HL Deb 30 June 1998 vol 591 cc647-60

(" . The governing body of any school or the parents of pupils at any school affected by decisions of the adjudicator with respect to matters referred to him concerning or in connection with—

  1. (a) school organisation plans under section 25 below;
  2. (b) directions given under Schedule 7 concerning rationalisation of school places; or
  3. (c) admission arrangements under sections 88 and 89 below,
shall, in all cases, have a right of appeal to the Secretary of State.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I have the opportunity to discuss this amendment only because the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, withdrew the previous amendment. If the House had taken a view on the previous amendment, this amendment may have fallen.

If the role of the adjudicator is to survive after the Bill has passed through both Houses and Parliament has given its assent, it is fundamental that there should be a right of appeal to the adjudicator. It is conceivable that a local authority, having done all its work, may make a recommendation about a school; that that recommendation may go to the organisation committee, on which there is one dissenting voice; then that decision moves on to the adjudicator. As I understand the paper on the adjudicator, the adjudicator is free to accept the majority view; he is free to accept the minority view or he is free to reject both those views and to propose an alternative decision which will be the final word. That is the most undemocratic proposal to have come from this Government. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am afraid that this is one of those cases where nothing will bring us together. We have a profound disagreement about the role of the Secretary of State and about local decision-making. I shall not go into the nature of decision-making in departments. I have already got into enough trouble by venturing amateur opinions on that subject, so I shall steer clear of it.

The issue before us is straightforward. Where we have gone to great lengths to secure that as far as possible decisions shall be taken at local level by those who are responsible—I refer not just the LEAs but to the schools, the diocesan and Church authorities and to all others who are necessarily involved in the issues considered by a school organisation committee—and where we have provided only for those, we hope, rare cases where there is no agreement (despite all attempts at mediation) for the provision of an adjudicator, the last thing that we want is for the matter to be returned to the Secretary of State for a final decision on appeal, as is provided for in the amendment.

The whole thrust of the Bill has been against central control of school organisation and other educational matters. We are profoundly opposed to this amendment.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the noble Lord will not be surprised that I am disappointed by his reply. The thrust of the Bill is that, where the Government do not want to take difficult decisions, they pass them on to third parties—in this case, to the adjudicator and, in the case of grammar schools, to the people, in a rigged ballot system. I believe that that is a wholly unsatisfactory answer. The organisation committee with responsibility for determining a decision following a proposal from the LEA is made up of the Further Education Funding Council which may have nothing whatever to do with, say, the primary school. Church authorities may have nothing to do with the proposal because there is no Church interest whatever. Governors of schools may have nothing to do with the proposal, in particular as the noble Baroness and noble Lords have rejected the idea of having all categories of schools represented on this body; and the LEA is involved only as a small part of the whole. That is the so-called local democratic body. It is unelected and is placed there by the Secretary of State.

The noble Lord makes much of harmony and co-operation at local level. Where there is no dissension at local level these decisions do not even go to the Secretary of State. But where one is talking of a merger, a closure, the removal of a sixth form, the ending of selection—whatever it may be—almost always there is dissension. What is particularly distasteful about the proposals is that if the dissension is on the part of the governors of the school affected by the proposal, or if the dissension is on the part of the LEA that is outnumbered on the organisation committee, and it goes to the adjudicator that dissension counts for absolutely nothing because it is not part of the decision-making process. I do not believe that that is democratic. If they are to proceed with this undemocratic process the least the Government can put in place is a right of appeal to the Secretary of State against the decision of an adjudicator, in particular if an adjudicator arrives at an alternative solution that is no part of the proposals of the LEA or the organisation committee but which has been dreamt up because it is one way of solving the problem. I do not believe that the Government can defend such an indefensible position. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 78 not moved.]

10.45 p.m.

Clause 25 [School organisation plans]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 79:

Page 24, line 2, at end insert— ("( ) The matters prescribed for the purposes of subsection (3) shall include the provision which the authority propose to make during the period in question for children with special educational needs.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford moved Amendment No. 80:

Page 24, line 16, at end insert— ("( ) requiring that the draft plan shall not be approved by the school organisation committee, or referred to the adjudicator, if the representatives of the relevant diocese or dioceses of the Church of England for the area of the local education authority, or the equivalent representative of the Bishop of the Roman Catholic church concerned, are opposed to the proposal;").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 80. To some extent the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has made matters clear in relation to this amendment. The amendment is concerned with denominational schools and touches on the complex issue of the organisation committee and adjudicator. Noble Lords will realise from earlier discussions at Report stage, that all sides agree on the important contribution that religious denominations, particularly the Anglicans and Roman Catholics in terms of size, have made to education over the past 100 or 200 years. But we also agree on the importance that many of our citizens attach to being able to attend a denominational school. Possibly that view is held more passionately by Roman Catholics than Anglicans, but it is certainly a view held by many people.

