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Lords Chamber

Volume 591: debated on Thursday 2 July 1998

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House Of Lords

Thursday, 2nd July 1998.

The House met at three of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Manchester.

Royal Assent

My Lords, I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts and Measure:

  • National Lottery Act,
  • Public Interest Disclosure Act,
  • Road Traffic Reduction (National Targets) Act,
  • National Institutions Measure.

Child Benefit

3.6 p.m.

Whether they will take steps to discourage couples in receipt of a joint income of over £200,000 per annum from claiming child benefit.

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are committed to retaining universal child benefit where it is universal now because it is the fairest and most efficient way of recognising the extra costs and responsibilities borne by all parents.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that neither the Answer he has just given nor the one given in the debate on Monday give any comfort at all to those who feel that scarce social security money should go to those really in need and not those who are quite rich enough to manage without it? Can he not see that it is quite wrong if a woman is earning a top barrister's salary and her husband is perhaps a Cabinet Minister—or the other way round—that they should draw child benefit? Ought that not to be stopped?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is thinking along the same lines as my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In another place he said,

"It must be right in principle that if Child Benefit is raised in future then there is a case for higher rate taxpayers paying tax on it".
There are clearly arguments for and against, but it is a matter for my right honourable friend the Chancellor.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Government are committed to maintain the principle of separate taxation of married women's incomes? Will he confirm that if that is the case the sums to be raised from taxing child benefit are nugatory? Will he further confirm that the costs of any other form of discouragement, as recommended in this Question, might be so great as to make the measure short of cost-effective?

My Lords, I can confirm that the Government are committed to maintaining separate taxation for married couples. Under no circumstances will a woman's income be added to her husband's, unless they wish it. As regards the value of taxing child benefit, that depends on the tax position of the people concerned. If we assume that people are paying the standard rate of tax, and if child benefit is taxed at the present rate, it could raise something in the region of £700 million.

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that child benefit replaced child tax allowances? Will he confirm that if child benefit were withdrawn it would be only equitable that child tax relief should be restored to those from whom it was withdrawn?

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that no one could reasonably disagree with his suggestion that there are two views: first, that it is absurd to provide people on very high incomes with state benefits, and, secondly, the opposite view? Which side do the Government come down on?

My Lords, the Government's policy is to direct the benefit towards the child rather than to the family set-up. Child benefit is one of the most efficient ways of targeting children because over 98 per cent. of child benefit is taken up.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is of course right of the Chancellor to maintain separation for tax purposes? But is there not a clear case for taxing joint family income—therefore at the highest rate—for the family on child benefit? If we do not believe in means tests—which I do not—surely that is the only way to deal with the principle underlying the noble Baroness's Question.

My Lords, I am sure that is a point which my right honourable friend the Chancellor is taking into consideration.

My Lords, the Minister's original Answer, which referred to benefit being universal, begs the question of whether or not that universal benefit is taxed. He will know from the debate which took place on Monday, to which my noble friend referred, that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, spent some time explaining that the Chancellor's position on this issue was to sit on the fence, and, as far as one can see, to sit on the fence indefinitely. That point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. That may be comfortable or not comfortable for the Chancellor—I am not worried about that—but I am worried that it leaves many prudent parents with families uncertain as to how to plan ahead because they do not know what the Government will do. These issues are not terribly complex; the arguments on both sides are fairly straightforward. It is high time that the Chancellor made up his mind, and I hope the Minister will encourage him to do so.

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Chancellor has made up his mind so far as his commitment to families is concerned. The Government have decided to provide extra help for all families, with an increase of £2.50 in the standard rate of child benefit for eldest children from April 1999. There is more help for the youngest and poorest children. The matter raised by the noble Lord is being considered by the Chancellor. He will make his decision in his own time.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the fairest way of tackling the problem of high income families receiving child benefit while avoiding the problems of taxing child benefit or undermining separate taxation for men and women is simply to tax higher incomes slightly more—for instance, a 50p top rate for those earning £100,000 a year? That would, even if untargeted, be a fairer approach and would avoid the problems.

My Lords, I am well aware of the views of the noble Baroness's party on taxation. The level of taxation is a matter for the Chancellor, not a matter for me.

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House how many married couples there are with children qualifying for child benefit who have a joint income of £200,000 or more? I should have thought they were rather thin on the ground. But perhaps I am living in a kind of deflated past.

My Lords, I have a very full brief in front of me; however, it does not include that figure. I shall have to write to the noble Lord.

English Tourist Board

3.14 p.m.

Why they are considering abolishing the English Tourist Board.

My Lords, as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review every department has been required to look critically at whether the best possible use is being made of public money. Ministers at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport are looking at all aspects of the department's work and that of its sponsored bodies, including the English Tourist Board. No final decisions have yet been made.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I welcome the fact that for the moment there are no definite plans to abolish the English Tourist Board. Does the Minister feel that the Government have the balance right, when grant-in-aid to the Scottish Tourist Board is nearly £5 per head and to the Welsh Tourist Board £6, but only 25p. per head to the English Tourist Board?

My Lords, although I answer for the whole Government, when I am asked about the English Tourist Board I do not prepare myself in relation to the other departments to which the noble Lord referred. His facts are right. They reflect the priorities that the Scottish Office and Welsh Office place on tourism in their areas. That is their right.

My Lords, if the English Tourist Board is to continue, does my noble friend agree that the approach must be to provide it with a reasonably level playing field? Is the situation not ridiculous when it is not even competing in the same league? Surely, if the board is to continue, which I hope it will, it should receive adequate funding similar to that being provided in other parts of the United Kingdom.

My Lords, as I acknowledged in response to the noble Lord, Lord Astor, it is certainly the case that there are great differences between the different countries within Great Britain. Expenditure by tourists in England, at £440 per head of population, is very much the same as it is in the other countries. To that extent my noble friend's fears are somewhat exaggerated.

My Lords, given the amount of assistance that the tourist trade provides to this country's balance of payments, would it not be the height of folly to get rid of the English Tourist Board?

My Lords, the tourist industry in this country is enormously important to our economy. I acknowledge that straightaway. The department is by no means neglecting tourism as part of its functions, even though the word "tourism" has been left out of its title.

What the Government can do for tourism includes not only the work of the national tourist boards but also of the British Tourist Authority and the regional tourist boards, as well as the English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland tourist boards. The noble Lord should look at the whole range of government services to the tourist industry.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that some of our representatives abroad who are trying to promote English tourism are seriously hampered by the fact that they have so little money to spend compared to other European countries, which spend a great deal of money in this country on their tourism?

My Lords, the budget for the British Tourist Authority is that which was left to this Government by the previous government and which we determined to continue. It is true that there are differences. However, there are possibilities: for example, greater efficiencies and economies through co-operation between the British Tourist Authority and the British Council in many parts of the world.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that, with the forthcoming devolution of tourist interests to Scotland and Wales and to the rural development agencies, there is an ever-increasing need for co-ordination? If the regional development boards have separate tourist policies, as may well happen, it could do great damage to tourism nationally.

Yes, my Lords. When we see the final form of the devolution Bills and the Bill for the regional development agencies, I am sure that Ministers will agree with the noble Lord that that will have an effect on the operations and ethos of the British Tourist Authority. We have that very much in mind.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the admirable support for London which the Government are showing, taken together with the rumoured abolition of the English Tourist Board, might lead one to believe that the rest of country was being ignored? Can he give us an undertaking that in future government policy equal attention will be paid to the rest of the country?

My Lords, I shall certainly not fall into the trap of welcoming the noble Viscount's comments about our admirable support for London. That will lead the other regions to feel that they are being neglected. The noble Viscount asks me to say whether I have stopped beating my wife.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the English Tourist Board came into existence because of a Back-Bench revolt in the then Labour Government as a result of their neglect of the English dimension? Does he consider that perhaps the Government are running the risk of ensuring that they make history repeat itself?

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord for his lessons in history. Since I have already said that no decisions have been taken about the sponsored bodies of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, I do not think that I can answer his further supposition.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that however energetic tourist boards may be, the main difficulty facing the industry is the price in our hotels?

My Lords, tourism is one of those industries where the fundamental provision for accommodation is in the private sector. It is true that prices in hotels have been higher in this country than in the past, but the English Tourist Board is recording a welcome increase in the number of budget hotels. We have a remarkable range of bed-and-breakfast accommodation which is not equalled by many other countries of which I am aware.

My Lords, as a supplementary question to what the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said, will the Minister be kind enough to consider looking in Hansard at the proceedings in Standing Committee E on 18th March 1969 on the Development of Tourism Bill? The then Minister of State at the Board of Trade, who is now a Member of your Lordships' House, made a concession to cross-party views—from England, Scotland and Wales—to establish an English Tourist Board. He persuaded the Treasury that it was a right, wise and proper thing to do. If the noble Lord looks at that report, he may find that very good arguments were deployed by the Minister of State at that time for continuing the board as it now is.

My Lords, was not the Minister of State at that time a Mr. W.T. Rodgers? I am grateful to him for his history lesson.

My Lords, in the answer given by the Minister, he tended to imply that the responsibilities of the English Tourist Board, the British Tourist Authority and the regional tourism boards are identical. They are not. They have quite specific responsibilities. Does he agree that there is a great responsibility on the Government to ensure that our seaside resorts are looked after? They depend on tourism. The Minister will also remember that it was the Opposition, when in government, who over 10 years reduced the grant to the English Tourist Board from £29 million to now just under £5 million?

My Lords, the House is very much indebted to all noble Lords for the history lessons. If I implied that the role of the different bodies was identical, I apologise. I did not mean to. I meant, of course, that they are complementary.

Fair Rent Increases And Investment

3.24 p.m.

In view of the publication on 21st May of the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions' consultation paper Limiting Fair Rent Increases, what estimate they have made of the impact of these proposals on future investment in the private rented residential sector.

My Lords, we see no reason why, once they are properly understood, our proposals for limiting fair rents should affect future investment in the private rented residential sector. As our consultation paper makes clear, the proposals do not apply to tenancies established since January 1989, for which landlords can charge market rents. The paper confirms that we have no plans to amend the legislative framework for those tenancies.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Has she seen the research report of June 1998 of the British Property Federation? It shows that more than half the commercial property industry doubts the Government's statements that they have no intention to extend rent control beyond the fair rent sector. I quote from the report:

"Those who had experienced the 'bad times' of regulation in the past were more negative".
It is does not need me to remind the House that that was in the days of a Labour government. Is it not a fact that the only sources of substantial investment to enlarge the private rented sector are the investing property companies and financial institutions? The Government claim to wish to encourage that investment. Are the proposals on limiting fair rent increases at best not just a discouragement and at worst a positive disincentive to further investment by the private rented sector?

My Lords, the noble Baroness raised the issue of the British Property Federation report. It suggests that those institutions looking to invest in the private rented sector are much less concerned about our proposals than those not looking to invest. I am confident that those who have a closer interest in the future of the sector are sophisticated enough to recognise that our proposals do not apply to the deregulated tenancies. We have given assurances that we have no plans to make changes to the legislative framework in that sector of the market.

The noble Baroness's second question gives me an opportunity to say that I am happy to reaffirm that the Government have no plans to amend the legislative framework for assured shorthold tenancies under the Housing Act 1988.

My Lords, how long are the rent registrations intended to last? If re-registration is to be allowed after, say, two years, the increases of only 5 per cent. plus RPI will go up fairly rapidly on a cumulative basis in quite a short time.

My Lords, the proposed limit on the rent increase at the first re-registration after the legislation has come into force would be RPI plus 10 per cent. for two years. The landlord could not normally increase the rent for the tenancy for a further two years. After two years, if he wanted to increase the rent again, he or the tenant could apply to the rent officer for a new rent re- registration. The proposed limit for the rent increase at the second registration would be RPI plus 5 per cent. For each subsequent re-registration, the rent increase would be limited to RPI plus 5 per cent. The objective of the proposal is to allow fair rents to move closer to market rents, but at a slower pace than would have been the case had those limits not applied.

My Lords, in responding to the consultation paper and as there will be a review of the housing benefit, will the Minister be mindful of the real problem facing our young people, particularly those under 25, in finding accommodation in the private rented sector? Many believe that the changes that we have had in housing benefit for single room rents have had a dreadful effect on the ability of young people to find accommodation in the private rented sector.

My Lords, I am certain that these issues will be raised and fully considered during the comprehensive spending review.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that when we had a form of rent control in the past, it meant that the private rented sector dried up? As we have a fair rents policy, when does a fair rent become unfair, if the limit is exceeded?

My Lords, that is the purpose of the application for proper objective consideration of what would be a reasonable rent. I am sure that the noble Lord is aware that this Government's policy is committed to ensuring that housing is available for all who need it in the most appropriate way possible.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that certain decisions of the courts two or three years ago resulted in the pre-1987 tenancy rents going up at an extremely steep rate which caused great difficulty to people on fixed incomes, particularly the elderly? Does she agree also that there is a real need for limitations to be placed on fair rents in order to achieve the balance between a fair investment for landlords and a fair rent for tenants?

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it seems odd that a government consultation document should suggest that fair rents, fixed by highly respected and well qualified rent officers, are unfair because of the perceived effects on certain tenants on fixed incomes? Furthermore, is it true that that perceived unfairness has a good deal to do with the cost to the public purse in terms of assistance with rents through housing benefit?

My Lords, rent officers and committees will still determine a fair rent under Section 70 of the Rent Act 1977. Where the determined rent is within the ceiling imposed by the RPI formula, that will be the new registered rent. It is a complex issue and I stress to the noble Earl that we welcome all detailed observations forming part of the consultation.

My Lords, I am afraid that in recent days we have been in the habit of leaving only six minutes for the last Question. We should move on.

Partnership For Peace Programme

3.33 p.m.

Whether they intend to support NATO's reported "Partnership for Peace" programme in Kosovo; and whether they intend to contribute troops or aircraft to this project.

My Lords, NATO has no Partnership for Peace programme with Kosovo, an area in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The UK is contributing to work in NATO on military options to support the current diplomatic initiative. Those options include Partnership for Peace exercises with the neighbouring countries of Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. We will be contributing land and air forces to the exercise for peace support operations in Macedonia in September. We also intend to participate in the exercise for peace support and humanitarian assistance in Albania in August.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply, which comes partly as a relief to all of us. However, can he say whether the ethnic Albanians are thought to be legitimate subjects of Yugoslavia or illegal immigrants?

My Lords, they are part of the Republic of Yugoslavia. But, as the noble Earl is aware, there are immense difficulties and danger there. I repeat that at the moment we are trying to bring about a solution by peaceful and diplomatic means. However, NATO is prepared for any option that is required if those efforts fail.

My Lords, with the conflict escalating dangerously, can the Minister inform the House specifically whether, in the Government's view, NATO military intervention in Kosovo could take place without new UN resolutions?

My Lords, the position is that we are attempting to bring about a settlement by diplomatic means. If those means fail and Belgrade does not meet the demands, there will be moves for further measures, including some that may require the authorisation of a United Nations Security Council resolution. It is clear that not all the measures would require such a resolution. In any event, we will require proper legal authority for whatever we do in that area.

My Lords, one of the lessons of Bosnia is that early intervention would have saved a great many lives and left less of a legacy of bitterness. Can the noble Lord assure us that the Government are treating this with rather more urgency than is suggested when one talks about the possibility of taking part in an exercise in September?

My Lords, of course. The main point is that we are attempting to bring about a solution, I repeat, by diplomatic means. The next meeting of the Contact Group takes place in Bonn on 8th July. As the Contact Group includes Russia, we will consider at that meeting what are the next steps to take. Our aim is always to support and encourage dialogue between all sides and the focus must be that that dialogue is brought about by diplomatic efforts. However, if at the end of the day those efforts fail, no options have been ruled out and at this stage NATO continues to review all the options.

My Lords, can my noble friend tell me whether the Government agree with the view of Mr. Richard Holbrook that it is unrealistic to expect Serbia to withdraw its security forces from Kosovo. Would it not be better if ourselves and other countries in NATO stopped treating Serbia as an international pariah and instead tried to help it to solve the real difficulties in Kosovo? They will not be solved so long as the Kosovo Liberation Army is encouraged to think that NATO will help it to take over Kosovo.

My Lords, we are not trying to achieve an independent state; we are seeking more autonomy and to bring about a stable democratic region. That is why we are working through diplomatic measures and hope that they are successful. However, we have reserve powers if those fail.

My Lords, does not the key to this matter lie in persuading President Yeltsin to use his influence on President Milosevic to make absolutely clear that if the Serbians stop killing Albanians in Kosovo, the Russians would, if necessary, support a new UN mandate? That is the key. Can the Minister tell us what progress is being made on that front?

My Lords, the position is that at the last Contact Group meeting we laid down several demands. Russia was part of the group laying down those terms. The US and the Russians have been working together for six months in the Contact Group. The Contact Group provides a focus for international activity. The next step is the meeting on 8th July when the situation will be reviewed and consideration will be given as to what further steps should be taken.

Finance (No 2) Bill

Brought from the Commons endorsed with the certificate of the Speaker that the Bill is a money Bill; read a first time, and to be printed.

School Standards And Framework Bill

3.37 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment
(Baroness Blackstone)

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now further considered on Report.

Moved, That the Bill be further considered on Report.—(Baroness Blackstone.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Clause 34 [ School changing from one category to another]:

[ Amendment No. 89 not moved.]

Schedule 8 [ Changes of category of school]:

[ Amendment No. 90 not moved.]

Clause 35 [ Governing bodies]:

moved Amendment No. 91:

Page 32, line 18, at beginning insert ("Subject to section (Grouping of community, voluntary aided, voluntary controlled and community special schools under a single governing body),").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 91, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 108 to 114 inclusive.

As I said at Committee stage, I was most disappointed with the reply of the Minister. I found it extremely sad that, having said throughout the Bill that she sees it as being about standards and not structures, she felt unable to accept this simple but important amendment. The Minister talks repeatedly about flexibility. Sadly, there has not been much evidence of that so far.

I remind your Lordships of what the amendment involves. There are many schools in a similar situation to the one I mentioned. My interest is that it concerns the church school attached to the church where my husband and I were married. It is a school of excellence and one where parents wanting the best are anxious that their children become pupils.

The school has been administered by a single governing body, probably since Elizabethan times; certainly for more than 150 years. The school caters for infants and junior pupils and, because of its success, outgrew its site. It was therefore forced into locating the junior department to a site half a mile away. In reality it continues as one school on two sites. Continuity has been an essential ingredient throughout the years and its attachment to the parish church has been a much-valued focal point in the area. Further changes are possible as there is parental pressure for a three form entry.

The chairman of the governors tells me that the board is deeply concerned about the Bill as it would disallow the way that it has organised this school for centuries. The governors fear that with two boards administration costs would escalate and there would be duplication in many areas. They also worry that there could be conflict and that the two boards would drift apart.

There are other matters which concern them. At present any child who enters at nursery stage is given the right of admission through to the end of junior school. Certain monies administered by the governors for capital projects at both schools are administered as one. They fear that they would have to set up a foundation to cater for such funds.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, is quite rightly keen that parent governors should have the opportunity to serve, but there is one point that I should have raised at Committee stage and it is this. A parent is mainly interested in a school for the time that his or her child is a pupil at it. A child is in the infant school for only three years, so the usual term as a parent governor is three years. I can assure the noble Baroness that this school does not, as she suggested, spend a disproportionate amount of its time on day-to-day site management and related issues. The governors are concerned with the long-term future of this school and policies for the future. It is the head teacher who organises the school. It is a comparatively small school on two sites, and a three-year term does not therefore lean towards forward planning but to immediate action.

For all those reasons I hope that I have persuaded the noble Baroness to look favourably upon this amendment and, in so doing, support the sterling work being done by willing volunteers. It should be allowed to continue, as it has done so successfully for centuries. I beg to move.

My Lords, I was not present when we debated this amendment in Committee. Some 25 years ago, among other things, I first became a school governor of a group of seven primary schools, each with the same governing body. Back in those days if a governors' meeting lasted more than an hour, the chair was deemed to be doing badly. Most of that hour was taken up with the time that it took successive heads to get from the classroom door, to sit down, tell us how long the fire drill had taken and get out again.

I am now the governor of just one of those schools, which is a junior school, on a different site from its infant school and with a separate governing body. I have no doubt which is better. The situation we now have is infinitely better. My own personal preference would be almost always to have a separate governing body. That is the norm and will continue to be so. However, I wonder why the Government are insisting in all cases there shall be separate governing bodies. I have read the Minister's reply to this point, but I am still not convinced that it was necessary for us to dictate from the centre what shall happen under any circumstances with each governing body.

If I remember rightly, the Minister spoke of the need to encourage more parent governors—I entirely support that—but that in itself does not preclude having a single governing body. It must be possible to increase parent governor representation on a governing body if it is felt desirable—although, in my experience, all too often parents are not clamouring to be governors.

The other laudable desire was that the governing body should concentrate more on driving up standards than on administrative matters, site management and so on. That is also desirable. In my experience, site management is often of more interest not only to governors but to staff. It is also delegated to a sub-committee of the main governing board. Again, why should one preclude the other?

I shall listen carefully to what the Minister has to say. At this stage I feel that the Government are being unnecessarily proscriptive. I was accused on Tuesday of wishing to centralise. This is far more centralising than anything I was suggesting. It would be more appropriate to leave it to governing bodies and the appropriate LEA to decide for themselves where, in exceptional circumstances, it is more appropriate, desirable and agreed by all concerned that there should be a single governing body.

My Lords, when we considered these amendments during Committee the main argument in favour of retaining group governing bodies was that, where two schools wanted to be managed by one governing body, they should be allowed to do so. We have heard this again from the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe.

