§ 1 Clause 50, page 44, line 48, at end insert
§ ("(7) Subject to subsection (8) below, it shall be the duty of the governing body of any school which is eligible for grant-maintained status, at the request of any parent of a registered pupil at the school, to make available to the parent for inspection (at all reasonable times and free of charge) at the school, and to supply the parent with a copy of, a list containing the name and address of every person who is known to the governing body to be such a parent if the request is made—
- (a) in connection with any proposal that a ballot should be held in accordance with section 51 of this Act; or
- (b) where the governing body are under a duty by virtue of this section to secure that such a ballot is held, in connection with the holding of the ballot.
§ (8) A governing body shall not disclose to a parent under subsection (7) above the name and address of any person who has requested the governing body in writing not to disclose that information under that subsection; and accordingly the name and address of that person shall be excluded from the list there mentioned.
§ (9) A governing body who in pursuance of subsection (7) above supply copies of the list there mentioned may charge such fee as they think fit (not exceeding the cost of supply) in respect of each copy so supplied.
§ 2 The Commons agreed to the above amendment with the following amendment.
§ Line 12, after ("section") insert ("or section 51(7A) of this Act." ).
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Belstead)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 2 as an amendment to Lords Amendment No. 1. At the same time I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 3 to 13 as printed on the Marshalled List..
The procedures by which a school may apply to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to become grant-maintained are well-trodden. But let me briefly reiterate them. First, the governors must resolve to hold a secret postal ballot of all the parents on the question and consult the local education authority, and any trustees that the school may have, and confirm that resolution at a second governors' meeting held not less than 28 days later..
Alternatively, a significant number of parents may put forward a petition requiring the governors to hold a ballot. If the outcome of the ballot shows that parents favour grant-maintained status, the governors must draw up a formal application and submit it to the Secretary of State. It will be open to all those with a legitimate interest in the school—for example, parents and staff, the local education authority, the trustees, if any, and parents of children in feeder primary schools—to make comments or objections. My right honourable friend will take these into account and will decide the application on its merits..
There has been considerable debate about the proposed method for testing parental opinion. The Government's view is that a simple majority of those 12 voting in a ballot should determine the outcome of that ballot. But, at the Committee stage your Lordships agreed to an amendment, moved by the right reverned Prelate the Bishop of London, which introduced a much higher hurdle; namely, that a majority of all those eligible to vote should support an application for grant-maintained status before the application could go forward for consideration. The difficulty is that that amendment would in effect enfranchise the apathetic. Abstainers would have equal weight with opponents in blocking the prospect of change. All this would happen in a ballot which does not itself decide the issue but only provides the trigger for the case to be presented to the Secretary of State..
However, having said that, I fully accept that noble Lords did express—on the amendment moved by the right reverend Prelate—concern about the ballot procedures, though not necessarily being opposed to the concept of grant-maintained status in itself. Indeed, your Lordships voted overwhelmingly on 12th May in favour of the principle of it. However, I think that some of your Lordships were concerned about means rather than ends..
So it was that the right reverend Prelate in moving the amendment suggested that as the Bill stood it remained possible for any small group to press certain parents to exercise their vote to ensure the necessary majority in a minority vote. I think it is fair to say that the right reverend Prelate, and indeed some of your Lordships, made very clear the desire to prevent small groups of parents from hustling a ballot through before the main body of parents had really woken up to what was going on and had formed a view on the matter, either for or against..
I recognise the concern of many noble Lords on that point. The amendments I now put forward provide for a voting procedure which ensures that if half the parents do not show by their votes that they are fully aware that a ballot is being held, then there must be a second ballot. Therefore, Amendment No. 9 provides for a dual ballot arrangement..
Where a ballot is held and more than half the registered parents vote, the result will be determined by a simple majority of those voting. But if fewer than half the parents vote a second ballot will have to be held within 14 days of the result of the first one being declared. Ballot papers will again be sent to all the parents, this time with a statement explaining why the second ballot is necessary and reminding them of what they are being asked to decide. The result of the second ballot will again be determined by a simple majority of those voting; but this time it would be conclusive. I hope that your Lordships will agree that the amendment will provide a clear and decisive safeguard against a small group of committed parents being able, so to speak, to hijack a school..
The other amendments that we have tabled clarify a number of practical issues upon which noble Lords have expressed interest. In particular, Amendment No. 9 makes it clear that the list of parents held on a school's admissions register will form the basis for the electoral roll needed for any ballot. The amendment emphasises the crucial point that it is for the governing body to make a determination in any case 13 where a question is raised, and only where a question is raised, about a person's claim to be a parent. In the vast majority of cases no such question is likely..
