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Baroness Byford: My Lords, I support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Blatch. I listened with interest to what the Minister said. My noble friend highlighted the need to have parish representation as of right. I stressed that factor when we debated the matter in Committee. In the main, parish councils are apolitical. They represent their local communities. Since we debated the issue recently in the early hours of the morning, I have been lobbied again by people living in rural areas. The position is even more acute in rural areas than in towns.

I hope that the Minister will allow the amendment. It is extremely important to schools and local councils. The right they have at present will be severed. It will be discretionary as to whether they have a nominated place. It is important to preserve the links that exist now; and especially in rural villages.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, asked me--I was a little sleepy at that hour of the morning--what happened if there was no parish council but a parish meeting. I indicated that I would bring the matter back at the next stage. My thoughts were confirmed by the Minister: that the Government wished that those people would be included; that the place was not just for parish councils but could be extended to parish meetings.

We on these Benches are strongly in favour of inclusion; we should not exclude people. I hope that the new amendment will encourage the Minister to accept the provision. In Committee the Minister accepted the strength of feeling among the minor authorities about the Government's proposals to withdraw their right to appoint school governors. The noble Baroness also recognised that,

She went on to say that,

    "We believe that these matters are more appropriate for guidance on good practice rather than legislation".--[Official Report, 1/6/98; col. 153.]
She spoke later of strong encouragement to LEAs.

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While we welcome such strong support, we do not think that it is enough. In reply to the debate at Committee stage, the Minister said:

    "The issue of size of the governing body is not crucial to the argument".
If that is so, if the Minister recognises the strong feeling about retaining the position reiterated again today, I hope that she will support the amendment.

4.15 p.m.

Baroness Warnock: My Lords, I support the amendment. An important issue, in particular in village life, is that the school should do well and be well supported. The parish council, or the minor authority, should have a right, and not just a hope, to appoint a governor. Guidelines or good practice will not give them that right even though the representatives are almost always appointed region by region or village by village. Those people feel that it is their school and that they have a right to be represented. I hope that the amendment will be accepted.

Baroness Platt of Writtle: My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Byford and remind the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, of her letter in which she said how conscious she was of the strength of local feeling. I declare an interest as president (unpaid of course) of the Essex Association of Local Councils. I have received many letters. They underline the fact that parish councils are normally non-political. If there is a problem in the village school, nearly everyone knows a parish councillor. That parish councillor may have a child at the school. The village has a representative to whom the parents can go so that whatever may be going wrong in the school can be put right. The parish councils believe that they should have a right to representation on village school bodies. I hope that the Minister will see her way clear to allowing the amendment which I believe will be extremely popular.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. Great concern has been shown over the loss of the current arrangement whereby the local parish council can have representation on the primary school governing body. A key role is played by schools in the communities. The distribution of schools is likely to correspond closely to the parish area. The Government have stated that they wish to enhance community life. That is enhanced by strong links between primary schools and the most local level of government. The present arrangements work well and involve little criticism. Local councillors are only too willing to commit their time and energy to playing their part in the management of those local schools. Since they are local councillors, they know the people involved.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I am sorry that the amendment is moved by the Opposition Benches because I believe that it may well make the Government resist it more strongly than otherwise.

It is an important amendment. It involves the current trend of urbanisation of the countryside. The Countryside March was about a similar trend. It is about

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people in the countryside being put under the control of officials who do not understand the countryside or village communities. It is the greatest possible pity to sever the links between village and village school, and between the parish and village school. I hope that the Minister will reconsider the position.

Lord Kenyon: My Lords, I, too, express my support for the amendment. I declare an interest as chairman of a small primary school in rural Wales.

When school inspections take place--we have just gone through such an inspection, I am pleased to say emerging with flying colours--one of the questions addressed is the link between school and community. Inspectors consider the relationship. The fact that there is a member from the minor authority is most important.

I believe that there is a small error in the amendment. In Wales the minor authorities are referred to as community councils and I do not see that referred to in the Bill although I believe that the Bill refers to Wales as well as England and Scotland.

Lord Feversham: My Lords, I should declare a few interests. I am a parish councillor. I am president of all three of the Yorkshire associations of local councils. I am president of the National Association of Local Councils and of the Welsh local councils. It will not amaze or stun noble Lords that I followed closely the arguments at Committee stage and in particular those advanced by the Government.

I am the first to acknowledge that at Committee stage the Government moved in a "rightish" direction as far as concerned local councils. Do the Government recognise that however they dress it up in the Bill as it stands now, a much valued statutory right to nominate a person to sit on the governing body of a primary school in the community is removed? However they try to dress it up they cannot avoid that. That causes a great deal of grief, distress and unhappiness in communities and local councils. I support the amendment.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, Amendment No. 93A adds an additional category of governor--minor authority governor--to the list of categories set out in Schedule 9. It would require such a governor to be included on the governing bodies of all community, voluntary-aided and controlled primary schools. The definition which does not refer to district councils is rather narrower than the definition of "minor authority" brought forward by the Government at Lords Committee stage. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Kenyon, that the definition omits community councils in Wales, which may cause consternation to those bodies. I do not believe that as it is now drafted the amendment will apply to those councils.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said that in tabling this amendment today, this time she had drawn a distinction between primary and secondary schools. I entirely accept that. She also said that she had dealt with the issue of foundation schools. She went on to say that the issue of deciding which parish councillor should sit on a primary school governing body where there were several parishes in the catchment area of the school

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would be decided by the simple device of choosing a councillor from the parish in which the school was located. In considering this amendment in advance that was not quite how I or my officials interpreted it. However, I understand what the noble Baroness says.

To require schools to consider only the parish in which the school is located may not necessarily cover the parish council in which the majority of the children reside. That may often be the case. Where a school is situated is largely an historical accident. Where schools have amalgamated, as sometimes happens, particularly in a large village or perhaps a small town, the school with the largest site is often the one that is chosen to be the new school. One may find that pupils are drawn from a different parish. That may lead to difficulties.

I turn to the nub of the issue. Apparently parish and town councils are unhappy that they will not have automatic nomination rights. The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, referred to the heavy lobbying that had taken place outside the House. I acknowledge that that has happened. The Government have also been lobbied. We are aware of the strength of feeling. But it is important to recognise that this heavy lobbying is being conducted by a single interest group: the minor authorities themselves. If we look at the number of pupils affected in the areas with parish or town councils, these vociferous interest groups seek a disproportionate voice. An overwhelming number of primary pupils are at schools in areas that are served by neither parish nor town councils. It may be said that this is taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

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