Clause 70, which I will invite Members on all sides to vote against when the question is put, is in the Bill following a joint Conservative and Liberal Democrat amendment inserted on Third Reading in the other place. Although the protection that it offers is not, in our view, really necessary, since most of it was copied from existing guidance, we are not opposed to its provisions for that same reason. The Government gave assurances in the other place that we would strengthen guidance along the lines of their lordships’ amendment. However, the will of the other place was that the provisions should be in the Bill.
The clause requires that before a rural primary school may be closed, parents and district, parish or community councils must be consulted, and the implications of closure for transport and the local community and alternatives to closure must be considered. Legal advice, particularly from parliamentary counsel, is that the amendment is technically flawed and should be recast. New clause 17, therefore, is a version of clause 70 that has been tweaked to make it legally more watertight and workable in practice.
This version of the provisions has been accepted by the sponsors of clause 70 in the other place. I therefore commend it to the Committee.