HL Deb 10 June 1998 vol 590 cc1013-75

3.19 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone)

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 Blackstone.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 99 [Designation of grammar schools]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 231E:

Page 74, line 30, leave out ("at the beginning of the 1997–98 school year").

The noble Baroness said: We come now to a part of the Bill which really does show the present Government up in their real colours. The agenda is not difficult to detect. One has only to go back a little way in the record to establish the thinking behind these clauses. The current Secretary of State, when interviewed by the Daily Mail in January 1996, made clear his approach to the question of grammar schools. He was quoted as saying on that occasion: It is 30 years since Crosland embarked on this. I don't think anyone should expect me to complete his work in the first three months of a Labour Government". Implicit in that statement is that if he cannot do it in three months, he will certainly be doing it at some time—perhaps the timescale will be a little longer.

More recently than that, in fact just days before the election was called in 1997, when visiting the Wirral, the current Secretary of State made absolutely clear that grammar schools "are safe with us" and he went on to say that there was no threat to their continuance or to their ethos or to their quality. There is a threat to their continuance; there is certainly a threat to their ethos, because of the instability that will be created by these clauses and the activities that will flow from them; and definitely, if they go, there will be an impact on the quality of education.

My first amendment is on a very narrow point. It concerns the designation of grammar schools, which is a prerequisite for setting up what I believe is a pernicious system of petitioning and balloting. My point is that if a school is wholly selective and is a grammar school, at whatever period in time that is, that school should be available for designation. Why have the Government chosen the beginning of 1997? I do not know whether any schools have been created since the beginning of the academic year 1997–98 or whether one will be created between now and Royal Assent. I merely say that if a school is selective at the time the order is placed, I do not believe a date should be put on it other than the date at the time of the order. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone

In response to what the noble Baroness said at the beginning of her remarks, I should make it clear that our policy on grammar schools was set out in our manifesto. There will be no return to the 11-plus. We believe that selection at the age of 11 divides children into successes and failures at far too early an age. But we have said that in relation to existing grammar schools we are letting parents decide whether selection at these schools should continue.

I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment because it appears to the Government to be redundant. The amendment would remove the reference to admissions during the 1997–98 academic year for the purposes of designating a school as a grammar school. This would have the effect of allowing a school which later operated as a grammar school to be designated as such. This would only be necessary for any school which introduced fully selective admissions from September 1998 onwards. As the clauses in the Bill do not allow the introduction of new grammar schools—indeed, as I have said, the Government made it absolutely clear from the start that they are opposed to their introduction—there does not appear to be a need to allow a mechanism for later schools to be designated other than in the case where a new grammar school is established to take the place of an existing grammar school, something which is not likely to occur very often and for which in any case Clause 99(5) makes provision. In the light of that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Blatch

It will be no surprise to the noble Baroness that I am disappointed by her reply. If she has looked at the amendments on the Marshalled List she will know that it is our plan to try to persuade the Government that there should be a two-way traffic. If parents are to be asked whether they wish selection to cease in their area, why should they not be given an opportunity to consider whether selection should continue in their area where it does not exist now? We have tabled an amendment to the effect that if parents wish it—in other words, if they vote for it—they should be allowed to have selection.

We do envisage grammar schools being created beyond the academic year 1997–98, hence my wish to remove the date from the Bill. I have no desire whatever to agree with the Government that a line is drawn in the sand and that from that moment on there shall be no question of a grammar school ever being created again.

Lord Dormand of Easington

I am a little puzzled by what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has said. I take it from the quotations she gave from Labour Party documents that she is concerned about the word "threat". There is no threat. If there is a threat at all, as I understand what she said, the threat would come from the parents as the onus is now on the parents. Would she consider it a threat to grammar schools if parents decide? Through all the education debates we have had for many years now the Opposition have placed the emphasis on the wishes of parents. That is all the Bill is saying. Does she consider it a threat if parents decide to have a non-selective school instead of a grammar school?

Baroness Young

Before my noble friend replies, perhaps I may answer the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dormand. He is not comparing like with like. When schools were asked whether they wanted to have grant-maintained status there was a vote of the parents of the children in the school. Those who were most directly involved were asked to vote on the matter. The 20 per cent. margin was therefore established. Perhaps I may say in passing that nothing was more disgraceful than the sustained and extremely unpleasant campaigns which were conducted against the heads, the staff and the parents in those schools which wished to become grant-maintained. The record of it in education is a disgrace. In this Bill what is being called for is not a ballot of the parents of the children at the school; it is a ballot of parents in feeder schools and in quite large areas around. We are therefore asking all kinds of people whose children are not in the school and who do not have a direct interest to vote on the matter.

Perhaps I may make a final point. To trigger the ballot, as I understand it, there has to be a petition of 20 per cent. of the parents. Anyone who has had experience of petitions knows that it is a fairly easy job to get up a petition.

So I think it is perfectly true that all grammar schools are under threat and that the net effect of this unpleasant part of the Bill is that a lot of children in grammar schools, which achieve some of the very best academic results in the country, particularly in science and mathematics, will not be so well off in the future.

Lord Dormand of Easington

I am interested in what the noble Baroness has said but in fact my question was addressed to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. Perhaps she will respond. She may well agree with what has just been said. But that contribution went much wider, if I may say so, than the specific question which I asked.

Baroness Young

I am quite sure that my noble friend—

Lord Orme


Baroness Young

The noble Lord will not, I hope, just sit and interrupt me like that. I entirely accept that the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, addressed his question to my noble friend Lady Blatch. It is the normal procedure during the Committee stage of a Bill—perhaps I may remind the noble Lord, Lord Orme, that I have been in this House for a very long time—that people can intervene to respond. If one supports what one's noble friend on the Front Bench says, it is quite normal to stand up and say so. I quite agree that I widened the point but the narrow point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, was not in fact accurate. I am perfectly entitled to have my say. I have not the slightest doubt that my noble friend Lady Blatch will say what she thinks about the matter.

3.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

I am not only delighted with what my noble friend said, but I am also delighted to have her intervention at this point. The Committee stage is a less formal stage than Report stage. Any Member of this House may intervene before I or the Minister sits down and join in with other Members of the House. That is entirely within the rules of the House and no convention has been broken.

The points that my noble friend made are pertinent. Why are the Government asking parents to vote on whether a grammar school should exist, or in one ballot getting rid of every single grammar school in the whole of an area—for example, in Kent, Lincolnshire, Trafford or Buckinghamshire? Why not have a ballot of parents to see whether they want comprehensive education in their area? Why not have a ballot of parents to see whether they want specialist schools or whether they want voluntary-aided schools?

This is a vindictive policy. It started with Crosland. Almost every Labour Party manifesto and every old Labour activist has pursued a vendetta against selection, grammar schools and the collegiate system of Oxford and Cambridge. There is now what is called, and what is reputed to be, new Labour and enlightened Labour, with old Labour policies. This Bill is old Labour writ large.

In the previous debate the noble Baroness took us back to the glories of ILEA. Those of us who remember ILEA have some pretty painful memories of the standards that it produced. It spent the most money on children and produced the worst educational results of the whole country. I have said it before: as long as I have breath I shall fight for what is good in education. I believe that our grant-maintained schools and our grammar schools have added immeasurably to the quality of education in this country.

What we have before us is a licence for those who are disgruntled, disaffected, bigoted and philosophically opposed to good education. If we do nothing else we shall make sure that it is more difficult to bring about the end of these schools which, in many cases, have been established not just for decades but for centuries. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, this question: what is democratic about giving a vote for a raft of schools to cease to exist when there is not another vote given to ask whether we want non-selective education in our area or specialist schools, CTCs or anything else? Why single out grammar schools? I believe that this is pernicious and politically bigoted. It is old Labour and we oppose it most vigorously.

Lord Peston

Some of us have listened with great tolerance to the noble Baroness on the Opposition Front Bench for several days now. We have listened to her speaking wide of any amendment down in her name or that of any other Member of this House. On the whole, we have not objected because we believe very much in the tolerance of your Lordships' House. But on this occasion I believe that she has overstepped the mark beyond anything that I find tolerable. I disagree with her, but I do not use words like "bigoted" or any of the other words that she has used.

I fought for 30-odd years for comprehensive education. We believe that it is desirable on educational grounds. Some of us sent our children to comprehensive schools. In my case, and in many others, that was highly successful and the children had a very good education. I am not willing to sit here and listen to the noble Baroness making such disparaging remarks about the majority of children and schools in this country.

We disagree about selection. I am implacably opposed to academic selection and the segregation that results from it. I have intervened in these matters over the years with a modicum of restraint and intelligence. I shall not be here for the next few hours, but those who have to sit it out should not have to suffer the kind of remarks that the noble Baroness has made. On reflection she may feel that she does not want to make such remarks.

Perhaps I may add that she made her remarks not merely about one or two Members of your Lordships' House. I take them personally because she knows that I have been involved with comprehensive education for a very long time. She has made remarks about my honourable and right honourable colleagues, one or two of whom are no longer alive. They were reputable people and held sincere views on education. We should not have to sit and listen to the suggestion that we are not committed to education. To suggest that those of us who sent our children to comprehensive schools were not committed is not acceptable. The noble Baroness should think about the language she is using, especially as my noble friend Lord Dormand asked a fairly innocent question. How we have got to this stage I do not know, but it must not be allowed within the self-governing nature of your Lordships' House and permitted to continue in this way.

Baroness Blatch

If the noble Lord can point to any single statement that I made about individuals when speaking to this amendment I shall consider an apology. I referred to the policy that we are talking about here. I make no apology for that. The noble Lord accuses me of making disparaging remarks about all other forms of education and comprehensive education in particular.

My children went to a comprehensive school and they did extremely well. Like my party, I believe in the full tapestry of provision for education. I believe in grammar schools, comprehensive schools, specialist schools, city technology schools, voluntarily controlled schools and voluntary aided schools. I have no philosophical objection to any one form of education, but I do have a philosophical objection—and this is where my remarks were directed—to a fully comprehensive system. That has been the policy of the Labour Party over the years since Crosland. It is also the policy of the party today.

My comments about philosophical objections and a bigoted and pernicious Bill have everything to do with the policy and nothing to do with personalities. If the noble Lord is irritated by what we do my answer is that we are doing a job in this House, just as the noble Lord did when he was in opposition and I found it tiresome to have to listen to people taking Bills apart. The truth is that we shall fight this Bill vigorously. I shall fight with all the enthusiasm that I have and use every technical facility I have at my disposal. I am fighting for the survival of a category of schools and I will be joined by some of my noble friends. We shall fight until it is over. With the might of the vote in the other place the noble Lord, Lord Peston, has not long to wait. Because of the might of that vote he will get what he wants, and that is the disappearance of some of the best schools in the land.

Lord Peston

The noble Baroness still goes too far. I am fully committed to comprehensive education and I have never resiled from that. But I do not use words like "bigoted" about the noble Baroness and her views. I use words such as, "I believe that she is mistaken". When I was in opposition I did not use such words as "bigoted". I do not find it acceptable. It is all very well for the noble Baroness to say that she has not named an individual, but she knows perfectly well that people like me were involved with my late and much missed right honourable friend Mr. Crosland and many others in pursuing comprehensive education. I am perfectly willing to be persuaded on that or any other matter that I am mistaken, but I am not willing to have the word "bigoted" used about me or, directly or indirectly, about my friends or my noble friends on the Front Bench.

I have no objection to vigorous opposition. As the noble Baroness is aware, that was what I most enjoyed doing. It is much more enjoyable than sitting on this side of the House. But there is still a form of language that we use and we have responsibilities in that regard to your Lordships' House. I do not believe that we should debate these matters about which we disagree with language as intemperate as the noble Baroness used.

Lord Shepherd

As an elderly hereditary Peer, perhaps I may seek to calm the waters. Unless the fire brigade is called out to calm the waters, then heaven help us by the time we finish the Committee stage this evening. That will not be to the benefit of this House nor the benefit of the legislation that we are considering. The noble Baroness and the noble Lord have spoken with considerable power and very deep conviction. Perhaps we should now seek to proceed with the Bill. If we cannot be so persuaded then it is open to noble Lords on either side of the House to decide what to do. In the interests of this Committee and the Bill, I do not think that we should continue to have a great argy-bargy at the moment. Perhaps it would be appropriate later at night, but now, at the very beginning of this business, I think that we should call it a day and get a move on.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

I rise to speak with diffidence, as a new Member of your Lordships' House, but I feel that I can justify taking a minute or two of the Committee's time because I come from a county in which we have the good fortune to have about one-quarter of the grammar schools that survived the attentions of the 1970 Labour Government. There are four grammar schools in my former constituency, and they are strongly supported. While paying every respect to what has just been said by noble Lords opposite, I want to defend the care with which my noble friend Lady Blatch is addressing this issue. We are now down to about 160 grammar schools in the country. I think that we are entitled to know whether we should be looking at the arrangements relating to petitions for triggering ballots and to the ballots themselves. We are entitled to know whether those arrangements are motivated by something that could properly be described as a "threat" to the grammar schools, by which I mean an antipathy to the survival of grammar schools on the part of Ministers.

It is entirely proper for my noble friend Lady Blatch to refer, as she did at the outset of her remarks this afternoon, to statements which are on the record and come not only from the present Secretary of State but also from Mr. Crosland, whom the noble Lord, Lord Peston, invoked. Incidentally, I was surprised to find Mr. Crosland invoked as an exemplar of emollient language in this context. Nevertheless, we are entitled to know whether those citations, which we have relevantly heard today, represent the thrust of the Government's policy.

I agree that the Government can say, "We are leaving this to ballots'', but the question with which we shall be dealing later today is how those ballots are to be triggered and operated. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will say whether the remarks made by the present Secretary of State, to which my noble friend Lady Blatch referred, represent the thrust of the Government's policy—that is, that we cannot be expected in a few weeks or even a few months to complete the policy begun by Mr. Crosland.

Lord Dixon-Smith

Perhaps I may intervene. I must admit that I am considerably puzzled as to which of the amendments to speak. That is partly because when we reach the next clause, we find that all the regulations that will affect ballots and selective schools—

Lord Whitty

I intervene because I believe that the noble Lord has touched on precisely the point. Many of the matters to which I believe that he is about to refer, and to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, referred, relate to later amendments. I go along completely with my noble friend Lord Shepherd who said that we should take the heat out of the situation. Noble Lords should recognise that some of the points now being made relate to later amendments and not to Amendment No. 213E. Both on this amendment, and subsequently in this Committee, we should concentrate on the provisions in hand.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

Referring to what the noble Lord, Lord Peston, and my noble friend Lady Blatch were discussing, it is necessary here to make a slight incursion into ideology because later amendments are close, tight and important, but they spring from the motive behind the issue now under consideration. Grammar schools exist—albeit in a minority form in England—and, as we know, selection is not a dreadful sin. It occurs in Europe and in many parts of the world. People are not stunted by it; they do not turn green; they continue to exist where there is selection. About 20 per cent. of entrants to the finer universities come from that small number of grammar schools.

When my noble friend Lady Blatch looks at the ideology behind this Bill, in answer to the simple question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, the question that we are posing is whether the ballots are fair or whether they are really directed in order to manipulate the situation. I believe that I can use the word "manipulate" without accusing anyone of being a manipulator. Are the ballots directed to achieve the result that the Government want? The questions which my noble friend were asking will recur again and again, like the theme of a symphony throughout the next hour or so. In a way, the noble Lord, Lord Peston, supported my argument because he said that he definitely wants rid of grammar schools.

The point is that the Executive is preparing the ballot. Are we in the position of Napoleon III who, whenever he held a ballot or plebiscite, knew what the answer would be? We are saying that the ballots may not really be asking parents what they want. We shall prove that the ballots will be so arranged that the answers produced will be those which the Government expect. Basically, that is all that I want to say.

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

I should like to follow the advice of my noble friend Lord Shepherd who is no longer in his place. It would be helpful to the Committee if we tried to keep the temperature down, so I do not want to respond now to some of the more ideological points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. If the noble Baroness wants to make such points, they would be more appropriate in relation to later amendments. Furthermore, the points which the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, has just made about ballots can be better answered when we reach the specific amendments on balloting.

