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Lord Rix: My Lords, with that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.30 p.m.

Schedule 3 [Formal investigations and non- discrimination notices]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 34:

Page 16, line 7, at end insert--
("(5) Where the Commission refuses to receive oral representations under sub-paragraph (4), it shall give reasons for that refusal in writing to the parties concerned.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I return to the issue of oral representations in order to try to press the Minister once again to consider that reasons should be given when a refusal is made. If, as I suspect, the Minister rejects my plea, perhaps I may make another suggestion to which he might respond.

In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said:

If that is the case, will the Minister accept at least the suggestion that the presumption should be in favour of giving reasons when a refusal is made but that exceptions exist for such a refusal? I believe that it should appear on the face of the Bill that the

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presumption should be in favour of giving reasons why a person cannot make an oral representation. I beg to move.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, Schedule 3 sets out the detailed procedure to be followed by the Commission in conducting formal investigations and issuing non-discrimination notices. Paragraph 8 prevents the commission issuing non-discrimination notices unless it has first notified the person concerned of its reasons for doing so and given him or his representative an opportunity to make written and oral representations.

Paragraph 8(4) allows the commission to refuse to receive oral representations made on behalf of the person concerned by someone whom it has reasonable grounds to consider unsuitable. I have noted the arguments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, to have on the face of the Bill a provision requiring the commission to give its reasons in writing if it refuses to receive oral representations, but I continue to believe that such a provision is unnecessary.

As was said in Committee by my noble friend Lady Blackstone, both the Sex Discrimination Act and the Race Relations Act give the other equality commissions similar powers to refuse to receive oral representations without requiring them to give their reasons for a refusal in writing. So far as I am aware, there has been no suggestion that the system has failed to operate satisfactorily. I believe that it would be wrong to impose a requirement on the commission to give reasons in writing for refusing to receive oral representations.

It is best to trust the commission to exercise its judgment in a fair and balanced manner. There is nothing to prevent the parties concerned specifically requesting in writing the commission's reasons for refusing to receive oral representations and, as my noble friend suggested in Committee, it is most unlikely that the commission would refuse to do so in such circumstances. I noted the noble Baroness's suggestion that there should be a presumption in favour of releasing that information. I should like to give that further consideration and return to it at a later stage.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am deeply grateful to the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 35:

Page 17, line 6, at end insert--
("( ) The Commission shall arrange for the removal of a non-discrimination notice from the register when the action required by the notice has been complied with.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, if the disability rights commission is to keep a register of non- discrimination notices issued to companies, as set out in the Bill, it ought also to be required to record and/or note when the action required in the notice has been taken.

It appears inequitable if a company's name can appear on a register as having failed or breached its obligation under the law when it may have acted unwittingly and

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readily found a remedy to meet its obligations. There should be an opportunity for its name to be removed from the register.

I remember similar tension arising in respect of the land pollution legislation under which people were recorded as being the owners of polluted land. After they had taken all the necessary action to remove the pollution there was tension about being removed from the register. Once on the register, companies will be there for all time unless there is a requirement for the commission to remove their names. I hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, this is a reasonable suggestion; otherwise, a company's name could appear on the register 20 years later when its management and policies had changed and for the past 19½ years it had behaved perfectly properly. It is unreasonable that a company's name should remain permanently on the register; it may, however, be reasonable for a period of, say, two or three years. Even if we are unwise enough to earn penalty points on our driving licences, after a time they are expunged and we can go forward with a clean licence. We all should have the opportunity of redemption.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, I support the amendment. It is sensible.

Lord Addington: My Lords, I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has a point.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, this has been a short but interesting debate. Schedule 3(13) requires the DRC to maintain a register of non-discrimination notices which have become final and to make the register publicly available. The purpose of the amendment is to require the commission to arrange for the removal of a non-discrimination notice from the register when the action required by the notice has been complied with.

As the comments of noble Lords would suggest, on the face of it the principle behind the amendment would seem to be reasonable. However, some fundamental issues must be dealt with. For example, first, would it be appropriate to set a particular period of time after which the non-discrimination notice should be removed from the register? The Sex Discrimination Act and the Race Relations Act allow the existing equality commissions to monitor compliance with a non- discrimination notice for up to five years after it had been issued, and it is intended that we should seek to make a similar provision for the DRC through regulations. Would five years be an appropriate time? If there is still action required by the non-discrimination notice with which the company has not complied after five years, would it be reasonable to expect the commission to undertake a further investigation and issue a further notice?

Secondly, when should the calculating period start? For example, should it start from the point at which a non-discrimination notice becomes final or should it

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start from the point at which the action required by the non-discrimination notice has been complied with and then cover a period during which the company would be expected to demonstrate a clean record? When would it be said to have complied if there is indeed a five-year monitoring period? Would it be from the end of that period or at some other point during that period?

I am sympathetic to the idea behind the amendment, but it requires further consideration. I should be interested in the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on the points which I have raised, which I should be happy to consider before later stages of the Bill.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, there are not many later stages of the Bill. We have only one more opportunity to discuss the matter. The Minister asked some very reasonable questions about what the amendment would mean in practice. Perhaps he will accept the principle that where a company has complied immediately with the notice and has lived through the monitoring, then it should have its name removed. After all, criminals have their names removed from the register. They can claim not to have a criminal record after a period of time. If someone who receives a caution does not offend within a certain period of time, that disappears also. It seems fair that that should happen also to a company which has been entirely compliant.

