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Charitable Status Of Maintained Schools, Etc

Volume 591: debated on Tuesday 30 June 1998

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

(" .—(1) The following shall be charities which are exempt charities for the purposes of the Charities Act 1993—

  • (a) the governing body of any foundation, voluntary or foundation special school; and
  • (b) any foundation body established under section 21;
  • but no governing body of a community or community special school shall be a charity.

    (2) So far as it is a charity, any institution which—

  • (a) is administered by or on behalf of any body to which subsection (1)(a) or (b) applies, and
  • (b) is established for the general purposes of, or for any special purpose of or in connection with, that body or any school or schools falling within subsection (1)(a),
  • shall also be an exempt charity for the purposes of the Charities Act 1993.

    (3) Any foundation established otherwise than under this Act which has no property other than the premises of any school or schools falling within subsection (1)(a) shall be a charity which (subject to section 3(5B) of the Charities Act 1993) is not required to be registered for the purposes of that Act (but is not an exempt charity for the purposes of that Act).

    (4) In this section—

  • (a) "charity" and "institution" have the same meaning as in the Charities Act 1993;
  • (b) "premises" includes a teacher's dwelling-house.").
  • On Question, amendment agreed to.

    Schedule 3 [ Funding of foundation, voluntary and foundation special schools]:

    Page 120, line 32, at end insert—

    ("but such requirements may be imposed after the making of any such payment only if the Secretary of State is satisfied that in all the circumstances it is reasonable for them to be so imposed.").

    The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is one which we promised noble Lords in Committee. We brought it forward primarily to meet the concerns expressed by the Churches about the Secretary of State's power to set a retrospective condition for voluntary-aided school grant. The amendment modifies the Secretary of State's powers so that he may set a condition only after grant has been paid, where he is satisfied that in all the circumstances it is reasonable to do so.

    As my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey told this House in Committee, we expect this power to be used rarely. One example would be where, as a result of what is referred to here as "a clerical oversight"— I think that an administrative oversight is meant rather than an oversight by the clergy—the grant condition is omitted from the formal grant letter. We should want to be able to correct that omission. The governors and trustees would have been aware of the intention to set a condition.

    Another example could be where a condition is not set initially—where the trusts are not examined because they seem to secure recycling within the state system—but it subsequently comes to light that the trusts have either been misconstrued or changed and do not secure that recycling satisfactorily. We wish to be able to set a retrospective condition in these circumstances in order to protect public fund investment, and we believe that it would be reasonable to do so.

    In those limited circumstances, I hope that the House will accept the need for the amendment. I hope that it also meets the concerns of the Churches about the new voluntary-aided school grant condition. I beg to move.

    My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for moving the amendment. I expressed concerns at Committee stage and, as the noble Lord explained, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, made it clear that these powers to impose a retrospective condition would be used only in circumstances of administrative error. I am grateful for the clarification with regard to the word "clerical" that has been provided. The amendment satisfies the Church, as it provides us with the kind of safeguard for which we are looking. I am grateful for its introduction.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    Clause 23 [ School organisation committees]:

    Page 23, line 5, at end insert (". which shall specify that such a committee's powers are restricted to advising the local education authority").

    The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 72 I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 74 and 75. I believe that Amendment No. 80 has been moved to another grouping.

    We turn now to the issue of the school organisation committee and, whatever suggestion there may have been regarding other parts of this Bill that there is some sort of agreement or pact or understanding between these Benches and the Government Benches, it falls down dramatically at this point.

    I am more than sad: I am disappointed that we reach this issue at this hour of the night and when the attentions of the nation, and indeed your Lordships' House, are firmly fixed elsewhere. We understand that extra time is being played. I do not feel that I can compete with that. I am not sure that I can concentrate properly with all the toing and froing. Indeed, we have already had a message from the Government Chief Whip that no Divisions are to be called. That rather inhibits the course of action that I might choose to take.