It misses the point of what governing bodies are there to do. They are not there to manage schools. There is a distinction to be made between governance and day-to-day management. Where that distinction is not well understood governing bodies are in danger of treading on the toes of head teachers and their professional staffs by getting too deeply involved in day-to-day management issues.

The National Association of Head Teachers, which represents the majority of primary school heads, has told us that it would be extremely concerned by the re-introduction of group governing bodies as provided for by these amendments. Many LEAs have told us that they support our proposals for each school to have its own dedicated governing body.

Governing bodies are there to promote higher standards and provide accountability for the school's performance. They should be looking at the strategic direction that the school should be taking. Group governing bodies detract from that purpose in relation to individual schools. Governing bodies have always found it easier to deal with issues such as sites and buildings than with the substance of education. They often feel more comfortable with those issues. I too have been a governor—although rather a long time ago—and I remember that too much time tended to get taken up with those sort of problems.

That seems to be particularly true with group governing bodies. They tend to be on shared sites, and buildings and facilities rather than the substance of education, standards of teaching and learning, all too often dominate. Continuing with a system of grouping runs the risk of diverting governing bodies from their main purpose.

We have a genuine desire to strengthen the rights of parents and to increase the accountability of the governing bodies, as I think the noble Baroness recognises. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, certainly did. We have also listened carefully to the arguments being made in favour of retaining group governing bodies. I do not recall anyone suggesting that the existence of group governing bodies would enable them to meet those aims. We believe that such arrangements are inconsistent with those aims because they blur the lines of accountability and reduce the influence of parents on the governing body. Increasing the influence of parents is a manifesto commitment. We see it as a key to raising standards because parents have the most at stake.

We cannot consider the retention of group governing bodies just as a neutral act. It would mean a significant reduction in parental influence at each individual school within a group. Although perhaps it is possible that the number of parents on a governing body in a group school might be increased, there is no way that that can be assured.

Perhaps one reason why the campaign to preserve group governing bodies has not been led by the parents of pupils at the schools involved is that they would like to be better represented. Moreover, we really have not heard a single persuasive argument to suggest that the benefits of operating within a group governing body can only be preserved by legislation. That is the nub of what I want to say.

I appreciate the comments that have been made about the retention of group governing bodies in those limited circumstances where a junior and infants school share the same site, although I do not believe that to be so in the case that the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, is raising. But whether it is the case or not, we do not believe that the difficulties that have been described are insuperable. It will be perfectly possible under the new governors' framework to arrange for some cross-representation across two governing bodies where previously there was only one. There will continue to be provision for governing body committees to include non-members. Indeed, if there were a significant issue of common concern, there is no reason why two governing bodies or their respective committees should not meet together to discuss it. That would be a sensible solution. But, quite frankly, many of the day-to-day management issues involved should be worked out jointly by the head teachers, and usually are. They ought not to be ducking those responsibilities by expecting a joint governing body to sort them out for them. We cannot overlook the fact that a number of positive benefits would be lost if we continued to permit group governing bodies. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, set out very clearly the disadvantages of having group governing bodies.

We think that every school should have its own governing body to oversee the drive to improve standards and to provide a clear line of accountability. Such a governing body will have more direct responsibility for its school's performance and will be able to exercise its responsibility more effectively because the governing body can focus on just one school. It will also benefit from full parental representation rather than the diluted terms which I believe would inevitably apply to group governing bodies. In the light of that answer, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, does she appreciate that many of the governors are either experts or are trained and become experts in particular areas, such as accountancy, management and so on? If a governor has those skills, surely those skills should be spread as widely as possible, perhaps over two schools rather than being confined to one.

My Lords, perhaps I may make a brief contribution on the basis of an experience I have had in this area. I am not sure whether the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, was saying that having group governing bodies is an innovation. The noble Baroness shakes her head. I did not think that she was saying that. As a former education officer, I had to administer such a scheme. I remember that the education committee—

My Lords, for my noble friend's benefit, perhaps I may clarify that at Report stage it is not allowable to make a speech after the Minister has sat down. The noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, asked my noble friend a question before she had sat down. That is the only way in which we could have an additional debate.

My Lords, perhaps I may answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough. I am not sure that I entirely understood it, but I think he was suggesting that where one has governors with expertise—perhaps accountants—it would be desirable if they could serve more than one school. There is nothing to stop an individual who happens to have an interest in more than one school to be on two separate governing bodies, although, on the whole, I think it is a good idea for people to be governors of a single school and take the duties that are associated with being the governor of a single school very seriously and have the loyalty that is necessary. I think there are enough people around, including those who have the kind of expertise to which the noble Lord referred, who are willing voluntarily to give their time to this enormously important job.

My Lords, what would be the problem of making such a small exception as this? This has worked well for centuries, probably since Elizabethan times. If it was a school that was not successful, I could understand what the noble Baroness is saying. But when it is such a centre of excellence that people want to live nearby and get their children into the school, it seems to be a great pity that the school is not allowed to proceed in this way. What would be the problem with that?

My Lords, the noble Baroness started to get into making a new point rather than asking a simple question. I do not think I can add anything to what I have already said. I have made the position quite clear. The Government believe that it is better for each school to have its own governing body to which the teachers and the head—the professional staff—are accountable and on which parents in that school, each of them separately, can be represented.

My Lords, I am more than disappointed with that reply. I should like to test the feelings of the House.

3.56 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 91) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 95; Not-Contents, 91.

Division No. 1


Addington, L.Ludford, B.
Ailsa, M.McNair, L.
Ampthill, L.Maddock, B.
Ashbourne, L.Malmesbury, E.
Astor of Hever, L.Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Attlee, E.Mersey, V.
Avebury, L.Methuen, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L.Monro of Langholm, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L.Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Beloff, L.Munster, E.
Blatch, B.Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Bowness, L.Naseby, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L.Newby, L.
Bridgeman, V.Norfolk, D.
Burnham, L. [Teller.]Norrie, L.
Butterworth, L.Ogmore, L.
Calverley, L.Pender, L.
Carrick, E.Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Chelmsford, V.Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Chesham, L.Platt of Writtle, B.
Clark of Kempston, L.Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.
Coleridge, L.Pym, L.
Crag of Radley, L.Quinton, L.
Cross, V.Rawlings, B.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L.Redesdale, L.
Dacre of Glanton, L.Renton of Mount Harry, L.
Dahrendorf, L.Rotherwick, L.
Dean of Harptree, L.Russell, E.
Denham, L.
Dixon-Smith, L.Sandberg, L.
Eden of Winton, L.Seccombe, B. [Teller.]
Ellenborough, L.Smith of Clifton, L.
Falkland, V.Steel of Aikwood, L.
Gainford, L.Stockton, E.
Gisborough, L.Strathcarron, L.
Hamwee, B.Swinfen, L.
Hayhoe, L.Taverne, L.
Holme of Cheltenham, L.Thomas of Gwydir, L.
HolmPatrick, L.Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Hooper, B.Tope, L.
Ironside, L.Tordoff, L.
Jopling, L.Vivian, L.
Kenyon, L.Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Kinnoull, E.Warnock, B.
Lang of Monkton, L.Wedgwood, L.
Leigh, L.Wigoder, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L.Williams of Crosby, B.
Liverpool, E.Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.


Acton, L.Kirkhill, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V.Levy, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L.Lytton, E.
Bassam of Brighton, L.McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]
Blackstone, B.
Borrie, L.Mallalieu, B.
Bruce of Donington, L.Mason of Barnsley, L.
Burlison, L.Merlyn-Rees, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.Milner of Leeds, L.
Carter, L. [Teller.]Milverton, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.Mishcon, L.
Clinton-Davis, L.Molloy, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.Monkswell, L.
David, B.Montague of Oxford, L.
Davies of Oldham, L.Morris of Manchester, L.
Dearing, L.Northbourne, L.
Desai, L.Orme, L.
Dixon, L.Paul, L.
Donoughue, L.Peston, L.
Dormand of Easington, L.Pitkeathley, B.
Dubs, L.Prys-Davies, L.
Elis-Thomas, L.Puttnam, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L.Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Fitt, L.Rea, L.
Gallacher, L.Rendell of Babergh, B.
Gladwin of Clee, L.Richard, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Rix, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B.Serota, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L.Sewel, L.
Grenfell, L.Shepherd, L.
Hacking, L.Simon, V.
Hardie, L.Simon of Highbury, L.
Hardy of Wath, L.Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Haskel, L.Stallard, L.
Hayman, B.Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B.Stone of Blackheath, L.
Hoyle, L.Strabolgi, L.
Hughes, L.Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.Thomas of Macclesfield, L.
Hylton-Foster, B.Turner of Camden, B.
Ilchester, E.Weatherill, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor.]Whitty, L.
Williams of Elvel, L.
Jay of Paddington, B.Williams of Mostyn, L.
Jeger, B.Winston, L.
Kilbracken, L.Young of Old Scone, B.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

4.4 p.m.

Schedule 9 [ Constitution of governing bodies]:

[ Amendments Nos. 92 and 93 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Page 148, line 36, at end insert—

("Minor Authority Governor

. In this Schedule, "minor authority governor" means a governor appointed by the town or parish council or parish meeting which covers the locality of any community primary school, any voluntary controlled primary school or any voluntary aided primary school.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I wish also to speak to Amendments Nos. 94A, 96A and 97A. Probably the largest postbag that we have had on this Bill has been concerned with these amendments. One of the strongest community links at local level in every hamlet, village and small town in this country is through the parish councils, parish meetings and the local primary schools.

When these amendments were debated at Committee stage I took every single point that was made by the Minister. In tabling these amendments I hope that I have addressed all the concerns that the Government had. I expect that my noble friend Lady Byford will speak to this amendment. She made a powerful case in Committee. The points put forward by the Government do not resonate in the countryside at all. Indeed, the number of letters that we have had since the Minister replied in Committee give me a very strong feeling that there is little agreement with the points made.

We have dealt with the issue of consultation by the LEAs. I accept that the Government will strongly exhort local authorities, when seeking governors, to consult with district, town and parish councils and parish meetings. We are grateful for that.

The Government produced amendments of their own which suggested that schools could choose whether or not they had a parish councillor representative. They also made the point that no distinction exists between primary and secondary schools. The noble Baroness will notice that I have made that distinction since I believe that the strongest link is with primary schools. Some of the arguments of the Government as regards secondary schools have some force. The local secondary school near to my home in Cambridgeshire has about 1,800 children and covers many parishes. Therefore, I can understand the difficulty.

I have dealt with the issue of foundation schools raised by the Minister when we last spoke. I have also resolved which parish council shall be represented. It will be the parish council in whose area the school is situated. That is covered by my amendment.

I have made it very easy for the Government to do what they proclaim; namely, to accept, where it is consistent with government policy, the will of the people. This is very much the will of the people. The associations representing all parish councils and parish meetings feel strongly that this is an issue about which the Government should be responsive. They also believe that the link at local level between the parish councils, parish meetings and town councils and their local primary schools is such a strong one that it plays very much into another strand of government policy, which is partnership. In the main they are apolitical and supportive almost to the point of being obsessive about the health, wealth and progress of the local primary school. I believe that the case is unarguable. I beg to move.

My Lords, the last time we debated this subject was in the early hours of the morning. I must have been feeling particularly tired because I was probably particularly rude to the Minister. I have not changed my view. I said at the time that I thought the Minister's answer was rather mean spirited. I still think that. We had a long debate on the subject. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has reiterated how many people concerned with parish councils and those who live in rural areas care about their right to have representation on governing bodies. They have had that in the past. It is an issue on which we have had the most representations from a wide variety of people.

I am at a loss to understand why the Minister is so against the provision. We have heard much from the Government about devolution of power, involving as many people as we can in decisions, and, as regards the education field, pushing up standards and consulting widely. The amendment goes to the heart of that aim. I am at a loss to understand why the Government cannot accept it. Parish councils up and down the country are in touch with their local communities. That is the main argument. They bring necessary information to the governing body. We heard earlier today from the Minister how important it was for each school to have its own governing body. It is even more important that that governing body has a representative from the parish council.

My Lords, I support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Blatch. I listened with interest to what the Minister said. My noble friend highlighted the need to have parish representation as of right. I stressed that factor when we debated the matter in Committee. In the main, parish councils are apolitical. They represent their local communities. Since we debated the issue recently in the early hours of the morning, I have been lobbied again by people living in rural areas. The position is even more acute in rural areas than in towns.

I hope that the Minister will allow the amendment. It is extremely important to schools and local councils. The right they have at present will be severed. It will be discretionary as to whether they have a nominated place. It is important to preserve the links that exist now; and especially in rural villages.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, asked me—I was a little sleepy at that hour of the morning—what happened if there was no parish council but a parish meeting. I indicated that I would bring the matter back at the next stage. My thoughts were confirmed by the Minister: that the Government wished that those people would be included; that the place was not just for parish councils but could be extended to parish meetings.

We on these Benches are strongly in favour of inclusion; we should not exclude people. I hope that the new amendment will encourage the Minister to accept the provision. In Committee the Minister accepted the strength of feeling among the minor authorities about the Government's proposals to withdraw their right to appoint school governors. The noble Baroness also recognised that,
"not all LEAs are equally diligent about appointing LEA nominees to governing bodies".
She went on to say that,
"We believe that these matters are more appropriate for guidance on good practice rather than legislation".—[Official Report, 1/6/98: col. 153.]
She spoke later of strong encouragement to LEAs.

While we welcome such strong support, we do not think that it is enough. In reply to the debate at Committee stage, the Minister said:
"The issue of size of the governing body is not crucial to the argument".
If that is so, if the Minister recognises the strong feeling about retaining the position reiterated again today, I hope that she will support the amendment.

4.15 p.m.

My Lords, I support the amendment. An important issue, in particular in village life, is that the school should do well and be well supported. The parish council, or the minor authority, should have a right, and not just a hope, to appoint a governor. Guidelines or good practice will not give them that right even though the representatives are almost always appointed region by region or village by village. Those people feel that it is their school and that they have a right to be represented. I hope that the amendment will be accepted.

My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Byford and remind the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, of her letter in which she said how conscious she was of the strength of local feeling. I declare an interest as president (unpaid of course) of the Essex Association of Local Councils. I have received many letters. They underline the fact that parish councils are normally non-political. If there is a problem in the village school, nearly everyone knows a parish councillor. That parish councillor may have a child at the school. The village has a representative to whom the parents can go so that whatever may be going wrong in the school can be put right. The parish councils believe that they should have a right to representation on village school bodies. I hope that the Minister will see her way clear to allowing the amendment which I believe will be extremely popular.

My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. Great concern has been shown over the loss of the current arrangement whereby the local parish council can have representation on the primary school governing body. A key role is played by schools in the communities. The distribution of schools is likely to correspond closely to the parish area. The Government have stated that they wish to enhance community life. That is enhanced by strong links between primary schools and the most local level of government. The present arrangements work well and involve little criticism. Local councillors are only too willing to commit their time and energy to playing their part in the management of those local schools. Since they are local councillors, they know the people involved.

My Lords, I am sorry that the amendment is moved by the Opposition Benches because I believe that it may well make the Government resist it more strongly than otherwise.

It is an important amendment. It involves the current trend of urbanisation of the countryside. The Countryside March was about a similar trend. It is about people in the countryside being put under the control of officials who do not understand the countryside or village communities. It is the greatest possible pity to sever the links between village and village school, and between the parish and village school. I hope that the Minister will reconsider the position.

My Lords, I, too, express my support for the amendment. I declare an interest as chairman of a small primary school in rural Wales.

When school inspections take place—we have just gone through such an inspection, I am pleased to say emerging with flying colours—one of the questions addressed is the link between school and community. Inspectors consider the relationship. The fact that there is a member from the minor authority is most important.

I believe that there is a small error in the amendment. In Wales the minor authorities are referred to as community councils and I do not see that referred to in the Bill although I believe that the Bill refers to Wales as well as England and Scotland.

My Lords, I should declare a few interests. I am a parish councillor. I am president of all three of the Yorkshire associations of local councils. I am president of the National Association of Local Councils and of the Welsh local councils. It will not amaze or stun noble Lords that I followed closely the arguments at Committee stage and in particular those advanced by the Government.

I am the first to acknowledge that at Committee stage the Government moved in a "rightish" direction as far as concerned local councils. Do the Government recognise that however they dress it up in the Bill as it stands now, a much valued statutory right to nominate a person to sit on the governing body of a primary school in the community is removed? However they try to dress it up they cannot avoid that. That causes a great deal of grief, distress and unhappiness in communities and local councils. I support the amendment.

My Lords, Amendment No. 93A adds an additional category of governor—minor authority governor—to the list of categories set out in Schedule 9. It would require such a governor to be included on the governing bodies of all community, voluntary-aided and controlled primary schools. The definition which does not refer to district councils is rather narrower than the definition of "minor authority" brought forward by the Government at Lords Committee stage. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Kenyon, that the definition omits community councils in Wales, which may cause consternation to those bodies. I do not believe that as it is now drafted the amendment will apply to those councils.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said that in tabling this amendment today, this time she had drawn a distinction between primary and secondary schools. I entirely accept that. She also said that she had dealt with the issue of foundation schools. She went on to say that the issue of deciding which parish councillor should sit on a primary school governing body where there were several parishes in the catchment area of the school would be decided by the simple device of choosing a councillor from the parish in which the school was located. In considering this amendment in advance that was not quite how I or my officials interpreted it. However, I understand what the noble Baroness says.

To require schools to consider only the parish in which the school is located may not necessarily cover the parish council in which the majority of the children reside. That may often be the case. Where a school is situated is largely an historical accident. Where schools have amalgamated, as sometimes happens, particularly in a large village or perhaps a small town, the school with the largest site is often the one that is chosen to be the new school. One may find that pupils are drawn from a different parish. That may lead to difficulties.

I turn to the nub of the issue. Apparently parish and town councils are unhappy that they will not have automatic nomination rights. The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, referred to the heavy lobbying that had taken place outside the House. I acknowledge that that has happened. The Government have also been lobbied. We are aware of the strength of feeling. But it is important to recognise that this heavy lobbying is being conducted by a single interest group: the minor authorities themselves. If we look at the number of pupils affected in the areas with parish or town councils, these vociferous interest groups seek a disproportionate voice. An overwhelming number of primary pupils are at schools in areas that are served by neither parish nor town councils. It may be said that this is taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. Is she saying that there should be dictatorship of the majority and that no consideration should be given to these minority communities?

My Lords, of course I am not saying that. If the noble Lord had waited I would have told him of the Government's view about the best way to deal with the matter. However, we do not believe that the right way to deal with it is by accepting these amendments.

We recognise the benefits that community involvement through minor authority representation can bring. We plan to emphasise those benefits. We will specifically consult the National Council of Local Authorities about the wording of this part of our guidance to ensure that its views are fully taken into account over the presentation of the case for including a minor authority nominee. We believe that that is a more appropriate approach than what is proposed in statute by these amendments. There is no comparison between the responsibilities LEAs hold as funders and guardians of educational standards and those of minor authorities, even in those cases where minor authorities are able to provide some funding for specific purposes as I recognise they sometimes do.

We accept that minor authorities can articulate the needs of their local communities. A number of noble Lords have said as much in this debate. However, they do not have an exclusive right to do so as many other members of the governing body will also be residing in the local community and articulating the interests of that community. We believe that schools themselves are in the best position to weigh those various factors. Governing bodies should make their own decisions on this issue.

I welcome the fact that the amendments introduced by the Government at Committee stage in this House were regarded as moving half-way towards what our critics wanted. I am grateful to those who recognise that we have tried to be constructive in responding to these concerns. To go further would damage the autonomy of individual governing bodies. We believe in local democracy but we are also actively promoting the greater autonomy of schools. Schools should be left to take a decision on this matter and decide what best serves their interests and those of their communities. We do not believe that such decisions can reasonably be taken by a number of minor authorities.

We are also concerned about the potential size of some governing bodies. These proposals will automatically add two additional governors to every voluntary-aided primary school because of the need to preserve the foundation majority. We should leave it to voluntary-aided schools to decide whether it is right for them to increase the size of their governing bodies in this way. We also believe in equal treatment for all schools, as did the Opposition until they had a change of heart over these amendments and decided to exclude foundation schools. The advantage of our proposals is that they provide all primary schools with the right to choose.

I turn to government Amendment No. 208. This is a technical amendment necessary to ensure that the minor authority definitions moved in Lords Committee and contained in Clause 138 can be brought into force at Royal Assent. The definitions are needed for regulations relating to preparation of instruments of government and reconstitution of governing bodies ready for the appointed day.

I hope that in the light of what I have said the amendment that has been tabled by the Opposition will be withdrawn and that Amendment No. 208 will form part of the Bill.

My Lords, I should like to respond first to a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I do not stand here as a party hack or "over-political" person. I believe that this amendment combines interests that run throughout the House. I do not believe that there is a chamber in the land where we can be apolitical and recognise an issue of importance to the people of this country. I do not stand here simply as a representative of the official Opposition but because I believe this to be an apolitical interest that is widely supported outside this Chamber.

It was the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, who said on a previous occasion that we had had a mean-spirited reply. We have had a meaner-spirited reply today, because we have brought forward amendments which address many of the concerns that the Government expressed at the last stage. I say to my noble friend who raised the issue of Welsh community councils mea culpa on that. I am afraid that I overlooked it. But if the House is mindful to support me today I shall ensure that an amendment is brought forward, or I might rely upon the Government to do my work for me.

The Minister said that schools should be free to choose their governors. Why are we imposing LEA governors on them? Why do they have no choice but to accept LEA governors, but when it comes to a minor authority, which means much more to them in terms of community support, they are left to choose?

I would argue that it should perhaps be the other way around. The minor authority should have the right to be represented, and schools should choose whether or not they would like LEA governors on their governing bodies.