For some time now governors have been in exactly that position in respect of those eligible to vote in the election of parent governors for their school. I am not aware that that has caused difficulties. The Government's guidance will remind school governors that the education Acts define a parent as including a guardian and any person who has actual custody of the child, and that just occasionally there may be circumstances where more than two people have parental rights in respect of a particular child.
I hope that your Lordships will agree that the amendments respond to the concerns expressed in your Lordships' House on the original amendment moved by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London by making it possible for a small group of parents to hurry a school into an application for grant-maintained status without the main body of parents fully appreciating the consequences; but at the same time the amendments maintain the principle that those who wish to exercise their right to vote are entitled to have a decisive influence on the outcome. I commend the amendment to your Lordships.
§ Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 2 to the Lords Amendment No. 1.—(Lord Belstead.)
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for his explanation. We had expected that the Government would come up with some sort of compromise at this stage, but we are not at all satisfied with the compromise that has been offered. It is true that there is a minor improvement, but it is not enough to be satisfactory. We hoped that something rather more generous would have been offered. It still remains that if 50 per cent. of the parents vote on the first ballot, 25 per cent. plus one parent could determine this extremely important issue.
On the second ballot there could be just two or three parents voting—two for and one against. That is what we were objecting to in the Bill as it was originally drafted. On reading Hansard of another place for Monday last I noticed that there were a number of Conservative Members there who were not entirely happy with the solution offered. Sir Hugh Rossi and Sir Charles Morrison pointed out that 25 per cent. plus one was a small percentage of parents to make this extremely important change in a school's constitution.
Sir Hugh Rossi pointed out that while the Secretary of State was at the Department of the Environment, before a building society's constitution could be changed there was a requirement that 75 per cent. of the members had to vote. Surely a change in the constitution of a school is just as important. I should have thought that it was more important. Our amendment asks for 50 per cent. plus one of those eligible to vote..
I must also remind the House about the Housing Bill now going through Parliament. A private landlord cannot take over a council estate if a 14 majority of those eligible vote against. That is more than 50 per cent. We asked for just over 50 per cent..
Last Monday, Dr. Keith Hampson tried to get the Secretary of State to say that it was unlikely that he would accept a decision taken by a simple majority of a 50 per cent. turn-out in the first ballot, but he would not commit himself. The Secretary of State said that he was confident that there would be a big turn-out. If so, why not accept our amendment?.
I suspect that the only reason is that the Secretary of State is desperate to get grant-maintained schools on the go. He continually made the point that simple elections are often determined on minority votes. He quoted local councillors, but this is a different situation. Local councillors can be put out of their seats after three or four years. The decision about a school opting to become grant-maintained is irreversible. We turned down a suggestion that schools should be able to opt in after a period of years. This decision is therefore for good. That is an important consideration..
It is unsatisfactory that there is still no proper definition of a parent. My noble friend Lord Morton may say a word or two more about that. It can be unfair. There could be four or five parents per child. On 12th May in this place (at col. 1326 of Hansard) the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, admitted that there may be circumstances where a child has more than two parents. We preferred our plan, where for one child there was one parental vote. Unfortunately that amendment was not accepted. The unsatisfactory system remains. Therefore there is all the more reason to ask for a straight majority of those eligible to vote before a school can become grant-maintained.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of London
My Lords, I appreciate the way in which the Government have moved in this matter. However, not all the points made by the supporters of my original amendment have been met as a result of the action taken in another place. The question for me is, have enough points been met to make it unwise for your Lordships' House to continue to press the matter? I shall identify the main points on which there has been movement..
A small but significant point is that we now know that as the ballots will be organised by the Electoral Reform Society not only will the numbers of those who vote be published but also the number of ballot papers distributed. That fact was not made clear to us before. I believe that it is significant. 'We had hoped that there would be a requirement for such information to be sent to the Secretary of State. We believe that that point is met. I trust that the Minister will be able to confirm that what I have just said is correct..
Secondly, we have been told by the Secretary of State that the extent of the turn-out will be a material factor in the consideration of any application for grant-maintained status and is bound to weigh heavily with the holder of his office. That again is an assurance we have not previously had. It may be not as many of us had wished, but it is more than we had before. It certainly contributed to a change of mind by some Members of another place..