    I am consoled a little because for more than two hours we debated school organisation committees when we were in Committee. The longer the debate went on (before a fuller House than is the case tonight) it became clear that the more Members heard about the nature, composition and function of school organisation the more concern grew in all corners of the House.

    It was suggested that it was part of the devolving of decision-making; that it was part of partnership and consensus. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, all those issues are very dear to Liberal Democrats. We strongly believe in partnership and in seeking consensus. We certainly feel strongly about devolving decision-making. However, to suggest that a school organisation committee is any of those things is a travesty of those descriptions. As the debate continued, it became clearer that school organisation committees will be bureaucratic and cumbersome and that they are unnecessary and will not work. In my view, they will be far more expensive than the Government suggest.

    In Committee we described the process through which a local education authority goes in drawing up its plans. Before they are agreed by an LEA they are always subject to widespread consultation and discussion. That is entirely right and proper. If consensus and agreement can be reached, that is all to the better, and that would be the aim.

    If the Government believe that some LEAs do not strive sufficiently in that direction, fair enough, let them devise some measures to encourage LEAs to perform better. That is the approach I would wish to see. Once an LEA has gone through the lengthy consultation process, discussion in the education committee and almost certainly in a full council meeting and has reached agreement, I do not see why it is necessary to have another structure imposed upon it which is directly accountable to no one and cumbersome in that it comprises a number of different groups, each of which must reach a unanimous decision; in other words, any one group represented on the school organisation committee has a veto. We would all wish that circumstances never arise in which that veto could be used, but those of us with experience of such matters know that that is optimism in the extreme. It will be used and if one group on an organisation committee knows that it has a veto, it is almost an encouragement for the group to be difficult, awkward, stubborn and forced into using the veto.

    The first of the amendments suggests that if we are to have school organisation committees their roles should be advisory only. Many of the bodies which will be represented on the committee—probably all the bodies—would in any event be involved in the consultation process with the LEA. Certainly they ought to be. Perhaps there is a case for formalising it into something called a school organisation committee and requiring an LEA to consult with it and for that committee then to advise the LEA as it is the elected body, democratically accountable and takes the decision. I could be persuaded of that.

    I suspect that today it is my role to persuade your Lordships that that is the right way to go because it is the purpose and intention of Amendment No. 72. However, it is the nature of our procedure that that comes before what I would prefer to see, which is Amendment No. 74 and the deletion of Clause 23.

    I strongly believe that a school organisation committee is not necessary. For the reasons I have outlined—that it will be burdensome, cumbersome, expensive, bureaucratic, on too many occasions unlikely to reach consensus and undemocratic—I believe that we should not have them at all.

    I began by saying I regret that we are debating this issue at this time of night when attention is focused very much elsewhere. But it is an important issue. In fact, it is one of the most important issues within this Bill on which we differ from the Government. I suspect that this evening the Minister will not say anything that we did not hear in Committee. However I should say that the more we heard in Committee, not only did my colleagues and I become more convinced that we were right but so too did the rest of the House. I suspect that had we moved to a Division at that time, we should probably have won it.

    That is history. It did not happen. It probably will not happen this evening in view of the circumstances and the edict which has been given to us by the Government Chief Whip. However, it is an issue to which we shall undoubtedly need to return. I beg to move.

    My Lords, I can understand the disappointment of the noble Lord, Lord Tope. This proposal by the Government is probably the most undemocratic suggestion that there has ever been. There is real disquiet about this proposition among our local government colleagues. The members of these committees will be unaccountable and will be placemen. They will be responsible for making decisions which affect the lives of children, parents and local communities. The absolute power of the adjudicator is unbelievable because there is no right of appeal. However we shall deal later with that.

    I want the noble Lord, Lord Tope, to know that we support this amendment extremely strongly and if he were minded to call a Division, we should support him.

    My Lords, my attention is not elsewhere and I shall not talk about adjudicators, as the noble Baroness did. Indeed, so much is my attention not elsewhere that, as Alan Bennett once said, wild horses on their bended knees would not drag me to watch a football match under any circumstances.

