the Government. The position is complicated because, owing to the principle, with which I do not always agree, that people with special educational needs should be integrated into mainstream schools, we may find that after a school has been given grant-maintained status there will be some children with special educational needs remaining in that school. They will need that special equipment to which the noble Baroness has referred. But it may be equipment of a kind which, as she has said, can be moved around from school to school perhaps on a weekly basis. The answer is that there needs to be—I repeat the word that she used—flexibility.

Frankly, with great respect, I do not believe that the amendment achieves flexibility. It gives the impression that the local authority will take the equipment away from the grant-maintained school, but I do not believe that that is what the noble Baroness intends. Now that the facts have been presented to my noble friend the Minister, I hope that she will realise that there is a problem; that it is not entirely simple; but is worthy of her consideration.

Lord Addington

I add my support to the amendment because it meets the requirement for a degree of flexibility when dealing with children with special educational needs, particularly when one cannot guarantee that those children will be in one school for any length of time. If both the funding authority and the LEA are responsible for education in any one period, we should have someone taking overall control of these matters. It would be courting disaster if we do not have overall control in moving a piece of machinery from one school to another. I suggest that the local education authority, which has local knowledge, should retain such control.

Lord Swinfen

I too support the amendment. Equipment is often issued specifically to cater for the needs of a single child. If that child moves and the equipment must stay with the school, new equipment must be bought for the second school. Consequently there would be a waste of money because no child needing such equipment might not go to the original school.

Lord Rennell

I am not sure why Amendments Nos. 118 or 125 are necessary. If there is a need for property or equipment within a school for a child or children with special educational needs I cannot see why the LEA or any other body would want to take it away. If there is no requirement for that property or equipment by the school the Bill allows for consent by the governing body to be given to release the property.

We have heard many reports of dirty tricks by LEAs which are opposed to opting out. I know that such authorities are in the minority. However, because we are talking about children with special needs we should have no illusions that that necessarily carries any special or sympathetic appeal to the ideologically extreme education authorities. I should like to illustrate a most shocking example. It is not so much a matter of property being taken away from a school with a child with special educational needs: rather, it was a question of, as it were, taking away the child. Nine months ago Labour Left-wing council chiefs of Newham Council threw out a teenager suffering from hydrocephalus, which is water on the brain, from the council-run Newham Academy for Music, where he had been taking music lessons for three years. Why did they do that? They did so because he was a pupil at Stratford school, which had recently opted out of their local education authority control.

It is for that kind of reason that I should prefer the good judgment of the governors or governing body of the school to decide whether property or equipment should be held or released. For that reason I am against the amendment.

Baroness Warnock

The issue is of some importance. I hope that it will be clarified when we reach Part III of the Bill and discuss who has the overall planning control in providing education for children with special needs, whether they are in special schools or mainstream schools and whether those mainstream schools are grant-maintained. If, as I hope, it emerges that the local education authority is to have planning and review powers for the provision of education for children with special needs wherever their schooling takes place—and that includes such children in mainstream schools—the question will probably answer itself. It is not really a question of ownership but of control of the use of such equipment. It is plain that if a child is in a school which becomes grant-maintained it would be within the power of, and it would be right for, the local education authority to leave the equipment with the child in the grant-maintained school. However, when the child came to the end of his school career the local education authority would know whether there was a child in a different school who had need of the equipment. I believe that the question is difficult to decide in isolation from that much broader question of the planning and review of all the education of children with special needs.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My brief intervention is not entirely relevant but I hope that the Minister will accept it. My advice to the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), is to get to know the local education officer very well indeed. When I was an education officer I moved equipment about left, right and centre although I was not supposed to do that. My criterion was whether children would benefit. In many cases they did; for example, I used to provide local education authority equipment to pre-school playgroups. I hope that Members of the Committee agree that that makes a most effective contribution to the local educational and play scene. I remember referring to that in my maiden speech in another place. A kind Minister of State said that he had not quite heard what I had said in that part of my speech but he felt sure that I was making considerable contribution to the local community. If Members of the Committee bear that in mind it may be of some assistance.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

I too shall be brief. I believe that the two key words in our debate are "flexibility" and "co-ordination". The purpose of the amendments is to ensure that the resources follow the child rather than remain in the school. Our debate is the most appropriate way of ensuring that that happens. I take on board the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, that the debate will take place in a more appropriate context when we come to Part III of the Bill. The amendments tabled in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), are a suitable way of co-ordinating and planning the flexibility which is required to support the equipment needed by children with special educational needs.

Baroness Blatch

This is, indeed, an issue of great importance and I well understand and support the anxiety which lies behind them. The amendments concern special educational needs, which is an area of great interest to the Committee. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that at the end of the day children and their needs must be the prime consideration.

The noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, raised in my mind skeletons in the cupboards of some local authorities. I know some of the schools on the receiving end of education officers who went in and almost by stealth snatched away equipment to place it somewhere else. We need a balance of interest. The way in which the matter is handled and managed is very important because at the end of the day there is an issue of special needs in all schools. If we take seriously the Warnock figure of 20 per cent. of children with special needs, there will be a proportion of that 20 per cent. in every school in the land.

The amendments provide that special educational needs equipment at schools which acquire self-governing status will remain the property of the LEA and not transfer to the school. They are set against the background of Clauses 35 and 42. Clause 35 deals with the transfer of special educational needs equipment to the governing body of the self-governing school on the date of implementation of the proposals. Clause 42 prohibits the local authority from changing the use of equipment—for example, by moving it to another school—in the period when the procedure for acquisition of self-governing status is pending.

Members of the Committee have set out clearly their reasons for tabling these amendments. They have drawn attention to the need for planning in the sensitive area of special educational needs and for making the best possible use of often expensive equipment. I would not want to dissent from those arguments. However, I would argue strongly that the proposals in the Bill, which build upon those in the Education Reform Act, are actually more effective and will serve the interests of children better than what is put forward here.

The first question in relation to a transfer of property to be determined under the Bill is whether the property is: used or held … for the purposes of the school". That is a matter of fact to be determined on the facts of a particular case. Where one is dealing with a piece of equipment which is specifically assigned to meet the needs of an individual pupil it may well be that the conclusion to be reached is that it is not held for the purposes of the school but for the pupil concerned. And therefore the property will not in any event transfer.

The second point to note is that there are provisions under Schedule 10 of the Education Reform Act which will allow a substantial amount of flexibility in dealing with issues relating to property transfer. As an example, paragraph 2(1)(b) of Schedule 10 will enable the Education Assets Board and the LEA to agree to modify the effect of the transfer provision in Clause 35. In particular they will be able to determine that certain property should not transfer where they agree that to do so would best serve the proper discharge of the respective functions of the LEA and the governing body of the grant-maintained school. And here it is worth remembering that governing bodies of grant-maintained schools have a duty under Clause 153(1)(a) to: use their best endeavours, in exercising their functions in relation to the school, to secure that if any registered pupil has special educational needs the special educational provision which his learning difficulty calls for is made". In other words, both governors and LEAs have functions to perform and either may need suitable facilities.

Thus the conclusion may be reached in a particular case that it is better, given the LEA's functions in relation to special educational provision, that they retain ownership of the property. I would suggest that this gives a level of flexibility not afforded by these amendments, a point made by my noble friend Lord Renton.

In effect, the arrangements in the Bill mean that decisions about whether property should go to the school or the LEA are made on a case-by-case basis and on the merits of each case. Surely this flexible approach—with the decision made by an impartial body—is the best way to ensure that equipment goes where most needed, with full evidence of a case being made by a local authority and full evidence of a case being made by the school.

I also think it worth considering the difference between equipment relating to individual pupils and other equipment which may be of more general use. While individual details need to be considered in each case that arises, it is likely that equipment which falls into the first category—equipment which is specially adapted and suitable to an individual pupil—will remain the property of the local authority. Members of the Committee might find it helpful to have an example of such equipment. A specialised hearing aid used by a particular pupil and specified in that pupil's statement would be a clear candidate for LEA ownership. That would allow the equipment to go with the pupil as he moved from one school to another and—when he no longer had need of it—for the LEA to use it for another pupil.

On the other hand, a hearing loop set up in a classroom—clearly of benefit to all pupils with any degree of hearing impairment—would be best retained by the school in which it has been fitted. It would accordingly be likely to be vested in the governing body of the self-governing school.

Another way of expressing this is to draw a distinction between equipment that is specific to an individual child and that for children generally. I have alluded to these distinctions to highlight what I feel is a major flaw in the amendments that are before us. The amendments cover both "child-specific" and "general" SEN equipment and provide that in all cases the equipment should stay with the authority. As I have said, we believe it must be more sensible that these matters are considered on a case-by-case basis, as is the current practice.

Perhaps I may tell the Committee of some personal knowledge. I know a school which does a great deal for children with learning difficulties in reading and speaking. That school has a set of computers with programmes specifically for those children but the computers are also used for normal learning processes. It would be terrible if, as a result of this amendment, those computers were removed from that school which has built up that equipment not only for children with special needs but also for children generally.

If reassurance that the system is currently working well is needed, I am happy to tell the Committee that in the vast majority of cases amicable agreements have been reached. It has been clear that both local authorities and self-governing schools have had the interests of these particular children at heart. I would add that if agreement cannot be reached, and the Educational Assets Board cannot therefore draw up a transfer agreement, the matter may be referred to the Secretary of State for determination. He will, of course consider each case on its merits.

To sum up, we already have an effective system for determining whether SEN equipment should transfer to the governing body of a self-governing school. This system is based on case-by-case examination. I strongly believe that it would not be right to undermine this system by providing for the automatic retention of equipment by the local authority where that may not allow the best use of the equipment. I would ask therefore that the proposed amendments be rejected.

9 p.m.

Lord Renton

My noble friend referred to Schedule 10. I am not sure which is the relevant paragraph of Schedule 10. Perhaps she would help me in that regard.

Baroness Blatch

I referred to Schedule 10 of the Education Reform Act and not Schedule 10 of this Bill.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

I thank all Members of the Committee who have supported the amendment. I thank the Minister for her extremely comprehensive but speedy reply. I am not sure that I followed all that she said because it was fairly complicated. I believe that, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, said, we all want the same things; namely, flexibility and co-ordination. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Warnock for her intervention. It is all part of the wider question.

The Minister said that basically matters are working well. However, there are problems. The RNIB has told me about a school that has just gained grant-maintained status starting in April. This is about staff as well as equipment but it is pertinent to the issue. The school hosts a resource centre for visually impaired children but supports children in the neighbouring schools in addition to their own school. The staff also support pre-school children in the area. It has announced that it intends no longer to allow the staff to support pre-school blind children nor will they allow the Braille production system to be used for other children in the neighbouring schools. That is not "child-specific". It would be useful for all children. At a stroke it reduces the ability of the LEA to support the children in its area. Therefore, I am not sure that it is always working absolutely all right. I wonder whether the Minister would allow me to come and talk to her a little further on the matter, because I believe that it is very complicated.

Baroness Blatch

I should be absolutely delighted to give the noble Baroness time. However, as a first effort, I should like to arrange for her to meet officials with whom she could get into all the real detail of the matter. I am disturbed by the story just related by the noble Baroness. But, again, it is a classic example of the system that I am advocating working rather better than an automatic assumption that all equipment that could subjectively be determined as special needs equipment would be transferred automatically to the local authority.

In such a case, I believe that the matter would be disputed by the local authority because it clearly has an area resource facility there and, with the local school being obsessive, it would be for the assets board to make a proper judgment. Without knowing the details, it seems to me that that is undoubtedly an area facility. Without prejudging the details of the case, I think that it is reasonable to suspect on the basis of very few details that it would be deemed to be an area of LEA responsibility. However, as I said, I should be more than pleased to set up a meeting between the noble Baroness and my officials and, of course, I shall also make my own time available to her.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

I thank the Minister very much for that reply and for what she said about the instance of the school I mentioned. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 119 not moved.]

Clause 35 agreed to.

Clause 36 [Transfer of staff]:

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 120: Page 19, line 30, at end insert ("or () has been appointed to meet the special educational needs of an individual pupil or specific group of children.").

The noble Lord said: As the clause stands, teachers of the deaf and, of course, other special needs teachers working in a mainstream school would become employees of the school when it became grant maintained. That means that they would no longer be part of the support services for hearing-impaired children and would not have the training and back-up that that should provide. Additionally, the ability of the hearing-impaired service to respond flexibly to changing needs in the population of deaf children would be severely restricted.

If a large number of schools in an area became grant maintained and several of those had been resourced to take deaf children, then the effect would be that many of the local teachers for the deaf would have their contracts with individual governing bodies, co-ordination would be impossible, economies of scale that might come from training teachers of the deaf together would be extremely difficult to achieve and the ability of the area to develop a cohesive approach to the education of deaf children would be virtually impossible.

