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The question that we have to ask is whether the amendment mandating balloting takes the cause of empowerment forward or back. Compulsory ballots are a cumbersome, time-consuming and rather intimidating procedure that is intended to slow down the pace of reform and to make genuine parental participation less likely rather than more. That is not to say that ballots should not be held if the governing body wishes to hold them; but it is to say that one-off, compulsory ballots do not help the cause of greater parental empowerment but are likely to slow it down. One-off compulsory ballots are not genuine participation; they are a device to get in the way of genuine participation, and they should be resisted.

The metaphor of politics has been used. Just as it is true to say that a general election every four to five years no longer represents participation and no longer represents involvement, it is true to say that a compulsory ballot, held possibly once in the life of a parent, does not begin to offer the participation that we need. This Bill is about real empowerment and real involvement over a period of time from the beginning to the end, as the noble Baroness said, and the compulsory balloting procedure is an attempt to get in the way of that, not to assist it.

Lord Baker of Dorking: I did not expect to agree so completely with the words of the noble Lord, who is one of the gurus of the Labour Party, but I do. I find the arguments put forward by the noble Baroness unconvincing. I thought that the amendments were confused, and I wanted to hear her explanation. I now am clear where she starts from; as I understand it, she wants the views of parents to predominate. That is her main consideration. I agree with that, but I do not think that this is the way to do it.

The Government clearly expect from this Bill something corresponding to the Scandinavian pattern where, as a result of allowing communities to come together, there will be a welling-up of the parental opinion saying that they want a new school. They will put forward their proposals, and the parents will be very committed. I do not think that there will be an absence of parental commitment to fulfilling the objectives of the Bill, and I support that.

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Let us suppose the parents in a town such as south Bolton came together and said that they wanted a new school. Who should vote in that ballot? All the parents in south Bolton? All the parents of primary school children in south Bolton? All the parents of secondary school children in south Bolton? It is a totally impractical suggestion when you are considering a new school. You could not devise the electoral list on which a ballot could take place.

But what of a ballot in a school which already exists? This was the problem with which I was faced when I introduced grant-maintained schools. Back in 1988, if I had left it purely in the power of the governing body to create a grant-maintained school, I could not have got the Bill through. I could not have got it passed either by the House of Commons or the House of Lords. Many Conservative local education authorities would have burnt my effigy and said that it was absolutely unforgivable. So I introduced the complicated arrangements of ballots, and I did so to break the mould. I agree with the noble Lord who has just spoken. If they were introduced now, they would be used as a delaying device by the local education authorities, because in nearly all those grant-maintained-school ballots, pitched against the wishes of parents was the local education authority, which would spend vast sums of public money on publicity in an effort to prevent schools becoming grant maintained. Many local education authorities will not embrace the idea of new community schools being established. They like to maintain their hegemony and their monopoly. I do not believe that their attitudes have changed at all.

Therefore, the proposals of the Liberal Democrats in this matter are not at all feasible as regards new schools and are unnecessary as regards established schools. They would have a delaying effect. As I have said, I did what I did to break the mould. The mould is broken. Parents are now much more involved in the running of schools than they were back in the 1980s. They are very committed, not only in the leafy suburbs but also in the inner cities. The amendments are unnecessary and would be harmful to the Bill.

Baroness Walmsley: I rise in response to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Gould. If this Bill is really about empowering parents, why not give them a vote in the most important decision to be made about any school, which is its governance? Why are the Government frightened of parents? The noble Lord, Lord Gould, talked about one-off compulsory ballots as if they were the only way in which we on these Benches wanted to have parents involved in schools. Of course, that is not the case. There is no reason why a one-off compulsory ballot should preclude all the other, very desirable ways in which good schools should involve parents. It is like saying that you can have four or five years of focus groups, but that you cannot have a general election at the end of it. Does the noble Lord assume that the results of the ballots will get in the way of the expansion of trust schools? In objecting to the amendment of my noble friend Lady Williams, he seemed to be assuming that parents will vote against the establishment of trusts. If the Government really

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believe in the common sense of parents, why not allow parents to express that common sense in democratic ballot?

Lord Northbourne: It is encouraging to hear such unanimity across the Committee on the importance of parents. Let us be sure when we consult parents that we consult all parents and not merely those who are accustomed to public speaking and those who have a voice; we must listen also to those who are deprived and disadvantaged.

Lord Adonis: The amendments would amend the process by which schools are established and, in some cases, interpose another statutory layer, the parental ballot, into the local decision-making process.

