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Lord Ezra: My Lords, stage payments are an important part of certain contracts. I am glad that the situation has now been clarified. We support the amendment.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their constructive comments. The Government did understand the implications; they simply got the wording wrong.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

COMMONS AMENDMENTS

5

Clause 11, page 5, line 38, leave out ("the obligation to pay it arises") and insert ("is payable")


6

Page 5, line 42, leave out from ("sum") to end of line 43 and insert ("due in respect of a period of hire of goods")


7

Clause 16, page 7, leave out lines 12 to 31 and insert--


(""contract for the supply of goods or services" has the meaning given in section 2(2);
"contract price" means the price in a contract of sale of goods or the money consideration referred to in section 2(2)(b) in any other contract for the supply of goods or services;
"purchaser" means (subject to section 13(2)) the buyer in a contract of sale or the person who contracts with the supplier in any other contract for the supply of goods or services;
"qualifying debt" means a debt falling within section 3(1);
"statutory interest" means interest carried by virtue of the term implied by section 1(1); and
"supplier" means (subject to section 13(2)) the seller in a contract of sale of goods or the person who does one or more of the things mentioned in section 2(3) in any other contract for the supply of goods or services.")

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 5 to 7.

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Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 5 to 7.-- (Lord Clinton-Davis.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

School Standards and Framework Bill

3.19 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

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

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]

Clause 99 [Designation of grammar schools]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 231E:


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

The noble Baroness said: We come now to a part of the Bill which really does show the present Government up in their real colours. The agenda is not difficult to detect. One has only to go back a little way in the record to establish the thinking behind these clauses. The current Secretary of State, when interviewed by the Daily Mail in January 1996, made clear his approach to the question of grammar schools. He was quoted as saying on that occasion:


    "It is 30 years since Crosland embarked on this. I don't think anyone should expect me to complete his work in the first three months of a Labour Government".

Implicit in that statement is that if he cannot do it in three months, he will certainly be doing it at some time--perhaps the timescale will be a little longer.

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

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

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school is selective at the time the order is placed, I do not believe a date should be put on it other than the date at the time of the order. I beg to move.

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

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

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

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

Lord Dormand of Easington: I am a little puzzled by what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has said. I take it from the quotations she gave from Labour Party documents that she is concerned about the word "threat". There is no threat. If there is a threat at all, as I understand what she said, the threat would come from the parents as the onus is now on the parents. Would she consider it a threat to grammar schools if parents

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decide? Through all the education debates we have had for many years now the Opposition have placed the emphasis on the wishes of parents. That is all the Bill is saying. Does she consider it a threat if parents decide to have a non-selective school instead of a grammar school?

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

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

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


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