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Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: I must confess that I am worried about this. Articles are inconvenient, I will allow that. They are local, they represent large chunks of history and tradition, and this Bill, as I said on Second Reading, is dirigiste. It favours neither local history nor local tradition.

To incorporate a general picture in a Bill destroys not only the limited tradition that you heard recently but quite a lot more. I say again, articles are inconvenient because they represent a local community. LEAs have often found them inconvenient. They have often defended schools against what LEAs wanted them to do. I quote again that some schools have preserved sixth forms. Some schools to which the Minister's colleagues like to send their children are often due to local articles.

I still feel that this Bill is a nationalising, dirigiste Bill. It will impose patterns and I think there will be resentment. I can well accept that local authorities will like it; it eliminates all those awkward little things that stem from history, from tradition and from things like that.

I am not happy. I shall, of course, withdraw the amendment but it is yet another mountain that we shall have to climb on Report. I understand what the Minister is saying; namely, that the present provision will make it all nice and easy. It is like a nice little manor house standing in the way of a great highway: "Get it out of the way". It may be pretty, but it is inconvenient. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 146C not moved.]

Clause 35 agreed to.

1 Jun 1998 : Column 149

Schedule 9 [Constitution of governing bodies]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 146Q:

Page 138, line 13, after ("preserved") insert ("and developed").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 146R to T, 146V to Z, 148C and 246C. The Government are very pleased to bring forward Amendment No. 146Q at the request of the Churches. The addition of the words "and developed" is in line with the original 1944 Act definition of the purpose of a foundation governor. We recognise that the Churches are forward-looking institutions and that "preservation" should not imply that there is no room for any change whatever. The wording has stood the test of time. We are very pleased to be able to reinstate it.

The remaining amendments are technical and are designed to improve the drafting of the Bill. The first set of amendments modify the provisions on additional governors. Amendment No. 146R alters the wording of paragraph 15(1) in Schedule 9 to allow the governing body of any maintained school to make provision in its instrument of government for any number of additional governors to be specified in the regulations. The intention is for the regulations to provide for a specified number of additional governors, or a maximum number to be determined by the governing body.

Amendments No. 146S and 146T modify the wording of paragraph 15(2)(b) to allow the governing body to decide which persons within the category they may seek a nomination from. Amendment No. 146V has the effect of adjusting the number of surplus governor provisions as they apply to additional governors to ensure that only a surplus governor of the type requiring to be removed could be removed, and not any other co-opted governor within the category.

Amendment No. 146Z provides for the dissolution of the governing body to take effect from the school's discontinuance dates or at a later date which the Secretary of State may specify by order. The definitions of discontinuance dates are in line with existing legislation. The new power for the Secretary of State to specify a later date by order will be used in cases where property transactions and other matters need to be dealt with by the governing body after the date on which the school is discontinued. Finally, Amendment No. 246C is consequent upon it and adds the new paragraph 4 in Schedule 10 to Clause 127 under the list of provisions not requiring statutory instruments. I trust that these amendments are in no way contentious and that Members of the Committee will accept that they should form part of the Bill. I beg to move.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: I should like to thank the Minister for introducing Amendment No. 146Q and for listening so carefully to the concerns of the Churches that we should be seen both as developing as well as preserving the religious ethos of the schools for which we are responsible.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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12.15 a.m.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 146D:

Page 138, line 20, at end insert--
("( ) Before appointing a governor of a school, a local education authority shall consult any district, town or parish council which covers an area served by the school.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 146F, H, J, L and N, all of which deal with minor authority governors. There is great concern that the present practice of minor authority representation on primary school governing bodies will cease if this Bill is passed, unamended, by Parliament. We have received many letters, telephone calls and personal expressions of concern about the new categories of governors as defined in this Bill. All speak of the current close link formed between their local primary school and their village or town community councillor. Yet here we are about to see the ending of this statutory right. Parish and town councillors--properly elected people--who are the closest community link to their school are to have that right removed.

That is even more puzzling as in the foreword to the White Paper the Secretary of State, the right honourable David Blunkett, stated,

    "Partnership for change means commitment from everyone: from the family and the wider community".

I am sure the Committee would echo that sentiment. Yet here in this important Bill the Government will end, by right, this closest and most important link. This comes only two months after the countryside rally in March when the Government acknowledged the importance of local communities and specifically included the role of village schools. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, when replying to a debate in this Chamber on the role of grandparents, spoke of the support given by the wider family, friends, neighbours and the community.

I now refer to the comments we have received from schools, parish councils and from the Association of Parish Councils. Mr. Michael Farrar, clerk of Stapleford Parish Council wrote,

    "The council was dismayed to learn of this proposal and felt that the present link between a parish council and its local primary school is both mutually beneficial and essential for the maintenance of a proper sense of community".

A letter from the primary school in the village of Stapleford stated:

    "We have found the link ... our minor authority governor has made between the school and the parish council to be of great benefit to the school...We urge you to reconsider this proposal, to ensure that local schools continue to enjoy good relations with their local communities, a principle which the Government states it believes in".

That letter was sent by the chair and deputy chair of governors to David Blunkett.

Mr. Robin Wendt, chief executive of the National Association of Local Schools, wrote of,

    "The key role which primary schools play in the life of local communities and the role of parish, town and community councillors in articulating the needs of these communities".

Under this Bill the parish, town and community councillors can sit on primary school governing bodies only as co-opted members. This position has caused widespread anger and concern among local councils.

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At present LEA appointees to governing bodies are made by the political parties, in roughly the proportion of the seats they hold on the county council. To supply an "opening" for a minor authority representation out of those seats implies a political involvement in an area which at parish level has hitherto been apolitical. This could well pose difficulties in deciding who would be nominated to fill this place.

I have raised my next point in previous debates. There are reports of some schools, particularly primary schools, having LEA places unfilled. I mentioned the school of which my husband is a governor which has three LEA places. Some 12 months later two of the places are still unfilled. At the one extreme LEA places are not being filled and therefore a contribution is not made to a particular school, and at the other extreme the Government's proposals on this Bill exclude the most locally and democratically elected personnel from service. Surely that is all the more reason that the present status quo should continue to exist and that minor authority governors should not be excluded by the Bill.

I know that the noble Baroness the Minister is aware of the strength of feeling that has been aroused on this issue. Indeed, she indicated as much in a letter to my noble friend Lady Platt, who is unfortunately not here today, when she spoke of reinforcing opportunities for minor authority representation. When this Bill was debated in another place, Mr. Hain, the Minister, speaking on this issue, said:

    "We intend to ensure an opening for minor authority representation ... We recognise its value ... it can add to the strength and cohesion of governing bodies".

If the Government appreciate and acknowledge the important role that minor authority governors play, and if they wish to ensure an opening for such local councillors to be able to serve on their local governing bodies, why will they not rethink this whole important issue?

The amendments proposed by the Minister go half-way. We on these Benches ask the noble Baroness to reconsider her position and be persuaded by the strength of argument in this Chamber today and the depth of concern expressed by those who serve us outside this House. I beg to move.

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