I am still pondering yesterday… …

Thursday 4th February, may well prove to be a significant day for English home educators, but as yet I am still rather cautious.

We all knew that in the afternoon the final session of the CSF Bill Public Committee would take place and perhaps they would find time to discuss Clause 26 and get to vote it (or most of it) out. But then again the Government have an inbuilt majority, so very little hope of that. Less likely though was that Balls & Co, the ministerial team at the DfCSF, would have had a change of heart and withdraw the two contentious clauses.

All that was upstaged for myself by a Parliamentary answer by Harriet Harman, Leader of the HoC, to this question by Sir George Young her Shadow:

May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business for next week?

At the time I had Parliament TV on in the office, so I paused to listen to her ramble through a list of Commons business for next week, which as it turns out is only three days long because of the half-term recess. No mention of the CSF Bill. Then she moved on to after the recess and eventually we reached:

Tuesday 23 February – Remaining stages of the Children, Schools and Families Bill.

Now most people had been speculating that now that Committee Stage was over the Bill would be rushed back into the Commons for the next stages and then on into the Lords just before or after the recess. Not now! And there does not look to be any space in the Lords’ diary until March 5th onwards. Does this mean that they are resigned to the CSF Bill being consigned to the ‘wash-up’? I hope so for back in what we had thought was to be the main event of the day things were a bit frustrating, but a few points are worth mentioning. (BTW if you are really interested in these things you can find the Young/Harman exchange on this page in Hansard.)

The Bill Committee predictably ran out of time, but they managed over 2½ hours of debate on the HE proposals. In the end though the votes were rushed and resulted in no change. Along the way though there were some high-points, most notably Caroline Flint, Lab. MP for Don Valley, saying how over the last few months her feelings about HE had been turned around by the families she had met. Well done to those who had engaged with her especially Gordon Whitehead, who had obviously impressed her. She was very happy to argue against the proposals, but sadly not to rebel in the vote. But she is another Lab. MP to badger Balls & Co.

David Laws (Lib Dem CSF Spokesman), ended his speech with these helpful words:

I have reached the conclusion, along with my colleagues in the Commons and the other place, that by trying to botch together this very bad job on home education, the Government have made it almost impossible for the concerns of people outside this place to be taken into account in a sensible way, particularly as there will not even be a serious Committee stage in another place. Therefore, I say to the Government that it is inevitable that we will have to vote against this aspect of the Bill and throw out all the proposals on home education, and I hope that that is something that the Conservative party will support.

None the less, in a spirit reflecting a residual desire to find some sort of sensible conclusion, I say to the Minister that her only way out of this is to bring back on Report a very modest schedule focusing on this limited issue of notification with which we could deal before this Parliament ends. Unless the Government do that, it is our strong view not only that the provisions to which amendments have been tabled should be deleted, but that the whole of clause 26 and schedule 1—everything related to home education—should be dumped before this Parliament comes to its end.

Now not everything is good about that, but it does signal that they are not prepared to let things proceed as they stand, should this Bill not be fully approved by the time Gordon plucks up the courage to call a General election.

Graham Stuart made many valid points, but I am afraid I cannot understand why he took an hour to do so. However, for me his most important comment, was his final sentence as he thanked everyone else for a good debate after the final votes had been taken:

I also thank my colleagues for making it so clear that, all the way to the wash-up, the Conservatives will ensure that this Bill will never become law.

That really was the last word in the Committee stage of this Bill. I hope he was not misquoting Michael Gove’s team.

One thing I am sure of after listening to this debate is that once again the quality and quantity of lobbying which has come from normal families (except of course that we HE) has had a massive impact on MP’s of all parties. Well done everyone!

If you would like to find the debate in Hansard, watch the session on parliament TV, or listen to the audio of it you will find all the links on this page.

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