The Minister was breathtakingly dismissive of the number of people who are worried about this issue. I have had letters from hamlets, towns and villages all over the country. If one takes the shire counties and their populations, and the small market towns and their populations, one would find that those represent a large percentage of a population. To dismiss it in the way that the Minister did is unacceptable.

The Minister said also that the Government are going to consult the bodies that represent minor authorities on future proposals as to how this issue is to be addressed. This is our last opportunity in the Bill to address the issue. I am surprised that the Minister, her colleagues and officials did not consult the minor authorities when they removed their right to sit on school governing bodies. That is extraordinary.

This is our legislative opportunity. We are responding in an apolitical way to an apolitical notion. There cannot be a Member of Parliament in this House or another place who has not received a genuine cri de Coeur from the heart of the community asking for a modest but important facility: to be represented on their local primary schools. I commend the amendment to the House.

4.32 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 93A) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 159; Not-Contents, 81.

Division No. 2


Aberdare, L.Belhaven and Stenton, L.
Addington, L.Beloff, L.
Ailsa, M.Biffen, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E.Birdwood, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V.Blatch, B.
Ampthill, L.Blyth, L.
Anelay of St. Johns, B.Boardman, L.
Annaly, L.Bowness, L.
Ashbourne, L.Brabazon of Tara, L.
Astor of Hever, L.Braine of Wheatley, L.
Attlee, E.Bridgeman, V.
Avebury, L.Broadbridge, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L.Brougham and Vaux, L.

Burnham, L. [Teller.]Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Butterworth, L.Moyne, L.
Byford, B.Munster, E.
Cadman, L.Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Calverley, L.Naseby, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L.Newby, L.
Clanwilliam, E.Newton of Braintree, L.
Chirk of Kempston, L.Nicholson of Winterbourne, B.
Cope of Berkeley, L.Norfolk, D.
Courtown, E.Norrie, L.
Craig of Radley, L.Northbourne, L.
Cranborne, V.Northesk, E.
Crickhowell, L.Norton, L.
Cross, V.O'Cathain, B.
Dacre of Glanton, L.Ogmore, L.
Davidson, V.Orr-Ewing, L.
Dean of Harptree, L.Oxfuird, V.
Dearing, L.Park of Monmouth, B.
Denham, L.Peel, E.
Dixon-Smith, L.Pender, L.
Downshire, M.Perry of Southwark, B.
Eden of Winton, L.Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Ellenborough, L.Platt of Writtle, B.
Elles, B.Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L.Pym, L.
Erroll, E.Quinton, L.
Falkland, V.Rankeillour, L.
Feversham, L.Rawlings, B.
Flather, B.Reay, L.
Eraser of Carmyllie, L.Redesdale, L.
Gainford, L.Renton, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B.Renton of Mount Harry, L.
Geddes, L.Renwick, L.
Gisborough, L.Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Glentoran, L.Rotherwick, L.
Hamwee, B.Rowallan, L.
Harlech, L.Sainsbury, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L.Seccombe, B.
Harrowby, E.Smith of Clifton, L.
Hayhoe, L.Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Hayhoe, L.Steel of Aikwood, L.
Higgins, L.Stockton, E.
Holderness, L.Strathcarron, L.
Holme of Cheltenham, L.Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]
HolmPatrick, L.Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Hooper, B.Sudeley, L.
Howe, E.Swansea, L.
Ilchester, E.Swinfen, L.
Jopling, L.Taverne, L.
Kenyon, L.Tebbit, L.
Lane of Horsell, L.Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Lang of Monkton, L.Thomas, of Swynnerton, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L.Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Liverpool, E.Tope, L.
Long, V.Tordoff, L.
Ludford, B.Trefgarne, L.
Luke, L.Trumpington, B.
Lytton, E.Vivian, L.
McConnell, L.Wallace of Saltaire, L.
McNair, L.Warnock, B.
Maddock, B.Wedgwood, L.
Mayhew of Twysden, L.Westbury, L.
Miller of Hendon, B.Wharton, B.
Monro of Langholm, L.Williams of Crosby, B.
Monson, L.Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Montgomery of Alamein, V.Wise, L.
Mountevans, L.Young, B.


Acton, L.Carter, L. [Teller.]
Ashley of Stoke, L.Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L.Clinton-Davis, L.
Blackstone, B.Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Borrie, L.David, B.
Burlison, L.Davies of Oldham, L.

Desai, L.Mishcon, L.
Dormand of Easington, L.Molloy, L.
Dubs, L.Monkswell, L.
Elis-Thomas, L.Montague of Oxford, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L.Morris of Manchester, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.Orme, L.
Fitt, L.Paul, L.
Gallacher, L.Peston, L.
Gladwin of Clee, L.Pitkeathley, B.
Gould of Potternewton, B.Plant of Highfield, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L.Prys-Davies, L.
Grenfell, L.Puttnam, L.
Hacking, L.Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Hardie, L.Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Hardy of Wath, L.Rea, L.
Haskel, L.Rendell of Babergh, B.
Hayman, B.Richard. L. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Hollis of Heigham, B.Serota, B.
Howie of Troon, L.Sewel, L.
Hoyle, L.Shepherd, L.
Hughes, L.Simon, V.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.Simon of Highbury, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor.]Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Stallard, L.
Janner of Braunstone, L.Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Jay of Paddington, B.Stone of Blackheath, L.
Jeger, B.Strabolgi, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L.Thomas of Macclesfield, L.
Kilbracken, L.Turner of Camden, B.
Levy, L.Walker of Doncaster, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]Whitty, L.
Mallalieu, B.Williams of Elvel, L.
Mason of Barnsley, L.Williams of Mostyn, L.
Merlyn-Rees, L.Winston, L.
Milner of Leeds, L.Young of Old Scone, B.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

4.42 p.m.

Page 150, line 15, at end insert—

("Minor authority 0 0 1 1 ") governors

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[ Amendments Nos. 95 and 96 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Page 152, line 44, at end insert—

("Minor authority 0 0 1 1 ") governors

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[ Amendment No. 97 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Page 153, line 40, at end insert—

("Minor authority 0 0 1 1 ") governors

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Page 154, line 4, after ("person") insert ("from whom or").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, these are technical amendments necessary to correct the Bill where current wording does not reflect our intended use or where it does not take into account some specific circumstances which may face schools transferring to the new framework.

Amendments No. 98 and 104 in this group are necessary to correct a form of words in the Bill which, currently, can be read only in the plural, but which we intended to be read in the singular or plural as circumstances demanded. It relates to nominations to be sought for the appointment of additional governors to the governing body.

Amendment No. 99 is needed to allow governing bodies to be reconstituted with minimum disruption. It will enable transitional regulations to allow certain existing governors to remain in post even where they may not strictly meet all the new requirements. Amendments Nos. 100 and 101 provide for specific circumstances where a governing body cannot be fully reconstituted by the appointed day. These amendments are needed to ensure that such schools have a corporate governing body which can continue to function until such time as the governing body can be fully reconstituted under the new framework. The circumstances and the necessary modifications will be set out in the transitional regulations we propose to make under this schedule. We shall of course be consulting on them in the normal way.

Amendment No. 105 is necessary to provide for circumstances in which the LEA which has proposed a variation to the instrument of government can proceed with it. It clarifies the requirement on the LEA to explain why it wishes to proceed and to give an opportunity for agreement to be reached with the governing body. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 10 [ Incorporation and powers of governing bodies]:

Page 155, line 24, after ("sub-paragraph") insert ("(3) or").

Page 155, line 41, leave out ("constitution") and insert ("existence").

Page 156, line 31, leave out ("of Part II or III of the Education Act 1996") and insert ("made by or under any of the Education Acts").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 36 [ Instruments of government]:

Page 32, line 29, leave out subsection (2).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 102, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 103 and 106A. They relate to articles and instruments of government. The articles of government define how a school is to be run. They set out the priorities of the school with regard to the curriculum and the particular religious ethos of a Church school.

The Bill proposes that all articles should be abolished, while instruments of government, which define the powers and responsibilities of the governing body of a school, are to be standardised according to a centrally imposed model which is put forward in the schedule. We are worried that these proposals will reduce the particular ethos and individuality of a school. We believe that it is too much standardisation and that there are dangers in it.

Perhaps I may give an example of a school which I should like to remain unnamed. Details are contained in a letter from the department written in 1989 when the instruments and articles of government were reissued. The department stated that Ministers accepted the governors' argument that the school has a large catchment area and a particularly well developed tradition of independence and that that justifies greater flexibility in these documents than in the models that were published earlier on. The letter continued:

"We have therefore removed the references to an Admissions Committee—responsibility for admissions now rests with the governing body as a whole, subject to the general provisions of the Instruments and Articles … We have also recast the procedures for the appointment of the head and other staff".

Your Lordships' will notice that the present Bill lays down detailed conditions as to how head teachers and staff are to be appointed.

The letter further stated:

"In the first case … we have restored responsibility for appointment to the governing body … You will also wish to note that we have made more explicit the governors' responsibilities for the conduct of a … school [of specific religious denomination], and have incorporated more minor drafting points".

The point of that letter, which was written by the same department as is putting forward these proposals, was to state that the particular school needed greater independence and greater flexibility which is now to be denied it.

I have in front of me a letter written to my noble friend by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. He says that the purpose of these clauses and schedules is to name the category of the school, the composition of the governing body, the arrangements for foundation governors and, where the school has a religious character, a description of its ethos. He says that there is no intention to add to that list.

Further to that, the noble Lord's honourable friend said in the other place on 2nd February in Standing Committee A:

"I am very conscious of the hard work that many schools have put in to develop their own articles to reflect their priorities and ethos. It would be a mistake"—

in other words, he supports what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said,

"to deny those schools the opportunity to incorporate those provisions in the new arrangements".

He goes on to say:

"The Government took the view that it would be better to remove the requirement to have articles and instead have a common instrument of government, details of which are in schedule 12. That would provide a narrow and focused set of requirements and there will be nothing to stop individual schools adding to them".—[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee A, 10/2/98; col. 436.]

That is the theory and it is true that the Government have allowed certain committees for governors and a certain degree of delegation of power to the head. But in essence, my noble friends and I find that they restrict the individuality of various schools. I mention in particular the appointment of staff, financial delegation and admissions, with which we shall deal later. The department were saying how desirable it was to give schools those powers.

It is true that Canon Hall, who is the General Secretary of the Board of Education, who I have quoted before, said in his letter to The Times that many of those articles were obsolete and needed revision. He said that it is no attack on a school's distinctiveness. I disagree with that.

One of the reasons why I disagree is that I have been approached by a number of headmasters and those approaches have demonstrated that Canon Hall's views are not shared by everyone. They believe that flexibility is destroyed and the schools are more limited.

The abolition of articles followed by prescriptive schedules limits the freedom of manoeuvre for a school. A particular strength of a school is the power of a head to appoint staff. A head teacher of a maintained school telephoned me yesterday. He said that he opposed the changes which is why he decided to ring me. He said, "The Government constantly exhort us to raise standards". He said that he is told on every occasion that the object is to raise standards. He said that one of the best ways to do that is by giving to heads the independence to appoint staff so that there is as much room to manoeuvre as possible. He went on to say, "We want the sort of independence that independent schools enjoy". He said that in many cases, he was competing with independent schools when he was appointing staff. Whereas the independent schools could do that in a flexible and rapid manner, he would have to go through the elaborate procedures which are defined in this schedule unless my noble friend's later amendments are accepted.

I do not believe that either the assurances of Mr. Byers in another place or those of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in his letter to my noble friend reflect the facts. The abolition of articles and the imposition of standardisation will limit the freedom to manoeuvre and will actually work against the object of the Bill which is to raise standards. I beg to move.

My Lords, let us be clear that Amendments Nos. 102 and 106A delete Schedule 12. In effect, that would remove all legislation in this area. I am certainly not persuaded that we should accept such a potentially destructive provision.

The basic premise underpinning these amendments is that the instrument of government should not be subject to legislative provision and that schools and LEAs should be free to have whatever sort of instrument they wish, subject only to guidance. That retains the historic system substantially more than the Bill itself does and devalues the status of the instrument of government which we are intending to enhance.

We are not proposing to legislate on the instrument of government for the sake of it. We need to legislate to make it clear who is responsible for making the important decisions about governing body composition, within the framework of Schedule 9. Otherwise there would inevitably be uncertainty and dispute. Legislation is essential to ensure that governing bodies are well founded and that appropriate interests are represented. Let us also be clear that we are not ridding the system of the hard-fought individual character of schools, as the noble Lord suggests. In many respects the new instrument will be more individual, more specific, and certainly a good deal more meaningful than those that previously existed. For example, schools with a specifically religious character will be required to have an ethos statement embedded in their instrument. Although the noble Lord's comments indicate that there is some dispute among canons on that issue, by and large the Churches have welcomed that approach.

We think it important that the basic legal identity of the governing body is provided for in the instrument of government, and that requires legislation. Perhaps I may clarify my letter and the remarks of my honourable friend Stephen Byers, to which the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, referred. There will be no power to add directly to the specified contents of the instrument of government because this ensures that the instrument will be a simple document made in accordance with a pro forma and that there will be no risk of the instrument conflicting with provisions in primary or secondary legislation. However,—and this is the point made by Stephen Byers—governing bodies will remain able to devise individual procedures and standing orders so far as they are consistent with the main provisions on meetings and proceedings in the school government regulations which will themselves reflect the ethos and traditions of that school.

I do not share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, that individuality flourished under the previous system. For example, when the previous government legislated for GM school governance, they did so within a clear legislative framework. The noble Lord would have us believe that those documents were individually tailored to the specific requirements of each governing body. I can assure him that they were not. Indeed from 1994, the instruments of government did not even contain the name of the school. They largely comprised a set of provisions governing the meetings and proceedings of the governing body. Our proposals will ensure that all governing bodies have an individual identity. That identity will be encompassed in the instrument of government which will provide information that is unique to that school and governing body. Common regulations will apply for those things which are already common to governing bodies. We believe that that is a sensible, balanced structure. As I say, it still allows standing orders and other measures within individual bodies to be added to it. As I say, it still allows standing orders and other measures within individual bodies to be added to it.

This is not a straitjacket. We believe that all pupils should have equal access but we do not believe that all schools should be the same. That is very clear from our overall policy. It is very clear also from the way that we have approached the instrument of government changes. Contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, alleges, that will allow clarity and common provisions but it will not impose uniformity on schools. In any event, the previous system did little to encourage the individuality which the noble Lord now claims for it.

My Lords, I begin by saying that I am very glad that in my 17 years as a head teacher of a school, I did not have to make the appointments of my staff under the regulations which are proposed in the Bill. If that had been the case, I would not have been standing here and I would have been earning my living in a different way.

I remind the noble Lord again of what his department wrote oh such a short time ago. It accepted the governors' argument that X school with a history and a very large catchment area and a particularly well-developed tradition of independence justifies greater flexibility.

The purpose of my amendment was to give greater flexibility to avoid the straitjacket. Yes, the Minister is right: it would restore the status quo if the schedule were removed from the Bill. I realise that I am speaking to the deaf. The Government have decided that their model should be the French model, as I have said 20 times in this House. Give the Minister the timetable and a clock and she will write the document; the head teachers will do what she says.

Well, robots can be quite effective, but they do not make good head teachers. I can assure the House that not only the head teacher that I quoted but also quite a few more head teachers of Church, Roman Catholic and Anglican, schools do not like what is proposed. They do not like the way that the Government are doing it. Indeed, they sometimes think—dare I say it in the presence of the right reverend Prelate?—that the bishops and the Board of Education do not have a deep understanding of what a head teacher needs to make a successful school.

However, the Government have suffered enough this afternoon. I shall therefore withdraw my amendment. I fear that the wounds are beginning to show. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[ Amendment No. 103 not moved.]

5 p.m.

Schedule 12 [ Instruments of government]:

Page 160, line 26, after ("person") insert ("from whom or").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Page 161, line 1, at end insert—

("( ) Where the school is a foundation, voluntary aided or foundation special school, arrangements pursuant to section 54(2) may be included in the instrument.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving the amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 131A, 133A and 134B to 134J. I had intended to table these amendments in Committee. Therefore, in my rather clumsy way, I have been transposing numbers, page numbers and indeed clause numbers in the process of retabling them. In Amendment No. 104A, the reference to "section 54(2)" should read "section 55(2)". That new subsection (2) is contained within Amendment No. 131A.

Just as my noble friend argued a moment ago, I maintain that these amendments go to the heart of a school's ability to be in control of its own affairs and, in particular, the creation of its distinctive ethos and style. Much has been said by Ministers over the past year about the importance of schools being in control of their own affairs and allowing them freedom and flexibility to do this, that and the other. However, this Bill, which contains 142 clauses and 32 schedules, puts a straitjacket on the schools in a way which does not bear out the claimed philosophy of Ministers in the education department.

There is no greater influence on education than the quality of the staff recruited in a school. Schedule 17 represents very much a straitjacket. My preference would be to see the schedule removed from the Bill. I understand that that is not a million miles away from the view also of one or two people within the political sphere of the education department. A number of schools have exercised independence for some years in appointing staff. They have proved very successful. Schedule 17 is so bureaucratic that it will make it more, not less, difficult for schools to recruit good staff. Schools need more, not less, freedom; they need more, not less, flexibility. They need that in order to be able to appoint the very best staff and sometimes, I have to say, speed is of the essence. For example, it is not unknown for a school wishing to recruit a good teacher in a subject where recruitment is normally difficult to acquire a teacher in a matter of hours sometimes, so as to ensure that it makes the right appointment. That is done in order to avoid going through a bureaucratic process whereby the whole thing becomes impossible at the end of the day. If the school has either to re-appoint or go through the whole procedure again, it may, in the process, lose very good staff.

The freedom and flexibility enjoyed by many schools, especially in the grant-maintained sector, has really given independent schools a run for their money. It has meant competition on almost equal terms. As a result, standards in schools have been raised. However, under Schedule 17, schools, especially the good ones which care about such matters, will lose that flexibility and that freedom. Therefore, it cannot be a good thing if standards are to be raised in those schools.

The schools Minister in another place, in a Social Market Foundation lecture only yesterday evening, made a number of comments. But the sound bite which emerged from the department's press release was most interesting:

"Put simply, excellent schools should not be treated in the same way as others … One of our priorities over the next few months is to identify ways in which excellent schools can simply be allowed to get on with what they do well without undue distraction … Why not give them greater freedom to continue to achieve high levels of attainment and active encouragement to share the secrets of their success with other schools".

The Government now have the opportunity to put some flesh on the bones of their viewpoints. It is not as though we are talking about an area which needs experimentation. These are practices which have been tried and tested by many of our schools, and, in particular, by our grant-maintained schools. I hope that the Government are sufficiently open minded to accept that Schedule 17 is restrictive; that it will curtail freedom and flexibility; and that it will stand in the way of good schools obtaining good staff, providing good education and continuing to raise standards in our schools. I beg to move.

My Lords, in introducing the amendments, the noble Baroness pointed out that she had not moved them at an earlier stage. I must confess that I am perhaps one of several Members of the House who have found it difficult to follow the thread of her argument as regards Schedule 17. Therefore, I should like to express the hope that the noble Baroness will not put her amendments to the vote today. That will give me time to read what the noble Baroness has said and, indeed, to consider the Minister's response.

In general, my impression is that this series of amendments is designed to ensure that foundation schools, voluntary-aided schools and foundation special schools have relaxed conditions as regards the employment of teachers. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether that impinges upon the whole area of conditions of employment, as I believe may be the case. We on these Benches are not generally in favour of having different conditions for those particular schools compared to those which apply to community schools. Therefore, at present, we tend to oppose this group of amendments.

My Lords, as the noble Baroness just said, these are rather complex amendments. Indeed, her general impression is correct. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, claims that the amendments are about protecting standards and providing flexibility. In fact, they would remove all the procedures and protections for these schools as regards the employment of staff, although they would in one sense, I suppose, provide flexibility.

Amendments Nos. 104A and 131A would delete virtually the whole of the staffing provision set out in Schedule 17 when such a foundation or voluntary-aided school has arrangements for staffing in its instrument of government. There is a separate point here. I am not entirely sure whether the noble Baroness has corrected the situation as regards what she said at the beginning of her remarks. It would appear that Amendment No. 104A relates to schools which have a suspended delegated budget. I believe the noble Baroness has indicated there is a mistake in the amendment in which case it is clearly flawed.

Before I respond to the detail of the other amendments in the group it may be helpful if I reiterate the points stressed in Committee. The majority of the provisions on staffing are familiar to schools of all kinds. The main purpose of the staffing provisions is to carry existing provisions forward into the new framework. Most of these provisions appeared in the 1988 Education Reform Act. Some of them have their origins in the 1944 Act. Most of the staffing provisions in Schedule 17 are currently set out in the articles of government for grant-maintained and voluntary aided schools which will be replaced and rolled forward into the new framework.

The provisions of Schedule 17 are sensible and prudent and put in place the essential elements of the staffing functions that we would expect to be undertaken at foundation and voluntary aided schools. The staff at any school account for the largest single item of expenditure and the public have a right to be satisfied that there are appropriate provisions to ensure that staffing functions are properly and consistently managed. With the provisions of Schedule 17 there are therefore a clear and unquestionable set of arrangements for the essential staffing functions of those schools where the governing body is the employer.

The noble Baroness may not have fully realised the detailed effects of the amendments. By driving a coach and horses through any provision in the schedule for staffing arrangements they remove a number of detailed protections and requirements.

Amendment No. 133A would remove the procedure in Schedule 17 for governing bodies to consider head and deputy head teacher appointments. It is rarely practicable for all members of a governing body to become involved in the detailed consideration of appointments. The usual practice is for a panel of three or more governors to be appointed. The amendment would appear to delete that requirement. Amendment No. 134A would remove the need for a candidate for a deputy head teacher post, for example, to meet any staff qualification requirements. This would potentially allow foundation and voluntary aided schools to appoint teachers, or anyone else for that matter, currently barred by the Secretary of State on misconduct or medical grounds. In short, that opens up a danger to children. The amendment would also remove the provision for the governing body to make an appointment or engagement for such a post when the incumbent is absent.