Parental ballots were the subject of long debates and, indeed, a ballot in the elected House of Commons, which voted by a huge majority of 291—that is, 412 votes against 121—against proposals similar to these. The Government’s arguments against these proposals have not changed: first, a ballot may be an appropriate form of consultation in some circumstances—I am strongly in favour of local ballots in appropriate cases, including local referendums conducted by local authorities—but both governing bodies and local authorities have powers to conduct such ballots at present. It would be disproportionate to require ballots for a change to trust status to take place. Secondly,if ballots are to be mandatory, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said, the precise electorate for the ballots would need to be set out either in primary or secondary legislation. It would be highly problematic to do so and it is not attempted in any of the amendments before us.

Thirdly, it is fairly obvious from the debate so far that the essential motivation behind these amendments is one of antipathy to trusts and trust schools. This is shown by the fact that there is a whole range of other equally—if not more—fundamental decisions affecting the character of schools and local educational provision, in respect of which no amendments requiring ballots have been tabled. For example, there are school closures—including the closure of special schools, the single most emotive issue for parents that crosses my desk as a Minister—changes to admissions arrangements, the addition or subtraction of 6th forms—another highly emotive issue for parents—the addition or subtraction of special needs provision, the change to specialist status, the choice of specialism, the relocation of a school and the move in a locality from a three-tier to a two-tier system.

All those are hugely difficult and often controversial issues of educational policy for individual schools and local provision, and there are no amendments down to ensure that these are subject to ballots. Nor do I recall the Liberal Democrat amendments to the Children Bill which would have required ballots on the setting up of children's centres, or the judging between, for example, proposals put forward by existing state schools as against those put forward by private and voluntary sector providers.

Fourthly, there are, however, substantial requirements as to consultation in all the changes of school status and organisations set out in the Bill, and on proposals

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put forward by local authorities. These are in accord with established consultation procedures for the other kinds of change of status and provision I have just mentioned. They are satisfactory. Furthermore, in the case of a school wishing to acquire a trust, there is a further specific power in the Bill for local authorities to refer such plans to the adjudicator when the local authority believes there has been inadequate consultation, including with parents. These amendments are neither necessary nor desirable. That concludes our case.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: Briefly, I will not push these amendments at present, but I shall make a couple of points. First, we have specifically called for a ballot on the discontinuance of a school, one of the areas the Minister referred to. We have indicated that, where a school is to be discontinued, there should be a ballot of parents because they are profoundly affected by it. We proposed, in a new clause, that there should be a meeting of parents before any final decision is made. That goes some way to refute the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Gould of Brookwood, who suggested that we were only pressing for a single ballot once there was to be a change in the nature of a school, or the advancement of a new school. That is not the case: we specifically called for a parental meeting.

The Government are using the argument that this will delay everything in an extraordinary way. Surely what matters most, as has been central to our discussion of this education Bill, is that there should be the highest possible quality of schooling and that children should be secure in a well organised, accountable and responsible school. That is what concerns us. As we have often argued from these Benches, there should be a level playing field. Parents should have a strong voice in the choices to be made. Whatever our views may be on a particular trust school one way or the other, our crucial responsibility is to ensure that parents are given the choice of the kind of education they want for their child. Frankly, without a ballot or a requirement for a parents’ meeting, it is difficult to see why governing bodies should think they know what parents’ wishes might be better than the parents themselves. However, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Crawley: I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

G8: 2006 Summit

4.14 pm

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a Statement about the G8 Summit which took place on 15 to 17 July in St Petersburg. I pay tribute to President Putin's chairmanship and the Russian

