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Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 79:

Page 24, line 2, at end insert--
("( ) The matters prescribed for the purposes of subsection (3) shall include the provision which the authority propose to make during the period in question for children with special educational needs.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford moved Amendment No. 80:

Page 24, line 16, 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;").

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 80. To some extent the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has made matters clear in relation to this amendment. The amendment is concerned with denominational schools and touches on the complex issue of the organisation committee and adjudicator. Noble Lords will realise from earlier discussions at Report stage, that all sides agree on the important contribution that religious denominations, particularly the Anglicans and Roman Catholics in terms of size, have made to education over the past 100 or 200 years. But we also agree on the importance that many of our citizens attach to being able to attend a denominational school. Possibly that view is held more passionately by Roman Catholics than Anglicans, but it is certainly a view held by many people.

The purpose of this amendment is to protect denominational schools from possible closure. As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, made clear--I congratulate him in that regard given the many myths surrounding this subject--to say that school organisation committees have the right of veto is untrue. But one element of a school organisation committee can dissent and pass the matter on to the adjudicator who makes the decision. That is the key element.

The Church is to a degree confused about this. I quote a letter from Canon Hall, General Secretary of the Anglican Board of Education. He said--the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said that it was false--that,

    "Such decision will be taken by school organisation committees, on which the Churches will have a veto".
It does not have a veto; it has the right to pass it on.

If the committee passes it on, as is obvious, the adjudicator has the final decision. It is acknowledged on all sides of the House that he could close a Church school. I said in Committee that this has caused trouble in Scotland. An LEA has argued that a school should be closed and Cardinal Winning has questioned the decision. If the Bill became law, there would be no right of appeal.

The amendment would give the Churches a genuine veto. In other words, what Canon Hall said about the Churches having a veto would be realised. Many of the dioceses are worried. The Diocese of Leicester has said:

    "It would not be satisfactory for these arrangements to be left to regulations which can be changed by the Government at any time. Such arrangements should be laid out in the Bill".

I shall not enter into a discussion of the adjudicator's powers. He will obviously have to have the wisdom of Gamaliel and the virtue of an archangel. There will be no right of appeal. I am very much on the periphery of the Church. I have heard rumours--no doubt the right reverend Prelate will be able to tell me this--that the Churches have had discussions with the department and it has given the Churches guarantees on this point: denominational schools will not be closed without a guarantee of places being made available within easy access of the school.

If that guarantee has been given, it should be stated clearly before Parliament. I do not want to hear weasel words or talk about closed doors. Have the Churches been given a guarantee that if the adjudicator closes a

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Church school there will be denominational provision? If the Government have given that assurance they should place it on the face of the Bill or make a ministerial statement to Parliament.

The right reverend Prelate should be saying this rather than me. I have never been near being a bishop in the Church of England nor ever will be. Since 1870 the churches have co-operated with the Government. They have in effect had the right of veto because of the ownership of their land and buildings. They paid a great deal before the 1944 Act. That was without detriment to the co-operation. If the Government accepted my amendment and gave the Church the right of veto, which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, acknowledged it would give--one of its leading officials thinks it has it, otherwise why would he write to The Times in that vein--they would not need to worry--if history is any guide--about co-operation. The right would not be used in an obstructive manner.

Unless the amendment is accepted, the adjudicator will be the judge of the closure of Church schools. My amendment would fulfil what seems to be the intention of the Government and the Churches. At least we would then know where we stood. I want to hear clearly from the Government Front Bench what assurance has been given to the Churches, so that the House might know the position. I beg to move.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: My Lords, I was a little too sanguine when I said earlier today that we had no concerns left. There is at least one concern which has been raised by Amendment No. 80 moved so passionately by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington of Oxenford. It has been said to me that the Churches are supporting the Government because of the concessions we have received. I need to make it clear that in every case where the Churches have a concern we have raised it. We have not been slow in making our concerns known. Where we have no concern, we have been content to leave the Bill unamended. We made public our very many concerns before the Bill was published, as a result of which the Bill was considerably reshaped. Since the publication of the Bill we have raised well over 50 issues: some through the Department for Education and Employment, some through amendments in Committee. In each case, after careful negotiation, our concerns on these issues have been met. Where there is a concern, we are therefore quite prepared to continue raising it.

