Skip to main content

Consultation With Inner London Boroughs And The City

Volume 82: debated on Monday 8 July 1985

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

Lords amendment No. 13: In page 15, line 9, leave out "or as the Secretary of State maydirect"

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science
(Mr. Bob Dunn)

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

With this may we take the following Lords amendments: No. 14, in page 15, line 18, leave out subsections (1) and (2) and insert—

"(1) The Secretary of State may before 31 March 1991 review the exercise by the Authority of its functions relating to education."
No. 15, in page 15, line 32, leave out from "section.' to "and" in line 34.

No. 16, in page 15, line 34, leave out "the first".

Amendment (a) thereto in lieu of the said Lords amendment, in page 15, line 34, leave out 'first such'.

No. 17, in page 15, line 36, leave out subsection (4).

No. 18, in page 15, line 43, leave out subsections (5) and (6).

Amendments thereto:

(a) in page 72, line 11, leave out '21'.

(b) in page 72, line 16, leave out '21 or'.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have just debated amendments about waste disposal. West Midlands county council handles 40 per cent. of this country's hazardous waste. It should be put on the record that an hon. Member who represents the area, who is a county coucillor for the area and who has served on a waste disposal committee was the one hon. Member not called in the debate.

9 pm.

Amendment No. 13 deletes from clause 20 the power for my right hon. Friend to direct the new ILEA to provide specified information to the inner London boroughs or the City for the purposes of the consultation required by this clause between the new authority and those councils. As my noble Friend, Lord Gowrie, made clear in introducing this amendment in another place, the power for my right hon. Friend to direct the new ILEA to provide specified information is of a different kind from his other powers under the clause. If the new ILEA does not comply with a reasonable request for information, the councils will be able to seek effective remedy through the court. The involvement of my right hon. Friend is therefore on reflection unnecessary.

The amendments to clause 21 delete the requirement for my right hon. Friend to undertake an initial review of the new ILEA by 31 March 1991 and his discretionary power to undertake subsequent reviews. They also delete the provision for any reallocation of the new ILEA's functions to be achieved by order. The amendments substitute a discretionary power to undertake a review by 31 March 1991 but make no provision for the implementation of any changes in the light of that review. Such changes would therefore require fresh primary legislation.

The strongest objection to clause 21, both in this House and in another place, has been to the proposal that there should be a power for my right hon. Friend to reallocate the new ILEA's functions by order. We have listened carefully to the arguments, put very strongly in another place, that, if the new administrative structure which we are establishing for education in inner London needs adjustment in the light of experience, then that adjustment should be made by primary legislation. We have been convinced by those arguments.

I am not, therefore, asking the House to disagree with the amendments made in another place. On two points, however, further amendments are necessary to give them full effect. First, amendment No. 16 retains a reference in the clause to "such report". There is now only provision for one report. We propose that the clause should refer to "the report" and this is achieved by our substitute amendment. Secondly, although amendment No. 18 deletes my right hon. Friend's order-making power, reference to that power remains in clause 100. Our consequential amendments delete those references.

I must make clear that our acceptance of these amendments does not mean that we are any less concerned by the policies of ILEA which result in its spending between 29 per cent. and 59 per cent. more per school pupil than the inner city partnership authorities outside London, which have similar problems, spend without achieving results that are proportionately better. We remain no less determined to improve ILEA's cost effectiveness. We are confident that the new elected ILEA offers the best prospect for improving standards and cost effectiveness and we shall look to the members elected next May to vindicate our expectation. But, if experience shows that further structural change is required, the need to secure primary legislation will not deter us from taking the necessary steps.

We on the Opposition Benches welcome the Minister's conversion, although I am not absolutely certain whether it is genuine. He spoiled his speech by his attack on ILEA. He would have shown more grace had he accepted all the arguments for ILEA. As the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, I welcome the Government's backing off from the idea that something as important and as substantial as ILEA can be abolished as the result of a statutory instrument after 90 minutes' debate.

The cynic in me wonders why the Government left such a provision in the Bill in the first place, and comes to the conclusion that they did so that it could be left out at this point as a token concession to the other place. It is noticeable that this is one of the few concessions that the Government have made, and it does not have much substance.

The real concession was made at the start when the Government agreed to abandon their idea to abolish ILEA. From that point, the Government wanted a face-saving device, having led some of the London boroughs to believe that they might take on education powers. The Government wanted to put something in the Bill instead, so that the idea of a review and a possible later devolving of powers remained. I hope that the Government will make clear that they have abandoned any idea of carrying out a review, because the new body should be allowed to get on with its job without the continued threat of blackmail from the Government that if it does not do just what the Government want it will be abolished.

The Government are retaining massive draconian powers over ILEA. Not only are there the rate-capping provisions of other legislation but there are staff control and review provisions. It is sad that the Minister returned again to cost effectiveness. No one has managed to show that ILEA does not do a better job than some of the other authorities that spend less money. He trotted out the exam results but he and the Secretary of State would agree that exam results are not the only criteria by which to measure success. If one uses exam results, one has to look at other factors such as the social background of the children.