Therefore, that seemingly innocuous omission effectively rules out the opportunities for local education authorities to continue to employ teachers of the deaf who might be working solely at one school. The situation could be further complicated by the definition of "solely at a school". Some teachers of the deaf are based in one school but also provide support to families of pre-school children. If that situation is interpreted as working solely in one school, then the central support services that the Government are currently saying should be held centrally would be virtually impossible to manage because staff would have their contracts with a variety of differing governing bodies. I beg to move.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

I support the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, on Amendment No. 120. I should just like to draw the Committee's attention to the fact that Amendments Nos. 121 and 127, which are tabled in my name, seek to achieve very much the same thing, although the latter does a little more, in that it also deals with "pending" procedures. The noble Lord very ably and comprehensively introduced the amendments and the reasons why they are needed. I should just like to say that I support them totally.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

I too should like to speak briefly to the amendments. This is a very similar subject to that which we discussed in relation to the last group of amendments. Here we are talking about people whereas previously we were talking about equipment. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's response regarding the transfer of people between grant-maintained schools and to know how their contracts are affected. I should just remind Members of the Committee that the two buzzwords which seemed to find approval in connection with the last amendment were "co-ordination" and "flexibility".

Lord Addington

I should like briefly to reiterate many of the comments that have already been made. It is vital that the Minister should tell us now what ways of trying to move around the expertise the Government are looking at. Different types of disability require different types of support. As we have a movable feast which will change with every school year, not a constant type of disability, it is almost inevitable that we shall need to have a degree of flexibility. I shall be most interested to hear how the Minister sees us meeting the problem.

Baroness Blatch

Clause 36 deals with the transfer of staff to self-governing schools and Clause 43 prohibits the local education authority from making staff changes in the period when the procedure for acquisition of self-governing status is pending. In most cases the staff working at the school prior to it becoming self-governing will automatically transfer from the LEA to the employment of the grant-maintained school.

These amendments would mean that staff appointed to meet children's special educational needs would not transfer to the employment of the governing body; they would continue to be employed and controlled by the local education authority. Grant-maintained schools are self-governing schools whose parents have voted to remove them from the control of the LEA. Control of staff decisions, such as appointments and dismissals, is a central feature of any system which devolves responsibility to the school. It makes very little sense to have one group of staff in the same institution employed by the LEA and another group of staff by the governing body of the GM school. That is not a recipe for sound organisation and good management. It would make it impossible for the governing body of the school to meet its statutory responsibilities in respect of children with special needs.

We do, of course, recognise that both LEAs and governing bodies have responsibilities towards children with special educational needs. The position will not, however, be improved by reducing the governing body's role in staffing decisions. The governing body after all has overall responsibility for both the child and the school. In many cases where a unit is situated on the same campus as a school and the staff of the unit work together with but are separate from the staff in the school, there is often a great deal of cross-fertilisation of staff and of children.

Under Clause 153 of this Bill the governing bodies of all maintained schools, including of course grant-maintained schools, must use their best endeavours on behalf of all their pupils with special educational needs. Those governing bodies will, henceforth, be required to draw up, publish and report annually to parents on their policies for special educational needs. To fulfil their responsibilities the governing bodies must have at their disposal staff who are skilled in identifying, assessing, teaching and monitoring children with special needs: it makes no sense at all for some staff to be employed by another employer.

It is true, of course, that grant-maintained schools will wish on occasion to draw on additional expertise to help a child with special educational needs. In those circumstances self-governing schools will turn either to the LEA or to a relevant voluntary body. Under Clause 154 of the Bill, introduced by government amendment in another place, LEAs are empowered to provide the full range of special needs support services to governors to assist them in carrying out their duties under Clause 157; in other words, in using their best endeavours on behalf of children with special needs.

The question of when a school can meet a child's special needs wholly from its own resources, with the help of outside assistance, or only if the child has a statement is a matter for the new special needs code of practice which we shall be debating later. What is quite clear, however, is that schools must employ teachers with expertise in meeting children's special needs.

There is one other safeguard which I know my noble friend will consider to be important. There is absolutely no question of a grant-maintained school behaving in a cavalier way with such a facility for which it was responsible. The facility would be regarded in terms of a change of character for that school. Before it could introduce any change in provision, it would need to present its case to the Secretary of State. I believe there are proper safeguards in place here. This is a matter of good management and of the proper deployment of teachers who are skilled in teaching children with special needs.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Swinfen

I thank the Minister for that long reply. Unfortunately I did not hear it all. I wish to read what the Minister has said in Hansard and after I have done so I may ask to speak to her or to her officials before the next stage of the Bill.

Baroness Blatch

I hope I may invite my noble friend to come to see me along with the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), as I believe there is a connection between these two amendments. I also invite any other interested Members of the Committee to attend such a meeting as long as that does not result in too unwieldy a gathering. We could then talk through some of the technical aspects of these amendments to allay any fears about these issues.

Lord Swinfen

That is an excellent idea and I am delighted to accept that invitation. With those words I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 121 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 36 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Judd

I think it would be appropriate before we move on just to dwell for a little while on the implications of the clause as a whole. That is why I am challenging it. The Committee will be aware that both Section 75 of the Education Reform Act and the provisions of the European Community acquired rights directive make clear that conditions of service for teachers remain unchanged, at least initially. The implication of the Education Reform Act and the European Community directive is that when schools become grant maintained there is no necessity for staff in post at the time to enter into new contracts of employment. However, that is not apparently always understood by schools and some of the problems encountered so far provide a warning of future problems. I believe that we need to put those on record as a marker for guidance in the future.

The drive to increase the number of grant-maintained schools could well lead to further fragmentation in the management, deployment and professional development of teachers. That would be a sad development if it were to happen. We all agree that teachers are an invaluable resource for the future of the nation. However, the arrangements, as envisaged, are not altogether supportive of a co-operative approach. It is possible that instead they will exacerbate the problems. They could increase insecurity by raising real anxiety about the future of many and by imposing further changes to the way schools are managed, with inadequate regard to the views of the profession.

The Government have created a situation in which teachers working in the same school may have different terms and conditions of employment from each other, or compared with schools elsewhere in the locality, whether LEA maintained or grant maintained. Many single school employers, such as governors of grant-maintained schools, are unlikely to have sufficient training, expertise or facilities to manage as effectively as might be the case and ensure the professional development of the teaching force.

There are concerns about the professional and career development of teachers working in grant-maintained schools. As the Government's interim advisory committee put it in 1988: The scale of the LEA operation would allow it to manage its teacher force effectively and professionally, offering opportunities for training, interchange and career development which would not be available to any single school employer". By definition grant-maintained schools are cut off from the LEAs which formerly maintained such schools. A grant-maintained school cannot expect any assistance from LEA support services for teachers as of right. Staff cannot expect access to LEA provided in-service training for professional development, or participate in consortium arrangements or joint curriculum development projects. Teaching staff have no say in the process of a school transferring to grant-maintained status. They are compelled by the decision to change their conditions of service and even to face possible redundancy. Indeed, provisions already exist for governors of grant-maintained schools to opt out of national agreements on pay and conditions.

The Government have said that the European Community acquired rights directive and transfer of undertaking regulations apply to the transfer of schools from LEAs to grant-maintained status. However, while existing conditions of service may continue at the point of transfer to grant-maintained status, opted out schools may vary conditions for new staff appointed to the school and may try to make unwanted changes to employment conditions for existing staff.

There is genuine concern lest the terms and conditions of service of teachers may be undermined deliberately in order to run a cheaper school. Experienced teachers are exposed to the possibility of redundancy to make way for cheaper teachers new to the profession or new to the school and not covered by existing agreements. Ominously, the Minister, Eric Forth, said to the Education Select Committee in the other place on 27th January this year: it is not necessarily damaging for a school to lose an experienced teacher and gain one who is new to the profession". The conditions of service for teachers in England and Wales are, of course, agreed by the LEAs and the recognised unions and are set out in what is called the Burgundy Book. Together with the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act that forms the basis of teachers' contracts. However, few grant-maintained schools adopt the provisions of the book en bloc. For example, a number of such schools have already altered sick leave and maternity leave entitlements. Few allow for the six months' paid sick leave agreed above the normal sick leave entitlement for accidents related to school work. Most do not recognise previous employment for continuity of service. Facilities and insurance agreements are ignored or new arrangements are imposed without consultation.

Grant-maintained schools appear not to be recognising the use of previous continuous service for employment protection purposes. Thus, even if a new teacher to the school had 20 years' service elsewhere, he would have to start again on the sick pay and sick leave entitlement band which would normally be applied to a newly-qualified teacher.

In our preoccupation with the administrative arrangements for the future, and the very heated debate that we have had at times, we have been a little remiss on all sides of the Committee in not having found ways to talk about the teachers without whom nothing would happen. The teacher is essential to the whole cause of education. If we are talking about the next 25 years or more with regard to the Bill, we must be able to talk reassuringly, although not uncritically —that is not our role—to the profession about the place that we envisage for it, and the security for it, so that teachers can get on with the creative, demanding and challenging task of education without unnecessary anxiety.

It is because I do not feel that we have been able yet to give such convincing indications to the teaching profession that I believe it may be necessary for us to oppose the Motion that the clause stand part of the Bill.

Lord Dormand of Easington

I briefly confirm what my noble friend said. I had intended to raise the points but in view of the hour, I shall refrain. Many teachers are worried about the employment protection and conditions of service arising from Clause 36. My noble friend said that at present there is what has been called a honeymoon period with the few grant-maintained schools which exist. However, more importantly, both Section 75 of the Education Reform Act and the increasingly important provisions of the EC Acquired Rights Directive make clear that conditions of service remain unchanged. I hope that the Government will at every possible opportunity ensure that those provisions are implemented.

The implication of the Education Reform Act and the EC directive is that when schools become grant maintained there is no necessity for staff in post at the time to enter into new contracts of employment. That would be a most serious misunderstanding. It is not always understood by schools—that is putting it kindly—and some of the difficulties encountered to date provide a warning of future problems. It is inevitable that teachers, in their unions or otherwise, should make that point so that it can be considered in the future. We have heard during the course of two days of debate, and on other opportunities in this Chamber, about the drive to increase the number of grant-maintained schools. There is no doubt that that drive will lead to further fragmentation in the management, deployment and professional development of teachers. My noble friend quoted what the Minister said to the Education Select Committee on 27th January of this year. I shall not repeat it. But what an incredible rationalisation that was.

I conclude by referring to perhaps the most worrying issue in this context. There is little evidence of consultative machinery in schools. That is a fundamentally important matter. Little progress has been made in establishing the JNC/JCC, and there are difficulties in establishing facilities' time in grant-maintained schools. In other words, no real forum for consultation exists. It is difficult to imagine that there could be such a turning back of the clock.

Finally, it is abundantly clear that all those matters, as well as others, are causing deep concern among teachers. It will be beneficial to everyone concerned, including the Government, if the anxieties are clarified at this early stage of the Bill. It is obvious that if real progress is to be made teachers must be fully consulted at every stage.

Baroness Blatch

I think it must be clear that this clause is essential to the successful establishment of a self-governing school. It replicates the staff transfer provisions of Section 75 of the Education Reform Act and provides that most school staff will remain at the school when it becomes self-governing, without any loss of their entitlements. This safeguards the position of both staff and school.

The school must have staff when it becomes self-governing. It would be in no one's interest to have to recruit a new set of staff when a school moves from local education authority to self-governing status. The disruption to the school's education would not be welcomed by any side.

The school's employees equally have a right to know in advance whether they are to remain in the employment of the school. This clause provides that, with a few specific exceptions, all local authority staff employed to work solely at a school which becomes self-governing automatically transfer to the employment of the governing body on implementation—most voluntary aided school staff are already employees of the governing body. Exceptions to the automatic transfer provisions are for sensible reasons such as the employee also working at another school; or an employee whose contract was coming to a natural end, or staff whose work includes the provision of meals for consumption by persons not at the school. In these cases the employee remains with the local authority employer unless special arrangements are made by the employee, the governing body and the local authority.

As a result of this clause, staff contracts become as if originally made with the governing body when a school becomes self-governing. Staff do not therefore suffer any diminution of benefits on transfer. Relevant legislation—for example, the superannuation and redundancy regulations —has been amended so that staff retain their existing rights when the school becomes self-governing.

There is simply no evidence of beleaguered grant-maintained schools. All the evidence is that, where they do not have the required expertise that they need, they have the ability to secure that expertise from outside the school.

My department has not received complaints. If one were to believe everything said by the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Dormand, that there is all this disgruntlement out there, then all those hundreds of schools which have gone grant-maintained would be inundating us with complaints. The department has not received complaints from teachers about changes to their conditions in grant-maintained schools. Both grant-maintained schools and local authority schools can decide, as employers, whether changes to non-statutory conditions are sensible.

