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Lords Chamber

Volume 670: debated on Wednesday 2 March 2005

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House Of Lords

Wednesday, 2 March 2005.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Derby.

Licensing Act 2003

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they propose amending the Licensing Act 2003 to allow those living in the vicinity of licensed premises to make representations with regard to the grant of 24-hour licences so as effectively to protect their amenity.

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

My Lords, as was explained in the House during the stages of the Licensing Bill, such an amendment is not necessary. From 7 February local residents have been able to make representations to their licensing authority about variations to existing licences and certificates and new applications for premises licences and club premises certificates on grounds relating to the four licensing objectives, including public nuisance.

My Lords, the Minister's reply, for which I thank him, refers to representations made in respect of public nuisance. Do not the Government realise that "public nuisance" is a crime and sets a legal threshold far above the comings and goings of the public in the early hours of the morning to a pub or club? Therefore, in practical terms, is it not the truth that ordinary residents in ordinary locations do not have a leg to stand on in the licensing procedures under the Act?

My Lords, I am in no position to quarrel with what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, says about a legal application of "public nuisance". But the Government's position has always been that the prevention of public nuisance includes the prevention of—and I shall quote, for reasons that I will make clear—

"the reduction of the living and working amenity and environment of interested parties",
in the vicinity of licensed premises. That quote comes from the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, at the time of the Licensing Bill. As we promised, those words are now in the guidance issued by the Secretary of State in July 2004.

So, whatever else "public nuisance" means, for the purpose of the guidance, it covers the points the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, wants to cover, and local residents are able to make representations.

My Lords, as this Question is about possible amendments to the Act, is there any possibility of making the fees more realistic? I know that there was a debate on this last week, but is the Minister aware that in areas of London such as Soho the council is allowed to charge hundreds of pounds, and the cost of policing and caring for the licensed premises is thousands of pounds? Council tax payers are going to bear a very heavy burden. Is there anything that can be done about that?

My Lords, I am reluctant to burden the House by going over ground which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, says, was debated in the House only last week. The thrust of that debate was that we revised the proposed charges; we increased them significantly. Generally, it is agreed that nearly all local authorities will find that the charges cover their costs. At the same time there were considerable complaints from potential licensees that the charges were too high. There was an attempt to make both those arguments against the Government at the same lime. It did not work very well.

My Lords, will the individual residents associations and local amenity societies be able to make representations to the licensing authority that a particular area should be declared one of cumulative impact? Will the DCMS advise local authorities in conducting the public meetings recommended in Section 2.7 of the guidance to ensure that an opportunity is given to local residents to make submissions on that matter? Will the collection of information which demonstrates cumulative impact as the evidential basis for the decision to have a special policy include crimes of violence against the person and call-outs for ambulances in the vicinity of licensed premises? If so, why cannot it also be used to assess the impact of the Act on crime and disorder, as I have suggested 15 times?

My Lords, those who represent residents will be able to make representations. I do not know whether all local residents associations will fall into that category. I assume that most will. Therefore, they will be able to make representations.

On the detailed points the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, makes about cumulative impact—I did not fully understand his point about ambulances—I do not think that it would be wise for me to seek to interpret the guidance at this Dispatch Box. I refer him back to that guidance, and if he has further questions I shall be happy to answer them.

My Lords, returning to the Question, does the noble Lord agree that the present situation is far from satisfactory, for the reasons given by noble Lords, and that, at least, consideration should be given to whether something should be done about it?

My Lords, I am not at all clear what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, means by "the present situation". Does he mean the existing licensing laws which will be overtaken by the Licensing Act later this year?

My Lords, in that case I have to agree with the noble Lord. We would not otherwise have introduced the Licensing Act.

My Lords, will the Minister not accept that one of the problems with his response to the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, is that guidance notes cannot change the legal meaning of "public nuisance"?

As the Act now stands, there is a lack of clarity. One has to wade through the enormous set of guidance notes to have a clue about what is meant. Regarding "vicinity" and those who might make representations, there is a caveat whereby the initial decision on this issue could be subject to a legal challenge in the courts that could put off local authorities and those locally wanting to make representations. Will the Minister not accept that it would have been wise to accept the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, and fought for by noble Lords during the passage of the Bill, and that,
"unreasonable diminution of living and working amenity and environment of interested parties living in the vicinity of the premises",
would have made a lot more sense than simply making reference to "public nuisance"?

I must say, my Lords, I find that slightly ungrateful, since the words of the noble Baroness's own amendment are found in the guidance.

Not everybody has to wade through the guidance. The important thing is that local licensing authorities have to take account of it, and can be called to account if they do not. That is the protection she wanted when she moved those amendments.

Asian Tsunami

2.44 p.m.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they propose to take steps to ensure that the public are informed of the benefits provided to each country affected by the tsunami disaster by public donations and government aid.

My Lords, Ministers have made a number of statements to Parliament, the media and the public about the United Kingdom's response to the Indian Ocean earthquake tsunami disaster. The Department for International Development has regularly reported details of its response through its website. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development is meeting the Disasters Emergency Committee this month to consider how it and the Government will report fully to the British people on the unprecedented response.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that her Answer goes halfway to answering the Question I asked? Is she further aware that the amount collected by the British public is now close to £400 million, and that, if I am correct, the Government agreed to match that figure? That being the case, do the British public not have a right to know to which country the money has gone, how much has gone to each country, that all the money raised will go to the countries affected, and, not least, that the smaller countries, such as the Maldives, will get their fair share?

My Lords, all the information that the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, is requesting with regard to the Government's contribution is on the website. It is also available to Members of Parliament through our regular updating. I recognise that members of the public may be interested in individual countries, which is part of the reason my right honourable friend and the Minister in the Department for International Development have been keeping members of the public from particular communities up to date with what is happening in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and elsewhere.

With regard to the Government's contribution, my understanding is that some £300 million has gone to the Disasters Emergency Committee. The Government have given their humanitarian response. We have not yet said how much we will give for longer-term reconstruction. The needs assessments will be completed over the next week or so and there will then be a reconstruction conference in Manila. I agree with the noble Lord that we have to ensure that all the countries affected are part of the reconstruction effort.

My Lords, what help is the UK now able to give to Indonesia, bearing in mind that many foreign aid workers are being turned away? In particular, is the noble Baroness aware that all the staff at the Banda Aceh hospital were killed in the disaster? Is there anything we can do to support distance learning to enable accelerated training at the Banda Aceh medical college?

My Lords, Indonesia's needs are enormous, but I am pleased to be able to tell the noble Baroness that immediate assistance has now reached most areas. Transitional and permanent shelters remain an issue of critical concern, but comprehensive food distribution and health surveillance systems have been established.

On the longer-term point raised by the noble Baroness, the needs assessments are currently being carried out. We anticipate that those assessments, including Indonesia, will be completed over the next week or so. We will then be able to look at the point raised by the noble Baroness with regard to support for distance learning and other areas of activity.

My Lords, I am not clear from the Minister's answers whether she is saying that the Government will match the £300 million or £400 million. The Prime Minister and other Ministers gave a clear commitment at the time. Will the noble Baroness make it clear to the House that the Government will be providing at least £300 million?

My Lords, I shall repeat what I said, and it remains the case. The Government said at an earlier stage that we would match the amount. We have established new money for emergency relief and we have made it absolutely clear that, once the needs assessments are complete, we will look at the longer-term reconstruction efforts. That is in addition to, and completely separate from, the programmed budgets we already have in the affected countries. So I am not able to say from the Dispatch Box that we will simply match the amount, because we may well go beyond it.

My Lords, will the Government remove any funds for development from countries that are not affected by the tsunami to boost funds in the affected region?

My Lords, as I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, we have not anticipated that we will be reprogramming any of the money that we have currently programmed to countries in southeast Asia. A number of countries have put out their response to the tsunami. They have not only said how much they have given in emergency relief but they have reprogrammed current budgets. We have not done that. That decision will not be taken until we see the needs assessment later this month and look again at what we think countries will need.

My Lords, how much money has been committed in existing schemes, and what proportion would that leave out of the £300 million that the Government have promised?

My Lords, I think that the noble Baroness does not understand the point that I am making. When the initial humanitarian needs were made clear, the UN, for example, had a flash appeal, which is now 95 per cent funded. We have given some £75 million to the humanitarian effort. We have not made any allocation for longer-term reconstruction efforts because, in our view, we need to wait for the result of the needs assessment being carried out by the World Bank and the IMF before making that kind of decision.

In addition to that, and completely separate from what we are giving to the tsunami-affected countries, we have made allocations to India, Sri Lanka and other countries, which are part of our ongoing development budget. That is the point that I am trying to make.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness lean on the Disasters Emergency Committee? The British public have given more than £350 million. Is it not their right to know to which countries the money has gone?

My Lords, that is absolutely right, but we must recognise that the amount of money given to the Disasters Emergency Committee is substantial, so it will take time to allocate it. As the noble Lord knows, the committee has made a very clear commitment that only 2 per cent of the resources will be spent on administration. It meets regularly; indeed, it meets colleagues in the Department for International Development fortnightly and will meet my right honourable friend the Secretary of State later this month to talk through those issues. I am absolutely confident that it will keep the British people involved and informed, given the unprecedented nature of the response.

Israel And Palestine: London Conference

2.53 p.m.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking at the London conference to promote a political settlement of the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

My Lords, the focus of the London meeting was to help the Palestinian leadership to strengthen the institutions of the Palestinian Authority. The meeting is part of a longer-term process of international support for the Palestinians in helping both sides to return to the road map. The road map remains the international community's agreed path towards a lasting negotiated settlement to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. Like everyone else in this House, I welcome the Prime Minister's initiative in convening yesterday's London conference. But does she not agree that the best way to strengthen the Palestinian Authority is evidence of tangible progress towards the creation of a viable Palestinian state, free of Israeli occupation? What follow-up steps do the Government propose to take to realise that goal?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, for his words of encouragement and congratulations to the Prime Minister, who, I believe, achieved a very important staging post yesterday in the Middle East peace process. The noble Lord asks how we will tackle what he sees as the key problems still outstanding. I agree that there have been many obstacles, put forward on both sides, to progress. I certainly agree that settlement expansion and heavy-handed Israeli defence force action make progress more difficult. We continue to make those points to the Israeli Government and to urge them to honour the settlements freeze to which they committed themselves in the road map.

However, we must not talk this moment down. We have an opportunity now to move forward; several factors contribute to that: Israel's disengagement plan, demonstration by the Palestinian authorities that they are serious about reform, and President Bush's explicit commitment to use America's capital to achieve progress.

My Lords, we, too, welcome the meeting on the Palestinian Authority. However, does the noble Baroness agree that we now need a full-scale peace conference including both Israelis and Palestinians? The Foreign Secretary seemed to indicate support for that. When might we expect such a conference?

My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, will know, that international conference is very much part of the road map. I am sure that all noble Lords would agree that getting back to the road map, of which yesterday's conference was a part—through capacity building for the Palestinian Authority—is very important. We all want that international conference, but before that we want to see a pledging conference from yesterday's meeting in London so that we can assist the Palestinian Authority even further.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the Government on the initiative yesterday; it is much appreciated. Does the Minister agree with me that at this crucial time it is important to offer not criticism to either party but support and encouragement to both? At the end of the day it is the Israelis and the Palestinians who have to agree between them. Criticism of either is unlikely to be helpful in that process.

My Lords, I absolutely agree. I hope that the noble Lord sees in yesterday's London meeting the efforts by the international community to be even-handed with both sides in the Middle East peace process. I take this opportunity at the Dispatch Box to welcome, for instance, the disengagement plans put forward by Israel.

My Lords, one of the outcomes of yesterday's meeting, which seemed, I agree, very positive and useful, was that the American Lieutenant General Ward is to be appointed to co-ordinate the security structures of the new Palestinian state to defeat terrorism—without which, of course, no state could be formed. Will his remit also cover dealing with the Syrian Government, and indeed the Lebanese government when there is one again, because the evidence is that a great deal of the terror, both in the Palestinian area and in Israel, is constructed in those territories? They must be dealt with if there is to be security in Palestine.

My Lords, again, I thank noble Lords for their words of congratulation on yesterday's conference. Lieutenant General Ward's mandate covers forming a co-ordinating group to oversee the restructuring and retraining of the Palestinian security services. The noble Lord will know that at present the security services comprise about 13 different organisations. One of Lieutenant General Ward's main jobs will be to streamline that into two or three parts so that the security services in the Palestinian Authority can do an extremely good job and, therefore, fulfil their security-related obligations under phase I of the road map.

On Syria, I would simply say that the Government have concerns about recent allegations on Syria's involvement in activities in the region.

My Lords, the noble Baroness has described a major part of Lieutenant General Ward's role and function. Will she also comment on the need for very close security co-ordination as regards the withdrawal from Gaza?

Yes, my Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, is absolutely right. Part of the conclusion of yesterday's meeting was a commitment to ensure that there would be, certainly from the Palestinian Authority's point of view, co-ordination with the Israeli Government during that period of disengagement from Gaza and the West Bank.

Sinn Fein: White House Invitation

3 p.m.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What representations they have made to the United States State Department, or any other branch of the United States Administration, regarding invitations for Mr Martin McGuinness, Mr Gerry Adams or other members of Sinn Fein to the annual White House St Patrick's Day celebrations on 17 March.

My Lords, we have a regular dialogue with the United States Administration on a range of issues relating to Northern Ireland. During those exchanges, we have made it clear that the decision on who should attend the White House on 17 March is a matter for the US Administration alone.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply, although I am somewhat less than happy with it. Given that both the Irish and the British Governments accept that Sinn Fein/IRA are indivisible and are an organised crime machine, is it not right for Her Majesty's Government to make representation at the highest level regarding possible White House invitations on St Patrick's Day to that organisation? Furthermore, what action are Her Majesty's Government taking to address the IRA/ Sinn Fein funding streams from the United States?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, is right. The Government have said on a number of occasions, as indeed have I, that the IRA and Sinn Fein are inextricably linked. But possible White House invitations are a matter for the US Administration, although, as I said in my opening Answer, we have a regular dialogue with the United States Administration on Northern Ireland at a range of levels.

The noble Lord will be aware that concern has been expressed about the funding of political parties in Northern Ireland. We continue to consult on that. One aspect of that consultation and of the review process is talking to our colleagues in the Irish Government and others about outside funding of political parties in Northern Ireland.

My Lords, in view of the fact that the Minister has not mentioned the origin of this controversy, does she not feel that Britain is in a very strong position in this matter, given that St Patrick was born an Englishman and not an Irishman?

My Lords, I think it would be much better—in the vernacular, as it were—for me not to go there.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that St Patrick is historically credited with having driven most of the snakes from Ireland? Is it not possible that the attendance of these gentlemen at this sacred function will enable him to continue his work?

My Lords, I think that that question also is probably best left unanswered. However, I repeat the point that I made earlier. It is our view that it is a matter for the United States Administration. I understand that they will make an announcement on it shortly. The noble Lord may wish to look at some of the reports in the Irish newspapers today which speculate about who may or may not be invited to the United States.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, although the decision rests with the White House, it would be giving the right sort signal if it indicated that Sinn Fein would not be welcome on St Patrick's Day? I was reassured to hear her say that talks are ongoing about the outside funding of political parties in Northern Ireland. However, we need to put our foot on the gas as far as that matter is concerned, rather than allow it simply to drift along the normal diplomatic channels.

My Lords, I recognise the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, about funding. The noble Lord has made his concerns known both informally and formally in the Chamber. On his first point, I am sure that, before issuing invitations, the American Administration will consider all the current circumstances.

My Lords, my understanding is that no political parties will be invited this year to the St Patrick's Day event in Washington. That is not at all a bad thing, because it leaves an opening for the real people from the community in Northern Ireland, who are making the real difference, to go to these events.

My Lords, that is certainly the speculation in the newspapers that I have read. I understand that the US Administration want to focus on civic duty and civic renewal.

Children (Contact) And Adoption

3.5 p.m.

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

Moved, That the Baroness Morgan of Drefelin be appointed a member of the Select Committee in place of the Baroness Massey of Darwen.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Bbc Charter

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

Moved, That a Select Committee be appointed to consider and report on the review of the BBC Charter;

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following Lords be named of the committee:
  • L. Armstrong of Ilminster,
  • B. Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury,
  • L. Fowler (Chairman),
  • B. Gibson of Market Rasen,
  • L. Holme of Cheltenham,
  • B. Howe of Idlicote,
  • L. Kalms,
  • L. King of Bridgwater,
  • Bp. Manchester,
  • L. Maxton,
  • L. Peston,
  • B. O'Neill of Bengarve;
That the committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;

That the committee have power to adjourn from place to place; That the minutes of evidence taken before the committee from time to time shall, if the committee think fit, be printed;

That the committee do meet on Tuesday, 8 March.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Industrial Training Levy (Construction Board) Order 2005

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Filkin on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 10 January be approved [5th Report from the Joint Committee].(Lord Triesman.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Pension Protection Fund (Ppf Ombudsman) Order 2005

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions
(Baroness Hollis of Heigham)

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

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 31 January be approved [8th Report from the Joint Committee].(Baroness Hollis of Heigham.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Pension Protection Fund (Pension Compensation Cap) Order 2005

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

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 31 January be approved [8th Report from the Joint Committee](Baroness Hollis of Heigham.).

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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

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

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 9 February be approved [9th Report from the Joint Committee].(Baroness Hollis of Heigham.)

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 laid before the House on 9 February be approved [9th Report from the Joint Committee].(Baroness Hollis of Heigham.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill Hl

Read a third time; an amendment (privilege) made; Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

Bbc Charter

3.8 p.m.

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made in another place by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the future of the BBC.

"I will set out for the House the background to the current review of its Royal Charter, and our proposals set out in a Green Paper on its funding, governance and purposes. Published today, its title is A strong BBC, independent of government.

"Alongside the NHS, the BBC is one of the two great institutions of British national life. For over 80 years, it has sought to represent the highest standards of broadcasting. Its archives are a record of our national collective memory, from the coronation to the 1966 World Cup; from 'Dixon of Dock Green' to 'The Office'.

"Since the corporation's foundation, its Royal Charter has been reviewed by the Government roughly every 10 years, the last in 1996.

"Like its predecessors, this review has examined the corporation's scale and scope, its funding and governance. But this one has been unique in the level of public consultation, and in tackling perhaps the greatest challenge that the BBC has ever faced—the challenges in TV technology that will soon result in a wholly digital Britain.

"The BBC, like any public institution, needs to adapt if is to serve its audiences and keep pace with change. But its values, its global reach, its standards and its editorial independence must be preserved and strengthened; for that is what the British people want. The results of our public consultation and research are very clear.

"Overwhelmingly, the people like and trust the BBC. They understand and support the principles of public service broadcasting. They want the BBC to have scale. They want it to have the highest standards. They want it to be independent of government, Parliament or any commercial influence, and they want it to listen.

"But they also have significant criticisms: that the BBC is not responsive enough to their interests; that there has been a decline in quality—particularly in television, a tendency towards copycat programming at the expense of real innovation. Some people worry about the value for money of the licence fee, and particularly those who want, but cannot get, Freeview. Some of the BBC's commercial competitors believe that it has too much freedom to expand into new markets and stifle competition.

"We have to find a balance between meeting those concerns while ensuring that public service broadcasting leaves a footprint in every medium, a guarantee of quality, impartiality and innovation. That balance is harder to strike as the media change.

"In 1988, Britain had four television channels. Today, there are more than 400. In a few years, we will become a fully digital nation when the switchover from analogue to digital TV is made. As technology changes, so do the public's expectations. The challenges facing the BBC are enormous, as it plays a leading role in guiding the nation through this period of change. To do so it needs certainty about its future. So, after closely considering the Select Committee's alternative recommendations in this area, we have decided that the BBC's charter should be renewed for a further 10 years.

"I should like to turn now to the question of funding. The review looked at the different options for funding the BBC, and consulted the public. Perhaps surprisingly, the licence fee retains a high degree of public support and, although not perfect, we believe it remains the fairest way to fund the BBC. So it will continue throughout the next charter. In the coming months, we will decide on the right level for the fee to take after 2007. But beyond that, we have to take account of the rapid advance in technology and media consumption.

"So, during the life of the next charter, we will review the case for alternative funding models, particularly subscription, to make a contribution after 2016. We will review the risk to plurality in public service broadcasting, encompassing Channel 4's longer-term position; whether any public funding, including licence fee income, should be distributed more widely beyond the BBC in order to sustain plurality; and, if so, how any such distribution might take place.

"The old definition of the BBC's purposes as being to educate, inform and entertain still holds true. But by itself that is no longer enough in a world of ever increasing choice. So we have identified five new purposes for the BBC, which I set out in the Green Paper. In addition, the BBC will play a leading role in the process of switching Britain from analogue to digital television. It will be at the forefront of public information campaigns. It will help to manage SwitchCo, the organisation that will co-ordinate the technical process. It will help to establish and will fund schemes that help the most vulnerable consumers.