Amendments Nos. 134B and 134C deal with temporary appointments. They would increase from four months to one year the reference period for the appointment of a temporary teacher and disapply the detailed procedure that is required for a substantive teacher appointment. We believe that teaching is so important that substantive posts should be properly advertised. We do not consider that the four month limit for temporary teaching posts should be extended.

Amendment No. 134D deletes the requirement to inform the LEA of a teacher vacancy. It is not entirely clear what the effects of that would be but it appears to be yet another attempt to remove proper quality control on appointment procedures. Amendment No. 134E deletes the provisions for the LEA to nominate a candidate for a vacant teaching post and includes a provision for the governing body to advertise a teaching post vacancy unless it decides to fill it by other means. This is no real change in one sense. It is not compulsory to appoint someone who replies to an advertisement but it is clearly desirable to do so in most cases. The schedule reflects that.

Amendment No. 134F deletes the provisions to advertise a vacant teaching post and includes a requirement for teachers to be employed under a written contract of employment. This would in certain circumstances reduce flexibility because it would prevent schools engaging supply teachers from employment agencies. Amendment No. 134G deletes the current provisions for interviewing and deciding on teacher candidates where the governing body advertises a vacant post. It is not entirely clear what the intention of that deletion is as the procedures already set out in the Bill are flexible.

It seems to me that the detailed effects of the amendments are either obscure or are intended to remove quality controls. The clear strategy behind the proposals is to remove any legislative control on appointments to these categories of schools. That is not the Government's approach, not because we oppose flexibility and innovation in appointments but because the public have the right to require school governing bodies in this sector to make appointments in such a way that the quality of the teachers who are appointed can largely be guaranteed. We do not think the strategy behind the amendments is a sensible one. We believe that such requirements which have featured in most education Acts for many decades should also feature in the future.

5.15 p.m.

My Lords, if ever there was a response designed to strengthen rather than weaken the case for my amendments it is the one we have just heard. Is the noble Lord really saying that the quality of staff recruited by the Oratory school in London or the George Spencer school in Nottingham is poor because they have had the flexibility to operate without Schedule 17? When the noble Lord says that I seek to remove the requirement to inform the LEA, that does not make for appointing a better teacher. It is an administrative procedure which sometimes can cause a delay and stand in the way of appointing a good teacher. The very idea that we are fighting for flexibility in order to appoint unsuitable teachers is breathtaking in the misunderstanding it reveals. I ask the noble Lord to talk to head teachers who have enjoyed this flexibility and who have recruited first class staff, sometimes at short notice because they have not had to go through this restrictive straitjacket of bureaucratic procedures. There is a serious misunderstanding of what the schedule is about.

I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, that I shall not put the measure to the vote. I apologise for the mistake I made. I was referring to Clause 55 and not Clause 54 which was originally in the amendment on the Marshalled List. All the amendments in this group are designed to introduce flexibility. One of the reasons it has been so difficult grouping these amendments is that I would have preferred to take Schedule 17 out of the Bill. However, the apoplexy on the part of noble Lords opposite at the thought of losing Schedule 17 altogether would be a serious matter. However, I have attempted to include a provision in Schedule 17 to enable schools to be more flexible and to exercise some independence.

The other point that the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, made has great force. I have absolutely no philosophical or practical objection to extending this kind of flexibility and freedom for appointing staff to all schools. I thought it was preferable to take a step-by-step approach and in the first instance extend that flexibility to those schools which have already proven their worth.

My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Baroness while she is in full flow. However, I should make clear that my purpose in making the comments to which she referred was not to suggest that these relaxations should also be applied to other schools.

My Lords, I would have no objection to the provision being extended to other schools. If the noble Baroness is arguing that it should not be extended to any schools, we shall simply have to agree to differ. The noble Baroness said that she did not want any different treatment as between schools. We had no hang-ups about this matter whatever. We realised that certain schools were distinctive and operated within different frameworks. The Government in their wisdom have chosen to create foundation schools rather than all schools becoming community schools. The Government did that either because those schools were distinctive within the system or they were not. If they are distinctive, there has to be some distinction made between how those schools operate and how other schools operate. The distinction has already been made by the Bill. As I said, it is flexibility and independence that I seek. Under my step-by-step approach I seek to apply my amendments at present only to foundation schools and voluntary aided schools.

Mr. Byers made an interesting speech last night for which a number of my colleagues were present. I know that they and a number of others found his remarks interesting. They experienced what we have experienced all along—the yawning gap between rhetoric and practice. This schools Bill is the first legislative opportunity that Mr. Byers has had to put some of his words into action. It is a God given opportunity. Arguing for more freedom and flexibility is one thing; however, by supporting these amendments he could put those ideas into practice. Instead, the schools Minister who talks about standards supports the straitjacket which, from time to time, will stand in the way of good schools appointing quality staff.

I shall not press these amendments because they are flawed I wanted to give people an opportunity to understand what I was trying to do. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Page 163, line 10, leave out ("proposed variation") and insert ("governing body's proposed variation or why they wish to proceed with their own proposed variation (as the case may be)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Page 163, line 47, at end insert ("or (4A)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[ Amendment No. 106A not moved.]

Clause 38 [ Additional functions of governing body]:

moved Amendment No. 107:

Page 33, line 22, at end insert—
("( ) The governing body of a maintained school shall have a duty to facilitate and give reasonable assistance to parents who wish to establish an organisation within the school to represent parents.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the aim of this amendment is to make it clear that parents can set up an organisation to represent them in a school and be able to look to the governing body, which is the policy-making body of a school, for reasonable assistance. When I moved this amendment in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that he would reflect upon it. I have since heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, that she does not now like the amendment.

However, the Campaign for State Education (CASE) felt so strongly about the matter that I must put the amendment forward yet again, and hope perhaps to make the noble Baroness change her mind.

CASE stated:

"It is clear from our contact with parents … that despite all the rhetoric many parents feel that they have great difficulty finding a voice in schools. Parent governors are sometimes told by heads or chairs of governors that they are not there to 'speak for parents'. They should have a means of speaking to parents and parents should have a means of speaking to them if they want it. CASE hears from parents in other schools where these arrangements work well—because the head and governing body support the idea. Guidance will not bring this about in every school.
"[The Minister said] What is facilitating and giving reasonable assistance can be defined in guidance. [But] Guidance cannot give parents legal rights which are not in the law. For example guidance could make clear that when parents want to set up an organisation they should be able to expect that the governing body will allow them a room to meet and to use pupil post to invite parents. They should have some secretarial support and photocopying. The governing body would not be expected to initiate an organisation but if the parent governors wanted to set one up or a … number of parents then it would be clear they could expect this support from the governing body as part of the duties of the governing body".

The Advisory Centre for Education is equally keen on this amendment. The Alliance of Parents & Schools stated in a letter to me:

"It seems ironic that the Government states it welcomes more parental involvement yet seems unwilling to give parents support through legislation.
"Many Headteachers and Governing Bodies still do not permit parent groups within schools. Many may allow groups with the proviso that its function is purely fund-raising and discussion on educational topics strictly forbidden. There is still a big divide between parents and schools where this attitude prevails".

Those groups feel very strongly about this matter. I hope that the Minister may perhaps think again. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving us an opportunity to revisit her amendment seeking to establish an organisation within schools to represent parents. While I do not totally agree with the noble Baroness as to the need for yet another body, I recognise the thrust of her argument. She recognises the important role played in those links by PTAs and other bodies attached to a school.

I had in mind a different approach, one in which the governing body of a maintained school should have a duty to construct a mechanism for consulting all parents from time to time. That could well cover the setting up of pupil post/mail and a system of registering replies. It could consider issues such as changes to the school day; school uniform; school transport; parking problems; plans to open or close sixth forms, and many other issues on which the governing body or the head wishes to consult parents. I think we all agree that if parents are consulted they feel that they have a real say in what is going on within a school. Hence my hesitation to support fully the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady David; however. I acknowledge the thrust of her argument.

In responding to that argument in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, acknowledged that existing arrangements at school level are not always satisfactory. He also confirmed that annual parents meetings will be retained. However, as we know, parents meetings are not always well attended. Many of the matters to which I have referred are not encompassed in that way. I hope, on reflection, the noble Lord will be able to give a more positive response to the amendment.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Tope has added his name to this amendment. I wish to support the noble Baroness, Lady David. I ought to declare an interest. I have been a member of the Campaign for State Education. I must admit to being not quite sure whether or not I am a paid-up member at present. I have a feeling that my membership form is lying in a file somewhere among other matters that I need to deal with.

This matter is important. Those of us who are parents or have been governors of schools have sometimes observed the difficulty in particular schools of parents having their voice heard. At the end of the day, if a head teacher does not want you to be heard, he can make sure that you are not. The amendment seeks to ensure that that right is enshrined in legislation. That is the main difference between ourselves and the Government. Many of the Minister's remarks have indicated that the Government have understood, and that they want to involve parents. The difference lies in enshrining that right in law.

I know that some members of CASE feel that the Government are not quite clear as to how they see the role of parents. Sometimes they want them to be heavily involved and sometimes they do not. They are asking for parents to be involved in home-school agreements and so on; yet when it comes to the crunch will they be able to do other things properly in a school? It is important that parents who are trying to consult with other parents have a right to use facilities within a school. If you are a parent trying to communicate with other parents, one of the hardest things is not having access within a school to post or photocopying facilities. That makes such communication very difficult.

If the Government are serious about involving parents in raising standards in schools, this is one way in which they can give recognition to that and enshrine in law the right of parents to have access to a school, and to the teachers and head teacher.

My Lords, I wonder whether I might encourage my noble friend the Minister to be somewhat sympathetic to the stance on this amendment. We all know the value of parents' associations—particularly in fund-raising and encouraging parental activity in school life. The most important role of many parents' associations is acting as a voice for parents' concerns about aspects of running a school. We should not under-estimate the inhibition felt by many parents about one-to-one meetings with a head teacher on matters of concern. Parents' associations allow such issues to be raised in a far more receptive atmosphere. Those concerns can then be passed on by the parents' association. Most heads and most school governing bodies recognise the value and role of parents' associations, encourage them and take part in their activities. But there are instances where heads do not encourage parents to come to the school and take part in school activities and where parents' associations are often seen in the same light, particularly if previously such a parents' association has criticised the actions of a head teacher.

If the governing body is also weak in such a situation, the head then has free rein to take that kind of attitude and there is very little that individual parents can do about it. Of course, it is those schools where parents are inhibited in raising their concerns where we need the most effective parents' association. But those are the schools where it is often most difficult to set up a parents' association or, if there is one, to get the kind of support it needs from the school.

It seems to me reasonable that the governing body ought to be given some responsibility for ensuring that there is an effective parents' association. If I were developing performance indicators to judge the performance of a school governing body, I would say, "Do you have an effective parents' association?" I hope that there will be some sympathy for the terms of the amendment.

5.30 p.m.

My Lords, I also wish to give my support to the noble Baroness, Lady David, and her amendment. She is simply asking that where parents in a school wish to establish a parents' association, the governing body should have a duty to help them. That seems to me to be a wholly reasonable request. I still carry the scars from over 20 years ago when, with other parents in my children's primary school, I tried to set up a parents' association against the wishes of the head. He was quite adamant that he did not want any interference at all from parents. When we finally appealed to the local authority, they cunningly, as they thought, suggested to the head that he might ask parents to help raise money. He did so and we worked our socks off to raise a large sum of money for the school, thinking that now at last we had our foot in the door. When we presented him with the cheque for the money we had raised from our efforts at school fairs and teas and all the rest of it, he said: "Thank you very much. I'll now take the money away and discuss with my staff how the money is to be spent". We said: "Can't we have a say in it?" "Good heavens, no", he said, "It is a matter for me and my staff".

The memory of that experience makes me feel doubly supportive of the noble Baroness's amendment. I hope that the Minister will think again about the issue.

My Lords, I have a lot of sympathy for the amendment but I wonder whether the wording is quite right. How many parents are required to form an organisation? As I read it, "parents" in the plural can mean two. I think you would need more than that number. What would be the position if there were two schools of thought among the parents in the school with two different objectives? Would the governing body be required to set up two rival organisations? I do not think that is what the noble Baroness has in mind. But it is something that needs to be borne in mind. After all, this will be an expense on the school and the school does not want to pay for a war on its own premises.

My Lords, before the Minister speaks perhaps I may come in at the conclusion, as my name is down to the amendment, with that of the noble Baroness, Lady David. My noble friend Lady Maddock was, of course, speaking for me on the amendment.

I have listened to this brief debate. I suspect the Minister is about to say that she has much sympathy with the intention of the amendment but—and then we will hear the "buts". It seems to me that to deal with the matter through guidance and the dissemination of good practice is all very desirable. It is particularly useful in schools where they are at least amenable and, we hope, encouraging of the establishment of parents' organisations. They will take notice of the guidance and it will be useful to them.

What we are trying to achieve concerns the, I hope, small minority of schools that do not want such organisations and will take no notice of non-statutory guidance. It is not a matter which I should have thought was central to the Government's policy on the Bill. I should have thought it was a relatively small but important issue on which a listening government could give way. We have had two supportive speeches from the Government's Benches, indeed the amendment was moved from there, with support generally from around the House. As the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said, it may well be that more detailed thought needs to be given to the provisions. So be it, that is in the Government's hands.

But if we are doing anything in this House, spending so many hours considering the Bill, even in my wildest moments I do not expect to change the central tenets of government policy—hard though I try sometimes. But on minor issues like this which are of importance to many people a listening government could demonstrate that they are listening. They could offer us a little more than sympathy and understanding and commit themselves, if not to agreeing to the amendment, at least to taking on board what it means. Then they could come back with something which the parliamentary draftsmen say is more appropriate. I hope that we are about to hear that from the Minister.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady David for much of what she said. As she mentioned, I am conscious that when my noble friend Lord Whitty responded to the amendment at Committee, he offered to reflect further on the issues raised. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that we are listening and have reflected on them. The amendment raises important issues and we wanted to consider them and look at all the implications. The amendment was tabled at quite a late stage. It has been inspired by CASE proposals for parent councils, as my noble friend Lady David said. Under the CASE model, the parents of pupils in every class would elect a class representative who would then serve on a school parent council. Each school parent council would be represented on a national body for parents. I believe that that is the thinking underlying the amendment and the way CASE would like to see it implemented.

We greatly admire the work of CASE and I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, when she is being pursued for her subscription, will pay it immediately. But we do not believe that this approach is the best. As a model, the tiered structure is rather bureaucratic. We are also concerned about the potential additional burden on head teachers and schools whose staff would inevitably need to be involved in working with parents' associations through providing "reasonable assistance".

More importantly, we are not convinced that the majority of parents would wish to be organised in this way. The way would be open for such an organisation to be controlled by just a few individuals—that is perhaps what the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, had in mind—rather than one that could be said to meet the needs of all parents. Most parents want to develop closer relations with school staff and want mechanisms for ensuring that any concerns they may have about their own children are properly considered. The Government have sought to address that concern. That is why Clause 38 of the Bill places a statutory requirement on school governing bodies to establish procedures for dealing with complaints. I hope that all those Members of your Lordships' House who have contributed to the debate will accept that that is an important development.

The Government are committed to working with parents and to improving parental participation in their children's schooling. We are increasing that participation in a number of ways: for example, by encouraging parents to become more involved in what is happening in the classroom, as in our literacy strategy. That will have a direct impact on standards. We are improving parental involvement by increasing the number of parents on governing bodies, by providing parent representatives on education committees and through our important proposals for home-school agreements. All those changes implement commitments we made in our manifesto and will considerably strengthen the influence of parents.

We need to guard against overloading parents, however, as well as governing bodies. The changes I have already mentioned will mean that schools and governing bodies will need to develop new ways of working with parents. The more changes we introduce simultaneously, the less effective they will be. Governing bodies need to work in partnership with parents. By increasing the number of parent governors, we hope to ensure that parents' views are firmly reflected within the governing body. On that basis, we see no need to formalise the school-parent relationship through legislation in this further way. That is the difference between the Government and those who support the amendment.

Legislation is not the best way to deal with that kind of relationship. The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, was perhaps referring to her experience of 20 years ago when she said that in the past head teachers and governing bodies are sometimes resistant to parents taking a bigger part in the operation of the schools attended by their children. I too have had similar experiences. Perhaps we are all becoming a little old—I speak for myself in saying that. That was true 20 years ago, but there have been a lot of improvements in the way in which schools react to parents. Today we would not face the same resistance to which the noble Baroness referred and which I experienced, at least not to anything like the same degree. We believe that the best course is for individual schools and parents to sort out the most appropriate ways of cementing the important relationship between parents and teachers rather than imposing a statutory requirement on all schools. Parental involvement is a precious investment that all schools should be making, and that is a message that the Government are promoting in many different ways.

We are sympathetic to the intentions of the amendment but do not believe that this is the appropriate time to place this additional statutory requirement on school governing bodies. I hope therefore that my noble friend will withdraw her amendment.

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, in her response she indicated that we were all speaking on behalf of CASE. I want to make it absolutely clear that I certainly was not.

The suggestions that I made were practical ones expressed by parents in school who were saying that they would like a closer link. That is why in some ways I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady David, in wanting to establish another body. I was trying to encourage the Government, if they are not prepared to accept Amendment No. 107, to think about putting in place a system to encourage greater exchange within the schools for parents and governors. At the end of the day the governors run the school, whether or not it is through a set organisation.

I want to make clear that I was not speaking on behalf of CASE. I apologise if I misunderstood the Minister, but I felt she inferred that because CASE had been in contact with us we were all speaking on its behalf. That is not true in my case. However, I am aware that schools desire to have a closer working relationship with parents, and we must do whatever we can within the new structure to enhance that. The amendment was one way of highlighting the situation.

My Lords, I in no way meant to imply—I am sorry if it appeared that I did—that the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, was speaking on behalf of CASE. On the contrary, she said that she did not agree with the amendment. As she was not putting forward an amendment of her own, I did not see the need to pick up on what the noble Baroness was saying. I tried to say what the Government believe to be the right approach and to explain the system that we would like to see installed. I have nothing to add to what I said earlier.

My Lords, I confess that I am disappointed by the Minister's reply. I received a great deal of support from all around the House and thought we might influence her. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, did not exactly support my amendment, but she was at least sympathetic to the idea.

The amendment asks for facilitation. It does not say that this organisation "must" be set up; the amendment merely wants to make that possible. The Minister made a great thing about appointing people to the governing body and the education committee. But that would not change anything if those elected had no way of consulting the people they are meant to be representing. That is what the amendment was seeking to do.

I do not see that the amendment will create a lot more bureaucracy, as the Minister said. She said also that there has been an improvement in the way parents are led into schools. However, as has been said, some schools still do not encourage that. I shall not press the amendment today. I shall read carefully what my noble friend said and may come back to this at the next stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.45 p.m.

moved Amendments Nos. 108 to 114:

After Clause 38, insert the following new clause—
("Grouping of community, voluntary aided, voluntary controlled and community special schools under a single governing body


.—(1) A local education authority may resolve that any two or more community, voluntary aided, voluntary controlled and community special schools maintained by them shall be grouped for the purposes of this Chapter.

(2) Where any schools are grouped under this section, they shall—

  • (a) be treated for the purposes of this Chapter as a single school; and
  • (b) have a single governing body constituted under a single instrument of government.
  • (3) A group shall be treated for the purposes of this Chapter—

  • (a) as a voluntary aided school, if it contains at least one voluntary aided school;
  • (b) as a voluntary controlled school, if it contains at least one voluntary controlled school and paragraph (a) does not apply;
  • (c) as a community special school, if it consists only of community special schools; and
  • (d) as a community school, if none of paragraphs (a) to (c) applies.
  • (4) In this Chapter—

    "group" means two or more schools grouped under this section; and
    "grouped school" means a school which forms a part of a group.

    (5) Any reference in any enactment to the governing body or governors of a school shall be construed, in relation to any grouped school, as a reference to the governing body or governors of the group.").

    Insert the following new clause—


    (".—(1) Subject to subsection (2), a local education authority shall, before resolving to group any schools under section ( Grouping of community, voluntary aided, voluntary controlled and community special schools under a single governing body), obtain the consent of the Secretary of State to the proposed grouping.

    (2) The Secretary of State's consent is not required if—

  • (a) the group will consist only of two primary schools;
  • (b) both of the schools serve substantially the same area;
  • (c) neither of the schools is a special school (as defined in section 337 of the Education Act 1996); and
  • (d) where they are in Wales, there is no significant difference between them in their use of the Welsh language.
  • (3) Where—

  • (a) two primary schools have been grouped in circumstances in which, by virtue of subsection (2), the Secretary of State's consent to the grouping was not required, and
  • (b) a change of circumstances occurs such that a proposal to group those schools made after that change would require his consent.
  • the local education authority shall obtain his consent to their continuing to be grouped.

    (4) The Secretary of State may give his consent to any grouping (or continued grouping) of schools subject to such conditions as to the duration of the grouping as he sees fit to impose.

    (5) Any dispute as to whether, for the purposes of this section—

  • (a) two primary schools are to be regarded as serving substantially the same area, or
  • (b) there is any significant difference between two primary schools in their use of the Welsh language,
  • shall be determined by the Secretary of State.").

    Insert the following new clause—


    (".—(1) A local education authority shall not pass a resolution under section ( Grouping of community, voluntary aided, voluntary controlled and community special schools wider a single governing body) applying to a voluntary school without first obtaining the consent of the school's governing body.

