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Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I am interested in the amendment now before us, but I am also interested in the fate of this Bill. I have a tremendous respect for the political skills of the mover of the amendment. The noble Baroness is someone who is very experienced; indeed, she knows exactly what she is doing. Can the noble Baroness tell the house why there is such a vast number of amendments tabled in her name on the Marshalled List? I believe that she may be jeopardising the Bill. The noble Baroness has done a great deal of work on these issues. We all appreciate what she has done. She is a very eloquent person. However, if this Bill is lost, we should be in no doubt that we would be losing a non-controversial piece of legislation that would help disabled children. That would be scandalous; and the blame could well lie with the noble Baroness.

We discussed all these issues in Grand Committee. As she may well recognise, I spoke on the matter now before us at that stage. Therefore, all the skill and expertise that she brings to our debates, which we greatly respect--indeed, I admire her--is being misplaced with this amendment, and with others. I beg the noble Baroness to reconsider her approach. The loss of this Bill would be a grave loss to disabled children, and those with special educational needs, in Britain. I hope that the noble Baroness will take account of what I have said.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am grateful for what my noble friend has said. Like him, I am surprised that this issue has been raised again. In Grand Committee, the noble Baroness seemed to accept that the amendment was unnecessary. She said:

I should point out that I have in no way hardened my view. It is important for us to provide education that is appropriate to the individual needs of children.

The amendment is about the rights of parents to choose to educate their children outside the school system. The matter was raised in Grand Committee. I should like to reiterate what I said on that occasion: this is a right that all parents enjoy and it is protected by the Education Act 1996. It is provided for under Section 7 of the Act, not Section 5 as I said previously and for which I apologise. Provision is also made for this under the SEN framework. There is no conflict. Section 7 permits parents to educate their children outside school, and Section 316 of that Act preserves that position.

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The current provisions are in place to ensure that all children receive an appropriate education. Our intention has always been to safeguard the interests of all children, so we do not believe that it is appropriate to change the existing provisions. Therefore, in the light of my assurances, and in an effort not to waste any further time, I hope that the noble Baroness will find it possible to withdraw her amendment.

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for the complimentary remarks that he made about me, but I am deeply disturbed by the implications of what he said. I believe that he is saying, "Abandon any sort of interest in this Bill at this stage because it is so good". I have been asked to withdraw the amendment because we discussed these matters in Grand Committee in the Moses Room. It has been suggested that I should now back off, not discuss my amendments any further because the subject matter has been discussed previously and let the Bill pass through the House quickly.

There is another year of this Parliament to run. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, is grimacing at that thought. If the Government wish to curtail this Parliament, it is a matter for them to decide the timing and, thereby, allow the Bill to go through. We should like to see it on the statute book; indeed, that applies to everyone who has given much time and effort to these proceedings.

I have two comments to make about the Moses Room. It is the most difficult place in this building to work, and it is extremely cold. I notice that the Clerk is also grimacing. When the heating problem was addressed on one of the four days in Committee, it was actually too hot: so it is either too hot or too cold. The acoustics are awful and the lighting is oppressive; indeed, I suffered my first real illness in something like four or five years after having worked for four days in the Moses Room.

Moreover--I have said this on so many occasions during discussions on amendments--it is not possible under the Moses Room procedure to bring any matter to a resolution, or to a conclusion. That can only take place when there is unanimity between the Minister and those noble Lords who are putting forward amendments. It is only when there is absolute agreement between us that we can conclude deliberations on a particular amendment. That happened on so few occasions. Even on this amendment, I said that I wanted to read the Minister's response. I have done so. I began my introduction to the amendment by saying that I had read what the noble Baroness said in Grand Committee. I have returned to certain points about which I wish to speak.

Finally, as regards the Moses Room, we were promised that our deliberations would not clash on any occasion with the business taking place in the Chamber. I know that an accommodation was made on the first day of our proceedings, but on each of the other days work was being carried out in the Chamber in which a number of us would have liked to have been

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involved. Therefore, the attendance for much of the time in the House was very patchy. We have a job to do; we are in opposition.

The Bill is not contentious. It is not a party-politically contentious Bill. However, there are very contentious areas within it--resourcing is one area. Other areas include: the emphasis on the particularly aggressive policy of mainstream education vis-a-vis special school education; the protection of special schools within the system; and whether children should be appropriately accommodated in both the maintained and non-maintained sector. Such issues will take time to resolve on the Floor of the House. I am sorry if I am being accused, as a individual, of prolonging the discussions on the Bill.

Lord Carter: My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I may point out to the noble Baroness that it was the decision of the Opposition to take the Committee proceedings on the Bill in the Moses Room. We discussed the programme. In order to get the business programme of the House through, I said that it would be necessary for two Bills out of the eight that we started in this House to go to the Moses Room for the Committee stage. I suggested that the Commonhold and Leasehold Bill should be one of them, and that is being discussed in the Moses Room today. It is a very complicated and technical Bill. I then asked the Opposition to choose the other Bill; and they chose the Bill now before us.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, as I said before--and I repeat--I do not believe that this is a party-politically contentious Bill. Perhaps I may point out to the noble Lord the Chief Whip that he is part of the usual channels, whereas I am not. It was agreed by the usual channels that this Bill should be considered in the Moses Room. I believe that it was the wrong Bill to be considered in the Moses Room: it is too complicated, too sensitive and too full of issues that need debate by the whole House. The inevitability of going into the Moses Room with such a Bill is that the Report stage will be prolonged.

Lord Carter: My Lords, the noble Baroness may be right. However, her discussions should be with the Leader of the Opposition and her Chief Whip, not with the House.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, there would not have been a debate at all if I had not been accused of prolonging this stage of the Bill. I was urged either not to discuss my amendments or to withdraw them, which I do not intend to do--

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, the noble Baroness seemed to say that she very much deplored the fact that this Bill had gone to the Moses Room for consideration. I am sure that Black Rod will look into the various complaints that she made about the heating, and so on. However, as the Government Chief Whip pointed out, this was done only with the agreement of the usual channels, of which I am part.

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There was never any suggestion as far as I was aware that it was not accepted by the Opposition. Members of the Conservative Front Bench in this House have an obligation to their own Chief Whip, who agreed this matter, to support him when the matter comes before the House.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I have that obligation and, indeed, I met it. We considered the Bill in the Moses Room. I discussed the Bill in the Moses Room without complaining except on one day when I was almost numb with cold and I complained about the temperature in the room. As I say, I met my obligation. However, in my view, this was the wrong Bill to be discussed in the Moses Room. That view is shared by many people who took part in the Grand Committee. They are not speaking out now but they spoke with me informally outside the Moses Room when we discussed the discomforts of that room.

As regards Amendment No. 2 that we are discussing, I am sure that we have broken all the rules of procedure on Report. However, I do not claim any culpability in that regard. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): My Lords, in calling Amendment No. 3, I inform the House that if it is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 4 to 7 due to pre-emption.

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