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Lords Chamber

Volume 669: debated on Thursday 24 February 2005

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House Of Lords

Thursday, 24 February 2005.

The House met at eleven of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Coventry): The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

European Council, 22–23 March 2005

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are the provisional subject and policy areas which they intend to discuss with other European Union governments at the next European Council on 22–23 March.

My Lords, it is customary for the spring European Councils to focus on economic reform. The 22 and 23 March Council should give new impetus to the EU's Lisbon economic reform programme and in particular to the immediate priorities of jobs and growth, building on the Commission's spring report published on 2 February. Heads of State and Government may also discuss the stability and growth pact, sustainable development and international issues.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. The British press, and occasionally even members of the British Government, like to use the argument that all our companies are competitive, open, deregulated, efficient and good for consumers. That is the myth which we often entertain in comparison with wicked continental companies.

Bearing in mind that, alas, that is not always the case, and with Lisbon Mark II coming on 22 and 23 March in a long economic agenda, will Her Majesty's Government make every effort to look at the areas of British financial sectors where cartel operations, restrictive practices and excessive charges to customers still apply? One example is the mostly UK-bank-owned UK credit card companies.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, makes a valuable point. As we urge greater social and economic reform under the Lisbon programme, we have to recall that the goal is greater competitiveness. That is the purpose. Others will judge us on the transparency and extent to which we have the vitality of competition in our regimes.

Anti-competitive behaviour by those in the credit card business would be quite unacceptable and evidence of collusion or cartel behaviour would have to be confronted first and foremost in the interests of the consumers and also in the interests of our reputation internationally. The point is very well made.

My Lords, assuming that the European Council looks at the uncertain progress of the draft constitution, does the noble Lord agree that the remarks made last night by the Trade and Industry Secretary that Britain would he weakened and isolated if the constitution were dropped are nonsense and should be refuted? Does he further agree that the attempt to link the propaganda for the constitution to VE Day and to those who really did make the ultimate sacrifice—many of them from families we know—in preserving the genuine freedom and democracy of Europe will be regarded as deeply distasteful? Will he discourage his colleagues from any such proposal?

My Lords, it will probably surprise no one in the House to know that I share the view of my right honourable friend that the constitution being damaged will make it extremely hard to make further progress on any rational basis in the enlarged Europe. I say so straightforwardly.

I share the noble Lord's view that those who made great sacrifices in the Second World War should not be offended, but I suspect that they will be more encouraged by the notion of a Europe content with itself and at peace than by anything else that could be done.

My Lords, in recognising the importance of economic reform in order to achieve the Lisbon goals, will my noble friend nevertheless recognise and press for the completion of the education and training programmes like Erasmus, Leonardo, Socrates and Comenius as an essential part of that economic reform of Europe?

My Lords, that is absolutely right. The competitiveness of Europe depends on the skills of its people above any other single factor Those programmes add to that platform of skills and they develop them as time goes by. Therefore, under the Lisbon rubric we will most certainly be pressing for all of those things, which are central to both social and economic reform. I can give that assurance.

My Lords, does the Minister believe that the present performance of the stabilisation pact will be under consideration at the prospective Council meeting? Does he expect that we shall have some information that there may be a fundamental reconsideration of its effects?

My Lords, although the final agenda has not been drawn up, I suspect that there is likely to be a discussion of the stabilisation pact. As has been widely debated in the media and in both Houses of Parliament, there has been discussion of ways in which the stabilisation pact could be improved. It is my understanding—I am afraid that I am unable to go further than that this morning—that the Commission is looking at a variety of proposals and believes that progress could be made were the discussion to take place.

My Lords, as an aspect of internal economic reform, will the Government support the cross-party European Parliament initiative for the Parliament to meet in only one location in Brussels? That needs the unanimous vote of all member states.

My Lords, I have frequently heard canvassed the suggestion that the Parliament should meet in one place. While those of us who like going only to one place can understand the strength of the argument, I also understand that there are many parliamentarians who, for various reasons, believe that moving backwards and forwards brings benefits which are not perhaps instantly apparent to me. However, I will ensure that the noble Baroness's point is conveyed to my ministerial colleagues.

My Lords, may we hope that Her Majesty's Government, in discussing European competitiveness, will be vigorous in pointing out that a number of other governments do not fulfil their commitments? I refer in particular to the Italian Government who are deeply reluctant to open up their banking sector, and to the reluctance of several other governments, including the Germans and the Italians, to open up their university sectors. There is fairly blatant protectionism in favour of nationals and that is bad for Europe's future competitiveness, given the importance of European-level research.

My Lords, those restrictions are bad for competitiveness in Europe and for the overall performance of the European economy and I would not want to deny that for a second. But it is also true, as I suspect the noble Lord will agree, that there have been a number of important developments and achievements under the Lisbon programme in the first five years which will be reviewed at the forthcoming meeting. Six million jobs have been created since 1999. The telecommunications industry, by contrast with some of the industries that the noble Lord mentioned, has generated a huge amount of beneficial economic activity. There has also been the liberalisation of the energy markets and the opening up of transport markets. There are real problems to overcome—it would be foolish to deny that—but there are also real achievements as well. I believe that this meeting can build on those achievements and eradicate the problems.

Democracy And The Rule Of Law

11.8 a.m.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they plan to support and seek to strengthen democracy in countries where it is just emerging; and, if so, how.

My Lords, the Government will continue their work to strengthen democracy throughout the world. The promotion of democracy, the rule of law, human rights and good governance underpin our foreign policy. Her Majesty's Government promote these issues for two reasons: because we have a firm conviction that it is the right thing to do and because we have a direct interest in building the conditions for sustainable global security and prosperity, while fostering reliable and responsible international partners.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her positive Answer. Will she agree that a whole series of recent elections around the world have shown that people want to determine their own future under accountable governments? In that situation, will the Government use every possible means of information and communications technology to strengthen civil and political groups so that lasting, permanent, democratic institutions emerge?

My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that the election is only the beginning of the process. But the Government's approach is to ensure that everything we do in foreign policy—we may not always call it "promoting democracy"—is geared towards the core universal principles of democracy. Those include the participation of people—the noble Lord talked about people who were desperate to vote, often doing so in difficult and violent circumstances and showing that they want to have their say—transparency, holding governments to account and the rule of law. Those are very important principles, and we follow them up with projects, advice and mentoring in Ukraine, Georgia, Iraq and all over the world.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that yesterday a very senior Saudi Arabian delegation visited your Lordships' House to inquire how an appointed Chamber could contribute to the development of democracy? The noble Lords present. of whom I was one, were able to tell them that, provided there was a democratic Chamber to work alongside, an appointed Chamber like your Lordships' House was doing an extremely good job.

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord told the delegation that we are a work in progress.

My Lords, as one who does not know the procedures in this area, do the Government wait until they are asked or do they just assume that other countries are desperately anxious to reach the same level of efficiency as the British Government have done in this country? Certainly, people who I know in ASEAN are frequently deeply offended by the assumption that former colonial powers still have the right to tell them how to run their countries.

My Lords, we are not telling people how to run their countries. There is no "one size fits all" for democracy. We are saying to people that we will work to support the growth of democracy which is indigenous in countries. As I said, we do that through an enormous amount of funding from the FCO, DfID and the MoD, which provides help and support with mentoring and advice. There is no need for us to justify our enthusiasm for democracy. It is a truth that will be known to many noble Lords here that no two democracies have ever gone to war with each other.

My Lords, when the Minister next entertains delegations from abroad, will she also take them to the other place and explain that there a party with less than 40 per cent of the votes may well end up with more than 60 per cent of seats and that such an outcome is an insult to an efficient democracy? Can she confirm that the Labour Party is still committed to reforming that outdated and absurd electoral system?

My Lords, of course, in this House the party with the smallest number of votes has an overall influence on the votes, way above that voting potential.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware—I am sure she is—that there is currently in this country a delegation of politicians from Bosnia Herzegovina who are very anxious indeed for tangible support for their efforts to get nearer to the European Union? They are very much looking to Britain to take a leading part in obtaining EU help and support. Can she take that further?

My Lords, I very much support my noble friend's enthusiasm for assisting in that area. Of course, we assist Bosnia Herzegovina bilaterally, with the EU and through our NATO colleagues. As someone who was there during the war more than 10 years ago, I realise how slow the West was to come to the aid of Bosnia.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the growth of democracy does not end with central government issues but that a strong local government is very important in achieving the level of participation to which the Minister referred? That applies equally to this country as it does to others.

My Lords, I could not agree more. For example, in Georgia, the current focus of our efforts is to facilitate a link between the legislative branch of government and the citizens of Georgia's regions so that local level democracy can be boosted.

My Lords, I welcome the emergence and strengthening of democracy throughout the world, but can my noble friend tell me the Government's response to the fact that in recent local elections in Saudi Arabia women were not allowed to participate?

My Lords, although I welcome the recent elections in Saudi Arabia as progress on the path to reform, I cannot hide from noble Lords our disappointment that women were excluded. Along with our EU partners, we raised our disappointment and concern with the Saudi authorities. In that context, we welcome the statement by the Saudi Ambassador to London that women will be included in the next elections in 2009.

Standards Board For England

11.16 a.m.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied with the operation of the Standards Board for England.

My Lords, we consider that the Standards Board for England is undertaking the important job of promoting high standards of conduct for members of local authorities in an effective way.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that councillors are being suspended from office after investigation by the Standards Board for misdemeanours no greater than the zealous representation of constituents' interests or minor lapses of judgment? Some of those suspensions are taking place for up to a year. Does he agree that an unaccountable quango suspending from office the democratically elected representative of a community is a gross interference with democratic processes and should take place only when the most serious breaches of conduct occur?

My Lords, my answer to that has to be: in general, yes. I do not know all the details and it would obviously be inappropriate to discuss individual cases. But such suspensions cannot be right if someone is overzealous in representation, including being criticised for involving the relevant Member of the other place; that, I believe, is unacceptable. That is my personal view and I think that it is the view of any reasonable person. I draw an analogy with the other place. If something really serious happens there, a Member might be suspended for a fortnight or, for something really, really serious, a month. But being suspended from public office for a year and leaving people unrepresented is a problem. But those are the rules that currently operate with the Standards Board and the Adjudication Panel that follows. I understand that some people have been suspended for longer than a year.

My Lords, can the Minister tell me why more than half the Standards Board's time is spent on investigating parish councils? Does he not agree that it is hard enough to get people to serve on parish councils now and that it would be better to take some of the pressure off them? How long does he think it will be before the Standards Board can investigate the failure to implement the hedges policy?

My Lords, I take the noble Baroness's point about parish councillors, and I know that that matter has been raised many times in this House. In principle, if people are in an elected office, I cannot see why they should be excluded from the normal rules of standards of probity. There is no evidence that that has been a major problem since parish councils were covered by the rules. However, I accept that of the complaints made to the Standards Board—the board does filter them out—more than 70 per cent have so little merit that they are not even investigated. I understand that half the complaints relate to parish councils and that, of those investigated, only one in eight is sent to the Adjudication Panel. So there is an attempt to filter out ludicrous complaints, and it is not a very good sign that so many complaints are raised at this level.

The inability of local government, or indeed central government, to implement the provisions of the High Hedges Bill is a matter that I am actively looking into, bearing in mind that the noble Baroness was a key promoter of the legislation. We are very concerned that this issue has not been fully dealt with. I am not sure whether it is a matter for the Standards Board; it is more a matter for my department.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his positive reply. But how does he suggest that local councillors who feel aggrieved in this way can proceed further? At the moment, the only option open to them is the High Court. I am sure that the Minister will accept that that is very expensive and is an impractical option for most local councillors.

My Lords, I agree but I cannot come up with any suggestions. There is no argument about the process by which councillors are lawfully suspended. Those who have been lawfully suspended, although they are going to court to appeal, are excluded, I understand, from all public office, whether they are a councillor for one or more levels of councils; they are also excluded from being a candidate for a council. There has been evidence in the past that people who were not qualified to stand stood for election, were elected and then got suspended in order to draw attention to an issue. In fact, that sounds like the way in which life Peers came about.

I am not suggesting that the councillor does that, but these issues are worth raising. Ours is a democratic system and, by and large. if major issues are caused by people who have been elected, the answer is with the people through the ballot box. On the other hand, we must have a system of raising standards and improving probity.

My Lords, I understand that my noble friend does not want to get into individual cases, and so I shall not pursue him about Westminster City Council, but would he agree in general terms that public interest should exonerate a local councillor who has raised an issue from the disciplinary effect of the Standards Board? In fact, public interest ought to be a key test of whether conduct has been proper.

My Lords, I cannot comment on Westminster Council. I understand that, surprisingly, there is no public interest defence for councillors in this situation. Notwithstanding that, the Freedom of Information Act is now law, which it was not when this first started. A review of the Standards Board is being conducted and people can express their views about it until this summer.

I understand that one of the key criticisms from councillors—quite fortuitously it was raised with me yesterday in a completely different context—related to a case that was ongoing for three years. It is unacceptable conduct of public administration for an issue to take three years. It does not matter whether it is in the health service or in local government; issues should not take that long to resolve.

My Lords, I am sure that the House will welcome the approach of the Minister on this issue. Does he think that the statutory framework is too highly centralised?

My Lords, I do not understand that question. The Standards Board exists, and we fund it. There is a small number of staff doing a job, and they have the code of conduct to implement. Their only role is to police the code of conduct. I cannot comment on individual operations. The board is up for review this summer.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in many places reference to making a complaint to the Standards Board is becoming a totally unjustified political tactic to attempt to smear political opponents? The person complained against is not informed by the Standards Board that the complaint has been made until it starts to look at it, and that might not be for several months. Meanwhile, the whole matter might have been dragged through the local press in a totally unfair and unacceptable way.

My Lords, I deplore that, and I would have hoped that steps would have been taken early on to ensure that that is not happening. The board is a new body but with two or three years of operation we ought to be able to snuff out that kind of misuse and abuse of the system, because that is what it is.

"Yesterday In Parliament"

11.23 a.m.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What representations they have made to the BBC with regard to the future of "Yesterday in Parliament".

My Lords, no representations have been made. The agreement between the Government and the BBC requires the corporation to transmit an impartial day-by-day account, prepared by professional reporters, of the proceedings in both Houses of Parliament. The BBC's editorial independence means that it is entirely up to the corporation as to how that requirement is being fulfilled.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that response. Is he aware of media speculation this week that as part of the BBC's review of services it has been looking at a cutback in staff and in the "Yesterday in Parliament" programme? Does he agree that that would fly in the face of the BBC's public service responsibilities, and will he make the necessary representations?

My Lords, my noble friend referred to media speculation. I think that the speculation was fairly limited. On the whole, I would prefer to believe the BBC's position, rather than speculation in other parts of the media. I understand that the BBC wrote to the Evening Standard, where the story first surfaced, and said that there was no truth in it.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that some years ago the BBC sought to change the timing of its parliamentary broadcasting and strong representations were made for it not to do so? On behalf of the Commons, I made some representations, and I saw the chairman of the BBC at the time. However, in its wisdom, the BBC changed the timing of its parliamentary broadcasting, with the result that the audience took a nosedive, and it had to produce evidence to that effect. I believe that it changed some programmes back as a result of its experience. Does the Minister not think that, having had its fingers burnt on one occasion, the BBC may leave things well alone?

My Lords, it is clearly the right of parliamentarians to make representations in this respect. As the noble Baroness indicated, she did so to a certain extent in the past. It would be odd if the BBC did not take note of such representations, but the House will recognise that that is different from asking the Government to make representations about a particular programme.

My Lords, the issues clearly need to be set in the context of the BBC's public service obligations, but we are awaiting a Green Paper on the renewal of the BBC's charter. Why has it not been published this week? Is the Secretary of State still seeking further inspiration from a Member on our Cross Benches?

My Lords, I am sure that the Secretary of State would benefit from inspiration from any quarter. Let me reassure the House that the Green Paper is imminent, and therefore the noble Lord will not have to contain his impatience too long.

My Lords, is the House aware that BBC Parliament started broadband live broadcasting of the House of Lords last night? Does the Minister agree that, in the light of the fact that BBC Parliament shows live coverage of your Lordships' House only when the House of Commons is not sitting, we should look for other ways to raise the profile of the brilliant work that is undertaken in this House?

My Lords, I am second to none in applauding the excellent work done by this House, but the noble Baroness perhaps underestimates the extent to which video recording is now available in households in the United Kingdom. The actual timing of programmes is not as important as it was in the past. I am sure that the BBC will recognise the strength of opinion expressed from the Opposition Front Bench.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, as newspapers give less and less space to politics, it is essential that other media, particularly radio, give good coverage to parliamentary proceedings and news?

My Lords, my noble friend is right, and that will be seen when the Green Paper emerges. I cannot presume too much, but it will be recognised that we continue to regard the public service obligation of the BBC as including the proper coverage of developments in Parliament.

My Lords, is it altogether wise to publish the Green Paper in advance of the general election? Could not its contents he interpreted as an attempt by the Government to influence the independence and impartiality of the BBC?

My Lords, I do not think that the noble Lord will find that to be the public response to the Green Paper. As the noble Lord will recognise, a timetable was set out for the consultation that the BBC has carried out on the renewal of the charter and the report on the work of the noble Lord, Lord Burns. It is timely for the Government to respond. There is probably no time when a report on, and discussion about, the BBC would not generate a fair degree of political controversy.

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, for her heroic efforts in leading Members of Parliament in 1998–99 to success in getting some of "Yesterday in Parliament" put back on FM, but should not the goal, in view of the tremendous importance of the matter, be to get back to the pre-1998 position?

My Lords, that is a matter for the BBC, not for the Government. It is a matter for the Government that the BBC fulfils its broad remit in terms of its public obligation. My noble friend will recognise that it would be entirely inappropriate for the Government to express a view on a particular editorial decision.

Business Of The House: Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill

11.30 a.m.

My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That leave be given to advance the Third Reading of the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill from Thursday 3 March to Wednesday 2 March.—(Baroness Amos).

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Railways Bill

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That it be an instruction to the Grand Committee to which the Railways Bill has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order:
  • Clause 1,
  • Schedules 1 and 2,
  • Clause 2,
  • Schedule 3,
  • Clauses 3 and 4,
  • Schedule 4,
  • Clauses 5 to 19,
  • Schedule 5,
  • Clauses 20 and 21,
  • Schedule 6,
  • Clause 22,
  • Schedule 7,
  • Clauses 23 to 25,
  • Schedule 8,
  • Clauses 26 to 45,
  • Schedule 9,
  • Clauses 46 to 52,
  • Schedule 10,
  • Clause 53,
  • Schedule 11,
  • Clauses 54 to 58,
  • Schedules 12 and 13,
  • Clause 59.—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Pension Protection Fund (Ppf Ombudsman) Order 2005

My Lords, I beg to move the second Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the draft order be referred to a Grand Committee.—(Baroness Amos.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Pension Protection Fund (Pension Compensation Cap) Order 2005

My Lords, I beg to move the third Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the draft order be referred to a Grand Committee.—(Baroness Amos.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Occupational Pension Schemes (Levies) Regulations 2005

My Lords, I beg to move the fourth Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the draft regulations be referred to a Grand Committee.—(Baroness Amos.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Occupational Pension Schemes (Modification Of Pension Protection Provisions) Regulations 2005

My Lords, I beg to move the fifth Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the draft regulations be referred to a Grand Committee.—(Baroness Amos.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Industrial Training Levy (Construction Board) 2005

My Lords, I think that this is the last one. I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the draft order be referred to a Grand Committee.—(Baroness Amos.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Parliamentary Commissioner (Amendment) Bill Hl

My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Moved, That the order of commitment be discharged.—(Lord Lester of Herne Hill.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Education Bill Hl

11.31 a.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills
(Lord Filkin)

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

Moved, That the Bill be further considered on Report.—(Lord Filkin.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

moved Amendment No. 55:

After Clause 45, insert the following new clause—
"Exclusion of children: duties in relation to pupils
  • (1) Section 52 of the Education Act 2002 (c. 32) (exclusion of pupils) is amended as follows.
  • (2) After subsection (5) there is inserted—
  • "(5A) It shall he the duty of all persons and bodies exercising functions under this section—
  • (a) to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child that is proposed to be excluded, and
  • (b) to have regard in particular to the child's educational achievement.
  • (5B) Regulations shall make provision for compliance with the duty under subsection (5A) and in particular to ensure that pupils that are proposed to be excluded or have been excluded under the provisions of this section—
  • (a) have a proper opportunity to make representations in relation to their exclusion or proposed exclusion, and
  • (b) receive all information that might be relevant to such representations.""
  • The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in Grand Committee I moved a similar amendment, although the wording was slightly different for reasons which I shall explain.

    The intention of the amendment was to ensure that the pupil's rights in respect of exclusion decisions and the hearing of exclusion appeals by the governors and independent appeals panels are adequately safeguarded. Current statutory guidance in England does not enforce the statutory involvement of a child in the exclusion process.

    Guidance on school exclusions in England states that in situations where the governing body of the school reviews the exclusion,
    "they should normally allow the excluded pupil to attend the meeting and speak, if the parent requests this".
    As regards appeal hearings, it states that,
    "an excluded pupil … should normally be allowed to attend the hearing and to speak on his or her own behalf, if he or she wishes to do so and the parent agrees".
    However, not all schools make provision for children and young people to make representations at disciplinary committees or appeal hearings. Furthermore, the current guidance does not cover the provision of relevant information to children and young people regarding their exclusion. As a result, children are not always in a position to make representations at hearings, even if they are permitted.

    In Grand Committee I referred to recent research undertaken by Save the Children, which indicated that children often feel a sense of injustice and disempowerment because they are not given the opportunity to put their side of the story. One young boy stated, "You don't get given your chance to say what happened. How are they going to know what happened?"

    The research demonstrated that children and young people often felt that the exclusion process was something that happened around them but did not directly involve them. A number of young people told the researchers that had they been given a voice in the exclusion meetings they could have explained their behaviour and the reasons behind it—perhaps difficulties such as living in care or family problems.

    There is currently an explanation that all parents and carers have the information and capacity to represent the best interests of the child throughout the process, but that is by no means always the case. One young man explained to the researchers that he wanted to appeal but his mother prevented him doing so because it would take too much time.

    It was clear that most felt that exclusion was a very severe punishment which could well affect their future lives, including their opportunity to secure good employment. Many said that absences from school over a period meant that they became "thick"—in their words—and that they did not want that to happen.

    I have provided a copy of the research conducted by Save the Children to my noble friend the Minister, since she seemed to be sympathetically inclined to the case that I made in Grand Committee, although not willing to accept the amendment. I have altered the wording at the request of a number of organisations interested in the issue. I have included that:
    "It shall be the duty of all persons and bodies exercising functions under this [clause] … to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child that is proposed to be excluded",
    in addition to having regard to the child's educational achievement.

    Since Grand Committee, I have received a letter from my noble friend the Minister, for which I am very grateful, from which I gather that the Government do not want to accept an amendment, but are prepared to redraft the guidance which is already available. There are a couple of points that I should like to raise in connection with the proposed guidance, which I must say moves very largely in the direction of this amendment. I said earlier that I am very glad that that has happened.

    The draft guidance indicates that the agreement of the parent for the involvement and participation of the pupil is required. As the Save the Children research indicates, the parent's co-operation may not always be available—like the young man who said that his mum would not let him appeal because it would take too much time. Therefore, why is it necessary always to have the parent's agreement for participation of the child?

    Secondly, the Government seem willing to amend the guidance but not the regulations. Why is it not felt necessary or appropriate that the regulations should be amended?

    Having made those points, I am very glad, as I said earlier, that the Government are prepared to move very largely in the direction of what we were asking for in Grand Committee, following no doubt the submission of the research that I provided. I beg to move.

    My Lords, I rise to support the spirit of the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner. I think that we are all agreed that we must always listen to the voice of the child. I, too, welcome what the Government are doing to bring forward better guidance and regulations to ensure that that voice is always heard.

    I echo the noble Baroness's words that we cannot always rely on the parents. We all know that the vast majority of parents have the good of their children and their welfare very much in mind, but a few parents either cannot or will not support their children in the very stressful situation in which a few children find themselves. It might be in the interests of the parent to prevent the child's voice being heard.

    It is a matter of basic human rights that, in this particular situation when the whole future of their education is at stake, children's voices should be heard. So, while welcoming what the Government have already agreed to do, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, in urging them to do even more.

    My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Turner of Camden. The common picture of the excluded pupil is one of a young adolescent out of control, very difficult to educate, abusive, uncooperative, and who has a disregard for authority. Such children are demonised by society and, with their parents, are frequently criticised by the leaders of society. For example, on Tuesday BBC News published a news item about a speech from David Hart of the National Association of Head Teachers, criticising the extreme use of procedures at appeal panels which he said put heads "in the dock". He went on to criticise appeal panels for reinstating pupils on "flimsy grounds" which damaged the "law-abiding majority" of children. He said:

    "Too often LEAs [local education authorities] are intimidated by lawyers, barrack room or real, or by self-appointed pressure groups, waving the civil libertarian flag and threatening damages or other mayhem. This spreads to independent appeal panels which are still reinstating on flimsy groups".
    Is there any research evidence that supports this view? I suspect the majority of excluded pupils are frightened, greatly concerned about losing the familiar parts of their lives, including their friends, and worried about their future. They are not supported by lawyers, barrack room or real, or by self-appointed pressure groups. We know an increasingly large number of excluded pupils are from the primary sector.