15 Thirdly, and most important, we have had the introduction of the second ballot. That will go a long way towards countering the possible apathy and ignorance in certain groups of parents which I earlier identified as a source of potential danger. The invitation to any small group of extremists to exercise undue influence will not be as open as I believe it could have been under the original proposal. It will alert parents to such a situation by requiring a second ballot. I am therefore inclined to urge your Lordships not to defy the wishes of the other place, with all the constitutional difficulties that that would entail..
However, there are two points upon which I seek further assurances from the Minister. The first relates to timing. The point was raised in another place. There was some talk of a specific time during which the decision would have to be made by the Secretary of State. He will have to decide a number of tricky cases. By encouraging the rejection of your Lordships' amendments he has increased the number and trickiness of the decisions he will have to make. Will he be able to handle all the applications sufficiently speedily to avoid the "planning blight" which will come over a school whose application is in the pending tray? I hope we can have some assurance on that..
Secondly I hope that we can be assured that the Secretary of State will not, "through the publication of guidance"—that is a quotation from Hansard—redraw the franchise in ways which have not been the subject of parliamentary scrutiny. His remark to his right honourable friend Mr. Timothy Raison in last week's debate in another place suggested that he might have some such intention in mind. I hope we can be told this afternoon that that is not the case, because I believe to change the franchise without parliamentary debate would be very unfortunate..
With those observations I can only say that I think the wisest course is to accept these amendments, which go a considerable way to meeting the points I had in mind when I proposed my amendment earlier.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, we on these Benches are not in favour of this compromise which the Government have put forward. The proposal about the ballot still makes it possible that it could get through on 25 per cent. plus one. That, for what is an irreversible decision, we think is nowhere near enough. If the Government had been prepared to make the decision reversible this might be a different matter. But we are forced to believe—and this is confirmed by the report coming from the Centre for Policy Studies this morning—that the Government are determined to have grant-maintained schools and to undermine the position of local authorities in relation to education. That being so, we are extremely unwilling to accept this compromise. After all, the second ballot could be done on a very small number of people indeed. So I am afraid that we cannot accept the advice put forward by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London.
The Earl of Halsbury
My Lords, I support this amendment for one very good reason. It is that in a 16 certain sense I thought of it myself. I know I did because it was my birthday and I gave it as a sort of birthday present in reverse to the noble Baroness for her to think about it. She has perpended on it and come up with this compromise.
All design is a compromise. In a situation like this we cannot have a set of rules which pleases everybody. I hope that the House will follow the lead given by our noble Leader and accept this amendment.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I hope that the House will, as the noble Earl has just said, follow the advice of the right reverend Prelate and accept this amendment. The Government have obviously made a considerable effort to meet the views which were expressed in your Lordships' House. By introducing a system of two ballots I think they have met the very real danger which was mentioned at an earlier stage of a small group of zealots pushing a motion through in the absence of the great majority of parents..
Where there are two ballots, as there will be under this amendment, it would be a singularly apathetic parent who took part in a vote on neither of the ballots. One could perhaps say that parents whose views were so unenthusiastically held that they would not bother to vote on two occasions perhaps do not deserve to have their views taken over-seriously. I hope therefore that your Lordships will accept this amendment..
There is the further point which I think has not been fully stressed today that neither of these ballots is final. If they both go, or if the second one goes, in favour of opting out, the matter still goes to the Secretary of State, with whom the final decision lies. I do not think your Lordships can envisage any Secretary of State who would take a decision on a matter of this sort without looking carefully at the ballot figures. If there really were a very small vote, albeit favourable, it seems at least possible that a sensible Secretary of State would send the matter back. I hope and believe that that is so..
I very much agree with the view that has just been expressed and I hope in general that the Secretary of State will act quickly when a proposal is put up to him. Otherwise, as one noble Lord has said, a kind of planning blight can descend on the school. We have had a great deal of discussion on the matter. It has gone to and fro between your Lordships' House and another place. The Government have come forward with a good compromise acceptable to the right reverend Prelate who himself made the original proposal. I hope that your Lordships will go along with it.
Earl Baldwin of Bewdley
My Lords, when the Secretary of State argues that proposals for a school opting out are among the most important events in the history of that school and that it would be absurd to imagine that they could go through under cover of darkness, so to speak, without everyone locally being aware of the issues, I think he is right. I do not believe that this is a major problem. Those who still have worries on that score will of course be reassured by what was put forward last week in another place..
17 To me the new procedures still miss the main points of concern in this whole business and in this I regretfully differ from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London..