    The noble Lord, Lord Tope, with the best of intentions and goodwill, misrepresents the existing situation and the Government's proposals. It is necessary to try to put that right.

    First, as regards the present position, he gives the impression that the democratically elected local education authorities have full responsibility for the matters which are the subject of our proposed school organisation committees. Noble Lords and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, should know that many proposals for change to school organisation are currently considered not locally but by the Secretary of State. Legislation provides that all proposals published by the governors of voluntary schools, by grant-maintained schools and the promoters of new, voluntary or grant-maintained schools must come to the Secretary of State for a decision. Local authorities may decide their own proposals where they attract attention or are not called in by the Secretary of State. But where there are objections or where they are called in, a decision is made by the Secretary of State. Therefore, the present situation, which the noble Lord's amendments would retain, is profoundly centralist and quite different from that which he describes.

    The Government believe that decisions on changes to school organisation should be taken at local level. When we consulted following the White Paper Excellence in Schools, there was widespread support for that principle. That is the basis for the proposals set out in Clause 23 because they aim to build also on the partnership which exists already at local level, reflecting in particular the significant contribution of the Churches over many years in the provision of schools.

    What is being put forward in the Bill is still at a local level but extends the range of responsibility from the LEA to the other partners in the education process. The noble Lord speaks as though those other partners then have a veto. They do not have a veto unless an amendment which is to be considered later were to be carried. If they really need to, they have the power to say that the issue will be decided by an adjudicator and not on a local basis. That is not a veto; the matter has to be resolved. They have a veto only in the very limited sense that the matter cannot be resolved without further reference. Again, there are later amendments which would provide for an appeal from an adjudicator to the Secretary of State. That is also a centralising tendency with which we shall deal later. I cannot accept either the noble Lord's description of what happens now or his description of what we propose.

    What would be the effect of Amendment No. 72; namely, for such a committee to be only advisory? The noble Lord drew attention to the consultation and discussion between partners that is already undertaken in the development of proposals for change to school organisation. The Government entirely support that and trust that it will continue. Our proposals seek to build on that partnership at local level, but the partnership is supported by the formal arrangements of Clause 23, in which proposals made by partners other than the LEA automatically come to the Secretary of State.

    In giving effect to the principle of decisions at local level and building on the local partnership, we concluded that it was right to involve those other partners directly in the decision-making process. We also concluded that it was right to do so in such a way as to give their views the degree of force that they are given under this part of the Bill. So a school organisation committee, in which the key partners at local level are brought together to reach decisions at a local level, is the solution at which we have arrived.

    Our proposed new arrangements will not reduce the powers of LEAs in respect of proposals for change to school organisation. LEAs will be responsible for securing that there are sufficient school places in their area; and for that reason will draft the school organisation plan. LEAs will retain their powers to publish proposals for all types of change to community schools and to decide on any of their own proposals that do not attract objections. In that respect there is no change from the current arrangements.

    Where they do introduce change is in the decision making on those proposals that local education authorities have never had the power to determine: proposals of their own that attract objections, proposals made by voluntary schools and proposals made by foundation schools. Those proposals are currently removed from the local arena to disappear for a while in the corridors of Whitehall. But in our proposed arrangements, these decisions will be made jointly by all the partners with each having a direct voice in the decisions on those proposals.

    The noble Lord seemed implicitly to ask why decision-making could be devolved only to the local authority. In the provision of school places, the local education authority is only one partner. It makes decisions for only some of the schools in its area. Partnership works now because it is supported by the involvement of the Secretary of State. The school organisation committee, through its membership and its voting arrangements, maintains the balance in decision making between partners.