"Honourable Members will know from their own postbags that there is disquiet that, in some cases, households are expected to pay the fee when they cannot receive the full range of BBC services. That is why we think it is important that the BBC should help to drive the switchover process.

"I should like now to move to the issue of governance, where we will introduce radical change: a BBC-specific model that gives expression to the values on which the BBC is built.

"There is widespread consensus that the current model of governance is unsustainable. The governors' dual role as cheerleader and regulator does not sit easily in a public organisation of the size and complexity of the BBC. It lacks clarity and accountability. Licence fee payers need to know who is speaking up for them, and they deserve to know how important decisions are made and what influence they can exert. So the Green Paper sets out the new model which we intend to introduce—one that reflects the public value approach of the current BBC model, but which also draws significantly on Lord Burns's work.

"The BBC governors, with their dual role of managing the BBC but also holding it to account, will be replaced by two bodies, each with a clearly defined role.

"A BBC trust will be the custodian of the BBC's purpose, the licence fee and the public interest. An executive board will be accountable to the trust for the delivery of the BBC's services. The functions of the two bodies will be clearly defined, enabling the trust to judge the management's performance clearly and authoritatively.

"So the trust will have the high-level powers of approval over BBC budgets and strategy. It will have the tools to hold the BBC to account, issuing new service licences for each BBC service, and applying a public value test to proposals for new services.

"Michael Grade, whose current appointment as chairman of the BBC continues until 2008, will be the first chairman of the trust. The trust will represent the licence fee payer. To do that, it will need to listen to them and to consult them. Ways of doing this might include webcasting trust meetings, publishing audience research or electing local representative councils.

"Day-to-day management will be carried out by the executive board, which will be strengthened by a significant minority of non-executive members, and whose chair will be appointed by the trust "Over the past months, we have examined closely the changes Michael Grade has made. We have also studied the model proposed by Lord Burns for an external public service broadcasting commission.

"Our trust model builds in the strongest elements of the BBC's proposals. These include the establishment of a separate governance unit; the introduction of service licences; and the application of public value tests to new services and any major changes to existing ones.

"The BBC's proposals are a step in the right direction. But as they stand, they fall short of the accountability test because they do not resolve the confusion of the governors' dual role, and depend too much on behavioural rather than structural reform. So the BBC trust incorporates the key recommendation from Lord Burns that there should be clear separation of different responsibilities, to avoid confusion or capture.

"However, we believe that the Burns proposals for a unitary BBC board, with a government-appointed chair and an external PSB commission, also with a government-appointed chair, would fail to provide sufficient authority, clarity or distance from government. Our proposal makes sure that there is only one clear sovereign body and only one government-appointed chair. That will make the trust a powerful advocate for the public interest, able to safeguard the BBC's independence.

"But 'strong' does not mean over-mighty, and we will have to ensure that the BBC deals fairly with the wider market. The BBC's competitors have become increasingly concerned about the impact a publicly funded BBC can have on their businesses. Successive governments have allowed the BBC to be, in effect, a desirable market intervention. But we also need it to be constrained when its interests collide with the commercial sector and threaten the choice and quality of programming from other broadcasters. It should not play copycat, or chase ratings for ratings' sake.

"We do want the corporation to maximise its income from commercial services, but we also want to see a clear link between those services and its public purposes. To achieve this, the BBC will be subject to tough new internal and external processes. Ofcom will be given powers to conduct market impact assessments for proposed new services. Ofcom will retain full Competition Act powers in relation to the BBC, and in addition we will consider giving it a new power of approval over the BBC's internal code on fair trading.

"Another area of debate is the BBC's use of independent production, the balance between in-house and externally commissioned programmes. I want to ensure that the licence fee truly becomes venture capital for creativity, that it is used to put the finest talent on the air.

"Twenty-five per cent of its television productions already have to be commissioned from the independent sector, but I believe there is scope to go further. We will consider a range of options for reform in this area, including the BBC's proposals for a new 'window of creative competition' and increases in the existing quotas. Either way, I expect to see substantial progress in this area. The BBC has exclusive access to the licence fee. In return, I want it used to encourage independent productions as well as in-house.

"For radio, the BBC has adopted a voluntary 10 per cent quota. We will consult on whether that is sufficient.

"To reflect the whole of the United Kingdom and its different communities, the BBC also needs to make sure that a significant slice of production takes place outside London and it needs to provide a range of specific services for the UK's nations and regions. People should see the full diversity of the United Kingdom and their local community reflected in mainstream as well as in regional broadcasting.

"In reaching these conclusions, I am immensely grateful to Terry Burns and his panel, to Michael Grade and the BBC, to Ofcom, and most of all to the members of the public who in their thousands made their voices heard. We have endeavoured to take the best of what they have told us.

"In a changing world, values still endure. In a changing world, trust becomes ever more important in people's lives. So in our changing world this Government will secure a BBC that belongs to its licence payers and embodies the values the British people want; a BBC that promotes citizenship and builds our civil society; a BBC that promotes education and learning; a BBC dedicated to creativity and cultural excellence; a BBC that celebrates our nations, regions and communities; a BBC that brings the world to the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom to the world; a BBC which is strong, independent and securely at the heart of British broadcasting for 10 more years.

"I commend this Statement and the Green Paper to the House".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.21 p.m.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and I welcome at long last the publication of the Green Paper reviewing the BBC's Royal Charter, entitled A Strong BBC, Independent of Government. I should say straightaway that we support entirely both of those sentiments.

While we welcome the Green Paper and the Statement, our view is that the Minister has not gone far enough. We are concerned that in wanting a strong and vibrant BBC, and in accepting that the BBC faces enormous challenges in the coming years, more should have been done and could be done than is proposed in the Green Paper. In a sense, it touches the edges of what might or could be achieved in relation to charter renewal. I say this while stressing that we very much want to support what the Minister called "this great institution". We believe in a strong BBC, but the coming years will present a number of challenges, particularly in relation to technological change. The changes we have seen over the past 10 years have been fundamental to the whole broadcasting arena, and I believe that a similar breadth of change must be envisaged for the coming decade.

We congratulate the BBC on fighting off all proposals for substantial and immediate change—change that should recognise extremely rapid developments both in technology and in the number of new channels. I want also to stress my belief that charter renewal should be considered within the whole broadcasting arena, because in order to maintain a strong and vibrant BBC the corporation must endure strong and healthy competition.

The Minister said that the charter should be renewed for a period of 10 years. I know that the BBC would very much welcome that. However, it is strange that when the Government consider other organisations, particularly those in the private sector such as Camelot, a period of seven years has been seen as quite long enough to ensure certainty. We should bear that in mind.

Ten years is a long time given the pace of change, particularly in relation to digital switchover. The Minister accepts that more households are switching to digital reception every day and that people now choose to spend more of their money on what they want to see and hear. Indeed, with Ofcom proposing the start of digital switchover in 2008 and contemplating the programme being completed by 2012, it is somewhat surprising that the Government are content that the charter should be renewed for 10 years.

The process of digital switchover raises certain hugely important issues. Historically, commercial public service broadcasters have relied on their privileged access to viewers to maintain high advertising premiums and high levels of investment in public service content. Unlike the BBC, these channels do not enjoy direct public funding. They have to earn their money in the marketplace and, as the digital revolution spreads, so the privileges that have underpinned their historic investment in public service content have been eroded.

In fact, the strength of the BBC is very much dependent on the viability of these other broadcasters who inhabit the landscape. It is surprising, therefore, that the Government propose to delay a change in funding until what in effect will be 2017. In response to my honourable friend John Whittingdale in another place, the Secretary of State said that the Government would not even begin to consider new ways of funding the BBC until five or six years from now.

The income of £3 billion from the current licence fee is an enormous sum of money, and one that is increasing given that we expect 2 to 3 million homes to be built over the next decade. That factor should be taken into consideration. An income of over £3 billion, when compared with what all the other broadcasters achieve, is a very large amount. Does not the Minister accept that, given the importance of and need to sustain plurality of public service broadcasting provision, it would be much more courageous now to consider seriously how other public service broadcasting providers might be supported over the coming decade, alongside and together with the funding of the BBC? It is not right to consider charter renewal in isolation.

Does the Minister accept. in the light of all this, that it is now time to make it absolutely clear on the application form for a licence that the moneys are purely for the BBC? Let us be honest, most people assume that the fee they pay covers the television set and the provision of core services. Many do not appreciate that the licence fee is purely for the funding of the BBC.

I turn now to questions of standards and public service obligations. We believe that adherence to a strong public service obligation is crucial, and the BBC is under a duty to set high standards. A clear remit to set even higher standards for programming is needed and must be assured. In that case, does the Minister agree that such a clear remit for a stronger public service obligation is now required? It is not enough simply to object to copy-cat programming and ratings chasing.

In addition, why do the Government reject the powerful recommendation made by the Public Accounts Committee in another place that spending of the licence fee should be open to full scrutiny by the Audit Commission? If the Government are serious about improving accountability and transparency, surely that change should be made straightaway.

I listened with interest to the Minister's remarks on external regulation. He will be aware that the Conservative Party has stated on a number of occasions that proper sanctions can be enforced only by an external regulator entirely separate from the BBC. Given that, 1 welcome at long last the clear support expressed by the Government for something that we have been asking for over a long period; that is, a move to correct the system whereby the board of governors has been required to act both as the BBC's external regulator and as the top tier of management.

The governance of the BBC should be conducted by an independent board possessing the necessary levels of expertise arid experience. While we accept and are pleased that the chairman of the BBC, Michael Grade, has gone some way to distance himself from the present governors' role, will the Minister accept that that falls a long way short of having an external regulator for the BBC?

Will the Minister explain the difference between the proposed independent trustees and the new arrangements for the board of governors that Michael Grade is already putting in place? Surely those so-called independent trustees will still be a part of the BBC and will not be a truly independent body, as recommended by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, in his excellent report.

We believe that Ofcom should have the power to adjudicate on accuracy and impartiality, as it does for other broadcasters. For example, many in the commercial sector complain that there is no proper channel for dealing with abuses of the dominant position that the BBC currently enjoys, and that there continue to be a number of unfair competition practices. I should say that we know that the director-general is going some way towards correcting some of those practices.

I welcome the Minister's remarks on the use of independent production. I like the term and the idea that independent production should be supported by moneys from the licence fee and will be seen as venture capital for creativity. We support that and the new initiative for creative competition.

There is much to commend what the Minister has said. The report gives all of us much to consider in the coming months, and I hope that we will take time to consider carefully all that might be achieved in having a new charter that allows the BBC to retain its strong position as a great institution.

3.32 p.m.

My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, I welcome the commitment to a strong BBC that is independent of government. I suspect that tucked away in the Statement that has just been delivered, there are a few fundamental differences that will be teased out in the weeks and months ahead.

I hope that it will damage neither the Secretary of State nor the Minister too much to say that I found the Statement most encouraging. I shall certainly use the peroration on a BBC that promotes citizenship in my speeches in the future about the BBC that we are working for.

I congratulate the Minister, but will he acknowledge that this battle is only half won? There is some way to go before we have a BBC charter that is fit for purpose. Will he explain the timetable between the Green Paper and the charter? I welcome the appointment today of a House of Lords Select Committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, which has come on stream at just the right moment to do a good job of work.

Although I have confidence in the Secretary of State, and the Minister, there is a danger of a non-transparent Downing Street role being inserted into the process. What guarantees are there that the infamous Downing Street sofa that was so roundly condemned by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, in his report, will not be put to use in putting together the final part of the BBC's charter?

I do not share the enthusiasm for a wider role for Ofcom. I hope that the Minister will keep Ofcom to the task that Parliament gave it, which relates to competition. I have no objection to keeping the BBC up to standard on competition, but there have been constant signals from Ofcom that it yearns for a wider role and remit over the BBC. I want the Minister to confirm that the Government will resist that.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, I welcome the emphasis on roles for the independents and the regions. However, we need to keep a couple of points clearly in view. The statement that the public like and trust the BBC needs to be spelt out. I liked the Minister reminding us that successive governments have been committed to market intervention. We are not for a free market in broadcasting. For 80 years we have had the magnificent example of a public body that distorts the market massively in the public interest, and with public support. We want that distortion of the market in favour of quality and good public service broadcasting to continue.

We welcome the point about the exclusive use of the licence fee. I am suspicious of every one of the suggestions for top-slicing, bottom-slicing, or whatever. Unless we keep that unique role for the licence fee it will be undermined.

Although the points about governance are of interest, we should remember that for 80 years the governors of the BBC have not done a bad job in delivering to Britain high quality public service broadcasting. Let us be certain that what we are putting in its place will be fit for purpose, especially with the experience, which was covered by the report of the noble Lord, Lord Hutton, of systematic and sustained bullying of the BBC by Downing Street. We must ensure that the new system of governance is bully-proof.

I want to give the Minister time to respond to what I and colleagues have to say—we shall have to work out different time shares. He will have a chance to do so in the 20 minutes of general questioning.

Only in Britain could a body of such long-term success and world esteem be subject to such sustained attack. If, as the Green Paper indicates, the Government—if re-elected—will be robust in their defence of the BBC as an iron pole of the best of public service broadcasting and in setting standards for itself and others, they can rely on the full support of these Benches.

3.39 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for their responses to the Statement and the Green Paper. I hope that the House accepts that I do not need to restrict myself to two minutes in responding to them. I crave the indulgence of your Lordships if I go beyond the 20 minutes that is supposed to be allowed.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, particularly for her support for the BBC and for her agreement about the challenges of change.

I was surprised to hear her view that seven years was enough for a new charter. I thought that there had been general agreement in the consultation and research process that the BBC needed a long enough period, and 10 years seem to have worked to give it the stability and assurance it needs to operate effectively. I recognise that the world will be very different 10 years from 1 January 2007. That is why we are proposing two reviews—not threatening reviews to the BBC's 10-year period of stability, but reviews helping us to make decisions that have to be taken in the light of changes.

First, there will be a review of the future of the licence fee and whether it can be sustained by itself. That will be a review roughly half-way through the period of the licence fee, but it will take place only after the end of the charter period. Secondly, there will he a review of public service broadcasting, outwith the BBC itself. Here there are actions that may have to be taken before the end of the charter review period. It would be irresponsible not to carry out those reviews, but it would be irresponsible not to give the BBC 10 years of stability and security. People generally expect that. In any case, those two reviews will he preceded by an immediate review this year of the level of the licence fee. That is part of the consultation that will now take place.

The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, talked about funding being only for the BBC. As the Secretary of State said in the Statement, we have already indicated that the licence fee will take responsibility for some of the aspects of digital switchover. In other words, for the marketing and digital switchover, for its participation in SwitchCo—the vehicle for that—and for whatever is done to protect the needs of vulnerable people at the time of digital switchover. All of that is in addition to the existing functions of the BBC and it will come from the licence fee. Again, I think there will generally he public support for that.

The noble Baroness talked about a clearer remit for public service broadcasting in the BBC. She did not make any particular suggestions, but I have no doubt that she will participate in the subsequent consultation.

Finally, the noble Baroness talked about the view of the Public Accounts Committee. I did not think that the Public Accounts Committee was suggesting the Audit Commission would be involved. I thought it was the National Audit Office, but I may be wrong. In any case, we reached an agreement at the time of the passage of the Communications Bill, which I thought had satisfied both parties, that the National Audit Office does have a role, by agreement, in value-formoney reviews. That was enshrined in paragraph 2 of the subsequent agreement, with, I thought, all-party support. I think that we should see that through before we make any changes.

I was delighted to find the Conservative Party claiming credit for recognising that there is a conflict in governments. There is no finer form of flattery than claiming that we thought of it first. If that makes the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, happy, I am happy as well.

The noble Baroness asked what the difference is between the BBC trust, which we propose, and Michael Grade's proposals. First, there is no irreconcilable difference, because Michael Grade has indicated that what we are proposing is workable. We think that our proposals are significantly better than what was in Building Public Value last year. Our proposals are based on a formal separation of the two bodies, with total transparency of process between them. The changes that he proposed—not so much in the structure, but in the behaviour of governance—did not go far enough. The licence-fee payers will be clearer under our proposals that the trust represents their interests, holds ultimate power and is independent of BBC management. The functions and roles will be enshrined in the charter and agreement or their equivalents.

I think that upon examination the noble Baroness will find that these are significant improvements on both the models proposed to us. I am pleased to see that she is grateful for the director-general's action on accuracy and impartiality. Generally I am reassured by her support, both for the BBC and for the Government's proposals.

I am even more grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who is less equivocal in his support. He rightly says that there is some way to go. He asked me about the timetable. The consultation on the Green Paper will carry on until 31 May. Then we will have a White Paper before the end of this year. On that basis, there will be parliamentary debate on a draft charter and agreement. We have undertaken that that parliamentary debate will be no less thorough than it has been on any previous occasion.

I join the noble Lord in welcoming the establishment of a committee under the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. I am glad for all the Members who have taken part. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, is not able to be in his seat on this occasion—

He heard the Statement, yes, my Lords. Anyway, that was not meant to be a recriminatory remark. I said that the noble Lord was,

"not able to be in his seat",
not that he was deliberately avoiding it.

I am puzzled by the reference of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, to a Downing Street role. He had a distinguished career in Downing Street himself. He is obviously determined never to be any part of any political party that has anything to do with Downing Street in the future. If he would care to give me details of bullying, I would be glad to respond.

The noble Lord is against a wider role for Ofcom. I can confirm that our proposed role for Ofcom is in accordance with the original basis on which Ofcom was established under the Communications Act. 2003. On his last point about the deliberate distortion of a free market in favour of the BBC and of quality and plurality, I can only agree with him.

3.48 p.m.

My Lords, perhaps I may declare an interest as a former vice-chairman of the BBC and welcome the Statement that my noble friend Lord McIntosh has repeated this afternoon. I welcome in particular the decision to renew the charter. Unlike the Opposition. I agree that 10 years seems to be—always has been and, I am sure, will be now—an appropriate time for that renewal.

Much of the Statement—and, indeed, of the Green Paper—covers complex areas, but now is not a time to debate them. I was glad to hear from my noble friend that we will have ample opportunity to do so. I look forward to participating in such debates.

Could my noble friend confirm that the Statement that the Minister made does not consider allocating any of the licence fee elsewhere, until after 2016? In other words, the alleged statement of the noble Lord, Lord Birt, and his reported views—if they are his views—have not been accepted by the Government. Perhaps he could confirm that for us.

Would my noble friend also accept what I think was a compliment—for which I am grateful—from the noble Lord, Lord McNally, on the former work of the governors at the BBC? I believe that worked well when it was properly done. Indeed, there were two separate boards: the management board and the board of governors. Under the proposals as I understand them, the management board is effectively to be called an executive board. I am happy to see the idea of including on that board some independent members from outside the BBC. It makes a lot of sense to have non-executive members on that executive board.

I welcome what my noble friend has said today. I look forward to having an early opportunity to debate the detail.

My Lords, I am grateful for that welcome. The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, asked two questions. He asked, first, about the licence fee and whether I could give an assurance that it would not be used for other than the purposes of the BBC during the 10 years of the charter period. I cannot give that assurance. I thought I had made it clear that I was not giving such an assurance. I said in the Statement and repeated in response to noble Lords on the Opposition Front Benches that we expect the licence fee to make a contribution to the cost of digital switchover. That includes the marketing costs and what I call targeted assistance, and it includes participation in the costs of SwitchCo, the governing body.

I hope that I also made it clear that the review of the future funding of public service broadcasting which will take place towards the middle of the charter review period will look at the case for plurality, at Channel 4's longer-term position, and at whether any public funding including licence fee income should be distributed more widely beyond the BBC in order to sustain plurality and competition in public service broadcasting. I did not give any assurance that such a change would not take place before the end of the charter review period. I adhere to that position.

The noble Lord's second question was whether we had agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Birt. I know what the noble Lord, Lord Birt, said only from the newspapers. I have no indication that we agree or disagree with anything in particular that he is reported to have said.

My Lords, I welcome the Statement, particularly what was said about the trust model, which seems a sensible way forward, and about competition. However, in the course of her fairly long response, my noble friend Lady Buscombe made a particularly important point when she asked how we are to maintain the plurality of public service broadcasting. It was a little surprising that, in the Statement, when the Minister referred to measures to support the switch to digital, no reference was made to what I understand will be an important contribution by the BBC; that is, the provision of set-top boxes and satellites so that areas that cannot receive direct transmission will not be dependent on Sky and the existing satellite regime. That is an extremely important development, particularly in areas such as Wales where large parts are unable to receive direct transmission.

