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Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. Is she saying that there should be dictatorship of the majority and that no consideration should be given to these minority communities?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, of course I am not saying that. If the noble Lord had waited I would have told him of the Government's view about the best way to deal with the matter. However, we do not believe that the right way to deal with it is by accepting these amendments.
We recognise the benefits that community involvement through minor authority representation can bring. We plan to emphasise those benefits. We will specifically consult the National Council of Local Authorities about the wording of this part of our guidance to ensure that its views are fully taken into account over the presentation of the case for including a minor authority nominee. We believe that that is a more appropriate approach than what is proposed in statute by these amendments. There is no comparison between the responsibilities LEAs hold as funders and guardians of educational standards and those of minor authorities, even in those cases where minor authorities are able to provide some funding for specific purposes as I recognise they sometimes do.
We accept that minor authorities can articulate the needs of their local communities. A number of noble Lords have said as much in this debate. However, they do not have an exclusive right to do so as many other members of the governing body will also be residing in
I welcome the fact that the amendments introduced by the Government at Committee stage in this House were regarded as moving half-way towards what our critics wanted. I am grateful to those who recognise that we have tried to be constructive in responding to these concerns. To go further would damage the autonomy of individual governing bodies. We believe in local democracy but we are also actively promoting the greater autonomy of schools. Schools should be left to take a decision on this matter and decide what best serves their interests and those of their communities. We do not believe that such decisions can reasonably be taken by a number of minor authorities.
We are also concerned about the potential size of some governing bodies. These proposals will automatically add two additional governors to every voluntary-aided primary school because of the need to preserve the foundation majority. We should leave it to voluntary-aided schools to decide whether it is right for them to increase the size of their governing bodies in this way. We also believe in equal treatment for all schools, as did the Opposition until they had a change of heart over these amendments and decided to exclude foundation schools. The advantage of our proposals is that they provide all primary schools with the right to choose.
I turn to government Amendment No. 208. This is a technical amendment necessary to ensure that the minor authority definitions moved in Lords Committee and contained in Clause 138 can be brought into force at Royal Assent. The definitions are needed for regulations relating to preparation of instruments of government and reconstitution of governing bodies ready for the appointed day.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I should like to respond first to a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I do not stand here as a party hack or "over-political" person. I believe that this amendment combines interests that run throughout the House. I do not believe that there is a chamber in the land where we can be apolitical and recognise an issue of importance to the people of this country. I do not stand here simply as a representative of the official Opposition but because I believe this to be an apolitical interest that is widely supported outside this Chamber.
It was the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, who said on a previous occasion that we had had a mean-spirited reply. We have had a meaner-spirited reply today, because we have brought forward amendments which address many of the concerns that the Government expressed at the last stage. I say to my noble friend who
The Minister said that schools should be free to choose their governors. Why are we imposing LEA governors on them? Why do they have no choice but to accept LEA governors, but when it comes to a minor authority, which means much more to them in terms of community support, they are left to choose?
I would argue that it should perhaps be the other way around. The minor authority should have the right to be represented, and schools should choose whether or not they would like LEA governors on their governing bodies.
The Minister was breathtakingly dismissive of the number of people who are worried about this issue. I have had letters from hamlets, towns and villages all over the country. If one takes the shire counties and their populations, and the small market towns and their populations, one would find that those represent a large percentage of a population. To dismiss it in the way that the Minister did is unacceptable.
The Minister said also that the Government are going to consult the bodies that represent minor authorities on future proposals as to how this issue is to be addressed. This is our last opportunity in the Bill to address the issue. I am surprised that the Minister, her colleagues and officials did not consult the minor authorities when they removed their right to sit on school governing bodies. That is extraordinary.
This is our legislative opportunity. We are responding in an apolitical way to an apolitical notion. There cannot be a Member of Parliament in this House or another place who has not received a genuine cri de coeur from the heart of the community asking for a modest but important facility: to be represented on their local primary schools. I commend the amendment to the House.
Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.