    I simply do not accept that such a disagreement between any one of the statutory partners in the school organisation committee is an invitation for them to disagree. Psychologically, the reverse is the case. Because they know that it will be much easier if they can reach an agreement, they will be much more likely to make the necessary compromises in order to avoid going to the adjudicator. The noble Lord has misconceived both the existing situation and what is proposed in the Bill. I hope, therefore, that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

    My Lords, I must say that to be called a "centralist" by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is almost a compliment. However, I wholeheartedly reject that statement. Indeed, it is actually a reverse of the use of language. Nevertheless, we are not going to agree on the issue. I talked deliberately—and I do not recant it—on the use of a veto. We require unanimity from a school organisation committee. If one member of that committee does not agree, the committee will be unable to reach a decision. In effect, that seems to me to be a veto.

    In moving this amendment I studiously avoided talking about adjudicators as they are the subject of the next batch of amendments. As I said in Committee, it is difficult to talk about one without the other. However, the Minister has just done exactly that. I shall follow him in that regard. The Minister expresses great hope for this measure. I should like to join him in that, but I suspect that my comments are nearer to reality than to hope. When unanimity is reached—we all strive for that; as I said previously, I am a consensus politician—and there is agreement and everyone is content, that is fine. That is not what is at issue. One does not need a great structure to deal with matters on which everyone is agreed. One might need a procedure to encourage them to agree. Where we need a structure is when people do not agree.

    In the case we are discussing a committee needs to be unanimous or it cannot reach a decision. But what happens then? The matter is then referred to an adjudicator. I do not see how that can be considered to be devolving decision making to a local level. The matter is handed to an adjudicator appointed by the Secretary of State. That adjudicator will not necessarily have any local connection. There is no right of appeal to anyone, anywhere. How that can be said to be devolving decision making and to be democratic defeats me. It is a perversion of language. It is easier to argue—as the Minister has just done—about school organisation committees in isolation. When agreement is not reached—and that will happen, although we all hope it will be on only a few occasions—one has to look at the other part of the package; namely, the adjudicators. Statutory school organisation committees, which are bureaucratic, expensive, cumbersome and require unanimity, and which have to refer decisions to an appointed and unaccountable adjudicator who does not necessarily have any local connections, are, to say the least, unnecessary. They are undemocratic and we strongly oppose them.

    I recognise the perhaps not too serious edict from the Government Chief Whip, but more particularly the hour of the night and the fact that attention tonight is perhaps focused somewhere other than this Chamber. I shall have to withdraw this amendment. I do so with enormous regret. We shall undoubtedly return to the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    10.15 p.m.

    Page 23, line at end insert ("; and

    ( ) a head teacher of a foundation or of a grant-maintained school, or of both, providing that there is at least one school of such a type or types within the local education authority area").

    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is a somewhat defeatist amendment because we assume that the Government with their weighty vote in another place will have their way, whatever we say in this House. Therefore, we shall have school organisation committees and adjudicators. That is an undemocratic position, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has made clear.

    If there are to be organisation committees I do not know how the Government can argue against having representatives of foundation schools on those committees, if there are foundation schools in the area. They are a separate category of school and I believe that they should be recognised, particularly as different arrangements apply in terms of their relationship with the local education authority and the degree of autonomy that they enjoy.

    I have included grant-maintained schools in the amendment in the fervent but rather forlorn hope that they will remain as part of the diverse provision for parents and children. But if that is not to be the case, I hope that the Government will not argue against the right of foundation schools to be represented on school organisation committees. If the Government continue to argue against that—as they did in Committee—one must be extremely suspicious about what is being proposed in terms of the organisation committees, the role of the adjudicators and the status of foundation schools within their local communities. I beg to move.

    My Lords, I find it an extraordinary proposition that the noble Baroness thinks there is something undemocratic about the large majority in another place. We have a large majority in another place because that is how the people voted. It is not undemocratic to have a majority; and having achieved that majority, it is not undemocratic to use it. So there need be no apology for the number of Labour Members of Parliament. If the noble Lord, Lord Tope, wants to discuss proportional representation, I have no doubt he will find some opportunity when it is in order for him to do so. It is certainly not in order in this debate tonight.

