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Lord Rix: First, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and other noble Lords for their wholehearted support of Amendment No. 111 to place special educational needs at long last in an important part of the Bill. Unfortunately, the response of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, is once more disappointing.

The noble Lord said that after due consideration it might be necessary to bring in special regulations because the Government are open-minded. I think that that holds out only a crumb of hope. The special educational needs consortium, which I have the honour to represent, is composed of many important national charities, education authorities, local authorities and teaching unions, all of whom subscribe to the

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amendments that I have put forward, together with the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and my noble friend Lady Darcy de Knayth.

The Government seem to regard special educational needs as a local difficulty. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, selected special interest groups with rather more care than did another noble Lord on the government Benches earlier today. But he said that it was important to keep the local character of school organisation plans in place. I would have thought that special educational needs locally were of the utmost importance. I cannot believe that they can be thought of as not being local. If they are not local, where do they belong? In outer space? Are those with special educational needs to be once more proscribed in regard to education as they were until 1971? I find the Government's resistance to putting the special educational needs problem on the face of the Bill extraordinary. Whatever the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, says now, whatever any other noble Lord on the Front Bench may say, it gives the impression to those of us who are trying to work with children with special educational needs that such children are somehow still regarded as second-rate citizens. I shall return to this matter at Report stage.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The noble Lord, Lord Rix, did not formally move his amendment; it is being considered with others in the group and perhaps therefore I can say a word in relation to his remarks. Of course, special educational needs is an issue which occurs locally and in every locality. I was not in any way seeking to deny that. I was saying that solutions may vary and the solutions should be determined locally.

Lord Swinfen: When the Minister first replied, he mentioned that pilot schemes either had started or are about to start. There must therefore be draft guidance available for those schemes. Is it possible for those of us who have taken part in the debate to be given a copy of that draft guidance?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: All information about pilot schemes will be made available. If I may, I will write to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen--since he raised this specific point--with copies to all other Members of the Committee who have taken part in the debate and I will place a copy in the Library.

Lord Lucas: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for his remarks, particularly the last one. I look forward to reading it and, if necessary, returning to the matter on Report. I understand what the noble Lord said about preserving local character. The emphasis of my interest therefore changes to what the mechanisms are for groups of local people to make representations in order that their views can be considered. As I understand the Bill as it stands, it is necessary to wait until a local education authority

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produces its plan; there is then a once-round of ideas coming into the committee and out. I see the noble Lord shaking his head.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Local views will be welcomed at all stages in the preparation of the school organisational plan.

Lord Lucas: In that case, all I want to hear from the noble Lord--either now or later--is how that will be organised, asked for or done. Are we to have guidance or regulations for the local authority? It is not on the face of the Bill that there should be consultation or input before the LEA produces its plans. Is that something to which I shall need to return on Report?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My immediate reaction is how a local authority or schools organisation committee could stop local people expressing their views at any stage.

Lord Lucas: Of course, they could not. But unless the committee invites it, such representations are likely to be disjointed in time and disorganised in form. It would be much better if there was a period during which representations were invited. I do not see provision for that on the face of the Bill. However, I shall not press the matter tonight and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 110A and 111 not moved.]

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford moved Amendment No. 112:

Page 23, line 33, at end insert--
("( ) requiring that the draft plan shall not be approved by the school organisation committee, or referred to the adjudicator, if the representatives of the relevant diocese or dioceses of the Church of England for the area of the local education authority, or the equivalent representative of the Bishop of the Roman Catholic church concerned, are opposed to the proposal;").

The noble Lord said: This is a non-political amendment though it has considerable sensitivity.

I am assuming, in the case of this amendment, that in view of the large majority Her Majesty's Government have in the other place, and in light of the action they have taken this afternoon, they will carry the Bill through the other place almost intact. I cannot speak for what we will do, but for the sake of the amendment let us assume that the Bill goes through as it stands.

As the Minister and her colleagues know, denominational schools in England have always been a sensitive issue. When Mr. Gladstone first introduced the education Bill in 1870 he preserved the position absolutely of denominational schools. That was continued in the 1944 Act.

Denominational schools provide particularly for Roman Catholics, but also for many Anglicans. For Anglicans--I speak as an Anglican clergyman--they provide a community role in rural areas, but in urban

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areas they provide a specific focus for those who want to go to schools where that faith is established, as I recognise in the part of London where I work.

As Members of the Committee know from the long and arduous discussions this afternoon, the schools organisation committee consists of four colleges of which one is a representative of the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches. If they are not unanimous--in other words, if the denominational schools object--they do not have a right of veto; the decision goes to the adjudicator.

As Members of the Committee know, Scotland is outside the scope of the Bill. This measure has caused considerable worry to the Roman Catholic Church in that Cardinal Winning is resisting the closure of schools in certain parts of Glasgow. I hardly need point out to Members of the Committee opposite that this is an area of sensitivity.