The purpose of this amendment is to protect denominational schools from possible closure. As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, made clear—I congratulate him in that regard given the many myths surrounding this subject—to say that school organisation committees have the right of veto is untrue. But one element of a school organisation committee can dissent and pass the matter on to the adjudicator who makes the decision. That is the key element.

The Church is to a degree confused about this. I quote a letter from Canon Hall, General Secretary of the Anglican Board of Education. He said—the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said that it was false—that, Such decision will be taken by school organisation committees, on which the Churches will have a veto". It does not have a veto; it has the right to pass it on.

If the committee passes it on, as is obvious, the adjudicator has the final decision. It is acknowledged on all sides of the House that he could close a Church school. I said in Committee that this has caused trouble in Scotland. An LEA has argued that a school should be closed and Cardinal Winning has questioned the decision. If the Bill became law, there would be no right of appeal.

The amendment would give the Churches a genuine veto. In other words, what Canon Hall said about the Churches having a veto would be realised. Many of the dioceses are worried. The Diocese of Leicester has said: It would not be satisfactory for these arrangements to be left to regulations which can be changed by the Government at any time. Such arrangements should be laid out in the Bill".

I shall not enter into a discussion of the adjudicator's powers. He will obviously have to have the wisdom of Gamaliel and the virtue of an archangel. There will be no right of appeal. I am very much on the periphery of the Church. I have heard rumours—no doubt the right reverend Prelate will be able to tell me this—that the Churches have had discussions with the department and it has given the Churches guarantees on this point: denominational schools will not be closed without a guarantee of places being made available within easy access of the school.

If that guarantee has been given, it should be stated clearly before Parliament. I do not want to hear weasel words or talk about closed doors. Have the Churches been given a guarantee that if the adjudicator closes a Church school there will be denominational provision? If the Government have given that assurance they should place it on the face of the Bill or make a ministerial statement to Parliament.

The right reverend Prelate should be saying this rather than me. I have never been near being a bishop in the Church of England nor ever will be. Since 1870 the churches have co-operated with the Government. They have in effect had the right of veto because of the ownership of their land and buildings. They paid a great deal before the 1944 Act. That was without detriment to the co-operation. If the Government accepted my amendment and gave the Church the right of veto, which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, acknowledged it would give—one of its leading officials thinks it has it, otherwise why would he write to The Times in that vein—they would not need to worry—if history is any guide—about co-operation. The right would not be used in an obstructive manner.

Unless the amendment is accepted, the adjudicator will be the judge of the closure of Church schools. My amendment would fulfil what seems to be the intention of the Government and the Churches. At least we would then know where we stood. I want to hear clearly from the Government Front Bench what assurance has been given to the Churches, so that the House might know the position. I beg to move.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

My Lords, I was a little too sanguine when I said earlier today that we had no concerns left. There is at least one concern which has been raised by Amendment No. 80 moved so passionately by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington of Oxenford. It has been said to me that the Churches are supporting the Government because of the concessions we have received. I need to make it clear that in every case where the Churches have a concern we have raised it. We have not been slow in making our concerns known. Where we have no concern, we have been content to leave the Bill unamended. We made public our very many concerns before the Bill was published, as a result of which the Bill was considerably reshaped. Since the publication of the Bill we have raised well over 50 issues: some through the Department for Education and Employment, some through amendments in Committee. In each case, after careful negotiation, our concerns on these issues have been met. Where there is a concern, we are therefore quite prepared to continue raising it.

I now refer to the concern raised through this amendment, and I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, for moving it. He has sketched out the scenario perfectly clearly. If a school organisation committee should disagree over the closure, shall we say, of a Church school, the Church part of that committee has the power to refuse to accept that decision; but, as the noble Lord has made quite clear, the matter then goes to the adjudicator. I cannot comment on the letter written by Canon Hall to which he referred, since I have not seen a copy of it; but we are quite clear as to what the position is.