    All schools will have the power to publish proposals of at least one sort within the new framework, including proposals to change category. There will not be any grant-maintained schools because, when the noble Baroness raised the issue of their continuance, she decided in her wisdom not to press the matter to a vote. We are clear that, where there are foundation and non-diocesan voluntary schools in a local authority area, they should be represented within the school organisation committee for the area. The paper that we have placed in the Library proposes that they be represented broadly in proportion to the number of pupils for whom they are responsible. However, that is a level of detail much better suited to regulation than to the face of Bill.

    We are also clear that schools should be represented on the school organisation committee by governors. At individual school level it is the governors who take the decisions on school organisation matters. We shall not specify that it should be a particular class of school governor that sits on the school organisation committee. If the head teacher, a teacher, or parent governors are prepared to serve, we shall not prevent that. However, we do propose to restrict school representation on the committee to governors. It is right that schools should be represented. We believe it right that they should be represented by governors. That goes directly against the requirements of Amendment No. 73. I invite the noble Baroness not to press it to a vote.

    My Lords, on the noble Lord's final point, perhaps I may ask him a question. Again, I am not sure whether the rules of the House preclude him from answering, in which case I shall have to resort to yet another letter. If I removed the term "grant-maintained"—although I should prefer not to—and replaced the words "head teacher" with "governors" so that the category of school is quite specifically represented if there are foundation schools in an area, given that that was used as an argument against me it would be helpful to know whether that change would make a difference to the Government's response. I should like to return to this matter at the next stage of the Bill.

    I was doing no more than accepting reality. I was not querying what happened at the election; I accept the reality that there is a majority. However. something rather unpleasant has been happening during the course of this year. We have seen on many occasions the wilful pre-emption of the will of Parliament. The noble Lord just said, "There will not be any GM schools". The Bill has not yet gone through Parliament. It will be for Parliament to say whether there will be any GM schools at the end of these debates. The reality is that, with such a large majority, whatever this House says Members in another place will have their view. At this stage, however, we have to bow to the will of Parliament, and it will be sovereign at the end of the day.

    On the understanding that the noble Lord will give me a response as to whether he would be more accommodating to the suggestion that foundation schools should be represented if I replaced the words "head teacher" with "governors", I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    [ Amendments Nos. 74 and 75 not moved.]

    Clause 24 [ Adjudicators]:

    Leave out Clause 24.

    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Tope was drawn into talking about adjudicators and said much of what needs to be said. However, I found the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, interesting. I draw Members' attention particularly to the proposed school closure proposals "disappearing into the corridors of Whitehall", which was how he described it.

    We had a discussion on this at some stage and those of us who have been involved in school closures know that it is not quite like that. People become extremely upset about school closures and usually go to their Member of Parliament, who sees the Minister, and all sorts of delegations are set up. The issue does not disappear into the corridors of Whitehall.

    In relation to the adjudicator, many of us are concerned with precisely what the Minister felt happened under the old system; that is, that it would disappear into the adjudicator and there would be no way in which local people could go on putting the case about the closure of their schools. This will not be a normal quango; it will be a one-man quango, and that one man will make the final decision.

    We had considerable debates on this matter at earlier stages in the passage of the Bill and it became obvious that there would be just as much controversy in a school organisation committee in relation to a school closure as there is anywhere else. At the moment local people are consulted and all those involved in a school closure make a lot of noise when they do not want a school to close. Indeed, I have been part of such a demonstration with parents and others.

    The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was also misrepresenting what happens on the ground when he replied to my noble friend. At the moment, people have an opportunity to put their case and the democratic accountability goes right from the bottom to the top in Parliament. Now we have a great democratic hole in the middle; that is, the school organisation committee and the adjudicator. It is clear that that is how both Opposition Benches see the situation, though the Government fail to agree.