I realise that on page four of the adjudicator's instructions there is the possibility of individuals having the right of appeal to the Secretary of State, but they do not refer to the closure of schools or similar matters. My amendment restores the tradition of English education from, as far as I know, every educational Act that gives denominational schools the right of veto. In other words, if the closure of a faith school is involved then that does not go to the adjudicator.

I put forward the amendment in the spirit of 150 years of education during which, in contrast to the Continent, we have avoided conflict between Church and state over such issues. I recommend the amendment to the Committee. The right reverend Prelate will speak with more authority. I have discussed it both with Roman Catholics and members of my own Church. I believe that it meets with their approval. I hope that the Government will accept it. I believe that it will not cause problems. The issues will arise very rarely. The Minister would be following the tradition of Mr. Gladstone. It is a noble tradition which I am sure the Minister would wish to follow. She may get wreaths on her own grave later on. I beg to move.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: I welcome the amendment. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington of Oxenford, for moving it. I thank other noble Lords opposite for giving it support by putting their names to it. I have already argued the importance of school organisation committees and of the significance of both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church having a strong voice and indeed having the power of veto on those committees.

I should perhaps comment that, as I understand it, the amendment is a permissive one--that is to say, the regulations are those under subsection (5) which may make provision requiring certain things to happen. So the amendment as it stands simply empowers regulations to say that this may be the case. Amendment No. 106B, to which we have already agreed, makes it mandatory for all bodies on a school organisation committee to reach a unanimous decision. That is mandatory whereas this amendment is permissive.

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However, it provides a further protection for denominational schools as the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, made clear.

Plans would not be referred to an adjudicator if either of the Church bodies objected to that happening. That raises the whole matter of the role of the adjudicator. What powers is he to have? I believe I heard the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, put that question earlier. It seems to me that this is a proper place for that question to be put. To what issues or to what representations will the adjudicator be required to have regard? It is perfectly possible that the future of Church schools in the neighbourhood could be in the hands of such a person. The Churches need to be assured of the way in which those powers are to be exercised.

The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, will be reassured to know that on this occasion I speak on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church as well as on behalf of the Church of England. I spoke with a representative of the Catholic Education Service this morning who in turn has spoken with the cardinal. I also speak on behalf of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London who is not in his place this evening. He had hoped to make a contribution to this amendment. He has written to me and with your Lordships' permission I will read what he says:

    "The Churches are keen to continue the real partnership which exists between faith communities and other providers of educational services. Our intention is to serve local communities by co-operating in the drive for educational excellence and by developing an explicitly Christian ethos in our schools as a contribution to genuine pluralism· As the Bill is currently drafted, the new post of adjudicator will have very wide powers. These may be restricted on a temporary basis by regulation, but could it not be the case that the powers of the adjudicator might be used to force changes in admissions policies without further primary legislation? Whilst there is confidence that the present administration intends no such thing, there is always the problem of the new Pharaoh who knows not Joseph. This is a cause of concern to the faith communities. Although we would anticipate that the proposed veto on references to the adjudicator would only be very infrequently used, we would support Amendment 112 as a safeguard to the continuation of the current genuine partnership in education".

That letter sums up the concerns of the Churches, to which I have already given expression. I shall be most interested to hear how the Government respond.

10.30 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: As we have already made clear, the focus of the arrangements for deciding school organisation plans and proposals at local level is to support local partnerships. The arrangements that we propose, in particular requiring unanimity within the school organisation committee, reflect the balance between providers. They give each provider, including the Churches, the same ability to ensure that an individual proposal or a school organisation plan is referred to an adjudicator in the case of disagreement. The objective is to reach consensus. We believe that in most cases that will be achieved within the school organisation committee through discussion reflecting the views of local people in response to the draft plan. We are appointing the adjudicator to address those cases where the school organisation committee is unable to agree.

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However, it would not be appropriate to give two particular groups within the school organisation committee the ability to prevent the agreement of school organisation plans. The Church representatives will have as much power as any other group in the committee to secure that plans are passed to the adjudicator. They will each have opportunities to offer the adjudicator options with which they are content, but there must be a genuine opportunity to decide a plan that balances the views of all partners and in the agreement of which each of the partners has been treated in the same way.

The right reverend Prelate rightly referred to the fact that regulations under subsection (4), which are set out in subsection (5), are permissive in the sense that the Secretary of State is not required to issue such regulations, but Clause 25 is not about Church or denominational schools; it is about all schools. The amendment would give two groups (of all those which comprise the school organisation committee) representing the denominational interest a veto on all aspects of the school organisation plan, irrespective of whether it relates to denominational schools. I am afraid that the amendment would unbalance the partnership which is at the heart of our proposals and I invite the noble Lord not to press it.

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