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Lord Mayhew of Twysden: I thought that we had got rid of all this and that we were not going to have any more heat. The Minister has just said that our concerns are simply fantasy; that what we fear will not happen; and that we will readily see whether or not there is a 20 per cent. minority of parents who want the question to be raised. If there is such a minority, then we will proceed to the ballot and the moratorium will take place. In other words, if there is no such minority, everyone will say, "That's it", and go home. I do not know what the noble Lord bases all that on. The scenario put forward by my noble friend is entirely foreseeable. Indeed, it is something which worries many of us. Upon what basis does the noble Lord say that that will not happen and that it is all fantasy?

Baroness Blatch: The noble Lord does not respond. We are witnessing the contempt that the noble Lord has not for so many things but the contempt that he has for the parents who are deeply anxious about this policy. They are looking for fairness in these proposals. The fact that the Minister does not rise to respond to my noble and learned friend only illustrates the contempt that he has for our suggestions.

In responding to me, the noble Lord kept referring to the 20 per cent. minority. We are talking about the situation which may arise when that fails. It is not a five-year moratorium for the parents; it is a five-year moratorium before the ballot can take place. However, the frenzied activity that goes with it and which precedes the ballot, where the signatures are collected, the campaigning starts and the vitriol flies, will happen well inside that five years. The noble Lord is in effect saying, "I don't care. Let's get rid of these schools at all costs." I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7 p.m.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 233B:

Page 76, leave out line 15.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 233BA not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 233D:

Page 76, leave out lines 23 to 27.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 233E:

Page 76, line 28, leave out ("to be required").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 233EA not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 233EB:

Page 77, line 10, leave out from ("authority,") to end of line 17.

10 Jun 1998 : Column 1072

The noble Baroness said: This amendment concerns campaigning. I can almost predict what the noble Lord is going to say to this amendment. The all mighty, powerful LEA has resources at its disposal and certainly used them at the time grant-maintained schools were proposed and governing bodies and parents initiated their establishment. As my noble friend Lady Young said much earlier today, the experience was distressing for many because of the activities of local education authorities. Eventually, they and grant-maintained schools were barred in legislation from campaigning in a certain way. They were restricted to supplying information in their campaigning.

I have made the following distinction a number of times. When we discussed the establishment of grant-maintained schools we were talking of schools simply gaining more autonomy for running their own affairs. It was not a matter of schools voting for their demise or parents voting for the demise of some other schools, as we are discussing at present. If, as a result of petitioning and balloting, a whole category of schools ceases to exist, those schools must be permitted to fight their corner. I have tabled this amendment as it seeks to remove the restriction on a school at least to put its case before the public. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Nicol): I must inform the Committee that if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 233F.

Baroness Blackstone: As the noble Baroness said, this amendment seeks to remove schools from the coverage of the subsection which is designed to prevent lobbying and campaigning by the main parties during the ballot process. However, it is interesting that the amendment does not seek to remove LEAs. Although I am prepared to accept that there is a case for looking again at subsections (9) and (10) of Clause 100, this amendment would go too far. I shall therefore invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment with an assurance that the Government are considering the wider issues further. We shall come back at Report stage with further amendments.

The core purpose of Clause 100(9) is to ensure that public money is not misused to support lobbying and campaigning by the main parties in a ballot. I am sure that the noble Baroness would support that purpose. Whatever view individual Members of the Committee may have about grammar schools and ballots, I suspect that this is something on which we can all agree. During any petition and ballot process we want to ensure first of all that information is balanced, fair and objective; secondly, that parents are not subjected to campaigning or information which is misleading, biased or in any way distorted; and, thirdly, that neither the LEA nor the governing body of a school--this must apply to the governing body of a school as well as the LEA--should use taxpayers' money, allocated for the purpose of providing education, to fund expensive lobbying campaigns. That was our starting point.

I stress that we believe the measure should apply to both LEAs and governing bodies. That is why we cannot accept the amendment as drafted because it would give

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governing bodies carte blanche to spend whatever they chose from their school budgets on campaigning. Arguments have been put that the provisions of Clause 100 go too far. Some have even alleged that they breach the European Convention on Human Rights. As I said at the outset, we are prepared to look again at the matter. I hope that with those assurances the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: Before the noble Baroness sits down, a number of funds exist within schools which have nothing to do with the local authority and do not comprise public money either. I refer to parent association funds and money of that kind. If a governing body does not use public funds, can it then campaign on behalf of its school? I ask for information. It is not terribly clear who can do what. Will political parties who also fund their own campaigns be allowed to campaign in this area, as I am sure they will in a county such as Kent where the whole of the education system is in dispute and there is talk of a ballot with 250,000 potential voters? Can the noble Baroness give an assurance on that point?

Baroness Blackstone: I think it would be quite wrong for money that has been collected by a parents' association in order to fund certain kinds of activities to be spent on expensive campaigning. I should have thought parents would not want that.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: With all due respect, that money is at the disposal of the parents' association. Do not get me wrong. I am not in favour of grammar schools, but it is their money and they may dispose of it as they wish.

Baroness Blatch: I add to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood. If parents collect money for a governing body to use specifically for this purpose, will that be permitted?

Baroness Blackstone: I suppose that if parents collect money specifically to be used for this purpose, that is up to them. We need to give more thought to the issue. That is why, as I said, we shall return at Report stage with further amendments. It is a tricky and difficult area. I accept it could be argued that if parents wish to collect money for this purpose, it can be used for that purpose. On the other hand, I also think it would be wrong for huge amounts of money to be spent on a campaign of this kind.

Lord Baker of Dorking: I see that help came from the Box just at the right time. I hope that in the noble Baroness's further reflections she will appreciate that there is a difference between the role of the local education authority and that of a school which could be a victim of a ballot. A local education authority should be impartial in these matters. It should not have a view as to whether selection is a good or bad thing. That is a matter for the electorate. However, if a grammar school is obviously under threat, surely its hands should

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not be tied in its campaigning. Surely it should be allowed to campaign. Why is the Minister worried about this? She is worried about public money being spent on campaigning. However, a limit could be placed on the amount of public money to be spent in this way. If the very existence of a school is under threat, surely one of the duties of the governing body is to put the case to the electorate, provided that a list of the electorate is published. Schools must be allowed to act in that way. I do not see why they should not be allocated a modest amount of money to do so.

After all, in our country we do not have a tradition of spending lavish sums on campaigning. All Members of the House of Commons have restricted budgets for campaigning. I do not see why the schools that are under threat should not be given modest budgets to enable them to put their case before the electorate. What is wrong with that? That is surely part of the democracy of new Labour.

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