The first point is that a school which is hoping to launch out on its own needs, I should have thought, to demonstrate a strong degree of parental commitment if it is to be a success. It is not that one is assuming, in opposing the Government's voting arrangements, that those who abstain on a low poll will necessarily be against opting out. It is that one is looking for a lot more than apathy in laying the foundations for a new type of school whose raison d'être is supposed to be the expressed wishes of concerned parents—all those parents who, we were told in the run up to this Bill, were longing to get their hands on local schools..
Under this new dual ballot system it will still be possible, as has been said, for a very small minority of parents to change the status of the school. Of course, as the Secretary of State stressed again last week, he can use his judgment in such a case to disallow the proposal. But it would surely be more satisfactory on all counts if there were provided for in this Bill the sort of majority that made it unnecessary for a Secretary of State in Whitehall to have to form a view—however well advised—as to what the local people really meant..
In passing, I do not believe the argument about "fancy franchises" is worth a moment's consideration. The Secretary of State has voted for them himself in the past. In some instances, such as voting people into posts, a simple majority of those voting is appropriate. In others, such as changing the ground rules of institutions, a stiffer hurdle is quite usual. The choice of ballot is matched to the case in hand. If people are thinking of creating a new type of school, it seems to me pretty obvious that the more demanding approach is the more suitable one in terms both of common practice and of common sense. In this context 50 per cent. of the electorate is not an unreasonable target..
The second major point of concern which the new proposals do little to allay is the irrevocable nature of the act of opting out. The noble Baroness, Lady David, has already drawn attention to this. If the amendments which were put forward in your Lordships' House at an earlier stage, allowing a school to opt hack in at some stage in the future, had been agreed to, I myself should not have been nearly so concerned to spend time and energy getting the voting arrangements right in the first place. I still cannot understand why parents should have the choice of loosing the ties with the local education authority but should not have the choice of picking them up again if they decide it is right for their school to do so. I do not believe that the motives for this lack of symmetry can be educational..
However, since this is the situation with which we are faced, it is doubly important to make sure that the decision to leave the local orbit and to remain outside that orbit forever is taken with the kind of community backing which will augur well for the period beyond the first few years when the initial flush of enthusiasm may have faded and the grass may 18 possibly not look quite so green. That I believe is one of the reasons why your Lordships voted to improve this part of the Bill and why I hope noble Lords may do so again.
§ Lord Goodman
My Lords, when I came here this afternoon I did so in the obviously mistaken belief that I had suggested this amendment. However, it is quite clear that there are other rivals to that claim! I may say I am only too happy to recognise it as a Cross-Bench amendment..
Perhaps I may say—and for fear of being torn to pieces by the Opposition I have noticed carefully where the exit is—that when I made the suggestion it was not because I had any great enthusiasm for opting out. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, that the capacity to opt out should be associated with the capacity to opt in again. However, that is another question. I made the suggestion because I claim—often mistakenly—that I am a realist.
I recognise that with the enormous majority of beardless youths in the other place and with the vast assembly of people here who may for all we know at this moment be sheltering where Guy Fawkes was some while ago, the prospect of retaining this amendment was unrealistic. That being so, the suggestion seemed to me at least a considerable improvement on the notion that a school could opt out on a single ballot. A number of the things that have been said are terribly true. One that was untrue was the analogy with the Companies Act or with building societies, which stipulate a 70 per cent. majority. If every shareholder had one vote, no resolution could ever be passed at a company meeting. It is only because there are a vast number of votes in single hands that a resolution is passed..
This provision seems to me to be an improvement. Occasionally when I make a suggestion I find that it is not adopted in toto, which is extremely humiliating. But my objection concerns the 14 days. That appears to me to be much too short a period in which to allow parents to recognise the significance of what has taken place. I ask the Government to reconsider that timing. It seems to me to be wholly unreasonable. In fact it defeats the benefit of this amendment and, to some extent, although I would riot suggest any absence of bona fides, it suggests that adequate consideration has not been given to providing it as a safeguard..
I started by saying that I was no great believer in opting out. I must go further and make a thoroughly agnostic assertion. I am no great believer in parent power in schools or educational institutions. Having spent 10 years as the master of an Oxford college I must say that, rather disappointingly, I cannot remember a single curricular suggestion that ever came from a parent. That may be quite irrelevant to this situation, but if we are depending on parents to make successful schools, we may still find that we are thoroughly disappointed in that regard..