I hope that the Committee will agree that this clause is essential to the success of a school which is becoming self-governing. It helps secure the position of staff and the school, contrary to what both noble Lords have said. I move that Clause 36 stand part of the Bill.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Judd

I thank the Minister for her reply. She stated clearly her intentions for the future and the situation as she sees it, but obviously differing evidence is available to us. I have tried to put to her some of the anxieties which certainly exist outside. They are not always about the present situation; as I emphasised, they are much more about the future and the dangers that lie ahead for teachers.

However, I accept the good will and intention of the Minister on this and hope that she will take the opportunity to look seriously at the points which I have made tonight. I am sure that she will do so and will find an opportunity to give reassurance on the detailed points which my noble friend and I put to her. On that basis, I shall not press the Motion to a Division.

Baroness Blatch

Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may make clear that I was not mouthing good intentions about the future. I was stating the security of teachers in law. I named the statute where the protection lies. I said that it is not consistent with the case put by the noble Lord. I believe that teachers are secure, their rights are secured in the new situation. Indeed, they are not complaining.

Lord Dormand of Easington

The words which the Minister used at the beginning of her reply certainly did not reflect the impression that my noble friend and I intended. We do not say that there is absolute turmoil and chaos at all; that is the last thing we are saying. We are saying that from our evidence of talks and everything concerned with the teachers, they are worried about two matters: first, about what is happening—it may be on a small scale, but it is happening; secondly—and we both said this—they are concerned about what can happen in the future. I believe my noble friend said that a marker is being put down for the future. That seems to me to be a perfectly legitimate thing to do.

I hope that the Minister will take these points on board. I have to say that I am absolutely astonished that the department has not received any complaint of any kind about this matter, which I believe is what the Minister is saying—

Baroness Blatch

Perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord. That is not all I said. I also said, right at the outset, that this replicates the staff transfer provisions of Section 75 of the Education Reform Act. I went on to say that when a school goes on to become self-governing it is done without there being any loss of teachers' entitlements. Is the noble Lord refuting that?

Lord Dormand of Easington

I am neutral on the point. I am saying—and I am obviously not getting the message over—that there are certain implications in what is being done and said about which the teachers are simply not happy. The Minister says (if I may repeat myself) that there have been no complaints of any kind. I accept that the work has been done. But I am very surprised at some of the representations made to some of us by teachers' organisations, some of which we accept and some of which we reject. I hope the Minister will accept that we have independent minds and some experience in these matters, and will do something about it. I am simply saying that there are legitimate causes for concern at the moment and, as I said at the end of my contribution, I hope that these will be taken into consideration by the Government.

Clause 36 agreed to.

Clause 37 agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 38 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

I presume to intervene at this moment because Clause 38 is the first clause to which your Lordships' Select Committee on scrutiny and delegated legislation has commented. I am sure that Members will wish to express gratitude to the committee for its report, which is as admirable in method as it is in its final form. I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is in his place to blush becomingly at the compliments which I do not doubt will be paid to his committee.

Before commenting on the specific provisions, the Select Committee, having corresponded with the department, reviewed the general delegated powers in this Bill. They noted that there were over 100 legislation-making powers. That merely confirms what I am sure everyone reading the Bill must have seen immediately: that it is a markedly bureaucratic measure.

But the matter does not stop there. Of those over 100 subordinate legislation-making powers, all but 13 were statutory instruments. Of those statutory instruments only one was subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. Four were subject to no parliamentary control at all. The rest were subject only to the exiguous negative resolution procedure. That is just what the department wishes. As the Committee knows well, the negative procedure is ineffective in two respects: the prayer in the other place is very frequently not reached at all; and in this Chamber there is the questionable convention that Members do not vote against a statutory instrument. Therefore to provide, as this measure overwhelmingly does, almost a blanket provision for negative resolution procedure is to divert the matter entirely from parliamentary scrutiny. It also means that, bulky as is the Bill and enormous as is its weight, there is a far bigger bulk lurking below the surface. This massive document is only a small part of the legislation that will emerge from this measure.

That was the result of the preliminary survey of the Select Committee. It then turned to Clauses 38 to 40. Those clauses provide for various financial limits and I do not need to go into them in detail. The gravamen is that the Secretary of State takes power to alter those financial limits. Naturally, the Select Committee drew attention to that Henry VIII clause to do with financial matters. It corresponded with the department to ask whether the primary objective was to allow for the financial limits to be altered in line with inflation. The answer was that that was so. But in addition, which seems quite reasonable, they could be altered to take account of alterations in the value of the land. Of course, the value of land does not necessarily alter in inverse proportion to the rate of inflation.

The final answer from the department was that it might want to make further alterations if it found that the limit was impinging too harshly on the local authorities. Although that sounds laudable, it is questionable as to whether it is the proper subject matter of ministerial order. Nevertheless, on this occasion the Select Committee thought that, in view of the explanation, there was no real reason to object to the negative resolution procedure.

I draw attention to that point in particular because, when the Committee comes to Schedule 3, it will see that the Select Committee made its recommendation in a very different form, clearly implying (as I am sure the Committee will see) that in that respect the affirmative resolution procedure ought to be the one that is applicable. Having said that, I see no reason to object to what the Select Committee in its admirable report recommended on this group of clauses.

I end by expressing personally the gratitude I feel for the report that has been produced, which justifies abundantly the wisdom of this Chamber in the Procedure Committee in brushing aside the reservations of the Government—in this respect that means Whitehall—against the institution at all of that committee.

9.45 p.m.

Earl Russell

I should like briefly to associate myself with the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale—in particular his tribute to the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. Its work has been extremely valuable to the House and also to the Government. I shall not follow the noble and learned Lord in his comments on the structure of the Bill as a whole. It is vital in these matters not to confuse form with substance. Since my views on the substance of the Bill are on record, I will not discuss the matter in this context.

On the matter of Clause 38, we have a particularly clear illustration of the work of the committee being helpful to the Government as well as to the House. It succeeded in establishing a dialogue with the department; it received an explanation of the clause. The explanation appears, in its broad outlines, to be satisfactory. The committee was set up in the hope of producing a consensus. In the treatment of the clause one step has been made in that direction. I hope that it will be the first of many and I should like to express my gratitude to the committee.

Lord Elton

As my name has been mentioned, I would say that if I blush at all, however becomingly, I do so on behalf of the chairman of the committee, my noble friend Lord Ripon, and that should go into the record.

It was a fascinating procedure. Your Lordships will know that the committee was only called into existence after the Bill became available and therefore the work was done under some pressure and the report was perhaps not available as early as Members would wish. That said, the correspondence with the department was extremely helpful and means that, if we need to discuss the issues, we will know what we are discussing and why what is on the face of the Bill has been put there.

I am grateful to your Lordships for the comments on the work of the committee and I shall certainly see that my colleagues read them.

Baroness Blatch

This was indeed the first Bill before the Select Committee on the scrutiny of delegated powers that came before my noble friend Lord Elton. I join others in paying tribute to my noble friend and his colleagues on the committee.

While I admit to being just a little nervous at the exposure of a Bill that I was to be shepherding through your Lordships' Chamber, nevertheless I am sure that we would all agree that it has done a tremendous job. The work was detailed, and I was about to say tedious, but that may be disparaging. It was certainly detailed work and required a great deal of stamina on the part of members of the committee.

I listened with a great deal of interest to what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. As he pointed out, the Bill was the first to be scrutinised by the committee and I am pleased to have opened my remarks by paying tribute to my noble friend.

Turning to the specific case raised by the noble and learned Lord, paragraph 1 of Schedule 3 to the Bill at present requires any regulations we make to be subject to the negative procedure. Having listened to the noble and learned Lord, I still consider that that is a reasonable judgment.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

Will the noble Baroness allow me to intervene? I do not believe we have yet reached Schedule 3.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Perhaps I can address my noble friend. We were discussing Clause 38, which was the first recommendation that the committee made. We have not yet reached Schedule 3.

Baroness Blatch

I thought we were referring not only to some of the points raised by the noble and learned Lord, but also to the points raised generally about the work of the scrutiny committee, its recommendations to this Chamber and whether or not we should take notice of them. I can perhaps curtail all my comments by simply saying that while I believe that we have made a reasonable judgment, I shall be happy to take the matter away and give it some consideration between now and Report stage if that will be of help to the noble and learned Lord.

Clause 38 agreed to.

Clause 39 [Wrongful disposals of land]:

Lord Judd moved Amendment No. 122: Page 23, line 25, at end insert: ("() The Education Assets Board shall carry out all its functions without racial discrimination.").

The noble Lord said: As I understand it, the Government accepted advice from the Commission for Racial Equality during the passage of the Education Bill through the House of Commons to ensure that the Funding Agency for Schools and the Schools Funding Councils for Wales were covered by the Race Relations Act and amended Schedule 16 to the Bill to that effect. Following the Government's commitment to that amendment, the commission argued it ought to follow that all other new bodies proposed by the Bill should also be covered by the Race Relations Act. However, in correspondence between the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State responsible for schools and the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality the Government have made clear their view that that should not be the case in relation to the Education Assets Board.

Part of the commission's argument for the applicability of the Race Relations Act to the proposed funding authorities was that they would carry out functions previously undertaken by local education authorities which were covered by the Race Relations Act. However, the Government have argued that the Race Relations Act need not apply to the Educational Assets Board because it will not be assuming functions previously undertaken by the LEAs. I understand that the commission disagrees and has argued for the applicability of the Act to the board for the following reasons.

First, when passing the Race Relations Act in 1976 it was Parliament's intention that all public bodies should be covered by it. Secondly, the symbolic significance of the differential application of the Race Relations Act is powerfully negative. It communicates an equivocal message about the Government's commitment to the eradication of unlawful racial discrimination from the education system; it contradicts the Government's public statements on this issue. Thirdly, in disposing of or dealing with assets it is possible—indeed, in some cases likely—that such assets will have been used by and be of particular importance to local ethnic minority communities. Thus, I suggest that there is a possibility of unlawful racial discrimination occurring in the way that such assets are disposed of and the Race Relations Act should certainly apply. I beg to move.

Baroness Seear

I strongly support this amendment to which my name has been added. Whatever the strict legal position—I question whether it is in favour of the attitude taken by the Government—surely the moral and political position must be that the intention of the Race Relations Act is that it should apply to all public bodies. To members of ethnic minorities the symbolism of not doing so is the exact opposite of what we want. The Government should be taking a lead. It is not as though we have got rid of racial discrimination in this country; on the contrary, it is still very much with us. If the Government give the impression that they support the continuation of discrimination in any way, even if they can argue that the law is on their side (which I believe to be extremely doubtful), it is an extremely unwise and undesirable thing to do at the present time.

Lord Renton

We are all against racial discrimination. Therefore, the point that the noble Lord has raised is a somewhat technical matter on the legislation. He mentioned the Race Relations Act 1976. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, will wish to be reminded that it was piloted through another place by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, when he was a Labour Home Secretary. I believe that he is now Leader of the Liberal Democrats. It is true to say that the Act was not made retrospective as far as previous legislation and legislative duties were concerned. Here we are legislating afresh. Subject to what my noble friend might say about the legal opinion on this purely technical matter, I should have thought that the Race Relations Act would apply to the carrying out of the functions of the Education Assets Board. Therefore it is unnecessary to have this amendment in order to make it apply. If it applies already we do not need to legislate again. I may be wrong.

Lord Judd

That is an extremely interesting, constructive and ingenious point. If the Minister can give us convincing reassurance on that point, I am sure that we shall take it very seriously.

Lord Henley

I can give every possible assurance that the noble Lord's amendment, although perfectly well intended, is unnecessary, as my noble friend explained.

Like any other public body the EAB is covered by the Race Relations Act. The board was created by the previous Act, the Education Reform Act 1988. It did not then require a specific reference to the Race Relations Act and we see no reason why this should change. In particular we do not see that Clause 39, which deals specifically with the actions to be taken in cases of wrongful disposals of land, is at all appropriate for a general statement of the kind for which the noble Lord is asking for perfectly honourable reasons.

As the noble Lord knows, the board deals largely with the transfer of assets and liabilities from LEAs to schools which have become grant maintained. It does not deal with the transfer of staff. But I take the point from the Race Relations Board that it might, on occasions, be disposing and dealing with assets which certain local ethnic groups might wish to make use of. That is something which should be borne in mind. However, reverting to my earlier comment that the situation is covered by the Act, I hope that the noble Lord will accept that assurance.

The second point made in the letter from the Race Relations Board from which the noble Lord quoted, was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear; namely, that not to mention the Race Relations Act and its application here is possibly symbolic. I note the point, but I still do not accept that it should necessarily be included in legislation. We do not see that it is always necessary that legislation should have such references. I dread to think what would happen to the length of all legislation if we had to include back references, for symbolic reasons, to all previous Acts of whatever sort, in order to satisfy all kinds of different lobbies.