When I spoke at the Committee stage in support of a similar amendment I said that my purpose in doing so was to attempt to draw out the factors to which an adjudicator would need to pay regard in reaching a decision. It seems to me that that is precisely the point which has been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, this evening. What are the factors to which an adjudicator has to pay regard? We did talk earlier about the undertaking that the total proportion of denominational places in school provision should not be reduced. Might I ask whether that would be a consideration which an adjudicator would have to take into account? Would it be the case that guidance would require an adjudicator to take into account the need not to reduce the total provision of denominational places? If that were to be placed as a requirement on an adjudicator, then I think our difficulties in relation to closure would be very considerably reduced. I look forward to the Minister's response.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister a question. In the event of a whole LEA ballot for the demise of selective education in grammar schools taking place and being successful, and reorganisation plans are drawn up, does the LEA determine those reorganisation plans? In a county like Kent or an area like Trafford it would have to be a very substantial plan. That is the first question: who would determine? Would the LEA determine it and then go to the Secretary of State, or would it go to the organisation committee and then on through the adjudicator process?

Secondly, if one or more of the schools in the area is a school with a religious ethos and it has to go as part of the reorganisation because it is not viable as a non-selective comprehensive school, and therefore it either has to be merged or taken out altogether, what protection is there for retaining denominational choice in that area, if there is not another school of the same denomination within travelling distance, which is unlikely to be the case? What protection is there for that? What right does a denominational school have for making certain that the denominational preference is retained, if not enhanced, in the process of reorganisation following a successful ballot to end selective education in a whole LEA ballot area?

11 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, in introducing this amendment the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, has acknowledged that it does in fact provide for a veto. It does not just provide for a veto; it provides for a veto at a very early stage in the process. It is still not clear to me whether the noble Lord understands the relationship between the preparation of a school organisation plan and the publication of specific proposals.

In discussing previous amendments, we have talked about the publication of specific proposals for the alteration of a school's status, the future of schools, or whatever, which require and have always required statutory procedures to be gone through. But the preparation of the school organisation plan for presentation to the school organisation committee is the responsibility of the local education authority.

The amendment states: requiring that the draft plan shall not be approved by the school organisation committee, or referred to the adjudicator, if the representatives [of the Churches] are opposed to the proposal". Therefore, the amendment is clear in stating that the Churches would have the power to prevent the completion by the local education authority of a school organisation plan, whether or not there are any proposals for statutory changes and, if there are to be such proposals, before the statutory procedures are embarked upon. In that sense, it is not only a veto but an early veto.

The school organisation plan will help by setting a context against which decisions will be made. In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, talked about the medium-term plan produced in the authority of which she was a member. The school organisation plan might look very similar to that and it might be useful both in identifying where proposals might be required and in reaching decisions on the proposals when they come forward. But it does not replace individual proposals. Nor would we expect it to make reference to individual schools. If a conclusion is reached within a school organisation plan that, for example, there is a need to add places in a particular area, proposals will still be required where the addition of places is significant. Those proposals will come to the school organisation committee.

It is not at all clear to me that the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, has understood that distinction.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, perhaps with the permission of the House I shall be allowed to give an explanation. I am prepared to accept the criticisms of the noble Lord as regards the wording of my amendment. If necessary, I will come back at Third Reading with a revised version. The noble Lord is always helpful over my amendments. However, I am concerned about a school closure. If a school closure is put before a school organisation committee and the diocesan representatives disagree, I am opposing the matter being left entirely to the adjudicator. That is my position and I am prepared to reword the amendment. I thank the noble Lord for his assistance.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I thought that that was the case. I am glad that we are clear about where we stand.

If we take what the noble Lord means rather that what the amendment says, we do not accept that it is right for one of the partners to be given an absolute veto over the decisions of the committee in the way that the amendment proposes. There must be a way of reaching a resolution in respect of which there is consensus. That is the whole purpose of the school organisation committee exercise.

The Church groups will have the same opportunity as all other groups to register their views and should have no greater powers of veto than other groups if we are to maintain and continue the existing balance of powers and responsibilities.

I will now qualify that statement. The House will be aware that in the context of class sizes we have recently made a commitment that our intention to reduce infant class sizes will not lead to a reduction in the relative numbers of denominational places within an authority. In the same way, the guidance we shall issue to adjudicators to assist them in the difficult task of reaching decisions will make it clear that where the relevant Church group on the committee has voted against closure of a denominational school an adjudicator, in taking the final decision, shall not reduce the proportion of denominational places within the authority. That goes slightly further than the "take into account" phrase which the right reverent Prelate used, and I hope he will agree that it is in accordance with a letter which my noble friend sent to him yesterday. I hope he will agree that it meets the points which he raised in particular.