It would have been far better if the Minister had reduced some of the controls over ILEA, recognised the first-class job that it is doing and also acknowledged that it should be responsive to local democracy. The people of London are justly proud of the services that ILEA provides. I am sure that in the first election to the new body there will be a resounding vote of confidence in Labour representatives who want to go on providing a first-class education service. Sadly, they will get a mandate from the electorate but the Government will have the veto over sufficient resources to carry out the policies.

The Government should stop continually sniping at ILEA, and proudly tell the country what a first-class job ILEA does. The Minister said that other inner-city authorities were more cost effective than is ILEA. He should remember that the HMI report said that only 11 local education authorities were providing a satisfactory standard of education and that ILEA was one. It seems that the Government are determined to remove ILEA from that group by restricting its resources.

Although I welcome the Government's removal of the obnoxious bits of this Bill, there will be a continuing campaign from Labour Benches to ensure that ILEA has the resources to continue to do a first-class job.

I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) in welcoming the death-bed conversion of the Government to the arguments put repeatedly by the Labour party over the past five years. I am not sure that they were as convinced by the arguments mounted in the other place as by the outcome of the Division, in particular on the amendment moved by the Lord Bishop of London, somebody who does not normally command much support from the Labour party.

We welcome the removal of one of the innumerable threats and worries that the Government have posed to ILEA over the past few years. As the parent of three children who attend ILEA schools, I am as conscious as anyone of the genuine shortcomings of that authority. Those who run the authority, both the elected members and the people who work for it, are also aware of the shortcomings.

One of our major criticisms of the Government is that at all times from 1979 until now the effort of all those in inner London who want to improve the standard of education has had to be diverted time and time again from the schools to protecting the existence of the authority and fighting for sufficient resources with which to carry out a difficult job. When he was the hon. Member for the City of Westminster, St. Marylebone, the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) played a prominent part in seeking to undermine ILEA. His fatuous Baker report called for the break-up of ILEA and for its duties and powers to be devolved to the constituent boroughs. He will not receive a prize for consistency by urging the House to support the Lords amendment. The right hon. Member for Mole Valley no longer represents the City of Westminster, St. Marylebone. He had to do a bunk to Mole Valley, presumably because he was frightened of the parents of children attending ILEA schools in his Marylebone constituency.

All hon. Members who represent inner London constituencies want ILEA to be provided with a period of stability and certainty so that the teachers, the other staff of the authority, the children and the parents can concentrate upon improving the standard of education. They want the Government to provide sufficient resources to enable them to carry out that job. ILEA is being denied those resources. Rate capping will damage the standards of education in inner London. The constant sniping, bickering and mean-minded malignancy of the Secretary of State and his hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) have severely damaged the morale of all concerned.

If the Government do not resign shortly, the best thing that they could do would be to turn their attention to that London organisation which, compared with other organisations, is by far and away the most expensive and the least competent, the Metropolitan police. The only problem is that if they turned their attention to that expensive and incompetent body, they would find that the Home Secretary is the responsible authority. It would be better if the Government did something about the Metropolitan police for which they are directly responsible and allowed ILEA to get on with its difficult and important task.

I, too, welcome the Government's admission of the strength of the arguments that have been advanced both in this House and in another place. Their recognition of the truth of the arguments comes, I suspect, not just from the force with which they were put but from their recognition of the enormous strength of feeling among parents right across inner London about the value of the education that their children receive from the Inner London education authority. That is true of my constituents, many of whore have written and spoken to me about the subject since the Bill was introduced.

The Opposition wish that in taking this first step in the learning process the Government had taken some further steps. ILEA will still be affected by the vicious rate-capping proposals that have been imposed upon it this year by the Government. If further designations are to be announced in the next few weeks, ILEA might be rate capped next year.

The Secretary of State has also taken powers to interfere in the sensible running of ILEA. He has not taken similar powers to interfere in the running of other education authorities. When Her Majesty's Inspectorate says that of all the education authorities in Britain only six —one of which is ILEA —are providing, anything like an adequate standard of education it ill behoves the Government to start interfering with and intervening in that authority and not look at the standard of education that is provided elsewhere. The Government should direct their attention to that aspect, not to the excellent work that is done by teachers, staff and everyone who works in and for ILEA. That work is deeply valued by parents and other people in my constituency and throughout inner London. I welcome the Government's conversion. I hope that it will be the first of several in the right direction.

It being a quarter past Nine o'clock, MR. SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to the Order this day, to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Lords amendment No. 13 agreed to.

MR. SPEAKER then proceeded to put the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.

Lords amendment No. 16 disagreed to.

Amendment (a) made to the Bill in lieu thereof.

Lords amendments Nos. 24 to 33, 40 and 41 disagreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 14, 15, 17 to 23, 34 to 39 and 42 agreed to.

Government amendments (a) and (b) to Lords amendment No. 18 agreed to.