Perhaps I may answer one question asked by the noble Baroness. She asked why we are not in favour of extending selection and why we are having what I think she called a "one-way process". The answer is clear: we were elected on a manifesto commitment that made it absolutely clear that we had no intention of extending selection. We had a huge majority—indeed, it was the biggest landslide of this century. It is obvious that the electorate accepted that manifesto commitment and, having been elected on it, it would be quite wrong now if we went back on that commitment and included in this Bill proposals to allow the expansion of selection and the creation of new grammar schools.

Baroness Blatch

The Minister either believes in selection or she does not. If the Government really meant what has just been said, they should have included in this Bill clauses to dispose of grammar schools. Instead, the Government have chosen to leave selection in the Bill—selection by aptitude; selection by aptitude and/or ability and in many other forms, including for banding. We shall return to that subject.

The rationale behind the plans of the Minister and her colleagues for grammar schools is, "Let the parents speak". However, in another part of the Bill, as my noble friend Lady Young said, having spoken and having voted school by school to become grant-maintained, those parents will be denied the right to vote to cease to have grant-maintained schools. Those schools will, by edict, leave the status of being grant-maintained. They will have to choose any colour of car as long as it is the colour dictated by the Government. In other words, such schools will have to lose their complete autonomy and move back into the arms of the local education authority. It seems wholly inconsistent to use the argument, "Let the parents speak", in this instance under this very rigged system, but not to allow those parents to express their view on any other category of school. I make no apology for using the word "inconsistent".

This debate has opened up as a result of the Minister's answer to my question. The date is on the face of the Bill to ensure that there shall never be another grammar school. We suggest that there could be other grammar schools if that is what parents wish and that they should be allowed to apply to have selective schools. Therefore, removing the date has some meaning. It is difficult to confine our discussions to this point simply because of the way in which the Minister herself opened up the debate by saying that there shall be no more grammar schools. I shall reflect upon what the noble Baroness said. The inconsistencies are piling up historically and currently. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 99 agreed to.

Clause 100 [Procedure for deciding whether grammar schools should retain selective admission arrangements]:

Baroness Young moved Amendment No. 232:

Page 75, line 30, after ("schools,") insert— ("(bb) to any grammar school of a religious character, provided that the ballot arrangements made by regulations under this section make provision for restricting eligibility for the purposes of both petition and ballot to those parents of pupils registered at such a grammar school and those parents of pupils at primary schools of the same religious character in the catchment area of the grammar school,").

The noble Baroness said: The noble Lord, Lord Alton, is very sorry that he cannot be here. His university is drawing towards the end of term and he is very tied up. He much regrets not being here. Amendment No. 232 seeks to restrict some of the proposals in the Bill. It applies to a grammar school of a religious character. The proposal is that eligibility for the purposes of both the petition and the ballot should be confined to parents of pupils in the particular grammar school and/or parents of pupils at primary schools of the same religious character.

This is a very serious and important point. There is no doubt that parents greatly value grammar schools or comprehensive schools that are voluntary aided or have a definite religious character. Clearly, even if the school itself is to change they will want that particular character to be retained. The proposal is that those who vote will have committed their children to schools of a similar character. The scope is somewhat narrower.

Perhaps I have misunderstood the Bill but it appears to me that in the case of ballots for grammar schools there may be circumstances in which the parents of all the feeder primary schools can vote about the future of the school. This amendment would restrict voting to the parents of children in a voluntary aided school or a school of a religious character that fed into a grammar school which was voluntary aided or of a religious character. It is a very important distinction that I hope the Government will consider seriously. I beg to move.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

The Churches through their formal structures do not support this amendment. The number of selective Church grammar schools is very small. There are seven Roman Catholic grammar schools and an even smaller number of Church of England grammar schools. Both Churches believe that a wider ballot is necessary than is provided for in the amendment. We do not believe that different treatment should be give to Church schools from that given to other schools in the maintained system. We adopted that stance in relation to grant-maintained schools and we adopt it in relation to this proposal. Neither Church sees its schools as being in isolation from the total provision in the neighbourhood. Therefore, we do not agree with the narrowing of the petition and ballot community. The Churches must have regard for all schools, not just grammar schools.

Referring to Church of England schools and its tiny number of selective grammar schools, it is inappropriate that petition and ballot should be limited to feeder primaries of the same religious character. I take as an example St. Olave's, Orpington, which is one of the small number of such schools. Its feeder schools exist not only in the catchment area of Orpington but in a wider historic area that extends through to Southwark. Moreover, those feeder schools are not simply of a religious character. There is a variety of primary schools, both voluntary and county, that feed both that grammar school and other grammar schools. Therefore, the ballot should at least include all feeder primaries of any secondary school and not just the Church feeder primaries.

The Roman Catholic Church takes an equally strong line. Perhaps there have been some crossed wires. I am aware that the Catholic Education Service has been consulted about this amendment and expressed concern. Neither the cardinal nor the bishop, David Constant, chairman of the Catholic Education Service, supports this amendment. Two Roman Catholic dioceses are particularly affected. Both believe strongly that a more general ballot within the authority is necessary, not one restricted on religious grounds. Their reasons for maintaining that position are quite simple; namely, if Roman Catholic schools are to be the only ones voting on the future of Catholic grammar schools there may be a difference between Roman Catholic and LEA provision. There could be Catholic selective schools with the rest of the provision non-selective. If that happened Roman Catholics would be extremely worried. Both the dioceses concerned and the formal structures of both the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England oppose the amendment.

The noble Baroness moving the amendment made one point that I did not understand. I thought I heard her say that the ballot might result in the school losing its religious character. I do not see any such possibility in the Bill. Surely, even if a ballot were to be successful and a school ceased to be selective it would remain an aided school. I do not see any possibility of its religious character being lost.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

Is it not somewhat odd for the right reverend Prelate to speak for other Churches? Are there not enough Roman Catholics to speak for Roman Catholics? I am slightly surprised to hear the right reverend Prelate speak as though he is the spokesman for the Roman Catholic Church.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

It was the Catholic Education Service who approached me to ask that I make this point forcefully. Therefore, I speak with its authority. That body mandated me to make reference both to the chairman of the Catholic Education Service and to the cardinal.

Lord Northbourne

The amendment confuses me. I believe that there are two completely different points at issue. The noble Baroness can perhaps clarify the position. Does a Roman Catholic grammar school subject to a ballot in which the parents vote to cease being selective automatically and without question become a Roman Catholic non-selective school? If so I would have difficulty supporting the amendment. On the other hand, if there is any doubt on the matter, I strongly support the very important point that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, made.

Baroness Blackstone

Perhaps I might immediately respond to the point just made in order to clear up any possible misunderstanding. It is essential that the Committee is clear that a ballot cannot change the religious character of a school. Even if the parents balloted that it should become non-selective it would remain a Catholic school.

Baroness Blatch

The noble Baroness raises an interesting point. There is absolutely nothing in the Bill to protect the life of a school once it has ceased to be selective. Perhaps the noble Baroness when she replies will identify the part of the Bill which provides that protection. I run through what happens in practice. If a single ballot takes place in a county such as Kent—a county with the most schools and one with schools of religious character—it will be incumbent on the local education authority to reorganise education in the whole of Kent, because a very large number of schools will cease to be grammar schools, on a comprehensive basis. We know that many of those schools are relatively small compared with comprehensive schools. All involve a relatively narrow band of ability range, so they will have to change dramatically. Nothing in the Bill states that the school shall exist following reorganisation. Those schools may be merged with one, two or more schools in the area. The non-selective system may take out some schools—both buildings and eventually children. They will be reorganised on a regional basis throughout the county, or an area basis where there is an area ballot.

Let us consider a relatively small school with a religious character which is joined with a comprehensive non-selective school which does not wish to have a religious character. No provision in the Bill restrains local education authorities so that existing schools with grammar school status may survive in their new guise as schools with religious character. I have been through the Bill page by page and word by word. There is no constraint on the LEA. There is no provision on this issue in the regulations. We know that local authorities will be obliged to produce their own reorganisational plans to introduce comprehensive education in the whole of Kent, for example.

I understand the arguments put on behalf of the Anglican Church and the Catholic Church in opposing my noble friend's amendment. I am deeply surprised that there has been no attempt by the Anglican Church and the Catholic Church at least to preserve the existence of a school with a religious character under the non-selective arrangement. If the noble Baroness can tell me that that provision is in the Bill, and that constraint on LEAs when making their reorganisational proposals is codified, I shall withdraw my objections.

4 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

Perhaps I may answer that question immediately. It is clearly specified in the Bill under Clause 27(11)(a)(i) and Clause 32(2). I do not know whether the noble Baroness would find it helpful for me to state what Clause 27(11)(a)(i) provides. It makes absolutely clear that, 'alteration', in the context of a prescribed alteration to a maintained school, means an alteration of whatever nature, including the transfer of the school to a new site but excluding any change in the religious character of the school". That is repeated in Clause 32(2).

Baroness Blatch

If a school is to be merged with a school of a non-religious character—the grammar school may be too small to be a fully comprehensive school—and it is not possible to find another school in the immediate location with a religious character, does that mean that whether or not the school likes it, because of the constraints of Clause 27(11) (which I believe refer to something else) that school will have a religious character—Catholic, Anglican, or both?

Baroness Blackstone

I think it highly unlikely that any school organisation committee would want to make a merger between a denominational and a non-denominational school unless it had been agreed with the Catholic Church and its diocesan representatives.

Baroness Blatch

The Committee must forgive me for pressing the noble Baroness. We are making legislation here. A school may not be viable in size and ability range and therefore needs to become a comprehensive school. When one has a reorganisation as large as that in Kent, Trafford or Buckinghamshire, the likelihood is that there will be mergers. It is the only way to cope. If a school is not viable in size as an all-ability comprehensive school and has to be merged with another school, or closed and the children dispersed around schools in the area, what can an LEA do?

Baroness Blackstone

The noble Baroness asks questions of a very hypothetical nature. I think it highly unlikely that where the parents of children in a Roman Catholic grammar school chose for it to become non-selective, it would then not be viable. There are many small comprehensive schools around the country. Some are in inner city areas, and in small towns. I am absolutely clear that even though the school is small, if it is what the parents want the school will be able to survive as a non-selective school. There may be some question about whether it should continue to be a school for 11 to 18 year-olds if the sixth forms are small. But changes would be made only in dialogue with the Catholic Church. Indeed, the Catholic Church would be the authority that would take the main view about the future of the school in those circumstances.

Baroness Blatch

That is helpful. I shall bring forward an amendment to make the position clear. It will be helpful if the noble Baroness will again confirm this. A school may be deemed to be smaller than is desirable for a fully comprehensive school. The point is not hypothetical; the situation will occur in some of the counties deemed to be whole ballot counties. It may not be convenient for good educational purposes to merge it with another school of the same religious character. Will that school be protected? Will the school continue to exist as a school with a religious character, however inviable the numbers, but in a non-selective form as opposed to a selective form?

If the noble Baroness will give me that guarantee, I shall ensure that an amendment is tabled at the next stage of the Bill to ensure that the protection spelt out by the noble Baroness is built into the Bill. It will be a material constraint on local authorities when they reorganise their schools.

Baroness Blackstone

I have said that the school organisation committee, on which there is Catholic representation, will make decisions about this kind of issue. It will be up to the school organisation committee. In a certain area, the Catholic Church, the local education authority and other bodies involved in deciding the nature of educational provision may decide that there was a case for a merger. I shall not give an absolute guarantee that they will never make that decision. It would not be right for me to do so. We have set up provisions in the Bill for school organisation committees to resolve those questions. We should be flexible. For me to say now that that will not happen would be incredibly inflexible. It would go against the proposals in the Bill for the new school framework.

Baroness Blatch

I apologise again to the Committee. I am not in a mood to be flexible. I am arguing for the survival of a school which may have had its grammar school status taken from it but which is nevertheless a school with a religious character. In the light of the earlier answers given by the noble Baroness, we wish to be certain that those schools would survive in some form with a religious character.

The noble Baroness's final answer worries me even more. Let us consider that those on the organisation committee who represent the Churches vote that the school should survive and retain its religious character as a non-selective school, but the remainder of the committee, or even one other body on the committee, votes to the contrary. The local education authority may vote to the contrary because it will have financial constraints placed upon it. In the case of Kent, they will be severe. Unlike the understanding that the Church had originally, there is no veto for the Church; we tried to achieve that provision. Therefore, that case will go to the adjudicator, who can overrule the Church and ensure that the school is merged with another school, in the process losing its religious character.

We need some guarantee from the noble Baroness that the school which loses its grammar school status will not lose its religious status in any new arrangements. If the noble Baroness does not do so, we shall bring forward an amendment to protect the religious character of a school under the reorganisation proposals.

Baroness Blackstone

I shall certainly not bring forward an amendment. The noble Baroness said that she cannot be flexible. We think it is sensible to be flexible and to have legislation that is flexible enough to take on board possible substantial changes in the population of an area where there may be a big decline, for example, in the number of Roman Catholics.

I should remind noble Lords that we are talking about seven schools. There are only seven selective Catholic secondary schools in the country. I cannot give a guarantee that every school will continue for all time even if it were felt that it was quite the wrong size, or that it did not have enough pupils to fill its places.

The great majority of Catholic schools is expected to be either voluntary aided or foundation schools so they will be able to publish their own proposals for change. The local education authority cannot publish them.

In the light of what I have said, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Young

We have had an interesting, short debate on this matter. I should like to make two points about this issue. I am disappointed that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon did not feel able to say anything in support of this. It is not, I regret to say, the first time and no doubt not the last time, that that will be the case. Nevertheless, one soldiers on in this difficult world. I am reminded of a local example of something rather similar to this and it does not give one confidence.

It is a good idea when discussing these schools to go back to what would happen on the ground. Almost certainly, most of these grammar schools will be either two-form or three-form entry schools. They will be small schools. That is therefore a relevant factor in whether they convert into a viable comprehensive. I heard what the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said, but many educationists think that that is too small. It is certainly too small to support a sixth form. So one is looking at something very different.

I had not appreciated that Clause 27, which was referred to, applied in this circumstance. I thought that that clause was about mainstream schools and their alteration of status. That is rather different from these particular grammar schools and the voting procedures. I am bound to say that the way we have understood that the school organisation committees will operate, as we debated last week, with the final decision being taken by the adjudicator, with no redress for anybody, does not inspire confidence in every case.

I am very sorry that the right reverend Prelate and the Government feel that they cannot move on something which really matters. However, I shall read in Hansard what has been said, and I shall consider whether to come back to this at a later stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 233 not moved.]

4.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 233ZA:

Page 75, line 31, at end insert— ("() Before any ballot under this section takes place, the local education authority or authorities within whose areas the relevant grammar schools referred to in subsection (2)(a), (b) or (c) are situated shall prepare and publish fully costed proposals for the reorganisation of schools consequent upon a successful ballot and such proposals shall include capital expenditure, setting up costs and predicted annual revenue costs.").

The noble Baroness said: I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 233AE. We talked, in passing, on the previous amendment about the work that a local education authority will have to do under the regulations if a ballot is successful. Kent will probably be the largest re-organisation and the one which will cause a great deal of anxiety to the local authority. Equally, I take a small local authority like Trafford, which will also be a whole LEA ballot. Should one ballot be successful, all the grammar schools in that area will cease to exist. It will be important for the local authorities to set about producing proposals almost immediately, which will reorganise schools in such a way that there will be a fully comprehensive system in those areas.

We all know just how costly that will be. We also all know that local education authorities will have their programmes and their priorities already determined, and not just for the current year, because most local authorities plan well ahead. They will have their plans laid down for one, two or even three years. The re-organisation proposals resulting from a decision by a ballot to cease selective education in the whole of an LEA area or part of an LEA area will pre-empt all their capital programmes, and indeed revenue programmes, because there will be revenue costs also.

A parent, who has not had much to do with grammar schools in Kent may be stopped in the market on a Saturday morning to sign a petition. That parent may happily sign away that he would support non-selective education in the authority. He may be blissfully unaware that in doing so he has put his signature to the demise of a large number of schools in that authority, at a stroke and that the local education authority will incur substantial expenditure.

We are compiling information at the moment about how many of these schools own their own land and their buildings. Local education authorities will need to buy into their properties and their land. In areas where the land is held by trustees, it may well be that local authorities will have to make other provision. Mergers are costly; reorganisational plans are costly and the costs will have to be met. It seems to me to be important that when being asked to vote, parents should know that they are not just voting for a fanciful philosophical idea; but that they are voting also for some very substantial costs that will fall upon that community as a result of the decision.

