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Lord Whitty: I think the noble Baroness is right that they could be varied, but that would still be subject to the negative resolution procedure. That hardly affects the principles and the framework that we are agreeing here.

Baroness Blatch: I hardly call that fine tuning. There is nothing to stop the Government in a year's time, if

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they find that 20 per cent. is too high, making it 10 per cent. So, if that is the case, I shall continue to press for the affirmative resolution. I shall not do it now but I shall certainly continue to press. That is not fine tuning. That is very substantial.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: Speaking as a member of the scrutiny committee, I appreciate the way in which the recommendations of the Committee have been implemented. We thought that they were important. It is commendable that those recommendations have been implemented in the way the Minister has just identified.

Lord Whitty: I apologise to the Committee and to the noble Baroness in particular. My reaction on my feet was that she was correct. However, although she is correct in relation to the interval, she is not correct in relation to petitions. The threshold for petitions could not be altered by subsequent changes in regulations.

I understood that the noble Baroness was not pressing this point. Has the noble Baroness decided not to pursue the amendment?

Lady Blatch: On the basis of the answer, I am not comforted. I shall continue to press but I shall not be pressing it today.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 233AA to 233AC not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 233AD:


Page 75, line 45, after ("section,") insert--
("( ) compile and publish, before a petition is initiated and at least six months before any ballot takes place, a list of all eligible parents;").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment is by way of seeking more information from the Government. I have simply put this down because I believe that the sooner one sees the register of eligible parents, the better.

It will be impossible to know when anybody starts a petition. We understand that there is some pre-petition collecting activity taking place at the moment. If the noble Lord does not know about that, I can tell him that that is the case. The moment this Bill has Royal Assent, there will be people preparing to canvass for signatures and to collect them. To be a registered person, anyone signing the petition must comply with the requirements of the regulations. Consistent with my amendment, I should like a list printed well in advance of the ballot taking place. I should also like to know from the Government when, in the course of this process, they intend to ensure that a list of eligible parents is made available. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone: This amendment would require that a list of all eligible parents should be published in advance of any petition, and at least six months in advance of any ballot.

This proposal in unacceptable for several reasons. The proposal to require publication of the names of all eligible parents is rather odd. That is not what happened in grant maintained ballots. In grant maintained ballots,

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the previous government provided specifically that parents must be given the opportunity to have their names removed from any list of names before it was published. That, I think, was the right approach.

There are confidentiality issues here. Parents may not want their names published. Of course, the ballot administration company must have the full list of parents so that all eligible parents will be able to vote. But that list is not published. It is only used by the ballot administration company for the purposes of checking petitions and sending out ballot papers.

The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, by contrast, requires publication. It would be quite wrong to be publishing full lists of names against the wishes of all the parents concerned. There are also practical objections to what the amendment would require. In a whole LEA ballot, some parents will be able to register for a vote where they are not already on the lists of relevant schools. But many parents probably will not seek to register until the petition is started, or a ballot is declared. So their names will not be known as early as the amendment requires. Then there is the further point that children join schools every term in many primary schools. Many primary schools have an entry in September, January and April. So it is quite likely that the electoral list published so far in advance would be substantially out of date by the time the ballot happened.

Finally, that would represent a quite unnecessary additional burden for the schools involved, because it would require them to collect up information before it is needed. There might never be a petition is some areas. So all this information would have been published unnecessarily.

I therefore hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Baker of Dorking: I think that the answers given by the noble Baroness are rather unsatisfactory. As I understand it, the ballot company will maintain a list of those who are eligible to vote, and that, therefore, will exist. Normally in an election, particularly in an election which affects the fate of a considerable number of people--parents sending their children to a grammar school or parents who are not sending their children to a grammar school--should be able to see who is entitled to vote.

