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Our position on torture is absolutely clear. We unreservedly condemn the use of torture and we work hard with our international partners to eradicate this abhorrent practice. We abide by our commitments in international law in every respect. On the specific points about Benyam Mohammed al Habashi, referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, he was interviewed once by the security services in Karachi in 2002, but the security services had no role in his capture or in his transfer to Pakistan. There is no evidence that they drew on or passed on matter to anyone and I do not believe that there is any significant or substantial evidence or probability that they did so.
Baroness Ludford: My Lords, I think the Minister said earlier that there was no evidence of any involvement at all by British intelligence agencies. Is it not the case that during the High Court case in March, concerning
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Lord Triesman: My Lords, I will deal with the specific matter of Mr al-Rawi and Mr al-Banna who came into detention in the Gambia. I confirm in explicit terms here tonight that the United Kingdom did not request the detention of either of the men in the Gambia. We played no role in their transfer to Afghanistan or Guantanamo Bayno role.
The noble Earl, Lord Northesk, said that he was concernedand I am concernedthat we should not diminish or demean our democracy. We do not and we will not. Our standards are high and, as I said, I do not accept that we operate some sort of clandestine police state. That is not the United Kingdom that I know at all. The British Government are certainly committed to protecting the British people from the threat of terrorism, and who needs reminding of the scale of the threat? As we were commemorating 7/7, we saw another brutal and shameful attack: on the city of Mumbai. But we are quite clear in our own minds that we can succeed in meeting the challenge of international terrorism only if our own efforts are grounded in respect for, and the continued promotion of, international law and fundamental freedoms. That is as true in the area of rendition as in any other aspect of our counter-terrorist effort.
Measures taken by states to combat terrorism must be legal, proportionate and justifiable. Promoting human rights, democracy, good governance and the rule of law is, in the end, the best guarantee of our own security, for it helps stifle the discontent on which the terrorist recruiters prey.
I know that what I have said will not satisfy all noble Lords in the House. I am afraid that I will have to remain content in my own mind that in this country we do not engage in practices of the kind that have been described. It may be impossible to prove the negative, but that is no basis for people to assume that there has been the kind of behaviour that gave rise to some of the adjectives used. All noble Lords who wish to pursue this matter further should provide far more tangible evidence than the kind of allegations that we have heard. I myself have looked carefully at the Amnesty International report and at the reports made when Jack Straw investigated all the flights where we had contact with the United States, and I have looked at their submissions as well, and I say to noble Lords that these allegations are groundless and baseless and should not be repeated without proper evidence.
Lord Grocott: There was a suggestion before the break that it might be helpful to the Committee if I indicated where I hoped we might move to this evening. When we began today, there were 17 groups of amendments to consider. The agreed suggestion as to the objective of this evening, which has been widely discussed with the usual channels and many other Members who have been involved in the debate, was that we should aim to get to Amendment No. 180. In order to achieve that objective, we would need to deal with another 11 groups. Therefore, a sensible suggestion, which I hope will meet with agreement, is that we should carry on until midnight, when I would guess that we would have dealt with most of the 11 groups. The objective remains for us to get to AmendmentNo. 180, which will leave a reasonable amount of time to deal with the remaining groups. I hope that that meets with the approval of the Committee.
Baroness Walmsley: It does not meet with my approval. I think this is completely outrageous. It is a hole that the Government have dug for themselves through not listening to the Opposition parties who told them from the start that this was a highly contentious Bill, that we were totally dissatisfied with many of the replies we had had from Ministers in another place, and that it would require six days for Committee stage. The Government insisted on only scheduling four and now they are asking us to act in complete contravention of what the House has voted forin other words, to rise at 10 oclock, which is a time at which some of us can be compos mentis and deal with the business in a sensible and rational manner. Instead we are being asked to go until midnight which is completely outrageous.
The Countess of Mar: I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. The noble Lord knows what my opinion is about going to bed at 10 oclock. The Companion to the Standing Orders says it is a firm convention, although the noble Lord says it is a firm convention sometimes, and I might agree with him. The management of the business is absolutely atrocious. I have never seen so many amendments grouped together. When you have a number of speakers with different amendments, you are bound to get a long debate on each of these topics. It is time that the business managers looked to managing the business properly.
Lord Dearing: In support of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, what is settled between the usual offices is not well communicated to those of us who are not privy to their discussions. If I had known in
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Baroness Buscombe: I rise briefly in response to what has already been said. While I sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Dearingperhaps there should have been better communication with the Cross BenchesI point out that in eight years now of sitting on this Front Bench we have sat regularly until the early hours of the morning. I know that that is not the convention now, but there is a feeling that we do want to try and complete the Committee stages of this Bill prior to the Recess. It suits us on these Benches. While apologising to those who may feel that this is inconvenient, I must express my agreement to the proposal, notwithstanding the fact that it is not now, although it used to be, normal convention.