It is incumbent upon the local authority to place before the parents either an options paper, or certainly the proposals that would ensue from a successful ballot, so that as the signatures are called for, the parents know the full picture.

The other important issue is the academic and other achievements of the schools. Now that the information is readily available and in a form that is publishable, the achievements of the schools affected, directly or indirectly, including the grammar schools and all other schools around, should also be made available in a form that is understood by the parents. They will then have some understanding of what the achievements are in the area and what may be at stake. They can make their own judgments about what to do with the information. But it is information which is material to the question that will be asked of parents. They will need to consider the repercussions of signing up to a petition that will trigger a ballot if the requisite number of signatures is achieved. In the case of Kent that would result in the cessation of education in a large number of schools, which would give rise to a set of proposals which would be costly to the local education authority.

There is no case for arguing that that information should not be made available in outline form. No one can produce it in detailed form because clearly consultations will have to follow. It is important that parents have the full information in outline form before they sign up to the death of the grammar schools. I beg to move.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

I shall not speak for too long because I know that Members of the Committee opposite do not like to hear two voices from the Front Bench. However, mine is a gentle voice and I ask the Committee to bear with me.

This is perhaps one of the most important amendments in the Bill because it deals with the very practical point of the expense of reorganisation. The only reason that I am standing on my feet is to speak in detail about one city, Canterbury, which would be drastically affected by the Bill, and it bears out the points made by my noble friend.

Ofsted—and the noble Baroness knows this—and most people in education say that the ideal comprehensive should have a sixth-form entry. I can assure the noble Baroness that that is what Ofsted says and if she would like me to, I can write to her about that. In Canterbury, there are seven schools showing the whole gamut of the English history of education over the past 40 years. There are the girls' and boys' grammar schools; there is a former secondary school; there is a Catholic school; there is a former secondary modern, now grant-maintained; and there is one other school which I believe used to be a single sex girls' school but which is now co-educational.

There is no doubt that there will have to be amalgamation. This morning I have spoken to the chairman of the Kent education committee. Parents have asked for a costing to be prepared for the whole county. Obviously, that is in its early primitive stages, but he said that I could quote him in this House in saying that it is in terms of hundreds of millions of pounds.

In their ideological thrust to get rid of grammar schools, the Government have forgotten the enormous costs of reorganisation, especially in those counties where grammar schools comprise the normal system; that is, Kent, Buckinghamshire and Trafford. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to say how she can produce good education in those counties without reorganisation.

I was not happy with the noble Baroness's answer that the small comprehensive can work quite well. In other words, they get what they get, so to speak. My view and the view of many in education in Kent is that a large capital cost will be laid on the county; the burden will fall on all schools; and even those who would rejoice in the streets at the abolition of the grammar schools would not wish to see the devastation that resulted unless the noble Baroness can persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to be extremely generous.

The point that I make to support my noble friend is that this ideology will cost money. I say to the Government that I hope where their mouth is there is their heart and their pocket.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

I was quite amused to hear the noble Baroness insist that local education authorities should publish all sorts of information, because my impression has been that where education authorities have informed governing bodies of the effects of changing from being an ordinary school to being a GM school, that effort has been resented on the part of the noble Baroness's party.

However, as regards this amendment, there may be some merit in having some sort of regulations governing those ballots. It does not do any harm for people to understand, when they take a vote, what are likely to be the consequences of that vote. Perhaps the Minister will respond on the subject of regulation for those ballots.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

I add my voice in support of the first amendment in particular. The Government are taking credit for leaving the decision as to the future of grammar schools with the parents. At face value, that is very commendable. It reflects that they should know what will be the character of the schooling and that they should have a say in what it will be in the future.

However, the question will be limited solely to, "Are you in favour of a non-selective system or do you prefer that a selective system should continue?" I suggest that it would frequently be the case that unless the cost consequences and implications are brought specifically to the attention of parents, they will be neglected. At first instance, they will suppose that there is no cost implication. Is that satisfactory? I suggest very strongly that it is not because it is the parents who will be paying, along with everybody else.

Therefore, since it is right—and the Government accept that it is right—that the parents should have a say in the future of the schools, and the question is put to them, it must be right that they should be informed of a cost implication. As my noble friend Lady Blatch makes clear, that should be done in outline terms at least, and, as my noble friend Lord Pilkington said, in Kent the cost is likely to run to hundreds of millions of pounds.

I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, is minded to accept the amendment, but if she is not, I hope that she will explain how, in principle, she justifies withholding that information as part of the question which will be put.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I rise to support this amendment. On occasion, I may seem to drift slightly from the specific point of the amendment. I hope that the Committee will forgive me for that, but I do not wish to burden it too often with interventions this afternoon. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will understand if I stray slightly from the very specific point.

In Essex, we are fortunate to have a very small number of grammar schools left. In the county as I knew it, we had eight grammar schools serving perhaps 4,000 out of 100,000 secondary pupils. That is a very small proportion. In the north of the county, we have the Colchester Royal Grammar School and the Colchester County High School, operating in competition with an extremely successful sixth-form college, I might add. I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Peston, as to what is a comprehensive system. It is perfectly possible to have a comprehensive system of education which does not consist exclusively of comprehensive schools. There is a very clear distinction. In fact, I suggest that a comprehensive system which does not include a wide variety of schools, including some selective schools, probably ceases to be comprehensive because it loses its centres of excellence.

I return to the relevant point of this amendment. Those schools are perforce very small. The largest will have at most four forms of entry and some will have fewer than that. Early in my day, we had to do a great deal in Essex because we had a very rapidly expanding population. When there is a rapidly expanding population, it tends to be the younger sectors of the community who move. That meant that we had a huge child population. Therefore, we had to have a vast building programme for schools. We had to build those schools under the utterly pernicious Circular 10/66 which required—and it may be uncomfortable—that if an LEA were to have a capital building programme, it could build only comprehensive schools. I paraphrase slightly. It was not worded quite like that but that is what it meant.

In those days, the received educational expertise required that an effective and efficient comprehensive school, able to give the breadth and depth of education that was required for all pupils from the ablest to the less able, should consist of eight to 10 forms of entry.

Thank heavens, we have come away from that. But even so, the point made by my noble friend that for a comprehensive school you need a considerable size is valid. You really cannot operate very effectively in comprehensive education with fewer than six forms of entry, albeit you can draw the line in by going down to 11-to-16 schools and then there is not a problem provided that there is somewhere else to send the children—either the FE sector, a tertiary college or a sixth-form college.

What will be the future of a redundant grammar school if we go through the ballot procedure? We will have a strange situation because we will have a small set of buildings taking three or four forms of entry with an intense concentration of high quality, specialist facilities such as laboratories which would not normally be provided. If exclusively unselected children are put in the school the use of those buildings will be partly redundant from the first day and over time they will no longer be used. The real question is how to fit into that small set of buildings a non-selective entry group of pupils to try to make them part of a comprehensive system. To be frank, it is extremely difficult and the cost is likely to be extremely high.

I turn to the practicalities of who makes the decision, assuming we provide all the relevant information. In my county of Essex, for example, the Colchester Royal Grammar School and the Colchester County High School for Girls in the north of the county draw pupils from the whole of that area. Unless one polls every parent across the north of the county one will not be testing a valid area. Places in either school are greatly prized. Both appear regularly at the top of the list of state schools in performance terms.

There is an even more complicated situation in the centre of the county. The King Edward VI Grammar School and the Chelmsford County High School for Girls draw across the whole of the county. The county comprises 1.5 million people, with 1.1 million electors, a high proportion of whom are parents. It is an extremely difficult, not straightforward, issue. I sympathise with the people who will have to deal with the decisions at local level.

The issue of resources is important. There has not been generous provision in local authorities for a long time. Where provision has become more generous—and I pay tribute to those areas—it is properly devoted to additional teaching, wherever that is possible, and so forth.

The amendment deals with capital resources. Referring again to that county of mine, there are large areas of development and the population is rapidly expanding. The capital burden is difficult to meet under existing circumstances, and if we impose an additional burden it is likely to be the straw that breaks the camel's back. That is a serious situation which neither the LEA nor anyone else will find it easy to live with.

I support the amendment. One of the dangers we face is that insufficient information will be before those who must make the decisions. The debate might have been easier had we had draft regulations. They may exist and I may have missed them. However, I sympathise with the Minister because had draft regulations existed they might have had to be amended in the light of the points raised during this discussion. I am in considerable sympathy with the difficulty in which the Minister finds herself. We are discussing a Bill which enables something to take place. But it is something which does not exist, and we do not know what it will be. That is always difficult.

4.30 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

The two amendments seek to add compulsorily to the range of information available to parents. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in Amendment No. 233ZA, is proposing that LEAs publish in advance of a ballot proposals for the reorganisation of schools, with full costings, should the outcome of the ballot be in favour of change. In Amendment No. 233AE, she is proposing that LEAs be required to send parents details of test and exam results. The debate has not focused on those issues: it has focused more on the issue of costs. The noble Baroness also suggests that the costs of an LEA's proposed reorganisation scheme should be made available to parents in a ballot.

I am afraid to say that the proposals are unacceptable for several reasons. Amendment No. 233ZA, which requires the LEAs to publish fully costed proposals in advance of a ballot, is unworkable because the costs cannot be known in advance. Furthermore, in my view, it is unnecessary. Let us take, first, the apparent underlying assumption that any vote for change will necessarily and inevitably involve massive costs. There has been a great deal of hyperbole about that, with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, talking about costs running into hundreds of millions of pounds and the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, suggesting that they will be huge for a local authority such as Essex. I dispute that.

Incidentally, perhaps I may correct the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. I sympathise with him for not knowing that draft regulations have been published and are available. I also draw the attention of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, to that fact. The regulations are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. So we shall be able to debate them when they are in their final form.

I return to the issue of costs. The Government recognise that there may be costs in some cases. It may be that some retraining of teachers is desirable to prepare them to teach all-ability classes. It may be that some remodelling of premises is helpful to accommodate new patterns of the curriculum. It may even be that some reorganisation is desirable if it is concluded that once the grammar school becomes comprehensive it should become a different size. Much of the debate has focused on that issue.

None of that is in any way automatic. Equally, there may be some savings; for example, on transport if more pupils can attend their local school. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, mentioned that some pupils in Essex travel long distances. We should remember that over the decades the move from selective to comprehensive education has taken place in most areas of the country without fuss, without disruption and without massive reorganisation. Indeed, a great deal of reorganisation took place under the Conservative Government of Mr. Edward Heath between 1970 and 1974. More grammar schools disappeared during the period when the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, was Secretary of State for Education than during the occupancy of that position by any other Member of the other place. Therefore, this is not a new experience. Some of the interventions of Members on the Conservative Benches have given the impression that the proposal is new or has never been undertaken successfully.

Moreover, the change will take place gradually. The effect of a ballot will not be to change the whole of a grammar school's current pupil population; for the most part, it will affect only the new pupils admitted in the first year of an all-ability intake. That will be more than a year after the ballot result is known. All existing pupils admitted on a selective basis will remain in the school. So change will happen gradually; indeed, in an 11 to 18-year comprehensive school over a period of 11 years and in an 11 to 16-year school over a slightly shorter period of time. That gives ample time for the implications and any associated costs to be considered and phased

While I am mentioning 11 to 16-year schools, perhaps I may point out to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, that I am not aware of Ofsted having said that every comprehensive school should, ideally, have a sixth form—

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

I should point out to the Minister that I said six form entry, like three or four form entry.

Baroness Blackstone

I apologise to the noble Lord. I have to say that that might be the ideal situation, especially if they are going to have a sixth form. However, many areas of the country have an 11 to 16-year structure where a somewhat smaller comprehensive school can do a very good job. Indeed, some comprehensive schools even have a sixth form with a smaller intake in terms of the number of classes. However, in those cases, I admit that they would probably need to have some sort of consortium arrangement at sixth form level if they were to do the best possible job for pupils at that stage.

I return to the question of costs. The scale of any costs will depend on the circumstances of each case. That will be best worked out locally once the outcome of the ballot is known. When it is clear that there will be change, various mechanisms will be in place to ensure that the consequences are properly worked through. In particular, we are setting up in the Bill new mechanisms for local decision-making on school organisation matters, as Members of the Committee know because we have already discussed them.

Following a ballot for change, if it is felt desirable in a particular area that there should be some reorganisation of the pattern of schools, that will be properly handled through the publication of proposals for consultation locally and for decision in the local school organisation committee. Only that committee, with the adjudicator if needed—and we hope that in most cases an adjudicator will not be needed—will be able to take final decisions. The committee's remit will include looking at the capital costs associated with reorganisation proposals, and considering how those costs can best be met.

Therefore, it would be most misleading for the LEA on its own to be preparing proposals and costings and presenting them as the only solution to the possible changes ahead. I do not believe that that would be helpful to parents. There are of course a number of other parties involved locally, not least the grammar schools themselves, who have their own views. In the new framework the LEA will not be the only body which can publish proposals. Foundation and voluntary schools can also publish proposals in their own right. I imagine that the noble Baroness would not want the LEA asserting plans when, in law, this is properly a matter for schools to publish their proposals on.

There is nothing to stop LEAs or others undertaking contingency planning and telling people what range of consequences might flow from a ballot for change. It is possible that parties locally will want to explain their view of the options and that they will propose to do so in the event of such a ballot. However, I believe that that is best left as a matter for local discretion before a ballot. After a ballot, the implications and options are best examined in the forum which is being specifically set up for the purpose; namely, the school organisation committee. It would be quite wrong to pre-empt all that before a ballot has even taken place on the basis of speculation and hypothesis.

Perhaps I may move on and say something briefly about the noble Baroness's second amendment, which has not really been touched upon in our debate. The amendment says that the ballot administration company will have to get LEAs to prepare a statement to be sent to all eligible parents, detailing tests and exam results for all the schools directly or indirectly involved in the ballot, together with, a summary of the recurrent and capital expenditure which would result". from a ballot for change. I have already discussed the cost question, but the new element in the amendment is the reference to exam results and key stage 3 results. However, I should point out that they are already in the public domain. Indeed, the information is published every year. It is published both nationally and locally and receives an enormous amount of publicity, especially locally. Any parent can obtain that information easily if he or she believes that it will be relevant. Therefore, what possible justification can there be for putting LEAs to the extra time and expense of publishing information already published?

I realise that the noble Baroness is trying to ensure that parents have information upon which to make an informed case in a ballot. I am sympathetic with that aim. We are certainly not planning to stop any party to the debate issuing information which it thinks relevant to the choice that parents will make, as long as it is factual and objective. However, there is no need to make that a statutory requirement. It is a matter best left for local discretion, drawing on the very wide array of performance information already required to be published. In the light of that response, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

We now know officially from the department that the information parents will have at the time of being asked for their signatures, and certainly at the time of the ballot, will be pretty sketchy. In fact, they will not know physically, even in outline, what is likely to happen to their schools and their children. Some of the Minister's remarks have given me more cause for worry and will certainly give parents more cause for concern, especially those whose children attend grammar schools.

At this point, perhaps I may address the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, as regards the read-across to GM schools. I should point out to her that those schools were not being closed or reorganised; they were there before and after the ballot in the same form. In other words, a school was not allowed to change its status or be reorganised at the time of the ballot.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

I do not really want to pursue the issue, but the noble Baroness must accept that a number of schools went grant maintained in order to avoid being closed. I could give the Committee several examples. I really think that these arguments are well wide of the mark.

Baroness Blatch

Those schools certainly had a time-scale which was better than the one now proposed and they also had a more democratic system in operation. Having been involved in that policy, I can confirm that a great deal of information was made available to them. Indeed, even if it was a closure proposal, that information was before the local community and those concerned knew what the alternatives were. However, in this case, the local community will not know anything. Those concerned will not know whether there might be a closure or a reorganisation; whether the children will just be dispersed among other schools in the area; or whether they will fill up vacant places in poorer schools. We simply do not know. That is the point I am trying to make.

It would be helpful if the Minister could give one piece of information; namely, the time-scale envisaged. I read both the background paper to the Bill and the regulations, but I cannot discern from that reading the time-scale in which the department is expecting the proposals to be finalised, nor indeed the time-scale over which they will be implemented. It seems to me that the Minister is now talking about the proposals taking up to eight, nine or even 10 years to be implemented. It would be most interesting if we could have that confirmed.