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Government's handling of the summit. The whole of the summit was understandably overshadowed by the tragic and terrible events in Israel, Palestine and Lebanon. For days, we have seen the innocent killed by terrorism, as a deliberate act, by Hezbollah; civilians killed in the course of military retaliation by Israel; and the disintegration of our hopes for stability in this, the most fraught area of dispute in the world.“Over 1,600 rockets and mortars have fallen on northern Israel, in an arc from Haifa to Tiberias, deliberately targeting civilians. In Lebanon, more than 230 people have been killed, the vast majority of them civilians. Houses, roads, essential infrastructure, factories and Lebanese Army facilities have been damaged. Once again, we have made it clear to Israel that it is essential to take account of the humanitarian situation, and ensure that military action is proportionate. We grieve for the innocent Israelis and innocent Lebanese civilians who are dead, for their families who mourn and for their countries that are caught up in the spiral of escalating confrontation. “There are also more than 10,000 British nationals in Lebanon, and probably many more, including a significant number of dual Lebanese British nationals. I know that people who are there, and their families in the UK and elsewhere, are worried about the situation. We are working as hard and as quickly as we can to ensure that we are able to evacuate all those who wish to leave. We evacuated 63 of the most vulnerable British nationals from Beirut by air yesterday, but the safest way to evacuate large numbers of civilians is by sea. This is a complex and enormous logistical operation, which we are co-ordinating with our EU and international partners. “Teams of consular, military and medical officials have deployed to Beirut, Cyprus and Damascus. We have six ships in the region or heading for the region: the “York” and the “Gloucester” are now offshore, and the “Illustrious”, “Bulwark”, “St Aubens” and “RFA Victoria Fort” are heading there. The first evacuation by ship is taking place today, and further evacuations will follow. The advice to British nationals is to stay put and remain in contact with the British Embassy.“However, we should be in no doubt about the immediate cause for this situation. It started with the kidnap of an Israeli soldier in Gaza and then action by Israel, targeting Hamas on the Palestinian side. Then, without provocation, Hezbollah crossed the blue line established by UN resolutions, killed eight Israeli soldiers and kidnapped two more. Israel then again retaliated in air strikes against targets in Beirut. This situation therefore began with acts of extremism by militant groups that were, as the G8 said unanimously, without any justification and, of course, were designed to provoke the very response that followed. “In the communiqué issued by the G8, we refer to and condemn the activities of the extremist groups and, more elliptically, as we say, ‘those that support them’. For most of us at the G8, we can be

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less elliptical. Hezbollah is supported by Iran and Syria: by the former in weapons—weapons incidentally very similar if not identical to those used against British troops in Basra—by the latter in many different ways and by both of them financially. Therefore, what is at stake could not be more stark. “On the one side, there is Lebanon, a remarkable democratic achievement from the days when Lebanon was a by-word for instability and conflict. I have once again given the Prime Minister my solidarity and support in the immense difficulties he now faces. There are also those in Israel and in Palestine desperate to see progress towards the only solution that will ever work there; namely, two states, Israel and Palestine, both democratic, both independent, both at peace. But on the other side are those who want no compromise, who cannot see that terrorism is not the route to a solution but a malign, fundamental obstacle to it. They persist in terrorism, knowing that its impact there is the same the world over: to divide, to create hatred and to drive out negotiation. That is the purpose of it. “So what can be done? I know many wanted the G8 to call for an immediate ceasefire on the part of Israel. Of course, we all want all violence to stop and to stop immediately, but we recognise that the only realistic way to achieve such a ceasefire is to address the underlying reasons why this violence has broken out.“In respect of Lebanon, the G8 proposed rapid work on inserting an international security presence in southern Lebanon to stabilise the situation, ensure that the terrorism from the Lebanese side ends, and, most important, to provide conditions in which the Lebanese armed forces can take control and assist in doing so. “Meanwhile, the UN Secretary-General's special envoys are in the region, and will report to the Security Council later this week, and US Secretary of State Rice also intends to make an early visit. We welcome and support these and other efforts to calm the situation.“We also encouraged dialogue between the Lebanese and Israeli Governments and we pledged at the G8 further economic support to Lebanon. And of course we demanded the return of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers. Only in this way can we at last implement UN Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1680.“In Gaza, we made clear that our goal was an immediate end to the violence, and we put forward the measures necessary: release of the Israeli soldiers and of the Palestinian Ministers and parliamentarians; an end to attacks on Israel; resumption of security co-operation between Israel and Palestine; restarting political contacts between Israeli and Palestinian officials; and an end to Israeli military operations and the withdrawal of Israeli forces. But let us be very plain. We can and must stabilise the existing situation in Lebanon and in Gaza. We must use such stabilisation to help Lebanon rebuild and eventually to re-begin negotiations between Israel

