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Lord Mayhew of Twysden: I rise to speak with diffidence, as a new Member of your Lordships' House,

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but I feel that I can justify taking a minute or two of the Committee's time because I come from a county in which we have the good fortune to have about one-quarter of the grammar schools that survived the attentions of the 1970 Labour Government. There are four grammar schools in my former constituency, and they are strongly supported. While paying every respect to what has just been said by noble Lords opposite, I want to defend the care with which my noble friend Lady Blatch is addressing this issue. We are now down to about 160 grammar schools in the country. I think that we are entitled to know whether we should be looking at the arrangements relating to petitions for triggering ballots and to the ballots themselves. We are entitled to know whether those arrangements are motivated by something that could properly be described as a "threat" to the grammar schools, by which I mean an antipathy to the survival of grammar schools on the part of Ministers.

It is entirely proper for my noble friend Lady Blatch to refer, as she did at the outset of her remarks this afternoon, to statements which are on the record and come not only from the present Secretary of State but also from Mr. Crosland, whom the noble Lord, Lord Peston, invoked. Incidentally, I was surprised to find Mr. Crosland invoked as an exemplar of emollient language in this context. Nevertheless, we are entitled to know whether those citations, which we have relevantly heard today, represent the thrust of the Government's policy.

I agree that the Government can say, "We are leaving this to ballots", but the question with which we shall be dealing later today is how those ballots are to be triggered and operated. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will say whether the remarks made by the present Secretary of State, to which my noble friend Lady Blatch referred, represent the thrust of the Government's policy--that is, that we cannot be expected in a few weeks or even a few months to complete the policy begun by Mr. Crosland.

Lord Dixon-Smith: Perhaps I may intervene. I must admit that I am considerably puzzled as to which of the amendments to speak. That is partly because when we reach the next clause, we find that all the regulations that will affect ballots and selective schools--

Lord Whitty: I intervene because I believe that the noble Lord has touched on precisely the point. Many of the matters to which I believe that he is about to refer, and to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, referred, relate to later amendments. I go along completely with my noble friend Lord Shepherd who said that we should take the heat out of the situation. Noble Lords should recognise that some of the points now being made relate to later amendments and not to Amendment No. 213E. Both on this amendment, and subsequently in this Committee, we should concentrate on the provisions in hand.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: Referring to what the noble Lord, Lord Peston, and my noble friend

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Lady Blatch were discussing, it is necessary here to make a slight incursion into ideology because later amendments are close, tight and important, but they spring from the motive behind the issue now under consideration. Grammar schools exist--albeit in a minority form in England--and, as we know, selection is not a dreadful sin. It occurs in Europe and in many parts of the world. People are not stunted by it; they do not turn green; they continue to exist where there is selection. About 20 per cent. of entrants to the finer universities come from that small number of grammar schools.

When my noble friend Lady Blatch looks at the ideology behind this Bill, in answer to the simple question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, the question that we are posing is whether the ballots are fair or whether they are really directed in order to manipulate the situation. I believe that I can use the word "manipulate" without accusing anyone of being a manipulator. Are the ballots directed to achieve the result that the Government want? The questions which my noble friend were asking will recur again and again, like the theme of a symphony throughout the next hour or so. In a way, the noble Lord, Lord Peston, supported my argument because he said that he definitely wants rid of grammar schools.

The point is that the Executive is preparing the ballot. Are we in the position of Napoleon III who, whenever he held a ballot or plebiscite, knew what the answer would be? We are saying that the ballots may not really be asking parents what they want. We shall prove that the ballots will be so arranged that the answers produced will be those which the Government expect. Basically, that is all that I want to say.

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone: I should like to follow the advice of my noble friend Lord Shepherd who is no longer in his place. It would be helpful to the Committee if we tried to keep the temperature down, so I do not want to respond now to some of the more ideological points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. If the noble Baroness wants to make such points, they would be more appropriate in relation to later amendments. Furthermore, the points which the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, has just made about ballots can be better answered when we reach the specific amendments on balloting.

Perhaps I may answer one question asked by the noble Baroness. She asked why we are not in favour of extending selection and why we are having what I think she called a "one-way process". The answer is clear: we were elected on a manifesto commitment that made it absolutely clear that we had no intention of extending selection. We had a huge majority--indeed, it was the biggest landslide of this century. It is obvious that the electorate accepted that manifesto commitment and, having been elected on it, it would be quite wrong now if we went back on that commitment and included in this Bill proposals to allow the expansion of selection and the creation of new grammar schools.

Baroness Blatch: The Minister either believes in selection or she does not. If the Government really

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meant what has just been said, they should have included in this Bill clauses to dispose of grammar schools. Instead, the Government have chosen to leave selection in the Bill--selection by aptitude; selection by aptitude and/or ability and in many other forms, including for banding. We shall return to that subject.

The rationale behind the plans of the Minister and her colleagues for grammar schools is, "Let the parents speak". However, in another part of the Bill, as my noble friend Lady Young said, having spoken and having voted school by school to become grant-maintained, those parents will be denied the right to vote to cease to have grant-maintained schools. Those schools will, by edict, leave the status of being grant-maintained. They will have to choose any colour of car as long as it is the colour dictated by the Government. In other words, such schools will have to lose their complete autonomy and move back into the arms of the local education authority. It seems wholly inconsistent to use the argument, "Let the parents speak", in this instance under this very rigged system, but not to allow those parents to express their view on any other category of school. I make no apology for using the word "inconsistent".

This debate has opened up as a result of the Minister's answer to my question. The date is on the face of the Bill to ensure that there shall never be another grammar school. We suggest that there could be other grammar schools if that is what parents wish and that they should be allowed to apply to have selective schools. Therefore, removing the date has some meaning. It is difficult to confine our discussions to this point simply because of the way in which the Minister herself opened up the debate by saying that there shall be no more grammar schools. I shall reflect upon what the noble Baroness said. The inconsistencies are piling up historically and currently. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 99 agreed to.

Clause 100 [Procedure for deciding whether grammar schools should retain selective admission arrangements]:

Baroness Young moved Amendment No. 232:

Page 75, line 30, after ("schools,") insert--
("(bb) to any grammar school of a religious character, provided that the ballot arrangements made by regulations under this section make provision for restricting eligibility for the purposes of both petition and ballot to those parents of pupils registered at such a grammar school and those parents of pupils at primary schools of the same religious character in the catchment area of the grammar school,").

The noble Baroness said: The noble Lord, Lord Alton, is very sorry that he cannot be here. His university is drawing towards the end of term and he is very tied up. He much regrets not being here. Amendment No. 232 seeks to restrict some of the proposals in the Bill. It applies to a grammar school of a religious character. The proposal is that eligibility for the purposes of both the petition and the ballot should be confined to parents of pupils in the particular grammar school and/or parents of pupils at primary schools of the same religious character.

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This is a very serious and important point. There is no doubt that parents greatly value grammar schools or comprehensive schools that are voluntary aided or have a definite religious character. Clearly, even if the school itself is to change they will want that particular character to be retained. The proposal is that those who vote will have committed their children to schools of a similar character. The scope is somewhat narrower.

Perhaps I have misunderstood the Bill but it appears to me that in the case of ballots for grammar schools there may be circumstances in which the parents of all the feeder primary schools can vote about the future of the school. This amendment would restrict voting to the parents of children in a voluntary aided school or a school of a religious character that fed into a grammar school which was voluntary aided or of a religious character. It is a very important distinction that I hope the Government will consider seriously. I beg to move.

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