We are used to this principle in our country. We have electoral lists. Where there are other elections throughout our society, in trade unions, for example, there are electoral lists. People know exactly who is entitled to vote. As people will be campaigning for one side or another, they should at least know who they should be campaigning towards and to whom they should be addressing their letters and pamphlets. I really do not believe that the answers which the Minister has given are very convincing. I would ask her to look again at that matter before Report stage.

It is possible to bring the lists up to date. The noble Baroness referred to the fact that the names of parents of children coming from primary schools would have to be added to the list but it is possible to do that. It is

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known who the parents are because the children are attending primary schools. It is possible to add those names to the list. If there are to be those fancy franchises, which the Government seem set upon, the very least that can be done is to publish the names of the people who are entitled to vote in those fancy franchises.

Lord Northbourne: Perhaps I may ask for some clarification from the noble Baroness. Subsection (1)(c) of Amendment No. 233L provides that the Government can prescribe the parents of children of any description. Am I wrong? If I am right, if they wanted to force through a vote in a ballot, the Government could prescribe all the parents of children who do not go to grammar schools or they could prescribe all the parents who voted for the Labour Party in the last election. Is there any restriction?

The other point is that Amendment No. 233M refers at the end to the grammar school "ceasing". In an earlier discussion on an amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, we gained the impression that schools would continue as religious schools and that they would not actually cease. Perhaps that point could be clarified.

Baroness Blackstone: Perhaps I may respond first to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Baker. As I said earlier, there are confidentiality issues in this regard. Not all parents want to have their names published in the way that the noble Lord suggests. I remind the noble Lord that under the grant-maintained ballot system, parents, rightly in my view, were given the opportunity to have their names removed from the list before it was published.

This suggestion is impractical for the reasons that I have given. Parents may seek not to register until the petition is started or a ballot is declared. It is perfectly reasonable that they should delay registering until that happens. There is the further point that children join schools every term. That would make that proposal quite impractical.

I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that the amendment that has just been agreed to makes it clear who can vote. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Blatch: What did the noble Baroness mean by delaying registration until a ballot has happened?

Baroness Blackstone: As I understand it, under the regulations, parents will not have to register until either a petition is started or a ballot is declared. That is the point that I am making.

Baroness Blatch: The noble Baroness used the word "happened". When a ballot has happened, it has happened. There is not a lot of point in registering afterwards.

My noble friend Lord Baker raised some important points. Of course there must be a facility for removing the names of those parents who do not wish their names to be published. In fact, that facility was made available

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in relation to the GM ballots. It is interesting that very few people took advantage of that provision. Nevertheless, it exists and it protects confidentiality. But then the ballot lists were published and parents could have copies of the lists. In fact, the schools were obliged to give sight of the lists to those who wished to see them.

A very important point is that the grammar schools will have their hands tied behind their backs. They cannot campaign. They cannot fight their corner for the survival of their school. Now they cannot even see the list of people who will be voting against them in order to communicate with them. We have heard that they will be allowed to communicate fundamental, basic information so long as it is information and it is factual. How on earth can that be done if the schools do not know who is on the lists? It seems to me extraordinary.

The petition must represent at least 20 per cent. of the eligible electorate. Therefore, the electorate needs to be known and specific numbers need to be known. Somebody will need to know when the 20 per cent. is reached. When you are collecting signatures, you need to know if somebody is on the registered list. People will ask whether they are on the list. Just as there is an electoral list for main elections, there needs to be a list against which checks can be made. It seems to me that an extraordinary policy of secrecy is being established under those rules.

The answers that we have had from the noble Baroness to the points that have been made in this short debate are extremely unsatisfactory. That means that we must return to this matter. It may well be that some of the formalities and procedural points are covered in regulations, but the practical aspects are not covered. We see enormous practical difficulties in delivering these petitions in a way that is open and informative. It seems to me that all the key people in this process--in particular the grammar schools, staff, parents and those who are anxious to retain the existence of grammar schools--are placed at a serious disadvantage if they cannot have sight of the registered lists.


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