    I hope that the Minister is right; that is, that it will not end in tears when more of these decisions are made by an adjudicator. Quite frankly, Clause 24 and Schedule 5 provide for the setting up of the appointment of adjudicators to be what I might describe as the Secretary of State's representatives on earth in various corners of the country. We do not believe that that is democratic. We do not want to see it happen and if it were not for all the things that are happening both here and outside tonight, we would be pushing this matter to a Division. However, we all know that that will not happen tonight, but we will return to it at a later stage. I beg to move.

    My Lords, I believe it is legitimate and we will not be remonstrated with by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for talking about adjudicators. The noble Lord fell into the same trap into which we all fell: that is, that it is not possible to talk about organisation committees without talking about adjudicators, because we know that the operation of the organisation committee leads neatly on to the function of the adjudicator.

    One does not have to go far to look at some of the powers of the adjudicator. I have been looking at the interim document on admissions policies. Paragraph 25 concludes by saying that the adjudicator will provide for disputes about the continuation of existing partial selection to be decided by the adjudicator. Paragraph 28 talks about schools with a specialism which apparently have an important part to play in the framework and will seek to ensure that children have an opportunity to develop their specific talents to the full. Nevertheless, the adjudicator will rule on disputes about existing or proposed priority by aptitude. It goes on and on as to where there are opportunities for the adjudicator to become the determining body.

    This is a power too far. It is a placement appointed by the Secretary of State and the idea that it will be a local person is wrong. It will not be local. If there are 20 in the country, one must put at least two local education areas together, possibly more. I can take my own two counties—mine and a neighbouring county—Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk or Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. It is easy to see that many areas of those counties will be remote from this unelected person who will have the power to make a decision against which there will be no appeal.

    The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, has made a powerful case. It is one that I support very strongly. It is backed almost entirely by all Benches in this House and even by some noble Lords opposite to whom we have spoken outside the confines of this Chamber. The local government associations and indeed the local authorities themselves are decidedly concerned about this.

    The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, made much of things being lost in the corridors of Whitehall. But at the end of the day responsibility should lie with the Secretary of State and the Ministers in the department. I have been one of them and took my job very seriously in terms of receiving deputations, receiving parent bodies and listening to the cases put by the relevant Members of Parliament. I prefer that because they are elected people. They are elected and they can be unelected. An adjudicator cannot be. He is there by the patronage of the Secretary of State. The case is absolutely overwhelming and it will have my enthusiastic support.

    10.30 p.m.

    My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is right to say that it is impossible to separate consideration of the school organisation committee from the adjudicator. If I rebuked her for moving on, I apologise, because, as she rightly said, I did myself. I also apologise to both noble Baronesses for the imprecision of my language when I referred to the corridors of Whitehall. Of course I meant the rooms around the atrium and sanctuary buildings of Great Smith Street, where nothing so vulgar as a corridor is allowed to appear.

    There are serious points behind this provision. The school organisation committees provide the framework for local discussion and agreement. But we have always recognised the need for a mechanism to cover occasions, which we anticipate will be relatively rare, when local agreement cannot be reached. We hope it will not be necessary, but we must provide for it. We propose that the role should be fulfilled by an adjudicator appointed by the Secretary of State.

    The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, referred to this as patronage. But I have to stress that we will advertise the posts, we will recruit openly and we will follow guidance set down by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in making the appointment. We have placed in the Library a statement on the adjudicator which describes in a little more detail our view on the functions, operation and appointment of adjudicators. That statement will provide a basis for consultation. Other matters of largely administrative detail, including the procedure to be followed by adjudicators, will be set down in regulations, and we shall consult broadly on the content of those regulations.

    The adjudicator will look again at proposals, comments and objections and the reasons for disagreement at local level. In other words, he will not simply be operating in some bureaucratic vacuum. The adjudicator will consider all cases in the light of principles set out in public guidance from the Secretary of State and, as appropriate, the school organisation plan. The adjudicator will make an independent judgment on the relative merits of each case, based on the facts, and against those principles. But in all cases decisions will be judgments between restricted options.