    Last year, Parliament approved a new Children Act which puts a duty on a range of bodies to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. One body which was not included was the Independent Appeal Panel, which parents can appeal to on behalf of their children when they have been excluded. I support the amendment, which brings those bodies in line with others which have responsibilities to children. I also support the second part of the amendment, which gives a voice to the child at the appeal hearings. At present, only parents and their representatives have the opportunity of saying what happened. It is right that children should also have a voice, and that the appeal panel can hear the child's words on any incident at the school which resulted in the exclusion. If the Minister is redrafting the guidance, I hope she will pay attention to what has been said in this short debate.

    My Lords, I urge the Minister to consider seriously the amendment of my noble friend. Justice is tested in that small number of cases of extraordinary fact. The voice of the child must be heard where the parent will not agree to the case either going to appeal or being heard by whatever procedure is available. If that is so, the state should not test which are the extraordinary cases; it should be open to the child to be heard in such a serious matter.

    My Lords, very briefly, I also welcome the Government's receptiveness to the amendments. In Committee, I qualified my support because I had not had an opportunity to speak with practitioners. Since then, I have spoken with Professor John Adams of the National Association of School Governors, and with a well respected primary teacher who has had to exclude pupils in the past and whose husband is a governor. They both strongly support the principle of involving children as far as possible in the procedures. I am glad to see the Government's receptiveness to that.

    My Lords, we are at one with the intention of the amendment, and I am sorry the noble Baroness has had to wait so long to arrive at this point—she was very patient with us the other night. We did debate an earlier version and I promised we would reflect in the light of the issues. We have done so, not least in relation to the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. We were grateful that the noble Baroness drew attention to the research project commissioned by Save the Children Fund, and we have looked at it closely. I am not aware of any other research, but we will look at that.

    With her involvement in the Children Bill as it was going through this House, I think the noble Baroness will agree with me how serious we are about articulating and amplifying the voice of the child. We are getting better at that in government. We are fully supportive of Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which she quoted. It states:
    "State parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child".
    I agree with that absolutely. We have therefore decided, as she says, to look hard at the guidance, and to amend and strengthen it in that respect.

    My noble friend asked me why it was not proper to amend the exclusions legislation in the regulations. The problem is that those regulations were amended as recently as March 2004. With great respect, we believe that schools and local authorities should be left alone to embed and work out those regulations. Frequent changes are unsettling; we are often asked in Government to give schools periods of stability. We intend to do that, but we have decided that we can strengthen our guidance in several places to emphasise the importance we attach to the child having a voice in the exclusion process. That guidance has the force of law. We are proposing that head teachers should not only allow pupils to give their version of events, but also—the significant change—positively encourage them to do so. Guidance on review by governing bodies and appeal panels will he enhanced so that in each case pupils should be encouraged to attend. If they do attend, they should be sent copies of the paper. Therefore, we shall make it clear that an excluded pupil under the age of 18 should be allowed and encouraged to speak on his or her own behalf at governing body meetings and independent appeal hearings, if he or she wishes to do so.

    11.45 a.m.

    We have been asked why there is still an element of parental agreement involved. We have already changed that from the parent requesting the child be involved, to the parent agreeing. That is a significant change, but we would also like to reflect on the involvement of the parent in that context as part of our wider policy of review on parenting. I can send that signal to the House. On the detail of how the guidance will be changed, I will write to my noble friend since we are under pressure of time today, setting out the details.

    On the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, we are sensitive to the concerns he has expressed about the position of looked-after children. It is extremely important that their views are taken into account, and that they are given as much confidence and support to express them as possible. The exclusions guidance will make specific note of the particular circumstances of those pupils. It will advise them that whenever a looked-after child is excluded, anyone defined as a parent has the right to make representations and appeals, and that those children will be allowed and encouraged to participate more fully at all stages of the exclusion process. As my noble friend Lord Wedderburn said, those are cases where justice is involved, and it is important that everyone's rights, particularly the child's, are observed.

    My officials are currently involved in dialogue with Save the Children. We have had warm and positive support for the changes we want to make and for how the guidance will be worded to make clear there are proper opportunities. We are taking careful note of their proposals, and where possible we will incorporate their recommendations into revised guidance. We also need to consult informally with other parties. On the timescale, again we are aware of the need to act quickly. The guidance can be changed online easily and quickly. Erratum slips can be inserted in printed versions of the guidance until our current stocks are exhausted in about three months' time. Then, in the next print runs, we will make the necessary amendments.

    I hope that noble Lords—my noble friend in particular—feel that her assiduousness has been well rewarded by the Government, and that the changes will he to the huge benefit of the children whom she is trying to protect.

    My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that very detailed response. I am glad that, in principle, a lot of what has been said on the topic both in Grand Committee and today has been accepted by the Government. I wait with interest for the letter she says she will write to me, and I am glad that consultation is proceeding with Save the Children, which has of course been responsible for research upon which we have based the amendments. In the circumstances—I know that time is a problem at the moment—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Schedule 5 [Sixth forms requiring significant improvement]:

    moved Amendment No. 56:

    Page 77, line 38, leave out from "England," to ", and" in line 40 and insert "section 12(1) to (1B) of the Education Act 2005 (duty of Chief Inspector to send draft report to governing body or proprietor, to consider their comments and to state opinion in report)"
    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    moved Amendment No. 57:

    Page 78, line 14, leave out "subsection (3)" and insert "subsection (1B)(b)"
    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    Clause 47 [Inspection of religious education: England]:

    moved Amendment No. 58:

    Page 30, line 11, after "governors" insert "after consultation with any person prescribed for the purposes of this subsection in relation to the religion or religious denomination that is specified in relation to the school under section 69(4) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998"
    The noble Lord said: My Lords, this group of amendments is tabled in response to the representations made by the right reverend Prelate in Committee. I am pleased that we are now able to table government amendments to meet requirements set out by him and others and to provide for other faith groups. The amendments will enable the Secretary of State, for England, and the National Assembly, for Wales, to specify the appropriate body for each faith group that must be consulted by the foundation governors or the governing body when choosing the inspector for religious education. Officials are currently engaged with other faith bodies to determine the appropriate body, where applicable, for each group. I beg to move.

    My Lords, we are grateful to the Minister for his response to the points made by my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, who, unfortunately, is unable to be in his place today. The amendments extend to the authorities responsible for all faith schools the powers that the right reverend Prelate's amendments would have given to Anglican and Roman Catholic schools. We welcome that.

    The lawyers who advise us on educational matters have expressed concern about the force of the term "consult", as opposed to our earlier formulation, which would have required governing bodies to have regard to the advice that they receive. I understand that government lawyers have suggested that "consult" is stronger in force and therefore more appropriate. We have our doubts, and would welcome assurances that guidance and regulations will make it absolutely clear that diocesan authorities and other appropriate religious bodies will be able to have a strong influence over the appointment of inspectors and the raising of the quality of the inspection system, and thus of the education offered in Church and other faith schools. If the Minister can give assurances about regulations and guidance, we shall welcome the amendments unhesitatingly.

    My Lords, I am happy to give that assurance. I am strongly advised that "consult" is legally stronger and that the measures that we have tabled will achieve what the right reverend Prelate seeks: that the relevant diocesan authority will have a good and proper influence on those issues. That is exactly what we want to achieve.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    moved Amendment No. 59:

    Page 30, line 12, at end insert "after consultation with any person so prescribed"
    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    Clause 48 [Procedure Jim inspections under section 47]:

    [Amendments Nos. 60 to 61 not moved.]

    Clause 49 [Inspection of religious education: Wales]:

    moved Amendments Nos. 62 and 63:

    Page 31, line 16, after "governors" insert "after consultation with any person prescribed for the purposes of this subsection in relation to the religion or religious denomination that is specified in relation to the school under section 69(4) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998"
    Page 31, line 17, at end insert "after consultation with any person so prescribed"
    On Question, amendments agreed to.

    Schedule 9 [Further amendments relating to school inspection]:

    moved Amendment No. 64:

    Page 93, line 25, leave out paragraph 1.
    The noble Lord said: My Lords, these are technical amendments consequential on an amendment by Order in Council of the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967. I beg to move.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    moved Amendments Nos. 65 to 72:

    Page 93, line 29, at end insert—
    "1A In Schedule 4 to the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967, omit the entry beginning "Registered Inspectors of Schools Appeal Tribunals"."
    Page 96, line 7, leave out "subsection (2)" and insert "subsection (1B)(a)"
    Page 96, line 23, leave out "section 12(2)" and insert "section 12(1B)(a)"
    Page 96, line 34, leave out "subsection (2)" and insert "subsection (1B)(a)"
    Page 97, line 5, leave out "section 12(2)" and insert "section 12(1B)(a)"
    Page 97, line 8, leave out "section 12(2)" and insert "section 12(1B)(a)"
    Page 97, line 16, leave out "section 12(2)" and insert "section 12(1B)(a)"
    Page 97, line 24, leave out "section 12(2)" and insert "section 12(1B)(a)".
    On Question, amendments agreed to.

    moved Amendment No. 73:

    Before Clause 63, insert the following new clause—
    "ARRANGEMENTS FOR SCHOOL ORGANISATION PROPOSALS INVOLVING THREE OR MORE SCHOOLS
    Sections 63 to 65 do not apply in England to proposals about three or more schools in the same local education authority area when published simultaneously by the local education authority and the governing bodies of aided and foundation schools or the promoters of new aided or foundation schools."
    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 77. We now move to Part 2 of the Bill and to some of the more contentious clauses that concern school organisation. The purpose of the amendment is to exclude new school proposals from the competitive requirements when they involve proposals for reorganisation resulting from falling rolls. The management of falling rolls was one of the major educational debates in the late 1970s and 1980s. There was then a 25 per cent fall in the number of secondary school pupils and the loss of almost 800 secondary schools out of a total of about 3,000 between 1984 and 1994.

    Secondary school rolls have been rising steadily since 1990, but the DfES website states that the number of pupils in secondary schools peaked last year—in 2004—at 3.33 million and is expected to start falling again. The DfES website does not estimate the speed or depth of the decline, but the Scottish Parliament website states that the fall is likely to be about 15 per cent during the next 10 years. That is substantial and it is therefore clear that the country needs to plan for significant falls in secondary school rolls.

    From the past, we know that there will he a different effect in different areas because of the variable rates of economic growth in different regions. The south-east is still expecting growth and there has been much debate in the south-east about the need for extra housing, and often extra schools. That is partly as a result of people moving to the south-east from other areas, rather than because of an increase in demand in the south-east itself. Therefore, there are knock-on effects and a further decline in other areas when people move from there to the south-east.

    The purpose of the amendment is to exclude from the competition rules those LEAs that have to manage wholesale secondary school reorganisation. Typically, an LEA may have to reorganise between three and 10 secondary schools at any one time. It is interesting to contrast the approach taken in the 1970s and 1980s with today's approach. In the late 1970s, the Government funded a study on falling rolls in secondary schools, which was published in 1980 by the NFER. The principal author was a former chief education officer with long experience. An advisory board for the research was chaired by an HMI, with representation from the then Department of Education and Science.

    The study considered how the school staff and LEA managed the change in 20 secondary schools in a dozen LEAs. It was clear that, for no difference in the quality of education, schools could lose significantly different numbers of pupils. Two of the schools' intakes halved in three years, and half of the schools lost a quarter of their intake. The effect on schools of such a sharp drop in roles can be devastating, and even more so today, when we have shifted to the "money following the pupil" funding policy.

    The present Government's answer to the problem of falling rolls is to make secondary school reorganisation even more difficult by lengthening the process and introducing competition over who should run the schools emerging from secondary reorganisation. That is mainly because the Government have signally failed to understand the difference between the requirements of the Education Act 2002 involving additional schools where new schools are required to meet growing numbers, and the arrangements involving replacement schools proposed by the Government in this Bill. Additional schools do not involve a living school with staff and pupils; replacement schools do.

    As soon as a school reorganisation is mooted and becomes inevitable, staff want to know whether they have jobs and parents want to know about the continuity of their children's education. They really do not want to he involved in a lengthy competition, the result of which will be unknown in terms of the religious character, or not, of the school and whether the staff and pupils will be able to continue with the existing provision. If they have any sense, teachers will leave, which will increase the anxiety of parents and students.

    I regret to say that it appears at present that the Government are going to wash their hands completely of the consequences of the Bill. In a Written Answer on 4 February 2005 to my noble friend Lady Walmsley, who inquired about the effect of such delays, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, stated:
    "Local authorities will need to factor the new arrangements into their planning cycle when considering any reorganisation of secondary education in the area".—[Official Report, 4/2/05; col. WA 74.]
    In other words, the Government are pushing through the legislation to suit their ideological ends, and they expect local authorities to pick up the pieces. Where is the consideration of the effect of the new arrangements on increasing the time to complete secondary school reorganisation? Where is the consideration of the effect on children's learning or on staff cohesion? At the moment the answer is, "Nowhere". A responsible government would at least have gone to the trouble of thinking through the issues and would have worked with the LEAs and teachers to map the effect of their policies. By restricting competitions to small-scale reorganisations, the amendment should limit the damage caused to schools.

    Noon

    I turn briefly to the second amendment in the group, Amendment No. 77. The amendment would require the Government to publish guidance for school organisation committees on matters to be taken into account in making decisions on competitions for new or replacement schools. I remind the House that Schedule 10, referred to in Clause 65, sets out details of how the competitions required under Clause 65 will be run. Schedule 10 paragraph 4 sets out the procedures to be followed by the school organisation committee when considering the proposals, and paragraph 4(6) says that, in taking decisions on the proposals, the school organisation committee must heed the advice from the Secretary of State.

    We say that, as this is a new situation—school organisation committees have not had to consider issues of competition before—and in those circumstances the Secretary of State should set out his guidance. The Bill makes provision for the school organisation committee to have responsibility for decisions on proposals in competitions for a new or replacement school, instead of the old situation in which the Secretary of State made those decisions. That is new territory for the school organisation committees, which previously have considered school organisation plans, school closures and some new school proposals in relation to the local authority.

    As the school organisation committees are untested in the expanded process of having to judge the competitions between the proposals, the amendment would ensure that they were sufficiently robust in the role, with guidance setting out the matters to be taken into account when making decisions. We are looking for robust guidance from the Secretary of State on how those decisions should be taken. I beg to move.

    My Lords, I fear that this will be a matter on which we shall not agree. That is exactly because the Government's policy is that increased choice of new providers, when there is to he a new school either as a result of an increase in the need for places or as the product of a reorganisation, is in the interest of parents and pupils. That is the explicit reason why with the Bill we have widened the existing legislation, which requires competitions only for additional schools, and widened the circumstances about which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has spoken.

    The Bill would require a local authority to invite proposals in a far wider range of circumstances. That would involve a reorganisation in an area where some schools were being closed and others changed to meet changing demands. Of course, that would not apply in a situation where an existing school was moving to a new building—that would simply be an existing school continuing in new premises—but it would apply when there was reorganisation, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp.

    The Building Schools for the Future programme is intended to provide a stimulus for local authorities to examine the shape of provision in the area and to decide where schools will be needed in the future. Often, secondary education reorganisation and the associated competitions will be carried out in the context of the BSF programme.

    Many local authorities will take the opportunity to augment the facilities of schools and relaunch them technically as new schools. That is particularly likely where provision is being rationalised and some schools may be closing. We think that competitions where proposals need to be published for new secondary schools are a good thing and will encourage greater choice for parents and greater contestability in the system. The more that schools are involved, the greater the opportunity for new providers to become involved and the greater the need for as many options as possible to be explored. This part of the Bill is trying to achieve that—more good schools from which parents can choose. Where a local authority believes that a new secondary school is needed, whether to meet a demand for new places or as a result of reorganisation, it will need to publicise the fact and invite interested parties to make proposals to meet the need for the new school.

    Potential promoters should have the right to be told about opportunities for new schools and to compete on a level playing field—I emphasise a level playing field—but the local authority will still decide when it needs to reorganise, where the school should be and its size and range. The local authority is in charge strategically of deciding the pattern of education in its area. It will retain its role as the commissioner of educational provision, but the provision may be provided by another provider, if that is what the local school organisation committee decides is best for the area. The legislation will not remove any powers from the local authority, but it will ensure that other providers are aware of the need for a secondary school in the area and aware of the opportunity to submit a proposal.

    On Amendment No. 77, we agree that guidance to decision makers on competitions for new secondary schools will have to include the factors to he taken into account if more than one proposal is received. It will be for the school organisation committee or the adjudicator to decide the proposals on their merits, and it would be utterly wrong for the guidance to be so prescriptive as to attempt to override that.

    We shall consult interested parties thoroughly on draft guidance in the normal way before it is issued, but some of the factors that are likely to be included are: whether the proposals improve the standards, quality, range or diversity of educational provision; whether they advance national and local transformation strategies; whether the proposals will deliver a broad and balanced curriculum; the parental demand for the type of school; whether the proposals represent a cost-effective use of public funds and so on.

    Later we shall discuss the processes by which parents can express their views on that. We believe that it is in the interests of parents and pupils that there is opportunity for a wider diversity of suppliers. Therefore, we do not agree with the amendment for the reasons that I have stated.

    My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply—I suppose I am grateful. It is clear that there is no meeting of minds on the issue.

    I believe that the Government underestimate the hurt and harm that can be caused to a community when one is trying to reorganise schools and thrown into the midst of that reorganisation is the lengthy process of a competition between schools. Trying to amalgamate three schools into two is difficult enough. If, on top of that, one says, "The whole thing is up in the air, and we don't know what schools are going to be established or where, as that is up to the competition", incredible turmoil is created for pupils. For a couple of years, the lives of those pupils can be disturbed by uncertainties about what will happen to their school.

    We are asking the Government to allow local authorities to pursue their function as a strategic planner in this area, so that they do not have to worry about setting up the competitions and losing control. Effectively, the Government are asking local authorities, in setting up independent schools—academies are defined as independent schools, and foundation schools can go their own way to a considerable extent—to pursue a strategic role.

    The Government are uncomprehending of the realities of life at the coalface of local education authorities. They have no idea what it is like, and they are pursuing a totally ideological agenda for their own purposes. It is a remarkably Thatcherite agenda for a Labour government, and I am amazed to find a Labour government pursuing such an agenda. If that is the way they want to go, the electorate will, in the not too distant future, have a chance to judge the Government. I shall withdraw the amendment and leave the electorate to make up their mind about what they want. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 64 [Publication of proposals with consent of Secretary of State]:

    moved Amendment No. 74:

    Page 38, line 20, at end insert—
    "( ) When considering whether to grant consent to publish under subsection (2), the Secretary of State shall have regard to any representations made by the local education authority for the area in which the school is proposed, and any other local education authority likely to be affected by the proposal."
    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, as we have heard, the Bill extends the circumstances in which new secondary schools will be subject to a competition. If LEAs or promoters want to establish a new community, foundation or voluntary school without going to competition, they have to receive the consent of the Secretary of State. The effect is that no community school can be established without the Secretary of State's consent or until after external promoters have first been invited to submit their proposals.

    It is now clear that we have strong reservations about the principle of opening for competition the establishment of new secondary schools. It should be the School Organisation Committee—with the appropriate sources available to it—and the LEA which have responsibility for ensuring a coherent pattern of provision without the distractions or pressures from individual lobbies which can have an influence out of proportion to the general need to ensure sufficient secondary school places.

    This amendment to Clause 64 was laid to ensure that, when considering whether to grant consent, the Secretary of State will have regard to representations made by the LEAs affected by the proposal. Given the long list of important roles outlined by the Minister in debate on the previous amendment, that seems to be only right. The amendment supports the strategic commissioning role that the Government have themselves set out as being their vision for local authorities in the future enabling them to ensure that any proposal is considered alongside existing planning arrangements for all schools. It would help to avoid unnecessary disruption of local schools and their communities in the "cat among the pigeons" situation outlined by my noble friend Lady Sharp.

    Any proposal for a new school should fit with local need. The amendment should encourage proposers to make contact with the local authority so that they become familiar with the school organisation plan to ensure that their proposals fit into the local audit of need for the local communities. It is hoped that that will prevent the proposer putting forward a proposal that could create an isolated learning institution.

    I see a parallel here with something that was beginning when I myself was teaching and is happening to a much greater extent nowadays. Many organisations are trying to get involved in education now and many of them are providing very high quality teaching materials for use in the classroom, which relate the curriculum to everyday life and are a practical application of learning. When that first started to happen in the classroom, the materials were not really related to the curriculum. Very soon, those organisations cottoned on to the fact that, if they did not relate those learning materials to the national curriculum, they would not be any use in the classroom. In the same way, it is absolutely vital that proposers of new schools understand the context into which they are making their proposals. This amendment will help.

    It is particularly important, as the agenda for children, young people and families requires greater collaboration and joined-up working in response to the Children Act 2004 in which local authorities are the strategic lead. It is very important that potential new providers are part of that process. I beg to move.

    My Lords, I broadly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that it is essential that the Secretary of State listens to representations made by the local authority in the circumstances that she described. I sought to indicate as much in Committee and I am happy strongly to reaffirm that commitment now. It is good policy, good practice and, to buttress the point, any Secretary of State who did not behave in that way would be open to a judicial review. Secretaries of State are strongly advised by departmental lawyers not to go there for obvious and good reasons.

    12.15 p.m.

    In deciding whether to give her consent to promoters to publish proposals, the Secretary of State would take into account a range of factors. Those would include the strength of the case made by the proposers about their capacity to establish a school which would add to the quality and diversity of provision; any representations made to her by third parties, including the local authority where it was not the body seeking consent; and the opinions of the department's own advisers. If she considered that she lacked any evidence on which to base a decision, she would seek such further information as she felt necessary to make a fair and proper decision.

    I recognise the strength of feeling in the House about the importance of adequate consultation. We share that and we are bringing forward separate amendments on that subject. With regard to this particular amendment, it may be helpful if I explain again what opportunities stakeholders would have to make their views known if the Secretary of State gave her consent for the proposals to he published under Section 28A.

    First, the promoters would he required to consult interested parties—including, of course, any local authority likely to be affected. Secondly, once the proposals were published there would be a statutory period during which interested parties could make representations about the proposals. Finally, the proposals would be decided by the local school organisation committee, not the Secretary of State, which would take into account any comments or objections made, including any from the local education authority itself. If there were concerns about the proposals, the committee could either reject them, or ensure that they were sent to the independent schools adjudicator for decision.

    I hope that that information is helpful and that it clarifies that what the noble Baroness is seeking to achieve by her amendment will, I am certain, he achieved for the reasons that I have given.

    My Lords, I thank the Minister for that clarification, especially for confirming the procedures available to local authorities and, in particular, the possibility of judicial review challenge. In that case, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 65 [Proposals fir new secondary schools in England]:

    moved Amendment No. 75:

    Page 39, line 22. at end insert—
    "(3A) Before publishing a notice under this section, the local education authority must consult any prescribed persons, and such other persons as appear to the authority to be appropriate, about such of the relevant matters as may be prescribed or (if none are prescribed) about such of the relevant matters as appear to the authority to be appropriate.
    (3B) In subsection (3A) "the relevant matters" means the matters to be specified under subsection (3)(a) and (c) in the notice.
    (3C) Regulations may prescribe requirements to be met by the local education authority in relation to consultation under subsection (3A)."
    The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Government are tabling these amendments in the light of discussions in Committee about consultation on proposals for new schools. Both the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, sought reassurances that local people would be consulted about proposals for new schools. I undertook to consider the matter.

    I refer the House to the illustrative regulations which have been made available. Schedule 1 to those regulations sets out the matters to be set out in a notice. It includes matters such as the school's size; its age range; the number of pupils to be admitted each year; whether the school will be single-sex or mixed; whether the school will make designated provision for children with special educational needs; and the estimated capital costs of providing the school. A further consideration would be whether the school should have a sixth form.

    We expect local authorities to consult on any plans to set up, close or alter schools; and in many cases, a local authority will decide that a new school is required following consultation on a wider reorganisation. But we are satisfied—particularly in the light of points made in Committee—that there should be an explicit requirement for consultation on the face of the Bill.

    Amendment 75 provides for regulations to specify the persons to be consulted, the matters to be consulted on, and other requirements in relation to consultation, which might include the timing of consultation. We shall be seeking views on what provision should be made in regulations for consultation.

    Turning to Amendment No. 76, we recognise the importance of raising public awareness of proposals. Amendment No. 76 is in response to points raised in Committee and provides that regulations may prescribe other steps that local authorities should take to promote public awareness of those proposals.

    The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, referred in Committee to meetings which local people could attend. I agree that there is value in such meetings as part of the process and we intend to consult widely on what provision it would be appropriate to make in regulations for promoting public awareness of proposals.

    With regard to Amendment No. 80, the timing of the publication of a preliminary notice will he a matter for the individual local authority. However, the illustrative regulations which we have already placed envisage that this prescribed interval should be four months, to give promoters sufficient time to develop their proposals. The regulations also envisage that the local authority should publish all proposals received within three weeks of the expiry date in the preliminary notice, following which local people would have a period of six weeks to consider and make representations about those proposals.

    I am happy to state for the record that the illustrative regulations which have been made available to the House will be amended to make clear that, where consultation is required prior to the publication by a local education authority of a notice inviting proposals, it should be timed to give interested parties a proper opportunity to respond. Similarly, regulations will make clear that any activities to promote public awareness of proposals should be undertaken at such time as to give local people a full opportunity to consider the proposals and make representations about them. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that it would nullify what we all want to happen if, for example, proposals were published close to a major series of public holidays when the public could not engage. I hope that these government amendments are helpful in responding to the important points raised in earlier parts of our proceedings and I beg to move.