    (2) A local education authority shall not pass a resolution under section ( Grouping of community, voluntary aided, voluntary controlled and community special schools under a single governing body) applying to a community or community special school without first consulting the school's governing body.").

    Insert the following new clause—


    (". Schedule 12 shall apply, with such modifications as may be prescribed by regulations, for the purposes of making or altering the instrument of government of a group.").

    Insert the following new clause—


    (". The instrument of government for a group—

    (a) may provide for the local education authority to have power to determine, in relation to every election of parent or teacher governors, the school or schools within the group—

  • (i) the parents of registered pupils at which are entitled to stand and vote at the election, or
  • (ii) the teachers at which are entitled to stand and vote at the election,
  • as the case may be; and

    (b) where it so provides, shall require the authority to ensure that the position after any such election will be that there is no school within the group which will not have had an opportunity to participate in accordance with paragraph (a) in the election of at least one of the parent or (as the case may be) teacher governors of the group.").

    Insert the following new clause—


    (" .—(1) Where subsection (2) applies in relation to a school which is grouped with one or more other schools under section ( Grouping of community, voluntary aided, voluntary controlled and community special schools under a single governing body), the local education authority shall review the grouping of those schools and consider whether or not it should be brought to an end.

    (2) This subsection applies in relation to a school if proposals relating to it are made under any provision of Chapter II.

    (3) Where on a review under this section a local education authority consider that any grouping of schools should be continued, and the Secretary of State's consent to the grouping, or to the continued grouping, of the schools was at any time required by section ( Consent of Secretary of State as to grouping), the authority shall

  • (a) report to the Secretary of State on the results of their review; and
  • (b) provide him with such information as he may reasonably require with a view to enabling him to consider whether or not the grouping should be brought to an end.").
  • Insert the following new clause—


    (" .—(1) The Secretary of State may by order bring to an end any grouping under section ( Grouping of community, voluntary aided, voluntary controlled and community special schools under a single governing body) in respect of which his consent was at any time required by section ( Consent of Secretary of State as to grouping).

    (2) Any grouping under section ( Grouping of community, voluntary aided, voluntary controlled and community special schools under a single governing body) may, if the group does not contain a voluntary school, be brought to an end by resolution of the local education authority.

    (3) Any such grouping may, if the group contains a voluntary school, be brought to an end—

  • (a) by resolution of the local education authority made with the agreement of the governing body, or
  • (b) by one year's notice given either by the authority to the governing body or by the governing body to the authority.
  • (4) Any instrument of government for two or more schools which are grouped under section ( Grouping of community, voluntary aided, voluntary controlled and community special schools under a single governing body) shall be taken to have been revoked—

  • (a) in the case of a group which was established for a specified period, at the end of that period, or
  • (b) at the time when the grouping is brought to an end in accordance with subsection (1), (2) or (3).").
  • The noble Baroness said: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall move Amendments Nos. 108 to 114 en bloc. I beg to move.

    On Question, amendments agreed to.

    [ Amendment No. 115 not moved.]

    Clause 45 [ Maintained schools to have budget shares]:

    Page 37, line 21, at end insert—

    ("(1A) The authority, in allocating the budget share for maintained schools under subsection (1), shall retain for its own strategic management expenditure no more than a prescribed amount per pupil.
    (1B) The amount prescribed under subsection (1A) shall not be increased by more than is required to maintain the value of that amount in real terms.").

    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 115A, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 118A and 120A. My first amendment addresses the issue of restricting an LEA's ability to hold back money for strategic management. The hold-back must be prescribed and increased only in line with inflation. That is entirely in line with what has been said by the schools Minister in another place. Amendment No. 118A asks that,

    "Regulations…shall provide that the individual schools budget shall be not less than 95 per cent. of the local schools budget".

    Amendment No. 120A gives all maintained schools the right to have control over their full share of the individual school's budget.

    Some disquieting events are taking place. The growth in the number of staff at the Department for Education and Employment is alarming and it will only be a matter of time before we ask for the details. If every pound that comes from the Treasury for education is top sliced at the education department, that means less money will go to local education authorities. Every reason the local education authority is given to keep the money at that level means less money for schools.

    A chain reaction takes place. All the tough talking of schools Ministers to LEAs in relation to holding money back unnecessarily comes a little thinly from a department that is now growing at an alarming rate. In fact, the politicos in the department are enjoying the luxury of considerable support.

    The Grant-Maintained Schools Advisory Committee—the three bodies which have come together—which represents all the grant-maintained schools responded to the fair funding report. It expressed support for some aspects of it, as we all do—greater transparency and more simplicity. Nevertheless, there are a large number of areas where it is still concerned. It believes that the department is sending mixed messages—which is correct—as to whether foundation and voluntary schools will receive additional funding in recognition of their additional responsibilities. It is interesting to read paragraphs 14 and 77 of the report to try to understand what that means. Does the department recognise that those schools have additional responsibilities?

    Although the committee goes on to say that,

    "Although there is a firm commitment to exercise tight control on LEA funding for its strategic management function, the Government has rejected capping their expenditure"—

    again, another mixed message—

    "at least, for the first year of operation".

    The grant maintained schools find that very disappointing. They know that it gives scope for creative accounting by local education authorities. One has only to read the early clauses in the Bill to know that there are legitimate reasons for holding back money under the heading of school improvement. There is no commitment to fund local education authorities' new responsibilities with additional cash. If they do not get the money to cover those administrative duties and their new policy area functions, where will the money come from? It can only come from the money that would normally go to schools.

    The local education authorities are to be responsible for strategic capital work, building work and large equipment purchases over a given and unspecified threshold. That will be unpalatable to the grant-maintained schools.

    The concept of significant majority voting is a real cause for concern. A threshold of 80 per cent. is suggested. Where a significant majority of schools vote to allow the LEA to top-slice funding—for example, for library services—the dissenting schools will be compelled to suffer the top-slice. Again, the grant-maintained schools say that that is unacceptable.

    If the economically viable number of schools needs to be whatever per cent. in order to provide a service, why should other schools that do not wish that service to be provided have to be part of that body? Why not accept the economically viable number of schools which have voted quite positively for the LEA to provide the service, and allow the other 20 per cent. of schools to do their own thing? That is not allowed for in the consultative paper. I hope that that will be addressed in the definitive paper.

    The local education authority music services are to be a special case for top-slicing to protect service provision. It is difficult to believe that Whitehall knows better than the local education authorities or the schools themselves. The administrative burden that will be placed on the department to cope with the provision on a school-by-school basis is a very tall order—unless there are more armies of people doing the work. The GMSAC will argue against this arrangement and any extension—for example, to outdoor education centres. The argument for top-slicing conflicts with the acceptance that if a service is not financially viable it should disappear.

    Grant-maintained schools are also concerned about the national insurance scheme. When I first referred to this in a previous debate, I thought it was right that the Government should point up the issue of insurance because it has been a vexed issue. My understanding now is that, as it has developed, the grant-maintained schools sector has found very economical deals for insurance. That flexibility should be allowed to continue.

    Local education authorities will be empowered to vet foundation and aided schools' maintenance of buildings and grounds. That will not be acceptable to grant-maintained schools, which have not been subject to regular inspection by the funding agency for schools, other than through the Hunter condition survey which was a one-off fact-finding exercise, and a very important one. The grant-maintained schools will vigorously oppose this. It provides scope yet again for LEAs to be heavy handed.

    Financial monitoring by local authorities could be monthly. It would be helpful to know whether the Government intend to outlaw that. They should press for simple quarterly returns; certainly no more frequently than that.

    The LEA internal audit will apply to all schools. The grant-maintained schools will maintain their line that external audit has been an instrument in helping schools achieve good value for money. This responsibility provides scope for local authorities to recruit additional staff and to interfere in schools' financial affairs on a regular basis. I hope that the Government will take on board that point.

    If local education authorities are found guilty of excessive retention of funds for school improvements, that could lead to a refusal by the Secretary of State to approve the educational development plan. However, there is no definition of "excessive". It is a subjective judgment, but it would be helpful to know what the Government believe to be excessive.

    There is a worrying reference in paragraph 75 to the possible introduction of FEFC-type funding for post-16 education. If that is to be a policy move, it will mean considerable loss of moneys to schools. What justification is there for that policy? If the policy is implemented, what will be the transitional arrangements for schools which have robust and high numbers in their sixth forms?

    It is suggested in paragraph 82 of the fair funding paper that different arrangements will apply in different categories of schools for local authorities to charge against the schools' budget share. The grant-maintained schools will resist any charging by local education authorities. Although there is a commitment to allow schools to maintain their own bank accounts, the document gives no guarantee that the schools will be able to receive the interest without penalty from the local education authority. There are considerable concerns about this aspect, which is absolutely crucial to schools.

    We debated in a previous amendment the importance of high quality teaching staff and non-teaching staff. They cannot be secured without resources. These amendments go to the absolute heart of the schools' concern about whether in future they can sustain and, where possible, improve standards of education at school level. I beg to move.

    My Lords, grouped with the three amendments that my noble friend has moved and spoken to is my Amendment No. 121, the purpose of which is to ensure that local education authorities can build into their schemes for delegation the requirement that schools provide them with information on particular aspects of their expenditure. As the House will realise, I am particularly interested in expenditure on special educational needs.

    The consultation paper, Fair Funding: Improving Delegation to Schools, outlines the Government's proposals for the future framework of delegation. The proposals in the paper will lead to much greater clarity about what is to be delegated to schools and what is to be retained by local education authorities. The new arrangements will allow LEAs to provide key special educational needs support services from the centrally-held budget. There will be greater clarity for schools about the notional amount attributable to SEN in that delegated budget.

    However, there is nothing in the paper to ensure the accountability of schools to the local education authority for the delegated SEN funding. There is nothing in the requirements that will enable local education authorities to require schools to give them an account of their special educational needs expenditure.

    There is, however, a requirement on governing bodies to set out in their SEN policy how they allocate resources to pupils with SEN and to report annually to parents on the way in which the resources are used—to parents, not to the local education authority. It is perhaps this requirement to which the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was referring when he replied to me at Committee stage.

    However, Ofsted, in its reports on the implementation of the code of practice, clearly identifies this element of schools' SEN policies as a weakness. In its first report on the implementation of the code of practice in 1996, it pointed out that the governors rarely knew how much was in their budget for special educational needs or how it was allocated. In its later report, two years on, that continued to be a weakness. That was 1998, and it would appear that there is still a weakness today. The requirements of schools' SEN policies say nothing about what schools should say as regards their allocation of resources. I am concerned that LEAs should be able to hold schools to account for the way in which they use their delegated SEN funds.

    In replying to this concern in Committee the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said:
    "I believe that that point also is covered by the Government's approach. There are already requirements on schools to do that".—[Official Report, 4/6/98; col. 524.]
    Can the noble Baroness clarify what "requirements" were being referred to? If this is the schools' SEN policies requirements, is it open to the LEA to specify to schools how they should present the information on the allocation of resources in their policy and in the annual report of governors to parents? If it is not open to the LEA to do this, what information can the LEA require from schools about their use of delegated funds?

    It is particularly important to be clear about what the LEA can ask for from schools in the light of the more hands off relationship between LEAs and schools that is envisaged in the consultation draft of the code of practice on LEA/schools relationships.

    In the normal rules of procedure of the House I shall be unable to respond at the end. So I have taken this opportunity to let the noble Baroness know that, if I am not happy with her response, I shall refer to this matter again at Third Reading.

    6 p.m.

    My Lords, I should like briefly to comment on the amendment spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. This is one of the most sensible ideas to have been put forward in dealing with SEN. In all budgets, money tends to be swallowed up. With SEN, extra funding can be put into the system for specific tasks but may then be swallowed up. For instance, I have heard accounts of a child with a statement who was given sufficient support for three hours extra specialist tuition. The school came back to him and said, "Why don't you have 15 hours of basic support from a helper in the classroom?". The school had the helper in the classroom as part of the school staff and so it was more convenient for the school. Unless that helper is properly trained—the child was dyslexic—the school will not be able to give the appropriate help. Unless greater transparency is involved in this area you cannot make sure that you are getting the correct help and not merely paying for more effective tea and sympathy. In this area we have to have the direct approach and the appropriate type of help and not merely provide someone's extra time. As this is so important, I suggest that either this amendment or something very like it should be added to the Bill. That will help us to show exactly what we are trying to achieve.

    My Lords, one of the first things you learn if you ever perform in charity shows is that you have to stand at the side of the stage and listen to the performers go through the entire performance so that when it comes to your turn you do not tell exactly the same stories as they have already told. I suffered that many years ago, until three o'clock or four o'clock in the morning. Everything that I would wish to say about Amendment No. 121 has been said by the noble Lords, Lord Swinfen and Lord Addington. I would just put the question once more. How clear will schools have to be to the LEAs about how they have used their delegated budgets?

    My Lords, it may be helpful if I take these amendments in turn. I recognise that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has sought in Amendment No. 115A to take forward the debate that we had in Committee on a similar amendment which she tabled at that stage.

    We do take seriously the need to contain LEAs' strategic management costs. Our Fair Funding consultation paper suggests a three-pronged approach: setting the tightest possible working definition of strategic management; the possibility of setting quantitative limits on it in future years; and, in the meantime, where it appears that an LEA is diverting excessive resources away from schools to strategic management, the possibility of directing an inspection of the LEA by either Ofsted or the Audit Commission.

    While we share the broad intention behind the amendment, there are nevertheless problems with its practical application. First, there is a difficulty in setting the amount required by the amendment at the time we would need to make the regulations. The reasons for this is that the current LEA budget and out-turn data in relation to management and administration is not categorised in a way which enables us to estimate accurately what LEAs are spending on "strategic management" as described in Fair Funding. Secondly, we are not convinced that setting a single limit applicable to all LEAs might necessarily be appropriate. To set a uniform financial cap might tackle inefficient LEAs, but it could penalise authorities—for example, very small LEAs—with a genuine need to spend larger than average amounts on these functions. We want to consider this on its merits once we know what LEAs are spending on the new definition. However, we are serious about constraints here.

    As I think the noble Baroness recognises, the Bill already contains provisions—in Clause 46(3)(b)(i)— which would allow the Secretary of State to impose the kind of limit which she has in mind. We shall not hesitate to use this if need be. However, for the reasons I have indicated already, it would be premature and arbitrary to do so in the first year of operation of the new system.

    Amendment No. 118A is, of course, identical to one which the noble Baroness tabled at Committee stage, and it may be as well to expand on the brief remarks which my noble friend made then. There are three main reasons why we think it would be wrong to go down the road marked out in Amendment No. 118A and impose an overall limit on LEA's centrally-retained expenditure.

    First, the effect of such a limit is to put, for example, special educational needs in the same envelope as management and administration. I am sure that many noble Lords, including those who have spoken to a different amendment in this group, would be concerned at the possible implications. It is true that central support for pupils with statements falls within the present potential schools budget and is subject to the kind of overall ceiling which this amendment envisages. But the previous government's 1996 White Paper proposed to take that expenditure out of this category. I am a little confused because the noble Baroness seems to be going back on her own Government's proposals as well as opposing ours. For our part we remain convinced that quantitative limits should be targeted, and not indiscriminate.

    Secondly, there is a sense in which the amendment puts the cart before the horse. It would require LEAs to delegate 95 per cent. of the local schools' budget. But Clause 46 leaves the exact scope of the local schools' budget to be defined in secondary legislation. Our thoughts on this are set out in Fair Funding. We think the local schools' budget should include some items which fall outside the present general schools' budget. These include some expenditure on behaviour support and corporate administration. On the other hand, we are inclined to exclude some capital financing and premature retirement costs which at present fall within the general schools' budget. However, we wish to consider the responses to the consultation before deciding where exactly to draw the line. I think that is right and sensible. If the scope of both A and B are matters for secondary legislation, it is odd for the primary legislation to stipulate that A must not be less than a stated percentage of B.

    Lastly, there is the question of whether the 95 per cent. requirement is realistic. Clearly, the effect of the figure will depend on the exact definition of the local schools' budget. Nevertheless, it is fair to note that central expenditure on special educational needs currently accounts for about 3 per cent. of the general schools' budget nationally, while a further 3 per cent. or so is attributable to expenditure supported by specific grants, which is ring-fenced and cannot readily be included in schools' delegated budgets for that reason. That takes us to over 5 per cent. already.

    I think it is fair to conclude that the proposed 95 per cent. requirement is a little unrealistic unless the local schools' budget turns out to be very different in size and shape from what we currently envisage. To contain central expenditure within the 5 per cent. limit that the amendment proposes within the current plans for the local schools' budget could place a great deal of pressure on essential central budgets, including that for special educational needs. I am sure the House would not want to do that.

    Having said that, we could apply this kind of overall constraint through the powers under Clause 46(3)(b). But for the reasons I have given already, we do not consider it appropriate that the Government should be bound by the primary legislation to do so, and even less appropriate that the primary legislation should specify an actual figure.

    Amendment No. 120A is a virtual re-run of one tabled at Committee stage by the noble Baroness. It was an amendment which caused us some confusion at the time because we assumed it was about the accountability of schools to LEAs for the stewardship of their delegated budgets. That is a misunderstanding which the revised wording clearly seeks to dispel.

    As I understand it, the purpose of the amendment is to give any individual school the right to opt to receive an amount of money from the LEA as part of its delegated budget in lieu of any service which the LEA has chosen to fund centrally for the generality of its schools, in accordance with the regulations to be made under Clause 46. I am a little unclear about the intended scope of the amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, appears to be particularly concerned with services which might be subject to the majority voting procedure suggested in Fair Funding, but the amendment does not appear to draw any distinction between one centrally-funded service and another.

    On the broad interpretation, every school would have the right to receive something akin to the present central annual maintenance grant in respect of any central service or combination of central services, possibly including services for which GM schools have not been funded up to now.

    I doubt whether the terms of the amendment would actually achieve that. It looks rather circular: it refers to a school's full share of the individual schools budget, but the individual school budget itself represents what is left after the deduction of funding for central services. However, we would still see a fundamental objection, even if the drafting worked. Our aim is to maximise the freedom of choice and manoeuvre available to individual schools, so far as this is compatible with the legitimate interests—not the selfish interests—of other schools and with the need for LEAs to be able to carry out their carefully defined role. I cannot stress this enough.

    However, it is quite another matter to suggest that individual schools should be able to opt out of central service provision at will. If that is really what the amendment is after, I do not think it unfair to describe it as an attempt to preserve grant-maintained status by other means. On that basis, Amendment No. 120A seems to me to come very close to being a wrecking amendment and I am not sure that there is more to be said than that. If I have got this wrong and the amendment is supposed to relate only to services affected by the majority voting procedure, I apologise, but it is not altogether clear.

    Nevertheless, the Government must still oppose the amendment. As I think my noble friend Lord Whitty was at pains to emphasise in Committee, no decisions have been taken about the range of services to which this procedure might apply at the end of the day. Nevertheless, the purpose of the procedure is to protect valuable services which might be excessively vulnerable if only a small proportion of schools chose not to subscribe to them. The Library Service is perhaps a good example. That objective plainly cannot be achieved if a small minority is free to go its own way anyway. As I have said, no decisions have been taken. We want to consider the issues on their merits in the light of all the responses we receive.

    The Government's position can be summarised briefly. We want to maximise delegation. Our detailed proposals for this will be set out in regulations which will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny involving the affirmative resolution procedure in the case of the first regulations to be made under Clauses 46, 47 and 48(1). It is important that the proposals embodied in those regulations are carefully thought out in the light of the consultations which we have set in hand. In the Government's view it would be wrong to pre-empt these decisions through primary legislation, even if we were more enamoured of these specific amendments than we are. I hope therefore that the noble Baroness will withdraw them.

    I turn now to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, which is exactly the same as the one he tabled at Committee stage. The purpose of the regulations to be made under Clause 48 is to enable the Secretary of State to specify the content of schemes which will govern the financial relationship between local authorities and the schools which they will maintain. The content of the regulations will be subject to consultation in due course, and indeed debate in this House. But their basic coverage is set out in the non-exhaustive list in Clause 48(2). The purpose of that list is to make it clear that the regulations may address these matters.

    The amendment would add a specific provision that the regulations could require schemes to specify information to be provided to the LEA about the use of a school's budget share. Already included in the list are conditions relating to the management of delegated budgets. We expect that this will be used to require schools to submit overall budgetary and expenditure plans to their LEA, which they will be drawing up in a new funding framework which, as explained in Committee, offers schools and LEAs a clearer view of their respective responsibilities.

    As he explained, the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, wants greater transparency over the reporting of expenditure on special educational needs. It was pointed out in Committee that requirements on schools to do this are already in place. I hope that I can reassure him on that. These are in the Education (Special Educational Needs) (Information) Regulations 1994, which require schools' governing bodies to publish information about special educational needs, including resource allocation, and to send a copy to the LEA.

    Moreover, the SEN Green Paper proposes a greater monitoring role for LEAs to help schools improve the quality of their provision for special educational needs. The consultation document Fair Funding: Improving Delegation to Schools explicitly envisages that LEAs would be able to retain central funds to fulfil this monitoring role.

    So a provision for schools to report on SEN is already in place, and, while we have not yet decided our priority action in relation to SEN, we shall be considering, in the context of that plan, whether and how to strengthen LEAs' ability to monitor schools' provision for special educational needs. This general financial provision would, however, be an unsuitable context for what the noble Lord seeks to achieve. I hope I have reassured him and that he will seek to withdraw the amendment.

    6.15 p.m.