I accept that there are practical questions in relation to whether it should be a fixed period and, if so, what it should be and when it should start. Those matters could be dealt with in secondary legislation if the principle were accepted on the face of the Bill and if a power were made to allow the commission to remove a name from the register as long as it met the criteria laid down in secondary legislation.

I am grateful to the Minister for saying that he will think about this issue between now and the next stage. I should be grateful if he will indicate his intentions before then so that I am in a position, if necessary, to table an amendment to deal with the matter. However, at present, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Code of Practice on School Admissions

8.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch rose to move, That this House declines to approve the draft Code of Practice on School Admissions laid before the House under Sections 84 and 85 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 on 5th February 1999.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I rise to pray against the code of practice which is before the House and which is due to come into force fairly soon.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, has reminded the House on many occasions that one of the principles behind the Government's legislation is that there should be greater clarification, transparency, simplification and, in particular, a lessening of the burden on schools.

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I have looked at this code of practice. Staff of schools are in despair both about its interpretation and the work which will have to be undertaken in order to comply with the code. The code of practice has to be read in conjunction with a very large number of pieces of legislation. For example, in paragraph 1.2 account has to be taken of the Code on Admission Appeals. I ask the noble Baroness when we are likely to see that. In paragraph A.10, account must be taken of the education (relevant areas) regulations 1998. In paragraph A.11, teachers have to understand, read and take into account the Education (Determination of Admission Arrangements) Regulations 1999 and, in paragraph A.19, they have to take into account, understand and read the Education (Objections to Admission Arrangements) Regulations 1999. In paragraph A.42, they have equally to take into account and understand the Education (Infant Class Sizes) (Transitional Provisions) Regulations 1998. In paragraph A.58, they have to refer to the Education (Grammar School Ballots) Regulations 1998 and in paragraph A.70 the Education (Aptitude for Prescribed Subjects) Regulations 1998. In paragraph A.76 reference is made to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and in paragraph A.77 there is reference to the Education (School Information) (England) Regulations 1998.

The people who will have to interpret this code of practice are very busy head teachers. They will have to do an enormous amount of work and they almost need the qualifications of a lawyer to do all that cross-referencing, and the Government have not thought fit to produce a code which makes all that self-explanatory.

At page 4 of the code there is the heading:

    "Applications: common forms and timetables".
That paragraph begins with the sentence:

    "The local admissions process should be as simple as possible for parents".
I have said already how complex and difficult this matter is, but of course it is important that it should be simple for parents. I doubt whether parents will be able to get their minds around the list of regulations which I have read out. But it is important that it should be as simple as possible and easy to execute for schools and their staff. Therefore, my first objection is the complexity and the burden on schools which will have to make sense of the code and convey it to parents.

At paragraph 5.9, under the heading "Primary schools" it states:

    "Academic selection should not be used to decide entry into primary education".
There is at least one school in the country, the Oratory School, which takes children into its prep department at the age of seven. On the basis of the criteria used to determine whether a school is a primary school, a secondary school, a GM mixed or infant school, those children are considered to be children attending a secondary school. It is true also that those children are interviewed for entry into the prep department, and it is true also that the pupils need a particular level of ability to cope with not only the normal school curriculum

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but also the additional specialist school curriculum. I wonder whether the noble Baroness will say what status paragraph 5.9 has in relation to a school such as the Oratory with a prep department as part of the school.

Paragraph 5.25, which is concerned with interviews, states:

    "Schools or admission authorities should not interview parents as any part of the application or admission process".
When recruiting children for a specialist school, it is important that there is some form of interview and assessment of a child's aptitude for a particular specialist subject. It is almost impossible to make the distinction between aptitude and ability when one is talking about science and technology or the more technical subjects. It would be helpful to have some clarification as to how that will work in practice.

Paragraph A.41 is concerned with standard numbers and flexibility. It would be helpful if the Minister were able to tell us first about the sixth forms. Many schools not only keep their own young people in a sixth form but they also take in pupils from other schools. There is at least one school--I cannot remember its name--in the Hammersmith and Fulham authority area--which has no legal basis at all. I do not know whether that has ever been resolved. It certainly had not been resolved at the point at which I left the DfE. The lawyers were still crawling over the matter. It has no legal basis. It accepts children after the age of 16 and it accepts them from beyond the local authority area. It would be helpful to know from the noble Baroness how one deals with standard numbers in that case.

As regards sixth formers, it is quite common for schools to interview students for sixth forms. They have to do that. If young people wish to take particular subjects, it is almost common practice, even within a school where a young person moves from the year below into the sixth form in the same school, for a judgment to be made by interview with the young student and often with the family, on whether the young person has the ability and the aptitude for taking particular subjects in the sixth form. I wonder what the Government say about that. The code is not very clear on that subject.

My final point is the enormous confusion, particularly in the London area and the more urban areas such as Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool, where schools take from a very wide area. One has only to think of our own Prime Minister who sends his children to school across LEA boundaries, along with many other people. If the relevant area is the whole of London how much time is going to be taken up by an individual headmaster or headmistress and the staff in consulting, as they must do under the law, with the relevant area if it is as wide as Greater London? It would be helpful to have the noble Baroness's comments on each of those points. I beg to move.

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Moved, That this House declines to approve the draft Code of Practice on School Admissions laid before the House under Sections 84 and 85 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 on 5th February 1999.--(Baroness Blatch.)

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