    My Lords, I thank the Minister and the Government for bringing forward the amendments. It is very rewarding when the Government listen to debates in Committee. It is important that the public are consulted, are aware and have enough time to make their views known.

    My Lords, I also thank the Minister for his response. We put down our Amendment No. 80 as a fall-back position, because we were not clear at that point precisely what proposals were coming forward. I am grateful to the Minister for his reassurance that the guidance will make it clear that these proposals should not be published just before public consultation without making due allowance for an extension to the length of discussions. There should he a reasonable length of time for public consultation on these amendments.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    moved Amendment No. 76:

    Page 39, line 37, at end insert—
    "(6A) Regulations may require the local education authority to take prescribed steps for the purpose of promoting public awareness of any proposals published by them under this section."
    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    Schedule 10 [Proposals under section 65 for establishment of secondary schools: supplementary]:

    [Amendment No. 77 not moved.]

    moved Amendment No. 78:

    Page 100, line 15, at end insert—
    "( ) The first publication of the regulations and guidance given under sub-paragraphs (4) and (6) must be approved by Parliament."
    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 78, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 79. Both amendments were moved in Committee and we return to them today because we believe they raise issues serious enough to merit another airing on Report.

    Both amendments are concerned with increased openness, transparency and public scrutiny. We believe this is an important and significant undertaking. Under this part of the Bill, the Secretary of State is free and able to give school organisation committees guidance to inform their acceptance or rejection of proposals put forward as a result of a competition. The guidance that is to be given to these bodies will affect the entire shape of school provision in England.

    It is essential, therefore, that Parliament is given the opportunity to subject to full and proper scrutiny any regulation made under this critical part of Schedule 10. That is the intention of Amendment No. 78. If we are going to tell school organisation committees how to operate, it is extremely important that Parliament is given a chance to scrutinise the regulations being placed on them.

    The Minister commented in Committee that parliamentary agreement to guidance of this kind has never previously been considered necessary. That may be so. However, when such guidance involves a distinct shift in policy, affecting what happens to the structure of our schools, we on these Benches believe it is imperative that Parliament has a proper opportunity to scrutinise such guidance.

    In Amendment No. 79, we are seeking to ensure that criteria are set out to determine when cases should be sent to the adjudicator. Despite the assurances of the Minister in Committee, it is still unclear in what circumstances the result of a competition should be referred to the adjudicator. It is essential that the regulations are workable and proportionate. We would not want referrals to the adjudicator to exacerbate local community uncertainty about proposed decisions. The role of the adjudicator, and the criteria on which he will operate, require more detailed consideration.

    I hope the Minister is able to provide us with a fuller and more detailed answer to these questions today. I beg to move.

    My Lords, I shall try to do the impossible of being fuller and clearer, and succinct at the same time. These are not necessarily simple issues.

    I think there is a broad agreement that we do not wish to return to the old days when proposals were decided either by the Secretary of State or simply by the local authority itself. We have set up a system of local decision-making, designed to enable a range of stakeholders to consider proposals affecting the organisation of schools. The Bill gives the power to decide all proposals for new secondary schools to local decision-makers, which we believe is right.

    Turning to Amendment No. 78, I shall explain the purpose of the regulation-making power contained in sub-paragraph (4) of paragraph 4 of this schedule. It is intended to enable the Secretary of State to make regulations modifying the application of paragraphs 4(1) and 4(2) where proposals for a new school are related to other proposals. These might consist of proposals published under Sections 28, 29 or 31 of the 1998 Act, or proposals by the Learning and Skills Council under Section 113A of the Learning and Skills Act 2000.

    The regulation-making power contained in subparagraph (4) of paragraph 4 of Schedule 10 is comparable to that existing power in the schedule. Regulations made under sub-paragraph (4) might provide, for example, that the school organisation committee should not decide proposals for a new school until a decision had been made on related proposals, for good reason. The SOC would then decide the proposals for the new school in the light of the decision on the related proposals. Alternatively, it may be that proposals for a new school have been submitted to the SOC which are related to proposals before the adjudicator, and it would be appropriate for all of the proposals to be considered together. In this case, regulations might provide for the proposals for the new school to he referred to the adjudicator, with the SOC's observations, rather than he decided by the SOC.

    Whether proposals for a new school should be regarded as being related to others will depend on a range of circumstances. It would not be feasible to attempt to make provision in regulations for the different circumstances that might arise. Hence the Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to issue guidance to SOCs on this matter. Guidance is a more appropriate vehicle than regulations as it is more flexible and can he updated easily when required.

    Due to the pressure of time, it has not been possible to have the illustrative regulations under subparagraph (4) available to the House at this point. I can assure noble Lords, however, that when we consult on regulations made under this part of the Bill, those regulations will include provisions made under subparagraph (4). The regulations will, of course, like all regulations, be subject to the negative resolution procedure. It would be utterly inappropriate for guidance, which is largely technical in nature, to be subject to parliamentary approval.

    With regard to Amendment No. 79, there is a need for transparency here, so that everyone will know in what circumstances proposals may be referred to the adjudicator. That is why the schedule refers to proposals being referred to the adjudicator in "prescribed cases".

    Regulation 14 of the illustrative regulations made available prescribes the cases. They are: if the school organisation committee has voted on the proposals, but two groups could not vote because of a conflict of interest; if they are related to other proposals; or if the committee has failed to reach a decision within two months.

    I hope that rather long and highly technical explanation is utterly transparent and that the mind of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, is at rest as a consequence.

    My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very detailed reply. I am not sure about it being succinct arid clear, and I shall have to read it in Hansard.

    We support the idea of setting up new schools and wider diversity of supply. However, we believe that more light should be shed on the accountability of how this is going to happen. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    [Amendment No. 80 not moved.]

    Clause 66 [Rationalisation of school places in England]:

    moved Amendment No. 81:

    Leave out Clause 66.
    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Clause 66 introduces Schedule 11, which contains provisions enabling the Secretary of State to direct local education authorities in England, or the governing bodies of maintained schools, to bring forward proposals for the rationalisation of school places.

    I suspect we will never be able to agree on the particular requirement of the Secretary of State to possess such a power, or for the justification of Clause 66 to exist. However, I should like to take this opportunity to remind your Lordships why we on these Benches are opposed to such a power. The Secretary of State has, and should have, no role in this matter. It is a matter for local discretion and local decisions. This is a centralising, anti-local democratic measure that has never been used and, I suspect, never will be. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, said in Committee, either we believe in local accountability or we do not.

    We on these Benches believe that if this Government were truly serious about their claims of localism and decentralisation, they would be happy to remove this power from the Secretary of State. In Committee, the Minister said that he would like to reflect on what was said. I hope that he has had the opportunity to do so, and has come to the conclusion that such a power is unnecessary, centralising and is capable of stifling parental choice. I beg to move.

    12.30 p.m.

    My Lords, your Lordships may have noticed a few wry smiles on these Benches while listening to the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton. I very much welcome the conversion of the Conservative Benches to the idea of local accountability and criticism of centralisation, given what happened in 18 years of Conservative government. However, we are dealing with this Government at the moment.

    What often strikes me when I talk to local councillors is that they feel that there is often a call for more high-quality, intelligent, well motivated people to take part in local government, with the very great burdens of work and responsibility that that entails. Yet they get elected, they have the work to do and they are immediately put into a strait-jacket right, left and centre by this Government. That is what grieves me very much. Clause 66 is another example of that tendency. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, is absolutely right: the Secretary of State should not have this power at all. We very much support her amendment.

    My Lords, to one extent I would argue that the fact that the powers have never been used shows that they are very effective powers. It is desirable that they are there in the cupboard as a long-stop, ensuring that people pay attention in the rare circumstances when school rationalisation might be at risk of being fudged or ducked because of local political difficulties.

    The noble Lords, Lord Dearing and Lord Sutherland, spoke clearly, powerfully and from experience on these issues when we discussed them in Committee. The broad thrust of their points was that things do go wrong at times, and you hope that you will not need to intervene, but to throw away any power of intervention is foolish if you have at heart the interests of parents and children. We must strike that nice balance between leaving as much as possible to local discretion, local leadership and local schools while not completely abdicating responsibility, so that if things did go seriously wrong you could intervene.

    For those reasons, the powers are necessary and useful. They are utterly unburdensome, as is illustrated by the fact that they have not actually had to be switched on. But I know for a fact that officials from central government have at times drawn aside officials in local government to remind them that there was a need to reflect on these issues, because there was that reserve power just in case. The powers are necessary and not burdensome, so I urge the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, not to press her amendment.

    My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I believe that I spoke in Committee about the necessity of trusting people to get on with the job at local level. That also involves trusting them sometimes if they do not always get it right. Sometimes Secretaries of State do not always get it right. I am afraid that I should like to test the will of the House.

    12.32 p.m.

    On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 81) shall be agreed to?

    Their Lordships divided: Contents, 94; Not-Contents, 105.

    Division No. 1

    CONTENTS

    Addington, L.Bridgeman, V.
    Alderdice, L.Caithness, E.
    Allenby of Megiddo, V.Campbell of Alloway, L.
    Alton of Liverpool, L.Clement-Jones, L.
    Ampthill, L.Colwyn, L.
    Anelay of St Johns, B.Denham, L.
    Attlee, E.Dholakia, L.
    Avebury, L.Dixon-Smith, L.
    Beaumont of Whitley, L.Dykes, L.
    Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, B.Elles, B.
    Bowness, L.Elliott of Morpeth, L.

    Elton, L.Montrose, D.
    Ezra, L.Morris of Bolton, B. [Teller]
    Falkland, V.Mowbray and Stourton, L.
    Falkner of Margravine, B.Noakes, B.
    Freeman, L.Northover, B.
    Garden, L.Norton of Louth, L.
    Gardner of Parkes, B.Park of Monmouth, B.
    Geddes, L.Perry of Southwark, B.
    Glasgow, E.Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.
    Glentoran, L.Razzall, L.
    Goodhart, L.Redesdale, L.
    Greaves, L.Renton, L.
    Hanningfield, L.Roberts of Llandudno, L.
    Harris of Richmond, B.Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
    Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.Rober, L.
    Hooson, L.Russell-Johnston, L.
    Howard of Rising, L.Sandberg, L.
    Howe, E.Scott of Needham Market, B.
    Howell of Guildford, L.Seccombe, B.[Teller]
    Kingsland, L.Sharp of Guildford, B.
    Knight of Collingtree, B.Shrewsbury, E.
    Lester of Herne Hill, L.Shutt of Greetland, L.
    Linklater of Butterstone, B.Skelmersdale, L.
    Livsey of Talgarth, L.Smith of Clifton, L.
    Luke, L.Swinfen, L.
    Lyell, L.Taverne, L.
    McColl of Dulwich, L.Thomas of Gresford, L.
    Maclennan of Rogart, L.Thomas of Walliswood, B.
    McNally, L.Thomson of Monifieth, L.
    Mancroft, L.Tordoff, L.
    Mar and Kellie, E.Trumpington, B.
    Mayhew of Twysden, L.Vallance of Tummel, L.
    Methuen, L.Wallace of Saltaire, L.
    Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.Walmsley, B.
    Miller of Hendon, B.Williamson of Horton, L.
    Molyneaux of Killead, L.Windlesham, L.

    NOT-CONTENTS

    Acton, L.Gale, B.
    Ahmed, L.Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
    Amos, B. (Lord President of theGolding, B.

    Council)

    Goldsmith, L.
    Andrews, B.Gordon of Strathblane, L.
    Archer of Sandwell, L.Gould of Potternewton, B.
    Ashton of Upholland, B.Grocott, L. [Teller]
    Bach, L.Harrison, L.
    Bassam of Brighton, L.Hart of Chilton, L.
    Berkeley, L.Haskel, L.
    Bernstein of Craigweil, L.Haworth, L.
    Borrie, L.Hayman, B.
    Bragg, L.Hollis of Heigham, B.
    Bridges, L.Howarth of Breckland, B.
    Brookman, L.Howells of St. Davids, B.
    Campbell-Savours, L.Hoyle, L.
    Carter, L.Hughes of Woodside, L.
    Chorley, L.Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
    Christopher, L.Judd, L.
    Clarke of Hampstead, L.Layard, L.
    Clinton-Davis, L.Lea of Crondall, L.
    Corbett of Castle Vale, L.Lipsey, L.
    Crawley, B.Listowel, E.
    Dahrendorf, L.Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
    David, B.McIntosh of Haringey, L.
    Davies of Coity, L.McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
    Davies of Oldham, L. [Teller]MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
    Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.McKenzie of Luton, L.
    Dearing, L.Marsh, L.
    Desai, L.Maxton, L.
    Drayson, L.Morgan, L.
    Dubs, L.Morgan of Drefelin, B.
    Erroll, E.Patel of Blackburn, L.
    Evans of Temple Guiting, L.Paul, L.
    Farrington of Ribbleton, B.Pendry, L.
    Faulkner of Worcester, L.Pitkeathley, B.
    Filkin, L.Plant of Highfield, L.

    Powell of Bayswater, L.Taylor of Blackburn, L.
    Ramsay of Cartvale, B.Tomlinson, L.
    Randall of St. Budeaux, L.Triesman, L.
    Rendell of Babergh, B.Truscott, L.
    Richard, L.Tunnicliffe, L.
    Rooker, L.Turnberg, L.
    Royall of Blaisdon, B.Turner of Camden, B.
    Sainsbury of Turville, L.Uddin, B.
    Sandwich, E.Walpole, L.
    Scotland of Asthal, B.Walton of Detchant, L.
    Sheldon, L.Warnock, B.
    Simon, V.Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
    Slim, V.Whitaker, B.
    Smith of Leigh, L.Whitty, L.
    Stone of Blackheath, L.Williams of Elvel, L.
    Sutherland of Houndwood, L.Woolmer of Leeds, L.

    Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

    12.43 p.m.

    moved Amendment No. 82:

    After Clause 69, insert the following new clause—
    "ABOLITION OF INDEPENDENT APPEALS PANELS
    Subsections (3)(c). (4)(a), (6) and (7) of section 52 of the Education Act 2002 (c. 32) (exclusion of pupils) shall cease to have effect."
    The noble Lord said: The intent of Amendment No. 82 is clear for all to see. It is similar to an amendment that we moved in Committee. I hope that our drafting has improved significantly since that time and that we are now referring to the correct sections of the Education Act 2002. We had a discussion about the independent appeal panels during an earlier debate today, and at that stage there was a lot of unease about some of the ways in which the appeal panels operate. The appeal panels are rather discredited and unpopular, and they are not trusted by parents or pupils. We had a debate earlier in the day about pupils. Reforming the system is therefore a priority.

    We saw a case recently where two boys were expelled from Glyn Technology School in Surrey after making death threats against a teacher, only to be reinstated by the appeal panel. I said in Committee that this sort of situation was not acceptable. Then last month we heard that a pupil from Hurst Community College in Tadley, Hampshire, had been reinstated by an appeal panel following an assault on a teaching assistant. As I said in Committee, all sides of the equation—parents. children, and teachers—are unhappy with the functioning of the appeal panels. They are rather secretive in operation, confusing and often intimidating, which is another reason why the system cannot continue in its present form.

    Additionally, we return to the philosophy of how best to run our education system and how best to run schools. Interestingly, the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, said earlier that regulation should be left to the LEA and the schools. This issue should also be left to LEAs and schools. Expulsion is the last resort for head teachers, but it is crucial that they have that option. Going back to our debate the other day about discipline in schools, one needs to be able to support schools in the operation of discipline. The decision of the head teacher, with the support of the governing body, should be the main factor, rather than the decision of the appeal panel. Perhaps we should have another debate on it today. We feel strongly about it; they are not operating well. I beg to move.

    I am pleased that the noble Lord has found the correct section of the Act. I wish that I could say that having done so, we have changed our mind, but I cannot. I do not want to reiterate too much of what I said in Committee, but I want to make it clear that he and I are completely at one about the importance of an orderly and safe environment in schools as an essential condition for effective learning.

    Work is in hand in the Government to tackle the causes of exclusion and improve standards of behaviour. We have made it clear on a number of occasions that we are committed to backing head teachers' authority when pupils' behaviour warrants exclusion and that heads can permanently exclude pupils who are very disruptive or violent. Our guidance states that we do not normally expect independent appeal panels to reinstate such pupils. It is important to put that on the record.

    Having said that, I must make a few short points about why the amendment is wrong in principle and would not be helpful in practice. First, there are the rights of parents. In a matter as serious as exclusion from school, with all its implications, it would be against all notions of justice if parents had no right of appeal to an independent body that is in a position to review the school's decision impartially.

    I am puzzled—given the concern that it has shown for parents' interests and has so powerfully deployed in other debates—that the party opposite does not share our view about the rights of parents in that respect. It is a matter of striking the right balance between the orderly conduct of a school and the rights of parents and pupils. Essentially, there is an issue of natural justice here. Let me put it in perspective. In the academic year 2002–03, 9,290 pupils were permanently excluded in England. Some 990 appeals were heard, and of those 209 were decided in favour of the parent and pupil. Only 149 pupils were reinstated.

    We have achieved the right balance between the needs of the individual child to get the education that they need and the health and effectiveness of the school and the learning community as a whole. We are committed to seeing that excluded pupils get the most appropriate education and to tackling patterns of poor behaviour, so that where possible they can be reintegrated into mainstream education, which provides the most inclusive and effective setting. But they will be readmitted to a school only when they are ready to return. We do not expect all permanently excluded pupils to be reintegrated into a mainstream school—that does not happen now, and it will not happen in future.

    We have made further changes to help schools to deal with the admissions protocols. On 1 February 2005, the Secretary of State announced that admissions protocols for hard to place pupils in England need not apply to previously excluded pupils until 2007, if the schools in an area do not consider that they are ready to take them. We expect admissions protocols, which may include other hard to place children, such as those who are in the care of a local authority, to be in place by September this year. We have listened to what school and LEA representatives have had to say about the arrangements, and we have taken into account their concerns about the availability of support. We do not believe it is fair to expect schools to take in potentially disruptive pupils without appropriate support, and this should enable most schools to agree to a protocol for most hard-to-place pupils. That is why we have made an exception for previously excluded pupils.

    There is the very practical argument that abolishing appeals panels would not help schools to cope with disruptive pupils or reduce their numbers. Indeed, the loss of appeal rights would inevitably lead to a sharp increase in legal action by parents against schools. There would be more stress for teachers—and more stress for governors, parents and pupils.

    The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, has said that he feels the appeals panels have been discredited. The majority of pupils would not say so. Indeed, I can give evidence about the majority of parents, for a survey last year found that 60 per cent of parents in England wanted to keep appeals panels. Indeed, of the 1,000 exclusion appeals in each academic year, there are only a handful of cases in which parents seek a judicial review. The risk of legal action being taken, however, would increase significantly if parents did not have recourse to a school's decision—and costs would increase to everybody around.

    Finally, given the cases to which the noble Lord referred, I must say again that we have responded to take account of contemporary classroom conditions and improved the composition and the support available to panels. Following the case that the noble Lord mentioned, in January 2003 the composition of panels was changed to ensure that they better reflect the realities of school life. A three-member panel now comprises a serving or recently retired head teacher—or, in Wales, another education practitioner—with a serving or recently serving governor, and a lay member. We have also changed the option, in exceptional circumstances, of a panel overturning an exclusion without reinstating the pupil. Another change is that panels are now required, in deciding whether to reinstate, to balance the interests of the excluded pupil against the interests of all other members of the school community. This has also been done in Wales. We have also improved guidance and training provision.

    We have done all we can in recent years to ensure that we have protected the human rights of parents and pupils. However, for the system to be made as responsive and reflective as possible, it needs to balance the various interests involved. I hope that noble Lords opposite will not be pressing this amendment.

    My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. One has obviously thought quite a lot about this. The independent appeals panels are relatively new in their establishment. There was obviously a situation before them in which I was closely involved. I am probably the only Member of the House to have been involved in literally hundreds of such situations. I have, over many years, met parents and children and worked with head teachers regarding some of these difficult children. This was when I was involved on a day-to-day basis with the education service.

    The system was better before the appeals panels. When the decisions were made there was always some kind of panel, but they were mainly made up of local authority representatives—who obviously took the interests of parents and had a particular interest in schools. They worked well with head teachers to try to find a solution to the problem—finding another school for a young person, for example. They could do such things by being involved in the local education authority. Although I say so myself, the situations I was involved in over the years are rather better than what we have now. Therefore I would rather go back to the good old days before we had the panels and allow it to be done more on a local basis. As with our approach in other areas, it would go back to letting local people devise a system to an extent.

    We all believe in natural justice, and we shall all have situations where parents and young people may be involved. Yet there needs to be some support shown for the schools—and the schools do not like these panels. It was, as I say, better previously. On this matter, I would wish to go back to those good old days, so I am afraid that I am going to test the opinion of the House today.

    12.54 p.m.

    On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 82) shall be agreed to?

    Their Lordships divided: Contents, 54; Not-Contents, 141.

    Division No. 2

    CONTENTS

    Anelay of St Johns, B.Gardner of Parkes, B.
    Astor of Hever, L.Geddes, L.
    Attlee, E.Goschen, V.
    Beaumont of Whitley, L.Greengross, B.
    Blaker, L.Hanningfield, L.
    Bridgeman, V.Hayhoe, L.
    Bridges, L.Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.
    Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L.Howard of Rising, L.
    Caithness, E.Howe, E.
    Campbell of Alloway, L.Kingsland, L.
    Colwyn, L.Knight of Collingtree, B.
    Cope of Berkeley, L.Lawson of Blaby, L.
    Dean of Harptree, L.Luke, L.
    Denham, L.Lyell, L.
    Dixon-Smith, L.McColl of Dulwich, L.
    Eden of Winton, L.MacGregor of Pulham Market,
    Elliott of Morpeth, L.L.
    Ferrers, E.Mancroft, L.
    Freeman, L.Mayhew of Twysden, L.

    Miller of Hendon, B.Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.
    Molyneaux of Killead, L.Renton, L.
    Montrose, D.Seccombe, B.[Teller]
    Morris of Bolton, B.[Teller]Shrewsbury, E.
    Mowbray and Stourton, L.Skelmersdale, L.
    Noakes, B.Trumpington, B.
    Norton of Louth, L.Wade of Chorlton, L.
    Park of Monmouth, B.Williamson of Horton, L.
    Windlesham, L.

    NOT-CONTENTS

    Acton, L.Hooson, L.
    Addington, L.Howarth of Breckland, B.
    Ahmed, L.Howe of Idlicote, B.
    Alderdice, L.Howells of St. Davids, B.
    Allenby of Megiddo, V.Hoyle, L.
    Amos, B. (Lord President of theHughes of Woodside, L.

    council)

    Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
    Andrews, B.Janner of Braunstone, L.
    Archer of Sandwell, L.Judd, L.
    Ashton of Upholland, B.Lea of Crondall, L.
    Avebury, L.Lester of Herne Hill, L.
    Bach, L.Linklater of Butterstone, B.
    Bassam of Brighton, L.Lipsey, L.
    Berkeley, L.Listowel, E.
    Bernstein of Craigweil, L.Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
    Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, B.McIntosh of Haringey, L.
    Borrie, L.McaIntosh of Hudnall, B.
    Bradshaw, L.MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
    Bragg, L.McKenzie of Luton, L.
    Brookman, L.Maclennan of Rogart, L.
    Campbell-Savours, L.McNally, L.
    Carter, L.Maddock, B.
    Chorley, L.Mar and Kellie, E.
    Christopher, L.Marsh, L.
    Clark of Windermere, L.Maxton, L.
    Clarke of Hampstead, L.Merlyn-Ress, L.
    Clement-Jones, L.Methuen, L.
    Clinton-Davis, L.Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.
    Corbett of Castle Vale, L.Morgan, L.
    Coventry, Bp.Morgan of Drefelin, B.
    Crawley, B.Northover, B.
    David, B.Palmer, L.
    Davies of Coity, L.Patel of Blackburn, L.
    Davies of Oldham. L. [Teller]Pendry, L.
    Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.Pikeathley, B.
    Dearing, L.Powell of Bayswater, L.
    Desai, L.Prosser, B.
    Dholakia, L.Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
    Drayson, L.Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
    Dubs, L.Rea, L.
    Evans of Temple Guiting, L.Redesdale, L.
    Falkland, V.Richard, L.
    Falkner of Margravine, B.Roberts of Llandudno, L.
    Farrington of Ribbleton, B.Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
    Faulkner of Worcester, L.Rooker, L.
    Filkin, L.Roper, L.
    Gale, B.Royall of Blaisdon, B.
    Garden, L.Sainsbury of Turville, L.
    Gibson of Market Rasen, B.Scotland of Asthal, B.
    Golding, B.Scott of Needham Market, B.
    Goldsmith, L.Sharp of Guildford, B.
    Goodhart, L.Shutt of Greetland, L.
    Gordon of Strathblane, L.Slim, V.
    Gould of Potternewton, B.Smith of Clifton, L.
    Graham of Edmonton, L.Smith of Leigh, L.
    Greaves, L.Stone of Blackheath, L.
    Grocott, L. [Teller]Sutherland of Houndwood, L.
    Harris of Richmond, B.Taverne, L.
    Harrison, L.Taylor of Blackburn, L.
    Hart of Chilton, L.Thomas of Gresford, L.
    Haskel, L.Thomas of Walliswood, B.
    Haworth, L.Thomson of Monifieth, L.
    Hayman, B.Tomlinson, L.
    Hollis of Heigham, B.Triesman, L.