    My Lords, I am grateful for the fullness of the Minister's reply. I have taken in much of what she said. But I do not believe that the DfEE will ever be in a position to make a judgment as to what should be held back by LEAs. All the arguments that the noble Baroness gave relating to this year will relate to any year. The needs of LEAs change and different LEAs have different needs. They fluctuate from year to year and from term to term. The words in the Fair Funding document about going down that road being prescriptive and using powers against LEAs if they are profligate in the way in which they hold back expenditure seem to be a forlorn hope that there ever will be a way to do that in a manner which is going to make sense to schools.

    The noble Baroness misunderstood my amendment. I did not follow the argument about it being a wrecking amendment. That was not meant in any way whatsoever. My understanding is that once local authorities have subtracted from the local schools' budget the strategic management funding, funding for access, funding for LEA support in schools, improvement and funding for special educational expenditure, what is left from that goes to schools. That would include moneys for central services. The schools then make a decision as to whether or not they wish the services to be provided by the local authority.

    Part of the thrust of my amendment is to give schools control over the money. It is an argument put strongly in the paper. If an insufficient number of schools vote to have central services provided, the services fall away and the schools are left to fund the services. However, if a requisite number of schools vote to have a specific service provided by the local education authority, those schools which do not vote for that should be left free to provide the service in their own way. If I have not secured that thrust to my amendment in its wording, I shall do some more homework between now and the next stage of the Bill.

    There is no argument. If the Government believe in looking for ways to give schools more flexibility and freedom—I refer back to the speech by Mr. Byers last night—this is one way of doing so. Where an economic number has been reached for purchasing services from LEAs, let us leave the other schools to exercise their discretion as to whether they wish to opt in with the 80 per cent. or so, or prefer to find their own way to provide services.

    The Minister has yet again proved that through the great flurry of presentational trappings around this 100 per cent. delegation to schools, the figure is almost impossible to work out. It is only 100 per cent. of what is left when the DfEE has had its cut and the LEAs have had their cut. Even under the present system, whatever is left goes to the LEAs, so one could call that sum 100 per cent. Grant-maintained schools are still asking what the 100 per cent. relates to. It is difficult to find out. I have had a written response from the Minister but it makes the position no clearer.

    There remains one serious concern. I had hoped that some light might be thrown on it in the response. I refer to the degree of financial autonomy enjoyed by grant-maintained schools today. When those schools become foundation schools, will the degree of autonomy remain at that level? As the new system is phased in, will all other schools come up to at least the level of autonomy that GM schools enjoy, and perhaps even surpass it? That issue will be important to the grant-maintained schools. They wish to know in what way financial autonomy will change when they move from being grant maintained to foundation schools. The Minister has failed to answer that point. With the leave of the House, I wonder whether I may have a response to that question.

    I apologise to my noble friend Lord Swinfen in that by concentrating on my amendment I did not refer to his amendment. I support it. I shall not do so at length. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, brought out the point that it increases transparency so that we all know what is being spent, how it is being spent, and to what effect. That would be helpful. My noble friend has my support on that point.

    I shall not press my amendment, but, with the leave of the House, perhaps I may have an answer to my question about the financial autonomy of grant maintained-schools as they transfer to foundation school status.

    My Lords, that question goes much wider than the amendment. Normally at Report stage a question should be closely directed to the amendment. However, I can say this to the noble Baroness. In putting together a consultation paper on fair funding, we set out a range of proposals on which we wished to consult and on which, until now, we have had a great deal of support from grant-maintained schools. They have accepted that we do not wish to constrain their financial autonomy. We wish to create a system in which all schools, not just grant-maintained schools, will have a higher degree of financial autonomy than in the past.

    To respond to the noble Baroness's point, yes, we wish the position of other schools to be the same as that of grant-maintained schools.

    My Lords, I am grateful for that. My question was whether the schools will sustain the present level as they transfer to foundation school status. I shall read what the noble Baroness said. It will be important to schools.

    I remind the noble Baroness that I put on record on behalf of grant-maintained schools a large number of concerns on funding which arise from the Fair Funding paper. Those came from the very people who said that they supported some of the Government's proposals. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 46 [ Determination of LEA's general schools budget and aggregated schools budget]:

    Page 38, line 2, leave out (""general") and insert (""local").

    The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the amendment, I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 117, 118, 119, 120, 124, 203, 205 and 209. All but the last of those amendments discharge our undertaking in Committee to bring forward amendments to align the nomenclature used in the Bill with the nomenclature used in the consultation paper, Fair Funding, which was issued on 29th May. The first few were tabled by the

    noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I am grateful to her for anticipating our purpose in this respect. I hope that it means that she will agree with them all. The wording in Fair Funding is clearer than the wording in the Bill as originally drafted.

    The amendment to Clause 142, Amendment No. 209, is essentially technical. Subsection (5) seeks to bring some of the school funding provisions of the Bill into force on Royal Assent because we thought that that timing was necessary. However, it does not achieve that very satisfactorily as it stands. It brings the provisions into force only for the purposes of determining schools' funding for the financial year 1999–2000: so for 2000–2001 and beyond we would have to bring the provisions into force again by order. The simplest solution is to delete subsection (5) and bring all the school funding provisions into force by commencement order. We still intend that schools should receive their recurrent funding under the new arrangements with effect from April 1999. I beg to move.

    My Lords, for those of us who over the years have grown used to GSBs and ASBs, and have spent much time learning what they meant, the change of nomenclature will be a struggle. However, I am puzzled by the change of the aggregated schools' budget to an individual school's budget. It is not an individual school's budget but the total of the school's budget. Why it is now called an individual budget rather than an aggregated budget I do not know or understand. If I have got it wrong, the Minister will tell me. It is not the main point that I wish to raise.

    I wish to express concern about the consultation period allowed. The Government allowed only two months' consultation on what is a significant proposal in their Fair Funding paper. Some weeks of that will be in the school holidays. I understand that schools were sent copies of the consultation document only when the Government came under pressure several weeks into the consultation period, therefore squeezing that period even more. Because of that, the local government association education committee agreed unanimously—it was agreed between all political parties and the independent group—on 17th June to ask the Secretary of State, first, that the closure of the consultation period be put back to 30th September this year to deal with the problem of limited time for schools; and, secondly, that devolved funding should commence in April 2000 unless a decision is made to change the funding year to match the academic year. In that case, it could commence in September 1999. I understood the Minister to say a moment ago that it was still intended that it should start in April of each year. The LGA asks that it should be April 2000.

    The chair of the LGA wrote to the Secretary of State with both requests. I understand that only today at lunchtime the Minister, Mr. Stephen Byers, replied no to both requests. I do not know whether the Minister is able to confirm that that is the Government's final decision on the unanimous request of the Education Committee of the LGA. If my information is correct, as I believe it to be, once again we have a government who say they are listening but are not hearing. That is regrettable and will not be well received in the local government world in all parties and in no parties.

    6.30 p.m.

    My Lords, I deal first with the question of nomenclature. I must disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Tope. What we now call the individual schools budget is the budget to be distributed to individual schools. I believe that that is entirely clear. Certainly, "aggregated" for the same purpose was not clear. A local schools budget is the schools budget of the local education authority. I fail to see the difficulty that the noble Lord has described. I hope that he will not object to these amendments.

    I do not know whether the noble Lord has spoken on behalf of the Education Committee of the LGA but he certainly represents its views. I am grateful to him for that. He complains about the short time available for consultation. It is not as if the formal consultation period was the first that the education community knew about the proposals. The higher delegation proposals had been on the agenda for a very long time. Having said that, the noble Lord is correct that Stephen Byers has responded to the Local Government Association in the terms that he has reported.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    Page 38, line 4, at end insert ("(which may include expenditure incurred otherwise than in respect of schools)").

    The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 116A. This amendment has been grouped with Amendment No. 119A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tope. Perhaps I may deal with the two together. Amendment No. 116A is a technical amendment which—since we have been referring to the Local Government Association—has arisen in consultation between the LGA and the department. In the view of the Government, it does not alter the effect of subsection (1) in any way but merely makes explicit what we believe to be implicit in the terms of the subsection. But it seems to be worth doing it to preclude misunderstanding.

    It may be asked why we should wish to be in a position to define the local schools budget in terms which range beyond "expenditure in respect of schools". I say at once that it is certainly not our intention to prescribe everything including the kitchen sink. Paragraph 17 of Fair Funding indicates a number of areas of expenditure such as adult education or the Youth Service, which we do not envisage including in the local schools budget. However, we want more flexibility in these matters than the present law allows us. Under current legislation, the general schools budget, which the LSB supersedes—we have a mutual understanding—is defined in terms of the LEA's expenditure in respect of schools covered by its Local Management of Schools scheme. This excludes a fair amount of pertinent expenditure. For example, it excludes pupil referral units and education provided

    otherwise than at school: home education. These forms of provision make a significant contribution to LEAs' efforts in the areas of behaviour support and SEN, and it is odd to split them off from the totality of the LEA's expenditure on primary and secondary education.

    More seriously, there is a substantial tranche of corporate administrative expenditure known in current jargon as service strategy and regulation—I do not attempt to defend these words—which has been held to fall outside the general schools budget. We aim to bring all or most of this into the LSB under the head of strategic management so as to be able to ensure, as paragraph 20 of Fair Funding puts it, that it does not consume resources which would be better used at school level.

    Against this background I turn to the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Tope. I point out to the noble Lord that we are at Report Stage.

    My Lords, the Minister provides the answer before I have spoken to the amendment.

    My Lords, if the noble Lord prefers, I shall not say anything further until he has spoken. I shall respond to his amendment, as he can respond to mine.

    My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I suspect that what I say will not make a great deal of difference to what he says. However, I believe that I should at least speak to my amendment before the noble Lord tells me why he is not prepared to accept it; otherwise, we will be a little out of order in these matters.

    I rise to speak to Amendment No. 119A in my name. In answer to a previous comment by the Minister, I do not speak on behalf of the Education Committee of the LGA. I am not a member of it and I doubt whether it would choose me to speak on its behalf—at least the majority probably would not. These days, who knows? The consultation document on the local management of schools, Fair Funding, allows for the possibility of the capping provisions in Clause 46 being applied to the strategic management costs of non-school education activities. My amendment would prevent that from happening. The Fair Funding consultation document is a welcome move to bridge the gap left by the previous administration's attempt to create two separate school funding systems, one being more generous than the other. The Government have confirmed that there is no body of research evidence to indicate that by putting more funds at the disposal of one school system better results are obtained.

    We are now to have fair funding for all schools which will achieve the Government's manifesto commitment to ensure that,
    "the system of funding will not discriminate unfairly either between schools or between pupils and make the local authority responsible for funding all schools".
    However, there are problems with the proposals in the Bill and the consultation document. Those of us in local government know only too well the iniquities of the capping regime and the problems that it introduces. Some look forward to the forthcoming local government White Paper. They will look with interest to see whether it proposes the abolition of capping. Others who are a little more realistic fear that perhaps that commitment will weaken still further. The paper Fair Funding explains in paragraph 69 the possible use of the wide capping provisions in Clause 45(3)(b) of the Bill. The Secretary of State may use reserve powers to cap expenditure on strategic management and access funds but only after information is available on the new pattern of expenditure. The strategic management function is defined in Fair Funding to include the strategic management of all education functions, not just those relating to schools; that is, lifelong learning and the Youth Service.

    Clearly, the Government have a fear, which is perhaps irrational, that local authorities have an interest only in paying lots of money to officers who carry out strategic management functions across the whole range of education functions. If that is the case, it is nonsense. The desire of local authorities to keep down these costs is at least as great as that of central government. But the introduction of crude capping will not help. I recognise that the Government are committed to another capping regime, which I regret, at least in terms of putting the powers into law. This amendment will restrict those capping powers to schools and will prevent their extension into other local authority functions.

    When the Minister replies—his brief may tell him this—will he tell us why the Government feel that those powers are needed? Will he say how the Bill can be used to cap non-school functions, given that the Bill's Long Title restricts its scope to making:
    "new provision with respect to school education …. and for connected purposes".

    My Lords, the important point in the noble Lord's last remark is, "connected purposes". We are advised that "connected purposes" includes the provisions which we have in Amendment No. 116A, although I must confess that there was a time, before today, when it was thought that there might have to be an amendment to the Long Title. So his point is not entirely unperceptive.

    I listened carefully to what the noble Lord said. I fear that his amendment has a rather different effect from what he intends. It is concerned with the Secretary of State's power under subsection (3) to set limits to items of centrally retained expenditure. I acknowledge straight away that that is entirely consistent with government Amendment No. 116A. Indeed, the noble Lord's amendment to subsection (3) presupposes our own interpretation of subsection (1). So perhaps we are together to that extent.

    While I understand why the noble Lord has seen fit to table the amendment, the Government feel unable to accept it for reasons which I hope will be evident from my previous remarks. If the amendment were to be made, it is likely that a significant amount of corporate administrative expenditure would have to be regarded as falling outside the scope of subsection (3)—that part of subsection (3) which provides for the prescription of a class of expenditure for which limits may be specified—in other words, as he rightly says, capping.

    To take that expenditure, which is not directly on schools, outside the capping procedure would be contrary to our aim of moving resources out of town halls and into classrooms. I hope that the noble Lord tabled his amendment, not because he appreciated that, but because he did not appreciate that. On reflection, I hope that he will feel able not to move it in due course.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    moved Amendments Nos. 117 and 118:

    Page 38, line 5, leave out (""aggregated") and insert (""individual").
    Page 38, line 7, leave out ("general") and insert ("local").
    On Question, amendments agreed to.

    [ Amendment No. 118A not moved.]

    moved Amendment No. 119:

    Page 38, line 12, leave out ("general") and insert ("local").
    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    [ Amendment No. 119A not moved.]

    Clause 47 [ Determination of school's budget share]:

    moved Amendment No. 120:

    Page 38, line 24, leave out ("aggregated") and insert ("individual").
    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    [ Amendment No. 120A not moved.]

    Clause 48 [ LEAs' financial schemes]:

    [ Amendment No. 121 not moved.]

    Schedule 14 [ Local education authority schemes: approval, imposition and revision]:

    moved Amendment No. 122:

    Page 169, line 30, after ("guidance") insert ("subject to sub-paragraph (2A)").

    The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 122 and 123 refer again to the issue of guidance, which I introduced at rather greater length the day before yesterday. In doing so, I promised that I would not repeat the whole thing all over again each time we came to these amendments. The amendment is concerned principally with the issue of guidance. On this occasion, I look forward to hearing the Minister's response. I beg to move.

    6.45 p.m.

    My Lords, I am afraid that my response will be the same as it was last time. I am grateful to the noble Lord for moving his amendment with such celerity. I will see whether I can cut down the arguments, although they are the same.

    This amendment would require a draft of the guidance to be issued by the Secretary of State in connection with schemes made under Clause 48, to be put before Parliament for approval prior to its coming into force and then, if approved, brought into force by order.

    The noble Lord's Amendment No. 149 tackles the same point. Perhaps we can deal with that when we come to it even more quickly, because I think that we can deal with the point here.

    Codes of practice are at a higher level than guidance. A code of practice, like the Highway Code, will generally set out a desired pattern of behaviour. It is therefore appropriate that when the Bill refers to codes of practice in Clauses 84 and 125 the preparation of those codes should be subject to a specific parliamentary procedure.

    Guidance is at a lower level. It always has been. It is less prescriptive and may not cover such a wide area. It is intended to assist LEAs in carrying out their statutory functions. It is not appropriate that its preparation should be subject to a statutory procedure.

    In the case of the guidance to be published in relation to plans for reducing infant class sizes, LMS schemes, education development plans and proposals for the establishment, alteration or discontinuance of schools, the main control is not the guidance but the need to secure the approval of the Secretary of State or, as the case may be, the school organisation committee. Approval can be withheld if the plan, scheme or proposal is not satisfactory. If an LEA has regard to guidance published by the Secretary of State then that will make it easier for approval to be obtained without delay. Guidance will also help to ensure a consistency of approach among LEAs and schools in areas such as home-school agreements and exclusions. I should not have cited home-school agreements, over which we are in disagreement.

    The Secretary of State will, of course, always consult interested parties before publishing guidance as he is required to do by virtue of general principles of administrative law. The Government therefore consider that such a requirement is, quite simply, unnecessary. I remind the House that the first regulations which are to set out the main requirements as to what may be in those schemes will be subject to affirmative resolution. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

    My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. I am a little disappointed. I had hoped that two good nights' sleep might have encouraged him to move a little more in our direction. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    [ Amendment No. 123 not moved.]

    Clause 49 [ Maintained schools to have delegated budgets]:

    moved Amendment No. 124:

    Page 40, line 27, leave out ("general") and insert ("local").
    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    Schedule 15 [ Suspension of financial delegation]:

    moved Amendment No. 125:

    Page 171, line 10, leave out ("proposed").
    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    moved Amendment No. 126:

    Page 171, line 22, leave out ("given under sub-paragraph (2)").
    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    Schedule 16 [ Staffing of community, voluntary controlled and community special schools]:

    moved Amendment No. 127:

    Page 173, line 3, at end insert—
    ("( ) registration,").

    The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 128 and 131 to 136, 138 and 139. This is a bit of a mixed bag of amendments, although I believe that there is enough in common for us to save time by dealing with them together.

    Amendments Nos. 127, 128, 131 to 133 and 139 ensure that the provisions governing the appointment and dismissal of teachers in Schedules 16 and 17 are consistent with existing legislation and with the Teaching and Higher Education Bill.

    Amendment No. 127 in Schedule 16 and Amendment No. 132 in Schedule 17 ensure that employers will be obliged to take account of any requirement for a teacher to be registered with the general teaching council. The Government intend to introduce such a requirement for teachers at maintained schools under Clause 11 of the Teaching and Higher Education Bill.

    Amendments Nos. 128 and 133 are technical amendments simply to improve the drafting. In case there is any suspicion, they have been proposed by parliamentary counsel without policy instruction from the department.

    Amendments Nos. 131 and 139 ensure that a teacher can be dismissed swiftly and with minimum bureaucracy where his or her continued employment is no longer consistent with statute or regulations. They cover cases where a person has been barred for misconduct by the Secretary of State, made subject to a disciplinary order by the GTC or failed the induction year.

    Amendment No. 134 is a drafting point. It ensures that consistent use is made of the word "approve" in the paragraph providing for the appointment of a head or deputy head teacher.

    Amendments Nos. 135 and 136 ensure that, whenever a member of staff is suspended by either the governing body or the head teacher at a foundation or aided school, the governing body or the head teacher inform each other, and that on ending a suspension the governing body—only the governing body can end a suspension—inform the head teacher. This mirrors a similar arrangement for the governing body and head teacher of a community or voluntary controlled school keeping each other informed of any decisions they make On staff suspension.

    With regard to Amendment No. 138, the Bill provides for the procedure to be followed before the governing body makes a decision that a person employed to work at a school should have his contract of employment terminated or, under certain circumstances, should not have the contract renewed. The Bill also provides that the governing body shall give effect to its decision by giving the person notice to terminate his contract or by terminating the contract without notice. This subparagraph is not apt where a fixed-term contract comes to an end and so the effect of Amendment No. 138 is to limit this subparagraph to cases where the decision is that a contract of employment should be terminated rather than a fixed-term contract coming to an end.

    These government amendments will ensure that appropriate consistency is maintained in the staffing provisions for foundation and aided schools, and I therefore commend them to the House. I beg to move.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    moved Amendment No. 128:

    Page 173, line 6, leave out ("and") and insert ("or").
    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    moved Amendment No. 129:

    Page 173, line 46, after ("(5)") insert ("for a period of more than four months").

    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I rise to move Amendment No. 129 and speak also to Amendments Nos. 130 and 137. Perhaps I may first refer to another part of the Bill. Schedule 16, paragraph 4(5), introduces a new provision which enables the governing body to engage a person supplied by an agency as acting head. The amendment seeks to place a limit of four months for the duration of such an engagement.

    Supply teachers have been a feature of our education system for some time, but the concept of supply head teachers is new. Acting heads appointed under the schedule would be self-employed under contract to an agency and the contractual duties of head teachers under the pay and conditions document would not necessarily apply to them. Therefore, it is unclear whether the many statutory duties of head teachers would be applicable or enforceable.

    Some head teachers are concerned that the new provision is a knee-jerk reaction to the current head teacher recruitment crisis and is a little short-sighted. We would all agree that an acting head must be seen only as a temporary solution.

    Paragraph 10(1)(a) of Schedule 16 limits the appointment of an agency supply teacher to a period of not more than four months. This amendment merely places the same limit on the appointment of a supply head teacher. I suggest that the issue is important. I realise that it may take longer to appoint a head teacher, and I do not underestimate that, but head teachers are rightly concerned that there should be a similar limitation.

    Amendments Nos. 130 and 137 are concerned with the dismissal of head teachers. The amendments are the same, but apply to different schedules. They would ensure that where a governing body determines that it wishes to dismiss a head teacher, that head teacher has the right to have an independent member who has voting rights appointed to any committee that is established to hear the appeal against the governing body's decision.

    I suggest that the amendments are fair. The matter was discussed at the conference of the National Association of Head Teachers by the Minister for School Standards, Stephen Byers. He was sympathetic to having an independent member on the appeals panel. He expressed the view that it might be a little too late and that perhaps something should have been done a little earlier. It will be interesting to hear the Government's current thinking. The amendments are self-explanatory and I shall hold the House up no longer.

    My Lords, the noble Baroness's zeal for battle was undermined by her noble friend Lord Tope, but I accept that it was not totally undermined. It is perfectly proper that we should respond. I am fascinated by her explanation of the amendment. We made some assumptions about the intention of Amendment No. 129 which we thought were different from its effect. If I speak to both the effect and the intention, perhaps one or other will prove to be apposite.

    Amendment No. 129 would have the effect of allowing the governing body of a community or voluntary controlled school to engage for up to four months an unqualified person as acting head teacher or acting deputy head teacher while it was considering a substantive appointment to such a post. This would also have the effect of allowing such schools to engage teachers who have been barred by the Secretary of State on misconduct or medical grounds.