I hope that both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, will accept the assurance and the positive reassurance from me and the Government, that we do see the Act as applying to the EAB and, generally within the Act, to all particular public bodies to which the Race Relations Act should apply. With that assurance and reassurance, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Judd

I thank the Minister for his characteristically constructive reply. We note that the Government are putting forward a very different and categorical statement tonight from what appeared to be the position conveyed in earlier correspondence. The Minister has been most emphatic tonight. On the understanding that what he said represents the Government's position and that it removes any doubt which existed as the result of previous correspondence, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 39 agreed to.

Clauses 40 and 41 agreed to.

Clause 42 [Restriction on change of purpose for which property used or held]:

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede moved Amendment No. 123: Page 24, line 39, leave out from ("when") to second ("a") in line 40 and insert ("proposals for acquisition of grant-maintained status have been approved").

The noble Lord said: I beg leave to move this amendment in place of my noble friend Lord Peston. In doing so, perhaps I may speak also to Amendments Nos. 124 and 126. The purpose of these amendments is to prevent the transfer of property needing the Secretary of State's agreement when a school is awaiting grant-maintained status. Clause 42 prevents the taking of any action which might impact on the ownership or use of land and property at a school which is seeking grant-maintained status. Permission for making such a change may be sought from the Secretary of State and the old governing body. That is new. Under the Education Reform Act, only the approval of the existing governing body is required.

This clause presents a ridiculous situation in that even the tiniest item of property requires the approval of the Secretary of State before it can be removed from the school. If, for example, the LEA provides a service for maintaining electrical apparatus, then before an item such as a tape recorder or television can be removed from the school—or indeed exchanged—the approval of the Secretary of State is required. Many months can elapse between the governors' initial resolution to hold a ballot and the final approval of grant-maintained status by the Secretary of State. If unamended, this clause could produce some absurdities over securing permission in respect of property, such as for the removal of equipment for repair.

The amendment redefines the proposed period in which the provisions relating to the transfer of property shall apply to schools seeking grant-maintained status. It seeks to ensure that the smooth running of the school is not impeded during that period. The measures would take effect only if an authority contravened the provisions of the clause after the approval for grant-maintained status had been given.

The amendment also recognises the democratic process by ensuring that a school has the full potential to continue to operate within its existing legal framework until parents have had a chance to vote and the Secretary of State has given his approval. I beg to move.

10 p.m.

Lord Henley

Clause 42 follows a commitment we gave in the White Paper. It provides that, when the procedure for acquisition of self-governing status at a school is pending, the local education authority may not change the purpose for which any property at the school is held or used without the required consent. Before the proposals are approved, the required consent is that of the Secretary of State and the existing governing body; after approval, it is that of the new governing body.

These particular amendments, moved by the noble Lord, seek to reduce significantly this "quarantine period" by removing the duty on the LEA to obtain consent to change the use to which a property is put in the period before proposals are changed. I think the Committee will agree that this can only reduce the amount of protection which a potentially grant-maintained school will have against the actions of a potentially hostile LEA.

Perhaps I may give some examples of what we hope to prohibit under this clause. Many schools, for example, have ground maintenance equipment. An LEA should not have the power to remove that equipment before a school acquires self-governing status: equipment which is clearly the property of the school should remain as such. We simply cannot allow LEAs maliciously or mischievously to remove assets from a school. I am not in any way implying that all or even many LEAs would do this; but this clause was introduced because such things have happened. I could give some examples, such as that of the great custard powder scandal from, I think, the North-East, but possibly this is not the moment to go into such things. I do not think that the Committee would care to be detained at this time of night. It is therefore sensible to legislate so that these incidents do not happen in future. However, we do not intend to reduce the effectiveness of LEAs by restricting legitimate redeployment of resources where other schools may have greater need for an item. Each case that comes to the Secretary of State will be considered carefully on its merits.

Finally, this brings me to the duration of the "quarantine period". As the clause presently stands, the LEA needs the required consent to change the use of property from the time the procedure for acquisition of self-governing status is initiated. That is, from the time the LEA receives notification that a governing body is proposing to resolve to apply for self-governing status, or from the date when the governing body has received a petition from the parents. The amendment would mean that the quarantine period starts only when proposals are approved.

However, there may be many months between the initiation of the procedure and the date on which proposals are approved. LEAs would therefore have ample time to remove assets from a school which was applying for self-governing status. It is therefore paramount that the quarantine period starts as early as possible. It cannot be right that schools which acquire self-governing status are disadvantaged by having to replace items which should rightfully have been transferred to them. I am sure therefore that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

I am not satisfied with the Minister's reply. He did not address the question of removing equipment for repair, because, as I understand it, under the clause as currently drafted the LEA would be unable to do that. That is a patent absurdity. I was intrigued by the Minister's reference to the great custard powder scandal in the north of the country. I hope that he will tell us a little more about it when he responds to my question.

Lord Henley

Obviously, if the school wishes to remove something for repair, it will have to obtain consent. I was trying to imply that that was not something that need necessarily be over-bureaucratic. It is not necessarily something that would be turned down. We have to introduce regulations to deal with the problem that some LEAs—I appreciate that it is only some LEAs—might wish to act maliciously or mischievously by removing property, thereby depriving the potential grant-maintained school of possession of that property.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

As I said, I am not happy with that response. It is absurd to inhibit the proper running of schools during this period upon the basis of a popular belief as to what some LEAs might be doing to schools that apply for grant-maintained status. It is absurd to penalise all schools that might apply for grant-maintained status. However, given the lateness of the hour, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 124 to 126 not moved.]

Clause 42 agreed to.

Clause 43 [Restriction on staff changes]:

[Amendment No. 127 not moved.]

Clause 43 agreed to.

Clause 44 agreed to.

Clause 45 [Proposals by funding authority]:

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede moved Amendment No. 128: Page 26, line 25, after ("10(1)") insert ("(b)").

The noble Lord said: Currently, a grant-maintained school can exist only by virtue of a ballot of parents of pupils at that school. Thus, it has a democratic legitimacy. The clause allows the funding authority to set up a school at any point after an order under Clause 10(1) is made; that is, the funding authority is sharing with the LEA the responsibility for providing sufficient schools. That would allow a grant-maintained school to be set up without any ballot or demonstrated approval by parents. Yet the Government's prevailing ethos has been to let parents choose.

Once opened, a new school which had been established as grant-maintained, would be unable to become a county school, even if the parents wished it to be, and demonstrated so. That cannot be right.

Grant-maintained school governing bodies and head teachers have a great deal of responsibility and a great deal of bureaucracy with which to deal. A new school is likely to be unstable and may have an inexperienced staff. Surely in the early period of its existence, it would be better for such a school to have the back-up provided by an LEA rather than to have to rely on a distant funding authority. Then, if the parents of pupils at the school so wish, it could seek grant-maintained status once it had established itself.

The amendment would also avoid any divisive disagreements regarding which sector the new school should go in, since there is currently no satisfactory mechanism for making such a decision. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee

I support the amendment. Will the Minister explain whether, when the new schools are set up, they will be provided with a supply of custard powder to start with? If the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is to reply, perhaps her noble friend Lord Henley will answer my question later.

Baroness Blatch

It was a malign local authority which ran off with the custard powder, so I have no intention of bringing custard powder into the discussion on an amendment which deals with trigger points between 10 per cent. and 75 per cent. However, I am interested to ask the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, why a new school should be unstable and why it should have inexperienced staff and nervous pupils. My goodness, new schools are being formed every day across the country and if they all have such shaky starts it would be very strange indeed.

In order for a school to become grant maintained it must produce a proper plan. It can be accepted into the sector only if the plan is deemed to be viable. Those are the considerations which my right honourable friend will take into account. My right honourable friend will also give careful consideration to the needs of the area before approving the establishment of a new school by either the local authority, the funding authority or the promoters. If there were a need in a particular local authority it is possible that all three could come forward with proposals. All three would be considered on their merits. The fact that the funding authority can propose the establishment of a new school does not stop the LEA or the promoters bringing forward their proposals. The amendment is thwarting and stultifying a simple enabling measure in the Bill. I believe that the provision should stand and I hope that the Committee will reject the amendment.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

It is clear that we on this side of the Committee have a different preference because we believe in the legitimacy of the democratically-elected local education authority. We guess that new schools may be under the protective wing of the local education authority until they seek to apply for grant-maintained status if they so wish.

It was revealing to hear so many Members of the Committee laugh when I spoke of the protective wing of the local education authority. I come from a Conservative-run local education authority and many schools have applied for grant-maintained status. However, I would not accuse that local authority of not being protective to the schools which it has under its control.

Baroness Blatch

I hope that the noble Lord is not concerned about us laughing at that point. The point about which there was some mirth was that it has taken until this point in the Bill to understand that there is a difference of opinion between us on the establishment of grant-maintained schools.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 129: Page 26, line 27, at end insert ("of the kind (that is primary or secondary) or kinds of education to which the order mentioned in subsection (1) above relates.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving the amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 135. My noble friend Lady Seear asks me to inquire further about custard powder but I shall not do so. Secondary grant-maintained schools are far more common than primary grant-maintained schools. Therefore it is likely that the 10 per cent. threshold for an order under Clause 10 will be passed for secondary pupils in an area while primary grant-maintained schools have—if I can find neutral language—not moved at the same pace.

The amendments are intended to prevent additional new primary grant-maintained schools being established in an area until at least a 10 per cent. level of parental support for a grant-maintained primary school as distinct from a secondary school has been reached. The drafting of Clause 10 accepts the need to treat primary and secondary provisions separately, and we endorse that approach.

The practical consequence is that the funding authority is likely to assume planning responsibility for grant-maintained secondary places in some LEA areas fairly soon. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, referred to the fact that no area is as yet anywhere near the 10 per cent. threshold for planning grant-maintained primary places. It seems to us that without amending Clause 45 the funding authority, which would have no planning responsibility for GM primary places, would, where a secondary sector order has been made, have the power to propose the establishment of a GM primary school. We are concerned that that amounts to a power without responsibility.

Clause 46 deals with promoters of new schools allowing the initiatives for new schools to come from third parties. Those promoters may, I believe, include parents. I am aware that Ministers believe that the pace of implementation should be driven by parental choice. The drafting provides the condition of a 10 per cent. level of parental support for GM schools being achieved but I do not believe that there is justification for construing parental support for GM secondary schools as equivalent support for GM primary schools.

Primary schools are usually a lot smaller and in many cases much less able to call upon a pool of people with the skills and commitment, even now, to manage the school in self-governing status. I chair the governing body of a primary school. We are extremely lucky to have some extremely skilled and energetic people on the governing body; but that is almost a matter of luck.

Ministers have recognised that by providing for clusters of schools with a single governing body, but Clauses 45 and 46 would allow a solo GM primary school, not a cluster, to be established in an area where GM primary schools were non-existent or thin on the ground. There must be an anxiety that without a great deal of long-term community support, a new primary school would be in a fragile position.

We must not take the risks which may be inherent in the clause without this amendment. There needs to be a reasonable level of local parental support for GM primary schools before any additional GM primary schools are established. I beg to move.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Henley

I have listened to the noble Baroness and I hope that I have understood her. I hope that I have read the amendments correctly. As I understand them, they seek to ensure that the funding authorities or promoters can only establish at stages two and three schools which are intended to provide the kind of education to which Clause 10 relates. For example, where the order transferring responsibility for school places relates only to primary education, this amendment seeks to ensure that the funding authority or promoters can only propose the establishment of a primary school.

I have a feeling that the noble Baroness has not quite understood that each phase trigger-point—that is, primary or secondary—only activates separately. A secondary trigger of 10 per cent. would not also trigger the possibility of a new primary school. I do not believe that the amendments are necessary since the Bill as drafted already achieves the effect for which the noble Baroness is aiming.

The term "relevant education", as used in Clauses 45(2) and 46(2), is defined in Clause 10(6). It may be helpful if I read out what Clause 10(6) says: The kind or kinds of education to which an order under subsection 1(a) or (b) above relates are referred to in the Education Acts, in relation to such an order, as 'relevant education'". In other words, where the order under Clause 10 relates only to primary or secondary education, as the case may be, the term "relevant education" is also only a reference to primary or secondary education as the case may be. That applies to both Clauses 45 and 46.

If I have misunderstood what the noble Baroness was getting at, perhaps we could deal with the matter by correspondence or later. However, I hope that I have satisfactorily answered the point that she was making and that she will withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee

I shall certainly withdraw the amendment. I shall also read again the various clauses and consider their inter-relationship and, if there is any further problem in the matter, perhaps I may write to the Minister as he kindly offered. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Skidelsky moved Amendment No. 130: Page 26, line 28, leave out subsection (3) and insert: ("(3) Where the funding authority recognises the need for a new school it shall advertise the funding potentially available to private promoters for educating pupils within the relevant area.").