The costs which will result from a ballot to end existing grammar schools will be considerable. I am surprised that the Government are prepared to allow this use of money at a time when every pound is needed, both by LEAs and by schools. To see it dissipated in this way seems unbelievable.

The Minister says that our proposals are unworkable. I agree with the noble Baroness to some degree in that fully-costed proposals may well be difficult to produce, although not in every case. Therefore, I would be entirely happy to see outline proposals on the sort of ideas that an LEA might have if suddenly, overnight, and as a result of a ballot, it had to make reorganisation proposals for what, in the case of some authorities, would be a large number of schools.

The Minister referred to the move to comprehensive education and the reorganisations in the 1970s. I do not know where the noble Baroness was at that time, but I suspect that she was in ILEA and, therefore, would not have had any idea of what was going on in the rest of the country. I can tell her that the most awful reorganisations were proposed. There were proposals to link former grammar schools with secondary modern schools on the other side of a town which would result in children "snaking" through towns and cities. Many schools had to wait for decades for proper reorganisation proposals. Many of the proposals involved heavy costs. However, what was even worse was that bad reorganisation proposals were accepted which did not involve spending a great deal of money. Schools situated great distances apart were merged. Far from transport costs being saved, they rose quite dramatically. Such reorganisations meant that either children "snaked" through a town from one building to another, or staff did so in minibuses. That was an unsatisfactory state of affairs altogether.

We are now getting a hint of what lies behind the Government's thinking. It appears that Kent will have to carry out these proposals on a shoestring. That will be unsatisfactory. If the Government will not allow certain information to be made available to parents when petitions are drawn up and before ballots take place we shall have to try to help grammar schools to make that information available in the public domain. Are the Government now saying that three or four forms of entry will be acceptable for a comprehensive school? That appears to be the case from some comments that the noble Baroness has made. Will grammar schools remain small and compact but with all ability entry rather than selective entry? I find it difficult to believe that that is what the Government intend. They ought to make that matter clear.

The noble Baroness referred yet again to the organisation committees and the adjudicators. They constitute probably the most undemocratic proposal that has ever emerged from any government. The organisation committees are not accountable and they are not elected. They comprise placemen. The adjudicators are all powerful. They can override the wishes of any single group on the organisation committees. If an unsatisfactory proposal is submitted, an adjudicator can make a decision on it. The right reverend Prelate is not in the Chamber at the moment. However, it is conceivable that a school with a religious character could disappear from the system altogether.

The noble Baroness said that this matter is best left to local discretion before a ballot takes place. That is precisely what my amendments are concerned with. I want the information to be made available before a ballot takes place. However, it appears from what the noble Baroness has said, that that will not be the case. I partly take the point that a great deal of information is available, but I seek much more specific information. There may he information available for an entire LEA area, but as regards a group of two, three or half a dozen schools, I believe there is a need for succinct information to be made available, drawn from the enormous amount of information that is available for the entire LEA area. I believe that would be helpful.

As regards the information that is permitted to be made available to parents, the noble Baroness has said that provided the information is factual it will be permitted. As the noble Baroness is aware, under the terms of the Bill schools will not be allowed to fight their corner. If the permitted information must be entirely factual, will grammar schools be allowed to produce their school prospectuses which promote their schools and laud their achievements? Such prospectuses may well compare a school's achievements with those of other schools in the area. They may even contain information about other schools in the area. All of that information will be entirely factual and will comprise data that is published by the DfEE and/or the local education authority. Will such information be permitted under the terms of the Bill in relation to a grammar school defending its right to exist as a grammar school?

Baroness Maddock

I have listened patiently to the debate wondering when it was most appropriate for me to speak to this issue. We got into rather deep water earlier. I do not wish to speak at length but I was moved to speak by the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on reorganisation. I shall return to that matter in a moment.

The Government and the Opposition Benches face a difficulty in this area because they approach the matter from different angles. We have before us this afternoon a series of amendments from the Conservative Benches which seek to delay getting rid of grammar schools. They admit that they want to keep grammar schools. That is quite clear to all of us. The Government are in some difficulty because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said earlier, they have in the past always been against selection. I believe that most of them still oppose selection but they do not talk about that quite so much these days. The Government—perhaps for understandable reasons—do not wish to reorganise education further as it has undergone many reorganisations over the years. The Government have tried to listen to what people have said in that regard. However, that makes their position a little difficult.

I have no difficulty in saying that I and many of my colleagues are not in favour of selection in schools. I attended a grammar school and I taught in a secondary modern school that became a comprehensive while I was teaching there. I have two daughters who both attended what I call truly comprehensive schools. They are quite difficult to find these days because in some areas children are "creamed off' and schools are not always true comprehensive schools. One of my daughters is now at Cambridge and the other is about to go to university. Therefore I do not speak from a background of ignorance. I have been a chairman of governors at a school and I have fought school closures. However, nothing has convinced me that it is reasonable to have a great deal of selection. I have noticed that it is always the average children who receive the least resources. In this country the majority of the population are at the middle of the ability distribution curve. All my experience shows me that those in the middle range of ability—the majority of the population—who make our economy work, lose out in terms of resources. Over the years I have seen the money allocated to education cut dramatically. As we go into the 21st century we need to educate people as well as possible.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said that in many cases reorganisations had been awful. I cannot remember who was in control of the city of Southampton when reorganisation took place there as control of the city has changed from one side to the other. However, it had a good education department, whether the city was run by the Conservatives or by Labour. We had good education services. During my second year of teaching the school where I taught, which was a girls' secondary modern school with a grammar stream—a rather strange beast—became a comprehensive school. That was a good reorganisation. It went smoothly and there were no problems. Admittedly that was an urban environment and therefore travel to various schools was quite easy. However, much thought and care went into the planning of the reorganisation. That can be done.

I am not saying that I think people want massive reorganisation in schools today. What comes across to me—I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, put her finger on it—is that at the previous election two of the three parties that stood for election discussed resources for education in their manifestos. They were resoundingly rewarded at that election.

What people most care about is that there are resources in a school for their child, whatever his or her ability. That is what we have been fighting for. Over a number of years, I have seen that it is costly and expensive to provide grammar schools. In some areas less money has been available for other, less able children. I want to see enough money made available to provide good opportunities for all children. I know that I had more money spent on me in a grammar school than did children in secondary schools in the area. I know how much more they could have achieved had they had the same opportunity. That is what we are talking about. I do not intend to speak at great length on all the amendments. However, I wanted to make our position clear. We should not listen to scare stories about reorganisation. It can be done properly.

5 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, for her remarks. They were based on her rich experience as a teacher, a mother, a pupil, a governor and a member of a local education authority. I cannot disagree with anything that she said. She is right to say that what people care about is that their children have adequate resources spent on them in a good school, whatever their ability.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, raised various questions. First, however, I wish to respond to her point about the dissipation of capital spending as a result of parents in some areas deciding through a ballot that they favour a move towards a non-selective system, or from a grammar school to a non-selective school. We are talking about a ballot for a single school and the potential for the school to change to be non-selective.

I believe that parents will welcome some spending for that purpose. I do not think that they will disagree with it. Moreover, if reorganisation is needed, funds are available. We are spending well over £1 billion on schools capital. I believe that the figure in Kent this year is some £18 million. I do not accept the noble Baroness's point about dissipation. There are bigger and broader objectives here. If parents are committed to the idea of a non-selective system in their area, I do not think that they will object to reasonable spending to ensure that, with all the improvements that are likely to follow from it for their children.

The noble Baroness asked about three or four-form entry and whether we accept that as adequate from the point of view of a comprehensive school. Again, it is a matter for local decision and for the school organisation committees. Many small comprehensive schools are doing a good job. We should not denigrate those schools. In urban areas they are likely to be rather larger, and that, too, has some advantages.

The noble Baroness asked about timing. Draft Regulation 18 covers that question. We are allowing at least 18 months from the ballot result to the introduction of all-ability entry to a school. Reorganisation proposals can be pursued in parallel through the school organisation committee.

The noble Baroness asked also whether grammar schools can produce prospectuses and information of that kind in the course of a ballot. The answer is yes, so long as the information provided is factual, fair and objective. If the noble Baroness has further questions on the matter, perhaps we may deal with them in response to Opposition amendments under the relevant grouping.

I believe that I have answered all the noble Baroness's questions. In the light of this debate and my remarks as to why these proposals are unacceptable, I hope that she will be able to withdraw her amendments.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

Will the Minister clarify her observation about the £18 million allocated by the Government this year for schools capital expenditure in Kent? Is she suggesting that there is some surplus available there, over and above what is already planned by the education authority, to meet what she described as the reasonable expenditure that will be occasioned by foreseeable reorganisation following upon the ballots? Is that the significance? I understood the Minister to say that some local authorities had a reasonable amount of money—£1.5 billion was the figure cited for all England and Wales, and £18 million for Kent.

In the case of Kent, how much of that £18 million would she regard as being reasonably available in the event of ballots resulting in a change? What estimate has been made by the Government of what "reasonable" costs might be? The noble Baroness described my reference to hundreds of millions of pounds in Kent as "hyperbole". It was perhaps fortunate that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was not in his place. Otherwise she might have received the kind of lecture that he gave to my noble friend. Has the Minister taken on board that that £100 million or more was mentioned by the chairman of the education authority in Kent. That was made clear by my noble friend Lord Pilkington. I am sorry to have taken up the Committee's time, but perhaps the Minister will be kind enough to answer those questions.

Baroness Blackstone

I apologise if the noble and learned Lord felt that the term "hyperbole" was unacceptable. Perhaps I should have said, "a little exaggerated". I simply do not know how the chairman of the education committee arrived at that figure. I cannot see how he or she could possibly know. We have no idea what parents in Kent will decide. They may be in favour of retaining the existing system; or there may be a move to a different one. But merely observing that, year after year, substantial sums are available for schools capital is reasonable. How the money is spent will depend on the LEA's judgment as to priorities each year. If parents in Kent vote in favour of moving to a non-selective system, I should have thought that the Kent local education authority would take seriously the wishes of parents and want to allocate whatever sum of money is necessary to meet those wishes so that Kent can have a viable and sensible non-selective system.

Baroness Blatch

The noble Baroness misses three points completely. First, should that happen, the parents will have no idea what the costs will be. If the ballot is successful and schools in Kent have to cease being grammar schools, parents are just saying that they want non-selective education. They are not asked to vote "at any price", or "on whatever it is going to cost". If the ballot goes against the schools, the change will have to take place.

The second point arising from my noble and learned friend's intervention which the noble Baroness misses completely is that the LEA will have no choice. Whatever the spending priorities of the education authority, those moneys will be pre-empted. The LEA's own priorities will have to be set aside. Schools that are presently non-selective but which are high up in the capital programme are likely to lose their place in that programme as a result of having to attend to this pernicious policy.

Thirdly, if I were the chairman of an education authority in Kent, Buckinghamshire or Trafford, I should not want to wait until a ballot goes against an LEA decision to say that there should be a major reorganisation in the authority. From the moment the ballot has taken place, on one single day, and the result is announced, a local authority will have to set about the work it will have to do. A sensible local authority will be looking now at its schools. Kent will have to look at the kind of reorganisation proposals that it would need to put in place in this eventuality.

I hope that this is one point on which the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, will agree with me. Reorganisation proposals are a very long time in the making. There is a mass of consultation to take place and an enormous amount of work to do. A good local authority will do that now. That work is being done at the moment in anticipation of the Government, with its great majority, getting its way with this policy. An assumption is being made. We shall all know about it because there is to be a demonstration outside this place by the group for the advancement of state education, which is ready to begin campaigning against grammar schools. Those people will be active. The local authorities know that and are sensibly beginning to work out the outline costs of reorganisation proposals. We shall bring some of those costs to the attention of the Minister at the next stage of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 233ZB:

Page 75, line 31, at end insert— ("() The governing body of any school for which provision is made under subsection (2)(a) or (b) for that school to be included in a ballot under this section shall, in the event of a dispute, have a right of appeal to the Secretary of State.").

The noble Baroness said: I hope that this amendment and Amendment No. 233AB, with which it is grouped, are relatively straightforward. The noble Baroness has sent me a copy of the regulations, and I am grateful to her for that. In the schedules at the back of the regulations all the grammar schools in the country have been allocated either to whole LEA areas or to areas within local education authorities. It is possible that some of those schools, especially those which have been grouped, may disapprove of a particular grouping. I think it is unlikely that there will have been a mistake, but it seems to me that, where a school is unhappy about its grouping, it should be given an opportunity to make representations to the Secretary of State that it should be put in a more appropriate group and one which is more consistent with its wishes.

Amendment No. 233AB is a very important amendment. If this policy is to be persisted with, we would want the Secretary of State to publish, first, a list of schools (and an attempt has been made to do that); secondly, the relevant groupings (and an attempt has been made to do that); and, thirdly, the geographical areas to which the ballot relates. The latter point is very important. The geographical area will have to be very specific as to houses in streets. It is important for parents who reside in the area and who will be eligible to vote that these lists are all published well in advance of petitions being initiated. When petition signatures are being gathered, it is important to know whether or not someone is eligible. I hope that these lists are now being prepared by the DfEE, in conjunction with local education authorities, who will know the catchment areas of the various schools.

I wish to leave the noble Baroness with a question, which relates to this amendment but also to later amendments. Am I reading the regulations correctly, and is it the case that, where the ballot is an area ballot rather than a whole LEA ballot, it is only the parents of children in the feeder schools that have been announced—as long as those feeder schools conform to the threshold of children who finally transfer to a grant-maintained school—who are enfranchised and not, as with a whole LEA ballot, parents who live within the catchment area of those feeder schools, who may have children aged nought to 16? I accept the nod.

We therefore have the most absurd distinction. Where there is a whole LEA ballot, all parents of children aged nought to 16—and there is some confusion about whether it is 16 to 19, as well—will have a vote; yet in an area where there is only a group of schools—for example, the King Edward Schools in Birmingham—it is only the parents of children in the feeder schools, and therefore the parents of children aged nought to five, who will have a vote, and parents of children aged up to 16 in the areas of those schools will not have a vote. How on earth can the Government justify that distinction? I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I think I can give the noble Baroness 95 per cent. satisfaction that what she is asking for will be achieved; and I think I can explain the 5 per cent. which is the matter relating to feeder schools.

These amendments ask the Secretary of State to do what he is already doing. The information that they request, as the noble Baroness generously acknowledged, has already been made available—the noble Baroness has seen it—and the opportunities for discussion already exist.

Amendment No. 233ZB would allow governing bodies of grammar schools to appeal to the Secretary of State against their grouping with other schools for the purposes of a ballot. The draft regulations which we published last week are for consultation. They contain the proposed groupings for all grammar schools. But the key word is "consultation". With the exception of those schools in a selective area, where the ballot is about all schools in the area, ballot groupings are open to discussion. If schools present a system for grouping in the area which offers a better alternative—and this is the direct equivalent of an appeal to the Secretary of State—that will be considered by the Secretary of State in framing the final regulations. I put it to the noble Baroness that the amendment is not necessary.

I turn now to Amendment No 233AB, which asks that the Secretary of State publish the lists of schools and the relevant groupings and areas to which ballots will relate. Again, the noble Baroness has acknowledged that we have already published the lists of schools and the relevant groupings. But there is a difficulty about geographical areas. As the noble Baroness recognised, there is no difficulty in selective areas, such as Buckinghamshire, Kent, Trafford and others. The difficulty is where the geographical area will be determined by the feeder schools.

The noble Baroness is right in saying that the geographical area which will be affected—that is to say, the schools whose parents will be enfranchised by ballots based on the feeder school model—will not always be known in advance of a petition or ballot and therefore it will not be possible in advance to define the geographical area of a ballot on the feeder school model. It will be the responsibility of the ballot administration company to identify the feeder schools, but it can and should do that only when a petition is known to be in circulation. If that were not the case, work would be done in advance of a petition which might well be unnecessary. Feeder schools could change each year, and that would change the area affected. The amendment would require grammar schools to complete this exercise every year, even if there were no local interest in a petition.

We are not using school catchment areas on the feeder school model. We identify specific schools in whole area ballots and we enfranchise the parents of those schools. Whatever the catchment area of those schools may be, that is subsumed in the fact that the parents, wherever they come from, are enfranchised under the feeder school model.