    Truscott, L.Walmsley, B.
    Tunnicliffe, L.Walpole, L.
    Turnberg, L.Warnock, B.
    Turner of Camden, B.Weatherill, L.
    Uddin, B.Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
    Vallance of Tummel, L.Williams of Elvel, L.
    Wallace of Saltaire, L.Woolmer of Leeds, L.

    Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

    1.4 p.m.

    [Amendment No. 83 not moved.]

    moved Amendment No. 84:

    After Clause 69, insert the following new clause—
    "CLOSURE OF SPECIAL SCHOOLS IN ENGLAND AND WALES
  • (1) No special school in England shall be closed without the prior authorisation of the Secretary of State.
  • (2) The Secretary of State shall by regulations prescribe a suitable mechanism to allow him to comply with his powers under this section.
  • (3) No special school in Wales shall be closed without the prior authorisation of the Assembly.
  • (4) The Assembly shall by regulations prescribe a suitable mechanism to allow it to comply with its powers under this section."
  • The noble Lord said: My Lords, the closure of special schools is an emotive and sensitive area. Nevertheless, it seems an appropriate time to discuss the issue, following the conversation last week between the Prime Minister and Mrs Maria Hutchings. Wearing my other hat as leader of Essex County Council, as I often have to do, I am happy to give Mrs Hutchings and the Prime Minister a firm assurance that there are no plans at all to close the school that she was frightened might be closed—Cedar Hall in Thundersley. That incident perfectly sums up the strength of feeling around the issue. In moving the amendment, I am attempting to safeguard the future of special schools throughout England and Wales by securing an inbuilt safeguard against the closure of some schools.

    Since 1997, more than 70 special schools have closed, yet the numbers of children with the most severe needs who are in mainstream schools have gone up by 49 per cent. It is rather doubtful that the policy of including more and more children with special educational needs in mainstream schools is always extremely successful. We are also aware that around a quarter of all pupils will suffer from some form of special needs, whether a passing behavioural problem or a more severe and permanent disability, during their schooling.

    Teachers in mainstream schools find that they have to cope with an increasing number of pupils with special needs. Many head teachers recently surveyed said that the number of children with special educational needs had risen over the past year, and included an increase in pupils with behavioural problems. That goes back to several debates that we have had on the Bill. If you are to include those children in mainstream schools, there have to be sufficient resources and support to do that.

    The Government support a policy of inclusion—we all support it where that is the right thing to do—under which people with physical disabilities or behavioural problems can be taught in mainstream schools. I repeat that inclusion can be achieved only with the right resources and for the right young people. A number of head teachers have said that parents of children without special needs have voiced concerns about the levels of time that teachers have to devote to children with special needs. I go back to my county of Essex. I recently received a deputation from parents on both sides—those wanting to keep their children in a special school, and those of children at another school who were concerned about its performance because they felt that there were too many children with problems and not enough support in it.

    There is a danger that the policy of inclusion has gone too far too fast. We on these Benches want to ensure that disabled children are not suffering educationally from the policy. Far from believing in diversity of provision, the Government have constantly pursued a "one size fits all" ideological obsession with inclusion. I repeat that we should assess every young person on what they require.

    We are under no illusion about the sensitivity of the question; I live with it a lot of the time. We have a moral obligation to do everything that we can to ensure that children with special needs receive the best care and education that they can. However, there must be a realisation that some of those young people, given the severity of their condition, will never be able to be incorporated into the mainstream, and nor should they be. That is why it is so important to do all that we can to protect the continuing provision of special schools in this country. That is why we tabled the amendment. I beg to move.

    My Lords, I would like very strongly to support this amendment. There is often a difficulty where children with special needs are lumped together as if their needs were all the same. That is far from true. It has also become very much the habit of the Government to talk of special schools with a kind of qualified respect as suitable for children with very severe and complex needs.

    There is a large number of children for whom inclusion in mainstream schools is totally unsuitable. Those are children who really can flourish only in small schools, in an intelligible and stable environment. The danger is that if a local authority finds, as it will, that a small school is an expensive school, there is a temptation to close that school and go along with the current thinking of inclusion. That may be severely damaging to some children—not those with the most obvious educational difficulties, but those who are, for example, somewhere along the autistic continuum and who cannot survive, except just physically, in a mainstream school.

    I feel very strongly that the policy of any government ought to be to look seriously at the different needs of children with special educational needs and to retain schools that are suitable for those children. This amendment is therefore essential.

    My Lords, I wish to support the remarks that have just been made. I have had experience of the very high quality work that can be found in special schools. I stress the point made about the variety of needs. The implication is that provision will be in small pockets, whether in individual schools or across the country. Therefore, the logistics of a very sensible policy of inclusion where appropriate—and I do not detract in any way from that policy —will carry the risk of local closures that are not in the national interest, where there has to be nationwide provision for the particular needs for which these schools cater.

    My Lords, from these Benches we support the Government's inclusion agenda where it is suitable for the child. We also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, that inclusion is not suitable for every child. The needs of the individual child must be catered for properly. but that creates problems.

    Special schools do a wonderful job with so many children, and I hope that the Minister will tell us how their great expertise can be used, not just for the children who attend those schools but for the wider community of schools that also have children with some of the same problems for whom mainstream schooling is suitable. However, although we are usually in favour of letting local authorities make these decisions, in this special situation there is a need for somebody to take a strategic review of provision.

    Special schools often serve children in adjacent local authorities. Therefore a decision to close one school by one local authority may have a profound effect on children from another LEA. That is why a strategic view must be taken, and the Secretary of State is probably the right person to do that.

    The break-up of the county of Berkshire by the Conservative government into a number of unitary authorities meant that Addington School, which deals with children with profound disabilities, ended up in the Wokingham LEA area. However, it also takes children from another authority—Reading. If Wokingham decided to close the school, that would affect Reading. What recourse would Reading have in that situation? There has to be some recourse and some strategic planning for such specialist provision, which is of such a high quality in most cases and is so important to particularly needy children.

    We support the general thrust of this amendment, although we feel that the wording might need working on to some extent. Local government has been changed enormously over the past 10 years and that has produced anomalies. It is because of these anomalies that a strategic view must be taken.

    1.15 p.m.

    My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, urges government intervention then I am very impressed and persuaded. From my own experience, while inclusion is right in principle for some children, children with severe learning disabilities need special provision. I know, for example, a school where the learning difficulties are multiple, severe and complex. The principle of inclusion can he pushed too far. While I am not saying that this amendment is right, what it seeks to achieve is right and I hope the Government can accommodate the intention behind the amendment.

    My Lords, I would genuinely welcome a proper and full debate on special education needs at some stage in the Chamber, mainly because it is one of my day job responsibilities, which I am pleased to have, but also because that would be more appropriate than having it on a passing Education Bill which is essentially about the inspection system. I shall have difficulty in being brief, given the importance and complexity of these issues, but I shall do my best.

    I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. She is absolutely right when she says that the diversity of children's special needs means that it is not easy to have a simple set of solutions or procedures. It requires much more individuation than that. There are also a lot of myths about the Government's stance on special schools and what inclusion means.

    The numbers of places in special schools have not changed much over recent years. The Government are clear that special schools play a key and important part of the overall provision available for children with special educational needs. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, many of them have done an outstanding job in nurturing the talent of the most disadvantaged children in our society.

    We firmly believe that special schools have an important, ongoing role within the overarching frame of provision for children with special educational needs, both in terms of educating pupils with severe and complex learning needs in their own school and also providing outreach support to mainstream schools. That is exactly the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, was interested in. In other words, where a special school is a centre of expertise but is also a support in terms of specialist teaching to other schools and is also a place where, for part of the week or a day, a child might come from a mainstream school into the special school and vice versa. In this way there is much more sophisticated movement as well as the teaching support of the special school for the mainstream school.

    That pattern happens in many authorities, but we are keen to promote it further. That is why we announced in December that we would be using the specialist school status and the funding that goes with it to validate very good special schools and support them in their outreach work and their relationship with mainstream schools. I hope that we will be able to take this forward in coming years so that we will have many more specialist schools working in partnership with mainstream schools.

    Clearly, the needs of many children with SEN can be met in mainstream schools, but they will often need support from specialist schools. That is why it is necessary to see the relevance of special schools as part of the provision. We want to promote this by encouraging special schools to participate in federations, cluster and twinning arrangements. Capital grants can help in this process.

    I do not pretend for a second that these issues are easy, or that all local authorities have got it right. Some local authorities have reorganised special schools in their area. It is an incredibly delicate issue. Parents feel passionately about their child, and for good reason. They are passionate because they fear that the system will not deliver for them and therefore they have to battle the system, because the system does not always deliver. Any move by a local authority to change the pattern of provision of special schools in an area is therefore fraught with intense difficulty.

    That does not mean to say that the local authority should not do it and it certainly does not mean that it always gets it right. There are examples of local authorities around the country which have carried out complicated restructuring of their special school provision. They believe that they can give better learning to the children within and a better pattern of support between special and mainstream schools. They have done that with little parental objection. Other local authorities have done it and produced what looks like a small civil war in their area.

    We in government are acutely interested in how we provide an appropriate policy framework and appropriate support and guidance to local authorities in grappling with those issues. We are also addressing the need for local authorities to look wider than their usually narrow area and to look at the pattern of provision in a sub-region. That issue was touched on by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland. I give the House my undertaking that I shall explore that specifically in discussions with officials. It seems to me a right and proper issue. However, it seems to me foolish to believe that the right answer is to say that all these decisions should be taken by the Secretary of State.

    Without going into our discussion on localism and centralism, which we have had throughout the morning—we seem to change ends of the tennis court on this—there is a local process. The system provides an objective balance between proposals put forward by the local authority and the needs of the local community. There must be consultation. Parents must have a full opportunity to give their views and, ultimately, the school organisations committee, not the local authority, makes the decision on whether the closure of a special school should take place.

    The local authority can propose, but it cannot determine on this: the school organisations committee does so. If the committee is not agreed on the matter, it goes to the local adjudicator. Again, there is the possibility of a body, which is not the local authority, hearing the views of parents and others as to whether these decisions are right and to make a final decision.

    It would be nice if one could think that the Secretary of State, remote from local reality, was best placed to make those decisions. However, we would be fooling ourselves if we thought that that was the right answer. Therefore, we are interested in how we encourage thoughtfulness by local authorities on good provision; better processes for involving parents and others in the discussions about why change is necessary rather than it being felt that it is forced; ensuring that there are systems for looking wider than the local authority's narrow patch; and that there is proper strategic planning with the involvement of parents in the locality.

    I am not being flippant. This is a crucially important agenda and we are putting a lot of time into it. We hope to be making further announcements on it before the Summer Recess. If it were as simple as saying, "Let the Secretary of State make all these decisions", it would be wonderful, but it is not and it would not add much value. I am not being dismissive because I understand the motivation behind the amendment, but that is not the answer. Unfortunately, the answers are more complex. We are working on them and I look forward to discussing them with the House at a better opportunity than now.

    My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and I thank noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. It is an important issue. Part of the Bill is about schools' organisation, although we discussed special needs. This is an opportunity to look at how decisions are taken on organisation and we must not forget that.

    We have talked a lot about young people but the parents, too, need considerable support. Special schools support the parents very well, but mainstream schools are unable to do so because they are too big. That is why parents like much of what special schools offer and I see that every day. I do not like to go back to personal experiences, but I knew a single mother who had particular problems and was suicidal. She used to ring me at three o'clock in the morning to talk about it, which is the sort of thing one has to do. I have therefore seen how much the system has supported parents through difficult situations.

    I have heard what the Minister has said and I believe that the Bill provides an opportunity to look at the way in which decisions are taken on organisation. I want to reflect on that before the Third Reading and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    moved Amendment No. 85:

    After Clause 69. insert the following new clause—
    "CLOSURE OF RURAL PRIMARY SCHOOLS
  • (1) No primary school located in a rural area in England or Wales, as defined by the Office of National Statistics under its Rural and Urban Area Classification 2004, may be closed without the approval of a majority of parents of registered children of that school.
  • (2) The appropriate authority shall organise, fund and conduct a ballot to determine the views of registered parents, and shall inform the parents of their right to participate.
  • (3) The results of the ballot shall be communicated by the appropriate authority to each registered parent, governing body and the Secretary of State or Assembly.
  • (4) Any ballot shall be invalid unless fifty per cent of the registered parents participate.
  • (5) No further ballot may be held within 7 years of the first ballot being held."
  • The noble Baroness said: My Lords, with this amendment we return to the continuing survival of small rural schools. This issue was debated at some length in Committee, so I hope to be able to keep my comments succinct. However, it would be helpful to remind your Lordships of the objective of the amendment and the reasons why we believe it is necessary.

    The amendment is designed as an additional safeguard against the closure of small rural primary schools as defined by the Office for National Statistics under its rural and urban classification 2004. One change from our previous amendment is that it now incorporates such schools in parts of Wales as well as England.

    The amendment would require that a ballot of registered parents be held before such a school was closed. A ballot either way would be a simple majority vote which would need at least 50 per cent of the registered parents to participate in order for it to be valid. I cannot stress enough the importance that schools play in the continuing viability of all communities. But this is felt all the more keenly in small, possibly isolated areas which have precious little in the way of amenities and services. How many times have we read about the closure of the village shop, post office or, increasingly, the village pub? Sadly, this has become all too common an occurrence in recent years.

    Once such facilities have been removed, they seldom return. The lifeblood and viability of the community is literally sucked out. All too often, the only thing left is the village school. Such schools have a value far beyond a simple place of learning and education. They serve as a focal point for the whole community providing facilities which would otherwise not exist. Indeed, we are aware of the usual ways in which such facilities can be used by members of the community. However, where no adequate meeting space is available, where no local centre for minor medical matters, clinics and prescriptions is available, even where no post office exists, it is well within the realms of possibility that some such provision can be made based on the existing public plant the school represents.

    The modifications needed to provide such services, mainly space, could also incorporate the additional space which many small schools need for private meetings with parents, improved library facilities, a staff room, office and a medical room for sick children. Modern technology also considerably enhances the potential of small schools to work together and overcome the traditionally alleged isolation which many can suffer, although there has been little evidence that this has consistently been disadvantageous in itself. The same technology is also available to promote wider links between communities.

    As mentioned in Committee, the Government have proclaimed a presumption against closure in regard to such schools. This is also to be welcomed, but it does not stop them from closing. I believe that it is time to go one step further. This amendment would give parents a clear role in the continued future of small rural primaries.

    The debate is only just starting. We are only just waking up to the fact that village schools are central to the proper concerns of the countryside. The school provides a dynamic focus and it brings together families across the social spectrum. And no debate about housing, employment, conservation or services is complete without proper reference to the school.

    Ofsted, in its report on small school performance in tests and inspections, not only confirmed their educational credentials but argued that when taken together with their community virtues there was a place for the small school in national provisions. Now we need only to exploit those virtues and capitalise on the massive potential that such schools represent. They serve as a fitting example of a quality of life and purpose which can serve as an example in all schools and all communities. I beg to move.

    1.30 p.m.

    My Lords, I rise briefly to endorse some of the sentiments expressed from the Opposition Benches. We on these Benches love rural primary schools. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, we recognise the role that they play within the community. We recognise that many villages have lost their shop, the post office and a regular vicar, and schools play a vital part in pulling the community together.

    Nevertheless, we have reservations about the amendment. There are difficulties in putting the power totally into the hands of parents. Each school must be considered according to its circumstances. Yesterday, someone gave me the example of a place in Wales where, if the rural school were closed, children would have to travel 40 miles each day to school and back again, and therefore closure would not be a sensible move. In those circumstances, it would probably be sensible to try to keep the school open in one form or another. I know that residents of some of the Scottish islands are using e-learning very positively in those circumstances, and so there are innovative ways of helping in such a situation.

    However, in other cases, the amendment would not be sensible. It might be feasible to use a school which is only three miles away. But we must bear in mind that ideally primary schools should be within walking distance and that it is not always easy to provide transport.

    At present, we do not feel that this is the right amendment. We must bear in mind that currently Section 6 of the Education Act 1980 means that decisions must not be prejudicial to the efficient use of resources. Perhaps I may remind the Opposition Benches that that was a Conservative Education Act and they were very concerned about the efficient use of resources. Such matters must be borne in mind. We feel that a pragmatic decision must be reached on whether it really is sensible to keep a school open. The danger with the amendment as it stands is that a small group of parents could blackmail the education authority on this issue.

    My Lords, I resonate very much with what the noble Baroness has just been saying. This is a very thorny issue for all of us who are in any way concerned about the viability and well-being of local rural communities. In many cases, it seems that there is no obvious right or wrong answer.

    I have now been a Bishop for nearly 11 years and during that time I have been involved in the closure of two rural churches. I am afraid that, in addition to those two churches, I have also been guilty of taking away a few vicars and therefore selling off a few vicarages. I could almost write in advance the kind of letter that I receive on such occasions. They contain a catalogue of what has been happening to the local community and the church is usually the fourth on the list. The community has lost the post office, the pub and the school and it is now threatened with losing the church or the vicar. All those things militate against community cohesion in small rural communities, and that is something that we need to take very seriously.

    When I went to Coventry nearly seven years ago, I was most grateful to my predecessor for a number of things—not least the fact that a huge swathe of reorganisation of church schools in the diocese had taken place by the time I arrived. By all accounts, there was a lot of blood on the carpet. Of course, in that process of reorganisation all the obvious arguments were put forward. some of which have been rehearsed today. It became apparent that once those closures and the reorganisation had taken place, it was not all loss.

    One reason why I shall abstain if the amendment comes to a vote is that I believe we have to be very clear about what is in the best interests not simply of local communities and certainly not of parents but of the children themselves. There is an educational argument that once you no longer have the critical mass which makes a school viable in terms of the interactive learning that we would expect, the school is probably no longer able to fulfil its function. It is that kind of issue—that is, the question of what is in the best interests of the children—that should be paramount in our discussions.

    My Lords, the word "Wales" brings me to my feet. With responsibility for education being devolved to the National Assembly for Wales, on these occasions we need to have a separate Bill for Wales. Of course, we have our own opportunities in Wales—the opportunities of language and sometimes of remoteness—that need to be dealt with in a specific way.

    I shall not delay the House for long but, speaking of small communities, I think of one village in the Conwy valley—Penmachno. At the end of the war, it had 39 shops and seven places of worship. Every shop has now gone, as have six of the seven places of worship. The one thing that remains is the school. So we must ensure that we can resource the existing schools, either at Assembly level or any other level, because they fulfil a community responsibility.

    Finally, I turn to the idea of holding a ballot of parents. Let us imagine that there is a small school with eight children and four sets of parents. In a way, those parents would be able to hold the whole community to ransom on this issue. Let us remember that those eight children will not be there in four or five years' time. With such a turnover of children and parents, we cannot leave this matter to a vote by the parents. Of course, their views should be considered, but there is the wider community to take into account, and we must get to grips with this matter somehow. In Wales we have community councils, which might be able to express the views of communities in a more effective way, and there are parish councils in England. We certainly understand the sentiment behind the amendment but, as my noble friend Lady Sharp has already said, it is not in a form that we would be able to support.

    My Lords, I am sorry to interject on this matter. I have a great deal of sympathy for the amendment, yet there is something about it which cannot be right.

    The important point in this issue is what I might call the "last public place". In the ward that I used to represent, three libraries in three villages will be threatened in the budget this spring by the council at Calderdale. It is worrying if everything—the post office, the library, the church and the school—goes from a rural place. It is very important that some public place should remain because that can give a village an identity and a sense of community. Whatever the last public place is—if that is the way that things are going in rural areas—it is important that it has a multiple purpose and, if it is the school, that it can be used for other things. If that place is the library, it should be used for after-school clubs and so on. What I have been speaking about—the last public place—is very difficult to legislate for but it is a very important matter.

    My Lords, we have had a short but excellent debate. Noble Lords have spoken eloquently and very succinctly, and I shall certainly try to be succinct. In particular, I want to pick up on the motif introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, concerning the last public place. I also want to speak about the interests of the children being paramount. The Government absolutely agree with that sentiment. We now have great scope for developing rural schools so that they become the heart of the community to a greater rather than a lesser extent. That is a huge opportunity for us and I hope to be able to explain how supportive the Government are of that idea.

    However, although we completely agree with the sentiment behind the amendment, we believe that it would be damaging in several ways. Perhaps I may start by picking up what the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said with regard to her reservations about the amendment. Essentially, responsibility lies with the local authority to ensure that the whole community and the best interests of the child in the community are served. But the amendment would cut across that. Local authorities have a pragmatic responsibility to ensure that education is of a high quality and properly resourced and that it is suitable for all children and provided for all pupils. Indeed the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, pointed out that the interests of parents, although powerful, are transient. Without wishing to diminish the great feeling that parents continue to have for the role of local schools, we ought to bear that in mind.

    But the interests of parents are a key consideration, and we have clear and widespread protocols for informing and consulting them about all proposals. Noble Lords know from their own experience what one has to go through in order to make sure that parents are informed.

    As I said, bearing in mind the importance of the local school in a rural community in England, we have given statutory guidance to decision-makers that makes it clear that there should be a presumption against closure. This has been very successful. I want to put on the record that the rate of closure of rural schools has been reduced from an average of 30 a year to five a year.

    This amendment has swept up Wales. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, made some very powerful arguments about the difference in Wales and about small communities such as Penmachno, which is a typical North Walian community with seven chapels and 39 houses. There is no similar presumption against the closure of rural schools in Wales. But let me allay fears: one of the reasons that there is no presumption is because of the density of rural education in Wales and the issues that cluster around that. Almost 14 per cent of primary schools in Wales have fewer than 50 pupils on the roll.

    When the local authority is making its decision, it has to look at best interests. Evidence suggests that we have got the balance right in Wales. If there are objections to a closure, the issue is decided by the Assembly Minister, rather than the school organisation committee as in England. One third of rural school closures in Wales have been unopposed, and therefore decided by the local authority itself. As the right reverend Prelate said, all is not lost when closures are made because we have many examples of parents changing their minds when they know what the alternatives are in terms of the critical size of the school, the extracurricular activities that can be offered and the richness of the environment.

    In some ways, we see the 50 per cent ballot as not being an additional safeguard because, in a school of only 80 parents, we would expect every parent to be consulted and to insist upon having their voice heard. We feel that a 50 per cent ballot could even have unintended perverse consequences because, having made their voices felt, parents might then not take part in the ballot, thinking that they had already made the decision. In Wales, we have had only 22 closures since 1999, 16 approved by the Assembly Minister and six by the local authority.

    I shall pick up the point about journey times. The guidance in Wales is that local authorities should have regard for the welfare of children and if journeys exceed 45 minutes, we would be considerably worried. But of the 16 closures, it seems that the greatest travel time to school is 30 minutes. These things are being reconciled in practical ways.

    Having brought Wales into the frame, we have to be very careful because this impacts on the principles of devolution and that is something that I know the noble Baroness would want to bear in mind. Having gone through the arguments, at a fair pace, I hope that I have convinced the noble Baroness that the Government are fully onside, that we have the safeguards and the presumptions in place and that we recognise the pragmatic needs of the local authority and the need for full accountability to parents. I am sure that that is what all noble Lords want.

    My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her thoughtful reply and for the contributions of other noble Lords in an excellent short debate. I have raised this issue in an honest attempt to highlight and draw attention to the plight of many rural schools. We feel that we have to go slightly further than the presumption against closure. We have no illusions: this is a complex issue involving many factors and outside forces. For that reason, it perhaps cannot be addressed in a single amendment and, possibly, not in this amendment. We need to reflect on this further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving the Motion I suggest that the Report stage begin again not before 2.45 p.m.

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

    Licensing Act 2003 (Fees) Regulations 2005

    1.45 p.m.

    rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the regulations, laid before the House on 20 January, be annulled (S.I. 2005/79) [7th Report front the Merits Committee].

    The noble Lord said: My Lords, the background to this Motion is that the Government proposed a set of fees and accompanying regulations in November, only a few months before they were due to come into effect, having had nearly 18 months to do their calculations from the passing of the Licensing Act in July 2003. The Government's response to the consultations was made on 21 January this year, and it was to introduce a large increase in the fees set out in the consultation paper and a collection of regulations that had never appeared or been trailed in the consultation. So we had the delayed appearance of the fee structure and a massive increase in the suggested fees and now, to cap it all, we now have the amending regulations that introduce a number of amendments to cure errors made in the original regulations, which breaches the customary 21-day rule.

    These regulations are crucially important because the financial implications of these regulations are huge for businesses and for local authority budgets. Licensed premises include or sponsor many social and culturally important activities in this country: amateur sports and recreation clubs; the bedrock of live music in the UK; pub-sponsored sports teams; quiz nights; games nights; and even circuses. The question is whether the Government have got the balance right between local authorities' costs and the regulatory burden on the licensable activities, particularly for transitional costs.

    Secondly, there is the question of whether the focus of the fees is right. Do they work on an equitable basis? For instance, for alcohol-related crime and disorder, are they properly based on a polluter pays principle? Why do pubs get charged the inner city fee multiplier, but not nightclubs? Are these charges fair for sports and recreation clubs? Will live music suffer as a result of the fees and of the Act itself, as the Government's own survey suggests?