Therefore, that does not mean that we can accept this amendment. It would disrupt the balance of partnership between local providers, a partnership that we are trying to maintain. But with the commitment that I have given to including in guidance to adjudicators that the proportion of denominational places within the authority should not be reduced, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, will feel able not only to withdraw the amendment but not to put forward a better amendment next time because the points required by the Churches have been met.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked about grammar schools. Let us discuss those when we reach our discussions on that. We must not assume that a closure would necessarily flow from a ballot on grammar schools. I really believe that it is better to discuss the issue fully in context rather than dealing with it now.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his assistance in drafting my amendments. The problem will arise if no consensus is reached on the school organisation committee. Secondly, denominational schools are extremely different from other schools in that situation since there are many people in the country who feel passionately about attending their denominational schools. It may be that Roman Catholics feel more passionately about that than Anglicans, but certainly many Roman Catholic families feel extremely strongly about that.

I am rather mistrustful of the promise which the noble Lord gave to the right reverend Prelate but I shall look very closely at what he said. The Minister said that denominational places would be provided in a local authority area. I think of a county like Kent, which is enormous. Perhaps the Minister will add, which would please me somewhat more, that denominational places will be provided within travelling distance. If a denominational school were closed in, for example, Maidstone or Canterbury, it may be necessary to travel 40 or 50 miles, because sometimes those schools do not exist nearby. Therefore, I ask the Minister to meet the spirit as well as the letter of the law.

It is late at night and I shall consider this matter. I do not promise not to come back on Third Reading. I may do. However, I shall read what the Minister said and I ask him to send me a copy of the letter that was sent to the right reverend Prelate. I am a free negotiator. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 27 [Proposals for establishment or alteration of community, foundation or voluntary school]:

Lord Monkswell moved Amendment No. 81:

Page 25, line 31, after ("community") insert (",voluntary").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 82 and 195. The genesis for these amendments is the representations that we have received from the Steiner Waldorf community and, in particular, the debate that was initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, in Committee on the amendments which he put forward at that time.

The other point I make is that another aim of these amendments is to assist the Government by providing them with new powers. I shall briefly present the amendments and present some arguments for them.

Amendment No. 81 inserts the word "voluntary" in Clause 27(1). The effect of that would be to give the LEA power to bring forward proposals for a new voluntary school where the people who would normally promote such a new voluntary school do not necessarily have the expertise nor the resources to scramble through the bureaucracy of education legislation.

Amendment No. 82 amends Clause 27 to give authority to the promoters of a new school to ask the Secretary of State to sanction an alternative curriculum to the national curriculum. Amendment No. 195, which is an amendment to the Education Act 1996, provides that an alternative curriculum to the national curriculum may be promulgated by regulation and applied to certain designated schools.

In researching the background to these amendments, it became very clear to me that the Government have the power to promulgate a single national curriculum and that they also have the power to disapply it or to apply it with some modifications. However, the Government do not have the power to promulgate an alternative curriculum to the national curriculum.

While the key purpose of these amendments is to provide a mechanism for schools such as the Steiner Waldorf schools to become part of the state system and receive some public money while retaining their distinctive school ethos and curriculum, there is also another aspect that I should like to highlight; namely, the saving of public expenditure. I shall give the House two examples. The first is an existing Steiner school with, say, 400 pupils. If it gets into financial difficulties, it would have to close, leaving 400 extra pupils to be educated totally at taxpayers' expense. However, if it could become a voluntary school which received some money from the state and some from the Steiner community, the schooling of the children would be undisturbed and public money would be saved.

My other example is the development of new voluntary Steiner schools. I believe that there is a significant demand for such schools throughout the country. The provision of some public funds would actually reduce the number of children attending state schools totally funded by taxpayers. I hope that these amendments will overcome the technical flaws identified by the Government in Committee and that they will build on their acceptance of diversity in education.

In conclusion, I should also point out that we have heard about the development of EAZs and the fact that the national curriculum might be disapplied. I hope, therefore, that the Government recognise that, by accepting my amendments, they would have a mechanism to ensure that an alternative curriculum within those zones could in fact be promulgated by them rather than having a situation where no curriculum was promulgated, thus leaving things in limbo. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I should like to express my support for the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell. The Government appear to have buried all their past prejudices and to have moved into the area of pluralism; indeed, that is certainly the case with education action zones, although they have a blind spot about GM schools, which is such a pity.

