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Provisions Supplementary To Ss 12 To 15

Volume 982: debated on Wednesday 2 April 1980

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Lords amendment: No. 14, in page 17, line 13, at end insert:

"(6) Section 14(1), (2) and (4) above shall apply, and subsection (6) of the said section 13 shall not apply, in relation to proposals for the matters referred to in paragraphs ( a), ( b) and ( c) of section 14(1) above—

  • (a) which are approved under the said section 13 on or after the date on which this subsection comes into force; or
  • (b) which have then already been approved under that section but in respect of which specifications and plans have not yet been submitted under subsection (6) of that section;
  • and, in relation to any such proposals, subsection (7) of the said section 13 shall apply as if references to specifications and plans being approved or not required under that section were references to particulars being approved or not required under section 14 above.

    (7) In subsection (6) above references to subsections (6) and (7) of the said section 13 include references to those subsections as applied by subsection (9) of that section."

    I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

    It is pleasant to be involved in non-controversial amendments tonight. It may be out of character, but it is good character training.

    The amendment simply allows the Department's new building control procedures to come into operation immediately and not have to wait until clauses 12 to 16 come into force. The object is to cut down the number of regulations.

    I am relieved by the Under-Secretary's explanation, because, with all the education journalists having gone to China recently, I thought that they had returned and drafted the amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing) and I tried, with the assistance of the 1944 Act, to work out precisely what was intended.

    Although I realise that the amendment applies to building regulations, problems arise from the clause. Not the least of the reasons is that we could not spend too much time on it during our other deliberations. This may be an appropriate time to draw attention to a problem that will apply both as regards the clause and in the implementation of the clause.

    Subsection (1) has implications for the remainder of the clause, including the amendment. The clause includes the words:
    "but the Secretary of State may in any case allow such steps to be taken pending compliance with those provisions and the giving of any necessary approval as he considers reasonable in the circumstances of the case."
    As this is what is called the speeding-up clause, which permits the expedition of a local authority's intentions to make changes in the provisions for schooling, we are bound to wonder whether a Secretary of State, having received a section 12 notice—it was a section 13 notice under the 1944 Act—on further assessment of those proposals, will have to contradict his own judgment. In the first instance, having allowed such steps to be taken pending compliance—permitting the local education authority to proceed towards its objective of making changes—and then having received objections from parents or other electors in the community, he may come to the conclusion that his decision to allow such steps to be taken was ill-advised and have to change his mind.

    We are not afraid of the embarrassment of Secretaries of State having to change their minds. We are afraid that, having in their judgment permitted local education authorities to take such steps, they are unlikely to change their minds. Therefore, they could perpetrate changes in school provision which would be contrary to the express wishes and best interests of the local community served by a particular school.

    I take the hon. Gentleman's point. It is involved not in this amendment but in the clause. There is a degree of deprivation as we did not discuss this matter in great depth in Committee. Therefore, whatever we say on this matter tonight will have no bearing on the extent of the Lords amendment.

    Any Secretary of State must be responsive not only to the requirements of a local education authority but to the opinions of people in the area. Knowing how quickly people's opinions are passed not only to their local councillors but to their Members of Parliament and how quickly those Members send their views to the Department, I cannot envisage a situation whereby a Secretary of State would not be aware if there really were strong feelings in an area.

    I have a note which has just descended from heaven, and it may help if I read it so that we can interpret it between us. The note says:
    "The provision in clause 16(1) allowing for preliminary work to he undertaken repeats a provision already existing in section 13."
    This is obviously of great importance to the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) and me. I think that we both agree on that matter. I cannot envisage the Secretary of State not being responsive to strong feelings in any area in view of our lively democracy and the speed with which Departments are made aware of local opinion and feeling.

    Question put and agreed to.