The noble Lord said: In moving the amendment I shall, with leave of the Committee, speak also to Amendments Nos. 134, 136, 139, 146, 147, 149, 150, 151, 151A, 152, 154–157, 170 and 171. The goal of the group of amendments with which I and other noble Lords are associated is to encourage the entry of new schools into the state sector. The amendments are offered in no captious spirit but in the spirit of probes. We believe that they will make it easier to fulfil the purposes that are already in the Bill.

I hope that Members of the Committee will forgive my spending a few minutes on the principles which lie behind the amendments. I hate doing so, and inflicting this upon noble Lords at this time of night. I know that it is very late and I can already see the gaze of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, resting on me as I say this. But I should point out that the principles involved are no less important because it has taken until 10.20 p.m. to reach them. They are also somewhat novel in the context of what we have been discussing so far.

What do we mean in this context by new schools? First, we have in mind existing independent schools which wish to obtain state funding. Most such schools would be denominational, I think, built on a particular religious ethos. Most of them are paid for, often with great difficulty, by donations. They meet the educational wants of committed Christian, Jewish, or Moslem parents who want a religious education not available for them in their locality. In most cases such schools are vastly oversubscribed. They offer a good example of unmet demand, a demand which cannot be met because the private funding is not there to meet it. Our aim is to get public funding flowing to those schools—that is, to schools which parent want—and flowing as easily as can be.

The second type of school that I have in mind is one that does not exist at the moment but one which could be started and would be started to take advantage of a market opportunity if funding were available. After all, many wants only emerge if they are seen as possibilities. That is why entrepreneurship is important to progress in education as in any other walk of life. I want to attract people with new ideas and new methods into the state educational service.

It may be argued that there is no obstacle and that, since there is no obstacle to people starting independent schools, there is no unmet demand in the state sector. I believe that that is wrong for several reasons. But the reason which I wish to emphasise in particular is that most parents who send their children to independent schools pay twice: they pay once for the education that their children receive and once for the education that they opt out of. Most parents cannot afford the double payment to get the schools they want. If all parents were given a voucher cashable at any licensed school, I have no doubt that there would be a wave of new school creations. But, as things are, there is an overwhelming duty on the part of the public funder to have regard to the type of education parents want.

To use the language of the Bill, what kind of promoters are likely to be attracted to setting up new schools? Some of them will be religious bodies, some, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, will be groups of parents, while others will be entrepreneurs either as individuals or organised into companies or trusts set up to found and manage new schools on definite pedagogical or organisational principles. Some might favour traditional and others more progressive methods. But, provided they fulfil the conditions of the licence—namely, teaching the national curriculum, testing pupils and offering themselves for inspection as required—the state should be relatively indifferent to their pedagogy. Good practice is what works and what works well should be constantly subject to the process of discovery. I have reason to believe or, at least, reason to hope that the Government are not unsympathetic to what I have been arguing.

Chapter IV of Part II of the Bill, which comprises Clauses 45 to 51, provides for the establishment of new grant-maintained schools. This is very welcome and I believe follows many presentations which have been made to the Minister over recent months. Indeed my noble friend Lady Cox introduced a Private Member's Bill in this Chamber with that very purpose just over two years ago. The problem is quite simply that unless Chapter IV is amended along the lines we have been suggesting, the Government's good intentions will not be realised. There will not be any new grant-maintained schools established, or at best just a token few.

There are two main reasons for this. The first was given by the Secretary of State in another place when he said that he would consider applications for new schools to enter the state sector only if there were no surplus places in the areas concerned. This is an old departmental orthodoxy. Applications to supply new places will be entertained only if there is a so-called basic need. Basic need cannot be said to exist if there are surplus places, even if they are places which parents do not appear to want. The department calculates that there are 1.25 million surplus places in England and Wales at this time. But an overall surplus of places is quite consistent with the existence in parts of the country of shortages of schools which parents want their children to attend.

Parents may be looking for a school with a more disciplined approach, or a more technical bias, or better music, or a particular approach to teaching. Of course there is a limit to the diversity of school places which the state sector can be expected to provide. Nevertheless we think it should be a duty of the Secretary of State, or his funding agents, to have regard to the kind of education parents want. This principle was recognised in the 1944 Act when denominational schools were welcomed into the maintained sector. We seek to introduce that welcoming spirit into this Bill. We do this by placing the emphasis on demand, not supply. Our amendments would therefore remove basic need as the only criterion of entry into the state sector.

The second major barrier to entry is statutory—the requirements which promoters have to meet before an application will be accepted. Economists talk about transaction costs or, more colloquially, hassle costs. If the hassle costs of doing business are too high, no business will be done. For example, in paragraph 10 of Schedule 3 any 10 local electors, any governing body of any school in the area or the local authority are entitled to lodge objections to a proposal to set up a new school. We can be sure that every single proposal will run the whole gamut of objections, however frivolous. Some way must be found of limiting the power to object and the power to stop new developments from taking place.

In addition there are the awesome requirements relating to school premises. At present there are independent schools occupying premises which would be called unsatisfactory but which nevertheless achieve very good education for their children. Others may comply fully with fire, safety and health regulations but fail to meet the required square meterage per pupil, or some other provision of the 1991 school premises regulations. We want to give the Secretary of State or his agents the power to waive or vary some of these regulations if the proposal has merit on educational grounds. We do not want failure to meet every very minor obligation to be used as an excuse for preventing a new school coming into the state sector.

We want the funding agency to appreciate that the most important ingredient of a successful school is its ethos and this depends above all on its head teacher, its teachers and its philosophy. We run a grave risk of over-emphasising the material at the expense of the spiritual and intellectual requirements of a good school and of strangling new life in bureaucratic tentacles. I do not blame the civil servants. They cannot bear to give up a jot of their power or control, but I am sure Ministers will be willing to take a broader view of the matter.

The great theme which has run through the education reforms of the 1980s has been that of accountability. The Government's purpose has been to make schools accountable to their users—parents and children—as well as to the community of taxpayers.

In my maiden speech in this Chamber I talked of the two routes to accountability: centralisation and opening up the system to consumer choice. The events of the past few weeks have shown how difficult it is to make a monopoly service dominated by a few powerful teacher unions conform to the wishes even of a democratic government. Therefore, I hope that the Government will look more favourably on the second approach of opening up the system to new schools and new developments than they have in the past.

I now turn briefly to the purpose of the specific amendments in this group. Amendments Nos. 130 and 139 aim to highlight the crucial principle that the funder of a public service need not, and perhaps should not in general, provide the service itself. That has been recognised in the National Health Service reforms but not so far in the education service. Under the amendments the funding agency will be able to establish a GM school, but only after it has advertised the opportunity to do so to outside promoters.

Amendment No. 134 provides that Clause 46(1) should be deleted. That subsection requires that 10 per cent. or more of the relevant—that is, primary or secondary—maintained school places in an area should already have become grant maintained before a promoter can propose a new school. For example, there are at present no GM primary schools in the Bristol area. Therefore, a Christian primary school in that area which is already oversubscribed finds itself ineligible for grant-maintained status. Some school in an area has to be the first to become grant maintained, and there is no logic in saying that the first one has to be an existing county or voluntary school. There is no reason for denying an independent school which in every other respect qualifies to become grant maintained from doing so. The amendment simply deletes the 10 per cent. requirement. I hope that the Minister will accept the force of that argument.

Amendment No. 136 tries to make entry easier by removing the duty of promoters to consult before publishing their proposal. No doubt most of them will feel it prudent to consult before publishing their proposal but I want to remove the duty on them to do so.

Amendments Nos. 146, 147 and 149 are intended to give more information in the proposal about the character of the proposal and also to remove or limit the right of local objection, to which I referred earlier. The two go together. The more information that proposers are required to give about their intentions and their ethos the more information is available to the locality.

Amendment No. 150 is intended to ease the statutory requirements for approving an application and particularly to give a promoter a period of time to bring his premises up to the required standard. This relates to the point I made earlier about the statutory requirements for premises to be of a certain standard. The amendment seeks to give promoters time to bring existing premises up to the required standard.

In Amendment No. 151 the deletion of paragraphs (b) and (c) of Clause 48(1) removes or limits the right of objection under Part II of Schedule 3, which has already been deleted, and removes the Secretary of State's power to approve or veto a sponsor. I wish to emphasise that point. The object is to ensure that entry should not be subject to political veto but only to statutory requirements.

I should particularly like to draw the attention of the Committee to Amendment No. 152. The new subsection in the amendment requires that the Secretary of State take into account the need for diversity to meet parental demand and pupils' needs. It also requires him to approve a proposal for GM status if all the criteria are met, notwithstanding a surplus of places in that area. In other words, it requires him to pay attention to demand as well as to supply.

Amendments Nos. 154 and 155 are consequent on the deletion of the Secretary of State's powers under Clause 48(3).

I turn to my last substantive point. Amendments Nos. 156, 157, 170 and 171 address the issue of the financing of new schools. It is an important and complicated issue. Amendment No. 156 removes the 85 per cent. limit on capital grants which falls on new GM schools but is not faced by voluntary aided schools transferring to GM status. In other words, new schools applying to enter the state sector have to provide 85 per cent of the capital, but existing voluntary aided schools transferring to GM status are not subject to that requirement. I would very much appreciate it if the Minister will explain why that discrepancy exists.

Amendment No. 157, by contrast, lays down the simple principle that if the promoter provides the whole of the capital cost of a new GM school—that is, brings capital into the state sector—he should be entitled to a reasonable rate of return on that capital in the form of a supplementary capital grant.

Amendments Nos. 170 and 171, relating to Clause 78, allow new GM schools to invest their own funds if they wish and to claim a bigger per capita annual grant if they succeed in attracting more pupils after they have done so.

I apologise for the time I have taken in explaining both the principles of this group of amendments and the purposes of this particular amendment. As I said at the outset, our aim is to make entry of new schools into the state sector easier and more attractive. I hope that, accepting that aim, the Minister will be willing to consult with us about how best it can be achieved. I beg to move.

Baroness Cox

I speak strongly in support of the group of amendments. I support them because all the amendments share a common purpose`: to build on the good work that the Government have already achieved in reform of schools by increasing diversity of provision, enhancing parental choice, promoting accountability to parents and pupils and by raising standards through the advantages already conferred by the opportunities available through grant-maintained status.

As I stated earlier, since they have achieved their grant-maintained autonomy, GM schools have generally been an overwhelming success story. The Government are now to be congratulated on further extending those principles of autonomy by making it possible through the Bill for certain new schools to opt into new grant-maintained status. As my noble friend Lord Skidelsky said, there are many new schools up and down the country. Some have been established by parents who have felt so desperate about the poor quality of education in their local state schools that they have felt compelled to opt out and to set up their own alternative schools. They are not parents who can afford the fees of established independent schools. They often come from some of the most socially deprived areas in our inner cities. Their anxieties over the education in our state schools are generally over the failure of those schools to provide adequate spiritual and moral education as well as adequate general educational standards.

One classic example which I have mentioned on previous occasions because it summarises the problems so well is the John Loughborough school in North London, where the largely West Indian community was so dismayed by the quality of education in the local state schools, and in particular by the lack of moral and spiritual education, that, with the assistance of its church, the community set up its own school. I shall never forget a parent governor coming to me after speech day, saying with a broad smile, "Before John Loughborough was set up, we had to send our children 3,000 miles away to the West Indies to get a good, traditional, British, Christian education. Now that John Loughborough is here we no longer have to send them away for the education we want for them". We as a nation have betrayed those parents and many others by failing to give their children the education they want and to which they are entitled.

Many other schools have sprung up in recent years, representing different values and different concerns. As my noble friend said, there are those which serve the interests of particular faith communities. For example, among the Christian schools there are about 90 new independent Christian schools which could certainly benefit from, and passionately want to benefit from, the opportunity to opt in to grant-maintained status. The distinctive feature of these schools is that they also cater for parents who cannot afford to send their children to the traditional established independent schools. Many of these schools have pioneered new models of integrating spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils along with their academic development. But they survive by sacrificial giving from parents and by teachers willing to accept low or indeed sometimes no salaries.

Despite all that, one school in Bristol, which I have had the privilege to visit and which impressed me deeply, is threatened with closure. It is kept going only because over Easter parents raised a further £20,000 through selling their cars and other capital assets.

Another pioneering school, Hillcrest School in Lee, South London, will probably have to close in July because parents just cannot afford to keep it going. Schools of that kind already receive funding from governments in countries such as Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.

It is not only Christian schools which come within this category. Other faith community schools, such as the Jewish community schools—I think particularly of the Yesodey Hatorah School in North London—have been trying to get state funding for many years, I think over 20 years. Of course, some of our new Moslem schools also hope to achieve the social justice recognition, the equality argument that they also might be considered for state funding.

It is not only faith community schools, there are other kinds of schools too. For example, there is the small school movement. I have had the pleasure and the privilege of visiting the small school in Hartland, Devon. I was deeply impressed by the quality of education it provided for its local rural community. I was disturbed to learn that its application for voluntary aided status had been turned down, despite the fact that it had an excellent report on its educational attainments from the University of Exeter. Its only hope for survival lies in the opportunity to opt in to grant-maintained status as provided in the Bill.