The Minister may have started to address my noble friend's concern in his last response on public service broadcasting and the licence fee. Unless there is some allocation of resources from the licence fee to the independent sector it is hard to see how that sector will maintain its position. I therefore hope that the Minister will be able to give some assurance that the review will take place sooner rather than later, and that we will not have to wait until the tail-end of the 10 years before we find ourselves with no competition to the BBC in public service broadcasting.

My Lords, on the noble Lord's first point, I do not think that I said anything about the provision of set-top boxes or aerials. If I did, I did not mean to. I have given no undertaking that anyone will give assistance in the provision of set-top boxes and aerials.

On the noble Lord's second point, I take it that he is agreeing with my response to the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. In other words, yes, we will carry out a review as the change-over of technology proceeds. What we have said is that we will start that review before the completion of the digital switch-over process—which for everywhere except the Channel Islands will be 2011. I made it clear that the outcome of the review could well involve changes in the use of the licence fee before the end of the 10-year charter period.

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister accept that, from the point of view of public service broadcasting, the licence fee is by far the best means of financing that activity? His announcement that it will stay for the full charter period is, therefore, extremely welcome.

However, does my noble friend also accept that, from a taxation point of view, it is a rather poor tax? It is a poll tax that bears very heavily on the poor. Therefore, when the Government consider what the level of increases in the licence fee should be, will he ensure that the most rigorous inquiries are made into the efficiency with which the BBC uses that money so that any increases can be kept as low as possible?

Yes, my Lords, I can give that assurance. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for what he said about the necessity for a 10-year period. He is entirely right. It is important that the licence fee should achieve value for money for licence fee payers. We are pleased that the BBC is already undertaking a review of its activities to ensure that value for money is achieved. That will continue to be our concern in the future.

My Lords, I also welcome the Green Paper and what noble Lords on all sides of the House have said about the BBC being a great institution in British life. The BBC is quite correctly being told to ditch its obsession with TV ratings and focus on high-quality public service programming. Can the Minister assure the House that the Government will not subsequently listen to those who attack the BBC's right to the licence fee because it is no longer aggressively fighting for ratings, a consequence of which is that its viewing figures will fall?

My Lords, that is a very good point, but I rather think that this is a debate that will never end. There is always a conflict for the BBC between the need for high-quality and varied output and ratings. From time to time, the BBC regards it as a threat if it finds itself with falling ratings. It would find it difficult to maintain the requirement for the licence fee if, ultimately, taking it to the extreme, very few people were to watch the BBC. Fortunately that is not the case. Fortunately, the BBC has been able to combine a very reasonable preservation of ratings, even in a multichannel environment, with high quality.

The important principle to which we have to look is that public service broadcasting is not simply market failure; it is good programmes of all kinds, whether they are light entertainment or high drama. They just have to be the best, whatever they are.

My Lords, I remind the Minister that, over the years, the BBC board of governors has included the chairmen of the Broadcasting Councils for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Can the Minister assure me that the trust will also have representatives from the Northern Ireland, Welsh and Scottish areas?

My Lords, that is a detail of the trust which will be a matter for consultation in the coming months. Of course we accept, and would insist, that there will have to be people on the trust who are capable of reflecting the needs of the nations and regions of this country. How that is spelt out in the membership of the trust or in the provision of, for example, advisory committees is a matter on which we are seeking views and on which we will respond in due course.

My Lords, I, too, welcome the Statement. Following the previous question about reflecting the UK's nations, regions and communities, I welcome the statement that people should see the full diversity of the UK and their local communities reflected in mainstream as well as regional programming and that a significant slice of programme production should take place outside London.

The real problem here is that, at present, although 17 per cent of the licence payers in the United Kingdom live outside England, only about 2 per cent of the programmes seen by the United Kingdom on its network television come from Northern Ireland, Wales or Scotland. It is hard to maintain that what we are watching is the "British" Broadcasting Corporation. How would the Minister propose to take this proportion—which I guess to be less than 2 per cent—up closer to the 17 per cent represented by population and by licence revenue? That is a considerable challenge for the BBC, which I hope the Minister will encourage the corporation to address.

My Lords, I am well aware of the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston. Last year, in the course of the public consultation on the charter review, I visited Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow and Edinburgh. I heard that view being widely expressed, particularly by the broadcasters themselves—among both the commercial broadcasters and BBC Wales, BBC Scotland and BBC Northern Ireland—who produce marvellous stuff, but could not get that networked. I have much sympathy with that view. In part, this is a matter of ensuring that the quality is good enough to be networked and, therefore, to meet the requirements of the noble Lord. It would certainly be legitimate for the BBC trust to take a view on this matter and to say to the Executive that something more has to be done.

My Lords, I, too, welcome the Statement and the fact that the Government are proposing a strong and independent BBC. At the risk of repetition, could the Minister reassure the House that when the wider place of public service broadcasting is debated, it will not just be the BBC's public service broadcasting which is considered? For instance, 33 per cent of ITV's output at present is public service broadcasting. That is currently—not seven or 10 years ahead—under strain and, to some extent, under threat. Yet that is a massive part of public service broadcasting in this country.

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bragg. That is exactly why I have talked about "plurality" on numerous occasions in the last three-quarters of an hour. To me, public service broadcasting is not providing the service that the people of this country require unless it comes from a variety of sources. That clearly means not just the BBC, but ITV, Channel 4, Channel Five, and so on. Indeed, there are elements of public service broadcasting in Sky—and in other channels—which are not regulated in the same way.

That is exactly why we propose to hold a review of public service broadcasting in the course of the charter period, and why we still take very seriously the Ofcom public service broadcasting review—the third phase of which was published last month. These matters are still under consideration in the latter phases of the present charter review.

My Lords, is it not clear that the standards and position of the BBC are pre-eminent in the whole world? It is the epitome of public service broadcasting; it sets the standards for other broadcasters, as we see regularly whenever we watch television or listen to the radio. Is it not also clear that the 75 per cent satisfaction rate mentioned in the Green Paper is very high, bearing in mind the amount of attention that listeners and viewers give to the works of the BBC? Therefore, must not the role of Ofcom be a limited one, because there is no reason for someone with outside interest to interfere excessively with the work of the BBC?

My Lords, I think the Statement fairly sets out the degree of public support for the BBC, which confirms what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon. The Statement also sets out areas of dissatisfaction with the BBC. I am sure that the noble Lord will recognise that there are areas where people are dissatisfied, and have some justification for being so. As for the role of Ofcom, I made clear that we are not proposing to extend that beyond what is allowed for within the Communications Act.

Education Bill Hl

4.5 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 2 [Functions of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools in England]:

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

moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 2, line 25, leave out "degree to which" and insert "extent to which those"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful to the opposition parties for their agreement to the tabling of this set of amendments to the Bill. As the House will appreciate, we have an opportunity to ensure that the Bill leaves here in the best possible shape.

Let me start by addressing the amendment relating to Clause 2 on self-evaluation, which is largely as moved on Report. At the suggestion of parliamentary counsel, we are seeking to make minor changes which do not impact on the effect of the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp.

On behaviour, we have considered in detail the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and believe that the effect of the amendment could be improved with some minor changes. First, as "behaviour" will encompass "discipline", we have omitted that one word. Secondly, while acknowledging the importance of looking at levels of truancy, we do not want to limit this duty to looking at unauthorised absence alone. The chief inspector should report on all aspects of attendance.

On the quality of inspectors, the intention behind the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, and accepted by the House, was to ensure that all additional inspectors satisfy the chief inspector that they have the necessary skills, expertise and experience to perform their functions. Our amendments, which inserted the new subparagraphs (3) and (4) in paragraph 2 to Schedule 1 were intended to cover this. As the Bill now stands, we therefore have a conflicting set of amendments.

The Bill as amended on Report requires the chief inspector to satisfy himself on every aspect of the additional inspectors' skills, before allowing them to conduct a school inspection. Our intention is that the inspection service providers will employ the additional inspectors and the performance management of these inspectors will fall to them. Were this provision to remain in its present form, it would have a detrimental affect on Ofsted's ability to deliver the inspection system within its agreed budget and significantly reduce the chief inspector's capacity to maintain a strategic leadership of the inspection system.

I therefore propose a similar amendment to be inserted before subparagraph (3) which, taken with (3) and (4), ties in the contractual arrangements while meeting the House's concern that strong emphasis be placed on the chief inspector being under a duty to ensure that additional inspectors have the necessary qualifications, experience and skills. He will do this in part by the mechanism in subparagraphs (3) and (4). Subparagraph (3), as it stands, and subparagraph (4) provide that the chief inspector shall publish a statement of the qualifications or experience required and the standards that additional inspectors are required to meet. Any arrangements that the chief inspector enters into must be made on terms that require compliance with this published statement.

On Report, the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, and the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, emphasised the importance of inspectors having the necessary skills to deliver inspections in the appropriate manner. We agree the importance of this and therefore propose adding to sub-paragraph (3) the phrase,

"the skills that they are to be required to demonstrate in the exercise of those functions".

I turn to the matter of induction of inspectors. As it stands, the Bill does not, for technical reasons, meet the intentions as described by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, and others on Report. We therefore propose a similar amendment which would place a new duty on the chief inspector, requiring him to ensure that all additional inspectors undergo an inspection to the satisfaction of an HMI before they can participate in an inspection without the supervision of an HMI.

The amendment does not specify a particular number of inspections. Ofsted is already committed to ensuring that all additional inspectors will have to undergo one or more inspections supervised by an HMI to their satisfaction. Our amendment secures that no additional inspector will be allowed to inspect unsupervised until HMI is satisfied. We believe it is right to leave to the discretion of the HMI how many supervised inspections should be required.

On publishing a list of inspectors, the Bill was to provide for a list of additional inspectors to be published annually. Again, for technical reasons, this would not meet the intentions of the House. We have therefore tabled an amendment which will ensure that the chief inspector would have to publish a list at intervals of no more than 12 months—and, indeed, he may publish this list more frequently—of the names of inspectors given to him by the inspection service providers that they intend using. I believe that the amendment fully meets the points that were raised on Report.

We hope we have demonstrated that we have listened seriously to the will of the House on all these issues. With the amendments tabled with the compliance of the opposition parties, we have sought to ensure that the Bill is in a legally sound form and can therefore move forward after Third Reading in the most efficient way possible. I thank the opposition parties for their co-operation.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for what he has said. From Second Reading onwards—certainly in Committee and on Report—we all agreed that the Ofsted inspection process should be speeded up, with a lighter touch and self-evaluation. However, we felt there were problems in the way it might operate, and my noble friend Lady Perry put those arguments very well. She sends her apologies for not being here, but is on her way to Korea, no doubt to sort out the inspection regime there. She thanks the Minister and the Government for taking a lot of the points on board. One or two matters have not been covered, such as the number of inspections in which new inspectors should participate before they become fully fledged. My noble friend said at the time that she was not sure whether three was the right figure and wanted the Government to come back with a suggestion.

I thank the Government, and accept that they have gone virtually all the way with this amendment. I realise that they had to put it in a form that makes the Bill acceptable to everyone else before it goes to the other place. I thank the Minister and the Government for reconsidering these matters and for accepting the will of the House. We support the amendment.

My Lords, we, too, feel that the Government have gone to some trouble to incorporate the spirit of the amendments that were passed on Report into their amendments. We have no objection to them and will be supporting them.

My Lords, I echo those sentiments, having sat through a number of debates on this issue. I am very pleased that the Government have listened and acted accordingly.

My Lords, had it been possible for him to have been present, my noble friend Lord Sutherland of Houndwood would have wished to thank the Government for these further amendments. As one who also spoke on them, I thought the ingenuity with which the Government, in Amendment No. 21, have replaced paragraph (2)(5) of Schedule I is the most practical and effective way of ensuring that additional inspectors are up to the job. It seems a very cost-effective, non-bureaucratic way of doing the job, and I congratulate the Government on it.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 2, line 27, leave out from "the" to "those" and insert "behaviour and attendance of pupils at"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

moved Amendment No. 3:

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—
  • (a) full consultation with the registered parents of the school,
  • (b) full consultation with the relevant parish, borough and district council in England or the community council in Wales,
  • (c) consideration of transport implications, including the future welfare and safety of children living in the area served by the school, the recurrent transport cost likely to be incurred by the local education authority, the quality and availability of other transport links and the environmental impact of the closure, including traffic congestion,
  • (d) consideration of the overall and long-term impact on the local community of closure, including the loss of the building as a community facility, and
  • (e) consideration of alternatives to closure, including the potential for federation with other local schools and the scope for transforming the school into an extended school or children's or community centre to provide an extended range of local community services.
  • (2) The relevant parish, borough and district council for the purposes of this section are those parish, borough and district councils having competence in the geographical area in which the school is located."

    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, rural schools have an importance far beyond the simple costs of bricks and mortar. They are, in many cases, the lifeblood and focus of community life, and we remain passionately convinced of their worth. That sentiment has been shared equally in your Lordships' House during the two excellent debates we have had on this subject in Committee and on Report.

    On Report I acknowledged that we needed to reflect further on the points made by the Minister and other noble Lords. In moving Amendment No. 3 we have sought to answer the valid criticisms of our earlier amendments. In her answer to me at Report, the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, spoke of the interests of children being paramount. She also explained that the interests of parents are a key consideration and that the Government had clear and widespread protocols for informing and consulting them about all proposals.

    So when I was thinking about how we could amend our amendment, I took a tour through the DfES website. I had a most enjoyable time. Eventually, I found the decision-makers' guidance, section 1. I could not find section 2, but it did not matter, because no. 52 in section 1 is the guidance on rural schools and sites. Although I read this section several times, I could find no mention of a requirement to consult with parents. This may happen in best practice but it certainly is not, as far as I could see, a necessity in the guidelines. However, under this section there were a number of excellent criteria that decision-makers must have carefully considered before closure of a rural school.

    Your Lordships may remember that on Second Reading I extended a warm welcome to a number of clauses that had been copied straight from the Conservative Acts of 1994 and 1996. In this amendment, we thought we would repay the compliment, so if a good deal of it is familiar to Ministers, it is because, from paragraph (c) to paragraph (e), it comes almost word for word from the decision-makers' guidance. We have added the requirement to consult parents and democratically elected local councillors.

    Throughout the Bill's proceedings, we have been struggling to find something that goes a little further than presumption against closure but does not leave the decision in the hands of too few people. We hope that with this amendment we have the balance right. There can be no doubt that the issue of the closure of rural schools is as important as it is sensitive. I beg to move.

    4.15 p.m.

    My Lords, we on these Benches support the amendment. My very first political campaign, before I was really political, was to try to keep a small rural school open, not because my children went there but because they might go there. The only improvement I might have wanted for this amendment is to consider the parents of children who are not quite old enough to go to the school but might choose to go there in a couple of years. However, that might seem a little excessive to your Lordships.

    We were very happy to work closely with the Conservative Front Bench on putting this amendment together. Indeed, I believe it was we who suggested consultation with individual democratically elected councillors. I think it was clear that we were not keen on supporting the previous version of this amendment; despite the fact that we very much agreed with the spirit and the principle, we could not live with the wording. This we can live with, and we support it enthusiastically.

    My Lords, I support this amendment, but I hope very much that it will not be assumed that it has been put forward entirely with parents and rural communities in mind. I entirely agree with what has been said about the importance of the school in a village or rural community. However, I emphasise how tremendously important it is for the local children as well. The argument in respect of the best interests of the children is also supported by the amendment.

    A school that has the enthusiastic support of parents and the whole community is the best possible environment in which to learn. It is extremely important that primary school children in particular have continuity. Schools should, on the whole, be small, so that children know their neighbours and contemporaries in the community.

    I support the amendment not only because such schools are central to their community but because they are best for the children.

    My Lords, before I speak to the amendment, I should like, without erring and straying like a lost shepherd too much, to avoid letting this week pass without noting the impending retirement of my noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby. He has been a good friend of education in his diocese and beyond. His quiet, wise and business-like way of bishoping—which is in stark contrast to anything that could be said about me—has been appreciated here and elsewhere.

    The amendment has been doing the rounds and there has been an engaging relentlessness about the particular issue of rural schools and how their future should be determined. The House will have heard my agnosticism in Committee and that of my noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry on Report. Now we have before us an extended version. But I fear that for my money it is not sufficiently extended to everyone who could be consulted to be listed—except, in my own case, the local diocese; and, by further extension, other ecclesiastical and religious authorities.

    There is some irony here in view of the sheer number of Church of England primary schools: they form one quarter of the total. However, in our politically correct age the last thing we must ever do is mention what the established Church gets up to—but I do not want to labour that point. Lest it be said that the Bishops were not in their place, I assure your Lordships that I have been assured that either I or one of my colleagues have been in the House for every stage of the Bill. However, I do not want any kind of edge to be read into what I have just said.

    The point that my noble friend raised from these Benches on Report should be paramount—namely, the educational viability of a school. I have clergy in the Portsmouth diocese who help to run schools of various shapes and sizes. Nearly all of them are strongly community oriented. As your Lordships can tell from the way in which I am speaking, I am in something of a dilemma. However, at the end of the day, I do not think that the amendment is in the best interests of the children concerned. On balance the safeguards already in the Bill, although perhaps not quite enough, are better than those in the amendment. Therefore, I reluctantly and respectfully would resist it.

    My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken. We had thoughtful, even passionate, debates about the issue at every stage. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, began by saying that she was passionately convinced about the worth of rural schools. Amen, my Lords—we are all passionately convinced of the worth of rural schools; we are absolutely at one. We have established that there is widespread agreement between us on their importance and that there is support across the House for what has been done in policy and practice across England and Wales to secure what we can. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for reminding us that this is all about the interests of the children and getting right the balance of those interests. That ethical concern inspired not least the changes brought forward in the amendment. We are grateful for the assiduous way in which the noble Baroness has tried to reconcile some of our concerns and to table an amendment that we can discuss further.

    We have some sympathy with the revised amendment. It identifies one area where we can certainly strengthen guidance and points to other areas. On the latter, I hope I can reassure all noble Lords that not only does very recent guidance, to which the noble Baroness referred, match their concerns; it is better, more appropriate and more effective to have those requirements in guidance rather than pinned on to the Bill, as the amendment seeks. Perhaps I may explain why. There are issues of principle and of practice. We are deliberately moving towards a more light-touch regulatory regime. Throughout the debate on the Bill my noble friend and I have referred many times to why we think that it is important. I believe that we have the House's support on that point. We all want to let schools and authorities get on with what they have to do.

    To that end, while the amendment sets out a list of specific persons to be consulted, we believe that it is more appropriate to keep that in guidance than in legislation, not least where it can be easily amended and extended. The right reverend Prelate just gave us the example that the diocesan authorities have been left out of the list. It is possible to amend the provision in guidance; it would be a much greater and slower task if we had to introduce primary legislation to do so. That is an instance of why we have to be careful of not why but how we do things in legislation.

    We have a robust legislative framework for the requirement on the consideration on closures. Section 29(4) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 states:
    "Before publishing any proposals under this section, the relevant body shall consult such persons as appear to them to be appropriate; and in discharging their duty under this subsection the relevant body shall have regard to any guidance given from time to time".

    The noble Baroness has been assiduous in checking on the website. I understand some of the difficulties in manoeuvring and negotiating through it. She may have found—it was probably tucked away at the back—the additional specific guidance on consultation that is appended to the guidance for decision makers, which looks at those who must be consulted about statutory proposals. I will certainly give her the full hard copy. Among a long list in paragraph (13), it includes parents of pupils at feeder primary schools and those who live or have children attending a school in the area of an adjoining education authority. The statutory guidance makes it clear that all those who bring forward proposals have to consult parents and teachers.

    We want this provision in guidance because guidance works. As I mentioned on Report, the average number of closures of rural schools in England has been reduced from 30 per year to only 5 per year. In Wales, which has a far greater proportion of rural schools, we are getting parents signed up to the reasons for closures for the reasons outlined by the right reverend Prelate.

    The guidance is working because it is being observed. I t does not have the force of statute, but local authorities and decision-makers know that if they ignore it their decisions are much more susceptible to successful legal action. That is a major deterrent. They are not bound by guidance, but they must have an extremely good reason to act otherwise. We have found that local authorities and decision-makers are almost always keen to abide by guidance.

    What the guidance does not do—this is where the noble Baroness has hit on a gap towards which the amendment directs us—is specifically mention parish, borough and district councils. Although I know that many local authorities consult minor authorities—and of course they can make their views known—we are very happy to give an undertaking that we will fill the gap and amend the statutory guidance to include specific consultation of parish, borough and district councils and community councils in Wales.

    Other aspects of the amendment refer to consultation and consideration, which, as the noble Baroness said, is set out in our guidance. We strengthened the statutory guidance in respect of rural primary schools as recently as last October and made reference to the need for careful consideration of transport implications, including welfare and safety; the recurrent cost to LEAs of transporting pupils to schools further away; the quality and availability of transport links; the effect on road traffic congestion; and the environmental costs.