With the exception of identifying in advance a geographical area when the model for the inclusivity or otherwise of the ballot is the feeder school model, everything that the noble Baroness seeks in these amendments will be achieved.

The noble Baroness suggested that there was some confusion over whether parents of 16 to 19 year-olds could vote. There is no confusion. The ballots are for parents of children up to the age of 16.

Baroness Blatch

I am grateful to the noble Lord on two counts: first, for what he said in regard to my first amendment. My assumption is that, if a case can be made, groupings can change and the schools will be grateful for that. I am grateful also for the last point made by the noble Lord. But perhaps I can ask the noble Lord a question.

In an area ballot, only the parents of children who attend feeder schools are enfranchised to vote. Why, in the whole LEA ballot, is it not possible to have the same; that is, that only parents of children in all of the schools in a local authority area that feed into the grammar schools be enfranchised?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The answer is for the reasons identified by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, when he was speaking in relation to Essex. He was talking of Essex, where only 4,000 out of 100,000 children are in grammar schools. We are talking of Kent, Buckinghamshire, Trafford, the Medway towns, Torbay and other areas where the selective system is more than 25 per cent. of the intake.

If what the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, says is true about Essex—that the catchment area of the grammar schools in one case covers the whole of Essex and in another the whole of the north of Essex—and it seems, a fortiori, to be the case that the catchment area of the grammar schools in the selective areas where selection is, in some cases, not just the dominant but the only form of secondary education, then the whole area of the authority should be the area of the ballot. That stands to reason, as Worzel Gummidge would have said.

Baroness Blatch

The noble Lord answered the wrong question. Why is it that, where there is an area ballot, only the parents of children in the primary feeder schools that qualify under the regulations are enfranchised to vote? In a whole LEA ballot, not only the parents of children in every single primary school—that is what I am suggesting—but also the parents of children aged nought to five and the parents of children up to the age of 16 in all the secondary schools, are enfranchised to vote.

Why is it that the electorate for an area ballot includes only feeder schools? Why does it not include all the primary schools in the whole of the LEA that feed into the grammar schools? Why should it include parents of children aged nought to five? And why are they not included in the area ballot?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am sorry if I misunderstood the question of the noble Baroness. There is a real difference between area and whole LEA ballots. The difference is that the whole of the structure of the secondary school service is affected by the ballot and therefore it is appropriate that all parents should have a vote.

Baroness Blatch

That is absolutely no answer. If one takes Southend, and the schools all around the King Edward school area, all the schools, all the parents and the structure of schools in that area are affected by the presence of those schools. If it is right that parents of children aged nought to 16 in a whole LEA area are enfranchised to vote, why does not that pertain in the area ballot?

In fact, I would wish the situation to be the other way round. If only the parents of children in primary schools which are feeder schools are enfranchised to vote in an area ballot—a large part of Birmingham, Southend and large parts of Essex—why is it that only the same category of parents can vote in a whole LEA ballot?

I shall return to the amendment because the noble Lord gave no answer to the point I was making. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 233ZC: Page 75, line 32, leave Out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 233ZC, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 233AA, 233AC and 233BA.

This is no ordinary ballot. The petition that will take place in local education authority areas and whole local education authorities will give rise to considerable activity. Some of it will be entirely benign. Some people will go peaceably about their business. Some people believe philosophically that selective education should end. But on behalf of other people there will be much more aggressive campaigning. We know that CASE is already girding its loins; it is extremely active. We will see something of that on the day its members choose to demonstrate. Other active organisations are simply waiting for Royal Assent so that they can get under way with providing a network of activity in all areas where grammar schools exist.

The activity is going to be extremely disruptive. The sadness is that it will impact on the stability of the schools, on the staff of those schools, on the parents of the children in those schools and, more significantly, on the children in those schools. That activity can take place over many months. I am hoping that the noble Baroness will agree that the period should not be more than one year. At the end of that time, if the required signatures are insufficient, then the whole thing starts again.

This relentless war of attrition will continue until, in one year, the requisite number of signatures are found and they will go for a ballot. If the ballot is not successful, then the whole dreadful activity starts again. If the ballot is successful, it gives rise to the closure of the school as a grammar school and, in the case of the whole LEA ballot, the closure of the group of schools in the whole LEA area. Every single grammar school in the area will cease to exist as a grammar school and plans will have to be made to introduce comprehensive education.

I do not underestimate what the amendment will do and the divisiveness that will occur in those areas. Amendment No. 233ZC therefore says that the regulations "shall" make provision to include and they are not simply permissive. Given that the result of this one ballot in a whole LEA area may mean that all the schools will go out of existence, it is a serious ballot. I cannot think of another example of such a serious ballot. Where the result is so serious, the threshold should be considerable. That is why I suggest that 50 per cent. of the eligible parents should be required for a successful petition to trigger off an automatic ballot. However, the petition should be completed within the year.

If the requisite number of signatures are not secured within the space of a year, then there should be an interregnum. The noble Baroness, or whoever responds to the amendment, may well have some fun with what looks like an inconsistency between this amendment and the interregnum that I suggest for the ballots. The reason for the inconsistency is that, if the Bill survives in its present form, then the five-year interregnum makes sense; it is consistent with the five-year interregnum suggested in the ballot. However, if we were fortunate enough to extend the interregnum between ballots, we would want to change the figure in the amendment. I hope that that explains the inconsistency.

Five years is not even the lifetime of a child in a grammar school. A child joining a grammar school in its first year will undergo all this disruptive activity for the space of a year and perhaps some months more while the ballot takes place. The child will then go through all the organisational proposals. In the case of the ballot not succeeding, there is all this disruption in the first year and by the time the young person is hardly ready to go into the sixth form, it starts all over again. If a brother or sister joins the school two or three years later, the disruption begins again.

I make no apology for the way I describe the disruption. It will be a relentless, bitter war of attrition on the part of the disgruntled, the disaffected and the bigoted—I use that word again in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, because there are people who will be bigoted on this issue—and those who are extremely antipathetic to the existence of selection. Worse still, if they are in the minority, they can simply worry away year after year. If the noble Baroness is advocating that as a way of a school existing on into the future, each five years winning against the odds, I really wish to know where the noble Baroness and her colleagues are coming from. I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Baker of Dorking

I strongly support the amendments. This is almost the first occasion on the clause when one has been able to discuss the principle underlying it. There was a valiant attempt by my noble friend on Clause 99 at the opening of business to bring up the principle underlying it but the Committee decided—I do not think necessarily in its wisdom—to move on to other matters. The debates we have had on the amendments so far have been on important details.

Clause 100 ends grammar schools. There is no doubt about that. That has the support of the Liberal Democrat Party, and I shall come on to its shared guilt later. The Labour Party wants to end grammar schools. It is being a touch deceitful, if that is not an unparliamentary word. The party is being deceitful. I am not suggesting at all that any of the Ministers are full of deceit, not half! In its manifesto, as the noble Baroness said, the Labour Party committed itself not to extend selection. That was the golden phrase used in the manifesto. The noble Baroness will know, as she had responsibility for education in the run-up to the election, that several of her colleagues who are now in the Government had gone much further than that. They had said, "We will abolish grammar schools", but they were reined back by Tony Blair. They were told not to say it and so they did not say it. They said that they would not extend selection. So what they have devised in this clause is a way of using democracy to destroy grammar schools. It will be done in such a way that their fingerprints will not be on the dagger. Polonius is going to be stabbed behind the arras and no one is going to be guilty. Democracy has done it.

I believe that the system devised by the Government is an abuse of democracy. They are going to put the matter to a wide electorate. We discovered only this afternoon that the electorate will be different for an area ballot and different for a whole local education authority ballot. The arguments put by the Minister to defend that were totally implausible. Two fancy franchises will be created. What in effect will be used is the voice of the majority against a minority. That is what will happen. It is likely that in most areas and in most LEAs, as a minority of pupils go to grammar schools, only a minority of parents are likely to support them. That is what the Government want to bring about. I think that they should be much more open and explicit about it.

Tony Crosland in 1966 was quite explicit. He used a very forceful and memorable phrase. He said it. It was the actual policy of the Labour Governments of the 1960s and 1970s to end grammar schools. I was very much aware of the vindictive nature of the destruction of the best school in my constituency when I represented St. Marylebone. St. Marylebone Grammar School, which had been founded in 1791, was destroyed. It was the best school in my constituency and probably the best in inner London. It was destroyed by rigging the governing body. ILEA did it and it was approved by the then Secretary of State for Education, now the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. It killed off a school of real excellence. We fought but we lost. In many cases the grammar schools will fight after the Bill goes through but I fear that they will lose because the electorate has been rigged against them.

I am very surprised by the Liberal support. One of the founding philosophical figures of Liberalism was John Stuart Mill. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, will have read On Liberty. What does John Stuart Mill argue mostly in On Liberty? He argues against the tyranny of the majority. I do not expect the modern Liberal Party to pay much attention to John Stuart Mill because it has become a satellite of the Labour Party—the old Labour Party. That is what John Stuart Mill argued against, but this is what we are going to see exercised either in area ballots or in local authority ballots if these clauses are passed. I very much hope that the safeguards my noble friend has built in—

Baroness Maddock

Perhaps I may—

Lord Baker of Dorking

Does the noble Baroness wish to intervene? I am happy to give way.

Baroness Maddock

I do not know whether the noble Lord was present when I was speaking about these issues. He has quoted John Stuart Mill at me. Perhaps I may quote back at the noble Lord one of the tenets of Liberals and Liberal Democrats today. We want to ensure that everyone has equality of opportunity and that the opportunity of one person should not be detracted from by the opportunity of someone else. That is precisely the point I was arguing earlier. I also made it clear that I thought the Government were in some difficulty on this matter. I have some sympathy with what the noble Lord says about the slightly devious nature of what the Government are doing. I made two points in my contribution. One was about where I stood on the issue of grammar schools and selection and where my party has stood for some time. The other point I made, from experience, was about reorganisation. I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing what is really a rather long intervention.

Baroness Blatch

Does the noble Baroness know that some Liberal Democrats support some of their local grammar schools around the country? Does that sit easily with what she has just said?

Baroness Maddock

The noble Baroness will know that we support different things locally from what we do nationally. We believe in local democracy. I know that in other places we have had a ballot of people to see whether they want grammar schools. Where they have said yes, we, as their representatives, have allowed that to happen. But it does not alter the fact that I happen to think that it is not the right thing to do.

Lord Baker of Dorking

I am very glad to be back at the wicket. The noble Baroness said that she thought that the process was devious. That was her word, not mine. I do not agree with her is when she says that the Liberals believe in that type of equality. I do not believe that one makes poor schools better by destroying the better schools. That is not the principle. I give her another basic founding principle of Liberalism—choice. There is choice now: choice between religious schools and non-religious schools; between single sex and non-single sex schools; and at the moment between grant-maintained schools and grammar schools. That choice is to be restricted. Choice was one of the great founding principles of Liberalism. So I think that the party has abandoned fundamentally quite a lot of the things for which the old Liberal Party stood.

Perhaps I may continue by supporting the amendments. I believe that the Government's proposals are very damaging. The Government are disguising their real intention, which is to end grammar schools. Why do they not say it? Will the Minister say that he wants to see the end of grammar schools, because that will be the consequence of Clause 100? Say it! Say that that is the purpose of government policy! In this era of greater frankness and modernity of the Labour Party, may we just have a flash of truth occasionally as to the motivation of the Government? I believe that my noble friend's proposals build in certain safeguards.

When the Minister comes to reply he may well chide me and the Conservative Party on our record as regards grammar schools. It may well be uppermost in his mind that in the days of Mr. Heath's Government when the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, was Secretary of State for Education, she closed grammar schools. I reminded her of that on two occasions, and I ducked! She was rather ashamed of it, not that one would expect the noble Baroness to admit such a thing. She thought that it was a rather bad passage in her career, and it was. The point I would make is that there are 167 grammar schools. They are good schools for the most part. Nearly all of them are very good schools. It would be very unwise for any government to set up a system to bring those schools to an end. I very much hope that we shall be able to build in safeguards. I assume that the Government are going to press ahead with ballots. I do not believe that they bring distinction to their party or to the Government by abusing democracy in this way. This is an abuse of democracy and we should oppose it.

Lord Dixon-Smith

Perhaps I may deal with one small and narrow point; that is, equality of opportunity. It would be easy to conceive of the county of Essex not having a small proportion of grammar schools. In large areas the system is comprehensive and there is a small creaming effect. But equality of opportunity?—never! Some schools are good; some are very good and some are not. The remarkable thing is that those who know and who research these matters will move, if at all possible, into the catchment area of the successful comprehensive school. There is a quite remarkable premium on houses in those catchment areas. Under this wonderful, equal, flat, superb, everybody-the-same system, the fact of the matter is that those who can afford it still get what they want.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

I intervene in this important debate because I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Baker. This is the crux of the Bill. The big issue of principle is embodied in the part of the Bill which this group of amendments seek to alter. My credentials are probably different from some of those that have already been given. I was not educated at a comprehensive school or a grammar school. I was educated at a public school and so were my children and grandchildren. But my constituents in Gloucester had the opportunity of being educated at one of five grammar schools and that with a population of not much more than 100,000. I fought and strove to keep those grammar schools and four of them are still in existence.

The noble Lord, Lord Peston, is not in his place. I would be very happy if he were to return and call me bigoted, if it is being bigoted not to be committed, as he said, to one particular form of education, but to be committed to the best possible education, and to the best possible educational opportunity right across the board. We are not talking about the very high echelon of academic education, but those marginal children in selection who get into a selective school or a grammar school. They might be at the very margins of those selected, but they have educational vistas open to them by stimulating their imaginations. They have the competition from their peers which they would never have had if that type of education had been denied them.

In addition there are regional considerations. Throughout the whole period that I was in my constituency we had below-average unemployment. I do not know what the position is today. Companies from all over the country wanted to build their factories and bring their businesses to the constituency because of the educational opportunities offered. I apologise for intervening so forcefully, but I feel very strongly that this particular clause will wreck the education system and everything that is good in it.

Lord Dormand of Easington

Before the noble Baroness sits down, can she say why, if the grammar schools were so good, she sent her own children and grandchildren to private schools?

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

They would not have qualified because they did not live in the constituency. I should have been very happy for any of them to have been educated in any of those grammar schools. When I visit them and I go to their speech days my heart swells with pride at the achievements of those schools and what they have done for the benefit of the children who have been fortunate enough to be educated there.

5.45 p.m.

Baroness Young

I wish to reinforce one of the points that my noble friend Lord Baker made on these amendments. This is the nub of the Bill. We are not going to convince the Government that grammar schools are worthwhile and they are not going to convince us otherwise. We have been round this course many times in our lives. What is so deplorable about the arrangement is that the Government have not the courage of their convictions to say that they wish to end the remaining grammar schools. They are having devious ballots which are very damaging to the schools.

One has to think of the individuals involved, such as the teachers in those schools. What are the Government thinking to themselves now? Perhaps the Members on the Government Benches believe that the teachers can move on and get a job somewhere else. Not everyone necessarily wants to do that if they have been long-established in a school and imagine that—as they probably are—they are doing an extremely good job. They will be subjected to this kind of devious, unpleasant balloting every single year until the schools are finally destroyed.

When this kind of thing was applied to housing I believe it was called Rachmanism. Tenants could be got out by putting an unpleasant person next door until the neighbour was driven out. There have been various examples of that in public life. What we shall find now is a way of dealing with schools year by year so that they are got rid of. As we all know with new Labour, the reason why it does not come out and say that it is going to destroy the grammar schools is because it is hoping to hang on to the Conservative votes which it managed to collect at the last election. It has also its own supporters, like Mrs. Harman who is sending her son to a grammar school. Ironically, she was quoted by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon at an earlier stage in the debate. The Prime Minister himself sends his children to a selective grant-maintained school. They have all these inconsistencies and they are very much afraid that that will upset Middle England.

This is all in the name of the wonderful new Labour words "transparency", "clearness", "co-operation", "friendship", and everything else. Just before the by-election in the Wirral and shortly before the general election, it was made quite clear by Mr. Blair that the grammar schools "are safe with us". He must have known perfectly well that these measures were in his mind. So it was a complete con on the electorate. It is rather like the hospital service saying that it is going to reduce waiting lists when they have almost doubled.

