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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I rise to thank the noble Lord and his colleagues in another place for responding on these amendments. We heard a very different speech today from the one we heard from noble Lords on the Benches opposite when these amendments were discussed. They saw no reason for them and were vigorously opposed at each stage of the Bill, until finally the House took a view about the matter.

However, there is a problem. I spoke at length yesterday with an official in the Department for Education. The amendment is not as generous as would appear from the manner in which Mr. Byers spoke to it in another place, nor as generous as would appear from the manner in which the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, spoke to it today. It would be helpful if what the official said to me on the telephone could be repeated on the Floor of the House and recorded in Hansard. In these matters Pepper v. Hart will be important.

It is unfortunate that the initiative has been left with the governing body. It seems to me that, if it had been left to the mix of minor authorities, whichever they may be, whether they be district councils or parish councils, they could be given the opportunity to come together to determine their nominations. If it were a single nomination, that would be the nomination and the school would be bound to accept it. If, however, they came to a view that they wished to put forward more than one name, it would then be for the governing body to make the choice. Instead, it is the other way round. The governing body will simply approach one of those minor authorities. If that minor authority presents a representative, irrespective of what the other minor authorities think, that is the appointment that is made. I believe it is a great pity that that is the case.

When I spoke to the official on the telephone, I made it clear that we were pleased with the amendment and with the extra co-optive place for the minor authority representative. But I was told that the guidance which would go out to local authorities--not the regulations,

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because the primary legislation would not be consistent--would include a recommendation that, where possible, governing bodies should not approach just one of the minor authorities but should approach them all, encouraging them collectively to come to a view about their representative, and that, if there were a single nomination, that would be the nomination that would be accepted by the school.

A passage in the letter which the noble Baroness sent to me states that, where all the minor authorities collectively determine a single nomination, the school would be bound to accept it. That is not in the legislation; that is not in the amendment. What the official said to me was that the guidance which would go to local authorities would be to encourage minor authorities themselves to come to a view about who the representative should be and only in the event of its being more than one nomination would the school make the choice.

That is a view also held by the National Association of Local Councils, which, I believe, is also very pleased that the Government have gone the extra yard to accept the right of minor authorities to be represented on the governing bodies of their primary schools. But the council, too, would like to send out guidance which, I hope, would be consistent with the DfEE guidance to schools, encouraging them, where possible, to invite the minor authorities collectively to come to a view as to who should represent them on the governing bodies of primary schools.

I live in a village which has the primary school which serves many other villages. It is true that two or three of those villages have about an equal number of children who attend the school. It may well be that the minor authorities collectively will come to a view that they should rotate the membership on the governing body between those villages that have comparable numbers of children attending the school. That would make a great deal of sense. But it may not always be consistent with what the governors want. That is the concern I have about putting governors in the driving seat in this amendment.

Nevertheless, I thank the noble Lord and his colleagues in another place for conceding what I believe was a very important amendment which was supported throughout the whole country.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, perhaps I may say how much we on these Benches welcome this amendment. We spent a lot of time pushing the Government and I am very disappointed that they did not start to lean earlier. I agree with everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said. At this stage, when amendments have been tabled in the other place and come back here, we are pushing to obtain clarification. The matter could have been sorted out much earlier if we had been listened to. We have debated the matter at great length. It is now clear that there is no disagreement between us, except perhaps on the detail. I repeat that I cannot understand why the Government were so intransigent and why they appear to be so unsure of

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themselves when they have a huge majority and, by all accounts, are still popular out in the country. This measure does not change the direction of the Bill one iota. It is something on which everybody, it now appears, is agreed; yet here we are, at this very late stage, concerned about one or two minor details.

We welcome the improvements. I had always understood that the point of going through legislation in stages was to improve it as we went along. We could have made some of these improvements earlier. We particularly welcome the fact that Wales will be included and are appreciative of the fact that an extra governor will be co-opted. However, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that there is a worry about paragraph (4) of the amendment. As the noble Baroness said, we are not sure where the authority lies.

I received a copy of the letter which the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, sent to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. That letter contains a passage which I believe it would be helpful to have confirmed on the Floor of the House. I quote from the letter:

    "Consideration would allow the governors to decide on the minor authority or the authorities who would be able to make nominations".

I believe that this is the key phrase:

    "Whilst it would be open to the governors to approach only one minor authority, if all the relevant minor authorities wished to continue to co-operate by putting forward an agreed nominee, the governors would have no choice but to make the appointment".

I believe it is important that that be confirmed in the House today.

I do not agree with the proposition that it is difficult for different authorities to come to an agreement about school governors. I have been a member of a local authority in which we agreed with other local authorities of different tiers on the nomination to represent us on governing bodies. It is not difficult and it is not an excuse not to confirm that this can be the situation. We welcome this amendment, though I am amazed that the Government could not introduce it earlier.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, if the only thing we are to be berated for is coming back at this late stage, I am happy to accept that criticism. However, all sides of the House must recognise that in this case, it is the Commons listening to the Lords and coming back with a better amendment. I would have thought it could have been more graciously accepted.

On the question of who decides and whether the minor authorities can agree among themselves, it is the case--this confirms what was said in the letter from my noble friend the Minister--that the governing bodies will decide who to approach and there will be guidance for them, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said, to interpret the provision. However, it will be for the governing bodies to decide who to approach.

Within that context it is clearly possible and desirable, if more than one authority is involved, for the minor authorities to reach agreement among themselves as a matter of practice. The comments of my honourable friend Stephen Byers and myself referred to that kind of

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informal agreement. In those circumstances, the governing body would adopt the proposition agreed between the various minor authorities.

In the few cases where no agreement is achieved, the governing body must have the final responsibility for deciding; otherwise, we shall need to include a whole new structure of decision making between the minor authorities. We consider the governing body of the school to be in the best position to decide. Though there may have been some criticism of that, the local authority associations considered the amendment to be sensible. They are grateful that we are proposing change and indicated that they hope that the Lords agree to the amendment. I hope so too and commend the amendment to the House.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I hoped he could agree with the official who spoke to me on the telephone and would make it clear that, where the minor authorities came together and presented a nomination--we are not discussing where they disagree; we have already referred to that and in that case it would be a decision for the governing body--then the governing body would be bound to accept that nomination. Those were the words of the letter and it would be helpful to have it on the record for the purposes of the governing body.

Guidance will be sent out to governing bodies to encourage the minor authorities to produce a nomination and the governing body will only resort to making the appointment in the event of there being disagreement among the minor authorities. That was what the official said on the telephone and felt that it was possible for that to be confirmed on the record today. If it is not, then our worst suspicions are realised once again.

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