As regards the realities of the situation, it would be unrealistic not to accept this amendment with, I hope, reconsideration by the Government of the time factor involved. I urge the Government to consider 19 whether 14 days does not give a spurious illusion of safety which is not there at all.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, when we debated this matter very fully on 12th May I was one Member of the House who supported the Government in their original proposals. But it was quite clear on that occasion, and certainly on rereading the debate, that there was a great deal of concern about the matter in your Lordships' House. I think that that concern was echoed in another place when this matter went back for consideration on that occasion..
Therefore, I greatly welcome what the noble Lord the Leader of the House said this afternoon in moving this government amendment. I am very pleased indeed that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London has accepted it. The noble Lord, Lord Goodman, and the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, said that they were also prepared to accept it. I think it is a worthwhile compromise. Although I realise that the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, thinks that 14 days is a very short period of time, nevertheless, if one considers the reality of what could happen under these circumstances, one realises that there would be a very great deal of interest and publicity while all this was going on..
We need to recall what my noble friend Lord Belstead said in moving this amendment about the various processes which have to be gone through before a school opts out. It does not just rest on the parents' ballot. Today, with the interest of the press in local authority activities and school activities, there would be a great deal about such a matter in the press, quite apart from interest among the parents themselves. I have no doubt that a great many leaflets would circulate about it. So there would, quite properly, be a great deal of interest in this important matter..
I suspect that between the two ballots, if the second ballot proved to be necessary, there would be a great deal of publicity and interest. I find it extremely difficult to believe that people would be unaware of what was going on and unable to take a decision about it..
One must go back to look at the principles under which a school might consider opting out. I find it difficult to believe that a school would take this decision—particularly as your Lordships have drawn attention to the fact that, having decided to opt out, a school cannot opt back in again—without considering the matter very carefully and without being very concerned about the reasons which led it to disagree with the local education authority and made it wish to opt out..
I believe that this is a very fair amendment. I am very grateful to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for bringing it forward to your Lordships' House. The amendment meets the very real concerns that were expressed on another occasion and I hope that your Lordships will support it.
§ Lord Morton of Shuna
My Lords, I suggest that the amendment that was passed by your Lordships is a better amendment to the Bill as it was originally than the amendment we now have to consider. The difficulties are fairly great. Before any issue of opting out is considered, one must remember that the register of parents tends only to consist of the name of a person with whom the school could get in touch if anything happened to a particular child..
As one sees from the publication Education of 22nd July, it appears that even now various headmasters are not aware of the duty of keeping a register, and do not have one. Therefore, there is a difficulty as regards how accurate a register is anyway..
Then one has the problem of what constitutes a parent. We have discussed this matter in your Lordships' House at my instigation on several occasions. Who is to be recognised as the parent of a child when that child's real parents are divorced and the child is living with one step-parent and one natural parent or is staying with a grandmother or with grandparents at the time? The governing body under Amendment No. 9 on the Marshalled List apparently has the duty to determine who is a parent. Amendment No. 9 inserts a new Section 10A. That section states that a person eligible to vote must be:known to the governing body to be a parent of a registered pupil at the school".One must ask oneself what the words "known to" mean as regards a governing body. The new section further states that a person eligible to vote must benamed as a parent of such a pupil"..
So, if I go along to register my child and I put him down on the list, how will the governing body know that I am the parent, especially when, according to the 1944 Act, a parent includes a guardian and every person who has the actual custody of the child or young person. How will the governing body—not the head teacher or the class teacher—know whether I am a parent? What is meant by the word "know"?.
Having overcome the difficulty of finding out who the parents on the register are to be during that fortnight, the governors have to make a decision. Apparently there is no possibility in the Bill of any appeal to anybody else. Do the Government intend that there should be no judicial review? If there is to be judicial review, what happens to the timetable? Who decides the matter? I can assure the Government that some parents will disagree with governing bodies as regards whether or not they should be on the register. I am informed that there already is at least one litigation over the election of parent governors. There may well be difficulties and litigation over the right or denial of a right to be on the register..
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, that the 14 days is an impossible period of time. If one takes a place such as Barrow-in-Furness where the main works has a holiday of a fortnight and where the schools have the same holiday and one considers the scheme, one will see that the governors or the group of parents who are anxious to have such a ballot can decide to have their requirement delivered just before the start of that holiday period, thus denying a large majority of parents any chance of 21 challenging or asserting their right to receive a ballot paper.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to intervene. Surely those are exactly the circumstances in which the Secretary of State would refuse the application.