    I can go into more detail if noble Lords wish me to about the appointment, payment and terms of reference of adjudicators but I think that the House would probably wish to be spared from that. The payment will be roughly the level currently paid to the chairs of special education needs tribunal panels.

    Adjudicators must be separate from any concern that decisions have been prompted by political considerations and therefore must be demonstrably independent of the Secretary of State, of local authorities and of other bodies. Perhaps most importantly, adjudicators must also be able to keep an objective perspective in order to be able to weigh competing arguments and be accepted for their ability to do so. They will be excluded from cases in which they have had prior involvement or might otherwise be regarded as parti pris.

    There is a great deal of paranoia in the reaction of noble Lords to the concept of the adjudicator. It arises from a suspicion which I recognise—although I do not agree with it—about the role of the school organisation committees. I believe that those views are unfounded. The alternative to the long stop which we have provided in the role of the adjudicator would be back to the centralising tendency of the Secretary of State. The noble Baroness was a Minister in a department herself. If she believes that decisions are taken purely independently by those elected to do so rather than by officials, then I wonder at the role she was playing in her capacity as a Minister. She acted on advice. She was obliged not just by tradition but by statute to act on advice. She would have been in terrible trouble if she had not done so. Advice is no more democratic in that sense than the role of the adjudicator which we have described and are proposing in this Bill.

    My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, does he not agree with me that acting on advice is different as a concept from acting in accordance with advice? I understood the first part of what the noble Lord said as stating that a Minister would have to act in accordance with advice. If he is saying that, will he, on reflection, not accept that that is a serious mistake? Does he not accept that Ministers in this particular jurisdiction and in many others listen to what is said to them by, among other people, Members of Parliament? Is the noble Lord suggesting that it would be wrong for a Minister to act in accordance with what a Member of Parliament has suggested, notwithstanding that the official advice might be otherwise? Will it be open to an adjudicator to receive representations from a Member of Parliament when a case has gone to the adjudicator in the event of a disagreement from a school organisation committee?

    My Lords, as regards the noble Lord's first point, I would be the last person to cross swords with him in view of his distinguished career in government. The point I was making was a much more simple one; namely, that a Minister in making a decision whether on advice or in accordance with it is not acting as an elected politician but as someone who has the responsibility of taking into account the facts of the case. In answer to his second question, of course it will be open to an adjudicator to receive representations from a Member of Parliament or from anyone else.

    My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down and with the leave of the House, may I say that no Minister below Secretary of State actually took those decisions. There was a great deal of activity. One listened to delegations from parents and delegations from Members of Parliament. One culled all the information and one was advised by officials. After taking all that advice and coming to a view about the recommendation, it was put to the Secretary of State, who took the decision on the basis of all that information, including ministerial advice. At the end of the day the decision was taken by an elected Member. A great deal of activity is cut out in this process. If someone has an army of people around him, it will become even more expensive. As I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said, it is a quango post and unelected. It is a placemen post and not accountable to anybody.

    My Lords, if I am being asked a question before I sit down for a second time, my answer is that I am in no position to question the noble Baroness's description of the way in which government operated when she was part of it.

    My Lords, after all those interventions, which I am not sure were entirely apposite, perhaps I may reply to my amendment. I found some of the Minister's remarks somewhat surprising. If carried to logical conclusions, he was saying that in many cases we might as well have a dictatorship and that at any level of government elected members should not be relied on to make decisions. I found that disturbing, but it highlights why we are so concerned about what is happening here. I am concerned that those who are democratically elected should be making the decisions. Politics does come into this—quite often—and I regret that in some cases that happens when perhaps it should not. Many decisions are not particularly political, but come down to common sense and to the question of what is the best value or what is best for everybody in any area. In terms of school closures, it tends to be money that makes things political.

    I have not been convinced by the Minister. In fact, his comments about the way he thinks decisions are made and the right of those who have been elected to make those decisions worry me no end. I am sure that we shall return to this again, but at this exciting stage—I am not sure whether we have the latest news of the match—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    After Clause 24, insert the following new clause—