    In relation to proposed new paragraphs (d) and (e), we also insisted that decision-makers must consider the overall and long-term impact on local people and the community of closure of the village school and of the loss of the building as a community facility; and, in paragraph (e), alternatives to closure including the potential for federation with other schools; and the scope for extended schools or children's centres. There is a lot of detail in guidance. That is why this should be dealt with in guidance. It has to be kept under review and bed down. It has been in place for only three or four months and has to be tested in practice.

    The guidance is under constant review. I hope that the noble Baroness will take this in the spirit in which it is meant. We are happy to give a commitment to look again carefully and consider whether other aspects could be strengthened. As I said, we will certainly amend it in relation to the minor authority.

    I have to draw two problem areas to your Lordships' attention. I have to return to Wales because the amendment sweeps up Wales. Education in Wales is a devolved matter. We must think long and hard before imposing any changes on Wales, no matter how benign we think they are, especially when they relate to challenges that are different in terms of educational choice that are more marked in Wales than in England.

    I know that noble Lords would agree that when Parliament passed the Government of Wales Act 1998 devolving functions in relation to education and other matters to the National Assembly, the intention was that the devolved Administration should be able to chart its own course in these matters, to arrange and conduct its affairs in Wales in ways that reflect the needs of its people and communities. This is the essence of the settlement; this is the nature of devolution. It would be against this principle for us to legislate in such a detailed manner, here at Westminster, for the people of Wales. That would he the effect of the amendment: it would override regulations and guidance made and issued in Cardiff. I shall not rehearse my comments about Wales and why it was different, because that stands on the record in detail.

    I have to say that the amendment is seriously flawed in several respects. The right reverend Prelate drew attention to one of these. I shall point out a few more problems that would be created if it were incorporated. First, Section 29 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 deals with closures, so the amendment should relate to the provisions of that section.

    Secondly, and more seriously, it is not clear on whom the duty is placed to consult and consider the various implications. Is it placed on those bringing forward the proposals or on the local decision maker? That ambiguity could cause serious difficulty.

    Thirdly, another area of potential confusion is over the term "full" which adds nothing to the concept of consultation, but which might lead to extremely lively arguments about whether there has indeed been "full consultation". It is different from the simple reference to "consultation" used elsewhere in school organisation legislation.

    Finally, any such changes to legislation would have to involve transitional arrangements so that proposals that had been properly consulted on and considered under current legislation would not have to start again under the new arrangements.

    I hope that I have stressed the positive spirit in which we have received this debate at various stages of the Bill. We are sympathetic to all the concerns raised. We have addressed them in policy and in practice. I hope, however, that what I have proposed meets with the good will of the House and that it will also take into consideration the difficulties with which the amendment will present us. The noble Baroness has been a most assiduous champion, but I hope that she will now feel able to withdraw her amendment.

    My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for, as always, her thoughtful and full reply. I apologise to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth for having missed out the need to consult the Churches.

    My Lords, no apology is needed. There was no edge in what I said.

    My Lords, anyway, it was a huge oversight and I still proffer my apologies. The right reverend Prelate also said in Committee that he would resist the temptation to support it and I am sorry that we have not been able even to tempt him that little bit more.

    I have a great deal of sympathy with what the Minister said about strengthening the guidance. However, I had difficulty wading my way through and trying to find the guidance and I do think that it would be better to have it on the face of the Bill. I accept that the amendment might not be technically perfect. I accept that it might not be in the right place; but, undoubtedly, the Government could take it away, as they did with the Ofsted amendments, tidy it up, make it look pretty and put it in the right place. On that basis, I would like to test the will of the House.

    4.33 p.m.

    On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 3) shall be agreed to?

    Their Lordships divided: Contents, 138; Not-Contents, 136.

    Division No. 1

    CONTENTS

    Addington, L.Forsyth of Drumlean, L.
    Alderdice, L.Garden, L.
    Ashcroft, L.Gardner of Parkes, B.
    Attlee, E.Geddes, L.
    Avebury, L.Glenarthur, L.
    Baker of Dorking, L.Glentoran, L.
    Barker, B.Goodhart, L.
    Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, B.Greengross, B.
    Bradshaw, L.Hamwee, B.
    Bramall, L.Hanningfield, L.
    Bridgeman, V.Harris of Richmond, B.
    Brougham and Vaux, L.Henley, L.
    Buscombe, B.Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.
    Byford, B.Holme of Cheltenham, L.
    Campbell of Alloway, L.Hooper, B.
    Carlisle of Bucklow, L.Howard of Rising, L.
    Colwyn, L.Howarth of Breckland. B.
    Cope of Berkeley, L.[Teller]Howe, E.
    Cox, B.Howe of Aberavon, L.
    Crickhowell, L.Howell of Guildford, L.
    Darcy de Knayth, B.Hunt of Wirral, L.
    Dean of Harptree, L.Hurd of Westwell, L.
    Denham, L.Hylton, L.
    Dholakia, L.Kimball, L.
    Dixon-Smith, L.Kingsland, L.
    Dundee, E.Knight of Collingtree, B.
    Dykes, L.Laird, L.
    Eccles of Moulton, B.Lang of Monkton, L.
    Elliott of Morpeth, L.Lester of Herne Hill, L.
    Elton, L.Linklater of Butterstone, B.
    Erroll, E.Liverpool, E.
    Falkland, V.Livsey of Talgarth, L.
    Falkner of Margravine, B.Luke, L.
    Fookes, B.Lyell, L.

    McColl of Dulwich, L.Redesdale, L.
    MacGregor of Pulliam Market,Rees, L.
    L.Roberts of Conwy, L.
    Mackay of Clashfern, L.Roberts of Llandudno, L.
    Mackie of Benshie, L.Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
    McNally, L.Roper, L.
    Maddock, B.Rotherwick, L.
    Mar and Kellie, E. [Teller]Russell-Johnston, L.
    Masham of Ilton, B.Ryder of Wensum, L.
    Mayhew of Twysden, L.Sandberg, L.
    Methuen, L.Sandwich, E.
    Michie of Gallanach, B.Seccombe, B.
    Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.Selsdon, L.
    Miller of Hendon, B.Sharp of Guildford, B.
    Molyneaux of Killead, L.Shaw of Northstead, L.
    Monson, L.Shutt of Greetland, L.
    Montrose, D.Skelmersdale, L.
    Morris of Bolton, B.Smith of Clifton, L.
    Mowbray and Stourton, L.Steel of Aikwood, L.
    Murton of Lindisfarne, L.Swinfen, L.
    Neuberger, B.Taverne, L.
    Newby, L.Thomas of Gresford, L.
    Noakes, B.Thomas of Walliswood, B.
    Northesk, E.Thomson of Monifieth, L.
    Northover, B.Tope, L.
    Norton of Louth, L.Tordoff, L.
    O'Cathain, B.Ullswater, V.
    Onslow, E.Waddington, L.
    Park of Monmouth, B.Wade of Chorlton, L.
    Pearson of Rannoch, L.Wallace of Saltaire, L.
    Peyton of Yeovil, L.Walmsley, B.
    Phillips of Sudbury, L.Warnock, B.
    Pilkington of Oxenford, L.Wilcox, B.
    Platt of Writtle, B.Willoughby de Broke, L.
    Razall, L.Windlesham, L.

    NOT-CONTENTS

    Acton, L.Desai, L.
    Amos, B. (Lord President of theDixon, L.

    Council)

    Donoughue, L.
    Andrews, B.Drayson, L.
    Archer of Sandwell, L.Dubs, L.
    Ashton of Upholland, B.Evans of Parkside, L.
    Bach, L.Evans of Temple Guiting, L.
    Barnett, L.Falconer of Thoroton, L. (Lord
    Bassam of Brighton, L.

    Chancellor)

    Berkeley, L.Falkender, B.
    Bernstein of Craigweil, L.Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
    Billingham, B.Faulkner of Worcester, L.
    Bledisloe, V.Filkin, L.
    Blood, B.Fyfe of Fairfield, L.
    Borrie, L.Gale, B.
    Boston of Faversham, L.Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
    Bragg, L.Giddens, L.
    Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.Gilbert, L.
    Brookman, L.Golding, B.
    Brooks of Tremorfa, L.Goldsmith, L.
    Burlison, L.Goudie, B.
    Campbell-Savours, L.Gould of Potternewton, B.
    Carter, L.Grenfell, L.
    Chorley, L.Grocott, L. [Teller]
    Christopher, L.Harrison, L.
    Clark of Windermere, L.Hart of Chilton, L.
    Clarke of Hampstead, L.Haskel, L.
    Clinton-Davis, L.Haworth, L.
    Cohen of Pimlico, B.Hayman, B.
    Colville of Culross, V.Henig, B.
    Corbett of Castle Vale, L.Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.
    Crawley, B.Hollis of Heigham, B.
    David, B.Howells of St. Davids, B.
    Davies of Oldham, L. [Teller]Howie of Troon, L.
    Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.Hoyle, L.
    Dearing, L.Hughes of Woodside, L.
    Derby, Bp.Hunt of Kings Heath, L.

    Janner of Braunstone, L.Portsmouth, Bp.
    Jones, L.Prys-Davies, L.
    Jordan, L.Rea, L.
    Judd, L.Rendell of Babergh, B.
    King of West Bromwich, L.Rosser, L.
    Kirkhill, L.Rowlands, L.
    Layard, L.Royall of Blaisdon, B.
    Lea of Crondall, L.Sainsbury of Turville, L.
    Leitch, L.St. John of Bletso, L.
    Lipsey, L.Sheldon, L.
    Listowel, E.Simon, V.
    Lockwood, B.Slim, V.
    Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.Snape, L.
    McDonagh, B.Stone of Blackheath, L.
    Macdonald of Tradeston, L.Taylor of Blackburn, L.
    McIntosh of Haringey, L.Tenby, V.
    McIntosh of Hudnall, B.Tomlinson, L.
    MacKenzie of Culkein, L.Triesman, L.
    Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.Truscott, L.
    McKenzie of Luton, L.Tunnicliffe, L.
    Marsh, L.Turnberg, L.
    Massey of Darwen, B.Turner of Camden, B.
    Maxton, L.Wall of New Barnet, B.
    Mitchell, L.Walpole, L.
    Morris of Aberavon, L.Warner, L.
    Morns of Manchester, L.Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
    Moser, L.Weatherill, L.
    Parekh, L.Whitaker, B.
    Paul, L.Wilkins, B.
    Pendry, L.Williams of Elvel, L.
    Pitkeathley, B.Woolmer of Leeds, L.
    Plant of Highfield, L.Young of Norwood Green, L.

    Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

    4.44 p.m.

    moved Amendment No. 4:

    After Clause 70, insert the following new clause—

    "CLOSURE OF SPECIAL SCHOOLS: STATUTORY CONSULTATION

    No local authority in England or Wales shall close a special school without first consulting—
  • (a) all local authorities that send pupils to the special school in question, and
  • (b) all registered parents of registered pupils in attendance at the special school in question."
  • The noble Lord said: My Lords, with Amendment No. 4 we return to the emotive and sensitive issue of the closure of special schools. We discussed this issue at considerable length in Committee and on Report. The debate showed that there is widespread support for the work undertaken by such schools and they are valued and held in regard by parents and pupils alike. I pay tribute to the outstanding, and often challenging, work undertaken by many dedicated professionals who work in such schools. Without such individuals and their skills and commitment, it would not be possible for any of these schools to exist.

    Throughout the stages of the Bill, we have stressed that the most important factor in the debate is the education and welfare of these young people. None of us disagree with that. We cannot afford to get this issue wrong. Despite the support in Committee on this issue, we still have serious reservations about the Government's existing policy. We feel that it could be flawed. There is a danger that the policy of inclusion has gone too far and too fast. We on these Benches want to ensure that children with disabilities or learning problems are not suffering educationally from that policy. We believe that every child deserves to be treated in the most appropriate learning environment, whatever that might be, and should expect it.

    There is concern because in 1983 there were 1,562 special schools in England but that figure has deceased by more than 400 in the past few years. Yet the number of children with the most severe needs in mainstream schools has gone up by 49 per cent in the past decade. I am sure that noble Lords are aware that about a quarter of pupils will suffer from some form of special needs—whether a passing behavioural problem or severe permanent disability—during the course of their schooling. Teachers in mainstream schools are often finding it difficult to cope with an increasing number of pupils with special needs.

    We are under no illusion about the sensitivity of this question, but we all have an obligation to do everything we possibly can to make certain that children with special needs receive the best possible care and education. However, it must be realised that some children with very severe conditions will never be able to be incorporated in mainstream schools and that that should not be attempted. That is why we must protect the variety of special schools and the excellent work that they do.

    I thank the Minister for his contribution to the debate. As he said several times, it is his day job. I am sure that he will have something to say a little later. He has brought clarity to a difficult area.

    There is some way to go before we are content to let this issue pass. That is why we restructured our amendment after the last debate. Many schools are multi-authority. As we heard in the last debate, many schools are multi-authority and a local authority could close a school serving several local authorities. That would deprive those local authorities which could be short of placements. We are also concerned about the consultation of parents when children come to such schools from a wide area. I have recent experience of that: my own authority did not consult widely enough and did not consult all the parents of pupils in one of its schools.

    So, we should like serious consideration to be given to a relatively mild amendment, which provides that, before any potential closure of a special school takes place, all local authorities that send children to that school should be involved and consulted and all the parents should be involved in that consultation.

    On Report I said that I was in the middle of a difficult problem relating to the consultation of parents. In fact, I spent much of this morning on that. The parents at these schools receive tremendous support from the schools, but they have often had to fight to get what they have. A mistake in our system is that many of these parents feel that they have to fight and fight again to get the school they want for their child. Somehow we must get over that. I have been trying to wrestle with that this morning, so I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says. Somehow we have got the matter slightly wrong. We do not put parents high enough on the agenda. That is why I tabled the amendment.

    Even if the amendment is not technically correct, I hope that the Government will accept that we should involve the parents and all the local authorities, and that we should be more reluctant than we have been to go down the road of closing special schools. Provision and needs change, but I see no necessity to reduce the number of special schools even if some of the requirements are different. So, I hope that the House will accept the amendment. I beg to move.

    My Lords, these Benches would like to support the Conservatives on this amendment. We had a number of reservations about earlier amendments that they put forward because we felt they placed too much emphasis on referring closures to the Secretary of State. We were unhappy with that. The new amendment, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said, is a very mild amendment, merely asks that any closure should be discussed with all parents and all local authorities who send pupils to that school.

    We argue that that is merely good practice and that we would expect any proposed closure to be discussed with those two partners. So the amendment is really only a prompt for good practice. I have no doubt whatever that, as with the previous amendment, the Minister will tell us that we have no need to have this prompt in the Bill because the provision is already in guidance and that the guidance is adequate and more flexible.

    The amendment is sufficiently broad in asking for all parents of children registered at the school and all local authorities involved with sending pupils to the school to be consulted. It does not need any extra flexibility.

    The case for having the prompt on the face of the Bill is, first, that not all local authorities adhere to good practice. When local authorities' budgets are being squeezed as much as they are, many local authorities are only too anxious to find economies where they can.

    We all know that providing facilities for those with special educational needs, particularly for those with both physical and learning difficulties, can be extremely expensive. Some authorities look at the money they spend on special schools and at the amount spent on each pupil and say, "Surely, we can find economies here?". Sometimes they can find economies, and sometimes that is right.

    These Benches supported the Government throughout the debates on the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Bill on their inclusion agenda because we agree that, by and large, where possible it is better to include children within daily school routines rather than to put them in special schools.

    There are some occasions when special schools are necessary. The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, sits behind me. She uses the term "fragile" children. These children may not have major disabilities but they cannot cope with the rough and tumble of an ordinary school environment. They are not the only ones. There are some children whose disabilities are so great that they need a special school.

    The Government have never really provided the money necessary to carry out that inclusion agenda. So one sympathises with local authorities when they want to close these facilities, but nevertheless it is necessary that they should carry out a very careful consultation and analysis of whether they really should keep the facility open.

    Secondly, it is also true that local authorities which run special schools do not always recognise that other local authorities are involved. Many special schools have been closed. The schools are often run for a group of local authorities. Yet when such decisions are made, it is a matter for one local authority's budget. Therefore, they forget that others are involved. We feel this prompt on the face of the Bill is worth while and we therefore support the Conservatives on the amendment.

    My Lords, perhaps I may intervene briefly. When we previously discussed the matter, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, argued against the amendment because it placed the responsibility on the Secretary of State. He argued convincingly that it was unrealistic to expect the Secretary of State to be able to take good decisions for the whole country from his office.

    The amendment struck me as being no more than you would expect should be done as a matter of course. I was particularly moved by the description of these children as "fragile" children. I think that it is right sometimes to raise the banner for some particular vulnerable groups. The amendment does just that.

    My Lords, I also support the amendment. The Minister has introduced a general clause into the Bill which requires that looked-after children—another very special group of children—are given preference over other pupils because they are moved around to such an extent. This is another example of a very special, fragile group of children, where there is a feeling that, perhaps for very good reasons, the Government have gone a little too far in wishing to close the schools and have special units within mainstream schools. It is for that reason that I hope they will consider accepting the amendment.

    My Lords, I rise to support what the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and others have said in favour of the amendment.

    My Lords, I too would like to support the amendment. Wherever possible, disabled children should be in mainstream schools. But there are some children, as has been said—and I think particularly of those who are deaf and blind—who are extraordinarily disabled. The teachers are marvellous. They say that the children can always learn something, and they have the special skills needed to deal with very disabled children. Parents need choice.

    My Lords, I am almost tempted to shock the House by saying that I also would want to support the amendment, given the chorus. That is except for the rather good reason that it is already the current system. I do not want us to over-excite ourselves and think that were we so unpersuaded by my arguments, the world would change much if the provision was passed.

    I start by addressing a few misapprehensions because it is important that our debates are informed by facts rather than perhaps by misunderstanding. There has not been a substantial reduction in maintained special schools. They have reduced by about 90 since 1997. Much more significantly, the number of places in maintained special schools has hardly reduced at all since 1997.

    The implication that the Government have an agenda to close special schools is untrue. We are clear that special schools in the maintained, non-maintained and independent sectors form an important part of the overall provision available for children with special educational needs. We firmly believe that special schools have an important ongoing role within the overarching framework of inclusion, educating pupils with severe and complex educational needs. They also provide outreach support to maintained schools using their expertise in SEN to support the development of good SEN teaching in mainstream schools. We are clear about this issue and we are strong on it. It is what Removing Barriers makes clear.

    5 p.m.

    I will turn to the specifics of the amendment, and then return to some of the points that were made in our previous debate and touched upon again this time—good points, I thought, about regional planning and how we ensure that there is proper provision that spans needs wider than the individual local authority.

    The amendment is unnecessary because there is already a statutory requirement for local authorities to consult widely when they propose to discontinue a maintained special school; more widely, in fact, than the amendment would require. They must do this both before publication of a decision—in other words, when they are thinking about whether they should close a school—and after they have decided to do so. The requirement to consult is already in primary legislation—Section 31 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.

    The guidance in England containing DfES circular 15/99 specifies who should be consulted prior to the decision to close, including the parents of pupils at the school, wherever they come from, and any local authority that maintains a statement in relation to a child attending the school—exactly the point that the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, rightly draws attention to. Other local authorities could be affected by the decision. That is already covered. Local authorities are obliged to consult others but I will not weary the House by setting those out. If the local authority then decides that it wishes to close a special school, again, it must consult such other persons as prescribed in regulations and send them a copy of the proposals. Those to be consulted include each authority that maintains a statement in respect of a registered pupil in the school. It also covers the registered parents of each registered pupil at the school. These points are already covered in statute and in regulations.

    The decision on closure of a special school cannot be made by a local authority in this country. It can be made only by the school organisation committee, which is again required by regulations to consider the views that have been made to it by anyone as part of the consultation process, or anyone who makes representations to it, as part of its decision. The committee must take account of the views of parents and other local residents, and the views of any local education authority affected by the proposals. So what the House is debating is already there in statute, regulation and guidance.

    There is an extensive list of people who are required to be consulted, as your Lordships would expect. It is common sense that this is what should happen. The requirement to consult is statutory and goes further than the need to consult parents. If a school organisation committee's decision then goes to an adjudicator, the adjudicator also has to consider all the representations made by people affected by that decision. There is a hearing at that point as well.

    On the second day of Report important points were made about the need for a regional overview of special school provision. I agree with that; it is right and necessary. Let me put to the House for the first time what we are doing on that.

    I have asked the special educational needs advisers to support a more consistent application by local authorities of the approaches set out in Removing Barriers to Achievement, published last year. They send out clear messages to local authorities on their strategy to meet special educational needs. As part of the initial discussions, they have already visited all the local authorities in England. I have asked them to establish the position in each local authority regarding the development of special schools—in other words, the current provision of special schools in their areas, any present plans for changing the provision in their areas, and whether they have any future plans to change. I will be meeting with those advisers in about a month's time, before Easter, to discuss with them the picture that they tell me, so that I am sure I have my finger on exactly what is happening across England in total and can therefore take a clear view of the situation nationwide.