    On the first question—the balance between local authorities' costs and the regulatory burden on licensable activities—the Local Government Association points out that enforcement of the Act will suffer if the new licensing service is underfunded. Rogue operators will be left unchecked, a great burden will be placed on the police, and communities will be put under even greater pressure from anti-social behaviour.

    On 2 February, when we last debated these matters, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said:
    "We have undertaken extensive negotiations with local authorities and anyone else who wished to express their views to us before reaching this conclusion. The conclusion is that virtually all local authorities will cover their costs but not make a profit out of the licence fees. That is what we undertook to do at the outset". —[Official Report, 2/5/05; col. 229.]
    The original fee structure, set out in the original consultation document, would, according to the LGA, have led to a deficit to local authorities of £41.5 million in the transition period and £41.3 million in year one of the new system. The fees set out in Schedules 1 to 6 of these regulations represent a genuine improvement from that point of view.

    But there are still issues relating to transitional costs. The LGA now estimates a total deficit in the region of £20 million to £30 million for premises licences, both in the transition period and in year one. It also believes that personal licences need to cost 100 per cent more to cover costs. Westminster City Council, which, I admit, is in the thick of it, says that it will have a deficit of £3.4 million in year one of the operation of these regulations.

    In addition, there are the start-up costs. A survey carried out by the LGA shows that 86 per cent of authorities have had to make extra budget provisions for start-up costs. That money will clearly be diverted from other services. The regulatory impact assessment is quite clear: the objective of the regulations and the order is, as far as possible, to set the fees at a level that would achieve full recovery of the administrative inspection and enforcement costs falling on licensing authorities associated with their licensing functions. That may well not be the case. The Statutory Instruments Committee agreed there was doubt about that aspect. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say on the subject. So far he has not given the impression that he believes there is any doubt about the issue, or any need to re-examine it, but clearly, in the transitional period and the start-up phase, there is a need to do so.

    Secondly, do the fees work on an equitable basis? One might think that the Government's introduction of a multiplier on fees for particular premises under these regulations would be welcome. In the words of the DCMS press release of 21 January, the fees are meant to,
    "deliver tougher protections … against alcohol related crime and disorder and public nuisance".
    The press release went on to say that its consultation had found that,
    "the control of premises selling alcohol would in general give rise to higher costs than other premises, particularly during transition, and particularly where these were situated in town and city centres'.
    The multiplier, however, only applies, by virtue of subsection (4)(2)(i), to,
    "the use of the premises exclusively or primarily for the carrying on … of the supply of alcohol for consumption on the premises".
    So are nightclubs off the hook? Why should they be? Anecdotal evidence suggests that brawls outside nightclubs are common.

    In the Commons debate yesterday, my honourable friend Mr Don Foster referred to the boast of one entertainment lobby group on its website that it had "played a blinder" by fooling the Government. The Bar, Entertainment and Dance Association website displays the following words, taken from the Morning Advertiser of 27 January:
    "BEDA, the nightclub lobby group, has played a blinder. Not only has it got the hefty PEL monkey off its back, it also seems to have escaped from having been asked to cough up for town centre trouble.
    "As long as its members can say that their clubs are not 'primarily for drinking' (because they sell food and people dance), they are immunised against fines".
    Will nightclubs pay the multiplier? The Minister in the Commons did not answer that question, and I put it to the Minister today. In the view of these Benches, the multiplier model is flawed and should be rethought.

    Regarding sports clubs, we need much greater flexibility at local level for voluntary and amateur organisations to be exempted from charges. The Secretary of State at the time, in March 2003, said the new fee structure would be,
    "welcomed by sports clubs, large and small".—[Official Report, 24/3/03; col. 53.]
    Mr Caborn, the Minister for Sport, subsequently angered the sporting world by claiming, in a press briefing about the fees, that,
    "the new licensing measures would be advantageous to everyone in our communities".
    Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said, when we debated these fees last,
    "We do not believe that the fees will significantly affect the activities of the clubs involved".—[Official Report, 2/2/05; col. 228.]
    In fact he displayed no sympathy at all, but simply said:
    "The Central Council for Physical Recreation would be well-advised to devote more of its attention to ensuring take-up of mandatory relief, and therefore benefiting local sports clubs, rather than campaigning against licensing charges on which there has been full consultation".—[Official Report, 2/2/05; col. 229.]
    Resounding words. However, the costs to be incurred by the clubs are in no way proportionate to the risks associated with enforcing and inspecting voluntary sector clubs and recreation clubs. Under the proposals, the costs of enforcing the act and inspecting licensed premises are to be shared proportionately between all licensed liquor outlets, regardless of their estimated risk. It is clear that the costs associated with enforcing the act in local sports clubs will be quite trifling compared with those associated with large bars, pubs and nightclubs. In effect, local sport and recreation clubs will be subsidising the enforcement costs of the Act in larger commercial drinking venues.

    The rateable value basis of the new fees takes no account of the not-for-profit nature of most sporting organisations, and makes no allowances for the charitable purposes of some of them. In almost all sports clubs, the area used for liquor purposes is a small proportion of the area on which the rateable value is assessed. If a voluntary sports club tries to increase its playing facilities—for example, several football pitches, a cricket ground or a number of tennis courts—and hence its services to the community, those efforts will necessarily disadvantage that club financially.

    For the purposes of the proposed fees, clubs will be treated as businesses, which fails to recognise the not-for-profit nature of the vast majority of those organisations. The Community Amateur Sports Club scheme recognised in law that sports clubs are not businesses, and thus should not be treated as such. The inclusion in the Local Government Act 2003 of the clause to grant mandatory rate relief to sport and recreation clubs that are registered as CASCs also recognised that fact. The principles for stipulating the proposed fees contradict previous established practice.

    As well as these detrimental effects on clubs, it is likely that there will be further damaging effects on national governing bodies and some clubs or events because of the effects of the proposals on the financial viability of events, which are often used to raise income for the governing body or club and support its delivery programme. The bodies that have expressed their concern include those representing hockey, cricket, riding and bowls.

    The fees announced in January added insult to injury. They were already far higher than those being paid by sports and social clubs. On 2 February, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said that most sports clubs would be in bands A or B. He went on to say that,
    "in band A, the lowest band, we are proposing an application fee of £100 and a £70 annual charge. In Band B, the application fee will be £190 and the annual charge £180".—[Official Report, 2/2/05; col. 229.]
    However, those fees are a massive increase from those currently being paid. Even if it were the case that most of these clubs will indeed fall within those two bands, where is the noble Lord's evidence for that?

    The Heaton Tennis and Squash Club in Bradford, which is open to schools in the community, offers free membership to under-11s and is a registered Community Amateur Sports Club. It currently pays about £15 over five years to obtain its bar licence. It will pay £610 in year one of the new regime, and £295 each year after that to renew its licence. Magpies Hockey Club in Suffolk pays around £5 a year to obtain a liquor licence. Under the new measures, it can expect to pay £370 in the first year of the new regime, and £180 every year after that. In many cases, where these clubs have high rateable values, the cost of the licence will exceed the profit from the bar.

    I have to say, because the Minister made a great play of this last night before the Commons committee, that the issue of CASC is entirely separate. We support that scheme, and believe that clubs have properly applied for qualification under it.

    It is quite within the powers of the department to devise a licensing fee scheme that, while operating on a full costrecovery basis, would recognise essential differences between commercial drinking venues and not-for-profit sport and recreation clubs, and could accommodate that difference in fee scales. Such a scheme would also recognise the contribution that sports clubs make to the community, and their role in nurturing and developing sporting talent.

    Live music is another case in point that needs greater exemptions. The DCMS commissioned a recent survey into live music in Britain, which reported in August 2004, and demonstrated that the more licensees knew about what the Licensing Act was proposing, the less likely they were to put on live music in the future, and would be deterred from doing so. We should allow live music to flourish by reducing the requirements for overly bureaucratic licences for small venues, while strengthening local authorities' powers over noise disturbance and safety to prevent public nuisance.

    I hope I have given enough reasons for the Minister to delay the implementation of the Act, and, indeed, to scrap these regulations. The Secretary of State certainly has the power to do so. To add to all that, it is likely that there will be a huge strain on licensing committees. Up to 65 per cent of premises may wish to extend their licences, according to a leaked DCMS memo. As local authorities only have 28 days to process objections to extensions, when appeals take place they will go to magistrates' courts and clog them up. So, I really need to ask the Minister whether he has considered all these points. I very much hope that he will give a more favourable reply than he gave on 2 February. I beg to move.

    Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the regulations, laid before the House on 20 January, be annulled (S.I. 2005/79). [7th report from the Merits Committed].— —(Lord Clement-Jones.)

    My Lords, these regulations provide for the determination of the fees to accompany the making of applications and the giving of notices under the Licensing Act 2003 and the payment of those fees. Further, they make provision for the payment of annual fees in respect of premises licences and club premises certificates granted under the Act.

    The problem, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, has highlighted so eloquently, is that the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee has drawn them to the attention of the House, as it feels they,
    "may imperfectly achieve their policy objectives".
    The regulations seem to satisfy no one. The Local Government Association argues that the fees are not high enough to cover the cost of implementation; that the penalty fee is not significant enough; and that there are problems with the interpretation of the regulations. Indeed, as an example, Westminster City Council, which was looking forward to having the power Tessa Jowell outlined in a press release,
    "to run licensing regimes in their own areas … [and] to be in the driving seat",
    now feels that this "driving seat" does not have a steering wheel, let alone a brake or an accelerator. The higher fee levels still inhibit the ability of local authorities to deliver an effective local licensing regime with a significant deficit expected of £20 million to £30 million in the first year.

    Local governments feel particularly let down by the DCMS's failure adequately to consider, draft and consult on these regulations. It criticises the draft regulations for making no reference to the notion of an additional fee for variation or an additional multiplier fee, which explains why those on the other side of the coin are just as upset.

    These increases in fees do not bode well for sports clubs in particular. I ask the Minister why the promise made in Committee on the Bill in the other place to reduce fees for such clubs has not been delivered. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, spoke powerfully and most effectively on this and we strongly support him.

    The British Beer and Pub Association is up in arms about the large hike on the original proposals, which themselves are a significant increase on the current fee arrangements; about the new introduction of a multiplier for large premises; and about the timing of the annual fee—the due date for which falls long before the annual anniversary of the licence. Indeed, the BBPA feels that the fees in these regulations,
    "represent a triple whammy of regulatory costs which many small businesses will struggle to bear".
    On top of the new fees, the Government are also asking the industry to pay an estimated £200 million in advertising costs as part of the transitional costs when applying for variations to existing licences. I understand that that was unbudgeted and uncosted in the original Act and contradicts the advice of the Government's own advisory group, which agreed that newspaper advertising for this object was both ineffective and an unnecessary cost burden. We really feel that the Government need to explain their choice of fee increases, and I hope that the Minister can go some way to satisfying in particular the criticisms of the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee.

    The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport
    (Lord McIntosh of Haringey)

    My Lords, none of this comes as a surprise to me. I have had the advantage of reading the briefing from the British Beer and Pub Association, the Local Government Association and the Central Council for Physical Recreation. My only surprise is how noble Lords opposite can stand up and quote both views at the same time. The Local Government Association wants higher fees and the British Beer and Pub Association wants lower fees. Yet, somehow, the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Luke, manage to straddle that contradiction and argue in one part of their speeches for higher fees and in another part for lower fees. When they have sorted that out with themselves and with their own consciences, perhaps we may have a more rational debate than we have had today.

    I shall do my best in the time available to answer the points that have arisen, but there are some fundamental points that I must make first.

    The transitional period required to implement the Licensing Act 2003 began on 7 February this year. Fees are already being paid. The flow will steadily increase. Licensing authorities and industry have already invested a great deal in terms of effort and resources in preparing for the transition; and licensing authorities cannot begin to recover their existing expenditure until fees are paid. It would, therefore, be extremely disruptive if the House were to support the Motion and to deny local authorities the ability to finance the new regime for which they are now responsible.

    The second point that I must make is to emphasise what fees may not do. Fees are not an alternative source of revenue. They cannot function as taxation. Fees can only recover the costs of the services provided in carrying out the legislative function approved by Parliament. Fees therefore have nothing to do with what any individual, business or club can afford to pay. They have nothing whatever to do with what anyone should pay, based on moral ground.

    Fees are not a substitute for the taxation needed to police the streets and control the behaviour of individuals once they are beyond the control of licensed premises and licensees. The policing of criminal and anti-social behaviour on our streets late at night must be properly funded and we are not ignoring those issues.

    The House will have noted the contents of our consultation document published on 21 January, Drinking Responsibly, which includes proposals concerning alcohol disorder zones and charges which might be imposed on businesses in such areas. The Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy, published last year, also includes proposals under which the alcohol industry might make voluntary contributions to the costs of policing alcohol-related problems in our communities.

    The new legislation is entirely about the control of premises where licensable activities take place to ensure the promotion of the four licensing objectives: the prevention of crime and disorder; public safety; the prevention of public nuisance; and the protection of children from harm.

    So the focus of this debate on fees must be on the recovery of the full costs associated with the administration, inspection and enforcement required to deliver the new legislation in operational terms in respect of those premises.

    It has been suggested that the consultation on fees was too short and that the changes were made too near to the first appointed day for businesses and others to adjust. We initially published estimates of the fee levels in April 2000, when we estimated that fee levels would be between £100 and £500 on application, with annual fees of between £50 and £150. We said that personal licences would cost about £30. A full public consultation followed. The same estimates were debated during the parliamentary stages of the Bill between 2002 and 2003. Again we consulted between November and December last year. That represents almost four years of consideration and debate.

    No one can reasonably suggest that we have arrived at these levels of fees hastily and no one can honestly claim to be surprised by them.

    Of course we have introduced new elements as a result of the consultation. That is what consultation is for. First, a general uplift across the board, because evidence was produced that the levels on which we consulted would leave a significant number of licensing authorities in deficit; secondly, a multiplier that increases the fees for large premises that are predominantly and exclusively about selling alcohol for consumption on the premises, because many consider they will attract disproportionately high enforcement costs; and, thirdly, a relatively small additional fee for those varying their licences in respect of the supply of alcohol for consumption on the premises—for example, where extended hours are sought, because these cases will attract more representations and generate more hearings. We would have been rightly criticised if we had ignored the evidence emerging from the consultation.

    It has been argued that it was an error to apply the multiplier only to pubs and not to nightclubs because customers coming out of nightclubs cause just as much trouble on the streets. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, made that argument. He said that they should be charged the same fee as high-volume vertical drinking establishments. But that misunderstands the function of licence fees. The policing of the behaviour of customers after they leave premises is a matter for general taxation, which is a quite separate debate.

    Fees can legitimately cover only the costs of carrying out licensing functions and enforcing licensing offences on the premises themselves, not outside. The difference between nightclubs and pubs goes directly to that issue. Nightclubs all have capacity limits to prevent overcrowding. Some people, including myself, think that pubs should have the same limits, but not all of them do. Nightclubs all have security teams to prevent disorder and criminal activity on the premises. The consumption of alcohol in nightclubs must also be ancillary to the provision of dancing and substantial refreshment—that is, food—otherwise, they lose their late licence. Those are all conditions and embedded restrictions that they carry over when they convert licences to new ones under the 2003 Act. Large public houses are not subject to all those arrangements, and the evidence from the police and others is that costs relating to the enforcement of licensing law on those premises are likely to be higher than those relating to nightclubs. My answer to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, is categorical: no, we do not propose to make nightclubs pay the multiplier that applies to pubs.

    Before leaving that issue, the noble Lord, Lord Luke, made the argument of the British Beer and Pub Association that it should not be subject to advertising. He did not make clear what the advertising was for. Advertising in this case is to tell people in the surrounding area what applications are extant, in order that, should they wish to, they have the opportunity to object. That was the subject of great debate when the Licensing Bill was going through, and everybody in the House, from all sides, was clear that it was essential that people should have a proper opportunity to object. The advertising is for that purpose, and it is, I think, entirely proper that it should be paid for out of licence-fee income.

    At the end of the consultation, we set ourselves three tasks: first, to ensure as far as possible that the costs did not fall on any taxpayer, and that the costs falling on the licensing authorities were fully recovered; secondly, to ensure that the fees properly reflected the fact that certain licensing authorities have overhead costs higher than others— for example, costs of labour and accommodation; and, finally, to ensure that fees were fair and proportionate in respect of licence and certificate holders operating in different ways and on different scales. In setting about the first task, we were aware that some existing licensing fees were failing to recover the expenditure of the courts and local authorities now and were imposing an unjustified burden on taxpayers. There is no reason why taxpayers should subsidise, in particular, the consumption of alcohol by others.

    I am confident that the changes we made have satisfied the vast majority of licensing authorities. During the consultation, the Local Government Association claimed that our proposals would leave them £41 million in deficit nationally. We looked at those figures; some authorities had made an excellent case, and we engaged consultants to assist us in examining it. However, we could not accept all of their case. Inevitably, we would be unable to satisfy a handful of authorities whose estimates, in terms of deficit or surplus, were completely out of kilter when set against the forecasts of the vast majority of authorities. The example of Westminster, cited by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, is one of those. Westminster of course has a particular concentration of premises; it has 2 per cent of the licensed premises in the country. Yet, it claimed 10 per cent of the total deficit claimed by the LGA as a whole. There is something wrong there.

    After the consultation, the LGA welcomed the changes that we made. The fee levels increase the level of income that they can expect by £22 million during the nine months of the transitional period and by £21 million in each subsequent year. Yet we do not claim that our forecasting is perfect. The noble Lord asked us to re-examine the figures. That is why, when we published the fee regulations and the order, we announced that fee income and expenditure would be closely monitored from the outset and that there would be a full and independent review that would examine the period of transition and the first full year of operation. The LGA has welcomed our commitment to a full and independent review, once the system has been running fully for 12 months. We will look at the review's outcomes, and the fees will be adjusted if they are too high or too low.

    The issue of sports clubs was cited by both noble Lords. Most sports clubs—including political, ex-services, working men's, community and social clubs—will fall into bands A and B, as described in the regulations. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, queried that, but 79 per cent of all such premises will be in band A and B. That means that, most commonly, the fee on application for a new club premises certificate will be £100 and on each subsequent anniversary of the certificate being granted it would he required to pay £70. Those smaller clubs in band A would pay 19 times less than a large town centre pub in band E that is primarily or exclusively engaged in selling alcohol for consumption on the premises. We think that is a fair reflection of the differences and of the costs that each is likely to generate in licensing authority activity.

    It is important to remember that a club must have at least 25 members to qualify for a club premises certificate. Even in the smallest club, during the first twelve months, each member would need to contribute only £4—less than eight pence a week. That £4 is the price of two pints of beer over a whole year. In subsequent years, those figures fall to under £3 annually—around five pence a week. Even if clubs elected not to charge members those amounts, the money could be recovered by an extremely small amount added to the price of drinks. Most sports clubs with bars have considerably more than 25 members, and the cost per head is even lower. I completely understand why sports clubs want to minimise their costs, but it is nonsense to suggest that any club would be threatened by the fees.

    I have examined the campaign by the Central Council for Physical Recreation against the fees. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, quoted the two examples that it gave us. Let us look at them. The Heaton Tennis and Squash Club in Bradford has three indoor and six outdoor tennis courts, a 1,300 square foot gymnasium, a fully licensed lounge bar, a sports shop, a dining restaurant area, its own in-house caterers, and it puts on functions for up to 450 people. The annual fee for that club will be £295, which is less than the subscription for one member of the club. Can that conceivably be unreasonable? The other example, a hockey club, has 180 adult members apart from its 200 junior members. Since 1988, that club has invested close to £900,000 on its facilities. The licence fee would not be £370 in the first year, as the noble Lord suggested. It would be £190 for the initial licence, and then £180 per year. Surely that is not a small club in jeopardy from licence fees.

    I completely reject the idea that the fees in any way diminish the extraordinarily valuable effort that the Government are making to support sport. Between 2002 and 2008. the Government are investing £1.5 billion in school sport, £60 million over three years in community sport through the Community Club Development Programme, and a further £45 million over three years through the Football Foundation. Government investment in the Football Foundation also leverages in an extra £45 million from the Premier League and the Football Association. We have put sports clubs at the forefront of our investment plans with the Community Amateur Sports Club scheme, which includes mandatory rate relief at 80 per cent for registered clubs, worth up to £10 million a year. In those circumstances, subsidising the consumption of alcohol in sports clubs is not the best way to support sports.

    Another classic example is in the Daily Express this morning. It says that singalongs will he banned if more than two join in. I am sorry that noble Lords missed that one, but it is a real joy. It says that a group of pensioners has been banned from holding its weekly sing-song after a killjoy council said that it needed an entertainment licence. It goes on to say that they will have to pay huge amounts. It is true that under existing licensing rules, they would. Under the Licensing Act, when it is implemented, because we are encouraging live music, there will be nothing to pay.

    I am sorry. I understand the passion with which the arguments have been advanced. but I have answered all of them. There is no case to answer.

    My Lords, it is refreshing to see a Minister develop a head of steam on an issue such as this. I appreciate the trouble that he has taken to respond passionately to the points that I made in the debate. My conscience is entirely clear, because I genuinely feel—

    My Lords, the Minister does not need to apologise. It would have been immensely helpful to have seen the Daily Express this morning, so that I could have developed my own even greater head of steam.

    The Minister is quite right: the system is in place and I do not intend to press my prayer to a vote. I was encouraged by many things that the Minister said precisely because he bothered to respond to my points. The whole issue is about whether there has been careful examination of the costs of local authorities, whether the transitional costs and the year one costs will go to the independent review, and whether Ministers have really taken the trouble to do their homework on some local clubs. I appreciate the homework that has been done. The Minister and I could trade sports and social club examples all afternoon, but it is extremely helpful that that trouble has been taken.

    The consultation outcome came as a considerable shock to many people. The Minister says, "Well, we had indicative figures early on and the process was very stately", but the 50 per cent hike for those sports and social clubs, in particular, came as something of a shock. The Minister asked whether I wanted nightclubs to be treated the same as high-volume vertical drinking establishments—I love that phrase, it conjures up all sorts of night-long activity, as one who has been round some of the Dublin establishments to look at their smoking bans. I was certainly not engaging in such a comparison. There may well need to be a differential, but I know that amendments were moved to the Licensing Act that would have enabled licensing fees to take that into account. I understand that this is not a tax, this is a fee and should represent the actual costs of licensing, but the Minister has really made a virtue out of necessity. Because of their social impact, nightclubs should pay higher licensing fees.

    The Minister then said that nothing was perfect. Of course the estimates of costs are not necessarily perfect. Indeed, it seems that they may be £20 million or £30 million off. I very much look forward to the result of the independent review. The Minister said that 79 per cent of sports and social clubs, to which I referred, would be in bands A and B. That means that 20 per cent will not be. It will be important that, at the same time as the independent review of those transitional costs and year one costs, we specifically consider sports and social clubs.

    My Lords, of course we will; that is why it will be an independent review. The examples that the noble Lord gave to which I referred are exactly those that will not be in bands A or B. My argument is that those cannot conceivably be described as struggling sports clubs.

    My Lords, as I said, I could trade all afternoon with the Minister the number of sports clubs that have high rateable values because of their grants but yet do not fall into bands A or B. However, I am content to see what the review comes up with. Suffice it to say that a great many of those clubs that will be paying much higher fees-both initial and ongoing—are clubs that put their money back into sport in the local community. The Minister and I are lucky enough not to have to put ourselves up for election in a few months' time, but I anticipate that that will be an issue on the doorstep, whether or not he can tell me that Heaton squash club falls within the category that I claim.

    The key issue for sports and social clubs is that the fees are completely disproportionate to the risk and the cost of licensing. If there was rowdy behaviour in those clubs, of course I could understand that, but to hike up the fees in this way is completely disproportionate. That has created the sense of injustice among those clubs. I am sure that discussion between the Government. sporting bodies, the CCPR and the Minister will continue, but that sense continues and there is a head of steam not just here but in local communities about the issue.

    However, I am reassured in many ways by the care which the Minister has taken in replying, which was one purpose of the exercise. I very much look forward to the independent review, and in the mean time I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

    Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

    My Lords, I beg to move that that House do now adjourn during pleasure until 2.45 p.m.

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

    [The Sitting was suspended from 2.25 to 2.45 p.m]

    Education Bill Hl

    Further consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

    Schedule 12 [School organisation: further amendments]:

    moved Amendment No. 86:

    Page 118, line 32, at end insert—
    "( ) In Schedule 8 to the Schools Standard and Framework Act 1998 (c. 31) (changes of category of school), in paragraph 2(2) after "modifications" insert "except that in all cases the School Organisation committee must approve the change of category"."
    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment was discussed in Committee and we have tabled it again because of the profoundly unsatisfactory response given by the Minister to my noble friend Lady Sharp. Schedule 12 contains a whole series of modifications to three Education Acts: the Education Act 1996, the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 and the Education Act 2002.

    The amendment proposes a further modification to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. It deals with a school switching from being a community school to a foundation school. The amendment would require that any such decision by a governing body of a community school has to be endorsed by the local school organisation committee. SOCs were set up by, I believe, the 1996 Act as sub-committees of LEAs, expressly to look at school reorganisation and rationalisation proposals to ensure that such decisions took into account not only local community views, but also broader LEA-wide considerations.

    In his response, the Minister rightly said that the amendment was designed to frustrate the intention set out in the Government's five-year strategy to allow schools to change category and become foundation schools by a simple vote of their governing body, followed by a short consultation—guilty as charged. We are seeking to frustrate those moves because we do not believe that the Government have a popular mandate for making them. We regard what they are proposing as profoundly undemocratic and we wish to inject into the process a little more democratic accountability.