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and Palestine. But at root, we need to recognise the fundamental nature of the struggle in the region, which has such far-reaching consequences far beyond that region and consequences even in countries like our own. “All over the Middle East there are those who want to modernise their nations, who believe as we do in democracy and liberty and tolerance. But ranged against them are extremists who believe the opposite, who believe in fundamentalist states and war not against Israel's actions but against its existence. In virtually every country of the region, including on the streets of Baghdad, such a struggle is being played out. The danger is that moderate voices get squeezed. When this current vision abates, this is the issue to which we must return, in the way the G8 outlined two years ago but has not so far put fully into effect.“Let me touch on issues that were raised elsewhere. On Africa, we made modest, but important, progress in taking forward the commitments of last year through the discussions on infectious diseases and education, including: scaling up action on HIV/AIDS through replenishing the Global Fund in 2006 and 2007; new initiatives on vaccines for malaria and pneumoccocus and fully funding the education fast track initiative. We agreed to review progress on Africa again at the G8 Summit in 2007 and I have asked the International Development Secretary to set out key milestones for the coming 12 months in his next report to Parliament. These will include us supporting 10 African countries, developing long-term education plans and getting the debts cancelled for five more African countries. Kofi Annan will also convene the Africa Progress Panel to monitor progress on commitments given.“I also discussed Sudan with a number of G8 leaders and Kofi Annan. We agreed the situation in Darfur continues to be unacceptable and the need for a quick deployment of the UN force.“On trade, at the final session, it was at last agreed by all to empower their negotiations to go further. The cost of failure for the world's poor, global growth and multilateralism would be high. Presidents Bush, Barroso, Lula, Mbeki, Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Singh of India all agreed to show flexibility, so we asked Pascal Lamy to immediately convene trade negotiators to turn this clear commitment into action that delivers real cuts in agricultural tariffs, and subsidies and progress on non-agricultural market access. I do not minimise the very substantial obstacles that still remain, but at least this renewed commitment from the US, the EU and the G20 was immensely welcome.“We also agreed a strong package for poor countries, including $4 billion a year aid for trade and action on rules of origin and we remain fully committed to ensuring that, in any event for this round, it would be utterly wrong for there not to be a full development package for the poorest nations.“There was a fascinating debate on energy at the summit, of direct relevance to this country. There was a virtual consensus around the fact that energy prices will continue to rise, with an increase now

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predicted of around 50 per cent in energy demand by 2030; that climate change is now universally accepted as happening, including by the United States, and therefore there is an urgent necessity to take the measures to make further economic growth sustainable; and that countries will therefore need to have balanced energy policies in which clean coal technology, carbon sequestration, renewables and nuclear power will have to play a part. Our own energy review was therefore absolutely in line with that consensus.“On nuclear, what was interesting was the statement by China that it intends to develop nuclear power, by India that it regarded it as indispensable and by many of the main oil producers including Kazakhstan that they would also balance their reliance on their own oil and gas with nuclear. It was also the conclusion of the J8, the young people from around the world who debated the issue.“The G8 also agreed on the need to accelerate discussions on an inclusive dialogue for a post-2012 framework and that framework importantly includes the United States, China and India.“The G8 supported the need for a goal to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations, which will be a central part of the future framework. The Gleneagles dialogue meeting in Mexico would be the next step in taking this work forward.“This was a summit held in circumstances none of us could have foreseen. It was dominated by the Middle East, but its conclusions on Africa, on trade and on energy will, I hope, stand the test of time and I commend the conclusions to the House.”

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.27 pm

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement—an unusually lengthy Statement and a very useful report back. We had a full Statement yesterday on the grave situation in the Middle East and the House will be grateful for the further update that we have just been given.

Do the Government agree with the view of the United States that much of the responsibility for the fomenting of terrorism— I think that was the word President Bush was feeling for—lies with Syria, whose president was recently feted by the Government in London? What leverage has that courting of President Assad given us in Damascus?

Do the Government also agree with the view of the United States that the greatest responsibility for the financing and arming of terrorism lies with Iran? Is it not essential that Damascus and Teheran get a united message, not only from the G8, but also from China and India, so recently tragically affected by terrorism, that the promotion of terrorism must stop?

How much could have been done to relieve the evils of poverty and suffering that we see in Gaza and in Lebanon if only one hundredth of the money poured into financing terrorist training guns and arms had gone into education, the fight against disease and the promotion of civil society, as the G8 rightly asked?

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It is clear that a solution must include the release of Israeli hostages, the end of rocket attacks on Israel, the end of the bombardment of Gaza and Lebanon, whose governments were lawfully elected, and a future for Lebanon without armed militias, as so many of its people have shown they want.

The G8 brought together leaders of the world’s major powers. There were great declarations but what specifically will be done? Some people have the impression that the role of the Prime Minister is largely to act as a Sherpa for President Bush. Can the noble Baroness assure us that Britain will make a distinctive and independent contribution? How widespread is support for the Prime Minister’s concept of an intervention force? How could it be injected when the level of violence is so high and without the consent of the contending parties? How could we make it more valuable than the existing UNIFIL? Would it have a potential combat role in restoring stability, that the British Army finds itself undertaking in Afghanistan? If so, who would take part? What undertakings were given in St Petersburg? How could our stretched Armed Forces help?

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