    That is what the amendment provides, but I do not think that is intended. It would not be acceptable. Any person engaged as an acting head or deputy head teacher should meet all the staff qualification requirements applicable to the post, regardless of the length of time he or she is engaged in such a capacity. I need hardly add that it is unacceptable to allow people in schools who have been barred.

    It seems, however, that the intention of the amendment may not be to disapply the qualification requirements for a period of four months but to restrict engagements for persons to provide their services as acting heads or deputy heads to a period of four months, an engagement in this context being to provide services otherwise than under a contract of employment with the local education authority.

    If this is the intention of the amendment—from what the noble Baroness said, I believe that it is—then it is also unacceptable. It would place an additional administrative burden on the governors by making them reconsider acting heads or deputies if they are not able to conclude their consideration of the substantive appointment within four months. This could lead to the undesirable outcome of a school going through a number of acting heads or deputies before a substantive appointment is made. This would be unnecessarily burdensome for the governors and disruptive to the school.

    The important point is to ensure that the governing body is able to acquire the best available acting head or deputy head while it is considering the substantive appointment. But this is a temporary arrangement and will last only for as long as is necessary for the substantive appointment to be made. In addition we would expect the governing body to pursue its duty to appoint a substantive head or deputy as soon as possible. I am sure that were we not at the Report stage the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, would agree that such a restriction on a governing body would not be very desirable.

    The teacher employment market has changed in recent years, as we have been reminded forcefully by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. There are now a number of ways to meet short notice staffing needs beyond that provided by the LEAs. Schools need to be able to get the best available local support and I appreciate the noble Baroness's reservation about using teacher supply agencies. Very often it is possible to cover short absences or gaps by using, for example, recently retired staff, and there are many good retired teachers who are able to help schools in this way, including retired heads and deputies.

    If the intention of the noble Baroness is to restrict engagements of acting heads and deputies to four months in the same way as this time restriction applies to engagements of classroom teachers, then I should point out that the circumstances of acting heads and deputies are not comparable to those of classroom teachers. Decisions are made on an acting head or deputy where the governing body is unable to make a substantive appointment before the date when the post falls vacant, and such an acting post is temporary until such time as the substantive decision is put into effect. This will be extended in the Bill to cover absences of heads and deputies, but the main purpose is to make provision for acting appointments to cover vacant senior posts while substantive replacements are being considered.

    Amendments Nos. 130 and 137 are not a matter for inclusion in this part of the Bill. It is a matter for the school government regulations which will be made under Schedule 11. I see no need to include such amendments on the face of the Bill.

    The Government have said in another place that they are willing to give more thought to the matter of an independent member on appeal panels for head teacher dismissals, and that we have the option of including something on this in the regulations made under Schedule 11.

    The noble Baroness is quite right. Stephen Byers said in his speech at the recent annual conference of the National Association of Head Teachers, that he is open to the idea of having some form of independent element in the head teacher dismissal process for schools in the new framework, although not at the expense of our commitment to speedy but fair dismissals. He also pointed out that an independent element might be more appropriate at the staff committee hearing which decides whether to dismiss, rather than the appeal stage. By the time of the appeal the relationship between the head and governors has probably broken down anyway to such an extent that it cannot be repaired. But all of this is a matter for the school government regulations on which we will be consulting in due course. I hope that the noble Baroness will agree that it would not be appropriate to provide for those on the face of the Bill before consultation on the regulations. I ask the noble Baroness not to press these amendments.

    7 p.m.

    My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask him to cast his mind back to my amendments to Schedule 17. Paragraph 7(5) of my Amendment No. 133A states:

    "Where a vacancy in the post of deputy head teacher has not been filled, or it appears to the governing body that the post will not be filled by appointment made in accordance with the preceding provisions of this Schedule before the date it falls vacant, the governing body may, pending the appointment of a deputy head teacher, appoint a person as acting deputy head teacher".
    Earlier the noble Lord or the noble Baroness argued against my amendments and yet somehow the noble Lord appeared to imply that that flexibility exists. That is not the case under Schedule 17. Perhaps the noble Lord will explain how what he has just said fits with Schedule 17.

    My Lords, there are two kinds of amendment in this group of amendments. The second one deals with an independent person at the appeal and I assume that the noble Baroness is not talking about that.

    Amendment No. 129 moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, deals with the length of time that an unqualified person may serve as an acting head teacher or acting deputy head teacher. I do not see any conflict between that and what I have just said.

    My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. It has been quite helpful for us to find out precisely how the Government view the role of acting head teachers. The Minister used the phrase "for as long as is necessary". The concerns that I have raised in relation to this amendment are concerns of head teachers. It may have been rather more helpful if the Minister had indicated what he thought was necessary and what was over-the-top, as it were, in terms of having an appointment that was not permanent. I am aware, as other noble Lords will be, that in some areas of the country where it is difficult to recruit head teachers, there may be a situation in which there is an acting head teacher for a long time. I suggest that that is not good for the school and it is certainly not good for the head teacher because an acting head teacher who is left to be an acting head teacher for a long time does not have the same commitment to the job as a permanent holder of the post. Therefore, I am rather disappointed that the Minister did not indicate what was acceptable but instead used the phrase "for as long as is necessary".

    As regards the other two amendments, I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying how the Government wish to introduce into the regulations, or elsewhere in the Bill, when there is a dismissal, the concept that there can be independent support for whoever is being dismissed. It is interesting because the Minister and I obviously have the same briefing note, word for word. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    [ Amendment No. 130 not moved.]

    Page 180, line 14, at end insert (", or

    (b) the person in question is a teacher who is subject to a conditional registration, suspension or prohibition order made under Schedule 2 to the 1998 Act (disciplinary powers of General Teaching Council).").

    The noble Lord said: My Lords, I spoke to this amendment when I moved Amendment No. 127. I beg to move.

    My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, but he spoke extremely rapidly when dealing with that group of amendments and I wish to raise a question on this amendment which deals with the dismissal of teachers. If I understood him correctly, he spoke about three reasons for dismissal which are those usually accepted: misconduct, failure in the probationary year and another one which I did not quite catch. I believe that it was a failure to carry out the appropriate work of the school, or words to that effect.

    We all accept and understand that dismissal of teachers is a very serious matter and, when it occurs, it is obviously a very important matter. From reading Schedule 16, it seems to me that that carries out the normal procedure for dismissing teachers for the normal reasons. But a year ago we heard a great deal about a fast-track procedure for incompetent teachers, which is rather to difficult to define. I wondered whether I had missed something and whether or not that issue is covered in the schedule of the Bill.

    My Lords, the noble Baroness has spoken on Amendment No. 131 which is concerned with,

    "conditional registration, suspension or prohibition order made under Schedule 2 to the 1998 Act (disciplinary powers of General Teaching Council)".
    That relates to the Teaching and Higher Education Act. It may help the noble Baroness if I spell out in more detail what that provides because that may address the question she raises about what kind of offences would be appropriate. I will approach it from the other end and deal with what kind of action the General Teaching Council may take.

    There are four kinds of disciplinary order of increasing gravity which the General Teaching Council will be able to make: a reprimand, a conditional order—which is what the amendments are concerned with—a suspension order and a prohibition order. Both suspension and prohibition will mean that a teacher will be taken off the register and will not be eligible to teach in a maintained school. That will lead to the dismissal of a serving teacher unless the employer is able to provide alternative non-teaching work. That is really the answer to the noble Baroness's question about the fast-track procedure. If it is the two most serious sorts of disciplinary order made by the General Teaching Council, that is where the fast-track procedure comes into effect.

    A conditional order will not mean that a teacher is taken off the register, but certain conditions will be applied to his or her practice as a teacher. Some conditional orders may require the teacher's dismissal;' for example, the GTC might stipulate the condition that a person could not teach pupils of certain ages or teach specified subjects.

    The amendments that we have been discussing are not about the fast-track procedures as such; they are the local school procedures for considering incompetence. What we are doing by way of these amendments is to incorporate the provisions from the Teaching and Higher Education Bill on the establishment of the GTC.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    Clause 55 [ Staffing of foundation, voluntary aided and foundation special schools]:

    [ Amendment No. 131A not moved.]

    Schedule 17 [ Staffing of foundation, voluntary aided and foundation special schools]:

    moved Amendments Nos. 132 and 133:

    Page 181, line 3, at end insert—
    ("( ) registration,").
    Page 181, line 6, leave out ("and") and insert ("or").

    On Question, amendments agreed to.

    My Lords, before calling Amendment No. 133A I should inform the House that if this amendment be agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 134.

    [ Amendment No. 133A not moved.]

    moved Amendment No. 134:

    Page 183, line 2, leave out ("accept") and insert ("approve").
    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    [ Amendments Nos. 134A to 134J not moved.]

    moved Amendments No. 135 and 136:

    Page 187, line 5, at end insert—
    ("( ) The governing body or head teacher shall, when exercising that power, immediately inform the head teacher or (as the case may be) governing body.").
    Page 187, line 7, at end insert—
    ("( ) The governing body shall, on ending such a suspension, immediately inform the head teacher.").

    On Question, amendments agreed to.

    [ Amendment No. 137 not moved.]

    moved Amendments Nos. 138 and 139:

    Page 187, line 21, at beginning insert ("Where their decision is that a person should have his contract of employment terminated, then,").
    Page 187, line 40, at end insert—
    ("25A. The governing body are not required to comply with paragraph 24 in relation to the making of such a decision as is mentioned in sub-paragraph (1) of that paragraph in a case where—
  • (a) the termination or non-renewal of the contract of employment of the person in question is required by virtue of regulations under section 218 of the Education Reform Act 1988 or section 19 of the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998, or
  • (b) the person in question is a teacher who is subject to a conditional registration, suspension or prohibition order made under Schedule 2 to the 1998 Act (disciplinary powers of General Teaching Council).").
  • On Question, amendments agreed to.

    7.15 p.m.

    Clause 61 [ Responsibility of governing body and head teacher for discipline]:

    moved Amendment No. 140:

    Page 48, line 21, at end insert—
    ("(c) registered pupils at the school, and
    (d) teaching and non-teaching staff at the school.").

    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving the above amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 142A. In addition, Amendment No. 141 tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and Amendments Nos. 143, 144 and 145 tabled in the name of my noble friend Lady Blackstone have also been included in this grouping.

    The purpose of the two amendments in my name is to ensure that staff and pupils are consulted about the principles and details of disciplinary measures. When rejecting these amendments in Committee, my noble friend Lord Whitty said:

    "I agree that it is important to involve pupils and staff when drawing up the school's discipline policy. It is not our intention to exclude teachers from that area. It is our aim to ensure that teaching staff in particular should make a contribution to drawing up a school's discipline policy.
    However, the question is where, how and when that input takes place for both pupils and staff. Our approach is that that should be a matter for individual schools in the light of their particular circumstances. In some cases that may be before the governing body makes its statement of general principles; in others, head teachers may decide that it is best to consult pupils and staff when determining the detailed rules and codes of conduct. Therefore, for reasons of flexibility we are not convinced that it is necessary to include a specific requirement on the face of the Bill for widespread consultation either by the governing body or the head teacher. Schools require flexibility, and that is best left to guidance rather than wording on the face of the Bill".—[Official Report, 8/6/98: cols. 705 and 706.]

    There are a number of responses to my noble friend's statement. He said that it is important to involve pupils and staff in the drawing up of a school's discipline policy, but there is no provision on the face of the Bill to do so. As the discussion in Committee made clear, putting something into guidance does not make it a requirement on schools—who can and do disregard guidance. Only legislation has any effect on practice. I believe that, unless the Bill itself is amended, a great many schools will definitely not involve staff or pupils in the process.

    My noble friend objected to pupils and teachers either being involved when the general principles are set by the governors or when the detail about rules, sanctions and so forth is determined by the head teacher. It is obviously important that they should be involved at both stages. Governors have to consult parents about the general principles. This was agreed by the Conservative Government in 1997, when the Labour Front Bench attempted to ensure that parents, teachers and pupils were involved. Now is the opportunity to ensure that the whole school is engaged in the exercise—how could this not be a healthy and constructive procedure? As regards the head teacher's determination of the rules and regulations, it is equally important that the whole school community is consulted, so that they, to use current jargon, have "ownership" of the behaviour code. This is particularly important now the Government have agreed that bullying-prevention measures must be included. I am particularly grateful to the Government for tabling that amendment. You cannot stop bullying unless you actively involve pupils and teachers in the process.

    My noble friend wanted to have "flexibility". The amendment provides for a great deal of flexibility as to how pupils and staff are consulted. This could range from a fairly cursory paper consultation to a full-scale, whole school exercise involving classroom discussions, questionnaires, and so on. However, the amount of work involved would not be sufficiently onerous, given that the Bill already obliges the governing body to consult parents, and the head teacher to take steps to bring the measures to the attention of parents, school employees and pupils every school year.

    These, of course, are the reactive arguments to the Government's negative response. The positive arguments are that the value of involving staff and pupils in determining the behaviour codes of schools cannot be overestimated. As regards pupils, the exercise would obviously contribute to their moral and social education (as required under the aims of the national curriculum) and to a greater likelihood of the behaviour codes being understood and upheld by them. As regards teachers and other staff—for example, dinner and playground superintendents, who have to deal with a lot of this misbehaviour—it is extremely foolish to leave them out of the process. Indeed, it would be lowering to their morale and likely to result in unworkable measures. After all, it is the pupils and staff, not the governing body or the parents, who will actually have to put the code into practice. It is extremely important for staff and pupils to be consulted about disciplinary measures. I hope that I shall receive a better response from the Government this time. I beg to move.

    My Lords. I rise to speak mainly to Amendment No. 141, which is tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Tope. The amendment is very similar to one about bullying which we did not discuss earlier in the week but which was, none the less, passed. I believe that it is worth returning to the topic today. The amendment is about anti-bullying policies in schools and we seek to have such a provision on the face of the Bill. Therefore, we strongly welcome the Government's proposed move which was discussed last Tuesday; namely, to have an anti-bullying policy as an absolute, explicit requirement. That is a step forward, which I am sure will be well received by many people who have campaigned outside the House for the rights of minorities among pupils who are often quite routinely harassed or physically attacked by their fellow pupils.

    We believe that our amendment would give some guidance on the face of the Bill. In many ways, that guidance is along the lines of the amendments tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady David, which deal with other matters. The provision concerns how head teachers might establish a good and positive climate in their schools with regard to bullying issues. Personal development lessons are called by different terms in different schools but they constitute a good forum in which staff and pupils can work together to discover how they can help pupils who are picked on and how better to protect them. This is a difficult area; sometimes head teachers shy away from it. They need all the encouragement we can give them to try to deal with it.

    Often victims are asked to speak to others about their predicament. That brings home to pupils what bullying is and what it means to those who are picked on. It happens for all kinds of reasons—religion, ethnic origin, physical handicap or sometimes because pupils have learning difficulties. It can also happen to pupils who are academically gifted. My daughter desperately tried to pretend that she was not academic because no one in her year was; she knew that that could be thrown at her. I believe that she was probably bullied throughout her progression through the school. Sometimes people are picked on because they are particularly fat or particularly thin. I am sure we have all read of children who have committed suicide because they have been persistently picked on.

    I turn to another important matter. In this day and age children are bombarded on television and in magazines with suggestions of how people are expected to behave sexually at an early age. Sometimes people are picked on because, for whatever reason, they are not behaving sexually as others think they should. Some pupils may think they are gay or lesbian—at that age pupils are perhaps not sure about their sexual orientation—because others perceive that they are not going out with the opposite sex. Young girls—I remember my children talking to me about this—do not wish to become sexually active at a young age. There is terrific peer pressure on them. People can be bullied. These are difficult areas to deal with. It is not always realised how pernicious this form of bullying and pressure on young people can be.

    We shall not press this provision to a vote. I believe that the Government have recognised the importance of the issue. They have included a measure on the face of the Bill. I welcome that provision. I know that those who have suffered from this behaviour, and parents, teachers and head teachers who have tried to deal with it, will also welcome the provision.

    My Lords, we debated my noble friend's Amendments Nos. 140 and 142A in Committee. She quoted extensively from the reply of my noble friend Lord Whitty on that occasion. There is not a great deal more that I can add. Clause 61 already requires the governing body to consult both the head teacher and parents as part of the governing body's role in drawing up the school's discipline policy. Both have a distinct but valuable contribution to make.

    My noble friend seeks to extend that further by requiring the governing body of each maintained school to consult the pupils and the teaching and non-teaching staff of the school before making or revising its statement of general principles on behaviour and discipline. In addition, the head teacher would be required to seek and consider the views of pupils, parents and staff when determining his or her measures on behaviour and discipline.

    I agree with my noble friend that it is important to involve pupils and staff when drawing up a school's discipline policy. That is good practice already recommended in the department's guidance on pupil behaviour and discipline. I am afraid I differ from my noble friend in that I do not agree when she says that only legislation has any effect on practice. I believe that guidance can have a great deal of effect. We need to emphasise the point I have just made about good practice in this area at every opportunity, and indeed we shall. As my noble friend Lord Whitty said, we want schools to have the flexibility to decide who, when and how to consult. We shall cover the point again in the revised guidance that we shall need to produce once the Bill is enacted.

    I turn to Amendment No. 141. The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, seeks to insert a reference to bullying on the face of the Bill. The amendment requires head teachers to use,
    "personal, social, and health education lessons"
    to ensure that,
    "pupils are aware that all forms of bullying are unacceptable".
    However, many subject areas within the curriculum, not just PSHE, could be used to promote anti-bullying values and co-operative behaviour. This may be achieved directly through reference to individual or group behaviour and its impact on others, as illustrated, for example, by an incident in history during a history lesson, or in current affairs or in an English lesson. Tom Brown's Schooldays comes to mind. We do not wish to prescribe how schools should raise awareness about the effect of bullying, nor indeed restrict it to a particular part of the curriculum. This is an area where schools need flexibility to decide for themselves. What is important is to get schools to take action against bullying. Here the Government are totally in agreement with the Liberal Democrat Benches.

    I hope that we have already met the noble Baroness's point by inserting an amendment to Clause 61 to require the head teacher to determine measures, as part of the school's discipline policy, to prevent all forms of bullying among pupils. It would be wrong to be more prescriptive than that in defining exactly how it should happen. I hope that my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, will not pursue their amendments.

    Amendments Nos. 143 to 145 are technical amendments to correct flaws in the Bill as drafted. Amendments Nos. 143 and 144 ensure that, where the Secretary of State has made regulations under paragraph 4 of Schedule 11 to the Bill requiring governing bodies to establish discipline committees, all references in Clauses 65 to 68 of the Bill to the governing body are construed as references to the discipline committee. The Bill as currently drafted omits Clause 65 from this definition.

    The discipline committee will be a small committee of the governing body which will be able to deal with exclusions cases more conveniently than the full governing body. The exclusions provisions refer to "pupils" rather than "registered pupils" in all cases except in line 34 of Clause 67. Amendment No. 145 deletes the word "registered" to ensure consistency with the rest of the exclusions provisions.

    My Lords, I presume that I now respond and leave the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, to respond on her amendments. I am disappointed with my noble friend's reply. Guidance can be ignored, as I said before. It is important that everyone is consulted about the disciplinary code, particularly the staff. I have mentioned dinner ladies and people who are in charge of pupils when they are in the playground. It is important that they should be properly consulted. I am disappointed by what my noble friend said. I responded to what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said in Committee, but that does not seem to have carried any weight at all.

    The amendment provides for a great deal of flexibility as to how pupils and staff are consulted. It could be done in a number of ways. There are schools councils, and so on, which could be consulted. It is very unwise not to have this provision written on the face of the Bill. However, I see that I am against a stone wall. Therefore I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    [ Amendment No. 141 not moved.]

    My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving the Motion, I suggest that the Report stage does not recommence before 8.30 p.m.

    Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

    Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order 1998

    7.30 p.m.

    rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 1st June be approved [36th Report from the Joint Committee].

    The noble Lord said: My Lords, the draft order will extend the temporary provisions of the Northern Ireland Act 1974 under which the government of Northern Ireland is continued by means of direct rule. These arrangements, which have existed for the last quarter of a century, are far from ideal in a democracy. But the good news is that the positive outcome of the referendum and of the elections for the Assembly has demonstrated that there is now sufficient consensus in Northern Ireland for the restoration of a system of government there founded on greater local responsibility.

    Against that background, we sincerely hope that this will be the last occasion on which a government shall need to come before the House for the renewal of the direct rule provisions.

    The 1974 Act which introduced direct rule will be repealed with the enactment of the Northern Ireland Bill 1998, which gives effect to the Belfast Agreement. As a consequence of the Bill, Northern Ireland will once again become self-governing.

    Let me begin by saying that I thoroughly condemn last night's disgraceful sectarian attacks on 10 Roman Catholic churches in Northern Ireland. It is appalling that evil people have returned to this sort of activity at a time when enormous political progress is being made in Northern Ireland. Those who perpetrated these attacks must be brought to justice as quickly as possible.

    The Government will not be deflected by the acts of such extremists. Noble Lords may be aware that today the Prime Minister visited one of the churches that was attacked last night, the church of St. James, in Crumlin, County Antrim. He said that the Government were determined to give Northern Ireland a future, leaving barbarism behind.

    The Northern Ireland people have made it clear that they want the next generation to grow up in a peaceful, stable and secure society, live normal lives and look forward to brighter prospects. The outcome of the referendum held in Northern Ireland on 22nd May was an outstanding result; 71 per cent. of those who voted supported the Good Friday Agreement, and in the election to the new Northern Ireland Assembly held on 25th June the people of Northern Ireland once again showed their determination to make the agreement work by voting for pro-agreement parties to fill 80 of the seats in the 108-Member Assembly.