    We are going further than that. We have already set in motion a national audit of specialist provision of support on a region-by-region basis. It is an audit of low-incidence special educational needs. The House will understand why. If the incidence is high, we can expect it to be dealt with locally. We should be concerned about low incidence. Again, the specialist advisers are tracking this. They are looking at provision nationwide and I expect them to report back to me by September 2005. That audit will establish how local authorities meet the needs of children in an area with low-incidence SEN. It will explore gaps in service support and provision, and how those gaps are being addressed. I will then be meeting them to discuss what that says in terms of whether local authorities are planning sensibly for how provision in their area might meet with regional needs.

    If I find issues that cause me concern in either of the two reviews I have indicated, I will be seeking, both through my SEN advisers and through direct ministerial discussions, to talk to local authorities to ensure that we stimulate sensible planning for provision of special schools generally, and for low-incidence needs in particular.

    I hope that is helpful. I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, raised good questions earlier and she deserved a proper answer. That is the process that is under way.

    I would be delighted to support the amendment were it not for the fact that what it seeks is already in statute, regulations and guidance. I do not believe we should legislate twice.

    My Lords, I am afraid I do not quite agree with the Minister on the way that the guidance is currently worded. It is not firm enough on consultation with parents. One could get away with simply calling a meeting of parents, which is what happens. Therefore all the parents are not consulted fully.

    We have had an interesting debate. I support what the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said. It is important that we fly the flag for these schools, for these young people and, as I said earlier, for the parental support that they get. As the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, said, we have looked at other parts of this legislation, and there is not really anything in it about special educational needs. Whether the Minister knows it or not, there is fear among parents. We saw one accost the Prime Minister only two weeks ago—that was about a special school in my local authority that is not likely to close.

    My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, for giving way.

    I am well aware that there is anxiety, which is why I was as clear as I possibly could be in putting on the record the Government's policy in this respect. The policy is not to say to local authorities "You are expected to close your special schools", but to meet best the needs of children with special educational needs. That is why I also laboured the point about how thorough the process of consultation is, and how I intend to ensure that there is thoughtfulness in local authorities in how they plan their provision in the future.

    My Lords, I thank the Minister for that. I was going to thank him for the latter part of his contribution, where he set out some of the things he is doing to raise awareness of the issue, so that parents are more assured about the Government's intentions regarding the education and support of their children. I do not think the parent consultation part of the legislation is strong enough at present, and I should like the Government to strengthen it. Therefore, I should like to test the feeling of the House.

    5.10 p.m.

    On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 4) shall be agreed to?

    Their Lordships divided: Contents, 148; Not-Contents, 126.

    Division No. 2

    CONTENTS

    Addington, L.Howe of Idlicote, B.
    Ashcroft, L.Howell of Guildford, L.
    Astor of Hever, L.Hunt of Wirral, L.
    Attlee, E.Hurd of Westwell, L.
    Avebury, L.Hylton, L.
    Barker, B.Jenkin of Roding, L.
    Bledisloe, V.Kimball, L.
    Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, B.King of Bridgwater, L.
    Bradshaw, L.Knight of Collingtree, B.
    Bridgeman, V.Lang of Monkton, L.
    Brougham and Vaux, L.Lester of Herne Hill, L.
    Buscombe, B.Linklater of Butterstone, B.
    Byford, B.Listowel, E.
    Campbell of Alloway, L.Liverpool, E.
    Carlile of Berriew, L.Livsey of Talgarth, L.
    Carlisle of Bucklow, L.Luke, L.
    Clement-Jones, L.Lyell, L.
    Colville of Culross, V.McColl of Dulwich, L.
    Colwyn, L.MacGregor of Pulham Market,
    Cope of Berkeley, L.L.
    Cox, B.Mackay of Clashfern, L.
    Craigavon, V.Mackie of Benshie, L.
    Crickhowell, L.McNally, L.
    Darcy de Knayth, B.Maddock, B.
    Dean of Harptree, L.Mar and Kellie, E.
    Dearing, L.Marlesford, L.
    Denham, L.Marsh, L.
    Dholakia, L.Masham of Ilton, B.
    Dixon-Smith, L.Mayhew of Twysden, L.
    Dundee, E.Methuen, L.
    Dykes, L.Michie of Gallanach, B.
    Eccles of Moulton, B.Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.
    Elliott of Morpeth, L.Miller of Hendon, B.
    Elton, L.Monson, L.
    Erroll, E.Montrose, D.
    Falkland, V.Morris of Bolton, B.
    Falkner of Margravine, B.Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
    Flather, B.Neuberger, B.
    Fookes, B.Newby, L.
    Forsyth of Drumlean, L.Noakes, B.
    Freeman, L.Northesk, E.
    Garden, L.Northover, B.
    Gardner of Parkes, B.Norton of Louth, L.
    Geddes, L.O'Cathain, B.
    Glenarthur, L.Onslow, E.
    Glentoran, L.Park of Monmouth, B.
    Goodhart, L.Pearson of Rannoch, L.
    Greengross, B.Peyton of Yeovil, L.
    Greenway, L.Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
    Hamwee, B.Platt of Writtle, B.
    Hanningfield, L.Razzall, L.
    Harris of Richmond, B.Redesdale, L.
    Henley, L.Rees, L.
    Holme of Cheltenham, L.Renton, L.
    Howard of Rising, L.Roberts of Conwy, L.
    Howarth of Breckland, B.Roberts of Llandudno, L.
    Howe, E.Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
    Howe of Aberavon, L.Roper, L.

    Rotherwick, L.Tenby, V.
    Russell-Johnston, L.Thomas of Gresford, L.
    Sandberg, L.Thomas of Walliswood, B.
    Sandwich, E.Thomson of Monifieth, L.
    Seccombe, B. [Teller]Tope, L.
    Selsdon, L.Tordoff, L.
    Sharp of Guildford, B. [Teller]Ullswater, V.
    Shaw of Northstead, L.Vallance of Tummel, L.
    Shutt of Greetland. L.Waddington, L.
    Skelmersdale, L.Wallace of Saltaire, L.
    Slim, V.Walmsley, B.
    Smith of Clifton, L.Walpole, L.
    Stewartby, L.Warnock, B.
    Strathclyde, L.Weatherill, L.
    Swinfen, L.Wilcox, B.
    Taverne, L.Williamson of Horton, L.
    Windlesham, L.

    NOT-CONTENTS

    Acton, L.Gould of Potternewton, B.
    Ahmed, L.Grantchester, L.
    Alli, L.Grocott, L. [Teller]
    Amos, B. (Lord President of theHarris of Haringey, L.

    Council)

    Harrison, L.
    Andrews, B.Hart of Chilton, L.
    Ancher of Sandwell, L.Haskel, L.
    Ashton of Upholland, B.Haworth, L.
    Bach, L.Hayman, B.
    Barnett, L.Hilton of Eggardon, B.
    Bassam of Brighton, L.Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.
    Berkeley, L.Howells of St. Davids, B.
    Bernstein of Craigweil, L.Howie of Troon, L.
    Billingham, B.Hoyle, L.
    Blood, B.Hughes of woodside, L.
    Borrie, L.Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
    Boston of Faversham, L.Jones, L.
    Bragg, L.Judd, L.
    Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.King of West Bromwich, L.
    Brookman, L.Kirkhill, L.
    Burlison, L.Lea of Crondall, L.
    Campbell-Savours, L.Leitch, L.
    Carter, L.Levy, L.
    Chorley, L.Lipsey, L.
    Christopher, L.Lockwood, B.
    Clark of Windermere, L.Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
    Clarke of Hampstead, L.McDonagh, B.
    Clinton-Davis, L.Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
    Cohen of Pimlico, B.McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
    Corbett of Castle Vale, L.MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
    Crawley, B.McKenzie of Luton, L.
    David, B.Massey of Darwen, B.
    Davies of Coity, L.Maxton, L.
    Davies of Oldham, L. [Teller]Mitchell, L.
    Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.Morris of Aberavon, L.
    Derby, Bp.Morris of Manchester, L.
    Desai, L.Moser, L.
    Dixon, L.Parekh, L.
    Drayson, L.Paul, L.
    Dubs, L.Pendry, L.
    Evans of Parkside, L.Pitkeathley, B.
    Evans of Temple Guiting, L.Plant of Highfield, L.
    Falconer of Thoroton, L. (LordPortsmouth, Bp.

    Chancellor)

    Prys- Davies, L.
    Falkender, B.Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
    Farrington of Ribbleton, B.Rea, L.
    Faulkner of Worcester, L.Rendell of Babergh, B.
    Filkin, L.Rosser, L.
    Fyfe of Fairfield, L.Rowlands, L.
    Gale, B.Royall of Blaisdon, B.
    Gibson of Market Rasen, B.Sainsbury of Turville, L.
    Giddens, L.Sheldon, L.
    Gilbert, L.Simon, V.
    Golding, B.Snape, L.
    Goldsmith, L.Stone of Blackheath, L.
    Goudie, B.Taylor of Blackburn, L.

    Thornton, B.Wall of New Barnet, B.
    Tomlinson, L.Warner, L.
    Triesman, L.Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
    Truscott, L.Whitaker, B.
    Tunnicliffe, L.Whitty, L.
    Turnberg, L.Williams of Elvel, L.
    Turner of Camden, B.Woolmer of Leeds, L.
    Uddin, B.Young of Norwood Green, L.

    Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

    5.19 p.m.

    Clause 73 [Functions of Agency]:

    moved Amendment No. 5:

    Page 42, leave out lines 21 to 24 and insert—
    "(a) to promote the spiritual, moral, behavioural, social, cultural, mental and physical development of children and young people,
    (b) to contribute to their well-being, and
    (c) to prepare them for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life."

    The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 add the well-being of children and young people to the list of considerations to which the Training and Development Agency for Schools must have regard in exercising its function. I undertook on Report to table amendments to that effect in response to representations from the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and other noble Lords, and I hope that the House will agree that the amendments meet that commitment. I beg to move.

    My Lords, I and the NSPCC, with which I have a voluntary association, are very pleased to thank the Government sincerely for tabling the amendment, as they promised on Report.

    I have two questions for the Minister. First, will he confirm that the word "well-being" in the amendment includes "safeguarding and promoting welfare", as it appears in the Children Act 2004? Secondly, why have the Government used the word "contribute" in subsection (b) of the amendment? The Children Act refers to "improving" children's well-being. Why has "contribute" been used instead of "improve"? Apart from asking those minor questions, I welcome the amendments and will support them.

    My Lords, the Minister referred to my intervention on the matter. I am truly grateful for the amendments.

    My Lords, I add my thanks to the Government for tabling the amendments after due consideration in Committee and on Report.

    My Lords, I rise to support the amendments and gently to disagree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester. The word "moral" sits better before "behavioural". He thought that "behavioural" should come before "moral". It is a very good list.

    My Lords, I thank the House for its support for the amendments. I confirm that the definition of "well-being" has been arrived at by reference to Section 10 of the Children Act. This is the same definition that is employed elsewhere in the Bill. I think that that is the assurance that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, was seeking. She asked why we had written,

    "contribute to their well-being"
    as opposed to "improve their well-being". The TDA is not alone in the delivery of well-being, and it is right, in legal terms, that it contributes rather than carries the sole burden. I hope that is helpful.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    moved Amendment No. 6:

    Page 42, line 24, at end insert—
    "(3A) In subsection (3)(b) "well-being", in relation to children and young people, is a reference to their well-being having regard to the matters mentioned in section 10(2) of the Children Act 2004."

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    moved Amendment No. 7:

    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, as I explained on Report, the amendment would introduce a new clause to place a duty on the Secretary of State, in everything that her department does, to reduce the level of needless paperwork and bureaucracy with which schools and teachers must contend. It would compel the Secretary of State to report to Parliament once a year on what measures she had taken and how effective they had been in reducing unnecessary bureaucracy for our schools and teachers.

    The Minister said on Report that he was not opposed to the amendment in principle, but that he could not agree to it in practice. I hope to have one final go at persuading him that such an amendment is required even more in practice than it is in principle.

    The Minister stated that Section 38 of the Education Act 2002 already placed duties on the Secretary of State to consider the desirability of sending materials to schools. He stated that he was strongly committed to reducing the burdens and bureaucracy placed on schools and LEAs. He mentioned also that the Government had established in 2003 a body to look at, and report on, the level of bureaucracy. We obviously fully support all those actions and measures. However, in our view and, more importantly, in the view of thousands of teachers up and down the country, it is clear that such steps neither go far enough nor have any serious and sustained impact on bureaucracy. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, hit the nail on the head when he said on Report that steps were taken 10 years ago to address red tape and bureaucracy and that here we were, 10 years later, still addressing the same issues and discussing the same problems.

    The Government have quite failed to get to grips with the issue. Any teacher will say that the problem has become considerably worse over the past few years. We believe that teachers' first priority must be to deliver quality education and not to please officialdom in Whitehall or in local authorities. We all know that one of the biggest reasons why teachers are disillusioned with their jobs and are leaving the profession is that they often face too much red tape.

    As I mentioned on Report, teachers whom I meet express concerns about workload, not always in the context of time spent teaching but in the time spent on the unnecessary diversions of filling in forms et cetera.

    We have a duty to control the volume of paper and red tape pumped in the direction of schools. I challenge the Government once again to say that they support the amendment. Those involved in education throughout the country will want to see solid evidence that the Government really want to do something about the problem.

    Teachers want the freedom to teach and to have a breathing space from the torrent of regulations placed on them. They want an explicit statutory requirement that will give some relief from the Government's overregulation and centralisation of education, even as they claim that their objective is to deregulate, decentralise and allow greater autonomy. I hope that the Minister will reflect on the matter again and support this type of amendment. I beg to move.

    My Lords, I am sometimes advised by my noble friends behind me not to waste too much time on days like today trying to persuade the House, because sometimes it feels as if people have already made up their mind before we have had a debate and because the audience for the debates is perhaps wider than just the Chamber. I do not take their advice of course, because I know that noble Lords listen attentively to every word that we say and are persuaded by the debate rather than by preconceptions.

    As the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, signalled, I agree with him that it is the responsibility of government, local education authorities and schools constantly to strive to reduce bureaucracy and any cost that does not help to attain better outcomes for children. I do not agree that putting another bureaucratic burden on the Secretary of State to produce another report for Parliament would do anything whatever apart from increase costs.

    I yet again make clear the measures that the department has taken to monitor, challenge and reduce the burden of bureaucracy. Section 38 of the Education Act 2002 already places a duty on the Secretary of State to have regard to the desirability of avoiding the sending of excessive material to governing bodies or to head teachers and the imposition of excessive administrative burdens on governing bodies or head teachers. It is already in statute. By way of illustration, the department has now stopped "the batch"—the automatic mailing of a small mountain of paper to schools—and replaced it with an online system.

    Furthermore, we have put in place a sequence of measures constantly to challenge the tendency of any organisation, perhaps including the Conservative Party, to move towards the generation of bureaucracy almost by nature of its existence. The implementation review unit, which is a group of people outside the department, looks at policies. It has a serious work programme to challenge whether some functions or actions are necessary. It has already had a significant impact, and it has identified means of delivering the kind of progress that we expect.

    In addition, we have established a panel of senior officials which must assess and authorise any policy that impacts on 10 or more schools. We have established also a star chamber of senior DIES officials, the QCA, Ofsted, the TTA, the LGA, the Audit Commission and two head teachers. All requests made by the department for information from schools and local authorities require the prior approval of the star chamber. We cannot ask for information unless that body, which is much wider than the department, agrees that it is desirable and necessary to do so.

    The implementation review unit has the task of overseeing the implementation of the 2003 Cabinet Office report, Making a Difference: Reducing School Paperwork. It identified 125 actions to reduce burdens; 97 have been completed and the rest are on target to be completed.

    5.30 p.m.

    We have also included in this Bill a number of changes to reduce the burden of Ofsted inspection. The Bill sits on the platform of a new relationship with schools, which is fundamentally about giving space to schools, freeing them from burdens, unnecessary controls and bureaucracy, and giving them the power and resources and do the job of raising attainment. The whole Bill is fundamentally about allowing them to focus their resources on getting real value rather than producing paper.

    The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said that there should be a ministerial champion. He is right. There is one. It could not be higher and more powerful. She is called the Secretary of State for Education. She has explicit responsibility for reducing bureaucracy. The Secretary of State takes a wide view of burdens—it is not just a question of looking at what the department does, but also at what local authorities might do.

    Could Ofsted do more? In a sense, of course, the whole Bill—or parts of the Bill—is about reducing the burden of Ofsted on schools while keeping the benefits. I am glad that there is a consensus around the House that that is right and proper. That is where we are going.

    Perhaps HMCI could play a role in keeping the Secretary of State informed about this wider view of the burdens. In practice, the thematic studies that HMCI undertakes look at those things, and it is open to us to ask HMCI to carry out a specific thematic study of burdens on schools when we think that is necessary and appropriate. We will bear that in mind.

    I do not think that now is the time to do that, however, because we already have such a study underway, looking at the impact of the new relationship on schools in reducing burdens upon them. The National Foundation for Educational Research is to make an independent evaluation of the new relationship with schools trials, including the effectiveness with which it reduced bureaucracy for schools. It will report in July 2005. Let us not have another review set on top of another review. We would be barking if we behaved in that way.

    We agree with the objective. We agree that one needs to be relentless and to have senior political leadership to achieve it, and involvement from those who suffer from bureaucracy as well as those who believe that their little measure is not too bad.

    I will not go into detail about why the amendment is technically flawed. I do not think that will necessarily persuade the House one way or the other. I hope that the House accepts that we are committed to this objective, however. We have a range of strong measures in place, the statutory obligation to reduce bureaucracy and some powerful processes. We are seeing signs of early and significant success in this respect.

    I hope that that has been helpful to the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and that he does not feel minded to press his amendment to a Division.

    My Lords, I welcome that indication that HMCI might be invited to undertake a thematic review. In my view, that is the right way to go about it. Yes, there is a massive problem. There needs to be action. This approach, however, looks a bit bureaucratic. I much prefer the independent thematic review by the inspector.

    My Lords, this is an issue which is not going to go away. We are all concerned about it, and I am grateful to the Minister because he has expressed his views and is obviously concerned about it.

    I do not want to add to the bureaucratic nature of reviews of reviews of reviews. One could shoot oneself in the foot by continually asking for another review. I am inclined, therefore, to note what the Minister says. Of course, it will be a different government looking at the issue in July. We might then get the chance really to reduce the level of bureaucracy.

    I will not press the amendment today. I am concerned about the issue, and I hope everyone here continues to be. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 101 [Removal of requirements for governors' reports and parents' meetings]:

    moved Amendment No. 8:

    Page 54, line 19, leave out subsection (2).

    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I should like to say that I shall not be moving Amendment No. 9.

    This amendment has the effect of removing subsection (2) of Clause 101, which is about annual parents' meetings. Subsection (2) effectively means that only in Wales do annual parents' meetings have to be held. As noble Lords who look it up wondering what subsection (2) does will find, it amends Section 33 of the 2002 Act.

    Some noble Lords may remember that we spent a good deal of time in 2002 debating an Education Bill which contained a lot about the new system of governance in schools—what boards of governors should be doing. One of the duties it imposed on boards of governors was to hold an annual parents' meeting. I shall refresh noble Lords' memories about what the obligations were under Clause 33 of the 2002 Act.

    Clause 33 states:

    "(1) Once in every school year the governing body of a maintained school shall hold a meeting (an 'annual parents' meeting') which is open to—
  • (a) all parents of registered pupils at the school,
  • (b) the head teacher, and
  • (c) other such persons as the governing body may invite.
  • (2) The purpose of the meeting is to provide an opportunity for discussion of the manner in which the school has been, and is to be, conducted, and of any other matters relating to the school raised by parents of registered pupils.
    (3) Regulations may make provision as to circumstances in which a governing body are to be exempt from the obligation imposed by subsection (1)."

    In other words, regulations may set out some reasons why a meeting should not be held.

    In Committee and on Report we had substantial discussion of the relationships with parents, annual meetings and annual reports and the concept of the profile which is replacing the annual report. I think there was agreement all round the House that it is important that schools should have good communication between the head teacher, the body of the teaching staff in the school and the parents. We know that the Government are actively developing ideas to encourage schools to develop such relationships. We are sensitive to the fact that they are working on these issues.

    We also know that research has shown time and again that pupils benefit when their parents are involved in the workings of the school and understand its aims and objectives. There are many schools in the country that are exemplars of good practice, where there is an extremely good relationship between the parents and the staff, and the parents are not only welcomed but frequently work with the staff to enhance what the school offers and the well-being of the children. One sees this very often in infant and primary schools. It is, perhaps, sometimes less true of secondary schools, but there are nevertheless many which apply good practice. Equally, there are some schools which are less good at making contact with the parents and where the relationship is somewhat difficult.