Lord Grocott: The Committee will understand that the job of the usual channels is a difficult one. We do the very best we can and one thing I am not modest about is that from the beginning of my tenure as Chief Whip, it was determined that I should try to give notice to the House of everything I possibly could, and most crucially that I should notify the House a year in advance of Recess dates. I was advised not to do that by all the wise heads because I was told we would occasionally find ourselves in a situation where, in order to meet the Recess date, we would need to sit a little later. And the proposal is, I emphasise to the House, a little later. The 10 oclock rising time is an advisory rising time and can only be met with the co-operation of the House. We are a self-regulating House and I have no powers of authority over anyone in the House but that rising time has been met spectacularly well this Session. We have rarely sat long beyond 10 oclock.
I genuinely apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, but he will understand that this is an extremely important Bill. I worked in education myself. You cannot calculate how long Bills will take; all we can do is estimate. We have no powers to do anything other than estimate that the groups on this Bill on the first two days would take an average of35 minutes per group. Of course people involved in the Bill will say that that is an extremely important Bill and it will take a long time. The Police and Justice Bill, for example, took 20 minutes per group and everyone involved would say that was dealing with extremely important issues. I apologise to the House that this has inevitably meant that we go a little later tonight than I would have liked. It is extremely rare for this to happen. I stay here every night until the cat is put out so I have a greater vested interest than anyone does in completing the matter.
Lord Grocott: I am just about to finish, so the noble Baroness can contribute later. I simply say that we will get to the objective group tonight with the agreement of the Committee, which I seekthat is all
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Baroness Walmsley: Will the noble Lord accept that there was an unusually long gap between Second Reading and the introduction of Committee on this Bill, and that large tranches of the Bill re-enact other legislation, so it does not need to be as large as it is? Will he also accept that the Government have already had considerable co-operation from these Benches? We have already agreed to these strange and enormous un-homogenous groupings and to sit late on the first two days of Committee. We also agreed to postpone a section of the Bill to be treated as Committee on Report, but I understand that the Official Opposition would not agree to that. To ask us to sit to midnight is asking us to go one step too far. I do not want to be obstructive to the House getting the business through; I want us to scrutinise the Bill properly. In the interests of doing that, I am afraid that I will regretfully have to accept what the noble Lord the government Chief Whip has proposed.
Baroness Buscombe: I want to explain briefly why we were not happy delaying scrutiny of certain parts of the Bill until Report. I fearI hope that other Benches will accept thisthat that would set a very dangerous precedent. It would put us on the path to what is happening in the Commons, which is not properly scrutinising at each stage. That was entirely my reason, and I hope that the noble Baroness will accept it.
The noble Baroness said: I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 103, 105, 107, 108, 110 andClause 33 stand part, which are grouped with Amendment No. 92. The amendments would prevent any alterations being made to the governance of schools that would result in the reduction of the statutory number of elected parent governors. Therefore, a foundation could not remove parent governors so that it could have a majority on the board. Far from being averse to parents having real power in schools, as claimed on an earlier group by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, we on these Benches believe that governing bodies should be representative of parents and the local community, no matter what model of governance they have otherwise.
The Minister implied that we could not have trusts without them being given majority control of governing bodies. Why not? I do not see why, if the trust is really operating in the interests of the children and parents rather than in its own interests. Surely the most important people to whom a school should be accountable are the children and their parents. The
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Parent governors are of particular value in creating links between the governors and the wider body of parents, feeding in their concerns and points of view, and representing the views of the governors to the parents. However, it is important that those parent governors are not just placemen. They have more credibility as independent representatives of parents opinions when they have democratic legitimacy, so parents appointed to the board by sponsors just will not do.
In his response to this amendment in another place, the Minister there said that the Bill allowed the right level of flexibility for schools to decide for themselves about the best model for them. He said that the necessary safeguards are built in, including a mechanism for removing a trust or its ability to appoint a majority of the governing body if the governing body feels that that is best. I ask noble Lords: do turkeys vote for Christmas? The idea of a trust school governing body voting to abolish itself is ludicrous. No. We need better safeguards than that.
On the Question whether Clause 33 shall stand part of the Bill, I say that the clause is quite unnecessary; and this is the kind of thing to which I referred a few moments ago in response to the business statement. Parent councils are purely advisory and no substitute for properly elected parent governors and proper accountability through the ballot box of their election.
