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Baroness Blackstone: The ballot company will assemble the list of eligible parents only after there is reason to believe that a petition is being organised. Of course there will be full lists and parents will be able to obtain the parental lists, excluding those who wish their names to be removed. All that information will be available but at the right time, not six weeks before the ballot takes place, which is what this amendment seeks to achieve.

Lord Baker of Dorking: Perhaps the Minister will reflect on this matter before Report stage. I assume that when the lists are published the names of parents who die between registration and the ballot will be removed.

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What about parents who split up and the custody of the child is transferred to one of the parents? Will the names of those parents be struck off?

Baroness Blackstone: Both parents are entitled to vote. If parents separate, that will not affect their position.

Baroness Blatch: From my reading of the papers, I should tell my noble friend that I believe some children will have up to six parental votes. That may be their original parents, divorced parents and also guardians in situ at the time of registration. Therefore there is scope for a large number of signatures on the paper.

The noble Baroness is now being inconsistent. She has said that the register will be drawn up by the balloting company and that parents will be able to see it. They can see it only if it is published. My understanding is that there must be a registered list. Those who seek confidentiality can have their names removed. The list should then be made public.

I said at the outset that I tabled this amendment quite specifically so that we could have a debate and find out from the Government at what point they believe this list should be available. If it is not available until the ballot is about to take place--in other words, the petitioning has taken place--then it is too late for the schools concerned to communicate with those on the list in order to provide factual information about those schools.

Baroness Blackstone: Parents can register for up to four weeks after the balloting company gives notification that the petition is declared valid. But the register will close six weeks before the ballot date. I hope that is helpful because I am trying to be helpful in explaining the system. This amendment asks that there should be a list of all eligible parents published in advance of any petition and at least six months in advance of any ballot. I am merely saying that that is quite impractical.

Baroness Blatch: I thought I had made it clear that my amendment is a mechanism for having a debate. I said that right at the outset. I am trying to find out the position. The noble Baroness now seems to be saying that the register will not be available for the grammar schools which are the subject of the ballot to peruse and to check so that they can communicate with the people on it during the time of the petition. We just want to know from the Minister at what time the balloting company will publish this list for public information. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment but, in doing so, I must express the hope that the Minister will do as my noble friend said; namely, reflect on some of the answers that have been given to this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 233AE not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 233C:

Page 76, line 11, at end insert--

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("( ) authorising any such bodies or persons to charge a fee (not exceeding the cost of supply) for documents supplied by them in pursuance of regulations made by virtue of paragraph (e)(i);").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 233CA:

Page 76, line 14, at end insert--
("( ) prescribing that a ballot shall only be successful if a majority of eligible parents support the abolition of selective admissions arrangements in the school or schools concerned;").

The noble Baroness said: In moving the above amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 233EA, 233N and 233P. The Minister will be pleased to know that I shall not repeat all the arguments that have been expressed. Indeed, they are on the record; they are heartfelt; and we shall return to them at the next stage. The particular point that I should like to make about these amendments is that a ballot should be successful only if a majority of the eligible electorate is reached, and that the moratorium should be 15 years and not the five years set out in the Bill. Amendments Nos. 233N and 233P would simply rearrange Clause 101(1) to reflect the wording set out within them.

I said earlier that the life of a child in a grammar school can be about eight years. It means that this very disruptive process could happen twice in the single passage of one child through a school. I believe that that is unacceptable. We should at least allow for two generations of children to go through between ballots. The argument in that respect is overwhelming. If the Minister does not accept that, I shall return to the phrase that I have used before; namely, that what we have here represents a relentless war of attrition on these schools. It would be seriously bad. It would certainly be educationally and socially bad and highly disruptive, especially in an area where there are many grammar schools, if the ballot time after time were not successful. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I suppose that we should be grateful for small mercies. At least the noble Baroness does not go as far in these amendments as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, did with his procedures for ballots on grant-maintained schools. The noble Lord counted all abstentions as being votes for GM status and required that a majority of those eligible to vote had to vote for the status quo, so as to have no change. Clearly neither of those suggestions is acceptable. The noble Baroness knows perfectly well that all of our political traditions are based on a majority of those present voting. That is what is proposed here and that is what we shall stick to.

I was interested to hear what the Baroness said about the moratorium. There is nothing magical about five years or, indeed, 15 years. I am not claiming that there is. However, has the noble Baroness really thought about the period of 15 years? A moratorium of 15 years would mean that some parents who would otherwise be enfranchised would never get the opportunity to express an opinion. Indeed, that effectively removes the notion that parents will decide the future of grammar schools for long periods of time.

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The Government believe that the five-year moratorium proposed in the draft regulations--and, of course, they are draft regulations--strikes the best balance between offering a period of stability for the grammar school while, at the same time, still allowing local parents the opportunity to express an opinion. The noble Baroness has already indicated her intention to withdraw these amendments. I am grateful to her for that.

Baroness Blatch: I do not remember saying that I would withdraw my amendments. I do not know what the noble Lord was listening to, but I do not actually remember saying that. The noble Lord has trotted out yet again the red herring of grant-maintained schools. However, I make a very fundamental distinction in that respect. The people of those schools were voting for the future of those schools. They were not voting for their closure in any sense. The nature of the school would continue. They were just voting for more autonomy to take control of their own affairs. That is a very different matter from a ballot which takes place to remove a whole swathe of schools from an area, and one which does not even confine the vote to the parents of children in those schools. We have a bizarre balloting system now being spelt out to us by the noble Lord, which I find wholly indefensible. I am not impressed with the response to the main premise of my amendment; namely, that there should be a moratorium which is longer than five years.

I shall conclude with one question to the Minister. Does the noble Lord really believe that it is a good thing to have a year-long frenzied activity of petitioning against the existence of a large number of schools in an LEA, running a ballot and possibly losing it? Indeed, one would perhaps catch 124,000 signatures instead of 125,000 and then, a few months later, the whole process would start all over again--getting 124,000 signatures, and so on. Then, a year later, there would be another frenzied year of such activity which would go on and on until the ballot was triggered. Of course, if it were not successful, the whole rigmarole would start all over again. Is the Minister really saying that that is an acceptable system to advocate in legislation?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: In a debate on an earlier amendment, the noble Baroness and a number of her noble friends described these people as being bigoted. I accept that it is quite possible that they would not only be bigoted but that they would also be so zealous that they would go on not accepting the failure of a petition or the rejection of a ballot. I think that this is fantasy. Indeed, the reality will be quite different. We will very readily see at one time whether there is a significant minority of parents--that is 20 per cent. of eligible parents--who want the question to be raised.

If there is a significant minority of parents --and it is a very significant minority and a very high threshold to achieve--there will be a ballot, followed by a five-year moratorium if the ballot fails, as to whether or not selection should be ended. That is democracy. I do not know whether the noble Baroness or anyone else wants to say more about deceit, duplicity and cowardice, but the real point behind the arguments that have been advanced is that they want grammar schools to continue

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at all costs and they are opposed to any moves to end selection. If that is so, why do they not table amendments to that effect?

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