So the whole thing is a con of a very unpleasant character. When one has not the courage of one's political convictions—and that is what this is about—it is a weakness and a failure. One has not the courage to stand up for what one believes. The Government may not think we are right, but we at least have the courage to stand up for what we believe and to do that publicly. We are seeing this con on the electorate and on the local education authorities by the appointment of the adjudicator. The Government Ministers can then hide behind the difficult decisions which someone else has to make. That, too, is a con. We have a Government who fail to take a single difficult decision of any description whatsoever.

At the end of the day, by all these fiddles, about 170 schools will go. That will be their epitaph. I hope that they will be pleased with themselves. I hope they were pleased with the triumph when the direct-grant schools went. In fact, at a stroke more independent schools were created than ever before. I hope that any grammar school that can do so will become independent. That is what they should do because it is the only way to survive. In that way a school gets out of this outrageous system of fraud.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

I should like to offer the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, an opportunity to avoid the wounding charge of being slightly duplicitous in being a proponent of the Government's policy, which was levelled at her by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. Earlier this afternoon I invited an answer to the question of whether the remark made not very long ago by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, Mr. Blunkett, that he could not be expected within a few months to complete the work begun by Anthony Crosland represented the Government's policy. After all, most people who are anxious about the future of the grammar schools can be forgiven for supposing that those words represent the Government's policy. We know perfectly well about the policy of Mr. Crosland back in the 1960s and here we have the Secretary of State saying, "I cannot be expected to complete that within a few months." The natural inference is that he wishes to complete it, but that it will take a little longer. If that is the Government's policy, the noble Baroness will be able to avoid the charge of duplicity if she frankly says, as my noble friend Lord Baker invited her to do, "Yes, it is our policy; we should like to get rid of the grammar schools. It is true that we shall not bring an axe to bear on them, but we shall resort to what we hope will be a thousand cuts." What other explanation can there be for permitting a ballot year after year? That is what will happen if a ballot does not produce what many of us believe to be the desired result from the Government's point of view. Why should the triggering petitions be permitted year after year?

Does not the Minister, or whoever is to reply to the debate, recognise the virtue of stability in education? I understood the noble Baroness to say earlier that she did, indeed, recognise that virtue. However, does she recognise that anything but stability will be the consequence of petition after petition? Does she recognise the character of the campaign that in the past has been waged against the grammar schools and which we shall certainly see again in the future? Does the noble Baroness recognise the appeal that will be made to very emotional considerations? Does she believe that allowing that to happen year in, year out—and it will—will induce stability? Does the noble Baroness recognise my fear that the very instability that it will induce will lead some parents to say, "We don't want to send our child to this school, although it is the best in the area, because we recognise that sooner or later the thousand cuts will bring about its demise"? Many people see that as a duplicitous approach to an objective which is not explicitly declared.

I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity now afforded to answer the question of whether it is the Government's hope and purpose that the grammar schools should go. That would enable us to look in a much more realistic light at the various arrangements which are the subject of further amendments both tonight and later.

Lord Dormand of Easington

Before the noble and learned Lord sits down, perhaps he will answer one question. He has properly laid great stress on stability in education and I concur with that view. In those circumstances, can the noble and learned Lord tell the House how many Bills of fundamental importance to education his government introduced in the 18 years in which they were in power?

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

When I first became a Member of your Lordships' House, many people told me that party points were not at the head and forefront of noble Lords' considerations. I am quite prepared to acknowledge to the noble Lord that I very much regret the fact that many grammar schools were abolished under the Conservative Government in which, as already mentioned, my noble friend Lady Thatcher was Secretary of State for Education. However, remarkably sound achievements were also made in those years and stability has been gravely damaged by the undermining of some of those achievements. We have already referred to grant-maintained schools.

It should be possible today to say whether stability is an objective, although perhaps not the sole objective. We are having a grown-up discussion in which I have ventured to ask whether it is still the Government's objective to encourage stability. I have also asked whether, if stability is an objective, providing for petitions year in, year out until the thing comes "right" actually does encourage stability.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I seem to have two tasks. One is to respond to the amendments and the other is to deal with the "Question Time" atmosphere on the Conservative Benches. I approach both with equal relish.

The noble Lord, Lord Baker, should not be put forward to start such a circus. This is the man whose government wanted to get rid of local education authorities. He wanted to stop their having any say in secondary education. His government were quite clear about it. They wanted to have 19,000 grant-maintained schools. They did not say so, but that is what they wanted. To achieve that, they set up a system allowing schools to opt into grant-maintained status and out of the control of the local education authorities. The noble Lord himself established a system whereby all abstentions in a ballot were counted on his side. There were many variations on that system as it became clear that parents did not want it. Only a tiny minority wanted to opt for grant-maintained status, despite the fact that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, reminded us, it was used as a way out of the sensible reorganisation that was necessary because of the declining school rolls. Even so, the noble Lord's government wanted to distance all secondary schools from their local education authorities. They did not dare say so, but they tried to rig the ballot system accordingly.

Those are the people who have the nerve to stand up this afternoon and to say that we are being duplicitous—

Baroness Blatch

Will the noble Lord give way?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

No, I am not giving way for the moment. I am referring now to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden. When I am being told that I am duplicitous, I want to be told that I am duplicitous. I do not want to be told, as the noble and learned Lord said, that we are seen by "many people" as being duplicitous. I call that duplicitous. I gladly give way to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Blatch

Does the noble Lord agree that when parents voted for grant-maintained status, they voted on and for their own schools? In this case, the Government are enfranchising people who do not have an interest in grammar schools and allowing them to vote for or against the existence of those grammar schools. The Government are giving the vote to those whose children are not pupils of those schools.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The reason why we have local education authorities and a local system of education rather than a centralised system is that in the cities, towns and rural areas of this country the education system consists of more than just one school. That is why we have to have ballots of all those affected by any proposals. That is the fundamental reason why we object to the system which the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and his colleagues introduced in an attempt, which they never admitted openly, to deprive local education authorities of a say in the running of secondary schools. Of course, they then tried to do the same with regard to primary schools. In the first place, however, they tried to drive local education authorities out of existence and we then had a centrally controlled system under the Funding Agency for Schools. That is why the Conservative Government did what they did in the way that they did.

Lord Baker of Dorking

On the question of the role of LEAs, about which the noble Lord has just waxed so eloquently, he cannot have read the speech made by Mr. Stephen Byers a fortnight ago. The noble Lord's Government are to reduce the role of the LEAs to one of only marginal responsibilities. They have sent out a consultation document. I know that the noble Lord is not a Minister in the department and so he cannot be expected to follow this in great detail. He is chiding me for having rigged the franchise while he is rigging two fancy franchises. The noble Lord said that I did that with regard to grant-maintained schools. If I did, I did a very bad job of it, did I not—

Noble Lords


Lord Baker of Dorking

—because in many of those elections, the parents did not vote for grant-maintained status. However, we gave them the choice. As my noble friend Lady Blatch said, the electorate then was school-based and comprised the people directly involved. Under the Government's proposals, if it is a local authority ballot parents who may live 30 miles away will have a say in the future of that school. What is democratic about that? It is not democratic. Perhaps the Minister will answer one specific question. Does he personally want to see the end of all grammar schools?

6 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Since the Committee is engaged in a wider debate perhaps I should refer to the Labour Party manifesto, on which this Government were elected. I have no difficulty with that and the way in which it has been implemented. We said in the manifesto that there should be no return to the 11-plus, which divided children into successes and failures at far too early an age, and that any changes to the admission policies of grammar schools would be decided by local parents. That was what we said and that is what we are doing. There is no duplicity in that at all.

I turn to the amendments, which are not concerned with ballots but petitions, which are quite different. None of the amendments now being debated refers to ballots, although one might not think so from the way in which some noble Lords opposite have spoken this afternoon. The purpose of this group of amendments beginning with Amendment No. 233ZC is to place unrealistic and unnecessary obstacles in the way of parents who support an end to selective admission arrangements and to grammar school governing bodies who wish to publish proposals to remove their selective arrangements. The majority seek unfairly to tip the scales against those who support an end to selection. Amendments Nos. 233AA, 233AC and 233BA are all designed to make the task of raising a petition unrealistically difficult.

Dealing first with Amendment No. 233AA, the threshold proposed is 50 per cent. of eligible parents being required to sign a petition. For example, in Kent it would require a petition of 250,000 or more signatures. That represents a mammoth tasks. The Government fully accept it is right that the ballot procedure should not be lightly undertaken and that there should be evidence of significant local demand before one is triggered. It was with that in mind that we set the petition threshold at 20 per cent. of eligible parents.

But we must bear in mind that a petition of itself does not require change in grammar school admissions. The petition merely acts as a trigger for holding a ballot in which all eligible parents can have their say and where change will take place only if a majority of those voting say that that is what they want. The noble Lord derided democracy and said that the Government were using it to destroy the grammar schools. A majority is what democracy is about. Control of the majority by a minority is not a readily acceptable alternative. Setting the petition threshold as high as 50 per cent. of eligible parents is clearly a ruse to ensure that ballots can never in practice be triggered and is unacceptable to the Government.

I move now to Amendment No. 233AC, which provides mechanisms to limit the life of any petition to any one academic year. Those are already contained in draft regulations that the department issued for consultation last week. I draw your Lordships' attention to regulation 7(4) in the draft that we have issued for consultation which states explicitly that for a petition to be valid it must have been received within the school year. A school year is defined as the period from 1st September to 31st July. Therefore, the amendment is quite unnecessary.

Amendment No. 233BA seeks to introduce a moratorium for petitions. We shall not fall into that trap. It leaves the system open to the most obvious abuse. If this amendment were accepted supporters of grammar schools could submit a petition with five names on it toward the end of the year safe in the knowledge that it would never trigger a ballot but would trigger a moratorium and thus deny parents the right to consider the issue for five years. That cannot be right.

We have a moratorium provision where it should be—on the deciding ballot itself—to make sure that all of the fears that noble Lords opposite have expressed will not arise. I believe that there are people outside this Chamber who will be very offended by some of the descriptions of the majority of parents who, it is acknowledged, want to end selection. We will not fall into the trap of saying that very few people can easily trigger a moratorium, which means that the matter cannot be raised for five years afterwards.

We come back to the issue of stability about which noble Lords have asked me. Stability is a good thing and we are in favour of it. But we are not in favour of stability at any price. We cannot and should not freeze the school system. The Conservative Government did not do so. They looked for ways to improve standards. I acknowledge that many of their motivations—I refer to city technology colleges as an example—were admirable, although not always their achievements. At any given moment the school system is as it is. One cannot say that there will never be change. Of course, the education service must change, develop and progress. We believe that the system of ballots triggered by petitions as proposed in this part of the Bill is not only a rational and democratic way of proceeding but is precisely in accordance with our explicit manifesto.

Lord Baker of Dorking

Before the Minister sits down, can he answer the specific question that I put earlier? Does he personally want to see the end of grammar schools? He must have a personal view on this matter.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I take the view that my party takes: it is for local parents to decide whether or not they want grammar schools to continue.

Baroness Blatch

The Minister's answer is interesting. I am reminded of the question put by my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew to the noble Lord opposite and to another Minister earlier. When Mr. Blunkett referred to the statement of Anthony Crosland his answer was that he should not be expected to do in three months what Mr. Crosland had started. Implicit in that response is that he will stay with the principle behind the statement of Anthony Crosland but that it will take a little longer.

I should like to deal with some of the matters touched upon by the noble Lord. I am always encouraged when the noble Lord becomes really cross. It means that we have touched a nerve. On this subject we have certainly touched a nerve. We believe that what any government should do is build upon what is best and what works and develop and not destroy. Personally, it hurts to see a number of members of this Government, who not only enjoyed the fruits of the grammar school system and selective education but are presently enjoying those fruits by sending their children to those schools, closing the doors behind them so that no one else has that opportunity. That is not good government, and it is certainly not good politics.

The noble Lord rather generously referred to the city technology colleges. That was a brilliant policy initiated and implemented by my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking. The noble Lord was gracious about it. However, the noble Lord and his colleagues did not support city technology colleges; they fought our proposals tooth and nail, as they did many of our other policies that have since been adopted.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, when responding to my noble friend Lord Baker, who had referred to the ballots on grant-maintained schools, retorted that not all of the people had been involved in those ballots. Today we have heard an absurd description of the balloting system for grammar schools. In some cases not all of the people will be involved in those ballots. I do not know how to describe it. It is incomprehensible and incredible that in one set of schools the parents of children aged 0 to five and parents of children aged 12 to 16 are disfranchised whereas in another set of schools parents of children aged 0 to 16 are enfranchised. What kind of system is that? There is no logic to it at all.

If the noble Lord believes that it is democratic and open of the Government to invite people to vote on whether they want selection to end in their authorities, what is wrong with giving people a vote on whether they would like selection to take place in their authorities?

One needs to ask some interesting and practical questions about ballots.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Can we be clear that the amendments relate to petitions, not ballots. There is plenty of opportunity for noble Lords to put down amendments on ballots.

Baroness Blatch

There are four amendments about petitioning. A petition invites people to vote for something. I am referring to the whole gamut of petitioning. I shall ask some practical questions.

On the collection of signatures—the point relates materially to some of my amendments—having been canvassed many times for my signature, my experience is that petitions can be undertaken in a highly civilised way and politely, with the purpose of the proposition explained painstakingly and a genuine effort made to persuade me to sign. Collections of signatures can also be deceptive. Perhaps I may give as an example an incident that happened to me involving some Labour activists in my area. They used to put up a couple of trestle tables in the market square each Saturday. They would collect signatures for many causes. On this occasion the cause was animal rights, and related to an animal experimental station in the area. I walked to the table for this reason. I had a son who, sadly, died when he was just short of 15. He was diabetic. His life had been saved by some of the experimentation on animals.

An elderly couple were ahead of me at the table. They were being asked to sign a petition on this basis: "Do you think that it is right to be kind to animals"? Of course the elderly couple both signed the petition; they thought it right, as would any good thinking person, to sign a petition saying that people should be kind to animals.

I asked the people whether they had read the motion on top of the petition paper; they had not. I invited them to do so. I also tried to tell those people that there needs to be a wider understanding of some of the arguments. They almost jumped over the table at me. One of them chased me up the high street and was abusive, because I had dared to try to introduce some integrity into the process of collecting signatures.

I make no apology for telling that story because I believe that the collecting of signatures can be a distasteful experience for some people. Many petition collectors can be aggressive and coercive. They can be economical with the explanations as to why people should sign a petition.

I wish to ask another practical question of whoever will respond to the debate. The verification procedures will be notoriously difficult. They always are. I have been involved in collecting signatures. Let us consider Kent, and the example that the noble Lord gave. Let us assume that the noble Lord's figures are correct. We are talking of 125,000 signatures. An authority has to decide whether the signature can be read, where the parents live, or whether they are bona fide parents of a child in a school in the area. There is a great deal of verification.

The schools do not have the resources to crawl over not one petition but many petitions. From the background papers on the debate, we know that one can have 50, 100 or 200 people collecting signatures. In the county of Kent it will not be difficult or take very long to collect 125 signatures if one can convince people. If one has several weeks and months in which to do so, one has only to have a few Saturday afternoons collecting signatures to reach that figure. Who will be in charge of the verification process? If the petition and ballot are successful, what financial help will be given to all the grammar schools which will cease to exist?

The noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, challenged one of my noble friends—I cannot remember whom—about the plethora of legislation over the past 18 years. Let me remind noble Lords of some of it. As regards setting up the inspectorate to inspect schools, noble Lords opposite are entirely happy with that. They were not so at the time, but they are now. The national curriculum was opposed vigorously at the time; it is now accepted that there has to be a national curriculum. Assessment and testing were opposed vigorously at the time; they are now accepted as a way of life. We have had mentioned city technology colleges. They were opposed tooth and nail but are now supported. On specialist schools, not only do noble Lords opposite support the principle, they are extending it.

On grant-maintained schools, noble Lords opposite "sort of" support the concept—it is another devious policy—but they are changing the names and the degree of autonomy. Local financial management was invented by my local authority when I was leader of that authority. Now noble Lords opposite are praising that policy to the hilt. I refer to the Teacher Training Agency, the publication of information to parents, and compulsory parents' evenings. That is legislation—there is a great deal more—which is now supported by noble Lords opposite.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington

The noble Baroness's last statement is not true. While some of the legislation has been accepted, much has not. The point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, was on stability. It could be argued that grant-maintained schools and CTCs could be implemented, but with longer intervals. Anyone who visits schools or talks to teachers will find that they are sick to death of the chopping and changing over such a period. There has to be a timescale in which stability can be achieved. That was my point.