    Yesterday, the new Northern Ireland Assembly had its inaugural meeting attended by the leaders of unionism, nationalism, loyalism and republicanism—a truly historic day for Northern Ireland and one which its people so rightly deserved. It was a day of new beginnings, providing an opportunity to move away from the divisions of the past three decades and to continue the process of building trust and reconciliation across the community. As one of its first acts of cross-community partnership the new Assembly elected the right honourable Member for Upper Bann and the honourable Member for Newry and Armagh as its First Minister and Deputy First Minister designate. I am sure your Lordships will join with me in sending congratulations to both men and wish them every success. Your Lordships will also wish to send congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, on his appointment as the Assembly's initial Presiding Officer.

    The new Assembly will now begin to prepare for devolution and the transfer of powers. That will not be an easy task, but the people of Northern Ireland have made plain their views. It is clear that the agreement will be implemented and it is the Government's duty to see that that is done as speedily and effectively as possible.

    Major benefits will flow to the Northern Ireland people from the establishment of the new assembly, which will be vested with considerable powers. As noble Lords will already be aware of much of the content of the agreement, I shall not burden them with too much detail. But the main advantages for Northern Ireland are as follows.

    The new political structures will be more accountable to the people of Northern Ireland and more responsive to their needs. The people of Northern Ireland will benefit from devolution, just as the people of Scotland and Wales will benefit. Bringing power back to the Northern Ireland people is also likely to play a vital role in healing divisions in Northern Ireland society as people there work together in a co-operative spirit for the greater good. The new North/South Ministerial Council will enable those with ministerial powers to come together to consult, co-operate and take action. The British/Irish Council will allow for representatives from all the different administrations to co-operate and endeavour to reach agreement on a range of issues such as transport links, the environment, health and European Union matters.

    Benefits flowing from the Good Friday Agreement will not be confined to political development. In the economic sphere, greater inward investment is likely against the backdrop of peace and more settled and durable political structures.

    Nor should it be forgotten that the Good Friday Agreement proposes the establishment of a human rights commission with an extended and enhanced role beyond that currently exercised by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. The new human rights commission, and the proposed equality commission, will be established by Westminster legislation.

    Finally, the agreement should enable us to adjust security measures as the level of threat is reduced. That does not mean disbanding the RUC, as some of our critics have argued. No one appreciates more than the Government the sacrifices that the RUC has made over the years. Rather, our aim is simple: to provide the best possible police service for the people of Northern Ireland.

    To that end, the agreement provides for an independent commission to make recommendations for future policing arrangements in Northern Ireland. The commission's job will be to find ways of achieving that in a way that reflects Northern Ireland's different conditions and cultures.

    To sum up, it is the Government's job to put in place all the elements of the agreement endorsed by the people. There are concerns on all sides about different parts of the agreement, but the Government are committed to ensuring that the benefits I have outlined for the people of Northern Ireland stemming from the agreement are achieved.

    In the meantime, it is necessary for me to seek your Lordships' approval to renew the statutory provisions underpinning direct rule. I commend the order to the House. I beg to move.

    Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 1st June be approved [ 36th Report from the Joint Committee].—( Lord Dubs.)

    7.37 p.m.

    My Lords, I shall not detain the House for long. Northern Ireland has required more than its fair share of time in your Lordships' House recently. As the token Northern Ireland resident who is present for the debate this evening, there are a few points that I wish to make.

    First, I read with considerable emotion the account in Hansard of Monday's debate. I greatly regret that I was unable to be in this House to hear the delivery of some truly moving and great speeches from all parts of the Chamber.

    Secondly, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, is sorry that he is unable to be present. However, he is otherwise occupied across the water. He and I had a brief discussion this morning about the order; hence I make mention of the noble Lord.

    Like the Minister, I hope that today will prove to be truly historic, inasmuch as it will be the last time that this Act will need to be extended in its present form. I understand that at this stage it is usual to debate the pros and cons of direct rule, the performance of the various departments under direct rule etc. I do not intend to go down that road tonight, except to say that democracy in Northern Ireland has been sadly missed. It is high time that it was reinstated.

    I hope, and am cautiously optimistic despite Drumcree and last night's terrible escapades, on which I agree with the Minister. One chapel was next-door to the home of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, and my own office, in a quiet country village. The happenings are disgraceful. Those concerned should be brought to law as soon as possible. However, I am still optimistic that the Assembly will succeed, and that the formation of the Assembly will prove to be the first truly successful step on the road back to democracy.

    However, I do not wish to leave the subject of direct rule in the past without paying tribute to all those Ministers, both from this House and another place, who have committed themselves, and at times their families, to Northern Ireland. Over the past 25 years, under extremely difficult circumstances, we in Northern Ireland have been well served by our Ministers. We owe them a considerable debt of gratitude.

    I am a little concerned, however, for the future on a number of issues. The first is the Government's legislative programme to bring about the necessary seamless changeover from direct rule to government by the Northern Ireland Assembly. Will the noble Lord later inform us of how that will take place? Within what timescale and by when can we expect it to have taken place? I gather it is relevant to the length of the renewal tonight. What safeguards will there be in case—I hate to say it—the Assembly just does not work?

    Secondly, I should like to mention the effect on the economy that the peace agreement may have. There will undoubtedly be a serious loss of cashflow in the Province from the maintenance of 12,000 soldiers. What that number will come down to we do not know, but I do not imagine that 12,000 soldiers will continue to be there, be maintained there and, indeed, spend money there.

    There is the unemployment which will be created by the reduction of civilian employment by the military and the reduction in the amount of security services required generally by industry, airports, transport and so on. I do not know what percentage of the employment there at the lower level is in some form or another security, but it is considerable. The wages are high and the money is spent in the Province. I sincerely hope that Her Majesty's Treasury is not looking for a bonanza as a result of the peace agreement.

    Still on the economy today, we are in the situation where three new parliaments in the three provinces, principalities—or whatever the collective noun is for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—are being set up. There are hundreds of would-be politicians honing their skills and raising the expectations of their electorates. I wonder how many of the promises being promoted can be funded from the central government subvention funds. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will give or have given some thought as to how the various provincial parliaments might come together to share experiences and to learn from one another the art of the possible, especially where it concerns their economies. I hope that there will be some mechanism for keeping all three economies broadly in line.

    I finish by wishing the Assembly and all its participants good luck, every success and a fair wind, while hoping that this will be the last extension needed for the 1974 Act. I support the order.

    7.43 p.m.

    My Lords, I would be grateful if I could speak briefly in the gap. I was not intending to do so until I heard the Minister refer to the human rights commission and the equality commission, both of which I enthusiastically support.

    The point I wish to make is that the benefit of the reforms being made in Northern Ireland needs to be matched by similar reforms for Britain. I remember in the 1970s when the fair employment legislation was introduced for Northern Ireland. It was introduced into this House rather than another place while the Sex Discrimination Bill and the Race Relations Bill were introduced in another place, in order to keep the two apart during the legislative process. That was so that MPs would not make the connection between the two.

    The result is that we have a fractured equality code with different enforcement mechanisms in Northern Ireland. Now, in legislation soon to be published, we are to have an equality commission and a human rights commission in Northern Ireland. We shall not have the same co-ordinated attack on discrimination in Britain unless we have a similar equality commission. We shall not have a human rights commission in this part of the United Kingdom unless the Government change their views. I realise that the Minister is not responsible for anything other than policy in Northern Ireland. I realise that we are looking at this today in blinkers. But I very much hope that he and his colleagues will aim towards a comprehensive equality code and a comprehensive policy for dealing with human rights on both sides of the Irish sea.

    For good measure, perhaps I may add that I also hope that the Government will persuade the Irish Government that they should incorporate the Convention on Human Rights into Irish domestic law so that in all four parts of both islands we have common standards and a common system of enforcement. I am grateful to have been heard on those points.

    7.45 p.m.

    My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend spoke in the gap. His very long commitment not only to human rights in general but also to human rights in Northern Ireland and his familiarity with the Republic of Ireland make his last point well worth considering by the Government. I wonder whether the new council of the islands might take on board the great desirability, probably through the European Convention, of creating a common culture of rights throughout the British isles, including the Republic of Ireland.

    I apologise to the Minister for my discourtesy in not being in the Chamber to hear him present the reasons for the renewal of the order. I am afraid London traffic is not as aware of the necessity for promptness as Members of your Lordships' House. I doubt whether, on this occasion, he would have said much to surprise anyone in the Chamber in that this is the 25th time that the order has been renewed. It is now part of the ritual. It is like so many features of British life, what is done initially as a temporary measure—like the Official Secrets Act 1911—rapidly becomes permanent. So we go from year to year being interim and temporary.

    I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and this year we hope that what is interim really is interim and that we are about to see the Good Friday Agreement ready to emerge as the better way of governing Northern Ireland.

    Those of us, like the noble Lords, Lord Cope and Lord Dubs, who grapple with Northern Ireland issues regularly in this House must be aware that there is a better way of doing things than the way we do them: trying to impose direct rule from Whitehall, Westminster and Stormont on the Province. That was brought home to me when I received, as I did the other day, a statutory instrument from the Northern Ireland road service. It detailed how a particular road in the Province is to be redirected, with a little map enclosed showing the current road, the planned new road and a few dotted lines showing what appeared to be absolutely minute differences between the two. It is one of the hopes we all have for the Good Friday Agreement that it will not only produce political reconciliation, but also allow people from Northern Ireland to grapple with decisions that affect them closely instead of us here purporting to do it on their behalf, often, it has to be said, as with the issue I have just mentioned, from the standpoint of considerable ignorance.

    If this is to be interim, it will be because we have passed legislation for a better way of governing Northern Ireland. Would the Minister care to outline when we should expect to see the remaining parts of the legislation and the form they will take to make good the Good Friday Agreement in terms of your Lordships' House?

    Before I sit down, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, was right to remind us of this point. If we achieve the peace we all hope for in Northern Ireland, if we see the running down of the military presence and no longer have the vast expense of rebuilding where there has been bombing, reconstructing the depredations of the war that has gone on with the terrorists for so long, if we do not have to support expenditure on military and security forces, I hope that the Treasury will not simply pocket the sum as the peace dividend. If there is a peace dividend, it should not be for the Treasury; it should be reinvested in Northern Ireland. It will not be easy to turn Northern Ireland from a culture which is truly state dependent into one of greater economic and commercial independence. It will take time and will need a lot of patience from the Treasury over that period.

    Perhaps I can briefly raise the question of the traditional march from the church at Drumcree, which is due to take place within a few days. There is a great temptation to try and second guess whether or not the march should go ahead, where it should take place and on what terms. But it is no longer for this House to make those decisions. As a House we delegated that decision to the Parades Commission when we voted to put the parades Bill on to the statute book a few months ago.

    The Parades Commission has had a difficult role. It faced resignations and reconstituted itself. It has a controversial and difficult job. It has an excellent chairman in Alistair Graham. It reached a decision on the march this year and decided that it should be diverted away from the Garvaghy Road. Whatever we think of that decision, it is incumbent upon us to ask the people of Northern Ireland and the political leaders of Northern Ireland and this country to respect that decision and, if necessary, to enforce it.

    I use the word "enforce", but we all realise that that may result in a bad outcome. There is still time for compromise on the details of the march and on how the decision is finally turned into action. We must remember that the Parades Commission leaves a lot of latitude for compromise on the ground. I urge all those involved not merely to show restraint—that is required from both republicans and loyalists—in fuelling the flames of sectarian edginess, but also, more constructively, for the unionist and the nationalist leaders—we all admired the handshake between David Trimble and Seamus Mallon—to work together. They must bend all efforts to try to reach the sort of compromise on the ground that will save the honour of all those involved and thus secure the future.

    I hope that the Government, in the remaining hours and days before the march, recognise that the decision must be adhered to; that the rule of law must be respected; and that there is room for statesmanlike compromise on the ground.

    7.52 p.m.

    My Lords, I support and endorse the Minister's condemnation of the attacks on churches last night. It is invidious to pick out one adjacent to the house of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, and the office of my noble friend Lord Glentoran. However, that demonstrates the way in which attacks of that kind come home personally to individuals in Northern Ireland. I sincerely hope that the RUC will be able to bring those responsible to justice as soon as possible. I also echo the call for compromise on the ground at Drumcree, mentioned a few moments ago by the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham.

    It is a sad commentary on the affairs of Northern Ireland that direct rule, introduced for one year in 1974, should have lasted for nearly a quarter of a century. I thank my noble friend Lord Glentoran for his thanks to those of us who have had the privilege to serve in the Northern Ireland Office under direct rule. People sometimes ask me which of the various offices I was privileged to hold over the 15 years I was in government I enjoyed the most. They are rather surprised when I say that it was my time in the Northern Ireland Office. I felt that the job was real and worthwhile. It also flowed a little from the fact that one's powers under direct rule were a good deal more direct than the sort of influence that one was able to exert in committees in other Whitehall departments when struggling to tackle other problems.

    Direct rule—a form of benign dictatorship—under governments of both parties provided good government and government generally acceptable to the people. It has considerable achievements to its credit over the years, though today is perhaps not the time to list them.

    I believe also, as I have expressed in your Lordships' House before, that direct rule has been exercised in the Province for much longer than is good for democracy. I share the hope expressed by the Minister and others that it will soon be substantially replaced by the powers of the new assembly under the Northern Ireland Bill which we are promised relatively shortly. No doubt the Minister will respond to the request to tell us how soon we and another place can expect the Bill to arrive.

    I am not urging haste on the Government over that Bill. It is an extremely important Bill which should be prepared with great care. I am sure that both Houses will respond to it in a manner which will enable it to pass through Parliament properly. However, it needs great care. It should not be rushed through, though it may be difficult to fit it into the parliamentary timetable at the moment.

    We all wish the new assembly well, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice—our parliamentary colleague—who is to take the chair and will no doubt at times have a difficult job. However, I am sure that he will carry it out with his usual skill and ability. Also, I send best wishes to David Trimble and Seamus Mallon as they take up their new duties. They will have a difficult time and I am sure that the assembly will encounter all sorts of problems. No doubt we shall have cause to criticise it from time to time in the decisions it makes and in the way it acts. But both Members of this House and the people of Northern Ireland have a deep desire that the assembly should succeed. We hope therefore that this interim period extension order for one year is the last that we have to pass in this House. It is necessary to pass it and I commend it to the House.

    7.57 p.m.

    My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate for their positive, helpful and supportive comments. I appreciate the tributes paid by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, to Northern Ireland Ministers. It is an enormous privilege to serve as a Minister in Northern Ireland—a view shared by all those who have had that opportunity. It is a rewarding job. The people are warm, responsive, affectionate, friendly and welcoming. If we achieve our main task, which is to bring permanent peace to Northern Ireland, that will be a further reward.

    The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked about the legislative programme for the future, as did the noble Lords, Lord Holme and Lord Cope. I cannot say when further legislation will be introduced. I am tempted to say to the noble Lord, Lord Cope, "shortly". It is clearly understood that the Government intend to introduce an important Bill—the Northern Ireland Bill—which will deal with all other aspects of the agreement that need to be put into statutory form, apart from sentencing. The Bill dealing with that has already had its Second Reading here. The Northern Ireland Bill will not be a large Bill. We hope to introduce it shortly and that it will be passed by both Houses of Parliament by the end of this Session. It will be quite a task for us to deal with what will be a large, complicated and complex measure.

    The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, also asked about safeguards. If there are to be any safeguards—and we are hopeful that we need not talk too much about safeguards—they will be contained in the Bill enabling the assembly to function in full form as opposed to the shadow form under which it is now operating. If the noble Lord wishes to add further safeguards, no doubt he will put down amendments in due course.

    The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, was rather pessimistic about the economic prospects of Northern Ireland. His argument was that, with the prospect of a proper peaceful basis for society there, there will be a need for fewer security forces. That will mean less spending in Northern Ireland, which would have a damaging effect on the economy.

    There is a counter-argument. The Chancellor of the Exchequer visited Northern Ireland recently and announced a very important package of several hundred million pounds to help with the infrastructure of the Northern Ireland economy. Extra sums of money have come to the farmers of Northern Ireland. They will say it is not enough, but there are certainly sums of money there. Above all, when peace comes we shall be able to attract a much greater level of inward investment. That in turn will lead to more jobs and greater wealth for all the people of Northern Ireland.

    The Government are working to encourage more inward investment from all over the world, including North America, in order that we can provide a sounder commercial and industrial base for Northern Ireland and create more jobs and more wealth. Our ability to attract more inward investment will be the most significant economic fact, in addition to tourism, in Northern Ireland. It will make up for any decline in spending on security matters.

    That decline in spending on security matters will only happen as and when the security situation permits. I am much more optimistic about the prospects for the Northern Ireland economy than the noble Lord suggested. The noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, spoke about the peace dividend. That is something of which the Chancellor of the Exchequer is well aware. I have already referred to his recent package. He will be sensitive to the points made by the noble Lord as to what is to happen when security expenditure falls.

    My Lords, the problem is that one can agree with the Minister's long-term analysis of peace over a period attracting inward investment and tourism improving. I believe that may happen. At the same time, we must recognise that that will take some years and there may well be a major transitional problem. It would not require the Northern Ireland economy to go cold turkey on the prospect of future growth, but the management of the transitional period will be extremely important.

    My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point. There may well be a transitional period which we will have to manage carefully. I hope that the European Union will be sensitive to that situation as well. The European Union has been very helpful in contributing sums of money under various headings—peace and reconciliation, and so on—which have been of enormous benefit to Northern Ireland. The noble Lord's point is well taken.

    My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I wish to make the point that I hope that neither the Chancellor nor anyone else will think security expenditure will go down that steeply. I believe that there will be a considerable security problem remaining, both from the breakaway groups and the rackets. Any attempt to drive down the security expenditure too quickly could be extremely dangerous. At the same time, I share the view that there will be great encouragement to the economy from peace, if it flows forward, and that over a period of time that will help take over from the decreased security expenditure.

    My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. The Government's priority is to maintain the level of security forces necessary to ensure the safety of the people of Northern Ireland, to ensure that the law is kept and to reduce to an absolute minimum the activities of those small groups that are not party to the ceasefire. That consideration must come first. I did say that we would reduce the level of the security forces and the provision of security generally only if and when the circumstances on the ground allow it. Not before. That is very important. We are at one on that. I thank the noble Lord for giving me the opportunity to emphasise the point.

    The noble Lord, Lord Lester, was being slightly mischievous—he conceded that he was—in making a point which he knows very well is not for the Northern Ireland Minister. His point is of interest. It is possible that the British-Irish Council, one of the structures which will be set up under the agreement, to which the noble Lord, Lord Holme, referred in his speech, might well be an interesting context for debate and discussion about human rights and equality matters between Northern Ireland, the republic, England, the UK Government and Wales and Scotland. There may well be a chance to share experiences there of different approaches to dealing with human rights and equality.

    My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord thought I might be being mischievous. What I was trying to say is that when we are engaged in constitutional reform, what we do in one part of the United Kingdom should be on good speaking terms with the rest. We are talking about common, basic human rights. It is very important that our rights should not differ in their content or enforcement according to whether we happen to be in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales or England—or for that matter, on basic questions, in the republic. That is not mischievous but in the public interest. A good constitution is one that ensures that our rights are safeguarded by equal protection throughout both islands. I would be surprised if that was controversial as a matter of principle. I am troubled that we are looking at it in blinkers when we look at a particular piece of legislation for one part of the country.

    My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point. When I said "mischievous", I meant in addressing the point to me. The point is not mischievous but asking a Northern Ireland Minister to deal with it had a touch of mischief to it.

    I understand what the noble Lord is saying. He will recognise that the Government for the United Kingdom as a whole have made important progress as regards human rights. I know of the noble Lord's long-standing attachment and commitment to that cause.

    The Government have moved forward in the whole of the United Kingdom. If the way we are moving forward in Northern Ireland is different, it is intended to reflect the particular circumstances there, as perceived more recently by the parties to the agreement who clearly incorporated some of these ideas within the agreement on Good Friday. I was merely suggesting that the British-Irish Council might well be a positive context in which such different experiences might be exchanged, with a view to seeing lessons from one member of the British-Irish Council being applied elsewhere. I do not wish to say any more otherwise I will be falling into the trap that has perhaps been set for me. There will be an important framework and the British-Irish Council will have an important part to play. The noble Lord has already developed some of the agenda for future meetings.

    The noble Lords, Lord Holme and Lord Cope, made some positive points about Drumcree and the difficulties that may be faced this weekend. I am grateful for the comments that have been made. It is clear that the Parades Commission has come to its view. I share the wish that all those involved will show restraint and compromise on the ground and that the decision by the Parades Commission will be respected and adhered to. However, as the noble Lord said, there is still time for compromise and for some sort of agreement on the ground. If that were to happen it would be a better way forward than simply the Parades Commission saying, "This is the route that the parade will follow". The Prime Minister, who has been in Northern Ireland today, stands ready to do whatever he can to help address the consequences of the ruling not to allow the Orange Order march down the Garvaghy Road. The Prime Minister supports the commission's stance. He was aware that there would have been consequences whatever decision the Parades Commission had arrived at. We are aware of that from previous years. What is important is that people on the ground have it within their hands to deal with this better than the Parades Commission.

    In the debates we had earlier in the Session on the legislation leading to the setting up of the Parades Commission on a statutory basis, much emphasis was placed by many noble Lords on the need for compromises and local agreements as the best way forward. However, the Parades Commission had to pronounce and had to make a determination. It could not leave it much later than it did. So that was the news we had earlier this week. But there is still time and I know that people are working on the ground to try to achieve a compromise. We all hope that they will be successful in that e