§ Lord Morton of Shuna
My Lords, that may well be so, depending on who the Secretary of State is. But it completely destroys parental choice and makes it a question of the choice of the Secretary of State. A school in one part of the country may have a certain level of complaints that parents are deprived of a chance to get on the register; a different situation could arise the following month with a school elsewhere. If the Secretary of State allows one and not the other, a pattern of decisions will develop, that is not consistent. We shall be left with a situation in which the Secretary of State choses which local education authority he likes, which he does not like, which type of school he lets out and which he does not let out. That is a denial of parental choice..
I suggest that the timetable is totally unworkable. There is no discretion to vary the dates and the time requirements because of holidays. That is an obvious and serious deficiency in the Bill as it stands. If a governing body receives a request, a ballot must be held within three months. The governing body cannot hold a ballot until 14 days have elapsed. Therefore, the ballot has a period of roughly 10 weeks. There could easily be a situation where, if there must be a second ballot, it will fall at Christmas or Easter, or in the summer holidays. That would be inappropriate because the ballot should be held in a period when the school is in session so that people will know about it..
For example, a school goes on holiday for seven or eight weeks in the summer—as most schools do— beginning on 22nd July. It may get a request for a ballot on 15th June. It must therefore allow a fortnight to settle the register. That takes until the beginning of July. There will then be a period for typing of envelopes and sending out of documents. No period is set for the time a postal ballot will take. However, anything under a week or 10 days would surely be wrong. Ballot papers will be returned just before the school goes on holiday and a second ballot will take place. It is totally inappropriate to hold such a ballot if all the parents are on holiday..
That type of situation is almost bound to occur every now and again. It is a matter which has not been thought through. Therefore, a straightforward return to a provision establishing that more than 50 per cent. of parents wish to opt out would be the appropriate response. I suggest that the Commons amendments be disagreed with.
§ Lord Ritchie of Dundee
My Lords, I support what has been said the noble Lords, Lord Morton of Shuna and Lord Goodman, concerning the matter of 14 days. The process is a drastic one. For a school to opt out of local authority control is to undermine the principles of the 1944 Act. It is also irreversible. In those circumstances, it should be a difficult decision and not one which it is too easy for parents to make..
22 An added difficulty is that the Government have exposed themselves to the charge that they use parents' views only when it suits them. That was painfully evident in the London parents' ballot. There was an overwhelming vote on the part of London parents to retain the ILEA until suitable replacements could be found. That ballot was ignored by the Government. In the circumstances, I should have thought that it would be in the Government's own interest to show that they are concerned with the opinions and wishes of parents. They should provide at the very least that a reasonable amount of time is allowed between the proposed ballots.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, the debate on the amendments follows an amendment moved by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London at the Committee stage of the Bill when concern was expressed about balloting procedures for testing whether parents wish to apply for grant-maintained status for their school under the Bill. The debate which we are having concerns the government response which I put forward at the beginning of our debate to the concerns expressed by your Lordships as regards the dual balloting arrangement set out in the amendments. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his support, which was qualified by questions he asked. I am also grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, who vied in claiming the parenthood of this set of amendments..
The danger to which several of your Lordships understandably drew attention was that a small but well organised group of parents might rush through a ballot before the main body of parents had fully grasped the importance of what was at stake. The amendments which I ask your Lordships to agree today provide that there must be a second ballot if fewer than half the parents voted on the first ballot. I believe that that is a powerful safeguard. It means that no small group of parents will be able to preempt the debate. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter for saying so, roundly and clearly..
The difficulty I face is that noble Lords of the official Opposition and of the Social and Liberal Democrats have not welcomed the amendments. I am surprised at their opposition to the principle of a simple majority vote by secret postal ballot. Unlike examples of other ballots which I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, gave, this ballot will not finally decide the issue. The point was also made by the noble Baroness, Lady David. However, as my noble friend Baroness Young rightly said, the ballot simply decides whether an application ought to come forward from the governors for public scrutiny, including statutory rights of objection and final decision by the Secretary of State. The extra safeguard built into the amendments is that in triggering the procedure for an application for grant-maintained status, it will be virtually impossible for a small minority of parents to prevail against the majority..
23 The right reverend Prelate asked for more information about ballots. I should like to give an assurance that the Electoral Reform Society will give my right honourable friend details of the results of every ballot. The Secretary of State therefore will be able to see the strength of parental support. My right honourable friend will decide all applications for grant-maintained status as quickly as possible..
