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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The answer is for the reasons identified by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, when he was speaking in relation to Essex. He was talking of Essex, where only 4,000 out of 100,000 children are in grammar schools. We are talking of Kent, Buckinghamshire, Trafford, the Medway towns, Torbay and other areas where the selective system is more than 25 per cent. of the intake.

If what the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, says is true about Essex--that the catchment area of the grammar schools in one case covers the whole of Essex and in another the whole of the north of Essex--and it seems, a fortiori, to be the case that the catchment area of the grammar schools in the selective areas where selection is, in some cases, not just the dominant but the only form of secondary education, then the whole area of the authority should be the area of the ballot. That stands to reason, as Worzel Gummidge would have said.

Baroness Blatch: The noble Lord answered the wrong question. Why is it that, where there is an area ballot, only the parents of children in the primary feeder schools that qualify under the regulations are enfranchised to vote? In a whole LEA ballot, not only the parents of children in every single primary school--that is what I am suggesting--but also the parents of children aged nought to five and the parents of children up to the age of 16 in all the secondary schools, are enfranchised to vote.

Why is it that the electorate for an area ballot includes only feeder schools? Why does it not include all the primary schools in the whole of the LEA that feed into the grammar schools? Why should it include parents of children aged nought to five? And why are they not included in the area ballot?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am sorry if I misunderstood the question of the noble Baroness. There is a real difference between area and whole LEA ballots. The difference is that the whole of the structure of the

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secondary school service is affected by the ballot and therefore it is appropriate that all parents should have a vote.

Baroness Blatch: That is absolutely no answer. If one takes Southend, and the schools all around the King Edward school area, all the schools, all the parents and the structure of schools in that area are affected by the presence of those schools. If it is right that parents of children aged nought to 16 in a whole LEA area are enfranchised to vote, why does not that pertain in the area ballot?

In fact, I would wish the situation to be the other way round. If only the parents of children in primary schools which are feeder schools are enfranchised to vote in an area ballot--a large part of Birmingham, Southend and large parts of Essex--why is it that only the same category of parents can vote in a whole LEA ballot?

I shall return to the amendment because the noble Lord gave no answer to the point I was making. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 233ZC:

Page 75, line 32, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 233ZC, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 233AA, 233AC and 233BA.

This is no ordinary ballot. The petition that will take place in local education authority areas and whole local education authorities will give rise to considerable activity. Some of it will be entirely benign. Some people will go peaceably about their business. Some people believe philosophically that selective education should end. But on behalf of other people there will be much more aggressive campaigning. We know that CASE is already girding its loins; it is extremely active. We will see something of that on the day its members choose to demonstrate. Other active organisations are simply waiting for Royal Assent so that they can get under way with providing a network of activity in all areas where grammar schools exist.

The activity is going to be extremely disruptive. The sadness is that it will impact on the stability of the schools, on the staff of those schools, on the parents of the children in those schools and, more significantly, on the children in those schools. That activity can take place over many months. I am hoping that the noble Baroness will agree that the period should not be more than one year. At the end of that time, if the required signatures are insufficient, then the whole thing starts again.

This relentless war of attrition will continue until, in one year, the requisite number of signatures are found and they will go for a ballot. If the ballot is not successful, then the whole dreadful activity starts again. If the ballot is successful, it gives rise to the closure of the school as a grammar school and, in the case of the whole LEA ballot, the closure of the group of schools in the whole LEA area. Every single grammar school in

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the area will cease to exist as a grammar school and plans will have to be made to introduce comprehensive education.

I do not underestimate what the amendment will do and the divisiveness that will occur in those areas. Amendment No. 233ZC therefore says that the regulations "shall" make provision to include and they are not simply permissive. Given that the result of this one ballot in a whole LEA area may mean that all the schools will go out of existence, it is a serious ballot. I cannot think of another example of such a serious ballot. Where the result is so serious, the threshold should be considerable. That is why I suggest that 50 per cent. of the eligible parents should be required for a successful petition to trigger off an automatic ballot. However, the petition should be completed within the year.

