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Lord Davies of Oldham: I appreciate the very reasonable way in which the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, proposed the amendments. I shall try to reply in kind.

The clause joins local authorities with their responsibilities. Of course, independent schools do not have those responsibilities. The amendments are therefore misplaced in that respect.

Lord Northfield: Clause 14 states:

and, of course, the strategies also apply to independent schools.

Lord Davies of Oldham: This part of the clause relates to the question of the maintained schools. I was not intending to make a point over the location of the amendment because I was seeking to reply to the questions raised by the noble Lord.

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On the general principle, it is clear that we are seeking to make progress in increasing physical accessibility to children who attend all schools and therefore we expect the independent schools to be no exception. They must plan within the context of their anticipated available financial resources as part of the same framework that we expect in the maintained sector.

I turn now to some of specific points raised. I was asked whether there can be a charge for extra services. In some specific circumstances, it will be made clear that these are resource charges and that will be permitted. More generally, the position we seek to achieve is that all children who attend independent schools benefit from the school's provision for its community. That does not mean that they all partake equally of all the facilities available. A child can go to an independent school and be a poor sports person and therefore not take advantage of the school playing fields, but no one would decry that provision being made by the school for others. Likewise there would be an expectation that the school should provide adequately for all those who attended and many students who went along with some disability would be expected to be included within that, with the proviso that in special cases there might be special charges.

On the question of sanctions, we are not anticipating anyone going to prison, to use the graphic phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. However, the Bill empowers the Secretary of State to take action against the proprietor. I know that that is not a term as it stands at present which is beloved by some sides of the Committee, but it is the legal term. The Secretary of State would have the power to direct the proprietor to take appropriate action where, quite clearly, the school provision was outwith the requirements of the law of the land, as would be the case once this Bill was enacted.

It is the case that the schools access initiative is directed at the maintained sector, but that does not preclude the possibility of the independent sector participating in certain projects and grants from which it would benefit. However, the main provision clearly relates to the maintained sector.

I hope these are adequate replies, and where I have been deficient, I shall write to the noble Lord about the matter.

Baroness Blatch: The noble Lord makes light of the possibility of anyone going to prison. I know why he has done that because it is a rather extreme resolution of a problem. The noble Lord will need to be more specific in relation to the question that has been posed by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and in fact was posed by me on an earlier amendment.

What are the sanctions? The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, lightly dismisses the fact that someone may go to prison, but nevertheless follows that up by saying that, as the noble Lord suggested, at the end of the day the Secretary of State can take the proprietor to court. If that happens and the school is found guilty, what are the sanctions? What happens then?

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The second part of the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, which is most pertinent, is that in most independent schools, the sole funders of the school are the parents of the children who attend the school. Therefore, any penalty on the school or indeed any action taken on the part of the school may well have been taken with the full agreement of the governing body, and/or the parent body. If the parents and/or the governor, as well as the owner of the school, are culpable, who bears the brunt of the sanction? At the end of the day, what can happen to a school? Simply because the school did not meet its obligations under the Act, could the Secretary of State effect the closure of the school?

It is important to know who is at the end of the line. Simply to use the word "proprietor" is not good enough. We have had a long debate--and we shall have another in a moment--about the word "proprietor". Very often the schools are owned by the parents or at least, the only reason the school is in existence at all is because the customers, that is the parents of the children who attend, are the sole funders, and therefore the school exists simply because of the governing body and the head teacher and teachers who run it.

Lord Northbourne: I am most grateful to the Minister for his helpful and constructive reply. The only point I should like to make is that he referred to the same financial framework as for the maintained sector but it is not the same financial framework. The maintained sector is financed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the taxpayer; private schools are not. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said, the proprietors are trustees because almost all those schools are companies limited by guarantee. The proprietors have no possibility of gaining financially from the success of the school, and equally they are not liable for the failure of the school. They are merely liable for the direction of the school. The money comes from the parents, and reasonably, belongs to the parents. We need to look more closely at this aspect which we cannot do now, in Committee. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments No. 129 and 129ZA not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 129A:

    Page 13, line 38, at end insert--

("( ) In preparing guidance under subsection (1)(b) or (2), the Secretary of State (for England) and the National Assembly for Wales shall consult the Disability Rights Commission.").

The noble Baroness said: I hope that it is self-explanatory and that the Minister will be able to say that this will in fact happen, but it is important to put it on record that that will happen as a matter of right. I beg to move.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Addington: I think that the noble Baroness is right and it should happen. I echo her again in saying I hope that the Government will agree to this.

Baroness Blackstone: I can be helpful. I can give the Committee a commitment today that we will consult

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with the DRC when preparing planning duty guidance for LEAs. I can also make that commitment on behalf of the National Assembly, who confirm that it will also do so.

Baroness Blatch: I am grateful for that answer and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 130 to 131A not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 132:

    Page 14, line 1, leave out ("proprietor") and insert ("governing body").

The noble Baroness said: I have re-read the response by the Minister to my suggestion that the word "proprietor" should be replaced by the words "governing body". Absolutely nothing in what I have read convinces me that my amendments are any less valid. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has just said that the word "proprietor" is not the most appropriate word. The people concerned are trustees and governing bodies and it seems to me that to use the word "proprietor" is an anomaly in the Bill.

I have gone over the arguments which I will not repeat but I feel just as strongly about the matter and it is something to which we shall return again and again. I have reflected on what has been said since we last met. I hope that the Minister may also have done so and will come up with a more encouraging reply. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone: I feel I am not going to be any more encouraging but I admire the noble Baroness for her persistence. I have some sympathy with her about the use of legal terminology that is not consistent with everyday use. However, I have given up the battle whereas she goes on fighting.

I can only reiterate what I said when we discussed this on an earlier day in the Committee. The term "proprietor" covers those responsible for the management of schools, including independent schools, whether profit-making or non-profit-making. The definition was originally set out, as I believe I implied but was not sure about last time, in the 1944 Education Act. We want all schools--including all independent schools--to be covered by all of the new duties. These amendments, I am advised, would prevent this.

During Committee stage on Monday last week, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said that independent schools had governing bodies and that was the reasoning behind her amendment. But I understand that that is not the position. However, every independent school will have a proprietor within the legal definition contained in the Bill

The Bill uses the definition of proprietor in the 1996 Education Act. This will cover all the arrangements that exist in all independent schools. A tribunal will be required to use the definition contained in the Bill and

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it would make for lots of legal difficulties if it simply consulted a dictionary and used a dictionary definition. I hope that that is a little more helpful.

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