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Canvassing the Lords

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Children Schools and Families Bill Second Reading Lords March 8th, no date scheduled for Committee
General Election expected for May 6th, wash-up April 7th-9th
Page last updated April 2010


The Government is trying to change the law on home education by means of the Children Schools and Families Bill. The second and third reading in the House of Commons were subject to a strict guillotine motion meaning that each debate only lasted for a few hours in a single day. Commons Committee stage was also cut short. At Second Reading on March 8th a number of peers said they did not expect the Bill to reach Committee as there would not be time. We expect the Bill to go straight to the wash-up between April 7th and 9th, which is a few days between a General Election being called on April 6th and parliament being dissolved on April 12th.

Education Otherwise has prepared a page of summary information about the Government's plans for home education which was last updated on April 3rd 2010.

We need to maintain a long-term dialogue with members of the House of Lords but if the Election is called on April 6th, then there will be less than a week before Parliament is dissolved and all proposed legislation will leave the Lords for the wash-up.

It is worth sending the Research Paper to members of the Lords, highlighting the controversial nature of the Bill as a whole, the lack of debate for important areas, and the specific and overwhelming difficulties which the front bench Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have with the home education parts of the Bill.

House of Lords Not Subject to Same Timetabling Strictures as Commons

It may be useful to read this overview of the difference between the Commons and the Lords when it comes to debate on Bills going through parliament. Perhaps the most striking difference between the Commons and the Lords is that debate in the Lords may not be rushed "by order" in the same way as the Commons. Another difference between the Commons and the Lords is that the Committee stage in the Lords takes place on the floor of the House of Lords and is open to all members of the House.

Why write to the Lords?

There is some useful background information on canvassing members of the House of Lords on the Write to Them website.

You can choose a member who has expressed an interest in education, family life, special needs, civil liberties or whichever angle you feel most strongly about in the Bill. Alternatively, while the House of Lords does not operate on constituencies in the same way as the House of Commons, you can still choose a member who has some link to the area where you live. You can write to more than one member of the House of Lords, but you should not send exactly the same letter or email to multiple recipients because this will be regarded as nuisance mail.

Where to get more information

There are a number of ways to find out more about members of the Lords.

Write to Them - http://www.writetothem.com/lords
Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Lords
UK Parliament site - http://www.parliament.uk/mpslordsandoffices/mps_and_lords/analysis_by_composition.cfm

Amendments for the House of Lords Committee Stage

In the normal course of events, Committee stage in the House of Lords is the time to go through the Bill line by line and tease out difficult issues in prospective legislation, especially where the Bill has not received pre-legislative scrutiny or has been rushed through the Commons. The usual way to do this, as Lord Lucas explains here, is for peers to table amendments.

However, in the case of the Children Schools and Families Bill, it was always a moot point whether many amendments would be put down because parliamentary time was not allocated to Committee stage and a number of peers made reference at Second Reading to not having time for Committee.

Nevertheless, amendments were put down to remove the home education areas of the Bill.

Had the Bill gone to Committee, we would have expected to see amendments to support home educators. Members of the House of Lords would probably have taken unused amendments from the Commons. For example, amendment NC11 proposed to prohibit schools from coercing parents into removing children from school; amendment NC12 proposed to set up Local Consultative Forum for home education in each area; amendment NC13 proposed access to examination centres; amendment NC14 proposed access to music tuition for home educated children; amendment NC15 proposed access to sports facilities, schools libraries and other facilities in maintained schools; amendment NC18 proposed an independent inquiry into the regulation and support of home education.

It is worth pointing out to peers that there is currently no provision about support for home educated children and young people in the Bill going through parliament. Nor is there anything in the Bill about improving access to services or about funding for home education support.

Tabling amendments to discuss support issues is a good way to raise awareness of the current level of support which may come as a surprise to peers.

As Lord Lucas has said:
"We are considering a section of the Bill which will cost 20 million per annum, which is about 1,000 per home-educated child. These children receive no money to help pay the costs of examinations; no money to buy textbooks; no money to buy materials; no money and no tuition to help them over difficulties in education. Now the Government can find 1,000 for each of these children-and will spend it on auditing them. Not one penny will go to help the children; it will all go on auditing them. What have these people done to deserve that?"

How to Contact Members of the House of Lords

You can email or fax or post a letter to individual members in the House of Lords. The UK parliament site has more information here.

There are over 700 members of the House of Lords, but only around 400 are likely to travel to Westminster to attend Parliament. You can find out which peers are the most active by looking at who is listed to speak in debates or by seeing who speaks in debates.

Food for Thought:
Home Education for Teenagers

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The DCSF thinks school is the best place for children.
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