    For that reason, we on these Benches—and this is a hesitation which I know is shared by the Conservative Benches and others in the Chamber—have been uneasy about abandoning completely the commitment to the annual meeting. We feel there should be an opportunity for parents to get together with the staff if they want to if there are no other opportunities to do so. Therefore we welcome the concept of the annual meeting because it provides at least once a year an opportunity for the governors, the head teacher and usually other members of staff to meet parents and listen to their worries, if they have them.

    We would have preferred to table an amendment giving the head and the governing body a measure of discretion over holding an annual meeting, with the proviso that a note should be sent out with the compulsory annual profile explaining why they feel that the meeting is unnecessary. It may be that lots of other meetings with parents are held and we recognise that an annual meeting could be superfluous. However, if no meetings are held, such a provision would put pressure on schools to do so.

    We also wanted to suggest that if 20 parents put forward a request in writing for an annual meeting, the school should hold one. Unfortunately we did not get our act together on the drafting. When we came to table it, the Public Bill Office objected, saying that it was too close to the one on which we voted in Committee. The amendment before us is effectively a fallback position.

    This amendment would ensure that the provisions set out in the 2002 Act remain on the statute book. However, some flexibility is provided in Section 33(3) of that Act, which states:

    "Regulations may make provision as to the circumstances in which the governing body are exempt from the obligation imposed by subsection (1)",

    which obliges the governing body to hold an annual meeting. I would argue, therefore, that the 2002 Act already provides a degree of flexibility. A school does not have to hold an annual meeting, but essentially it is required to do so unless it already meets the requirements of the regulations.

    The regulations make it clear that if there is a good reason not to hold an annual meeting because the governing body is already meeting with parents on many other occasions, it need not be held. We accept that. Good practice may make the annual meeting unnecessary.

    I have said already that this amendment is not our first choice, but I believe it would cover the situation. Behind the Members on these Benches is a good number of parent bodies which are uneasy about the loss of the right to an annual meeting for parents. So I speak not only for the Opposition Benches, but also for a somewhat wider audience around the country. I beg to move.

    My Lords, I support the noble Baroness in her amendment. When we debated this issue on Report, I agreed with virtually everything the Minister said. He stressed that the Government are seeking greater parental involvement and that events have moved on. But I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that removing the signal that it is a good idea to hold a parents' meeting is a mistake.

    The legislation before us will not reflect the Minister's wish that in future parents should he more closely involved in schools. Therefore it is a retrograde step to take away the likelihood of holding an annual meeting, or at least the desire to do so. While such meetings are not always well attended, as least they are held. At some schools the meetings are very well supported, while for other schools tackling big issues, it provides an opportunity for parents to debate them.

    This is an unnecessary step and I do not know why the Government want to take it. We can think of other ways of supporting parents' involvement in schools. I support the amendment.

    5.45 p.m.

    My Lords, I apologise for not being in my place at the start of the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, in support of her amendment. I am afraid that my agnostic hesitation about Amendment No. 3 now gives way to a deeper scepticism about this amendment. That is not born out of a sense of looking at this from an ivory tower, but from experience as serving both as the chair of governors of a school and, shall we say, serving as a parent of children in other schools at the time when the legislation specifying a meeting was brought in. I hasten to add that those are two different kinds of service.

    This is not the time to be anecdotal, rather I shall make a general point. We are facing the need to find new ways of being a society that is just, sustainable and participatory. The parents' meeting is one example of that simply not working. I acknowledge the pressure to keep it, but I should like a little more detail about where that pressure is coming from. I am facing a profound disaffection with them. We need to find other ways of achieving our aims. Indeed, we may have to debate how to find people to serve on school governing bodies. I hear stories that parents do not attend annual meetings because they are scared of being dragooned into serving as school governors. That shows the profound scepticism that needs to balance well intentioned amendments.

    Because something does not work, it does not mean that one should persist in doing it. I am sufficiently sceptical to oppose this amendment.

    My Lords, I am afraid that I must disagree with the right reverend Prelate. It is a great pity that this annual event is not to be proceeded with. It is argued that only those who are interested attend, while the rest of the parents feel even more excluded. While I am not against efforts to find new methods of involving parents—of course teachers and governors should find new ways and means of communicating with parents—it must be said that we have not yet found them. Given that, why, for goodness' sake, are we destroying a provision which enables some parents to attend the sort of meeting that they find valuable? They can learn about areas which perhaps they have not thought about, which in turn may influence their own approach to the school.

    While I am sorry that the amendment before us may not be perfect, I certainly feel that we should take the opportunity to air the reasons why Members on the Opposition Benches and other groups think that the provision of an annual meeting is important. Perhaps it is now a tradition, even though it has existed for only a certain length of time. I have served on many governing bodies and I have a rather different view of the annual meeting from that of the right reverend Prelate. I support the amendment.

    My Lords, I raised a number of issues in relation to the annual meeting of the governing body at Second Reading because of my experience at a school where there was a lack of communication between the governing body and the parents. I posed the question of whether the annual meeting, notwithstanding the frequent problem of lack of attendance, provided a way of giving parents at least one opportunity to raise issues.

    I would be grateful for clarification from my noble friend because we have made considerable progress with the Bill since Second Reading, in particular on new Clause 7 covering Ofsted inspections. It now provides a,
    "Duty to have regard to views of certain persons".
    That provides a great deal of comfort for those concerned about whether parents' concerns are being listened to.

    The point of clarification I seek is this. Given that we are to have more frequent Ofsted inspections, I take it that one of the questions to be asked by the inspection team is whether the school has a satisfactory record of maintaining good links with parents. That being so, it might be the best way to ensure that there is good communication between parents and the school. If my noble friend can assure me of that, I shall be greatly comforted. The amendment would not then be necessary.

    My Lords, I shall not speak for excessively long as it is probably one of those afternoons.

    The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, is right that there is a strong measure of agreement on the objective. The debate is more about the detail and how to get there.

    We have spoken at length about the importance of involving parents in their children's education for very good reasons. We have discussed schools behaving to parents as if their involvement in their child's education fundamentally matters and seeing them as partners rather than problems and best left out of the school. We have talked about the importance of parents feeling that they are active stakeholders in the governance, values and leadership of schools. We have referred to opportunities and said that the school must consult, inform, listen, govern and manage its corporate affairs in partnership with parents.

    There is no debate between us on what the future should be, or about how schools behave at present. The debate is how to do it, and I am slightly hamstrung in that I cannot outline the conclusion of all the government work that we talked about previously.

    Let me make it clear that we do not think that schools will fulfil their duties to parents just by holding an annual meeting. We all know that if schools behave only in that way, they are not listening to us or understanding the shift that this House wants.

    The Education Select Committee strongly recommended in 1999 that the annual parents meeting should be abolished and that processes should be put in place to ensure that the school engaged much more creatively in the variety of ways that I described, rather than just having an annual meeting with its parents.

    Levers are in place in the Bill and elsewhere to ensure that that happens without having a statutory obligation to hold an annual meeting. The anxiety of the Liberal Democrats and others at heart is that if we get away with not having a statutory obligation, we may throw everything away and have nothing in its place to ensure that parents are treated seriously.

    I shall summarise a number of issues. First, as my noble friend Lord Hunt said, the importance of parents will be attached to Ofsted inspections. I shall not second guess what Ofsted will do about schools that do not relate well to, communicate with, consult, listen to or are influenced by parents. but it will consider such issues. That is on the inspection agenda and we know how powerful that lever is.

    Secondly, the school improvement partner will be a lever for change and will discuss with schools how they relate to parents. Thirdly, there is a new statutory complaints procedure. Fourthly, there are procedures through local authorities and their leadership in working with schools and partnership arrangements at local level.

    I shall go further in signalling to the House that these are not mere words. In response to the concerns of the House we intend to amend the regulations in force under Section 21 of the Education Act 2002 which deals with the roles and responsibilities of school governing bodies. I propose to add to the regulations a specific reference to the role of parents in the school. I cannot put the final wording of that before the House but it is likely to be something like, "We believe that the duty of the governing body should he to have regard to the views of parents". It will he in that territory. The school will have a statutory obligation that is put into force through regulation.

    For a school to respond properly to the term, "have regard to the views of parents", it is self-evident that it will have to then think about the processes by which it engages with parents. Are there processes in place so that they can listen to, consult, inform, allow for dialogue with or involvement in the governance, thereby affirming the importance of the parent in the child's education? What are the schools doing in those respects?

    I commit that we shall amend regulations to put such a duty on governing bodies. Off that will hang the sort of reviews that we discussed, which will then be inspected by Ofsted every three years or less when it comes to look at what is happening in practice.

    In response to debates in the House, we are moving significantly to ensure that there is a shift. That is better than doing what the amendment suggests, which would leave the annual parents meeting in place and allow those in sleepy hollows who think that staying there and doing nothing else complies with their obligation. We shall remove that and put in its place through regulation a much wider challenge to governing bodies that will be respected by Ofsted.

    I hope that that is helpful to the Opposition and all who have spoken in the debate.

    My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I recognise that he has moved in this direction, and he will be delighted to hear that that movement is sufficient for us not to wish to test the opinion of the House.

    I acknowledge that the governing body shall "have regard to" the views of parents. I take that as being more than just consultation with parents. I also accept the degree to which the annual meeting is a totem. In a sense on the face of the Bill there is an element of a totem of good parental relationships that could be abused.

    In the light of what the Minister has said today, and the debates that we have had in Committee and on Report, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment. by leave, withdrawn.

    [Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

    Clause 108 [Supply of information: free school lunches etc.]:

    moved Amendment No. 10:

    Page 59, line 9, leave out "that Act" and insert "the Education Act 1996"

    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is a purely technical amendment that is designed to correct a drafting inaccuracy that was left as a result of this House agreeing to previous government amendments on Report. I beg to move.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    moved Amendment No. 11:

    After Clause 114, insert the following new clause—

    "REQUIREMENTS TO BE REGISTERED

    In section 134 of the 2002 Act (requirement upon teachers to be registered), in subsection (5)(a) leave out "or" at the end of the paragraph and after paragraph (b) insert—
    "(c) an Academy,
    (d) a city technology college, or
    (e) a city college for the technology of the arts.""

    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendment No. 12, which is grouped with this.

    The purpose of the two amendments is to ensure that all teachers, including those in academies and CTCs are to be registered and regulated by the General Teaching Council in line with other teachers in the maintained sector. The amendments are similar to those tabled on Report, apart from removing the reference to pupil referral units, because we listened to the Minister when he said they were not necessary.

    Under Section 134 of the Education Act 2002 the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales may by regulation provide that a specified activity may be carried out in an LEA-maintained school or a non-maintained special school by a qualified teacher only when that teacher is fully registered with the General Teaching Council for England or for Wales. A trainee teacher may undertake a specified course of training leading to qualified teacher status only if he or she is provisionally registered with the GTC. In addition provisional registration may be required of unqualified teachers undertaking specified work in schools.

    The regulations do not apply to teachers working in schools such as academies, which are legally defined as independent and often referred to by the Government as independent state schools. I believe that professional registration is a vital safeguard for pupils and the public. The procedures for regulating teachers need to be transparent and open for scrutiny. To operate effectively teachers must have the trust and respect of pupils, parents and society as a whole. Public confidence in the system for regulating teachers is a prerequisite.

    That was the guiding principle behind the creation of the General Teaching Council in 2001, putting teachers on a par with doctors and lawyers in having a self-regulatory body. As I mentioned on Report, at its January council meeting the members of the GTC for England expressed grave concern that currently the Government do not plan to bring teachers covered by my amendment within the scope of professional regulation. Stephen Twigg has offered to review the matter if it becomes "a significant issue".

    6 p.m.

    Organisations representing parents, governors, diocesan authorities and the teaching, head teacher and lecturer unions jointly signed a letter to the schools Minister urging him to bring teachers in academies into the scope of professional regulations. I have rarely seen an amendment supported by so many reputable organisations led by the NUT and the General Teaching Council.

    In response to the GTC the schools Minister argued that many academies may require their teachers to register and that individual teachers may choose to register, even if not required to do so. In his response to the amendment tabled on Report, the Minister said something very similar. He also argued that,

    "Children who attend academies should be taught by staff with at least the same level of qualifications as those who do not. That is precisely why the funding agreements between the Secretary of State and academies set requirements as to the qualifications and health standards of the teachers they employ".—[Official Report, 24/2/05; col. 1454.]

    Funding agreements with private hospitals that carry out operations for the NHS may well also set standards, but they do not allow doctors to opt out of GMC registration. The GTC has worked very hard in developing its regulatory function to set standards for the whole profession, akin to that of, say, the Law Society and the General Medical Council. Every solicitor, whether in private practice, in industry or in the public sector, is subject to the same statutory regulatory system of standards. It would not be suggested that that should apply selectively by reference to who happened to be the employer of such a solicitor. None of your Lordships would like to be treated by a doctor who is not registered with the General Medical Council. As we speak, all social workers are also registering or they will not be allowed to work. I really wonder whether the Government were serious when they set up the GTC if they are not now prepared to support it.

    The GTC regulatory role is not simply one of disciplining teachers. Discipline is a response to a fault and that is a matter for the employer at the time when a teacher does something wrong. The GTC regulates by deciding whether, in consequence of conduct or lack of competence, a teacher is fit to continue working as a teacher in a state school. During the debate, the Minister also said,

    "The GTCE register is, however, only one of the available means of checking the standards of a teacher's past performance".—[Official Report, 24/2/05; col. 1454.]

    I really must ask him why he supports multiple processes to achieve the same object. The GTC regulatory function is not to provide a means of checking the standards of a teacher's past performance—that is Ofsted's job—but it is to consider whether a teacher should continue to have the essential benefit of registration for the future. The issue of registration leads to a number of unhelpful anomalies.

    So questions arise. Does a newly qualified teacher, working in an academy, need to be registered with the GTC while undertaking induction? Does a teacher undergoing induction in an academy have a right of appeal to the GTC if he or she is deemed to have failed? If, following an appeal, the GTC judges that a teacher should not pass the induction, is that teacher able to continue to work at the academy?

    The fact that there is no obligation to register raises all kinds of anomalies and questions and certainly indicates a lack of confidence and support for the General Teaching Council. The supporting organisations were dismayed by the Government's attitude to this amendment on Report. The GTC and its partners want to see a consistent approach to registration so that teachers moving between schools—maintained schools, the academies and the CTCs—do not slip out of the net of professional regulation, which, in the light of the Children Act 2004, is even more important than it was before. I beg to move.

    My Lords, the sentiments behind the amendment are worthy, timely and just, but should it find a place in the Bill? My view is that it should because these academies are a new breed of school and the more they are seen to show the same collective disciplines as every other kind of school—in this case professional discipline regarding the teaching profession—the better.

    The noble Baroness has alluded to the organisations that support this move. The Church of England education division is on record as taking this line in relation to Church of England academies. It would be consistent to extend such a move further. Therefore, I hope that the amendment will find support in your Lordships' House. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for riding the hobby horse of our academies in such a creative way here.

    My Lords, as we know from previous discussions on various parts of the Bill, academies are registered independent schools. Like all independent schools, they are not bound by the legislative framework that applies to maintained schools. Instead they have their own legislative framework, which includes inspection by Ofsted to obtain registration, which ensures a high standard of professionalism and propriety within the independent sector.

    Seeking to bring academies back into all the regulatory constraints, burdens and bureaucracy of the maintained sector is, as we have said previously, to fetter a crucial experiment before it has had the chance and freedom to demonstrate whether it can succeed where so many others have failed before: that is, in turning around some of the most seriously failing schools in our society, which, as a consequence, has meant that very many children have suffered. Therefore, for the reasons that I have given now and before, we do not believe that it is right to change in this respect. The existence of legally independent schools within the state sector requires the right balance to be struck between safeguards in the form of conditions set by central Government and the freedoms from red tape needed to tackle deep-seated problems of deprivation and underachievement. The Government believe that they have struck the right balance and do not believe that there are the risks or harm that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley is right to probe.

    I shall try to illustrate that point. Paragraph 17 of the model funding agreement between the Secretary of State and an academy reads:
    "The Academy Trust shall employ as teachers persons who meet the health standards set out in the Education (Health Standards) (England) Regulations 2003 and who are also qualified teachers within the meaning of the Education (School Teachers' Qualifications) (England) Regulations 2003".
    Not only does that require academies to employ as teachers only persons with qualified teacher status, but it also backs up that requirement with a very powerful enforcement mechanism, in the form of the contractual agreement, which was mentioned earlier, and the sanctions that are embedded in that.

    On Report, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, described registration with the GTCE as "probably the best" mechanism that we have for ensuring the quality of a member of the teaching staff. Reflecting on that, earlier this week my officials took the trouble to seek the advice of a number of head teachers of maintained schools about what happens in the real world and how they would assure themselves of the suitability and competence of a prospective member of staff. That has considerable relevance to this debate.

    Head teachers confirm, as one might expect, that they would insist on the usual Criminal Records Bureau check. They would also insist on checking List 99, which has sometimes loosely been called the register of barred teachers who are found, as a result of disciplinary action, to be unsuitable to have care of children; for example, because they have committed child abuse of one dreadful form or another. That is how head teachers behave.

    They were then asked how they would verify a candidate's professional competence as a teacher. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, implied that the primary source of that information would be the GTCE, a source of information that would not be open to the head of an academy. But that is not what the heads of maintained schools told us. In every case, they said they would rely first and foremost on the reference they would seek from a candidate's previous employer.

    That is for good reason. A teacher would normally be referred to the GTCE on competence grounds only as a result of having already been disciplined by their employer. That would catch only a very small proportion of cases that would be seen as warranting a referral to the GTCE. Therefore, a head is utterly sensible not to have multiple sources but to go to the reference from the previous school or schools and to ask them. It would capture what would have been registered with the GTCE if the teacher was so registered, but, more importantly, would also capture the far wider range of circumstances where aspects of that teacher's behaviour might be germane to an honest reference on whether they were suitable. Heads are not daft in seeing the reference, rather than the GTCE, as their source of information.

    I could buttress that by indicating, for example, that on List 99 there are some 3,000-plus teachers registered. Since June 2001 the GTCE has issued only two prohibition orders on the grounds of incompetence. I am not having a poke at the GTCE, but we must not kid ourselves that this is the central way in which a head—whether of an academy or not—validates whether they should employ someone.

    The GTCE has a function, a role, but the risks of not forcing academies to say that everybody must be with the GTCE have been talked up. Some trust governing bodies do so, but the risks are not there, for the reasons I have given.

    The Criminal Records Bureau, List 99 and the reference cover all these issues. There is no need to add additional burdens. For fundamental reasons, we should minimise the burdens on academies, otherwise they will not have the scope to deliver the improvement that we need of them.

    I hope that that has been helpful, if not totally comforting, to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley.

    My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. I would like to respond to a few of his points.

    He said that academies are independent schools, but they were substantially paid for by government money and will be maintained by the state. The state has enormous interest in their standards.

    The Minister seemed to think that the amendment would be an unwarranted fettering of the freedom of the academies. The academies are expected to co-operate, for example, with the duties imposed by the Children Act 2004. I wonder whether the Minister thinks that that is an unwarranted fettering of their freedom. We are talking about basic teaching standards. It is very important.

    I wonder whether the Minister thinks of registration as no more than red tape. I would point out that the red tape is more on the teacher than on the academies. It is the teacher who has to get registered. All the academy has to do is check that they have done it.

    The Minister mentioned head teachers, but two of the organisations that back this amendment are the Secondary Heads Association and the National Association of Head Teachers. I also suggest that he remembers that head teachers often have to bring in teachers at very short notice. Yes, of course they have to check police records and List 99. Of course the GTCE registration is not the only way by which a head teacher would satisfy him or herself of the standard of a new teacher coming into the school. However, it is a basic that can be added to the armoury to make sure that a teacher coming in, even at short notice, is of appropriate standard, both for the academies and CTCs, as well as maintained schools. I wonder why the Government bothered setting up the General Teaching Council for England if they are now about to undermine it by saying "Oh, these wonderful best schools that are going to be do not have to bother with that". It does not seem logical. I beg to test the opinion of the House.

    6.14 p.m.

    On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 11) shall be agreed to?

    Their Lordships divided: Contents, 119; Not-Contents, 125.