    Perhaps we should consider what difference it makes whether a school is a foundation school and not a community school. As with former grant-maintained schools, the school is removed from LEA control which gives it a degree of independence in running its own affairs. The school owns its own land and buildings, employs its own staff and most importantly appoints its own governors. No longer does it need to have governors nominated by the elected LEA. Indeed, elected LEA councillors are expressly forbidden from sitting on boards of governors. The foundation may also appoint, rather than elect, the parent governors.

    In Committee my noble friend Lady Sharp argued—we both remain of the same view—that this shift away from community school status towards foundation school status was a shift away from democratic control towards what might be described as appointee control. The foundation ensures that its friends sit on the board of governors. The word "cronyism" springs to mind.

    The noble Baroness also argued that from a community point of view the loss of involvement of the LEA was detrimental to community interests because, as we heard earlier, schools are essentially community institutions. Rather than being encouraged to work individually and to compete with each other, we want schools to work together. to collaborate and to co-operate for the greater good of the whole community. Indeed, so states the Government's five-year strategy for schools, and yet as the Education and Skills Select Committee in another place has pointed out, the policy that they are advocating of encouraging schools to take up foundation status is wholly contradictory to that objective.

    In Committee, the Minister made several statements with which I cannot agree. He said that the amendment had nothing to do with the subject of the Bill, although in the Long Title of the Bill it clearly states:
    "to make other provision about school education".
    The Minister stated that the change of category regulations had already been made, but they had not been published on the statutory instrument website by 12.30 a.m. on 24 February, a month after he made that statement. The Minister said that our amendment was,
    "designed effectively to frustrate the intention set out in the Government's five-year strategy".—[Official Report, 18/1/05, col. 715.]
    That does not mean that it is incapable of being challenged and debated in Parliament.

    The Minister mentioned consultation, but the Government have not published an analysis of responses to the consultation, as is normal practice. The fact that the Minister claims wide consultation does not mean that the consultation supported the Government's proposals, for we have yet to see. I remind the Minister that, of the 21,000 primary and secondary schools in England, nearly 900 are already foundation schools. Another 4,200 cannot easily become foundation schools because they are voluntary-aided. That means that approximately 16,000 schools can become foundation and are required to make an application to the school organisation committee.

    The Government propose that 2,400 of those schools should have a streamlined mechanism for achieving foundation status. That means that 13,500 primary schools will still have to apply to the school organisation committee. It is therefore difficult to understand why, to quote the Minister,
    "it would be a sham for the school organisation committee to be engaged in",
    assisting approximately 13,500 primary schools to become foundation schools,
    "when it has plenty of other extremely important and challenging business to do, without undertaking that bureaucratic process"".—[Official Report, 18/1/05; col. 716.]
    I believe that that is its job. Do we take it that the Government will now oppose the 13,500 schools wanting to achieve foundation status, so that the school organisation committee does not have to undertake this bureaucratic process?

    I sincerely believe that the Minister went on to offend many excellent community and voluntary controlled schools by claiming that it was easier,
    "for schools"—
    foundation schools—
    "to develop a distinctive ethos and make them more responsive to changing demands".—[Official Report, 18/1/05, col. 716.]
    The Government have not substantiated that assertion, and the likelihood is that there are just as many excellent community schools as foundation schools, as shown by HM Chief Inspector's list of outstanding schools over the past decade, published in early January. It is interesting that the proportion of foundation schools in that list is approximately the same as that found in the wider school population.

    The trouble is that the proposal has nothing to do with improving education in schools; it is just to satisfy the instincts of specialist advisers who surround the Prime Minister. What makes a good school is the quality of leadership and management and not the legal status of the body managing it. England has been bedevilled for 500 years by the hierarchy of schools arising out of their different legal status, and it is about time that Ministers understood that getting schools to play musical chairs does nothing to improve the learning experiences of youngsters. If anything, it takes away the focus on learning for a couple of years while the school readjusts to its new statutory status.

    What is so objectionable about the provision? First, a major change in policy—the switch from LEA-controlled community schools to individually controlled foundation schools—has been introduced by regulation. Secondly, the regulations have been changed before, not after, the results of the consultation exercise. What use then is consultation? The Minister is effectively saying, "We've done it anyway". Finally, Parliament, which supposedly in a democratic country like ours is the final arbiter of the public interest, has not played any part in the decisions. The regulations were changed without consultation or debate in either House of Parliament. We regard that as a profoundly unsatisfactory state of affairs. The amendment does no more than make a small attempt to hold back a minor part of the process. I beg to move.

    My Lords, with the leave of the house, I will address the specific impact of the amendment put down by the noble Baroness, which would prevent regulations from allowing proposals for a change in the category of school to be approved other than by the school organisation committee. I hope that I can persuade her about the virtues of what that would mean for schools. I will set out briefly the background to the provisions for schools changing categories.

    The School Standards and Framework Act 1998 established the principle that provisions for schools changing categories should be set out mainly in regulations rather than guidance. The Act provides that the governing bodies of schools wishing to change category must publish proposals, but it does not prescribe the process. However, it is clear that Parliament took the view at the time that different provisions might be made in regulations for the treatment of proposals for different types of change. We think that it has proved to be an eminently sensible approach because it allows for the decision-making process to be proportionate to the type of change being proposed. I am advised that the regulations have not been changed.

    Noble Lords will know that we have been consulting on proposals relating to foundation schools and the five-year strategy. There are two strands to those proposals. The first is that the governing bodies of community and voluntary controlled secondary schools should be able, following consultation, to publish proposals to change category to become foundation schools; and that they should be able to decide those proposals themselves, taking into account any representations received.

    The second element of the proposals is that where a foundation school forms a partnership with a charitable foundation, the foundation should be able to appoint a majority of governors. We would not want to diminish the role, scope, effect or impact of the consultation process. We take it seriously. The noble Baroness asked why we had not published an analysis. The Government do not always do that, but we are giving the responses close consideration. We will respond shortly, and a summary of responses to the consultation process will be published. I hope that that is helpful.

    Obviously, I cannot pre-empt the Government's formal response to consultation, which will be made shortly, but I will briefly reinforce the argument about why we think that we have arrived at the most appropriate way of dealing with the matter from the school's point of view. The first distinction in relation to the SOC in its traditional role is that a change to foundation status brings essentially internal changes. A school that changes category from community to foundation will not bring about any change in the pattern of provision of school places in an area or have a formal impact on other schools. The school would be the same size and cater for the same age-range, before and after the change; and the change would not in itself result in the school operating different admission arrangements. None of those changes would impact on other schools, pupils or parents. It is for that reason that we are not convinced, therefore, that it is necessary for the SOC to consider proposals for such a change. We do not believe that it is necessary, essentially, for the SOC to engage itself in matters that relate to the internal management of the school.

    The second distinction is that the change of category does not result in a significant change in a school's governance. We have proposed that foundations should be allowed to appoint a majority of governors, as they do for voluntary-aided schools—there is no difference. Where schools do not have foundations—most foundation schools do not—no single body will elect or appoint the majority on the governing body. Under our proposals, it would be for each school's governing body to decide whether the school should acquire a foundation, and how many governors the foundation should be able to appoint in the future.

    On the third point, the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Sharp, are concerned about accountability. We believe in all sincerity that there is no less accountability in this situation.

    In terms of the governing body, in the case of a voluntary school or a foundation school with a foundation, the foundation has no statutory responsibility for the general conduct of the school. The responsibility will rest with the governing body alone. The foundation's responsibilities are limited to appointing a specified number of governors and holding land on trust for the school.

    3 p.m.

    In terms of the LEA itself, the foundations are required under the 2002 Act to have at least one governor appointed by the LEA. There will therefore be LEA representation on the governing body.

    Governors appointed by the foundation of a voluntary or foundation school have specific responsibilities to secure that the school is conducted in accordance with any trust deed—indeed, if it has a religious character, to preserve and develop it. All governors of any category school, however, are collectively bound to act only in the interests of the school.

    Secondly, in terms of inspection accountability, foundation schools are inspected by Ofsted in the same way as other maintained schools. Local authorities have the same powers to intervene under Sections 14 to 17 of the 1998 Act. Those include powers to appoint additional governors and to suspend the school's right to a delegated budget.

    Thirdly, regarding the representation of parents, the proportion of governors who are parents would remain the same if the change was made to foundation status. If that school did not acquire a foundation, a third of the governors would be elected parent governors. If the school acquired a foundation, the number of elected parent governors would be reduced, but a sufficient proportion of foundation governors would still have to be parents to ensure that, overall, parents still constituted one third of the total governing body. That is exactly the same situation as for voluntary aided bodies, which account—as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said—for a fifth of all secondary schools. They are no less accountable than any other type of maintained school, as I am sure the noble Baroness would agree. The different make-up of their governing body does not affect the extent to which governors are collectively answerable for the conduct of the school.

    I therefore hope—in relation to what I have said about the pragmatic nature of the changes in relation to the representation of the LEA, the way the governors are organised and particularly the questions of accountability she has raised—that I have been able to persuade the noble Baroness that these changes do not make the schools less accountable to parents or the wider community. On the contrary, our proposals are aimed at giving governing bodies additional freedoms, so that they are better able to respond to local needs. I hope the noble Baroness will take some reassurance from that, and will consider withdrawing her amendment.

    My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her detailed reply. I shall deal with her points in order.

    The Minister mentioned that the regulation situation was put in place in 1998. At that stage, no one envisaged the wholesale dismantling of our school system that we see today. She talked about consultation, but how seriously do the Government take consultation if they are shortening the period for consultation on foundation status on the one hand and, on the other hand, acting before the consultation has been published, as the Minister has just confirmed? That is a blatant example of putting the cart before the horse.

    The Minister says that foundation schools will have no effect on the provision of school places. However, they profoundly affect the governance of a school. The demand for change is not coming from the school; it is ideological. There is, as the Minister said, going to be one LEA governor, but one out of 12. What about the dental appointment? You only need that LEA governor to go to the dentist, for example, when there is a meeting, and you have no LEA representation at all. One out of 12 is really pathetic.

    If the school has a foundation then parents are not elected, they are appointed. The Government are encouraging foundation schools to have a foundation. The main objective of this whole process is to get schools away from the LEA. I would argue with the statement that this is all pragmatic. It is not; it is ideological. Clearly, however, there is not going to be an ideological meeting of minds over this. For the moment, therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    moved Amendment No. 87:

    After Clause 70, insert the following new clause—
    "EQUIVALENCE OF STATUTORY PROVISIONS RELATING TO ACADEMIES AND MAINTAINED SCHOOLS
    The Secretary of State shall within two years of the passing of this Act lay before both Houses of Parliament a report which contains a comparison and assessment of the statutory provisions in respect of the establishment, changes in terms of establishment and discontinuance of academies and maintained schools and, in the light of this report, the Secretary of State shall if necessary introduce legislation to amend these provisions in order that there may be equivalence in the statutory requirements in respect of the establishment, changes in the terms of establishment and discontinuance required of academies and maintained schools."
    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 105.

    Both these amendments are about establishing a level playing field between academies and maintained schools. The purpose of Amendment No. 87 is to probe the differences in terms of establishment between academies and maintained schools. Essentially, when they are established, academies are guaranteed funding over the course of the next seven years, irrespective of whether they meet their targets in terms of pupil numbers and achievements. Given that many academies are set up to replace schools with a history of failure, it is not a foregone conclusion that they will succeed, especially in areas such as Hackney, where four academies have now been established in very close proximity to each other.

    The Minister will know of the recent publicity given to a report on academies that the DfES itself has commissioned from PricewaterhouseCoopers, which showed very clearly that there was some querying of how successful academies would be. The question is, what happens if an academy fails? Should its funding be continued willy-nilly for the next seven years? Why should LEAs, which are statutorily required to fund academies' current costs by top-slicing their schools budgets, not be able to close down a failing academy as it would a failing school which came within its responsibilities? Indeed, were it a maintained school, it is just possible—although I have to say not very probable, since it has never been used—that the Secretary of State might step in with his powers under Clause 66 to close it down. Well, the academy gets off scot-free, at least for seven years.

    This amendment therefore proposes that after two years, once this Bill has become an Act of Parliament and begun to have some effect, a review should take place on the relative rules relating to the establishment, alteration to that establishment or the discontinuance of maintained schools and academies. We are prepared to look at both. We are looking at the comparison between the two sorts of establishment. If, as we would expect, the report finds an inequality between the two, the amendment suggests that legislation be promoted which puts them on an equal footing. I quote from a conclusion of the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, about the relative success of academy-type schools:
    "Evidence of attrition in enthusiasm and innovation in new schools: new schools often begin with a strong sense of purpose, high levels of collegiality, dedication, motivation and staff morale. Over time, evidence from other countries suggests that this can wane. Linked to this, the wider evidence suggests that new schools have often seen teachers investing a great deal of their own time in the early stages of school development, but that this is not sustainable in the longer term".
    In other words, it is possible that academies may fail, and do so within that seven year timeframe. Why should LEAs be left holding the baby, financing them in those circumstances? Is it not fair, if you are going to establish new schools, that you do so on equal terms?

    Amendment No. 105 is slightly different. It is an amendment to the Schools Standards and Framework Act 1998. Its purpose is to strengthen the admissions code of practice. Again, it is trying to put the issue on a level playing field. Currently, the admissions code of practice puts a duty on relevant bodies, such as the admissions authorities—and do not forget that the foundation schools, academies and city technology colleges are their own admissions authorities—and LEAs, which are admissions authorities, and appeal panels to have regard to any relevant provisions in the code. The amendment puts a duty on the relevant bodies to act in accordance with any relevant provisions in the code. The amendment is a response to the recent High Court judgment on the status of the code in the case brought by the London Oratory School against the adjudicator. Essentially, the conclusion was that the London Oratory School could, if it wished, go on interviewing in relation to admissions to the school.

    School admissions are at present set by the individual admissions authorities. With the proposed increase in the number of foundations schools and city academies, there is likely to be an increase in the number of new admissions authorities in England of something like 3,000. Alongside the expansion of the hest and most popular schools—and the recent case of the London Oratory School highlighted this—it would be increasingly difficult for local authorities and admissions forums to ensure fair admissions policies that also supported wider school improvement.

    A statutory code of practice on admissions would support local authorities in their local leadership role, enabling them to use admissions policies more effectively to ensure that all schools shared the same chance to improve, and not only the best ones. While we support greater independence for schools, the correct mechanism must be put in place to ensure that individual school policies work to the benefit of all children and not just a particular group of children. I beg to move.

    My Lords, these are important issues, which were touched on earlier in our proceedings. I am glad to have the opportunity to set out the Government's position. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, will not be surprised to hear, we would not in principle or practice want to adjust policy in a way that would lead to the very tight convergence of practice and procedure between academies and maintained schools which is behind some of the amendments, because that would defeat the importance of the academies, as we see it.

    Let me set out why the freedom to innovate is fundamental. As the House knows, academies are not just any old schools, but schools that have been set up at the request and initiative of local authorities to deal with some of the most seriously failing schools in our society. The provisions set out to deal not with schools in easy, leafy parts of the world where things are going well, but with schools in areas where the education provision has been appallingly low, often for very many years. They are schools which, virtually without exception, take a higher proportion of children in very high need than anywhere else in the country. They also, usually, take a much higher proportion in need in their own local authority area. So they are schools in which there are very high concentrations of children with need—as instanced by the number of free school meals—and a history of significant failure to deliver good standard education and to achieve good outcomes for those children.

    The central argument is, as the House knows, that if you keep on doing the same old things you are likely to get the same old results. Therefore, the central argument behind academies is that because, in certain areas, certain schools have not been able to deliver good education for children for many years, we have to try something more radical and more fundamental. That is the central argument behind academies and the central argument behind giving them the freedom to innovate and the space and time to do so. That has been the key to the success of the academies, as it has been for city technology colleges and city colleges for the technology of the arts.

    The provisions give schools the freedom to innovate in matters of governance, staffing, a flexible curriculum or organisation, including new ways of organising the school day, term length, pay and conditions of service and how the workforce works. The central argument is that, as well as bringing in new leadership and ideas, we should give schools the freedom to innovate, to get better outcomes for those children, for a fundamentally important purpose. The amendments, if taken literally, would have the effect of eroding those freedoms and we would eventually be on a course that turned the academies back into standard maintained schools. What can give any of us the confidence that that would deliver improved outcomes for those children?

    3.15 p.m.

    I do not ask the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, to take on trust that every academy will succeed in every respect in the next few years. But the central argument is that you have to create a significant set of new environments in the really serious situations when schools have failed, and you have to give them the support to do so and the space and time to innovate. I get the impression from what has been said that the noble Baroness believes that unless they have transformed the world within a couple of years we should shut them down and go back to the old model, which we know has failed for so many years. That is not sensible. We have to support academies and evaluate them properly and seriously over a decent period of time to see if they do, as we very much hope—and the early shoots are promisin—make a significant improvement in some of the most difficult circumstances in our society. So we do not want to take away the scope to innovate, while we do want them to have the opportunity to make a real difference to children's life chances.

    The evaluation of the academies programme is a five-year longitudinal study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, as the noble Baroness said. A final report will be in the public domain in 2007—but you do not start pulling the programme apart after a year or two, particularly if you start from the viewpoint of wishing that the programme had never been started in the first place. We have to evaluate properly, but we also have to have a proper period of time in which to test how a really important experiment has been working.

    We believe that admission arrangements need to be able to respond to local circumstances, but they have to do so with regard to the school admissions code of practice. A clear code of practice applies to all admissions authorities, as the House knows. We believe that the existing mechanisms are sufficiently robust: admissions authorities must consult their local authority and other schools; those consulted have the power to object to the arrangements to the school adjudicator, and the adjudicator is then able to consider the individual circumstances of the school and reach a decision.

    The academies are required by their funding agreement to comply with admissions law; therefore, although it is not exactly the same mechanism as the noble Baroness proposes in the amendment, the effect is exactly the same. We use the funding agreement to lock schools into compliance with admissions law. We want no favours to academies with regard to who they take in; there is no point in having an experiment if you have favouritism. We want them to have the same responsibility to take on the full range of children's needs as any other school.

    The Secretary of State is responsible for agreeing the admissions arrangements, and I can assure the House that the code of practice is rigorously applied by the Secretary of State. We have previously discussed funding issues, and I sought to make it clear to the House that no preference is given to academies on funding. Again, there would be no point—if you simply make the playing field so that they succeed, you prove nothing. You have to see whether, by giving different leadership and creating a different environment with some deregulation, schools can get better results.

    A noble Lord asked what would happen if the academies failed within the seven-year period. That period is there for a good reason, because you do not expect to transform a seriously failing situation in difficult circumstances in two or three years; at least, that has never been my experience of turning round organisations—it is not usually that quick. But there are reserve powers and provisions in the funding agreement to terminate the agreement before seven years in certain situations. There are powers in case very serious things happen, so there is not a permanent knock-on. PricewaterhouseCoopers' evaluation will help to ensure that academies continue to provide a radical option and help us all to consider the evidence and debate it in years to come, so that there is some objective analysis of what has been done.

    I hope that what I have said has been helpful. I may not have persuaded the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that what is happening is what she would have wished to happen. The fundamental issue is that academies are dealing with children who have failed for years in some of the most difficult situations. We have to try something new; this set of proposals makes an enormous amount of sense and has a lot of parental and private sector support. We are very optimistic that, with leadership and the children's commitment, we shall be able to get better results in future. I hope that that is helpful, if not totally persuasive.

    My Lords, before the noble Lord concludes, would he be so good as to bear in mind that the drafting of this amendment really does create confusion? I confess that I was the chairman of the only official committee since 1870 to advise Parliament on the way that statutes should be drafted. One of the matters that concerned us very much was the bringing together of too much in one amendment or one clause. It seems to me that this is a typical example of the way in which we should avoid drafting. At least two separate clauses should have been put forward in respect of it.

    My Lords, I have not as yet succeeded in my endeavour to persuade the opposition parties to clear their amendments with me before tabling them.

    My Lords. I plead guilty to that one. We were trying to make a point in the amendment, and the Minister has clearly understood that point. I should also make clear that from these Benches on the substantive issue we welcome the fact that academies are bringing substantial new resources to inner-city schools. We recognise that in this policy the Government are attempting to cope with schools that have been long-term failures, many of which have over the course of many, many years been deprived of resources to cope with the needs that they must face.

    We on these Benches have argued for many a long year too that the only way to cope with these issues was positive discrimination—to pour in money, resources and people; to get the best teachers and the best leaders into these schools to try to turn them around and to provide a proper education for those young people, many of whom have long been deprived of a proper education as compared to their middle-class counterparts. We are delighted to see some attempt to reverse that.

    Where we depart from the Government is in thinking that it is necessary to create them as independent foundations. An independent foundation can be bought for £2 million. Shall we spend £2 million on supporting this charity, or shall we buy an inner-city school? We believe that if sufficient resources were devoted to it this turning around of those inner-city schools could be done by local education authorities. It would be preferable for it to be done by the local education authority, because it looks to the community interest, not to the individual interest of the school. That goes back to the fundamental problems that we have with No. 10's policy here of setting secondary schools in competition with other secondary schools.

    We are, above all, anxious to see schools co-operating with each other to provide education for their local community. We feel that has to be done as a community activity. I have argued that before, and I know that essentially there is now an ideological divide between these Benches and the Benches opposite on this; whereas for many a long year we fought battles together. I go back to the 1970s and the 1980s, when I was a fundamental member of the Campaign for the Advancement of State Education. We fought for comprehensive schools that were properly comprehensive. It is sad to see the party opposite now deserting this bandwagon and going down the route of creating schools that we feel are in danger of becoming elitist. Again, we shall see, because as they say there is an evaluation on these schools.

    To take another paragraph from the PricewaterhouseCoopers report:
    "There are significant concerns in the research literature about the extent to which 'quasi-markets' can contribute to the development of a two-tier system which results in an increase in stratification of students by social class. For example, some studies have suggested that middle class families tend to be more proactive in seeking what they consider to be the best school for their children, and they can use their 'cultural capital' to secure school places. Such concerns have already been expressed in relation to Academies, and addressing this issue is an important priority for the evaluation".
    We are extremely pleased that in terms of admissions the city academies are included within the admissions framework of the local authority. This is clearly a vitally important issue. We were suggesting in our amendment that rather than just "having regard to", it should be the stronger "act in accordance with" the code of conduct, which would strengthen this power. Nevertheless, in a world in which parents are free to choose across the whole of London, or the whole of any community, whatever school they wish to send their children to, it is not impossible that we shall see a stratification arising within the academies. We shall have to look to the longer term on this one to see precisely what happens. There is an ideological divide between these Benches and the Benches opposite. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 72 [Functions of Agency]:

    moved Amendment No. 88:

    Page 41, line 17, leave out "and efficiency"
    The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 88 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 89 and 90, which are grouped. These three amendments were tabled in Committee, and they seek to probe the capacity of the new Training and Development Agency for Schools to fulfil its extended remit and to probe its resource levels. In his response to these amendments in Committee, the Minister was dismissive about the important issue of resources. Therefore, the amendments have been re-tabled, as we are concerned that without an entitlement to professional development for both teachers and support staff, schools will not necessarily prioritise those in their budgets.

    In response to the question asked by my noble friend Lady Sharp,
    "Does he mean that schools will now get additional funding to meet the training and development needs of support staff as well as teachers?".—[Official Report, 18/1/05; col. 721],
    the Minister talked much of professional development activities for teachers, but little about support staff. He stated:
    "There has been a substantial delegation of funding into schools for teacher development so that they themselves have the appropriate resources".—[Official Report, 18/1/05; col. 723].
    As my noble friend Lady Sharp illustrated in quoting the General Teaching Council survey, almost one in five teachers have to fund their own professional development. Clearly, schools do not believe that they have sufficient funds to support all staff in their training needs.

    In a recent National College for School Leadership online discussion about professional development, a head teacher told how she works in a school,
    "where they are recovering from a massive deficit brought about by too many reasons to list here. They have limited their 'external' CPD programmes and also day time programmes in order to cut these costs. The teaching staff were involved in these discussions as were the support staff and it is only with their support that it has been possible to set up extensive in-house mentoring programmes, twilight sessions for information exchanges and other such cost-effective solutions … My biggest concern is that all talk seems to be about funding Teachers CPD but with little mention of Support Staff whose role is increasing and changing constantly".
    Another head teacher told how she,
    "was at CPD managers conference with the GTC where they were advocating putting CPD money into school budgets. I'm afraid I was very argumentative because I feel passionate that teachers have an entitlement to CPD. The Year 4 and 5 bursaries were brilliant for this. We have also been involved as a school in many of the research bursaries which again have involved staff working together in our school and across a network of schools. I strongly feel that the professional bodies need to protect this for all teachers—and support staff. CPD should not be dependent upon a schools budget."
    The TTA has, in recent years, understandably concentrated on teacher recruitment because there are several shortage areas that have needed to be addressed. The amendment would do nothing to change that priority in relation to the focus of the new TDA in its professional development responsibilities. The amendment would have a minimal effect on the way in which schools' budgets were prioritised, but it could help by sending out the right signals to school managers about the rest of the staff. I beg to move.

    3.30 p.m.