Here we come to the heart of the problem which the amendments seek to address. Some of the provisions in the Bill as it stands will make it impossible for the very schools which most deserve to opt in and which most need to opt in, to do so. I refer, for example, to trip-wires such as the 10 per cent. requirement and to obstacles such as the surplus places argument. These have already been highlighted by my noble friend Lord Skidelsky.

Hence, these amendments are designed to remove the requirement that there shall be at least 10 per cent. of schools already opted out before a new school can opt in; and to enable the Secretary of State to disregard the argument that there are already surplus places in local schools. It is in precisely those areas where LEAs have been most actively opposing the freedom for schools to opt out into grant-maintained status that many parents have felt obliged to create new schools. It is thus those schools which are most likely to be prevented from obtaining funding as grant-maintained schools. They will not be able to opt in because there is not the 10 per cent. required.

Many of the schools have fought valiantly to survive at great sacrifice by parents. But many are in peril, they will have to close if the 10 per cent. barrier stays in place. Similarly with the surplus places argument. It is a death knell for nearly all the new schools because, of course, with the fall in the birth rate there are between 1.25 million and 1.5 million surplus places. But over and above that, there are surplus places in the schools in these areas caused by vacancies where parents have voted with their children's feet, setting up precisely the new schools which provide them with the education they want and to which they are entitled.

Hence the amendments such as those designed to enable the Secretary of State to have regard to parents' wishes in the distribution of school places and, where appropriate, to allow for the transfer of school buildings from schools now under-used or closed to new popular schools. I might just add that the surplus places argument did not prevent the Government setting up the new city technology colleges in some of our urban areas which were already full of surplus places.

I conclude by highlighting that these are some of the general considerations behind all these amendments which are designed to facilitate the access of new schools to GM status. They are entirely consistent with, indeed supportive of, the Government's important commitment to making provision of school education more accountable to parents and in so doing to be more democratic and more responsive to local communities—truly a manifestation of the principle of devolution of power by giving real power, the power of freedom of choice, to the people themselves. I therefore strongly support all the amendments.

10.45 p.m.

Lord Elton

Long speeches in support of amendments at this time of night probably do less for them than silence. I shall speak very briefly merely to say that the principle behind this group of amendments is extremely attractive. It seems to pose a particular financial problem. To remove the bar of the availability of surplus places presumably means that the Government are being asked directly or indirectly to provide funding for two lots of things simultaneously when only one is needed. I have not expressed that very elegantly, but I am sure that my noble friend understands it. I merely ask her not to brush aside this proposal with that easy dismissal—easy because it will certainly be backed by the Treasury—but to take the hard line of seeking some means of getting round that difficulty in order to bring a badly needed breath of fresh air into one part of our educational system.

Lord Kilmarnock

I apologise for arriving late in this debate for a series of amendments to which my name was attached. I am afraid I was chairing a conference outside the Chamber. I have not had the advantage of listening to what the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, said, and heard very little of what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox.

I should simply like to add my voice in principle to the broad thrust behind the amendments. I realise that some of them are defective. They are possibly even contradictory in some points. My understanding is that there is no intention to press them to a Division this evening and that they are in essence a series of probing amendments to try to discover the Government's intentions in this area of the Bill, which are not always crystal clear. Not all the proposals in the White Paper Choice and Diversity are brought to fruition in the Bill.

There may be a certain worry about promoters—Clause 46 mentions proposals by promoters—and the idea of bringing private finance into the state system. That is something that we could debate at very great length. But promoters will by no means necessarily always be profit seekers. In many cases they will be religious bodies or educational trusts, charities or bodies of that sort which seek to enter and to produce the very diversity of which the Government speaks within the state system, which I regard as a very healthy development. So I hope that this series of amendments in their general intent will receive sympathetic consideration.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred to the worry about financing two lots of places at once. That is understandable. But it is clear, even if this series of amendments were accepted, that the Secretary of State still has his powers under a later clause to remove surplus places. The main intention of this series is to make sure that he does not cut them out entirely and that they can be transferred to other possible uses. I believe that that is what the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said towards the end of her remarks.

I have a particular query which the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, may already have put forward and I apologise to the Committee if I ask it again. It relates to Amendment No. 156 of this series of amendments and concerns the 15 per cent. capital contribution of voluntary aided schools. My reading of the White Paper was that the Government proposed to remove that qualifying threshold for voluntary aided schools which transferred to grant-maintained status.

If that is the case—I must say that I cannot find it in the Bill, but it was certainly in the White Paper in paragraph 6.10—I should like to know why that particular waiver is to be exercised in the case of a voluntary aided school applying to become a grant-maintained school.

Lord Elton

Perhaps the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting him. Having myself spoken so warmly in support of this group of amendments, to which he has added his name, I hope he will forgive me for saying—and there is no intended discourtesy—that in fact the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, produced a speech of quite lapidary clarity and absolute completeness, which covered the point which the noble Lord now raises. As the noble Lord was not in the Chamber at the time, I think he takes a great risk of repeating matters that have already been put forward very elegantly and effectively on his behalf. Perhaps at this late hour he would not wish to take that risk.

Lord Kilmarnock

I was about to say that I was grateful to the noble Lord for that intervention. I certainly do not resent it. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, will have expressed the point in his customary elegant and clear manner. I do not in fact think it impermissible at Committee stage for a point to be reiterated and made again. If I have made it in a clumsier form, I hope simply that the noble Baroness, when she comes to reply, will simply take it into consideration as coming from another voice and indeed another part of the Committee. I have no objection to what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said. I have explained the circumstances of my late arrival and I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, made the point so adequately. I look forward very much to the noble Baroness's answer.

Baroness Blatch

My noble friend started by saying that he was not going to press his amendments. I hope therefore that he will forgive me if I indulge in my customary speed-reading, if only to get it on the record and allow him a more leisurely time to read what I have had to say.

These amendments are many and varied. I shall approach each one. I am sympathetic to the thinking behind Amendments Nos. 130 and 139 to make known the need for new school provision. But I do not consider it necessary to put this additional requirement on the face of the legislation. It would certainly be open to the funding authority, where it perceives the need for a new school, to seek to stimulate proposals from private promoters. This could include advertising the potential need for new school provision in an area or talking to the various voluntary bodies.

However, this is a matter which we consider best left to the discretion of the funding authority. We would not wish to remove the ability of the funding authority to bring forward proposals without first advertising the potential need. But a requirement on the face of the Bill could lead to unnecessary delay. In any case, by its very nature, a new GM school will be a self-governing school, and one of the tasks which the funding authority will have to perform is to find those who are willing to take on the role of governors. This may well involve advertising locally to find out who would be interested in making such a commitment and taking forward such a proposal. If proposals are published by the funding authority, it would of course be open to promoters to tell the Secretary of State that they wanted to bring forward competing proposals.

I understand the intention behind Amendment No. 134 to enable promoters to establish new GM schools before the 10 per cent. trigger point, and I should like to take the amendment away and think about it further.

Our view on Amendment No. 136 is that it is right that those who intend to bring forward statutory proposals should consult those likely to be affected and that this applies equally to the promoters of a new GM school. It is particularly important that the funding authority, which has responsibility for ensuring that there are sufficient places, should be given an early indication of proposals that may be made. Not only may this help to save unnecessary work on the part of the promoters but it may in some cases avoid the need for the funding authority to bring forward proposals of its own.

With regard to Amendment No. 146, when considering an application for a new grant-maintained school, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will in any case consider the character of the new school. That has always been the case when considering applications for new voluntary schools under Section 13 of the 1980 Act. The process for determining proposals under Clause 46 in particular will follow that used in relation to proposals under Section 13 of the 1980 Act, so far as concerns the establishment of new GM schools by promoters.

All applications for new GM schools will be considered in accordance with strict criteria, similar to those used for application for new voluntary schools. Those criteria include: the need for additional places in the maintained and grant-maintained sectors, as well as denominational need, where appropriate; the school's ability to offer the national curriculum and equal opportunities to boys and girls; the suitability of the premises; and whether the funding authority supports the proposals.

The proposed arrangements for considering new GM schools will give my right honourable friend the Secretary of State ample opportunity to judge what type of school is proposed. He will be able to judge through the admissions policy of the proposed school, the curriculum, details of the charitable trust/trustees and what type of school it is intended to establish. If he is not satisfied, he is free to request further information. He is also currently consulting on plans to require schools to include within their prospectus a statement on school ethos and values. Lessons learnt from that exercise would certainly be taken into account in any guidance issued to prospective GM schools. But it is not our current intention to offer schools any guidance on the content, length or style of such a statement.

The school's ability to provide the national curriculum will be a fundamental factor for consideration. Section 1 of the 1988 Education Reform Act requires my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, local education authorities, and heads and governing bodies to ensure that all maintained schools, whether denominational or otherwise, offer a balanced and broadly-based curriculum which promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at school and in society.

In relation to Amendment No. 147, when considering an application for a new grant-maintained school, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will consider the suitability of the promoters to run a new GM school. That has always been the case when considering applications for new voluntary schools under Section 13 of the 1980 Act. The process for determining proposals under Clause 46 will follow that used for proposals under Section 13 of the 1980 Act.

The governing body will be responsible for the overall management of the school, including financial management. The headteacher, who will sit on the governing body, will be responsible for the day-to-day management of the school. Basic requirements relating to the composition of governing bodies of grant-maintained schools are already laid down. Regulations will be made describing certain requirements as regards governors of new grant-maintained schools. It would not be appropriate at this stage for the Bill to go into any further details.

It is not possible to give a definitive list of the qualities required of a school governor. Governors do not need to be experts in the field of education. However, they need to bring enthusiasm, commitment and common sense to their role. We would also hope that they would act in what they see as the best interests of the school and its students when they carry out their duties. Elections and appointment of governors are made locally, and those who are involved in those processes will have their own criteria for making their choices. We would hope that governing bodies would contain representatives of all groups with an interest in the school.

In regard to Amendment No. 149, it would be entirely wrong to remove the right of objection to proposals by promoters of new GM schools. The opportunity for objection is provided to all other statutory proposals and there is no possible reason to exempt proposed new schools. That has never caused any difficulties in relation to the establishment of new voluntary schools.

In relation to Amendment No. 150, we would not want to allow pupils in those GM schools to be subject to lower standards than applied to other LEA and GM schools. When parents send their children to a school in the LEA or GM sectors, they have a right to expect that every effort will be made to meet any standards that are set by the Government with regard to the standard of school premises.

With regard to Amendments Nos. 151 and 151A, it is important to retain the safeguard of Secretary of State decisions in that vital area of school provision when the proposals are either locally contentious or have been put forward by groups of promoters. I cannot accept the wisdom of removing subsection (4) of Clause 48 which is there to ensure that the proposed premises of the new school are satisfactory.

With regard to Amendment No. 152, which seeks to remove the requirement to consider the need for additional places in an area, I understand the points made and indeed the point made by my noble friend Lord Elton. It is difficult to support the amendment for a number of reasons. Members of the Committee will be aware of some of the issues from the useful debate that we had at Second Reading.

First, it would not be right to tie the hands of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in the way proposed by the amendment, so that he was obliged to ignore the position on spare places in an area before approving the establishment of a new school. I can understand that my noble friends may at first sight find the idea of simply establishing new GM schools at the demand of promoters attractive, but I am sure that on reflection they will realise that it would be a considerable waste of public funds to approve the establishment of a new school, with all the possible additional costs that that entails, while there are spare places available in LEA or GM schools in the area. If this amendment were approved the Secretary of State would have no discretion in the matter and would be debarred from considering each proposal on its merits.

Speaking to Amendment No. 154, I can see no possible advantage in removing the power of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to modify proposals at the request of promoters. The degree to which proposals can be modified is very limited. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State could not, for example, change the proposals in a way that made them significantly different. There are, however, frequently cases where minor modifications, particularly to the timing of proposals, are essential.

Turning to Amendment No. 155, I have already indicated to noble Lords in relation to Amendment No. 151A that I consider that the particulars of the premises of a new school given in Schedule 3 should require the approval of the Secretary of State. Clearly, it is necessary for the proposal to be implemented in accordance with these details.

Amendment No. 156 would place the promoters of new grant-maintained schools at a significant advantage over the promoters of new voluntary aided schools by making them eligible to receive 100 per cent. of the capital costs of establishing a new school. As drafted, the Bill ensures that the funding authority makes grant available up to 85 per cent. of the costs of establishing a new school, which mirrors the position in the voluntary aided sector. That will amount to a significant amount of money.

It is the provision of 15 per cent. of the costs of establishing a new GM school which entitles the promoters to appoint the school's foundation governors, who will always represent the majority of the governing body. They will also be able to determine the character of the school. Since the promoters will have a major interest in those schools that they wish to establish, it is only right that they should contribute to the costs of establishing them. Once the school is up and running the governing body will be eligible to receive a 100 per cent. grant for capital projects.