Baroness Blatch

I wish to make a distinction between the stability about which the noble Lord speaks and the stability to which we refer in this debate. The noble Lord should join me in visiting schools now. They are deeply unhappy about some of the changes now in train as a result of the Labour Government coming into office. There is a great deal of unsettled feeling in the schools. One has only to consider this Bill to see how much change is coming for local authorities and schools.

If the noble Lord can point me to any piece of legislation in the past 18 years which provided for a whole category of schools to cease to exist, with the parental preferences of all the parents who support the schools dashed to the ground in one fell swoop, I shall concede the point he makes.

Some schools will lose out in three ways. Some of the 160 schools will be grammar schools. That will be the subject of this measure. Some will also be grant-maintained schools, and they lose some autonomy. Some schools will have a distinctive religious character which, because of the unsatisfactory nature of the earlier answers, will be subject to the unelected organisation committees and all-powerful adjudicators. It is those people who will be asked for their signatures on a piece of paper in the market squares up and down the land.

Many of our children are suited to fast stream academic education. The policy of sending out people to collect signatures to destroy schools represents yet another rung out of the ladder for bright young people from low income families. Those people will not be able to choose to go to private schools. It is another way of pushing at least a percentage of these schools into the private sector. There is no doubt that instability will be created by the collection of signatures and the system of petitioning. This relentless war of attrition set up by noble Lords opposite will have a most damaging effect.

Finally, with the politics of envy, a cowardly method has been chosen as the mechanism for achieving this policy. Noble Lords opposite, headed by Mr. Blair, are presiding over a dumbing down of the whole country, of which that policy of petitioning and balloting against a category of schools which is producing some of the best education in our country is one further example.

We will not call a vote on the matter today. We will definitely return to it. I promise the noble Lord that I will return to it. I hope that before I sit down the noble Lord can answer the specific questions I put to him.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I hope to answer the specific questions which the noble Baroness put to me about petitions, because that is what the amendments are about. She described what seemed to me to be utterly deplorable petitions. I do not know whether she has read Part 2 of the draft regulations which were sent. They are flagged in Clause 100(3)(c). It states that the regulations may make provision, prescribing the form of any such petition and other requirements (whether as to the procedure to be followed or otherwise) which are to be complied with in relation to any such petition". It is horrible language, but it is clear enough, is it not?

We have in the draft regulations petitions for ballots. We have regulations which specify who the petition should come from; to whom it should go; what the words should be; and what the form should be. The regulations, in paragraph 8(1)(2), spell out: We the undersigned, being eligible parents, seek a ballot on whether those local schools which select by academic ability should continue to do so". There are definitions in the regulations about relevant parents and relevant population. There are definitions of the notification of the result of the petition. All the aspects which the noble Baroness raised against petitions, which she and her government never raised against other petitions, are spelt out clearly in the regulations. Petitions will be controlled not by the local education authorities themselves but by the ballot administration company which will be independent of the local education authorities.

In the course of the debate, we heard some very hard words indeed. We heard "deceit", we heard "duplicity" and we heard "cowardly". They were not unparliamentary because they were not addressed to individuals. But at the end of all this we will end up with a Bill which implements exactly what we said to the people of this country in our election manifesto. None of us—personally, individually or collectively—on these Benches is in the slightest degree ashamed of what we are doing. We are proud of it. And if I sometimes get cross it is because I feel so strongly. I raise my voice not in any sense of uncertainty. I apologise for raising my voice occasionally; I do not apologise for what I am saying.

Baroness Maddock

It may be an appropriate moment for me to take a couple of seconds to set the record straight. Today, I have been accused of various things and I have been misquoted. I made it clear that I was against selection. I did say that I thought the Government were a little duplicitous and we had a problem about that. I said that and I stand by it. I was accused of not being in favour of choice. I must make it clear that I and my colleagues are in favour of choice. We are in favour of maximum best choice for all, and not in favour of best choice for a few and a mediocre choice for many, which I explained clearly. I hope that later tonight we shall be able to debate the amendments rather than have interventions such as these. But I want to put the record straight about what I said.

Baroness Blatch

I agree with the noble Baroness about the policy of choice. Thousands of people—we are probably edging up towards 1 million—chose to send their children to grant-maintained schools. Many more thousands chose to send their children who qualified to selective grammar schools. Despite all the fine words we heard the other night from the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, about the Government being in favour not only of sustaining parental choice but of enhancing it, that swathe of parental choice is about to be snuffed out. Thousands of parents across the country who send their children to grant-maintained schools will be given no opportunity to vote for the option being presented by the Government. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, may be proud of this day; I am certainly not. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Murton of Lindisfarne)

If Amendment No. 233A is agreed to I shall not be able to call Amendment No. 233AA through pre-emption.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 233A:

Page 75, leave out lines 33 to 37 and insert— ("() requiring a request for a ballot under this section to be made by means of a petition signed by parents eligible to request and vote in the ballot;").

The noble Lord said: I trust that the temperature can be reduced slightly in respect of this group of amendments because we have had the principal arguments, the ideology, the philosophy, the politics and some of the mechanistic details of ballots and petitions. The group of amendments deals with whether the power should be on the face of the Bill or in regulations. The amendments do not deal with substantive issues. In doing so, they respond to the recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee as regards the grammar school provisions of the Bill. The group also includes small government amendments giving schools the power to charge parents for copies of parental lists.

Within the group is Amendment No. 233KA, the Opposition amendment relating to affirmative resolutions. I shall also speak to the rest of the government amendments, Amendments Nos. 233B to 233M.

The Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee said about the grammar school provisions of the Bill: The House may wish to consider whether the most important issues of substance should be decided by Parliament and appear on the face of the Bill. These issues include the specifying of parents who will be eligible, the percentage of eligible parents who will have to petition against grammar schools to trigger a ballot and the nature of the majority needed in the ballot to bring about the change. The House may also consider that the first regulations should be subject to the affirmative procedure". The amendments follow the recommendations of the Committee. Your Lordships will recall that we have already discussed and agreed an amendment which will make the first regulations subject to the affirmative procedure. These amendments give effect to the remaining issues.

The approach we have taken is to spell out the details of eligible parents and petition thresholds in a new clause, which is covered by Amendment No. 233L, and say that the regulations must provide for these aspects to be handled in this manner. This means two things. First, there are a range of minor amendments removing now redundant pieces of Clause 100, and, secondly, a new clause states what the ballot regulations must contain.

The ballot result will be determined by a simple majority of those voting. Amendment No. 233M puts that into Clause 101. The details are as we explained in the note about the proposed approach to regulations made available in Committee in another place and sent to the Leaders of the two parties opposite before Second Reading.

Amendment No. 233C enables regulations to give power to the governing bodies of maintained schools or the proprietors of independent schools to make a charge for providing copies of parental lists in connection with petitions. That charge cannot, however, exceed the cost of supply. Amendment No. 233G spells out that expenses for providing information required under the regulations can be paid not only to school governing bodies, but also to proprietors of independent schools and to LEAs where they have incurred the expense.

It may help if I briefly explain the nature of the information requirements envisaged. Regulations made under Clause 100(3)(e) will require governing bodies to compile two lists of parents. The first, the electoral list, will include the names of all parents eligible to vote. This will be sent by the governors to the ballot administration company. However, while parents may wish to vote in the ballot, they may not wish to be approached by those campaigning for either side. For that reason, the governing body will also be required to produce a second list, called the parental list. This list will be similar to the electoral list but will not include the names and addresses of any parents who have requested that their details should not be made public.

The Bill already provides in Clause 100(11) that the Secretary of State can arrange for payments to be made to governing bodies in respect of expenses incurred in relation to obligations to provide information. We anticipate that this would cover the expense of writing to parents asking whether they are content for their names and addresses to be made public so that the parental list can be prepared. Amendment No. 233G recognises that LEAs and proprietors of independent schools may also have such expenses. These payments would be made through the ballot administration company.

Amendment No. 233C goes one small step further in ensuring that schools are not faced with new financial burdens as a result of their obligation to make parental lists available to parents who ask for them. The Government also intend that the charge to parents would cover only the costs incurred by the governing body, for example, the photocopying of a number of sheets. I should also emphasise that parents will be able to inspect the list free at the school. The charge applies only when they want to take a copy away. This approach of allowing schools to charge parents for copies is exactly the same approach as that adopted by the previous government in relation to GM ballots. Therefore, I do not think there should be any controversy here.

I should like to make a few comments on Amendment No. 233KA, tabled by the Opposition Front Bench. I am slightly surprised to see this proposal, which goes well beyond the recommendations of the scrutiny committee. The Government have already tabled an amendment in line with the delegated powers committee's recommendations to secure that a first set of regulations on grammar schools will be made subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. Here, as elsewhere in the Bill, we have followed very clearly the recommendations of the committee.

This amendment would go much further than that. It would require not just the first but any subsequent recommendations in this area to be subject to affirmative resolutions. We do not see the justification for that. The regulations which we are bringing to the House for approval in due course will set out the detailed framework. That will take account of all comments received during the consultation process. That first set of regulations will be subject to affirmative resolution, as the committee recommended.

However, once the framework has been agreed, we cannot see that there will be wholesale changes to the mechanism. Any revisions to the regulations are likely to be fine tuning. Indeed, the government amendments we are discussing in this group which create the new clause on the face of the Bill will ensure that there cannot be drastic changes to the regulations thereafter. Therefore, we cannot see that later regulations, if there are any, need to be subject to affirmative resolution. I do not see that to take the unusual step which this amendment would suggest of going beyond the recommendations of the scrutiny committee would be justified in this case.

I ask the noble Baroness not to pursue her amendments. I beg to move.

6.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord a question. Is there is a power to vary these provisions once they have been through the affirmative resolution procedure, and will they thereafter be subject to negative resolution? I give two examples which I believe may be covered: the threshold for petitions and the interregnum between ballots.

Lord Whitty

I think the noble Baroness is right that they could be varied, but that would still be subject to the negative resolution procedure. That hardly affects the principles and the framework that we are agreeing here.

Baroness Blatch

I hardly call that fine tuning. There is nothing to stop the Government in a year's time, if they find that 20 per cent. is too high, making it 10 per cent. So, if that is the case, I shall continue to press for the affirmative resolution. I shall not do it now but I shall certainly continue to press. That is not fine tuning. That is very substantial.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

Speaking as a member of the scrutiny committee, I appreciate the way in which the recommendations of the Committee have been implemented. We thought that they were important. It is commendable that those recommendations have been implemented in the way the Minister has just identified.

Lord Whitty

I apologise to the Committee and to the noble Baroness in particular. My reaction on my feet was that she was correct. However, although she is correct in relation to the interval, she is not correct in relation to petitions. The threshold for petitions could not be altered by subsequent changes in regulations.

I understood that the noble Baroness was not pressing this point. Has the noble Baroness decided not to pursue the amendment?

Lady Blatch

On the basis of the answer, I am not comforted. I shall continue to press but I shall not be pressing it today.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 233AA to 233AC not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 233AD:

Page 75, line 45, after ("section,") insert— ("() compile and publish, before a petition is initiated and at least six months before any ballot takes place, a list of all eligible parents:").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment is by way of seeking more information from the Government. I have simply put this down because I believe that the sooner one sees the register of eligible parents, the better.

It will be impossible to know when anybody starts a petition. We understand that there is some pre-petition collecting activity taking place at the moment. If the noble Lord does not know about that, I can tell him that that is the case. The moment this Bill has Royal Assent, there will be people preparing to canvass for signatures and to collect them. To be a registered person, anyone signing the petition must comply with the requirements of the regulations. Consistent with my amendment, I should like a list printed well in advance of the ballot taking place. I should also like to know from the Government when, in the course of this process, they intend to ensure that a list of eligible parents is made available. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone

This amendment would require that a list of all eligible parents should be published in advance of any petition, and at least six months in advance of any ballot.

This proposal in unacceptable for several reasons. The proposal to require publication of the names of all eligible parents is rather odd. That is not what happened in grant maintained ballots. In grant maintained ballots, the previous government provided specifically that parents must be given the opportunity to have their names removed from any list of names before it was published. That, 1 think, was the right approach.

There are confidentiality issues here. Parents may not want their names published. Of course, the ballot administration company must have the full list of parents so that all eligible parents will be able to vote. But that list is not published. It is only used by the ballot administration company for the purposes of checking petitions and sending out ballot papers.

The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, by contrast, requires publication. It would be quite wrong to be publishing full lists of names against the wishes of all the parents concerned. There are also practical objections to what the amendment would require. In a whole LEA ballot, some parents will be able to register for a vote where they are not already on the lists of relevant schools. But many parents probably will not seek to register until the petition is started, or a ballot is declared. So their names will not be known as early as the amendment requires. Then there is the further point that children join schools every term in many primary schools. Many primary schools have an entry in September, January and April. So it is quite likely that the electoral list published so far in advance would be substantially out of date by the time the ballot happened.

Finally, that would represent a quite unnecessary additional burden for the schools involved, because it would require them to collect up information before it is needed. There might never be a petition is some areas. So all this information would have been published unnecessarily.

I therefore hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Baker of Dorking

I think that the answers given by the noble Baroness are rather unsatisfactory. As I understand it, the ballot company will maintain a list of those who are eligible to vote, and that, therefore, will exist. Normally in an election, particularly in an election which affects the fate of a considerable number of people—parents sending their children to a grammar school or parents who are not sending their children to a grammar school—should be able to see who is entitled to vote.

We are used to this principle in our country. We have electoral lists. Where there are other elections throughout our society, in trade unions, for example, there are electoral lists. People know exactly who is entitled to vote. As people will be campaigning for one side or another, they should at least know who they should be campaigning towards and to whom they should be addressing their letters and pamphlets. I really do not believe that the answers which the Minister has given are very convincing. I would ask her to look again at that matter before Report stage.

It is possible to bring the lists up to date. The noble Baroness referred to the fact that the names of parents of children coming from primary schools would have to be added to the list but it is possible to do that. It is known who the parents are because the children are attending primary schools. It is possible to add those names to the list. If there are to be those fancy franchises, which the Government seem set upon, the very least that can be done is to publish the names of the people who are entitled to vote in those fancy franchises.

Lord Northbourne

Perhaps I may ask for some clarification from the noble Baroness. Subsection (1)(c) of Amendment No. 233L provides that the Government can prescribe the parents of children of any description. Am I wrong? If I am right, if they wanted to force through a vote in a ballot, the Government could prescribe all the parents of children who do not go to grammar schools or they could prescribe all the parents who voted for the Labour Party in the last election. Is there any restriction?

The other point is that Amendment No. 233M refers at the end to the grammar school "ceasing". In an earlier discussion on an amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, we gained the impression that schools would continue as religious schools and that they would not actually cease. Perhaps that point could be clarified.

Baroness Blackstone

Perhaps I may respond first to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Baker. As I said earlier, there are confidentiality issues in this regard. Not all parents want to have their names published in the way that the noble Lord suggests. I remind the noble Lord that under the grant-maintained ballot system, parents, rightly in my view, were given the opportunity to have their names removed from the list before it was published.

This suggestion is impractical for the reasons that I have given. Parents may seek not to register until the petition is started or a ballot is declared. It is perfectly reasonable that they should delay registering until that happens. There is the further point that children join schools every term. That would make that proposal quite impractical.

I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that the amendment that has just been agreed to makes it clear who can vote. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Blatch

What did the noble Baroness mean by delaying registration until a ballot has happened?

Baroness Blackstone

As I understand it, under the regulations, parents will not have to register until either a petition is started or a ballot is declared. That is the point that I am making.

Baroness Blatch

The noble Baroness used the word "happened". When a ballot has happened, it has happened. There is not a lot of point in registering afterwards.

My noble friend Lord Baker raised some important points. Of course there must be a facility for removing the names of those parents who do not wish their names to be published. In fact, that facility was made available in relation to the GM ballots. It is interesting that very few people took advantage of that provision. Nevertheless, it exists and it protects confidentiality. But then the ballot lists were published and parents could have copies of the lists. In fact, the schools were obliged to give sight of the lists to those who wished to see them.