I am passionately in favour of meaningful involvement of parents in their childrens schools. I have always been a member of the PTA of my childrens schools. I believe that they give the opportunity for vital links between parents and teachers. But parents need an adequate voice on the decision-making body of the school and that is the board of governors. As I said earlier, the parent council is purely advisory and any school which really wants one can set it up now. It does not need this legislation to allow it to do so. It is another of the many parts of the Bill which are superfluous. We are wasting our time talking about them. No, this is a sop since the shift from a community school to a foundation school would entail the reduction of elected parent governors from three to one. Others could be appointed but they would never be regarded as being truly independent of the sponsors and no sponsor would resist the temptation to appoint only those who he believes concur with his point of view.
The benefits of parent councils are not clear. Why would they be better than three elected parent governors? Why would they be better than a good
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The Lord Bishop of Peterborough: Amendment No. 126, which stands in my name, refers to Clause 33. Many Church schoolsand probably not only Church schoolsalready have organisations supporting the school with all kinds of exotic and local names. I am fully supportive of the involvement of parents; I hope that we all share that view. What these groups have in common is that they include friends of the school and members of the local church and community, as well as parents and staff connected with the school. That is a good thing and it is to be encouraged.
The wording of Clause 33 is exclusive. Members of these parent councils are parents and no one else. By amending that to include parents, AmendmentNo. 126 seeks to clarify the point that these friends organisations could perfectly well fulfil the purpose of a parent council. For many schools, having two separate bodies would be ridiculous and unnecessary. The clause as drafted would have the effect, therefore, of destroying a local system that often works well to the advantage of the school and the community. I hope that the Government will reconsider the phrasing of the clause.
Baroness Buscombe: I support the right reverend Prelates amendment, which would allow non-parents to be members of parent councils. We welcome the positive contribution to schools from the local community, but we want to ensure that the influence of parents of children currently at the school is not watered down. In so far as the governing body welcomes the involvement of friends of the parent council, we would support that choice. The Bexley Business Academy is a good example of where the friends of a parent council form a tier of greater engagement, whereas other parents can just keep in touch by attending general meetings. However, allthe members are parents. This might provide an opportunity for greater fundraising initiatives and more integrated community involvement. I hope that any parent council that admitted non-parents would be established with the appropriate safeguards.
We cannot support the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. As I hope I made clear at Second Reading, where the Bill provides the opportunity for schools to have greater independence to present parents with higher standards and a greater quality of choice, and where those reforms promise a robust and sustainable future for our schools, I will support those provisions. However, we believe that, taken together, these amendments would weaken the Bill. They would render completely unclear the determination of proposals for changing the majority of governors to foundation governors, for a community school to become a trust, and for referrals to the
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Baroness Williams of Crosby: Before we conclude this short debate, let us be very clear that, in the Bill, we are offering parents a far weaker alternative to that of being a parent governor. Being a parent governor is a legal position and carries precise responsibilities. The role has been very well carried out in this country. Our system of governing bodies is admired in other education systems. It has given ordinary citizens a real responsibility and involvement in their schools. A parent council is all very wellthere is nothing to prevent it from living side by side with a governing bodybut at the end of the day it simply has no real power.
There is nothing in the right reverend Prelates amendment that we would object to. It relates to including non-parents on a parent councilthat is fine. But it is nothing to do with the real substitution of genuine power for what is, at best, an advisory position. We should be absolutely clear that, if my noble friends amendments are not agreed to and the Bill goes through as it stands, we will have removed from parents a great deal of real power and real involvement in their schools, and I think that we will live to regret that.
Lord Adonis: Sometimes when the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for whom I have great respect, speaks, I have to pinch myself to check that we are not doing something that is genuinely outrageous, because the terms in which her arguments are made are very strong. But what we are doing here is a perfectly sensible adaptation of existing practice within the schools system. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said that what we are seeking to do is a great and radical departure. It is not. The model of governance that we propose for parents is precisely that which currently applies in many thousands of voluntary-aided schools, which are perfectly adequately managed within the state system. I am aware of no representation that parents feel that these schools are less well governed than other schools or that they feel less engaged than parents in other schoolsindeed, if parental engagement and attachment to schools is measured by the popularity of schools and the willingness of parents to apply for their children to go to these schools, then the opposite might be held to be the case.
In fact, in voluntary-aided schools there is no requirement for parent councilsnone. I am not saying that the one is a trade-off against the other. We have looked at best practice in this area. In many trust schools, the majority of governors will not be appointed; it is an option to appoint up to the majority. We expect that in many trust schools a minority of the governors would be appointed by the trust, in which case there will be a larger number of parent governors. However, where the majority of governors are appointed by the trustand that is done by consent with the school or through the process of competition and choice of the best school that can be provided, where it is a new
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