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Mr. John Marshall : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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Mr. Hughes : I shall not give way. Hon. Members have had plenty of time to argue the case, and Conservative Members have not argued it successfully.

I hold no brief for local authorities that spend public money in this sort of campaigning. However, it is equally unacceptable for the Government to set up an organisation improperly and prematurely and to ignore advice, or fail to take proper advice. There has been no explanation of the Secretary of State's mistakes, or those of his officials.

The Government ask the House to approve regulations that allow the funding not only of grant-maintained schools but also of proposed grant-maintained schools, which is not provided for in the Act. The criteria here relate to schools with a good reputation, able staff and the support of the community and that is not provided for in the Act either. They will therefore be unable in future to come to the House and say that other public bodies should not spend public money on campaigns. The Secretary of State has done his career, credibility and integrity a great disservice. I ask him to reconsider his position ; and if the hon. Member for Epping Forest has any honour, he ought to resign his post before the end of the debate tonight. 12.20 am

Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central) : It is clear that the debate is not about the grant-maintained schools principle, the desirability of grant -maintained schools, or the holding of ballots. It is about one important principle : that the Secretary of State and the Government want to use taxpayers' money to fund a Conservative party front organisation.

No evidence has been produced in the debate to counter that accusation. The chairman of the organisation earned his meal ticket back into the House of Commons by running that organisation. The director of the organisation is a former employee of Conservative central office. He is a Conservative member of Oxford city council. So keen is that individual to look after public funds that recently he was thrown out of the members' room of Oxfordshire county council for using the telephone on grant-maintained schools trust business.

Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth) : That is petty.

Mr. Fatchett : The hon. Gentleman says that that is petty. Mr. Turner is the gentleman to whom we are to entrust taxpayers' money. When he behaves in that way, he is not worthy of that trust. Every other member of the trust is a paid-up, card-carrying member of the Conservative party. The House is being asked for a blank cheque to support the Conservative party. Taxpayers, without their knowledge, are being asked to fund a blank cheque because the Conservative party does not have the courage to campaign throughout the country on behalf of opting out and grant-maintained schools. That blank cheque should have been underwritten by the Conservative party. It should have been paid for by Conservative party funds.

When the Secretary of State says that the money will be used in a particular way, what greater nonsense could he offer? We know that when that money is used in a particular way, other money will be released for straightforward party political purposes. The trust has deliberately misled the public and parents. The hon.

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Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) said that there had been a mistake. It took the organisation a month to find out that there had been a mistake. During that time that information was sent to headteachers, parents and teachers.

Mr. Norris rose --

Mr. Fatchett : I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Norris : The hon. Gentleman is making unjustified allegations about me and he ought to give way.

Mr. Fatchett : I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman spoke for more than 25 minutes. His speech was a disgrace and an embarrassment.

Mr. Hayes : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member has made serious allegations against the honour of my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris)--

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. That is not a point of order for the Chair.

Mr. Fatchett : I am perfectly prepared to talk on for the next four minutes. We saw that the hon. Member for Epping Forest had no supporters on his side of the House. He had to speak for more than 20 minutes to fill in the time. If the Conservative party wants to behave in that way, two of us can play at that game.

I want to ask the Minister a question--maybe we can have a response. We know that the trust has misled parents and that because of that--

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-West) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Fatchett : No. The hon. Gentleman is wasting the Minister's time.

We know that parents have been misled by the trust. Where ballots have taken place, I would advise parents to examine their legal rights closely to see whether they can challenge in court the conduct of ballots because of the misrepresentation that has taken place. It took the trust one month to change the word "charity". We need to know when the Department of Education and Science found out and what advice it gave the charity and what advice it gave the trust. I think that the answer is that they were in collusion and that the Department knew exactly what was going on.

I will leave the Minister time to wind up. This measure is one of arrogance. It tries to use taxpayers' money for party-political purposes. If local government behaved in this way, the Government would use legislation to stop it. The Secretary of State says that that is right. This Secretary of State has no principles. He will move the goal posts whenever it is convenient to him to move them. That is why the regulations are flawed.

We believe in consistency and in principle. We shall vote against the regulations because we believe in good law and because we do not believe in using taxpayers' money for party-political purposes.

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12.27 am

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mrs. Angela Rumbold) : Such a lot of huffing and puffing, such a lot of pompous, holier-than-thou sentiments and sanctimonious rubbish have been spoken tonight.

No money from the public purse has been spent by the

Grant-Maintained Schools Trust, but money to campaign against parents exercising their rights under the law has been spent by public authorities, and that is totally unacceptable.

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) has honourably acknowledged the mistake that was made by his trust, and I hope that the House will have the grace to accept what he said. I believe that he was right in every respect, especially that the purpose of the trust is to advise governors--

It being one and half hours after commencement of proceedings on the motion, Madam Deputy Speaker-- put the Question, pursuant to Order [17th March].

The House divided : Ayes 193, Noes 255.

Division No.124] [12.28 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Adams, Allen (Paisley N)

Alton, David

Anderson, Donald

Archer, Rt Hon Peter

Armstrong, Hilary

Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy

Banks, Tony (Newham NW)

Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)

Battle, John

Beckett, Margaret

Beith, A. J.

Benn, Rt Hon Tony

Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)

Bermingham, Gerald

Bidwell, Sydney

Blair, Tony

Blunkett, David

Boyes, Roland

Bradley, Keith

Bray, Dr Jeremy

Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)

Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)

Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)

Buckley, George J.

Caborn, Richard

Callaghan, Jim

Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)

Campbell-Savours, D. N.

Clark, Dr David (S Shields)

Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)

Clay, Bob

Clelland, David

Clwyd, Mrs Ann

Coleman, Donald

Cook, Frank (Stockton N)

Cook, Robin (Livingston)

Cope, Rt Hon John

Corbett, Robin

Cousins, Jim

Crowther, Stan

Cryer, Bob

Cummings, John

Cunliffe, Lawrence

Dalyell, Tam

Darling, Alistair

Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)

Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)

Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)

Dewar, Donald

Dixon, Don

Dobson, Frank

Doran, Frank

Dunnachie, Jimmy

Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth

Eastham, Ken

Evans, John (St Helens N)

Fatchett, Derek

Faulds, Andrew

Field, Frank (Birkenhead)

Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)

Fisher, Mark

Flannery, Martin

Flynn, Paul

Foot, Rt Hon Michael

Fraser, John

Fyfe, Maria

Galbraith, Sam

Garrett, John (Norwich South)

George, Bruce

Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John

Godman, Dr Norman A.

Gordon, Mildred

Graham, Thomas

Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)

Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)

Grocott, Bruce

Hardy, Peter

Harman, Ms Harriet

Haynes, Frank

Healey, Rt Hon Denis

Henderson, Doug

Hinchliffe, David

Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)

Holland, Stuart

Home Robertson, John

Hood, Jimmy

Howarth, George (Knowsley N)

Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)

Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)

Hoyle, Doug

Hughes, John (Coventry NE)

Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)

Hughes, Roy (Newport E)

Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)

Hughes, Simon (Southwark)

Illsley, Eric

Ingram, Adam

Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)

Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)

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