I now refer to the concern raised through this amendment, and I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, for moving it. He has sketched out the scenario perfectly clearly. If a school organisation committee should disagree over the closure, shall we say, of a Church school, the Church part of that committee has the power to refuse to accept that decision; but, as the noble Lord has made quite clear, the matter then goes to the adjudicator. I cannot comment on the letter written by Canon Hall to which he referred, since I have not seen a copy of it; but we are quite clear as to what the position is.

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When I spoke at the Committee stage in support of a similar amendment I said that my purpose in doing so was to attempt to draw out the factors to which an adjudicator would need to pay regard in reaching a decision. It seems to me that that is precisely the point which has been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, this evening. What are the factors to which an adjudicator has to pay regard? We did talk earlier about the undertaking that the total proportion of denominational places in school provision should not be reduced. Might I ask whether that would be a consideration which an adjudicator would have to take into account? Would it be the case that guidance would require an adjudicator to take into account the need not to reduce the total provision of denominational places? If that were to be placed as a requirement on an adjudicator, then I think our difficulties in relation to closure would be very considerably reduced. I look forward to the Minister's response.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister a question. In the event of a whole LEA ballot for the demise of selective education in grammar schools taking place and being successful, and reorganisation plans are drawn up, does the LEA determine those reorganisation plans? In a county like Kent or an area like Trafford it would have to be a very substantial plan. That is the first question: who would determine? Would the LEA determine it and then go to the Secretary of State, or would it go to the organisation committee and then on through the adjudicator process?

Secondly, if one or more of the schools in the area is a school with a religious ethos and it has to go as part of the reorganisation because it is not viable as a non-selective comprehensive school, and therefore it either has to be merged or taken out altogether, what protection is there for retaining denominational choice in that area, if there is not another school of the same denomination within travelling distance, which is unlikely to be the case? What protection is there for that? What right does a denominational school have for making certain that the denominational preference is retained, if not enhanced, in the process of reorganisation following a successful ballot to end selective education in a whole LEA ballot area?

11 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey : My Lords, in introducing this amendment the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, has acknowledged that it does in fact provide for a veto. It does not just provide for a veto; it provides for a veto at a very early stage in the process. It is still not clear to me whether the noble Lord understands the relationship between the preparation of a school organisation plan and the publication of specific proposals.

In discussing previous amendments, we have talked about the publication of specific proposals for the alteration of a school's status, the future of schools, or whatever, which require and have always required statutory procedures to be gone through. But the

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preparation of the school organisation plan for presentation to the school organisation committee is the responsibility of the local education authority.

The amendment states:

    "requiring that the draft plan shall not be approved by the school organisation committee, or referred to the adjudicator, if the representatives [of the Churches] are opposed to the proposal".
Therefore, the amendment is clear in stating that the Churches would have the power to prevent the completion by the local education authority of a school organisation plan, whether or not there are any proposals for statutory changes and, if there are to be such proposals, before the statutory procedures are embarked upon. In that sense, it is not only a veto but an early veto.

The school organisation plan will help by setting a context against which decisions will be made. In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, talked about the medium-term plan produced in the authority of which she was a member. The school organisation plan might look very similar to that and it might be useful both in identifying where proposals might be required and in reaching decisions on the proposals when they come forward. But it does not replace individual proposals. Nor would we expect it to make reference to individual schools. If a conclusion is reached within a school organisation plan that, for example, there is a need to add places in a particular area, proposals will still be required where the addition of places is significant. Those proposals will come to the school organisation committee.

It is not at all clear to me that the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, has understood that distinction.

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