    Division No.3

    CONTENTS

    Addington, L.Linklater of Butterstone, B.
    Alderdice, L.Livsey of Talgarth, L.
    Ashcroft, L.Lyell, L.
    Astor of Hever, L.McColl of Dulwich, L.
    Attlee, E.MacGregor of Pulham Market,
    Avebury, L.L.
    Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, B.Mackay of Clashfern, L.
    Bradshaw, L.Mackie of Benshie, L.
    Brougham and Vaux, L.Maclennan of Rogart, L.
    Buscombe, B.McNally, L.
    Byford, B.Maddock, B.
    Campbell of Alloway, L.Mar and Kellie, E.
    Carlile of Berriew, L.Marlesford, L.
    Carlisle of Bucklow, L.Mayhew of Twysden, L.
    Clement-Jones, L.Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.
    Colwyn, L.Miller of Hendon, B.
    Cope of Berkeley, L.Montrose, D.
    Craigavon, V.Morris of Bolton, B.
    Crickhowell, L.Neuberger, B.
    Dean of Harptree, L.Newby, L.
    Denham, L.Newton of Braintree, L.
    Dholakia, L.Noakes, B.
    Dixon-Smith, L.Northesk, E.
    Dundee, E.Northover, B.
    Dykes, L.Norton of Louth, L.
    Elton, L.O'Cathain, B.
    Falkland, V.Palmer, L.
    Falkner of Margravine, B.Park of Monmouth, B.
    Ferrers, E.Patten, L.
    Flather, B.Peyton of Yeovil, L.
    Fookes, B.Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
    Forsyth of Drumlean, L.Portsmouth, Bp.
    Garden, L.Razzall, L.
    Geddes, L.Redesdale, L.
    Glenarthur, L.Rees, L.
    Glentoran, L.Renton, L.
    Goodhart, L.Roberts of Conwy, L.
    Hamwee, B.Roberts of Llandudno, L.
    Hanningfield, L.Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
    Harris of Richmond, B.Roper, L. [Teller]
    Henley, L.Rotherwick, L.
    Holme of Cheltenham, L.Russell-Johnston, L.
    Howard of Rising, L.Sandberg, L.
    Howe of Aberavon, L.Seccombe, B.
    Howe of Idlicote, B.Selsdon, L.
    Hunt of Wirral, L.Sharp of Guildford, B.
    Jenkin of Roding, L.Shaw of Northstead, L.
    Kimball, L.Shutt of Greetland, L.
    King of Bridgwater, L.Skelmersdale, L.
    Kingsland, L.Smith of Clifton, L.
    Knight of Collingtree, B.Steel of Aikwood, L.
    Laird, L.Stewartby, L.
    Lang of Monkton, L.Stewartby, L.
    Lester of Herne Hill, L.Thomas of Swynnerton, L.

    Thomas of Walliswood, B.Vallance of Tummel, L.
    Thomson of Monifieth, L.Waddington, L.
    Tope, L.Wallace of Saltaire, L.
    Tordoff, L.Walmsley, B. [Teller]
    Trenchard, V.Walpole, L.
    Ullswater, V.Wilcox, B.

    NOT-CONTENTS

    Acton, L.Haworth, L.
    Ahmed, L.Hayman, B.
    Amos, B. (Lord President of theHilton of Eggardon, B.

    Council)

    Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.
    Andrews, B.Hollis of Heigham, B.
    Archer of Sandwell, L.Howells of St. Davids, B.
    Ashton of Upholland, B.Howie of Troon, L.
    Bach, L.Hoyle, L.
    Bassam of Brighton, L.Hughes of Woodside, L.
    Bernstein of Craigweil, L.Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
    Billingham, B.Jones, L.
    Blackstone, B.Kilclooney, L.
    Blood, B.King of West Bromwich, L.
    Boothroyd, B.Kirkhill, L.
    Borrie, L.Layard, L.
    Boston of Faversham, L.Lea of Crondall, L.
    Bragg, L.Levy, L.
    Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.Lockwood, B.
    Brookman, L.Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
    Burlison, L.McDonagh, B.
    Campbell-Savours, L.Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
    Carter, L.McIntosh of Haringey, L.
    Carter of Coles, L.McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
    Chandos, V.MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
    Clark of Windermere, L.Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
    Clarke of Hampstead, L.McKenzie of Luton, L.
    Clinton-Davis, L.Massey of Darwen, B.
    Cohen of Pimlico, B.Maxton, L.
    Corbett of Castle Vale, L.Mitchell, L.
    Crawley, B.Morris of Aberavon, L.
    David, B.Moser, L.
    Davies of Coity, L.Parekh, L.
    Davies of Oldham, L. [Teller]Paul, L.
    Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.Pendry, L.
    Dearing, L.Pirkeathley, B.
    Derby, Bp.Plant of Highfield, L.
    Desai, L.Powell of Bayswater, L.
    Dixon, L.Radice, L.
    Drayson, L.Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
    Dubs, L.Randell of Babergh, B.
    Erroll, E.Rosser, L.
    Evans of Parkside, L.Rowlands, L.
    Evans of Temple Guiting, L.Royall of Blaisdon, B.
    Falconer of Thoroton. L. (LordSawyer, L.

    Chancellor)

    Sheldon, L.
    Farrington of Ribbleton, B.Simon, V.
    Faulkner of Worcester, L.Snape, L.
    Filkin, L.Stone of Blackheath, L.
    Fyfe of Fairfield, L.Taylor of Blackburn, L.
    Gale, B.Tomlinson, L.
    Gibson of Market Rasen, B.Triesman, L.
    Gilbert, L.Truscott, L.
    Golding, B.Tunnicliffe, L.
    Goldsmith, L.Turner of Camden, B.
    Goudie, B.Uddin, B.
    Gould of Potternewton, B.Wall of New Barnet, B.
    Graham of Edmonton, L.Warner, L.
    Grantchester, L.Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
    Greenway, L.Whitaker, B.
    Grocott, L. [Teller]Whitty, L.
    Harrison, L.Wilkins, B.
    Hart of Chilton, L.Williamson of Horton, L.
    Haskel, L.Woolmer of Leeds, L.
    Young of Norwood Green, L.

    Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

    6.24 p.m.

    [Amendment No. 12 not moved.]

    Clause 117 [Functions to be exercisable by National Assembly for Wales]:

    moved Amendment No. 13:

    Page 64, line 14, at end insert—
    "Schedule 18 (further amendments related to Part 4)."

    The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a purely technical amendment consequential on the amendments to Schedule 18 which were approved in Committee. Its purpose is to ensure that the new powers can be exercised by the Assembly. I beg to move.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    Clause 124 [The appropriate authority by whom commencement order is made]:

    moved Amendment No. 14:

    Page 67, line 13, at end insert—
    "paragraph 8 of Schedule 16 (and section 99 so far as relating to that paragraph)"

    The noble Lord said: My Lords, as we have discussed several times, the changes to the funding system proposed under Clause 98 amount to a complex piece of legislation. As we said in Committee and on Report, we very much welcome the idea of a three-year funding cycle, and yet we have a number of continuing concerns about the Government's proposals for implementing it and for making certain that it works.

    Given the importance of the funding issue and the desire of the whole House to get it right, we feel that it is imperative that the Bill and subsequent regulations or guidance relating to the future of schools' funding receive proper parliamentary scrutiny and are not rushed through in undue haste.

    These amendments would ensure that the first set of regulations which bring in Clause 98 and the reformed funding system would have to be debated and agreed by Parliament first. This is a sensible and rational way to proceed. I believe the Government support the intent behind the amendments. I beg to move.

    My Lords, we did indeed have a discussion in Committee about regulations on school funding being subject to the affirmative procedure. In fact, debating "affirmative or negative" is one of the leitmotivs of this House. I do not mean to be flippant. We signalled that it was excessively burdensome always to have the affirmative procedure, but, recognising the feeling of the House, I accept that the introduction of three-year budgets based on the academic year is an important and significant change and that the House has a legitimate interest in scrutinising the detail of the proposals.

    I remain of the view that we do not need this to be done every year, but the amendment does not require that. I am happy therefore to signal that the Government will not resist the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. I thank him for his measured thoughtfulness in this respect.

    My Lords, this is an example of how this place can work. I am grateful to the Minister for accepting the amendment. Given, as I said, that this is complex legislation, this amendment is the right way forward.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    Schedule 1 [Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools In England]:

    moved Amendments Nos. 15 to 22:

    Page 68, line 12, leave out from "inspector" to end of line 13.
    Page 68, line 13, at end insert—
    "(2A) The Chief Inspector must ensure that additional inspectors have the necessary qualifications, experience and skills to assist him in the effective discharge of his functions.
    Page 68, line 14, at beginning insert "In pursuance of the duty imposed by sub-paragraph (2A),"
    Page 68, line 19, at end insert "and the skills that they are to be required to demonstrate in the exercise of those functions"
    Page 68, line 24, at end insert—
    "(4A) If the Chief Inspector has entered into arrangements with persons who are not themselves additional inspectors ("inspection service providers") for the provision by the inspection service providers of the services of inspectors, the Chief Inspector must publish, at intervals of not more than 12 months, a list of the names of those persons who, as at a specified date, are currently notified to him by any inspection service provider as persons with whom the inspection service provider proposes to make arrangements for the carrying out of inspections or behalf of the Chief Inspector."
    Page 68, line 25, leave out sub-paragraph (5).
    Page 68, line 30, leave out from "England" to end of line 32 and insert—
    "(7) The Chief Inspector may not authorise an additional inspector to conduct an inspection of a school under section 5 unless—
  • (a) the inspection is to be supervised by one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools in England, or
  • (b) the additional inspector has previously conducted an inspection under that section under the supervision of one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools in England ("the supervising inspector") to the satisfaction of the supervising inspector."
  • Page 69, line 15, after "sub-paragraph (3)" insert "and paragraph 2(7)"

    On Question, amendments agreed to.

    Schedule 16 [Funding of maintained schools]:

    moved Amendment No. 23:

    Page 136, line 35, at end insert—
    "(c) following the initial allocation of its schools budget to a local education authority in England, there shall be a 30 day period of consultation and clarification in regard to the amount referred to in subsection (2)."

    The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have tabled Amendment No. 23 at this late stage in an attempt to clarify further and to help with regard to the complex issues referred to in previous amendments.

    With most funding systems, such as local authority grant settlements, the Government announce a provisional settlement and people are able to make representations and comment on it. A little later, the Government will announce a final settlement. In view of the discussion we had previously about the muddle between Bromley and Buckinghamshire—even if it concerned only capital—I believe that there should be some mechanism to enable schools and local authorities to comment on government settlement arrangements in case there are any anomalies.

    Therefore, even at this late stage, I hope that the Government will reflect on this amendment and assure us that something like this will be done. The process should be transparent and schools and local authorities should be able to spot any problems. Given that modern technology does not always work, there could be loops in the system that prevent the delivery of what is expected. Thus, at this late stage of the Bill, I am proposing this amendment in the hope that the Government will give us an assurance about how the process will work. I beg to move.

    6.30 p.m.

    My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, for what I heard as an important probing amendment. The noble Lord is seeking to get on to the record some clarification of the detail of these mechanisms. I will do my best to be as helpful as I can. If there are further points of detail, I will seek to buttress it with further correspondence—copied, of course, to both opposition parties—if that would be helpful.

    I should explain that under the new system of three-year budgets, initial allocations of the dedicated schools grant will be based primarily on estimates of future pupil numbers rather than actual data. Those estimates will be used to determine a unit of resource per pupil for each authority, which will then be guaranteed. There will then come a point, of course, when allocations will be finalised based on actual data. I accept entirely the need to consult local authorities at that point to ensure that the underlying data are accurate. That would, for example, parallel the existing system for the local government finance settlement as a whole, under which a provisional settlement is issued for consultation and that is then followed by a final settlement. I am happy to give the House an undertaking that this kind of consultation will take place.

    I do not think that it is necessary to put on the face of primary legislation a requirement to consult, because it is in everybody's interest that such consultation takes place. If there were to be a mistake in the underlying data then it is in the Government's interest, as well as in the authorities' interest, to be alerted to that as soon as possible. These are, however, broad framework powers and including detail about exactly how and when consultation should take place would be unnecessarily prescriptive and could get things wrong.

    I fully sympathise with the underlying purpose of the amendment but, for the reasons I have explained, it is not necessary to have this requirement on the face of primary legislation. I should also add that, for various technical reasons, the amendment would not achieve its intended effect. I also understand the desire of the noble Lord to see full consultation on the distribution formula as well as on the data underlying the distribution. Of course, any such consultation would in practice have to take place well before allocations were issued to authorities rather than after—as implied by the amendment.

    We have made clear that we do not intend to make any significant changes to the existing SFSS formula in the short term. There will be some minor technical changes, and we will consult all interested parties on those in due course, just as we have in recent years. If, in the future, we were proposing to make more fundamental changes to the formula, we would again consult interested parties fully on those. Again, however, it does not make sense to tie such consultations to the determination of the authorities' schools' budget, because, as I have said, the formula will have to be determined well before the DSG is allocated. Nor will there necessarily need to be a consultation every year, since allocations will cover more than one year at a time.

    As I have said, I do not think it is necessary to have such a requirement on the face of the Bill. I hope that what I have said is helpful. I shall be happy to amplify anything that is not clear and I hope that I have set, at least partly, the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, at rest.

    My Lord, I thank the Minister for that reply. It does set my mind partly at rest. I was also reassured that he might set out some further thoughts in writing. As we are now probably moving to this legislation becoming law, we want to make certain that three-year funding, which we all support, will work. We want to make certain that the Government have all the procedures in place and the arrangements for consultation.

    I thank the Minister for his comments today. I shall certainly read in Hansard what he has said. If he can amplify it further, I would be grateful. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    moved Amendment No. 24:

    Page 141, line 6, at end insert—
    "8 In section 138 of the 1998 Act (orders and regulations), in subsection (5) (orders and regulations that are subject to affirmative procedure) after paragraph (b) insert "or
    (c) the first regulations to be made under section 45AA, or
    (d) the first regulations to be made under section 47 in relation to England after the coming into force of paragraph 6 of Schedule 16 to the Education Act 2005,".

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    An amendment (privilege) made.

    My Lords, before finally moving that the Bill do now pass, I want to thank the House. The Bill has been well scrutinised. Sometimes, it has felt too well scrutinised—but that is life. It is really important that the measures in the Bill are enacted as soon as possible, as they bring substantial benefits to schools and pupils. We are well on course to doing that with the good support across the House on the fundamentals of the Bill. I thank the House for that.

    In conclusion, I should like to thank the officials, who have been resolute in their response to my unreasonable and demanding request that on this Bill we should seek to be highly responsive to the House. I thank them most warmly for that.

    My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

    Moved, That the Bill do now pass.— (Lord Filkin.)

    On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

    Electoral Law (Northern Ireland) Act 1962 (Amendment) Order 2005

    6.36 p.m.

    rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 20 January be approved [7th Report from the Joint Committee].

    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this short order amends Article 11(1A) of the Electoral Law (Northern Ireland) Act 1962 to change the date of the local elections in Northern Ireland from the third Wednesday in May to the first Thursday in May, on a permanent basis. If this measure is accepted, it will mean that the Northern Ireland local elections due on Wednesday, 18 May 2005 will now take place on Thursday, 5 May.

    This measure is a purely administrative one and simply brings local election dates in Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom. It has been discussed in advance with the chief electoral officer and the Electoral Commission and has the broad support of parties in Northern Ireland. The order is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. It is being made by the Secretary of State in exercise of the powers conferred on him by Section 84(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

    I commend the Order to the House. I beg to move.

    Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 20 January be approved [7th Report from the Joint Committee].(Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)

    rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion, at end to insert "but this House regrets that Her Majesty's Government did not take full account of the concerns expressed by the Electoral Commission about polling for more than one election using different voting systems taking place on the same day."

    The noble Lord said: My Lords, I thank the Minister for briefly pointing out the rationale behind this order. We find it very difficult to accept the Government's reasoning for moving the date of the local elections in Northern Ireland. Why is it suddenly so necessary to move the date of the local elections, when Northern Ireland has coped perfectly well with voting on the third Wednesday in May since at least 1973? Why are the Government suddenly so keen to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK?

    Elections in Northern Ireland are carried out by the Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland, and the electoral office there. Administratively, it makes no difference whether local elections in Northern Ireland take place on the same day as the rest of the UK. The change will bring Northern Ireland into line only with the English shire practice. The Scottish Parliament legislates for local government there—and in no other aspect of local government are the Government proposing to bring Northern Ireland into line with Great Britain.

    There is not the consistency in government policy that the Minister implied. We should recall that in 2003 the Government were not so keen to keep Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the UK. It was intended to have elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament on the same day. However, the Government postponed elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly twice before finally holding them in November 2003.

    Further, Northern Ireland is not averse to holding elections on days other than Thursday. As I have said before, local elections are traditionally held on a Wednesday; the postponed Assembly election in 2003 was held on 26 November, a Wednesday.

    A major problem is that the Government have not had any formal consultation on this proposal. It has only been made public at a very late stage, which raises suspicions about the Government's real motivation. We suspect that it is to ensure that the local elections in Northern Ireland coincide with the general election—hence our amendment to the Motion—and this will do nothing but create problems.

    In 2001, two elections in one day using two different voting systems—first past the post and single transferable vote—led to significant confusion. Under STV, the candidates are numbered 1,2,3; this is very different from the additional member system, for example, under which a candidate and a list both get a single cross. This created extra work for polling station staff who had to remind voters which papers were to be used for which system. From evidence at counts, there would have been a massive number of spoilt papers if the usual UK rules on the interpretation of marks other than a cross had been applied. In a number of polling stations, electors were deterred by lengthy queues. In at least one, at Garrison in County Fermanagh, the poll remained open illegally late, with consequent allegations of intimidation of staff by party workers to achieve this.

    The report of the Electoral Commission into the 2001 general election—Election 2001: The Official Results—said:
    "This year, for the first time, the election in Northern Ireland consisted of a synchronised poll, combining the Westminster general election with elections to the 26 district councils. Local elections held under the single transferable vote (STV) system, have traditionally taken place on a different day than a Westminster poll and concern was expressed that the combination would place undue pressure on the resources of the Electoral Office. Almost inevitably, the process of completing two ballot papers with separate voting systems took more time than anticipated and in some areas substantial queues built up outside polling stations. A number of spoilt ballot papers may also indicate that the combination of the two electoral systems led to confusion among voters.
    "Despite extensive publicity, including television advertising aimed at encouraging people to vote early in the day, some Presiding Officers reported having to turn voters away at the close of poll. Frustration with these delays led to reported irregularities, where voters were allowed to cast their votes after the official closing time of 10pm. In one such case, in the constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone, an election petition has now been brought by the defeated Ulster Unionist candidate. Concerns were also raised over the safety of staff and security of polling stations after two police officers and an elector were injured … in a polling station shortly before it closed".

    Northern Ireland is different; it has different election systems, and it will, we believe, lead to further confusion if the local elections are held at the same time as the general election. I beg to move.

    Moved, as an amendment to the Motion, at end to insert "but this House regrets that Her Majesty's Government did not take full account of the concerns expressed by the Electoral Commission about polling for more than one election using different voting systems taking place on the same day".—(Lord Smith of Clifton.)

    My Lords, I have listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Smith, has said about his amendment. Your Lordships will not be surprised to know that I had discussions and thoughts about this before coming in today.

    The noble Lord makes many good points. However, we have other major problems with elections in Northern Ireland which he did not mention. Perhaps one of the most serious is that of turnout, which is also relevant in this country. Turnout at elections in Northern Ireland has been falling: the figures used to be in the seventies and are now in the low fifties. Figures for the turnout of young people are also falling.

    Coming into line with the remainder of the UK has pluses and minuses. I can see from the Government's point of view and an administrative point of view why this seems sensible. As a rule, the more that Northern Ireland's processes come into line with those of the UK, the happier I am and the better it is for all. That is what I believe. However, I accept that there is a balance between the risk of confusion, with two different voting systems, and the extra time it will take to operate the polls should the electorate turn out late in the day in majority numbers.

    The noble Lord mentioned what happened in 2001. The officials responsible for the election should have learnt from that experience and put adequate staffing and polling booths into the polling stations. On balance, I believe that for the political parties to be able to kill two birds with one stone—or one shot—by having one day for polling, albeit with two different systems, is probably easier and has a greater possibility of getting more people to the polls than to have poll A on day one and a second poll a week or two later. I do not believe that there is sufficient interest in politics in Northern Ireland for the electorate to turn out on what might be chilly, rainy, early spring days and vote twice when, with some sensible organisation, such as the order provides, it could be done on one day.

    I do not support the noble Lord's amendment. I support the order unamended.

    My Lords, I think that the order is absolutely wrong. Here we are, on 2 March, discussing bringing forward an election two months to 5 May. If it really were a matter of synchronising local government elections in England and local government elections in Northern Ireland, it would be thoroughly and properly discussed as a synchronising measure and would not be rushed in at this stage. We all know what this is about—it is about the unannounced general election.

    I have three questions for the noble Baroness. I believe that whatever is done, there will be an element of confusion because two electoral systems will be used on the same day. People will be given two ballot papers—on one you are requested to put a cross next to one candidate's name and on the other you have to put 1,2,3 until you have exhausted your choice.

