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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I hope to answer the specific questions which the noble Baroness put to me about petitions, because that is what the amendments are about. She described what seemed to me to be utterly deplorable petitions. I do not know whether she has read Part 2 of the draft regulations which were sent. They are flagged in Clause 100(3)(c). It states that the regulations may make provision,


It is horrible language, but it is clear enough, is it not?

We have in the draft regulations petitions for ballots. We have regulations which specify who the petition should come from; to whom it should go; what the words should be; and what the form should be. The regulations, in paragraph 8(1)(2), spell out:


    "We the undersigned, being eligible parents, seek a ballot on whether those local schools which select by academic ability should continue to do so".

There are definitions in the regulations about relevant parents and relevant population. There are definitions of the notification of the result of the petition. All the aspects which the noble Baroness raised against petitions, which she and her government never raised against other petitions, are spelt out clearly in the regulations. Petitions will be controlled not by the local education authorities themselves but by the ballot administration company which will be independent of the local education authorities.

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

Baroness Maddock: It may be an appropriate moment for me to take a couple of seconds to set the record straight. Today, I have been accused of various things and I have been misquoted. I made it clear that I was against selection. I did say that I thought the Government were a little duplicitous and we had a problem about that. I said that and I stand by it. I was accused of not being in favour of choice. I must make it clear that I and my colleagues are in favour of choice. We are in favour of maximum best choice for all, and not in favour of best choice for a few and a mediocre choice for many, which I explained clearly. I hope that

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later tonight we shall be able to debate the amendments rather than have interventions such as these. But I want to put the record straight about what I said.

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

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Murton of Lindisfarne): If Amendment No. 233A is agreed to I shall not be able to call Amendment No. 233AA through pre-emption.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 233A:


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

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

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

The Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee said about the grammar school provisions of the Bill:


    "The House may wish to consider whether the most important issues of substance should be decided by Parliament and appear on the face of the Bill. These issues include the specifying of parents who will be eligible, the percentage of eligible parents who will have to petition against grammar schools to trigger a ballot and the nature of the majority needed in the ballot to bring about the change. The House may also consider that the first regulations should be subject to the affirmative procedure".

The amendments follow the recommendations of the Committee. Your Lordships will recall that we have already discussed and agreed an amendment which will

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make the first regulations subject to the affirmative procedure. These amendments give effect to the remaining issues.

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

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

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

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

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

Amendment No. 233C goes one small step further in ensuring that schools are not faced with new financial burdens as a result of their obligation to make parental lists available to parents who ask for them. The Government also intend that the charge to parents would cover only the costs incurred by the governing body, for example, the photocopying of a number of sheets.

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I should also emphasise that parents will be able to inspect the list free at the school. The charge applies only when they want to take a copy away. This approach of allowing schools to charge parents for copies is exactly the same approach as that adopted by the previous government in relation to GM ballots. Therefore, I do not think there should be any controversy here.

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

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

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

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

6.30 p.m.

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


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