    My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for speaking clearly to what is, in a sense, behind the amendments. I will not simply respond to the amendments—they are more of a peg, to probe whether there will he adequate continuous professional development in the future. The noble Baroness is right that it is an important issue. The Government have to be concerned about CPD, as it is a critical element of improving future teacher quality. None of the amendments would increase the amount of CPD being undertaken—so in that sense, they are a peg.

    Let me speak briefly about the TDA's future role in CPD. The Training and Development Agency for Schools' main role in CPD will not be to hold the purse strings, as I think the noble Baroness understands. The House has seen copies of the agency's grant letter for 2005–06 and will no doubt have noted that it will receive an increase of about £70 million on its grant for the current year. That, if I recollect correctly, is an increase of way over 10 per cent. Indeed, its budget now is nearly £650 million. The figure for 2005–06 was £560 million. It is a highly successful organisation whose grant funding from central government has been substantially and powerfully increased. It is unreasonable to expect the TDA to fund continuing training for the one million people who work in schools as well as discharging all its functions.

    Some of its work will continue to be on the traditional grant-funding model, whereby it uses its funding for someone doing, for example, a specific postgraduate professional development programme. That mainly involves teachers studying for higher degrees. For the most part, its CPD functions will lie in co-ordinating provision and helping to assure its quality.

    The main source of funding for CPD—I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, dislikes this—mill be the unprecedented increases in funding over which head teachers and school governing bodies now have direct control. We have pushed the funding into schools and put the CPD function there as part of their responsibilities. So, for training purposes, school governing bodies have a variety of resources on which they can draw to support the training of their teaching and non- teaching staff. They can decide how to use their LEA delegated budgets or school standards grants.

    To ensure that head teachers have an incentive to use the money over which they now have direct control to invest in CPD for their staff. rather than for other purposes, the annual teaching and learning reviews that will come into effect in September 2006 will tie teachers' performance appraisals more closely than ever to identifying and meeting continuing development needs. That should not only assist head teachers in encouraging their staff to develop their skills but should help teachers themselves to insist on being given access to the development opportunities that they need. I will not argue why the specific wording of the amendments is flawed; I do not think the noble Baroness would particularly want me to do so, as it is not the thrust of the debate.

    I discussed some of these issues with Ralph Tabberer, the chief executive of the forthcoming TDA, yesterday. He was passionate in his belief that they had a powerful budget at present, but the model whereby they were stimulated to add value and to provide services, which in part would be delivered only if schools thought that they delivered value from their own budgets, was a buying model, one that was intrinsically right and sound. I strongly agree with him. For example, it means that they have no automatic free meals for some functions. They will get their services bought only if the buyers think that the products and services are good.

    Let me not go on at any more length. We have in place a foundation for a considerable increase in CPD and for strengthening the contribution that the TDA will make towards workforce development in schools more generally. I hope that, in part, I have been able to persuade the noble Baroness of that.

    My Lords. I thank the Minister for his reply. It is certainly encouraging to hear about the increase of around 10 per cent in the CPD budget. The challenges to teachers these days are enormous—not just with changes in curriculum. For example, there is the citizenship curriculum which, at about two or three years old, is very young. I was talking to some teachers only the other day about how they were teaching it. They are still feeling their way and relying very much on CPD and networking among themselves to develop best practice in teaching the new curriculum. The enormous changes in school organisation will also require many teachers. So CPD is vital.

    I was particularly interested in what the Minister said about the incentive for head teachers to make appropriate prioritisation for CPD from school budgets, and the role of the annual teaching and learning reviews in that. I hope that teachers will insist on access to CPD to help them to do their job even better. in the children's interest. That is what it is all about, is it not? I am grateful to the Minister for focusing on what was really behind my amendments. 1 beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    [Amendments Nos. 89 and 90 not moved.]

    of Bolton moved Amendment No. 91:

    Page 41. line 23, after "the" insert "behavioural,"
    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 91 would require the Training and Development Agency to ensure that the school workforce was well fitted and trained to promote the behavioural development of pupils.

    I am delighted that the Minister, having listened to the concerns of your Lordships' House, has decided to incorporate this element into the Bill. We differ only in where the word "behavioural" comes in the sentence. As 1 said in Committee, good discipline is one of the key determinants in producing a successful and conducive environment in which pupils can learn and teachers can teach. Therefore it is important that, as part of the training process, prospective teachers are schooled in the necessary techniques and ways in which good discipline and order can he maintained in the classroom and in the general school environment.

    When I trained as a teacher, I did teaching practice in a particularly difficult school in Salford. I was coming towards the end of what I thought was a scintillating lesson on the Industrial Revolution when a boy jumped up and said, "This is a load of rubbish". He jumped out of the window and ran across the playing fields. I remember that, as I stood at the window, forlornly shouting "Come back!"—I will not tell your Lordships' House what his reply was—I wished that I had been taught how to deal with such a situation. However, I was very pleased when I went hack to the class. They said, "Don't worry, Miss—you're doing really well. He normally jumps out of the window at the beginning of the lesson".

    It is vital that teachers and support staff are equipped with techniques to deal with unruly behaviour. I beg to move.

    My Lords. I am glad there is unanimity. We always do what the opposition parties tell us to do when we think it makes sense. We have put the word in a different place only because parliamentary counsel thinks that that makes even more sense.

    My Lords, I am delighted to see the word "behavioural" introduced in the clause and to see it alongside physical and mental development. At least we have here the two words that I fought for in Clauses 2 and 5. As I said, if I have to choose to help the teachers to get behaviour—

    My Lords, both are better, but I said "If I have to choose". Let us have that debate again, if your Lordships want it. When the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, replied to me on physical development, I am sure that she had that in mind in particular rather than physical health. In the clause, teachers are being particularly encouraged to help with the "physical development" of children.

    I conclude by thanking both the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and the noble Lord, Lord Filkin.

    My Lords, as a resident of Salford, and bishop of the diocese in which Bolton plays a significant part, I am delighted to be able to support in principle the noble Baroness's point. Alas, I cannot go the whole way for, having listened to the brief debate, I think that the positioning of "behavioural" probably comes better after "spiritual" and "moral". However, on such a nice point, it would be a shame to differ, and I am sure that everyone will agree with the Government on it in the end. I add my thanks from these Benches for the important point that the noble Baroness made.

    My Lords, I shall be very brief. I congratulate both the Government and the noble Baroness on bringing the matter back, particularly the Government because the provision will now be clear in the Bill.

    My Lords, I thank the Minister for taking on board our concerns and putting the provision in the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    moved Amendment No. 92:

    Page 41, line 23. after "moral," insert "behavioural,"
    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    moved Amendment No. 93:

    Page 41, line 24, after "people" insert ", to safeguard and promote their welfare"
    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Clause 72 defines the functions of the Training and Development Agency for Schools. Subsection (2) provides the objectives framework in which the agency will carry out its functions. Currently, those objectives are,
    "to contribute to raising the standards of teaching".
    and so on,
    "to promote careers in the school workforce, … to improve the quality … of all routes into the school workforce, and … to secure the involvement of schools in all courses and programmes for the initial training of school teachers".
    Subsection (3) states that, in carrying out its functions, the TDA must in particular have regard,
    "to the desirability of securing that the school workforce is well fitted and trained to promote the spiritual, moral, social, cultural. mental and physical development of,"
    pupils, and to prepare them,
    "for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of",
    their future lives.

    The amendment was proposed to us by the NSPCC, and we are taking this second opportunity to air its concerns. It would like to see an additional element added to subsection (3) that states that it is desirable for the TDA, when exercising its functions, to secure that the school workforce is well fitted and trained to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people.

    That would ensure that training for the school workforce fully reflected the duty that schools now have to safeguard and promote the welfare catch ildren and young people, which came into force in June tine 2004 as a result of Section 175 of the Education Act 2002. That would equip the school workforce to carry out the duty effectively, not only in regard to child protection, where the NSPCC and I have particular concerns—I must express an interest as parliamentary ambassador for the NSPCC—but in the promotion of welfare. Promoting welfare is defined in the Framework for Assessment of Children in Need and their Families of 2000 as follows:
    "Safeguarding children should not be seen as a separate activity from promoting their welfare. They are two sides of the same coin. Promoting welfare has a wider, more positive, action centred approach embedded in a philosophy of creating opportunities to enable children to have optimum life chances in adulthood, as well as ensuring they are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care".
    That is very much "professional-speak", but we all know exactly what it means, and no person in the House would disagree with its spirit.

    It is vital that schools recognise that key responsibility in regard to the issues of welfare, as well as those around safeguarding, of which child protection is a key part. If the school workforce is trained to safeguard children and promote welfare, schools will be equipped to carry out that new duty. The current amount of training that new teachers get in that regard, and the time given to it in CPD, is not adequate and is a bit patchy across the country.

    In response to the amendment in Committee, the Minister said that he could not accept it as he did not want to create an exhaustive list of outcomes in the clause. Although the fear of creating too long a list is understandable, the reasoning behind the amendment is to ensure consistency with the Every Child Matters outcomes framework, not a desire to create long lists. The Minister suggested that all qualified teachers train to secure children's welfare as part of their ITT. However, research from the NSPCC clearly shows that the level of training is very limited, and the anxieties of teachers in regard to child protection are widespread. They do not feel sufficiently well equipped to do the job.

    Furthermore, on top of the duty now on schools to safeguard and promote the welfare of pupils by virtue of Section 175 of the Education Act, the Bill will introduce an element to inspections which looks at the contribution made by schools to the well-being of pupils. Although we welcome both those steps, it seems unreasonable to place duties on schools and inspect against those matters if the school workforce is insufficiently trained to deal with them. It simply is not fair.

    For those reasons, safeguarding and promoting welfare should be explicit in the objectives of the Training and Development Agency. If the Government's aim is to move towards early identification and preventive services—I know that it is—teachers will play a vital role, and they must be properly equipped to do so. That is only right. I beg to move.

    3.45 p.m.

    My Lords, I am glad to say that I substantially agree, and that we will bring forward an amendment at Third Reading that will add the desirability of securing that the school workforce is fitted and trained to contribute to children's well-being—within the meaning given to the word by Section 10 of the Children Act—in those things that the agency is obliged to do. I am doubly delighted because I have, as part of the day job, responsibility for vulnerable children and well understand the importance of the provision. I hope that that is helpful.

    My Lords, it is indeed helpful. I thank the Minister for that. I am sure that he was behind the fact that an amendment will be brought forward, because I know how sincerely he feels about the importance of protecting vulnerable children. I am delighted to hear what he has to say and look forward to seeing the new amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 74 [Membership etc. of Agency]:

    [Amendment No. 94 not moved.]

    had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 95:

    After Clause 74, insert the following new clause—
    "ANNUAL REPORT TO PARLIAMENT
    The Agency shall produce an annual report that shall be laid by the Secretary of State before both Houses of Parliament for affirmative resolution."
    The noble Lord said: My Lords, in order to speed things up, I shall not move this amendment either.

    [Amendment No. 95 not moved.]

    Schedule 13 [The Training and Development Agency for Schools]:

    moved Amendment No. 96:

    Page 120, leave out lines 18 and 19.
    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am sorry and will not be a moment; I was slightly taken aback by the fact that two excellent amendments on which I had very full speaking notes were not moved. Never mind; we are very pleased.

    When the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, moved her amendment to Schedule 13 in Committee, I undertook to consider it further. The government amendments to which I now speak include Amendment No. 96, which was moved by her in Committee, and which she and the noble Lord, Lord Hanninglield, have again tabled.

    The changes which the Government's amendments make are designed mainly to bring the provisions in Schedule 13 into line with current legislative practice and government accounting rules, as they would apply to a completely new non-departmental public body were one to be established now. For example, it has not been standard practice for almost a decade to oblige Secretaries of State to seek Treasury approval before setting the remuneration of members and employees of the agencies for which they are responsible. The Government's amendments remove that obligation, and leave it to the Secretary of State alone to make this determination. In those circumstances, where Treasury approval continues to be required the requirements of the government accounting rules will be sufficient to ensure that this is achieved. Another series of amendments recognises the fact that responsibility for the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme rests no longer with the Treasury but with the Minister for the Civil Service.

    I should also point out, finally, that Amendment No. 100 replaces the requirement that the agency submit it accounts to the Secretary of State before the end of August after the end of the financial year to which they apply. In future, accounts will need to be submitted before a date determined by the Secretary of State. The purpose of this change is to provide sufficient flexibility for the agency's accounting timetable to be brought into line with the department's. The latter currently aims to produce accounts by the end of July.

    In proposing these amendments, I make it clear that they are not intended to relax the financial controls that the Government exercise over the TDA for schools. I am sure that I do not need to say that, but I will. Government and accounting rules and procedures will continue to be as binding on the TDA for schools in the future as they have been on the TTA in the past. Instead, they are intended both to align procedures which apply to the agency with the current requirements of government accounting, and to provide sufficient flexibility for them to be kept in line in the future. I beg to move.

    My Lords, I am overjoyed that the Government have taken on board our suggestion in relation to Amendment No. 96. Indeed, I am delighted to see that the DfES has declared a fraction of independence from the all-encompassing and ever-seeing Treasury.

    I hope that such a move has not damaged the career chances as Ministers of the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, or the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, when the Chancellor of Exchequer finalises his new Opposition line-up some time after 6 May. It is perhaps a shame that heads and schools cannot so easily rid themselves of excessive interference in the management of their finances as the DFES has managed to do on this particular issue. It would be churlish of me not to welcome this move and l thank the Minister for moving her own amendment in Committee.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    moved Amendments Nos. 97 to 102:

    Page 120, line 27, leave out from "State" to end of line.
    Page 120, line 31, leave out from second "the" to "may" in line 32 and insert "Minister for the Civil Service, at such times as the Minister may direct, such sums as the Minister"
    Page 120, line 37, leave out "Treasury" and insert "Minister for the Civil Service"
    Page 122, line 14, leave out from "General" to end of line 16 and insert "by such time as the Secretary of State may direct."
    Page 122, line 18, leave out "with the approval of the Treasury"
    Page 122, line 25, leave out "with the approval of the Treasury"
    On Question, amendments agreed to.

    Clause 91 [ Duty to provide information]:

    [ Amendment No. 103 not moved.]

    moved Amendment No. 104:

    After Clause 97, insert the following new clause—
    "REDUCING THE BURDEN OF BUREAUCRACY ON SCHOOLS
    The Secretary of State shall exercise his functions with regard to the desirability of avoiding excessive administrative burdens on governing bodies, head teachers, teachers and other school staff of all maintained schools, special schools, pupil referral units and local education authorities in England and—
  • (a) shall lay before Parliament for approval an annual report detailing the general level of administration within all types of maintained schools and local education authorities and the steps both taken and planned to reduce such burdens, and
  • (b) the report shall include an evaluation of the effectiveness of such measures."
  • The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 104 would introduce a new clause designed to place a duty on the Secretary of State and by inference everything that her department does to reduce the level of needless paperwork and bureaucracy that schools and teachers must contend with. It would compel the Secretary of State to report to Parliament once a year on what measures had been introduced and how effective they had been in reducing the level of unnecessary bureaucracy on our schools and teachers.

    We are concerned that the current level of red tape and bureaucracy in schools is stifling teachers from getting on and doing what they do best and what they must do—teach.

    We on these Benches believe that the teachers' first priority must be to deliver quality education and not to please officialdom in Whitehall. Perhaps the Minister can explain if anything in this Bill will actually reduce the level of bureaucracy placed on our teachers. There is nothing whatever on the face of the Bill which addresses this key issue. We all know that one of the biggest single reasons why teachers are disillusioned with their jobs and are leaving the profession is because they often face too much red tape.

    A recent edition of the Times Educational Supplement made the following, encouraging point:
    "New teachers are enthusiastic about the job, but most are unsure just how long they will stay given the workload and bureaucracy".
    It also points out that, according to a recent survey, "just over a third" of new teachers,
    "expect to be teaching after 10 years".
    They blame this on the workload and the bureaucracy. Teachers who I meet express concerns about workload, not in the context of time spent teaching, but on necessary diversions that the Government have put in their way.

    I and, I hope, the Government believe that we have a duty to try and control the volume of paper pumped out in the direction of schools—4,400 pages of documentation were produced last year, which is equivalent to some 17 pages per day. The danger is that useful regulations might go, rather than useless and unnecessary ones.

    I challenge the Government to say that they support this amendment, and the view that something needs to be done about the pressure on head teachers and teachers and that they will do something dramatic about it. Those involved in education throughout the country will want to see solid evidence that the Government really mean to do something about this—the recent efforts have really not been enough.

    Teachers want the freedom to get on and teach and to have a breathing space from the torrent of regulations that are placed upon them. They want an explicit and clear statutory requirement that will give some relief from what has been a clear failure of this Government who over-regulate, over-control and over-centralise education provision, even as they claim that their objective is to deregulate, decentralise and allow greater autonomy.

    I hope that the Minister can support this important and much needed amendment. I beg to move.

    My Lords, I can support the objective behind the amendment but I hope to persuade the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, that it is not literally needed.

    As the noble Lord will recollect from Second Reading, behind this Bill lies the new relationship with schools. A central part of this new relationship is a recognition that schools need the freedom and space to get on with their core job. Part of that is a minimisation of the amount of burdens imposed either by central government or the local authority in any way that is needless.

    Measures to be taken which will be a part of this minimisation include: shorter and sharper inspections; three-year budgets; school profile largely populated by data provided electronically and centrally; the changes to school data from three surveys to one survey; all of these will benefit schools, as the regulatory impact assessment that lies behind this Bill makes clear.

    Let me go further. We are strongly committed to reducing the burdens and bureaucracy placed on schools and LEAs. We established in April 2003 a small body called the Implementation Review Unit, which is not another big body of officials but an independent panel of 12 experienced practitioners selected from schools of each phase across the country with extensive knowledge of the education system. Their job is essentially bureaucracy busting, to look at what is going on in terms of the paper and they have complete freedom to report on and challenge that. For example, following recommendations from the unit, any policy that the DfES wants to implement that could impact on 10 or more schools must now be assessed and authorised by a panel of senior DfES staff to ensure that it is manageable for schools, that it is necessary and that it has minimised any bureaucratic burden.

    Within the department we must guard against requiring schools to jump through bureaucratic hurdles and Section 38 of the Education Act 2002 already places duties on the Secretary of State to consider the desirability of sending materials to school before doing so. Having been in the department for six months I can say that there is quite a strong atmosphere about trying to minimise sending stuff out. The automatic mailing of paper to schools has been stopped and replaced with an online ordering system so that schools can help themselves rather than having it all thundering on to their desks.

    The 2005 report will concentrate on the remaining paper mailings undertaken to schools by the non-departmental public bodies and to chairs of governors by the DfES—looking as to who else might be sending paper and looking at what chairs of governors are getting so we can have a go at that as well.

    There is a lot going on and there is plenty more to be done. For instance, we now send out less than a third of the number of documents sent automatically, compared to the 1999–2000 school year. There is substantial progress in this respect. Bureaucracy has to be continually fought—it is similar to bindweed: it will keep on coming back if it is not fought.

    The reason that we do not support the amendment literally is because, as I have instanced, there are already statutory powers and there are already processes in place. What the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, is proposing, tongue-in-cheek, is a little bit of bureaucracy to tackle other bits of bureaucracy. We think we can get to where we need to with him by driving ruthlessly on in the way I have described. I support his intent but I do not think we need the amendment.

    4 p.m.

    My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I picked up his reference to a committee of officials to control this monster. When I was chairman of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, such bureaucracy, load, and all the initiatives were very much on my mind. A deputy secretary was given special responsibility for dealing with this monster and here we are, 10 years later, and it is still with us. It requires a ministerial champion to achieve anything—personal accountability by the Minister. We have discussed the role of HMI and its reports to the Secretary of State. Perhaps HMI might be invited to render reports on this matter and on the progress achieved.

    My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, has made some interesting suggestions. I shall not reply to them fully, but we will reflect on them in the department.

    My Lords, I agree with the interesting suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. In all our lives, whatever we do, we want to improve things. In discovering how that can be done, there is a likelihood of creating more paperwork and bureaucracy. Sometimes we therefore have to be dramatic and say, "We have to do away with this. We have to do it differently". None of us has done that. The Government and their supporters have not done so and they now admit it. They are constantly increasing paperwork in every sphere. Although they intend to reduce bureaucracy, they do not because they get rid of one bit and create a lot more.

    I will analyse the Minister's reply. He gave many instances where he thought bureaucracy was being reduced and I will try to add them up to see what they mean. I will also reflect on what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and we could well return to the matter at Third Reading. However, today I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    [ Amendment No. 105 not moved.]

    Schedule 16 [ Funding of maintained schools]:

    moved Amendment No. 105A:

    Page 135, line 19, leave out sub-paragraph (7).
    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 105A, 106A and 106B relate to Schedule 16 and the role of schools forums. Noble Lords who sat through the 2002 Education Bill—there are some in the Chamber who I recognise from those days—may remember that we spent a great deal of time discussing the role of schools forums. They were set up under the 2002 Act and are composed of some local heads and chairs of governors. To some extent, they are a self-perpetuating oligarchy of people; they are not democratically elected. They are representative of the professionals in terms of the heads, and, in terms of chairs of governors, of those members of the population who give a great deal of time and effort voluntarily to helping to run schools.

    In that debate, the question was whether, as the Government then wished, schools forums could be the ultimate arbiter of the allocation of local authority budgets. In the 2002 Act, we had for the first time ring-fencing of funding to schools. The allocation of what was left was to go to the schools forums, which were to take decisions on how the extra funding was to be allocated.

    In an unholy alliance between the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on the Opposition Benches and our Benches here, we fought a long battle and eventually secured an amendment to the Bill. So in relation to schools forums, the Act eventually provided that their purpose is,
    "to advise the relevant authority on such matters relating to the authority's schools budget as may be prescribed by regulations".
    We were well pleased with the amendment and the schools forums were purely advisory.

    In our discussion on a different but somewhat analogous amendment in Committee, proposed by my noble friend Lord Livsey, the Minister, when suggesting that Schedule 16 sought to return to the issue, said firmly,
    "this is in no way a second bite of the cherry that was snatched away from us in the 2002 Bill".
    She then went on to say:
    "We propose to extend the powers of schools forums in only two limited areas and to strengthen local accountability in so doing. The powers will apply to two sets of regulations, the first of which govern the composition of the LEA, schools and individual budgets and the second of which governs the determination of the individual school's budget shares".—[0fficial Report, 24/1/05: cols. 1047–48.]
    The relevant paragraph is paragraph 7 of Schedule 16. It all gets hidden because we are amending amendments. The 2002 Act amended the 1998 Act, but paragraph 7 states:
    "The purpose of the schools forum is"—
    and paragraph (a) is as stated in the 2002 Act—
    "to advise the relevant authority on such matters relating to the authority's schools budget as may be prescribed by regulations under section 45A(3) or by regulations under this subsection".
    Paragraph (b) is new:
    "to exercise any function that may be imposed on the schools forum by virtue of section 45A(4A) or 47(2)(g)".
    One might well ask what on earth Sections 45A(4A) and 47(2)(g) are about.

    If we turn back to paragraph 3(7) of Schedule 16, we see that we are inserting a new subsection (4A) into Section 45A. It concerns a new regulation and states:
    "Regulations under subsection (3) may also make provision … enabling any expenditure falling outside any classes or descriptions of expenditure prescribed by virtue of subsection (4)(a) to be deducted from the authority's schools budget if the deduction of such expenditure is authorised, on the application of the authority, by the authority's schools forum or the Secretary of State".
    In other words, the authority must go cap in hand to its schools forum and say, "Please sir, may we deduct this sum?" Paragraph (b) then states:
    "enabling any limit or condition that would otherwise apply by virtue of subsection (4)(b)(i) or (ii) to be varied or excluded, on the application of the authority, by the authority's schools forum or the Secretary of State".
    Again, the authority must say, "Please sir, may we do this?".

    That is Section 45A(4A), but what about Section 47(2)(g)? If we look at paragraph (d) at the top of page 139 of the Bill under paragraph 6 of the schedule, we find new Section 42(2)(g), which reads as follows:
    "authorising local education authorities in prescribed cases to determine (or redetermine) budget shares, to such extent as may be prescribed, in accordance with arrangements approved by the authority's schools forum or the Secretary of State in accordance with the regulations".
    Once again, the authority is required to go cap in hand to its schools forum and say, "Please sir". In these circumstances, the schools forum is far from advisory; it is now put back into a determining position in relation to budget shares, which is where the Government originally came from in the 2002 Act.

    Therefore, I see this as a sneaky way in which the Government are trying to overturn the will of Parliament. The will of Parliament was quite clear in 2002. We voted not once but several times on this issue before we reached this arrangement with the Minister at the time, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton. I think that this is a sneaky way in which to act. The measure is hidden from us all at the back of almost the last schedule to the Bill in language that most people cannot understand and it overturns the will of Parliament. I beg to move.

    My Lords, on this amendment my name and that of my noble friend Lady Morris are added to those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Walmsley. I shall not add much to the debate other than to say that, if we are not careful, we shall create an unelected body that takes decisions on behalf of many people. One has to be very careful how one uses the schools forum. It might be a useful talking shop but it certainly should not be empowered any more than it was under the original Act, as my noble friend Lady Blatch and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, sought to secure. If this is something that is being brought in by the back door, I am sure that we shall all regret it, and so I support the amendment.

    My Lords, I suspect that the unholy alliance rides again. I must say to the noble Baroness that I cannot respond in kind to the forensic analysis that she has offered. This is an instance when we shall read Hansard carefully. But I want to reassure the noble Baroness, and I shall do so in the simplest way possible. If I have reason to write to her, I shall of course do so.