If the requisite number of signatures are not secured within the space of a year, then there should be an interregnum. The noble Baroness, or whoever responds to the amendment, may well have some fun with what looks like an inconsistency between this amendment and the interregnum that I suggest for the ballots. The reason for the inconsistency is that, if the Bill survives in its present form, then the five-year interregnum makes sense; it is consistent with the five-year interregnum suggested in the ballot. However, if we were fortunate enough to extend the interregnum between ballots, we would want to change the figure in the amendment. I hope that that explains the inconsistency.

Five years is not even the lifetime of a child in a grammar school. A child joining a grammar school in its first year will undergo all this disruptive activity for the space of a year and perhaps some months more while the ballot takes place. The child will then go through all the organisational proposals. In the case of the ballot not succeeding, there is all this disruption in the first year and by the time the young person is hardly ready to go into the sixth form, it starts all over again. If a brother or sister joins the school two or three years later, the disruption begins again.

I make no apology for the way I describe the disruption. It will be a relentless, bitter war of attrition on the part of the disgruntled, the disaffected and the bigoted--I use that word again in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, because there are people who will be bigoted on this issue--and those who are extremely antipathetic to the existence of selection. Worse still, if they are in the minority, they can simply worry away year after year. If the noble Baroness is advocating that as a way of a school existing on into the future, each five years winning against the odds, I really wish to know where the noble Baroness and her colleagues are coming from. I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Baker of Dorking: I strongly support the amendments. This is almost the first occasion on the clause when one has been able to discuss the principle underlying it. There was a valiant attempt by my noble friend on Clause 99 at the opening of business to bring up the principle underlying it but the Committee

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decided--I do not think necessarily in its wisdom--to move on to other matters. The debates we have had on the amendments so far have been on important details.

Clause 100 ends grammar schools. There is no doubt about that. That has the support of the Liberal Democrat Party, and I shall come on to its shared guilt later. The Labour Party wants to end grammar schools. It is being a touch deceitful, if that is not an unparliamentary word. The party is being deceitful. I am not suggesting at all that any of the Ministers are full of deceit, not half! In its manifesto, as the noble Baroness said, the Labour Party committed itself not to extend selection. That was the golden phrase used in the manifesto. The noble Baroness will know, as she had responsibility for education in the run-up to the election, that several of her colleagues who are now in the Government had gone much further than that. They had said, "We will abolish grammar schools", but they were reined back by Tony Blair. They were told not to say it and so they did not say it. They said that they would not extend selection. So what they have devised in this clause is a way of using democracy to destroy grammar schools. It will be done in such a way that their fingerprints will not be on the dagger. Polonius is going to be stabbed behind the arras and no one is going to be guilty. Democracy has done it.

I believe that the system devised by the Government is an abuse of democracy. They are going to put the matter to a wide electorate. We discovered only this afternoon that the electorate will be different for an area ballot and different for a whole local education authority ballot. The arguments put by the Minister to defend that were totally implausible. Two fancy franchises will be created. What in effect will be used is the voice of the majority against a minority. That is what will happen. It is likely that in most areas and in most LEAs, as a minority of pupils go to grammar schools, only a minority of parents are likely to support them. That is what the Government want to bring about. I think that they should be much more open and explicit about it.

Tony Crosland in 1966 was quite explicit. He used a very forceful and memorable phrase. He said it. It was the actual policy of the Labour Governments of the 1960s and 1970s to end grammar schools. I was very much aware of the vindictive nature of the destruction of the best school in my constituency when I represented St. Marylebone. St. Marylebone Grammar School, which had been founded in 1791, was destroyed. It was the best school in my constituency and probably the best in inner London. It was destroyed by rigging the governing body. ILEA did it and it was approved by the then Secretary of State for Education, now the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. It killed off a school of real excellence. We fought but we lost. In many cases the grammar schools will fight after the Bill goes through but I fear that they will lose because the electorate has been rigged against them.

I am very surprised by the Liberal support. One of the founding philosophical figures of Liberalism was John Stuart Mill. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, will have read On Liberty. What does John Stuart Mill argue mostly in On Liberty? He argues

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against the tyranny of the majority. I do not expect the modern Liberal Party to pay much attention to John Stuart Mill because it has become a satellite of the Labour Party--the old Labour Party. That is what John Stuart Mill argued against, but this is what we are going to see exercised either in area ballots or in local authority ballots if these clauses are passed. I very much hope that the safeguards my noble friend has built in--

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