I believe the point that the noble Lord is trying to make is a general one for pluralism but the specific hook upon which it is hung is the Steiner Waldorf schools. Here we have a group of schools attaining comparable results at GCSE and at A-level. It seems to me that we should worry less about the route to that if at the end of the day the attainment is at least comparable and in some cases better than many of our own schools. We ought to be open minded about them coming into the mainstream sector.

Further, they do have something offer. I believe that they have a curriculum which is conducive to some young people who are for one reason or another not suited to and are misfits within mainstream education. Again, we should be looking at innovative ways of tackling that kind of issue. Therefore, I should like to support a blow for pluralism.

Baroness Maddock

My Lords, I also rise in an effort to try to persuade the Government to look more closely at the work of the Steiner Waldorf schools. I spoke in Committee on the matter, and I have experience of schools in the constituency that I used to represent. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has just mentioned the considerable success achieved by these schools, particularly as regards children who have difficulties fitting into other schools. The Minister talked earlier tonight—this has been echoed by other noble Lords—about partnership and innovation. It is clear that these schools are successful. It is not as if they are asking for a curriculum that is not approved. They are saying the curriculum must be approved, but that it may be a different kind of curriculum. Judging from the response we obtained from the Government on a previous occasion, I imagine they will not be willing to go that far. Will the Minister give an undertaking that if the Government are not prepared to accept the amendments, they will establish a dialogue with the Steiner Waldorf Foundation to participate in that foundation's innovative and exciting developments in education? I believe that has occurred for a number of years. I hope the Government will consider establishing a dialogue with the foundation.

11.15 p.m.

Lord Elis-Thomas

My Lords, I support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Monkswell and echo what has been said on the Liberal Benches. I believe these amendments take further the discussion we had at Committee stage. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will address the question of schools within the school system that deliver the equivalent of the targets of key stages of the national curriculum but within a different timescale and in a different form.

It seems to me that there is an important issue here in terms of pluralism within the system. I draw to my noble friend's attention, as I did in Committee, the study on the aims, methods and curricula of Steiner Waldorf education edited by Martyn Rawson, and in particular to the final chapter of that work which compares in detail the mathematics curriculum, the science curriculum and the language curriculum of the various key stages as delivered within the Steiner Waldorf school system and as delivered within the national curriculum. I believe that proves conclusively that the equivalent of the national curriculum is being delivered. It is time that we moved on from a prescriptive form of national curriculum. As we have already heard, the department may consider it appropriate to do that in certain areas.

Surely here is an internationally recognised school system of high standing, backed by its own specific approach in terms of educational skills, teacher training and delivery and strong parental support. Here we have a strong, pluralistic movement within the school system. Surely that should be recognised. I echo what has been said about the need to have a dialogue between the education department and this foundation to ensure that the benefits of this form of education are recognised within the state system and that they become part of best practice which is available throughout a genuinely pluralistic education system. I hope that the Minister can make some positive comments on this matter. I am grateful to my noble friend for moving the amendment.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I am afraid that I shall disappoint my noble friend. The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, was right in predicting that would be the case. That is probably because she understands what these amendments seek to achieve. I shall discuss that in a moment. In saying that, I do not in any way want to suggest that Steiner schools do not have a contribution to make, but they are independent schools outside the state system. I shall certainly take back to the department the suggestion that there might be some dialogue with them. Perhaps that is something we can pursue.

I am afraid these amendments represent an attempt to change radically the arrangements that this Bill seeks to put into place. They would affect both the framework of schools and the curriculum taught within them.

The voluntary sector originated from independent and, for the most part but not exclusively, religious promoters establishing schools. LEAs have never been able to establish voluntary schools. This Bill continues that tradition. Each of the categories of the new school framework will have distinctive characteristics. Characteristic to the voluntary category will be that new schools can be established only by independent promoters, not by LEAs as these amendments propose.

There are good practical reasons for that. The voluntary category will, as now, consist of schools whose premises are owned by foundations. Having a foundation will be a condition of entry to the category, and there will be two types of foundation: existing private law foundations, whose trustees own part or all of a school's premises, and new statutory group foundations, which Clause 21 of the Bill enables schools to set up. It would not be right for LEAs to use their resources to endow a private law foundation. As for group foundations, those will be voluntary associations of existing schools.