    However, I reassure the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, emphatically that this is in no way a sneaky way of reopening or overturning the debate that we had on schools forums in 2002. We were beaten on that issue in 2002 and we remain beaten in that sense. The powers proposed in this Bill do not remove powers that currently rest with local authorities.

    As the noble Baroness said, I stated in Committee that the powers seek to allow schools forums to take decisions in respect of two very specific issues where proposals currently have to come to the Secretary of State. As I argued then, this was a way of reasserting some local control. Those two issues are: variations in the limit on central expenditure within an authority's schools budget; and variations in the detailed operation of the minimum funding guarantee to reflect schools' individual circumstances. That is the burden of those interrelated schedules and details.

    Secondly, I want to emphasise and make clear that schools forums will not be able to make proposals themselves. Their decision-making power is limited to approving proposals that come to them from the local authority. The purpose of the proposed powers is simply to ensure that those decisions, which are very specific to the local circumstances of each local authority, can be taken locally. As I said in Committee, it is a principle that I hope noble Lords will agree is entirely correct. 1 would be very surprised if they did not do so in view of what noble Lords have always argued. On that basis, 1 applaud the tour de force of the noble Baroness and I hope that this simple but honest response will suffice for her to withdraw the amendment.

    My Lords, I thank the Minister for praising my efforts on Saturday afternoon but I am not totally satisfied, partly because of the weasel words. The local authority has to ask for approval. Asking for approval from the schools forum is different from the schools forum being merely advisory. In 2002, the issue was the determination of budget allocations. It was a question of whether the schools forum should be able not just to advise on, but determine, budget allocations. The decision taken by Parliament was that the LEA—which is, after all, the elected authority—would decide on its own budget allocations and it would take the advice of the schools forum on that occasion.

    The Minister will say that the power of the Secretary of State to override that was written into the Act. Neither the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, nor I was particularly keen on power of the Secretary of State to override, but we wore that one because we recognised that Parliament makes Acts and can override local authorities. Indeed, to our regret, Parliament has taken over many of the powers that local authorities used to exercise and overrides local authorities on many occasions. We would like to see it otherwise. But it is established that the Secretary of State, with the authority of Parliament, can override the will of a democratically elected local education authority.

    What is being suggested here is that a local authority should have to go cap in hand to an unelected body and say, "Is that all right? Can we do it?". We do not think that that is the right procedure. We believe that decisions on spending money should be derived from the democratically elected body representing those people and that the local education authority is the right authority to make these decisions. Ultimately, if the electorate does not like the decisions the local education authority makes, it throws it out. We have seen that happen quite often. But that is the right procedure and is the one that we think should happen here.

    The Minister may use her weasel words and say that that is not the intention of the Government, but I think that her officials have perhaps pulled a fast one here and that the power goes further than the Minister thinks. I shall withdraw the amendment for the moment, but we may well return to this at the next stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    4.15 p.m.

    moved Amendment No. 106:

    Page 135, line 30, at end insert—
    ( ) "After subsection (5) insert—
    "(5A) An authority's schools' budget will include such amount as the authority may determine for meeting expenditure by the authority to secure improvement in the provision of services by some or all schools within its area.""
    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the purpose of Amendment No. 106 is to ensure that an authority's schools budget includes an amount determined by the local authority to enable it to plan inclusive services strategically to promote improvement for children locally. The amendment was suggested to us by the LGA, which represents local authorities. It is concerned that ring-fencing 100 per cent of local authorities school budgets would impede the ability of local authorities to plan strategically.

    While it welcomes the assurance given in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, that the Government do not want to alter the relationship between schools and local authorities, and that schools should continue to go to their local authorities, which will have the role of leadership and support for raising educational attainment for children in their areas, it does not believe that local authorities will be able to perform that role if the budgets are completely ring-fenced. It feels that will lose the flexibility that local authorities currently have to pool funding for schools and other local authority services in order to shape services locally.

    There is concern that the link between schools and other services in the community will weaken. There is a wide range of examples of services that local authorities provide that could be threatened if the entire schools budget was ring-fenced. I have two examples. The first is a county council that uses its detailed knowledge of schools to inform its preventative work. That knowledge is used to support schools' self-evaluations and is used comparatively to inform improvement. Its support programme has been developed jointly with schools. Critical information is brought together from a range of areas to identify additional support needs. Such early intervention enables performance issues to be addressed at an early stage to avoid the more expensive approaches to school and community regeneration that become necessary if early intervention is not carried out. I know that sort of approach is exactly what the Government really want.

    The second example is support on issues such as attendance. The local authority is well placed to draw together strategic approaches to the complex issues underlying the challenges facing schools and the community in the area of attendance. We fear that the local strategic knowledge and resource may be lost as a result of the proposed changes. Councils' ability to influence schools and promote their wider role in the children's agenda—for example, becoming extended schools with the possibility of other children's services such as social workers or health visitors being located on school sites—would also be affected.

    The LGA agrees that it is important to provide schools with greater certainty over school budgets, but it does not agree with the Minister's statement in Committee:
    "Only if we introduce a ring-fenced grant will local authorities and their schools be able to plan more firmly and take into account funding increases".—[Official Report, 24/1/05: col. 1028.]
    The organisation is concerned that the decision to move to three-year ring-fenced budgets was taken with no consultation with local government, and without waiting for the outcome of the ODPM's consultation. The decision means that school funding will be placed on a completely footing from other local government services, with councils becoming in effect an agent of central government. That will lead to decreased flexibility and autonomy at a level with regard to education funding, and contradicts the Government's policy of restricting ring-fencing in order to allow local authorities greater flexibility.

    With consultation on three-year budgets not yet having been published, we believe that the provisions have not received proper parliamentary scrutiny, because we do not have the wherewithal to do so. While local authorities welcome the Government's assurance that, with regard to the powers that will introduce three-year ring-fenced school budgets and abolish the existing reserve power to set an authority's minimum school budget, they will consult fully before putting in place regulations under any of them, the LGA still believes strongly that it does not make sense for the Government to introduce those new provisions without having undertaken comprehensive research and consultation with local government and other key stakeholders regarding the implications of the new powers. If they did consult, I think they would hear a unanimous call for our amendment. I beg to move.

    My Lords, I shall read Hansard with interest to see exactly what are the arguments being put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, on behalf of the LGA. A little like the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, at an earlier stage, I would raise half an eyebrow at some of the assertions that it makes. Methinks there is a danger of protesting too much on some of these issues. It is certainly not our intention to make councils agents of central government.

    Without repeating all our discussions from the many earlier stages, I shall summarise clearly where we are, and why it is right that we are there. First, I shall deal with the definition of the classes and types of expenditure allowed under the local educational authority budget and the schools budgets. These were decided on following a full-scale review in 2001–02 of funding for education. A working group, including officials from the department and a wide range of partners, looked at what made sense to be in the LEA budget and what made sense to be in the school budgets. The arrangements were introduced in 2003–04. We see no evidence which suggests that there is a need to alter them, in terms of changing the definition of those categories, so soon. That is not what people want.

    What will change from 2006 in England is that a new ring-fenced grant will be introduced to ensure that the funding central government makes available for schools reaches them. Our intention is that the ring-fenced grant will cover expenditure that is currently within the scope of the schools budget, but not expenditure in the scope of the LEA budget.

    The effect of the amendment would be to allow certain items that rest within the LEA budget to be paid for by funding from the ring-fenced school grant. The House will know why I shall resist the amendment. First, and most importantly, allowing authorities discretion to meet non-schools budget expenditure from the ring-fenced grant would mean that schools would no longer be guaranteed to receive their full entitlement from the ring-fenced grant. We would undermine the entire purpose of the ring fence. In other words, all this effort would become nugatory.

    Secondly, the department believes that the current split between the LEA budget and the schools budget is appropriate. School improvement is a strategic function in so far as it consists of taking an overview of standards, intervening as necessary in failing schools and taking forward locally national initiatives. That is fundamentally different from the schools budget, which provides money for individual schools or for the various centrally provided pupil-specific services.

    To allow school improvement in the schools budget would leave this strategic role vulnerable to the competing pressures of the school-delegated budgets and other pupil-related expenditure. What I would say, and I think I have said it previously, is that there is nothing stopping a group of schools locally deciding collectively to fund an initiative for their schools, either on early intervention—a matter mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley; and I agree with her on the importance of that—or on attendance.

    There is increasing evidence that schools will behave in that way and work in a variety of federations to recognise that in some cases some of their budgets can get better value for them if they collectively pool them to fund X or Y initiative that benefits their schools. We think that that is absolutely right—and more strength to them in doing so.

    Ring-fencing will not stop the kind of preventive work therefore referred to. We cannot use ring-fenced grants for intervention work-for example, failing schools. But we cannot use the schools budget for that now anyway.

    To put the matter at its simplest: we think that there are enormous advantages in schools having a three-year forecastable budget. They would get certainty, clarity and predictability. We think we shall get enormous benefits in terms of them knowing what their resources are and being able to plan with confidence for the future. That is the bucket of three-year funding. We are not going to now start drilling a hole in the bottom of that bucket.

    My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. It is one of the virtues of this House that we get the opportunity to reflect the views of outside organisations. The House of Commons does not get the same opportunity.

    This morning in "Yesterday in Parliament" I noticed the conjunction of two interesting references to the House of Lords. On the one hand, it was being called the greatest Whitehall farce of the present day and the next news item was relying on the House of Lords to consider the proposed terrorism legislation forensically in a way that the House of Commons will not do.

    That is a bit of a red herring, but relevant to the argument that we are having at the moment. There is no argument that the majority of the money should go to schools. I do not think that the LGA, to be fair to it, proposes that very large amounts should go elsewhere—and certainly to non-school activities, said the Minister. That suggests that it is being proposed that this money is being spent on something that is totally unrelated to schools. That is not the proposal; it is stuff that is to do with the whole range of schools.

    The Minister has suggested other ways in which these things can be funded— by groups of schools getting together. It is true that that could happen. The Minister often talks about the strategic role of LEAs and yet the way the funding is being structured takes away their ability to undertake that strategic role. That is not how I feel about it but how they feel about it. The Minister may not believe that this feeling is justified, but the reality is that that is how an organisation that represents all local authorities does feel about it. That is why I am happy to reflect their concerns in our debates today. However, the Minister has said a number of helpful things about other ways in which those important services could be managed by local authorities. It may not satisfy the LGA, but that is the situation. For the moment we have to live with that, so I beg leave to withdraw.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    4.30 p.m.

    [ Amendments Nos. 106A and 106B not moved.]

    moved Amendment No. 107:

    Page 139, line 25, at end insert—
    "After section 48 insert—
    "48A ESTABLISHMENT OF SCHOOL FUNDING REVIEW BODIES
    Regulations may provide for the establishment by the Secretary of State and by the National Assembly for Wales of bodies to be known respectively as the School Funding Review Body for England and the School Funding Review Body for Wales with the functions of reviewing from time to time and of coordinating and advising local education authorities in England and in Wales, as the case may be, on matters relating to the equitable distribution of funds available for use in schools according to the ages, abilities, aptitudes and needs of pupils.""
    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in Amendment No. 107, we are still on the whole question of financing schools. The amendment is relatively self-explanatory; it is asking for the establishment of a school funding review body. Looking back over the period since 1997, there has been a welcome increase in investment in education. We admit that additional investment has made a material difference in schools, both in terms of school revenue budgets and to improvement in school building. However, analysis shows that the trajectory of increase may have flattened out. The Government objective was achieving spending of 5.6 per cent of gross domestic product on education by 2006. It was 4.5 per cent in 1997, and I regret that it is still hovering about the 5.2 per cent level. The Government have some way to go.

    In addition, the School Teachers' Review Body report states:
    "We do not have responsibility for the funding system for schools but we are aware that settlements that appear reasonable overall, might not translate to appropriate provision at individual school level".
    It is also noted that the latest findings of the Education and Skills Select Committee, which criticise the lack of evidential base for introducing changes in the schools funding formula, commented that,
    "the new system is beginning with a leap of faith that all schools will be adequately funded".
    While the mechanism for funding education in England at local authority level has been somewhat clarified, the fundamental question of how to quantify and meet the basic and additional needs of schools has yet to be resolved. Quality of access to education cannot be subject to short-term changes in funding. The Government's three-year spending reviews have cased abrupt changes in public spending levels, but more sustained mechanisms for supporting education spending are needed. In this sense, we welcome the guaranteed three-year funding for schools—although as my noble friend Lady Walmsley suggested, we have to see how it works itself out.

    The amendment argues that the Government should set up a funding review group to establish a funding mechanism for schools and local education authorities which is based on costing the requirements placed on schools. That group will draw on previous work conducted by the Government's Education Funding Strategy Group. One priority for such a group would be to establish a single mechanism for schools, replacing the two current funding streams for secondary schools with sixth forms. It would also be important for such a group to provide a proper examination of the role and capacity of local authorities to sustain across all services the needs of socially and economically disadvantaged communities.

    The Education Funding Strategy Group was a joint group of representatives from central and local government, teaching and support staff unions, schools' and governors' organisations and the churches. That group was responsible for overseeing the development of a new school and LEA funding system, based on greater transparency in line with the Government's proposals set out in the local government Green Paper, Modernising local government finance, published in September 2000. The group was as inclusive as possible, which had distinct advantages—as highlighted by the School Teachers' Review Body in relation to consultation on changes to teacher's pay and conditions. It stated:
    "A range of input of practical experience should carry far more weight than any one organisation setting out to provide an implementation guide on its own. Moreover, this approach should greatly assist in ensuring smooth and constructive consultation at local school level, a better communication and understanding of changes to stalling structures, and a more positive reaction to change from staff".
    Given the critical importance of the guidance, all the main parties must be involved in such consultation. For example, school governor representatives and the NUT have much to contribute, and their involvement should help to improve understanding and assist effective communication and implementation. As I said, there is a strong case for some kind of review body to consider how the new arrangements are sorted out, and we recommend that the Government think in terms of an inclusive body of that sort. I beg to move.

    My Lords, I am not certain that it is clear how much the amendment was focused on our previous debates about activity-led models for constructing funding formulae proposed by the NUT and how funding streams are handled. Let me just put some points on record.

    In Committee, we considered an amendment that would have required school funding regulations to specify that factors relating to the age, ability, aptitude and needs of pupils be included in the formulae that LEAs use to calculate school budget shares. I tried to explain that that probing amendment was unnecessary because the current regulations already allowed education authorities to use the activity-led model in constructing their funding formula. Indeed, some do so, and they are welcome to. That is different from thinking that we should somehow insist that all local authorities act in that way if they do not want to. It can be a useful local tool, but there is no need to force it on other education authorities, so we were a little sad to see the amendment return in this form.

    Clearly, the equitable distribution of resources must be a continuing goal of government, but there is no simple answer to that, as the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, will know as well as I do. There are many happy years to be spent debating standard spending assessment formulae or distribution mechanisms. That keeps many statisticians happily engaged. There is no simple answer. To have a statutory body, as the amendment appears to propose, inquiring into every authority's arrangements for funding schools and giving advice that would have no particular status strikes us as undesirable. We cannot see what value that would add, but it would certainly lead to costs and could lead to confusion and dissent locally.

    If what is proposed is not a quango but something softer—a review body—I must say that we have worked intensively on a partnership approach in working up policy on school funding with the local authority associations and others. The proposals issued for consultation only last week were developed after extensive discussion with local authorities, teacher associations and other partners on the school funding implementation group. We expect to continue to use that approach as we move towards 2006–07. We have in our ears the words of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, that we must prove that we will do it well, and we intend to.

    To provide in statute for a body such as that proposed seems inappropriate. If the argument is to merge the LSC and LEA income streams, I must say that, in 2000, we decided to set up the LSC to enable a coherent approach to post-16 funding throughout all sectors and, through the LSC's planning functions, to ensure that provision for post-16s in each area properly met their needs. It would not add value to start unpicking that or holding an autopsy on it.

    So it is not really clear what is behind the amendment. Perhaps it is the belief that if we have enough statisticians considering an activity-led set of costs and needs and prove that we need a bigger pot of money, that means that the Government will provide a pot of money. Would that life were that simple or naive. It is not. Of course, anyone who has been in a managerial role knows the answer that one receives by looking at elements collectively. Saying, "You need that much", does not necessarily mean that you need that much. There are ways in which one can use wit and wisdom to acquire more value by the collective use of resources rather than by looking at them just on an activity level.

    I shall not drone on as that will weary the House. I hope that I have said enough about why we shall not be persuaded on the NUT's proposals in this respect.

    My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. He is correct to say that we tabled this amendment at the behest of the NUT. He has convinced me that there is little need for such a review body to pursue the issues suggested in the amendment. We have two sets of review bodies in relation to the funding. As regards local government, I suppose the Audit Commission is the appropriate review body. It seems to me that there is a strong case for the Audit Commission to look at school funding arrangements after a while to see how they are panning out. I am not sure that it is necessary to establish a separate quango. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 99 [ LEA targets: England]:

    moved Amendment No. 108:

    Page 53, line 9, at end insert—
    "( ) The Secretary of State shall have due regard to published data and evidence from each maintained school or special school and other inspection reports for the local authority's area before modifying a proposed target or requiring an LEA to modify a proposed target in regulations made under subsection (2) above."
    The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 108 ensures that if the Secretary of State wishes to modify LEA targets or request the LEA to do that itself, those targets should be devised with due regard to evidence of attainment and from inspections.

    The rationale behind the amendment is simple and straightforward. Local authorities wish to know whether the regulations referred to in Clause 99(2) will ensure, particularly with regard to Clause 99(2)(c), that targets are realistic, appropriate and linked to inspection findings as per Clause 5 inspections and as regards those findings from the proposed joint reviews and the annual performance assessments. It is neither sensible nor helpful, in the context of supporting improvement, for the Secretary of State to set targets that do not bear reference to inspection regime findings. That is where the school inspection regime must again be joined up with the wider children's services and local authority inspection regimes. I shall not say any more as it is quite simple. I hope everyone understands that and I am sure that the Government must accept that. I beg to move.

    My Lords, Amendment No. 109, standing in my name, is grouped with Amendment No. 108. It is almost identical and has exactly the same purpose. In the context of supporting improvement, it is neither sensible nor helpful for the Secretary of State to set targets that do not bear reference to the inspection regime findings.

    In the past there has been concern that targets have been arrived at with no clear rationale, no reference to local circumstances or consideration about how the targets would be reached; for example, many feel that about the key stage 2 targets. If the clause is not amended, central government could set targets that bear absolutely no relevance to local needs or priorities.

    Of course, there is a wider point about the usefulness of targets and outputs in a climate in which we are surely agreed that outcomes for children and young people, notably the five Every Child Matters outcomes, are what fundamentally count. Simply setting educational attainment targets alone is too narrow a view of what a local authority's remit for children should cover and how elements across the five outcomes need to interplay and cross-refer. There needs to be a requirement on the face of the Bill that the Secretary of State should consult with LEAs, as it says in the Explanatory Notes, and take full account of local needs, circumstances and crucially existing baseline data. I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield.

    My Lords, in Committee we had a debate about the importance of the utility of targets, and I believe there was broad acceptance, although I have heard what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has said about the wider context of the targets following the Children Act measures. We talked about the ability of the local authority to carry out its job of providing a challenge function to schools in its area and we talked about the need, as we saw it, of the Secretary of State to be able to hold local authorities to account over targets to improve. Therefore, at Report stage, the focus is tighter and narrower. It is about whether those discussions challenge that debate between the Secretary of State and local authorities and, where it is judged necessary to have such a debate, it is to be based on reality.

    I can assure the House that the department and its advisers have a wealth of information about local education authorities. It is used to inform the discussion about their targets—data on past performance of schools and pupils, including those from ethnic minorities and those with special educational needs; data from the Fischer family trust, which takes into account pupils eligible for free school meals, gender and age of pupil: reports from Ofsted both on schools and local authorities; and support from the national strategies programmes aimed at improving attainment in low attaining schools or in particular subjects.

    4.45 p.m.

    In addition to looking at the large amounts of data—we are probably one of the most evidence-based and richly provided for countries in terms of our understanding of what is happening in the educational system, built on the good work of the Ofsted over the past dozen years or so—the department's advisers hold a stock-take meeting with every local authority towards the end of the autumn term. Again, this is intended to be an intelligent discussion between officials about what the data are showing, what they are making of the data and what that implies for action in the future.

    Advisers also hold regular meetings with local education authorities throughout the year on a wide range of issues, and standards in schools are a key priority for those discussions. The knowledge enables those involved to make informed judgments about an LEA and how effective it is in supporting its schools.

    These discussions should be informed by evidence. They should not be informed by prejudice. We have a rich welter of evidence and we do not therefore believe that it is necessary to legislate for this purpose. The department is not trying to second-guess local education authorities, but have an informed and mature dialogue with them. I hope that it is self-evident, but I am happy to confirm that such a dialogue is always based, and always will be based, on the available information, and on nothing else. I hope that that is helpful both to noble Lords who are listening and those who might read Hansard subsequently.

    My Lords, before the Minister finishes, there is tremendous variation within local authorities, especially large ones such as Essex. One is looking for totally different improvements in Basildon compared with Chelmsford or Colchester, so it is not just a case of talking to local education authorities but actually looking at schools' improvement. I am sure that the same is the case within a London borough where there are different aspirations for different schools. The whole idea is improvement, but I did not quite get that from the Minister's reply.

    My Lords, the noble Lord is right. I have been chided by him at earlier stages to keep my responses crisp, but he is absolutely right. Intelligent conversation cannot just be about the average of the total of what is happening in a good authority such as Essex. There also needs to he a dialogue about where the ambition of schools needs to be raised across the piece on particular segments—whether there is a need for change in languages or maths or for geographic or particular social-class based reasons. The data allow for that sort of intelligent discussion between officials in the department and the authority and between the advisers and the authority. However, we are talking essentially about a dialogue between the department and the education authority—albeit going under the skin of the averages—not between the department and individual schools. I agree with the noble Lord on that. It ought to cover such discussions as well.

    My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. He seemed to accept what we said. What concerns us is that at the moment targets are set in public sector agreements for school attainment that nobody can reach—they are ridiculous targets. The targets to bear a relationship to the ones that might, as I said just now, help to bring about improvement in a school. That must be an important part and the Minister acknowledged that. It is a pity that that cannot be acknowledged on the face of the Bill so that ridiculous targets cannot be set in the future as they have been set in the past. We shall reflect on what has been said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 100 [ Removal of requirements for governors' reports and parents' meetings]:

    moved Amendment No. 110:

    Page 53, line 29, at end insert—
    "( ) In section 22 of the 2002 Act (training and support of governors), after paragraph (b) insert—
    "(c) take such measures as they consider appropriate to promote and encourage the constructive involvement of parents in the education of their children at schools, including in particular their membership of school governing bodies"."
    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I move Amendment No. 110, which is the first of three amendments dealing with annual parents' meetings and the school profiles. There was long debate on these issues on the fourth day in Committee, for which I was unfortunately not present because I was on a Select Committee trip, but I have read Hansard with considerable interest.

    We tabled this relatively broad amendment in order to keep the debate open. During the debate there was considerable disquiet was expressed from the Opposition Benches about the proposal to do away with the annual meeting, although there was understanding on everybody's part that these annual meetings can sometimes be a waste of time. There was, however, a feeling that there is considerable importance in providing a mechanism for dialogue between parents and staff at a school about general issues in the school, but not necessarily about the specific issues of their own child, such as occurs at a parents' evening. In addition, there was considerable alarm at the prescriptive nature of the school profile as set out in Clause 101.

    Since that debate, we have had considerable lobbying from a number of groups. The disability lobby, in particular, is very concerned that we need to keep some mechanism open for dialogue with parents. There is alarm among parents' groups. The National Governors' Council, the National Association of Governors and Managers and the Campaign for the Advancement of State Education are all asking that we should not do away with the annual meeting. As I say, we recognise the futility of holding a meeting where no parents turn up—which does happen from time to time. Yet you quite clearly need some mechanism if you are going to have elected governors playing a substantial part in the governing body of the school. You need some mechanism for electing those governors. You need some kind of coming together where people get to know who is who, and so forth. This poses something of a problem.

    The advantage of the annual report to parents from governors was that there was an opportunity to reflect on what had happened during the year, and to report back to parents on that. Good schools, we know, have regular newsletters and, in some senses, do not need it. There are some schools, however, that do not do this. We have had further discussion on the role of the school profile, and the Government have assured us—and we take these assurances at face value—that it is not just going to be a tick-box pro forma. Each school is going to be able to develop it into something which is special to that school, reflecting developments within it. We are reassured by what the Minister says.

    Since that debate, the need for the school to have proactive policies for keeping parents informed and involved with the school has been emphasised by those who have lobbied us since then. We know, from all the research that has been done, that the more parents are involved with their own child's education, the better the child does at school. There is a great deal to be said for this.

    In some ways, I am sorry that we did not manage to group Amendments Nos. 110, 111 and 112 because the issues are very similar, and we need to regard their debates as a whole. I think that my suggestion that we should group them came too late to be acted upon. I see this amendment as a minimalist amendment, and tabled it to keep the debate open. We had hoped that there would be some indication in Committee that the Minister might come back with a proposal, but that has not happened. We want to keep the debate open and try to ensure that after this debate we do not simply end up by doing away with the parents meetings and annual reports without having put something satisfactory in their place. I beg to move.