A very important point is that the grammar schools will have their hands tied behind their backs. They cannot campaign. They cannot fight their corner for the survival of their school. Now they cannot even see the list of people who will be voting against them in order to communicate with them. We have heard that they will be allowed to communicate fundamental, basic information so long as it is information and it is factual. How on earth can that be done if the schools do not know who is on the lists? It seems to me extraordinary.

The petition must represent at least 20 per cent. of the eligible electorate. Therefore, the electorate needs to be known and specific numbers need to be known. Somebody will need to know when the 20 per cent. is reached. When you are collecting signatures, you need to know if somebody is on the registered list. People will ask whether they are on the list. Just as there is an electoral list for main elections, there needs to be a list against which checks can be made. It seems to me that an extraordinary policy of secrecy is being established under those rules.

The answers that we have had from the noble Baroness to the points that have been made in this short debate are extremely unsatisfactory. That means that we must return to this matter. It may well be that some of the formalities and procedural points are covered in regulations, but the practical aspects are not covered. We see enormous practical difficulties in delivering these petitions in a way that is open and informative. It seems to me that all the key people in this process—in particular the grammar schools, staff, parents and those who are anxious to retain the existence of grammar schools—are placed at a serious disadvantage if they cannot have sight of the registered lists.

Baroness Blackstone

The ballot company will assemble the list of eligible parents only after there is reason to believe that a petition is being organised. Of course there will be full lists and parents will be able to obtain the parental lists, excluding those who wish their names to be removed. All that information will be available but at the right time, not six weeks before the ballot takes place, which is what this amendment seeks to achieve.

Lord Baker of Dorking

Perhaps the Minister will reflect on this matter before Report stage. I assume that when the lists are published the names of parents who die between registration and the ballot will be removed.

What about parents who split up and the custody of the child is transferred to one of the parents? Will the names of those parents be struck off?

Baroness Blackstone

Both parents are entitled to vote. If parents separate, that will not affect their position.

Baroness Blatch

From my reading of the papers, I should tell my noble friend that I believe some children will have up to six parental votes. That may be their original parents, divorced parents and also guardians in situ at the time of registration. Therefore there is scope for a large number of signatures on the paper.

The noble Baroness is now being inconsistent. She has said that the register will be drawn up by the balloting company and that parents will be able to see it. They can see it only if it is published. My understanding is that there must be a registered list. Those who seek confidentiality can have their names removed. The list should then be made public.

I said at the outset that I tabled this amendment quite specifically so that we could have a debate and find out from the Government at what point they believe this list should be available. If it is not available until the ballot is about to take place—in other words, the petitioning has taken place—then it is too late for the schools concerned to communicate with those on the list in order to provide factual information about those schools.

Baroness Blackstone

Parents can register for up to four weeks after the balloting company gives notification that the petition is declared valid. But the register will close six weeks before the ballot date. I hope that is helpful because I am trying to be helpful in explaining the system. This amendment asks that there should be a list of all eligible parents published in advance of any petition and at least six months in advance of any ballot. I am merely saying that that is quite impractical.

Baroness Blatch

I thought I had made it clear that my amendment is a mechanism for having a debate. I said that right at the outset. I am trying to find out the position. The noble Baroness now seems to be saying that the register will not be available for the grammar schools which are the subject of the ballot to peruse and to check so that they can communicate with the people on it during the time of the petition. We just want to know from the Minister at what time the balloting company will publish this list for public information. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment but, in doing so, I must express the hope that the Minister will do as my noble friend said; namely, reflect on some of the answers that have been given to this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 233AE not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 233C:

Page 76, line 11, at end insert— ("() authorising any such bodies or persons to charge a fee (not exceeding the cost of supply) for documents supplied by them in pursuance of regulations made by virtue of paragraph (e)(i);").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 233CA:

Page 76, line 14, at end insert— ("() prescribing that a ballot shall only be successful if a majority of eligible parents support the abolition of selective admissions arrangements in the school or schools concerned;").

The noble Baroness said: In moving the above amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 233EA, 233N and 233P. The Minister will be pleased to know that I shall not repeat all the arguments that have been expressed. Indeed, they are on the record; they are heartfelt; and we shall return to them at the next stage. The particular point that I should like to make about these amendments is that a ballot should be successful only if a majority of the eligible electorate is reached, and that the moratorium should be 15 years and not the five years set out in the Bill. Amendments Nos. 233N and 233P would simply rearrange Clause 101(1) to reflect the wording set out within them.

I said earlier that the life of a child in a grammar school can be about eight years. It means that this very disruptive process could happen twice in the single passage of one child through a school. I believe that that is unacceptable. We should at least allow for two generations of children to go through between ballots. The argument in that respect is overwhelming. If the Minister does not accept that, I shall return to the phrase that I have used before; namely, that what we have here represents a relentless war of attrition on these schools. It would be seriously bad. It would certainly be educationally and socially bad and highly disruptive, especially in an area where there are many grammar schools, if the ballot time after time were not successful. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I suppose that we should be grateful for small mercies. At least the noble Baroness does not go as far in these amendments as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, did with his procedures for ballots on grant-maintained schools. The noble Lord counted all abstentions as being votes for GM status and required that a majority of those eligible to vote had to vote for the status quo, so as to have no change. Clearly neither of those suggestions is acceptable. The noble Baroness knows perfectly well that all of our political traditions are based on a majority of those present voting. That is what is proposed here and that is what we shall stick to.

I was interested to hear what the Baroness said about the moratorium. There is nothing magical about five years or, indeed, 15 years. I am not claiming that there is. However, has the noble Baroness really thought about the period of 15 years? A moratorium of 15 years would mean that some parents who would otherwise be enfranchised would never get the opportunity to express an opinion. Indeed, that effectively removes the notion that parents will decide the future of grammar schools for long periods of time.

The Government believe that the five-year moratorium proposed in the draft regulations—and, of course, they are draft regulations—strikes the best balance between offering a period of stability for the grammar school while, at the same time, still allowing local parents the opportunity to express an opinion. The noble Baroness has already indicated her intention to withdraw these amendments. I am grateful to her for that.

Baroness Blatch

I do not remember saying that I would withdraw my amendments. I do not know what the noble Lord was listening to, but I do not actually remember saying that. The noble Lord has trotted out yet again the red herring of grant-maintained schools. However, I make a very fundamental distinction in that respect. The people of those schools were voting for the future of those schools. They were not voting for their closure in any sense. The nature of the school would continue. They were just voting for more autonomy to take control of their own affairs. That is a very different matter from a ballot which takes place to remove a whole swathe of schools from an area, and one which does not even confine the vote to the parents of children in those schools. We have a bizarre balloting system now being spelt out to us by the noble Lord, which I find wholly indefensible. I am not impressed with the response to the main premise of my amendment; namely, that there should be a moratorium which is longer than five years.

I shall conclude with one question to the Minister. Does the noble Lord really believe that it is a good thing to have a year-long frenzied activity of petitioning against the existence of a large number of schools in an LEA, running a ballot and possibly losing it? Indeed, one would perhaps catch 124,000 signatures instead of 125,000 and then, a few months later, the whole process would start all over again—getting 124,000 signatures, and so on. Then, a year later, there would be another frenzied year of such activity which would go on and on until the ballot was triggered. Of course, if it were not successful, the whole rigmarole would start all over again. Is the Minister really saying that that is an acceptable system to advocate in legislation?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

In a debate on an earlier amendment, the noble Baroness and a number of her noble friends described these people as being bigoted. I accept that it is quite possible that they would not only be bigoted but that they would also be so zealous that they would go on not accepting the failure of a petition or the rejection of a ballot. I think that this is fantasy. Indeed, the reality will be quite different. We will very readily see at one time whether there is a significant minority of parents—that is 20 per cent. of eligible parents—who want the question to be raised.

If there is a significant minority of parents —and it is a very significant minority and a very high threshold to achieve—there will be a ballot, followed by a five-year moratorium if the ballot fails, as to whether or not selection should be ended. That is democracy. I do not know whether the noble Baroness or anyone else wants to say more about deceit, duplicity and cowardice, but the real point behind the arguments that have been advanced is that they want grammar schools to continue at all costs and they are opposed to any moves to end selection. If that is so, why do they not table amendments to that effect?

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

I thought that we had got rid of all this and that we were not going to have any more heat. The Minister has just said that our concerns are simply fantasy; that what we fear will not happen; and that we will readily see whether or not there is a 20 per cent. minority of parents who want the question to be raised. If there is such a minority, then we will proceed to the ballot and the moratorium will take place. In other words, if there is no such minority, everyone will say, "That's it", and go home. I do not know what the noble Lord bases all that on. The scenario put forward by my noble friend is entirely foreseeable. Indeed, it is something which worries many of us. Upon what basis does the noble Lord say that that will not happen and that it is all fantasy?

Baroness Blatch

The noble Lord does not respond. We are witnessing the contempt that the noble Lord has not for so many things but the contempt that he has for the parents who are deeply anxious about this policy. They are looking for fairness in these proposals. The fact that the Minister does not rise to respond to my noble and learned friend only illustrates the contempt that he has for our suggestions.

In responding to me, the noble Lord kept referring to the 20 per cent. minority. We are talking about the situation which may arise when that fails. It is not a five-year moratorium for the parents; it is a five-year moratorium before the ballot can take place. However, the frenzied activity that goes with it and which precedes the ballot, where the signatures are collected, the campaigning starts and the vitriol flies, will happen well inside that five years. The noble Lord is in effect saying, "I don't care. Let's get rid of these schools at all costs." I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7 p.m.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 233B:

Page 76, leave out line 15.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 233BA not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 233D:

Page 76, leave out lines 23 to 27.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 233E:

Page 76, line 28, leave out ("to be required").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 233EA not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 233EB:

Page 77, line 10, leave out from ("authority.") to end of line 17.

The noble Baroness said: This amendment concerns campaigning. I can almost predict what the noble Lord is going to say to this amendment. The all mighty, powerful LEA has resources at its disposal and certainly used them at the time grant-maintained schools were proposed and governing bodies and parents initiated their establishment. As my noble friend Lady Young said much earlier today, the experience was distressing for many because of the activities of local education authorities. Eventually, they and grant-maintained schools were barred in legislation from campaigning in a certain way. They were restricted to supplying information in their campaigning.

I have made the following distinction a number of times. When we discussed the establishment of grant-maintained schools we were talking of schools simply gaining more autonomy for running their own affairs. It was not a matter of schools voting for their demise or parents voting for the demise of some other schools, as we are discussing at present. If, as a result of petitioning and balloting, a whole category of schools ceases to exist, those schools must be permitted to fight their corner. I have tabled this amendment as it seeks to remove the restriction on a school at least to put its case before the public. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Nicol)

I must inform the Committee that if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 233F.

Baroness Blackstone

As the noble Baroness said, this amendment seeks to remove schools from the coverage of the subsection which is designed to prevent lobbying and campaigning by the main parties during the ballot process. However, it is interesting that the amendment does not seek to remove LEAs. Although I am prepared to accept that there is a case for looking again at subsections (9) and (10) of Clause 100, this amendment would go too far. I shall therefore invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment with an assurance that the Government are considering the wider issues further. We shall come back at Report stage with further amendments.

The core purpose of Clause 100(9) is to ensure that public money is not misused to support lobbying and campaigning by the main parties in a ballot. I am sure that the noble Baroness would support that purpose. Whatever view individual Members of the Committee may have about grammar schools and ballots, I suspect that this is something on which we can all agree. During any petition and ballot process we want to ensure first of all that information is balanced, fair and objective; secondly, that parents are not subjected to campaigning or information which is misleading, biased or in any way distorted; and, thirdly, that neither the LEA nor the governing body of a school—this must apply to the governing body of a school as well as the LEA—should use taxpayers' money, allocated for the purpose of providing education, to fund expensive lobbying campaigns. That was our starting point.

I stress that we believe the measure should apply to both LEAs and governing bodies. That is why we cannot accept the amendment as drafted because it would give governing bodies carte blanche to spend whatever they chose from their school budgets on campaigning. Arguments have been put that the provisions of Clause 100 go too far. Some have even alleged that they breach the European Convention on Human Rights. As I said at the outset, we are prepared to look again at the matter. I hope that with those assurances the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

Before the noble Baroness sits down, a number of funds exist within schools which have nothing to do with the local authority and do not comprise public money either. I refer to parent association funds and money of that kind. If a governing body does not use public funds, can it then campaign on behalf of its school? I ask for information. It is not terribly clear who can do what. Will political parties who also fund their own campaigns be allowed to campaign in this area, as I am sure they will in a county such as Kent where the whole of the education system is in dispute and there is talk of a ballot with 250,000 potential voters? Can the noble Baroness give an assurance on that point?

Baroness Blackstone

I think it would be quite wrong for money that has been collected by a parents' association in order to fund certain kinds of activities to be spent on expensive campaigning. I should have thought parents would not want that.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

With all due respect, that money is at the disposal of the parents' association. Do not get me wrong. I am not in favour of grammar schools, but it is their money and they may dispose of it as they wish.

Baroness Blatch

I add to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood. If parents collect money for a governing body to use specifically for this purpose, will that be permitted?

Baroness Blackstone

I suppose that if parents collect money specifically to be used for this purpose, that is up to them. We need to give more thought to the issue. That is why, as I said, we shall return at Report stage with further amendments. It is a tricky and difficult area. I accept it could be argued that if parents wish to collect money for this purpose, it can be used for that purpose. On the other hand, I also think it would be wrong for huge amounts of money to be spent on a campaign of this kind.

Lord Baker of Dorking

I see that help came from the Box just at the right time. I hope that in the noble Baroness's further reflections she will appreciate that there is a difference between the role of the local education authority and that of a school which could be a victim of a ballot. A local education authority should be impartial in these matters. It should not have a view as to whether selection is a good or bad thing. That is a matter for the electorate. However, if a grammar school is obviously under threat, surely its hands should not be tied in its campaigning. Surely it should be allowed to campaign. Why is the Minister worried about this? She is worried about public money being spent on campaigning. However, a limit could be placed on the amount of public money to be spent in this way. If the very existence of a school is under threat, surely one of the duties of the governing body is to put the case to the electorate, provided that a list of the electorate is published. Schools must be allowed to act in that way. I do not see why they should not be allocated a modest amount of money to do so.

After all, in our country we do not have a tradition of spending lavish sums on campaigning. All Members of the House of Commons have restricted budgets for campaigning. I do not see why the schools that are under threat should not be given modest budgets to enable them to put their case before the electorate. What is wrong with that? That is surely part of the democracy of new Labour.

Baroness Blackstone

I have heard what the noble Lord, Lord Baker, has said. This is exactly the kind of issue that we are considering. We shall note his remarks. On Report, we shall return with amendments to deal with these issues.

Baroness Blatch

I am partly encouraged that thinking is still going on in the department. The words of the Bill are: otherwise incur any expenditure, or give assistance, for the purpose of influencing the outcome". In response to my question as to whether parents could quite specifically raise money, quite specifically for this purpose, and give it to the governing body to spend on their behalf to save the very existence of a school, the noble Baroness said that she supposed they could do that. She then went on to offer the criticism that they might be wasting their money.

The truth is that, under the Bill as it presently stands, that would not be allowed. I hope that that point will be taken on board by the noble Baroness in any further thinking. I also hope that the noble Baroness will give us sight of the amendment ahead of Report stage. If an amendment is not forthcoming, that will be rather late for us to table one ourselves. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 233F to 233K:

Page 77, line 11, leave out ("maintained school within the meaning of section 99") and insert ("school maintained by a local education authority").

Page 77, line 19, leave out ("the governing body of a school") and insert—

  1. ("(a) the governing body of a school maintained by a local education authority,
  2. (b) the proprietor of an independent school, or
  3. (c) a local education authority,").

Page 77, line 20, leave out ("upon it").

Page 77, line 23, at end insert— ("() For the purposes of this section and section (Ballot regulations: eligibility of parents to request and vote in ballot), in their application in relation to any time falling before the appointed day, a grant-maintained school or a grant-maintained special school within the meaning of the Education Act 1996 shall be taken—

  1. (a) to be a school maintained by a local education authority, and
  2. (b) to be maintained by the authority in whose area it is situated.").

Page 77, line 24, after ("section") insert ("and section (Ballot regulations: eligibility of parents to request and vote in ballot)").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 233KA not moved.]

Clause 100, as amended, agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 233L:

After Clause 100, insert the following new clause——