LEAs will have the power to establish community and foundation schools. They will give them enough flexibility to secure the supply of school places in their area. There is no need to enable them to establish voluntary schools. Moreover, it does not make sense for them to do so.

Turning to the amendments which refer to alternative curriculums, the national curriculum sets the framework for teaching in maintained schools. It defines children's entitlement to a rich and varied education, and is therefore central in determining their educational experience. It shapes parents', teachers' and employers' expectations of the skills and knowledge that children will acquire during their school years; and it sets the framework for the Government's drive to raise standards in schools.

The Government's position is therefore to regard the national curriculum as a central plank in our campaign to raise educational standards, to uphold its place at the statutory core of the school curriculum and to adjust it where necessary to help schools play their part in the campaign.

The Government's actions are aimed at making the national curriculum more inclusive and at tailoring it to changing needs in education. The national curriculum remains our benchmark. My noble friend's amendments, however, by seeking to give equal status to other curriculums yet to be specified—he explained that he is applying these amendments to Steiner schools, but they could be picked up by other independent schools—would undermine the place of the national curriculum, with the guarantees of breadth, balance and rigour that it provides. Regretfully, therefore, I cannot accept the amendments.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. It has shown that there is wide-ranging support on all sides of the House for the idea of pluralism within our education system.

I perfectly understand that my Amendment No. 81 is probably not very sensible, given my noble friend's explanation. However, I would point out that Amendment No. 195 gives an extra power to the Government to recognise an alternative curriculum. They do not have such a power at present. The Government can only disapply the national curriculum, apply it, or make modifications to it. They have no power to promulgate a different curriculum from the national curriculum.

I wonder whether the Government might recognise that fact and think that there may be an occasion in the next few years when they might see it as beneficial to have the power to promulgate a different curriculum. We do not know what changes will happen within the education system over the next few years. We have the introduction of education action zones, and there are other factors. It would be a pity if we had to wait some years for a relevant education Act before the Government could take powers to promulgate an alternative curriculum.

I recognise the willingness of the Government to communicate and have dialogue with the Steiner movement in particular. However, I hope that they recognise that having the power to promulgate an alternative curriculum could be useful for them in the future. It may be that they will never have to use it; but it would be available in the event that it was useful to do so.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 82 not moved.]

Clause 29 [Notice by governing body to discontinue foundation or voluntary school]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 83:

Page 29, line 40, leave out subsection (14).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 6 [Statutory proposals: procedure and implementation]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 84:

Page 129, line 8, after ("prescribe") insert ("the").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 84 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 85 to 88, 125, 126, 198, 202, 208, 215 to 219 and 222 through to 232. These are technical drafting amendments and are specific changes suggested not by Ministers or the department but by the parliamentary draftsman. Clearly, in putting together a Bill of this size there will inevitably be drafting amendments which make the Bill easier for the reader, introducing cross-references or clarifications. This group of amendments all fall squarely into that description.

I can assure noble Lords that these amendments contain no matters of policy at all. They are the result of a professional suggestion to improve a professional job of work. Despite any hesitations that noble Lords may have, they do not themselves raise policy issues. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I rise simply to make this point. The Bill was printed last November/December and we are now heading for the end of the Session yet we are still receiving large tranches of amendments. Is this positively the last group of technical amendments?

I know that these amendments have been blamed on counsel. However, my understanding is that counsel drafts all amendments and we have had large groupings on every single day that we have met on this in Committee, with technical amendments that have been afterthoughts, corrections and a rewriting of the Bill. It seems to me that we have had a surfeit of amendments and I wondered whether this was the last we could expect.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I believe that during the rest of Report stage further technical amendments will be needed. However, these are of a different character to the ones that have been introduced elsewhere, in that the majority of them are amendments which reflect new cross-references as the Bill passes through its various stages. Indeed, right at the end of the Bill I am sure that parliamentary counsel will require us to have further cross-references and clarifications, but these are not of the same class of technical amendment that we dealt with earlier today and at earlier stages of the Bill.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 7 [Rationalisation of school places]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 85 to 88:

Page 142, line 19, after ("prescribe") insert ("the").

Page 143, line 32, after ("prescribe") insert ("the").

Page 143, line 40, leave out ("the case") and insert ("any case where the proposals are for the alteration").

Page 145, line 29, leave out ("the case") and insert ("any case where the proposals are for the alteration").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the leave of the House I should like to move these amendments en bloc. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned.

Moved accordingly and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at twenty-nine minutes past eleven o'clock.