Turning to a point on which there was, in a sense, conflicting advice, the right reverend Prelate was concerned that the dual balloting arrangements would build in delay and the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, suggested that the period between ballots should be longer. I believe that the time period of 14 days is the best way of assuring that there is time to conduct a second ballot properly. After all, that is the period of time which is used as an interim in the French presidential elections. At the same time, it ensures that the momentum of the issue will not be lost. The parents will receive a statement with the second ballot paper explaining what it is all about..
Finally, perhaps I may just say to the right reverend Prelate in response to his third and very important question that there is no question of the franchise being changed once the Bill has become law. Guidance will only explain more fully what the legislation requires..
I think that the only other matter which I have to deal with is the series of questions put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna. He was worried about what a parent is. I am sorry that he is worried about that because it has been enshrined in Section 114 of the 1944 Education Act, and I reported to your Lordships exactly what that section said.
§ Lord Morton of Shuna
Perhaps, the noble Lord will allow me to intervene. Section 114 does not say what a parent is; it says what a parent includes.
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, perhaps I may just refer to the effect of Section 114. The definition of parent includes a guardian and every person who has the actual custody of the child. In some cases a child may therefore have more than two parents it is true. But governors will not have to examine parents' credentials. Only if a question is raised as to a parent's eligibility to vote will the governing body have to reach a decision. It will be able to look—despite the difficulty it is giving to the noble Lord—to Section 114. That section, incidentally, has been guiding governing bodies in deciding who can vote for parent governors of schools for a few years now since some previous legislation by the present Government was passed through both Houses..
Perhaps I may also say that if a parent believes that the governors have acted unreasonably in determining eligibility to vote, complaint can be made to the Secretary of State under Section 68 of the 1944 Education Act. If I may say so, I think that that is enough about the details.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, it is nearly enough. However, one is rather intrigued by Amendment No. 9 in which the words,known to the governing body".appear. For some of us it is very difficult to understand the connotation of "known" in this context. Does it have a specific meaning? Does it have an operational significance in the sense that the governing body can say "We do not know you to be a parent and therefore you cannot vote"?
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, it means in effect that the burden of proof in such cases will be on the person claiming to be a parent. It will certainly not be necessary for the governors to go looking for parents, as some noble Lords have suggested. The amendments also provide that parents should have 14 days in which to check that they are on the list once it has been formally decided that a ballot should be held..
I should like to add just one last point. I think that it is fair to say that the opposition to this amendment for a dual balloting arrangement—which will ensure that half the parents of children in a school have to show by their votes that they are aware that a ballot is taking place. otherwise the whole thing is null and void—comes from noble Lords in the Official Opposition and on the Social and Liberal Democrat Benches on wider grounds, becase they do not want grant-maintained schools. We live in a free country and noble Lords opposite have every right to take that view. But I have every right to finish by reminding your Lordships what it is that we are talking about..
This debate is about only one stage in the very searching procedures by which a school can seek to become grant-maintained. No school will be forced to become grant-maintained. Those which apply will be those which believe that they can do a better job outside local authority control. Parents, governors and children will obtain no special privileges if their school becomes grant-maintained. However, they will have a much greater say in the way that the school is run. For the first time local authorities will have to compete for the approval of both parents and governors in the knowledge that, if they fail to satisfy, those parents and governors may choose to take their custom elsewhere. That is a freedom which I believe will be good for the education system..
These amendments will finally pave the way with absolute fairness for parents to have that freedom. I commend the Motion to your Lordships.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down I wonder whether he will deal in a little more detail with what his noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter told your Lordships was a very important point. We are not just talking about two ballots; we are talking about a third stage, which the Leader of the House has mentioned—namely the decision (which we presume is final) of the Secretary of State. I am sure that some of us would consider that that is a mere debating point and that the Government have made their view absolutely clear by saying that they really want a majority of any kind, however small, even though a second ballot is 25 held. Would the Leader of the House care to give an estimate of the number of decisions which the Secretary of State is likely to reverse?
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, my answer to that question is a resounding negative. However, let me give a rather more satisfactory reply to the noble Lord. A point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Morton, about what would happen if a difficult time was selected for the balloting procedure, for instance with Christmas coming. On that point, governors will need to plan ahead. The guidance which will be sent out by my right honourable friend's department will ensure that governors have to plan ahead. The provisions of this Bill allow him to require a fresh ballot if the Secretary of State is not satisfied that reasonable procedures have been followed. So in meeting, the point which the noble Lord has put to me, let us always remember that at the end of the day there is the decision of the Secretary of State and it has to be reasonable.
§ Lord Goodman
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I wonder whether I may ask him a question which might help some of us in relation to the ultimate outcome. Will he be good enough to tell us what is the magic of 14 days and why the same magic is not to be found in 21 days or 28 days?