I can see that allowing up to 100 per cent. capital grant towards the cost of new schools would be an attractive proposition to promoters. No doubt there would be a flood of applications, whether a school was needed or not. However, we believe that a balance must be struck in this matter. In return for possibly substantial government grant —here we must also think of the public purse—promoters should have to put up some of the initial costs themselves.

The apparent intention of Amendment No. 157 is to provide a means of paying grant to schools that would otherwise not incur capital costs before they became grant maintained. As such it would have clear expenditure implications and, I believe, would put those schools in a more favourable position than existing LEA and voluntary aided schools that enter the grant-maintained sector. Those schools do not have an automatic entitlement to a supplementary per capita grant when they first become grant maintained.

If my noble friends' intention is to assist new schools then I believe that existing arrangements are already sufficient for this purpose. All GM schools are eligible to apply for capital grant for building work: applications are considered on their merits irrespective of the school's origins. There is also an annual GM capital formula allocation available for all GM schools. This could be used for many of the minor works that a school might wish to undertake.

Capital spending should be allocated on a needs basis. It seems to me entirely wrong that a new school should be rewarded by grant unrelated to its needs simply because the grant was not necessary to establish the school.

Finally, I refer to Amendments Nos. 170 and 171. The clause as drafted allows the Secretary of State to make, through the Funding Agency for Schools, exceptional capital payments to named schools that have sponsor governors. It allows the Secretary of State to enter into agreements with sponsors and, if he should so decide, to contribute towards the capital resources of a school with sponsor governors.

I believe that sponsor governors will significantly benefit many areas of school life through their experience, resources and managerial expertise, especially in schools looking to become technology colleges. It is imperative that sponsors should ensure that the Secretary of State recognises the importance of their contribution and that he is able to direct capital funding to schools that have taken up the opportunity to appoint sponsor governors.

The amendments would undermine this policy by removing from the Secretary of State the power to decide whether and at what level capital funding should be made available to schools that plan to appoint sponsor governors. Inappropriate decision-making power would instead be vested in the Funding Agency for Schools. Moreover, were the Funding Agency for Schools to decide against giving a capital grant to a particular school with sponsor governors, it would nevertheless be forced to make an additional payment or payments to the school if it attracted extra pupils over and above its current capacity.

In the light of that explanation, I hope that my noble friends will feel able to withdraw the amendments.

Lord Judd

My noble friend Lord Ponsonby will have one or two detailed observations to make on these amendments. Perhaps I may make one or two overview points at this stage in the debate. Insofar as I am able to grasp at this hour of night the rather fragmented presentation of the case, it seems that there is a kind of ruthless logic in the context of the green and amber lights which the Government's new policies may have unintentionally demonstrated in this direction.

When the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, is introducing matters of such substance for the future of education, he might give a little thought to putting them together comprehensively in a new clause so that we can have a comprehensive debate about the whole situation in a more coherent way than is possible in a whole series of tactical amendments of this kind. It is not satisfactory to introduce immense concepts of this kind in this way.

It is also important that those who support him should feel able to join in the full debate and be present for the whole of it, so that they can take all the arguments into account when there are matters of significance. The seriousness with which I can treat these amendments has been considerably undermined by the way in which there appears to have been a rather cavalier approach to the necessity of being present for the whole debate.

The Minister will know very well by now where the grave differences lie between the two Benches. Our general position is that where a new school needs to be established, the local education authority is the most appropriate body to consider the needs and to decide on the nature and size of the school, where relevant, together with the Church of England and the Roman Catholic authorities, and then to make the provisions. That is very much how we see it. We note that the Bill provides for that task to be done by the funding authority after the 10 per cent. entry point has been passed. The Minister knows of our reservations about that, but to move beyond that position still further would be very unfortunate.

Therefore, I thought it would be helpful to clarify our position. It has been a very unsatisfactory debate. I do not often have the opportunity of doing this, but I wish to congratulate without reservation the Minister on her ability to read at what must be a record speed a very interesting and detailed brief. I also congratulate those in partnership with her who produced the brief.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

Perhaps I may briefly address two points to Amendments Nos. 149C and 150A. I could not keep up with the Minister to follow whether she addressed those in her winding up remarks. The purpose of Amendment No. 149C is that all current building regulations should apply to the new grant-maintained school. The purpose of Amendment No. 150A is that it should require all proposals by the funding authority to establish a new grant-maintained school to have the approval of the Secretary of State.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

I am much moved by the proposers of these amendments. I have visited some of the schools to which the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, referred, and I am greatly impressed with them. I wish that somehow or other, and where appropriate, that they could be incorporated into the grant-maintained sector. I am so bold as to say to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that I thought that his criticisms of the movers was a little unfair because I recall that two years' ago the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, introduced a Private Member's Bill which gave a very comprehensive way of considering these very issues. I still have those in mind. I did not feel that the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, muddled us, although it was difficult trying to encompass so many different amendments and so many different sectors at once.

What I wanted to say is that if we go along this path I am duty bound to express an anxiety at the possible consequential effects of incorporating into the public sector a great many schools of different ideological persuasions and the possible risk, if we go far down this path, of a sort of fragmentation of society. I am not saying that that is a necessary consequence, just that it is a possible consequence which I think that we should bear in mind before we move in that direction to any great extent. To that extent, therefore, I must express a caution.

I was also impressed by the Minister, who pointed out a number of difficulties with the details of the amendment. I hope, however, that we shall not entirely lose sight of the substantive point, which is that many of us would like to see some of these schools incorporated into the public sector, where appropriate.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

I hope that it is not impertinent if I dissent from the criticism that was made of the speech of the noble Lord who introduced this amendment. It seemed to me a wonderfully comprehensive and lucid presentation of his case and I for one was completely persuaded.

I naturally tend to take a pro-Treasury point of view and I should very much have liked to have heard the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, costed so that we could know exactly where we are financially.

Lord Lucas

I wish only to make a very brief point which is that the principle of promoters receiving a rate of return on the money they provide in setting up a school is very long established. The primary school that I am a governor of pays large and increasing sums to the Church of England every year in this regard.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

I also would like to join with those who have complimented my noble friend Lord Skidelsky on his presentation of these extremely complicated matters at this late hour of the evening and also my noble friend Lady Cox. I found it a little more difficult to understand the answer of my noble friend the Minister - no doubt largely because of the extraordinary speed at which she was able to travel. But the impression with which I am left, having listened to the whole of this debate, is that the principle of trying to remove this 10 per cent. hurdle from the Bill goes to the heart of the Bill, and I would have thought that it went to the heart of the Government's intentions in the Bill. I very much hope that she will find a way to meet the principles of the amendment.

Lord Skidelsky

I should like to thank noble Lords who have spoken in support of these amendments and other noble Lords who have contributed to what has been an interesting and important discussion. I am bound to say that I thought that the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, in respect of the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, were entirely inappropriate. The noble Lord has been chairing all day a long-arranged meeting of the European Symposium on AIDS—he being chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on AIDS—which was arranged many months ago and long before he could have had any knowledge of the day on which these amendments were to be called. As he had made a great effort, after 12 hours, to be here, I thought the noble Lord's remarks entirely inappropriate.

Lord Judd

I am very grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. No personal criticism whatsoever was implied or intended, and we all have great admiration for the work that is being undertaken. The only point that I am making is that we are in the process of legislating for future decades of education in this country. It is a very heavy legislative responsibility. All that I am suggesting is that it demands a great deal of commitment by all of us to ensure that, if we are taking it seriously, we are able to participate fully in the proceedings.

11.15 p.m.

Lord Kilmarnock

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, for coming to my rescue. I noted the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that he thought my intervention cavalier. To be fair, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, thought something of the same. I pray in aid the fact that I supported the concept behind this series of amendments on Second Reading. If any noble Lord wishes to read my speech—something I am sure they will not want to do—that will be seen to be on the record. I do not believe that I have jumped into the debate as a Johnny-come-lately, although I confess that I have been a Johnny-come-lately this evening, for which I apologise.

Lord Skidelsky

I should like to pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Cox for the indefatigable part she has played in pursuing over many years the subject of trying to get new schools into the state sector. I hope that her efforts will be crowned with a certain amount of success in the Bill.

I was a bit underwhelmed by the response of my noble friend the Minister. It was not the Minister I have come to know; it sounded like a Civil Service brief. I hope that she will give us an opportunity in discussion to put our case on the points to which she alluded. I should like that assurance from my noble friend, and if she gives me that assurance I shall be happy. I shall not press the amendment at this point. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Warnock moved Amendment No. 131: Page 26, line 35, leave out ("such") and insert ("the local education authority in respect of their policies and plans for provision to meet special educational needs and such other").

The noble Baroness said: The point of the amendment is that when a plan for a new grant-maintained school is being put forward, as part of the conditions there should be consultation with the local authority with regard to the policies and plans that it has overall for the provision of special educational needs before the publication of such a plan.

It is an important point in that, as I understand it, the local authority will retain its authority to plan and review the education of all children with special educational needs whether they are in special schools or mainstream schools, and the mainstream schools can be local authority schools or grant-maintained schools. In our view, it is essential that before any new grant-maintained school comes into being there should have been serious discussion about how it will fit in with the local authority's overall plans. I beg to move.

Lord Henley

I agree with the noble Baroness that these matters are of great importance. I hope that I can explain to her why we think that the amendments are unnecessary. Proposals under Clause 29 must prescribe the arrangements that the school is proposing to adopt in respect of provision for pupils who have special educational needs. Clauses 45 and 46 already require the funding authority, or the promoters, before publishing proposals, to consult such persons as appear to them to be appropriate.

Clearly, that will include consultation with the LEA. In the course of that consultation, it will be open to both sides to discuss matters concerned with SEN provision. As responsible providing bodies it would be most surprising if that matter were not fully and extensively covered. In our view there is therefore no need to make specific provision in the clause to prescribe the content of consultation in the way suggested by the amendment.

Moreover, Clauses 45 and 46 provide for guidance to be given by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. It can be assumed that he will require proposals for new grant-maintained schools to contain substantive details about what is intended in respect of special educational needs. Such details could not sensibly be provided unless there had been proper communication with the LEA about the likely interface between the school and the authority on those matters. Clauses 6 and 18 provide additional statutory underpinning to consultative and cooperative processes between the FAS and the LEA. I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that, while her amendments highlight an important point, they are unnecessary. I also hope that at this time of night she will be prepared to withdraw them.

Lord Redesdale

I too support the amendment. It is only prudent to consult the LEAs on such matters.

Baroness Warnock

The wording of Clause 45 seems to he particularly weak in the sense that it is required under subsection (4) that the new grant-maintained school: shall consult such persons as appear to them to be appropriate". That wording worried me. In tabling the amendment I was looking for an assurance that the school had to consult with the local authority because the local authority is ultimately responsible for the provision and planning of education for children with special needs.

If the Government can assure us that the local authority retains that planning and review responsibility it is possible to withdraw the amendment because the nature of the planning and the details will be discussed at a later stage. However, I should like a further reassurance that it is not merely such persons as seem appropriate. If I can have that assurance I shall withdraw the amendment.

Lord Henley

I do not know whether I can take the noble Baroness much further. I hope that the assurance which I tried to give about the guidance that will be given by the Secretary of State under Clauses 45 and 46 is sufficient. Obviously, he will require the proposals for those new grant-maintained schools to contain substantive details about what is intended in respect of special educational needs. Such details could not be provided unless there had been proper communication with the LEA about the likely interface between the school and the authority on those matters. I hope that with that assurance the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendments.

Baroness Warnock

I thank the Minister for that reply and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 132 and 133 not moved.]

Clause 45 agreed to.

Clause 46 [Proposals by promoters]:

[Amendments Nos. 134 to 137 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 138 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendment No. 139 not moved.]

Clause 46 agreed to.

Clause 47 [Provisions supplementary to sections 45 and 46]:

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 140: Page 27, line 17, leave out ("not relevant") and insert ("neither primary nor secondary").

The noble Lord said: My noble friend spoke to the amendment when speaking to Amendment No. 70. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 141 not moved.]

Clause 47, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Proposals for schools to become, or be established as, grant-maintained schools]:

[Amendment No. 141A not moved.]

[Amendment No. 142 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Baroness Cox moved Amendment No. 142A: Page 171, line 28, leave out ("and") and insert: ("() the provision to be made at the school for all pupils to have access to a qualified school nurse and").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 246A and 305A. I shall speak as briefly as possible given the lateness of the hour but I should like to put some points on the record because this is the only place in the Bill where the role of the school nurse in the education system is addressed.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that both grant-maintained schools and schools under local education authority control make provision for all pupils to have access to a qualified school nurse.