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, a period of time had to be selected. Quite obviously there is a need to maintain momentum so that people remember what it is all about. There has already been the run-up to the first ballot. Leaving another fortnight until the second ballot appeared to the Government to be a reasonable period of time to put to another place—and I put it now to your Lordships' House—and yet a period of time in which the issues would not be forgotten.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 2 to the Lords Amendment No. 1.
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 173; Not-Contents, 85.27
|DIVISION NO. 1|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Brougham and Vaux, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Broxbourne, L.|
|Arran, E.||Burton of Coventry, B.|
|Auckland, L.||Butterworth, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Caccia, L.|
|Barber, L.||Caithness, E.|
|Beaverbrook, L.||Camden, M.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Cameron of Lochbroom, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Campbell of Alloway, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Carnegy of Lour, B.|
|Benson, L.||Carnock, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Carr of Hadley, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Cathcart, E.|
|Blyth, L.||Cawley, L.|
|Borthwick, L.||Chelmer, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Colnbrook, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Constantine of Stanmore, L.|
|Braye, B.||Cottesloe, L.|
|Brightman, L.||Crathorne, L.|
|Broadbridge, L.||Croham, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Munster, E.|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Davidson, V. [Teller.]||Nelson, E.|
|De Freyne, L.||Newall, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Diamond, L.||O'Brien of Lothbury, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Orkney, E.|
|Eccles, V.||Oxfuird, V.|
|Eden of Winton, L.||Pender, L.|
|Effingham, E.||Penrhyn, L.|
|Elibank, L.||Perth, E.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Elles, B.||Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.|
|Eliot of Harwood, B.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Porritt, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||Radnor, E.|
|Flowers, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Reay, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Reigate, L.|
|Gainford, L.||Renton, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Ridley, V.|
|Goschen, V.||Rodney, L.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Romney, L.|
|Greenhill of Harrow, L.||Rugby, L.|
|Gridley, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Grimthorpe, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||St. Germans, E.|
|St. John of Fawsley, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|Hardinge of Penshurst, L.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Seebohm, L.|
|Havers, L.||Shannon, E.|
|Henley, L.||Shaughnessy, L.|
|Hesketh, L.||Sheffield, Bp.|
|Hives, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Hood, V.||Somers, L.|
|Hooper, B.||Soper, L.|
|Hunter of Newington, L.||Southborough, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Ilchester, E.||Stevens of Ludgate, L.|
|Johnston of Rockport, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Joseph, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Kaberry of Adel, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Killearn, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Kimball, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Kinnaird, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Thomas of Swynnerton, L.|
|Layton, L.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|London, Bp.||Thurlow, L|
|Long, V.||Torrington, V.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Trafford, L|
|Luke, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Lurgan, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Lyell, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Waldegrave, E.|
|Macleod of Borve, B.||Walston, L.|
|Mancroft, L.||Watkinson, V.|
|Manton, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Margadale, L.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Marley, L.||Willis, L.|
|Marshall of Leeds, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Masham of Ilton, B.||Wise, L.|
|Merrivale, L.||Wolfson, L.|
|Mersey, V.||Wyatt of Weeford, L.|
|Middleton, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Monk Bretton, L.||Young, B.|
|Morris, L.||Young of Graffham, L.|
|Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Carter, L.|
|Baldwin of Bewdley, E.||Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.|
|Banks, L.||Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.|
|Birk, B.||Darcy (de Knayth), B.|
|Blackstone, B.||David, B.|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Dean of Beswick, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.|
|Bottomley, L.||Dormand of Easington, L.|
|Briginshaw, L.||Elwyn-Jones, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Ennals, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Morton of Shuna, L.|
|Falkender, B.||Nicol, B.|
|Falkland, V.||Ogmore, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Oram, L.|
|Foot, L.||Paget of Northampton, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Peston, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Grimond, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L. [Teller.]|
|Henniker, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Ross of Newport, L.|
|Hunt, L.||Russell, E.|
|Jacques, L.||Seear, B.|
|Jeger, B.||Serota, B.|
|Jenkins of Hillhead, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Kearton, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Kilbracken, L||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Kinloss, Ly.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Leatherland, L.||Swann, L.|
|Listowel, E.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Lloyd of Hampstead, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Longford, E.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|McIntosh of Haringey, L.||White, B.|
|McNair, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Mais, L.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Molloy, L.||Young of Dartington, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.
§ 4.7 p.m.