The school nurse is widely acknowledged as a key resource in the primary health care team. Employed by the health authority, the school nurse works as part of the school team providing information, advice and support on health issues to children, parents and teachers.

In many areas the school nurse will see every child for a health interview at the start of the child's school career. Early detection of problems which may hamper a child's learning ability is crucial. If problems are detected after the interview, the school nurse, in partnership with the child's family, will arrange the appropriate support and help. Further health interviews and screening may take place throughout the school years. The school nurse will try to ensure that there is maximum uptake of important health measures such as immunisations and will play an important role in infection control.

School nurses are key players in health promotion and important contributors to the targets for health improvement set out in the Government's Health of the Nation White Paper. Those include targets to reduce coronary heart disease—and it is important that that is detected early in childhood—to prevent accidents to children and to improve sexual health in relation to HIV/AIDS and teenage pregnancies. The school nurse may also work with individual children and their parents, encouraging them to adopt healthy lifestyles and offering counselling services to allow health problems to be discussed. She may support teachers in providing health education within the national curriculum.

She will also help to identify the particular requirements of children with special needs and arrange for their necessary support. She is well placed to identify signs of neglect and abuse of children, providing a link between medical colleagues, health visitors, home, school and social services. As part of the local community health team, the school nurse will be aware also of local health problems and special needs.

However—and this demonstrates the need for the amendments —a survey of school nursing services conducted by the Royal College of Nursing in November 1992 revealed widespread cuts in services across the United Kingdom. Sixty one per cent. of school nurses responding to the survey said that there had been cuts or changes locally which affected the quality of care offered to schoolchildren. Examples include Camberwell, where the school nursing workforce was reduced from 28 to 16 in 1991, and Tower Hamlets, where some schools have received no school nursing input for three years. Elsewhere, school nurses are experiencing job freezes or downgradings and have been denied access to continued professional training.

In 1976 the committee on child health services recommended (in the Court Report) that every school should have a named school nurse. Evidence from the Royal College of Nursing survey suggests that most school nurses are the named school nurse for five schools or more with populations usually over 1,000 children in total. Such heavy case loads impede the ability of the school nurse to carry out detailed health care surveys and interviews with children at appropriate intervals throughout their school careers.

In a Written Answer on 9th March in another place, figures were given for the number of school nurses in post between 1979 and 1991. Those showed a drop from 3,810 in 1979 to 3,050 in 1991 in England; that is a fall of approximately 20 per cent.

In conclusion, despite the widespread acknowledgment of the important role of the school nurse, the Royal College of Nursing's Survey has shown that in many areas the school nursing service is remaining static or being cut to save money. By placing a duty on education authorities to ensure that access to school nursing services is available, the link between health and education would be reinforced and the important contribution of school nurses to the education service would be ensured. I beg to move.

11.30 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

I rise simply to support the amendment. I have worked in schools and I know how important it is to have a school nurse. Children no longer have medical examinations as they used to and therefore it is all the more important that there should be a school nurse available.

Lord Henley

I accept that my noble friend's amendment is partly a probing amendment and that is because she quite rightly feels that these very important matters ought to be placed in Hansard as a matter of record. I hope that my noble friend will not object if I again respond, because of the lateness of the hour, very briefly. We accept that all children need proper access to proper health care, but this is in fact already provided for by existing legislation. The school nursing service is the responsibility of the Department of Health.

Section 5(1) of the National Health Service Act 1977 (as amended by paragraph 20 of Schedule 12 to the Education Reform Act 1988 in relation to grant-maintained schools) places on health authorities a statutory duty to provide school medical and dental services to all maintained schools. It is for those district health authorities to assess the need for school health services. Many DHAs have reviewed their school health service requirements in the light of the growth of primary health care services and the increasing involvement of GPs in child health. We hope to see that process continue. With those reassurances, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Elton

If my noble friend is minded to withdraw her amendment, I wonder whether I may make a suggestion to her and, through her, to my noble friend Lord Skidelsky and others who have large numbers of amendments which will not actually be spoken to on the next day's business. I wonder whether it would be possible for them to inform the Table that they will not be doing so and then withdraw them so that the list of amendments that we have in the Marshalled List at the beginning of the next day's business is actually reduced by all the amendments that are not going to be spoken to or moved. That would give us a much better idea of what the business is and would make it much easier for us to follow it.

Lord Henley

I am sure that all Members of the Committee will note the suggestion made by my noble friend. That does not in fact apply to my noble friend Lady Cox as I believe her amendment stands on its own.

Lord Elton

I am sorry. I must have mis-read the list.

Baroness Cox

Perhaps I may point out that there were in fact three related amendments and I did speak to the other two.

Lord Henley

I do apologise; I was looking at the wrong part of the groupings list. There were in fact two other amendments.

Baroness Cox

I thank my noble friend Lady Faithfull for her support. I know that she speaks from great experience and I am most grateful for the knowledge and experience that went into her support. I also thank my noble friend Lord Elton for his advice. I shall certainly take note of it. Thirdly, I should like to thank my noble friend the Minister for his reply, though I am a little disappointed that he did not seem to give any recognition at all to the problems that I identified. In the light of that, I think that I must consult with professional colleagues. However, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 143 not moved.]

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 144: Page 171, line 39, at end insert:

("(5) The proposals shall—

  1. (a) contain a summary of the school management plan it is proposed to adopt if the school becomes a grant-maintained school, and
  2. (b) state where the plan may be inspected.

(6) In sub-paragraph (5) above "school management plan" means the arrangements for managing the financial and other resources available to the school during the period of the first three financial years beginning on or after the proposed date of implementation of the proposals, and in particular—

  1. (a) for assessing the requirements for resources during each of those financial years, and
  2. (b) for determining the priority to be given to satisfying different requirements for resources.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall, with the leave of the Committee, speak also to Amendment No. 145. The amendments are to add to the statement to accompany the published proposals set out in Schedule 3 (page 171). Where the governing body of an LEA school mismanages its budget, there is the safety net of the LEA being able to withdraw LMS delegated powers from the school. But there is no such safety net for a GM school, although the Secretary of State has powers to intervene and appoint additional governors.

The amendments are directed to encouraging better financial planning in GM schools by requiring some financial planning to have been carried out before the acquisition of GM status. There is little attention on the face of the Bill to assisting a governing body which may be losing its way through lack either of experience or of ability. There are powers of intervention where things go badly wrong, but not many non-interventional measures to help a governing body conduct the school more successfully.

We believe that one non-interventional measure would be to require specific attention to management planning as part of the process of acquiring GM status. The most capable governing bodies I know do that without having to be asked; indeed, it is absolutely second nature to them. Some may not do so well. The recent OFSTED Report on grant-maintained schools which reports on inspections up to last July states: The schools have some way to go in certain aspects of management. At the time when they were inspected, most had yet to produce adequate School Development Plans to help them ensure that the decisions they take contribute to a coherent, overall strategy and that money is wisely spent on clearly identified priorities".

The intention of these amendments is to work with the grain of the efforts of the department, LEAs and individual schools to improve school development plans. I accept that the amendments provide only the bare minimum of financial planning. Normally there would be far more. There is no statutory requirement for school development plans, but under the new inspection regime the inspectors consider a school development plan as evidence in evaluating the efficiency of a school. I have no doubt that as governors become more used to the process, the quality of plans will improve. The amendments are intended to spread good practice faster and to concentrate on schools which are approaching GM status. They would require governing bodies of those schools to give conscious and specific attention to financial management if they have not already done so. I do not believe that these requirements would be burdensome but they would help to assure parents that a GM school would be managed competently under the new status. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

I am afraid that these amendments are unrealistic. The membership of the governing body of a GM school is identified as part of the proposals. Until those proposals are approved, the governing body has no formal standing. It would be impractical to require even a summary of a three-year management plan as part of these proposals let alone a detailed management plan, as is required here. The new governing body of the school will need time, once it is formally established, to develop its strategy and to draw up its own plans.

In order for a school to become grant-maintained an inspection takes place by OFSTED. A report is made to my right honourable friend and advice is given. It addresses the ability of the school to manage its own affairs as a grant-maintained school and it covers all aspects of managing a school. I believe that that is sufficient and is the way forward. I therefore ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hamwee

It is a little late to take long and detailed issue with the Minister, but I am afraid I do not entirely follow the argument that this kind of planning cannot be achieved if the planning which is set out in subparagraph (2) of paragraph 4 on page 171 can be achieved. That planning extends to the induction of newly qualified teachers, in-service training and professional development. That is the kind of proposal which should be in place but it must take a good deal of planning. I would have thought that provision for pupils with special needs cannot take place without financial planning taking place alongside it.

Baroness Blatch

I am not arguing against the value of having a financial plan. However, it is absolutely unnecessary for a body that has hardly formed to present a three-year detailed plan to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in addition to and superimposed upon an OFSTED Report which considers all aspects of the ability of the school to be a grant-maintained school. Financial planning is of course important to a governing body as regards the way in which it manages the school but not as a part of the process we are discussing. It is laborious and administratively burdensome.

Baroness Hamwee

I note what the Minister says. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 144A: Page 171, line 44, at end insert ("for the area").

The noble Baroness said: These are technical amendments which bring the provisions for local government electors to make objections to proposals for the acquisition of self-governing status by LEA-maintained schools or to proposals for the establishment of new self-governing schools in line with the provisions in the 1980 Education Act for objections to proposals related to LEA-maintained schools. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 145 to 147 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 148 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendment No. 149 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendments Nos. 149A and 149B:

Page 173, line 18, at end insert ("for the area"). Page 173, line 33, at end insert ("for the area").

The noble Baroness said: The amendments were spoken to with Amendment No. 144A. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 149C and 150 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Schedule 3, as amended, shall be agreed to?

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

I rise because paragraph 1 of the schedule is the second provision to which the Select Committee drew attention in significant terms. Paragraph 1 deals with various forms of publicity before the acquisition of grant-maintained status. Sub-paragraphs (1), (2) and (3) of that paragraph are re-enactments of the 1988 Act, but sub-paragraph (4) is a new provision enabling the Secretary of State to alter the stipulations as to publicity.

When the Select Committee corresponded with the department the department said that the existing regulations—in other words, what is represented by the first three sub-paragraphs—were working suitably. When the department was asked why then it needed the Henry VIII provision in sub-paragraph (4), it replied that conditions might be different in the future; the department was seeking power just in case it might be needed in the future. Furthermore, the power was to be by delegated legislation. As if that were not enough, it was to be a Henry VIII provision. Finally, to cap matters, it was subject only to the negative resolution procedure.

The Select Committee said: This is a Henry VIII provision which would allow the Secretary of State to cease publication of such information altogether. We accordingly report that Paragraph 1 of Schedule 3 contains provisions for delegated powers which we draw to the attention of the House. The House will wish to consider whether the affirmative procedure would be more appropriate in this case". One can only applaud the tact with which that paragraph is written and how it contrasts with what was said in relation to Clauses 38 to 40, to which I drew attention earlier.

I did not myself put down an amendment, although it seems an obvious case for the affirmative resolution procedure because it seems desirable that that should be done by the department if the agreeable and tactful relations between the department and the Select Committee are to be maintained. When I drew attention to Clause 38, I omitted to say that this was the first Bill on which the Select Committee has reported. It is most important in my respectful submission that things should now be on the right lines. It would be quite deplorable if the department were now obstinate in face of the clear hint by the Select Committee and the very clear case, and it is entirely desirable that the noble Baroness should herself table the amendment for affirmative resolution at Report stage.

I do not expect her at present to say more than that she will consider the matter favourably. But that is a well attested phrase, and I imagine the Committee will be content with it.

Earl Russell

Perhaps I may assist the Committee briefly. I share the apprehensions. I have an amendment drafted which will address them. The only reason that it is not before the Committee now is that we had a good deal of business before us. The amendment will be before us at Report stage. It might be for the convenience of the Committee if we address those issues then.

Baroness Blatch

Any deferment of further debate does not save time. I believe that the Committee will have six extremely full days, and it might have been better to have the debate now. We are having a debate now, and I am put on warning that we shall have the debate again.

First, I apologise to the noble and learned Lord for intervening on the Schedule 3 comment when I should have been addressing the Motion that Clause 38 stand part of the Bill. However, I shall take away all that he has said tonight and consider it between now and Report stage. No doubt I shall be in contact between now and then with the noble and learned Lord.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

I am much obliged to the noble Baroness.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 48 [Approval, adoption or rejection of proposals]:

[Amendments Nos. 150A to 152 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 153 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.] Clause 48 agreed to.

Clause 49 [Implementation of proposals]:

[Amendments Nos. 154 and 155 not moved.]

Clause 49 agreed to.

Clause 50 [Exercise of powers before proposed date of implementation, and payment of grant]:

[Amendments Nos. 156 and 157 not moved.]

Clause 50 agreed to.

Clause 51 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 157A not moved.]

Clause 52 agreed to.

Viscount Astor

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.