    If the local government ballot paper is marked with one X at the count, is that counted as a first preference? Secondly, if, at the national election, people mark the ballot paper 1,2,3, is that No. 1 regarded as an X? Those are two fundamental questions. I am concerned that the vote should have real value.

    My third question might be seen as a little more esoteric. Paragraph 8.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum says:
    "A Regulatory Impact Assessment has not been prepared for this instrument as it has no impact on the public sector, business, charities or voluntary bodies".
    Surely the result of an election could have all sorts of impact on those bodies. I should have thought that there was one particular impact from the local government point of view, if I get an affirmative answer to my questions about the X and the 1,2,3. Supposing the person who is given an X on the local government ballot paper gets well beyond the quota. The fact that there is no 2,3,4,5 on the ballot paper so marked will affect the election.

    I would have thought that there should have been a regulatory impact assessment for us to know what was going to happen. As my noble friend Lord Smith explained, we have been in the situation before with two elections on one day, so we know that there will be confusion; we just do not know how much. I would have thought that that would have an impact on a result, which could have an important impact on the way in which local government is conducted in Northern Ireland.

    My Lords, I would like to thank noble Lords who have spoken. I begin with the last point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Shutt. My understanding of the terms of reference on regulatory impact assessment does not tally with his. I do not think that a regulatory impact assessment would achieve what he seeks, but I would like to clarify that in writing.

    On the other point, based on my understanding of electoral law—I will confirm in writing whether I am correct—it would be unwise for me to offer an opinion from the Dispatch Box on whether particular ballot papers are accepted as valid because the procedure followed to determine that is enshrined in law.

    The noble Lord, Lord Shutt, has such long experience of elections that he will understand my hesitation in trespassing into that area. I am sure that the point that he raised will be borne in mind when those judgments are made properly by the right person in the right place.

    I shall clarify one point. This has nothing to do with a general election; it is an administrative move to bring Northern Ireland permanently into line with the rest of the UK. If a general election were to be called for 5 May, there would be practical difficulties and financial implications in running two elections within 13 days of each other—a point which noble Lords will recognise could lead to a different form of confusion than the one they appear to fear.

    It would also place a heavy financial burden on the resources of the Northern Ireland parties if there were two separate elections, and a great strain on the machinery. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, that there was not formal consultation. However, we consulted with Northern Ireland parties, a number of which have been actively lobbying Ministers to move the date of the local elections.

    The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, made it clear that he was aware of that point. It was discussed in advance with the chief electoral officer and the Electoral Commission, who supported the measure.

    The noble Lord, Lord Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, referred to previous experience and the need to ensure that previous problems did not recur. Since the combined poll in 2001 the number of available polling stations has increased by nearly 25 per cent; and proper training is to be provided for the staff who work in them. That is being carefully planned and thought through and I hope that this will allay some of the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Smith.

    In addition, the Electoral Commission will be running a high profile publicity campaign telling electors about different voting systems were there to be a combined poll.

    I hope that I have allayed some of the fears of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, and that with those assurances and the promise of a letter confirming whether my reply to the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, was correct in every detail, he will not press his amendment.

    My Lords, as always the Minister is charm itself and I congratulate her. However, I am not wholly convinced by her assurances; nor do I think that she has answered satisfactorily my noble friend Lord Shutt's analysis. He was talking not about the law but behaviour, which is something we cannot legislate for easily. We think that problems will arise.

    I was glad to know that there will be more polling stations, because otherwise we have the ridiculous situation of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, complaining about reduced turnout; and the poor devils being locked out because they cannot vote due to the complications of the system. While I do not necessarily accept the logic behind the brief that the Minister has been given, I will nevertheless withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    On Question, Motion agreed to.

    Northern Ireland Act 2000 (Modification) Order 2005

    6.56 p.m.

    rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 3 February be approved [9th Report from the Joint Committee].

    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the order's effect is to extend the power to legislate on Northern Ireland matters by Order in Council for a further six months; that is, until 14 October 2005. Your Lordships have already agreed four times to the extension of this power originally set out in the Northern Ireland Act 2000 since the suspension of devolution in October 2002. Many of your Lordships will recognise such a debate being a familiar feature of the annual direct rule renewal debates prior to 1999. I am sure that we will deeply regret that such debates are not consigned to history.

    As noble Lords will recall, when the Government last renewed this power, there was a sense of optimism among those involved in the peace process. There had been significant progress in intensive negotiations at Leeds Castle. The momentum continued through the following months, culminating in the publication in December of the package of proposals for a comprehensive agreement.

    The proposals demonstrated substantial progress and agreement on a wide range of issues. As noble Lords are aware, the significant progress made last year has been deeply damaged by the Northern Bank raid at the end of December. Both the Chief Constable and the Independent Monitoring Commission have said that it was carried out by the Provisional IRA. The commission's fourth report, published earlier this month, concluded that Sinn Fein must bear its share of responsibility.

    I recognise the strength of feeling across the House on these issues. I am sure that noble Lords will join me in condemning the continued paramilitary and criminal activity that is the obstacle now to a lasting and durable settlement in Northern Ireland. I can assure the House that we will continue to work closely with the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland parties to do everything we can to restore stable and inclusive devolved government to Northern Ireland based on exclusively peaceful and democratic means. I realise that governing Northern Ireland by Order in Council is not where any of us would wish to be, but until such time as devolution is restored it is a necessity. I beg to move.

    Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 3 February be approved [9th Report from the Joint Committee].(Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)

    My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for bringing forward the order. She is right that we are all sad and sorry that it is necessary and the number of times that it has had to be renewed. I wonder optimistically if perhaps the reason that we are where we are now will evolve into being the bursting of the abscess that has been the core of evil hidden under a cloak of parliamentary and pseudo-politics. We can only hope that from this low point we can move forward to better things. I support the order.

    I thank the Minister for explaining the purposes of the order, which is becoming a tedious and monotonous regular feature of the business of your Lordships' House. We are frustrated that two and a half years after the Assembly was suspended, there is still no prospect of restoring devolution to Northern Ireland and I am afraid that we are in for a protracted period of direct rule.

    The current situation of putting through significant and substantial legislation for Northern Ireland by order in a couple of hours is not sustainable. Tonight is symptomatic of that. We are considering four orders, time is getting on, there is tremendous pressure to speed things up and it is a bad way of treating Northern Ireland business. As I have said before, particularly in the light of this protracted period of direct rule, we must have a better and different system of doing things. The Government must apply their minds to making alternative arrangements.

    The noble Baroness said, "We have no alternative but to do this by order". I said recently in your Lordships' House that orders are unsatisfactory because they are basically anti-democratic. You have to let the Government have their way. I have given notice before and I give it again: we will start opposing orders because, if they are not amenable to amendment, there will be occasions when it may be necessary to oppose them.

    Will the Government provide more notice before such orders are discussed? It is unrealistic to expect everyone involved in Northern Ireland business to get their heads around complex legislation such as the budget in a couple of days. After all, much of the legislation that comes to us by order is not secondary legislation or short regulations; they are, to all intents and purposes, Bills.

    Do the Government accept, therefore, that this is an unacceptable way to keep legislating for Northern Ireland? Frankly, it is insulting to the people of Northern Ireland that this House decides on important matters of public policy, on the real bread and butter issues of Northern Ireland that hold society together, with perhaps only an hour's discussion. It is lucky to have even that in many cases.

    Will the Government agree that legislating for Northern Ireland is not a part-time job? Would the Government consider providing a dedicated Northern Ireland Minister for the House of Lords, as we had before devolution? It would go some way to assist the workings of this House if we had someone operating in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, did before devolution.

    What talks are the Government having with political parties in Northern Ireland to move the process forward? What options are the Government discussing with them? I accept that inevitably, with yet another election and in the marching season, there are few windows of opportunity of, dare I say it, normalcy in Northern Ireland to have such discussions. It is not a normal type of place. But are they giving any consideration to restoring the scrutiny committees of the Assembly to allow them to look at legislation and make recommendations and amendments before they come to Parliament? It would be extremely helpful if your Lordships had some guidance from the local leaders in Northern Ireland on the various orders that come before us.

    Are the Government considering whether it would be possible to restore the Assembly and devolve power to it without including Sinn Fein in the executive? That may become an option—the longer that Sinn Fein makes no public declaration that it is divorcing itself from its paramilitary wing, the longer it will exclude itself. We hope that that does not happen and that it can make such a declaration, but, as has been said, why should the other political parties be put in baulk as a result of Sinn Fein's current position?

    The current situation is unacceptable and has been going on for far too long. The Government must apply their minds to putting in place an effective method of scrutinising legislation for the good of everyone in Northern Ireland.

    My Lords, I thank the Minister for outlining the order. We have reached a turning point in Northern Ireland's political process and if the situation is not urgently addressed, the great momentum for democratic government that the signing of the Belfast agreement epitomised may be lost.

    We have heard such rhetoric before. The two governments, however, are at a fork in the road where they must now take the necessary decisions and painful steps to ensure that the integrity of the process is not irreparably damaged. The vacuum at the heart of the process is a direct result of the actions of one political party and the two governments' refusal to treat it in accordance with democratic standards. I am, of course, speaking of Sinn Fein. The Government must now decide, finally, what measures they will bring to bear on Sinn Fein to ensure an end to the duality of its paramilitary/political existence that has strangled the atmosphere for peaceful coexistence over the past six years. That transition period is well and truly over. The crux of the matter is that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland expect a level playing field in political life. They expect parties to be treated equally, but certainly do not expect parties that are up to their necks in criminality and brutal murder to be given a set of rules to play because of their special needs.

    The recent sickening murder of Robert McCartney was reminiscent of the acts of savagery carried out by the Shankill butchers in the 1970s. Gerry Adams informs us that Mr McCartney's murderers will face IRA expulsion. The Secretary of State, Paul Murphy, announced yesterday that that was not good enough. Perhaps Sinn Fein will heed his advice and hand them over to the police. However, I doubt it. Today, Mr Adams's colleagues in Belfast City Council would not support a motion calling on the public to go forward with information to the police.

    My colleagues and I have been calling for the exclusion of Sinn Fein from any prospective executive should the Government recall the Assembly not because we do not want a political process that includes republicans to succeed. Our conduct to date indicates the exact opposite. We have called for their exclusion simply because it is untenable for the Government to limp on through the elections, dragging the republican movement behind it, in the hope that the same paradoxical political fix between the DUP and Sinn Fein that failed last Christmas will work again next autumn. The premise of such thinking can only be that any short-term formula can acceptably be enforced on the people of Northern Ireland to keep the Belfast agreement alive and Sinn Fein included. This will not work.

    It strikes me as extremely ironic when I hear people in Britain talk about the continuing intolerance of the two communities in Northern Ireland. Yet the two Governments have repeatedly asked the people in Northern Ireland to tolerate a political formula that they would never dream of accepting themselves, never mind imposing on the people of Great Britain or the Republic of Ireland. Sharing power with a party that robs banks, murders people, runs international crime syndicates and rules its own community through intimidation is not an acceptable option for the democratic population of Northern Ireland.

    Last week the Prime Minister said that:
    "The overwhelming view now in the whole of the island of Ireland, north and south, is there cannot be a place for Sinn Fein in an inclusive government in Northern Ireland unless there is a complete end to all forms of paramilitary activity and criminality by the IRA".
    This has been the overwhelming view of the vast majority of people, north and south, since the beginning of the process. In response to a question from my colleague, the honourable Member for South Antrim, during Prime Minister's Questions last Wednesday, the Prime Minister said:
    "Unified pressure from north and south is now necessary to ensure that we either manage to get a way forward involving all political parties, or find a different way forward".—[Official Report, Commons, 23/2/05; col. 307.]
    Can the Government enlighten us about what that united pressure will amount to? How will it differ from the Government's strategy to date? What form will the different way forward take? My fear is the two Governments will continue to do what they have done since 1998, and that is to punish the democrats collectively with Sinn Fein for fear that those who threaten the democratic process with violence might slip out of the political loop. That is again a formula that has borne no fruit. It simply suggests that the two Governments have little faith in the political process in Northern Ireland. This is a message that has clearly not been lost on Sinn Fein/IRA.

    Tonight we are discussing the continuation of direct rule. That is fine, but there are some issues that we must consider as well. One is the failure of the cross-border bodies to be of any assistance to the general community in Northern Ireland. They simply act on behalf of the Irish Government. In effect, we have joint authority in the areas where there is cross-border activity.

    In the case of Waterways Ireland—which I have raised in this Chamber before—the post of director of marketing and communications was not filled by open competition and is not made amenable to the law of the United Kingdom, although the post is located in Enniskillen in County Fermanagh. This issue has been covered up time and again at the behest of the Dublin Government through the North/South Ministerial Council.

    I asked a Written Question recently about the employment law to which the posts of directors of Waterways Ireland are subject if they are based at the headquarters in County Fermanagh. I received the most unacceptable Answer, which stated:
    "Employment in the post of directors of Waterways Ireland is likely to be subject to the law of the United Kingdom".—[Official Report, 24/2/05; col. WA 218.]
    It is "likely" to be subject to the law of the United Kingdom.

    These posts are in a part of the United Kingdom, but there is no open competition for them, nor for promotion. A director of marketing and communications was appointed. Now, I have been in that industry for more than 30 years. I am one of two visiting professors of that subject in the United Kingdom. I was denied the right to apply for a job in Waterways Ireland. That is not the sort of legislation that we have in Northern Ireland. It is not the sort of legislation we want in Northern Ireland. We have legislation that covers open competition and allows for no discrimination in employment on any basis. Yet these practices, which may be acceptable in the Irish Republic, are now taking place as a result of the cross-border bodies.

    It has been covered up by the North/South Ministerial Council, which has wiped its hands clean of this appointment. Yet, for example, on 14 April 2003, it confirmed the appointment of the chief executive of the Ulster-Scots Agency. But I could find no such confirmation for the director of marketing and communications for Waterways Ireland, who was appointed from a shortlist of one, with no experience of waterways and very little experience of marketing and communications. He was, as I have told this House before, a fixer for Charlie Haughey in the Fianna Fail office in Dublin. Do we want that sort of southern Irish governance creeping into Northern Ireland, as we saw in the cross-border bodies? That is not what I signed up for.

    On the subject of cross-border bodies, I shall make a point about an activity that has gone on in Middletown, where it is proposed that there should be a centre for autistic children. I totally accept that it is required and, as I am dyslexic, I am very interested in extra teaching resources for disabled kids. But in Middletown, at the behest of the southern Government working through the North/South Ministerial Council, Her Majesty's Government have provided money to buy a convent and a chapel. Part of the area will be used for a special needs school and the convent and the chapel will be leased back to the church at a nominal rent. I am not against the convent, the chapel or schools for autistic children. But there must be a lot of public property in Northern Ireland that is not currently being used for education. What was the selection process for Middletown? What was the selection process for this cross-border body?

    It is time that we looked at these cross-border bodies, which should not exist without devolution. Tonight, we are discussing direct rule and we should be looking at these bodies, which should not exist with direct rule. I want to know why Her Majesty's Government bailed out a religious order in Middletown with government money, why they bought property that they did not need and are now seeking to let back to a church. None of this is what I voted for when I voted for the Belfast agreement.

    7.15 p.m.

    My Lords, this order extends the Order in Council for another six months, for the obvious reason that devolution has not taken place on the basis of the Belfast agreement, nor is it likely to. That is the problem. I agree with the spokesman for the Liberal Democrats that direct rule will be required for a very long period in the present circumstances.

    The situation on the ground in Northern Ireland is deteriorating. One can sense that as one moves around Northern Ireland. Bitterness is increasing. Sinn Fein/IRA are active on the ground in criminality and terrorism. Only 10 days ago, the leader of Sinn Fein/IRA, Mr Gerry Adams, led a paramilitary parade through the town of Strabane with republican flags and men in party uniform and black caps. No one took any action. The Government did not condemn it; the police did not take any action. That kind of flaunting of republicanism by Mr Gerry Adams, supported by his paramilitaries, is damaging the good atmosphere that had been developed in Northern Ireland since the signing of the Belfast agreement.

    When this order states that the Order in Council will be extended until October this year, does that means that the Assembly will remain in existence for another six months? People will reach that conclusion. As one who negotiated and signed the Belfast agreement, I do not believe that it is possible any longer to have a fully inclusive executive at Stormont. Such damage has been done in the past few months that the idea of unionists joining with Mr Gerry Adams in an executive is beyond my imagination.

    We had a very promising interview last weekend by the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Mr Paisley, on Dublin radio, of all places, in which he said that he would share in government with Sinn Fein/IRA, irrespective of what had taken place in the past, if it abandoned criminality and carried out decommissioning that is visible to the public. Well, we live in hope, but I doubt whether that will happen.

    I have to join with the Liberal Democrats in saying that the Government must come forward with new proposals for legislation in Northern Ireland.

    I am a little surprised at the explanatory document which says that there will not be much public interest in this particular measure. There is a lot of public criticism in Northern Ireland at the lack of ability to amend legislation affecting Northern Ireland that is pushed through by Order in Council and cannot be amended. I think that the Official Opposition should take the issue more seriously. They should begin to say, "We are going to oppose this strongly if it comes up again".

    My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Other noble Lords and Government Ministers will know that the Official Opposition, at times with the Liberal Democrats and at times on our own, have worked extremely hard with whatever means we know to try to improve the situation that the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, is talking about. I ask him to think about maybe correcting his last statement.

    My Lords, I am interested in the explanation given, but I am comforted more by what the Liberal Democrats said—that in future they will actually oppose these Orders in Council and not simply criticise them and then not oppose them. I believe that the time has come when Orders in Council must be opposed in Parliament.

    My final point is that the Assembly has now been elected for 18 months. You cannot go on for ever retaining an Assembly, Members of the Legislative Assembly and heads, with salaries and expenses. The Assembly has been heavily criticised by the public in Northern Ireland. I have defended it up to now. But the time is running out, I have to say, if you do not use the elected Assembly for some purpose in, for example, scrutinising the legislation before it is approved in this Parliament, because it will not have legislative powers. Some formula must be developed over the next six months whereby the elected MLAs will scrutinise legislation and then come here with their recommendation. If that does not happen I fear that in six months' time the Assembly itself will have to be closed down as well.

    My Lords, I first place on record that there is no pressure on any noble Lord to speed things up tonight. It has just gone 20 past 7. I am sorry if the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, perceived that there was. It most certainly is not the case.

    My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is fully aware and shares the concerns about the process that we use for accountability and detailed scrutiny of issues. Our ultimate goal remains the restoration of the Assembly, so that Ministers in their power-sharing executive can take responsibility for local issues, being held to account by locally elected politicians.

    Equally, we are committed to looking at how best to configure arrangements in Northern Ireland to provide an effective and efficient means of delivering and accounting for local services. The review of public administration aims to do that.

    We recognise and share the view all noble Lords expressed on the need to look at how local accountability under the present system of direct rule can be strengthened. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is currently doing that. I urge noble Lords with detailed views to write to my right honourable friend expressing them. We take very seriously the need to think creatively and imaginatively about how to configure arrangements in Northern Ireland to provide an effective and efficient means of providing that local accountability.

    The noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, asked about the period over which the order is provided for. The period provided for in the order is six months. Therefore, the period will expire, as the noble Lord recognised, on 14 October 2005, or earlier if devolved government is restored.

    The noble Lord raised the issue of how much longer. We recognise that we were close to a political deal last December, although not close enough. The present arrangements, including for MLAs' salaries and allowances, were appropriate while progress was being made. We are now reviewing these and other issues with the political parties. We will not make any snap decision on salaries until this process has been completed.

    In response to the noble Lord, Lord Laird, the Chief Constable has stated that PIRA currently retains the capability to return to terrorism. He has also said that he thinks it is unlikely that it will actually return to that point. But we shall keep the level of threat under review, as we do with all terrorist organisations, and will respond appropriately to any change. We sincerely hope that no terrorist group currently on ceasefire will increase the level of violence in which it is involved. That is in no one's interest.

    The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, referred to how much longer can we go on and asked why we cannot look at a different way of setting up the Assembly. We know that all noble Lords appreciate that we really must ensure that any Assembly is representative and is cross-community. Therefore, we will work towards that.

    The Secretary of State made it clear in his Statement that long-term stability in Northern Ireland could not come about if we focus on exclusion. That objective requires inclusion. Dialogue with Sinn Fein must continue to see how that long-term goal can be achieved. Nothing is ruled in or out at this point.

    I echo the statement made by the Reverend Ian Paisley—which the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, recognised-that when we are in a situation where people are committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic means and they have a mandate, then we must be prepared to talk to them.

    Following the suspension of the Assembly in October 2002, the North/South Ministerial Council agreed that policies and actions relating to the implementation bodies and Tourism Ireland would be taken by the two governments. These policies and actions were confined to those already agreed by the North/South Ministerial Council.

    The noble Lord, Lord Laird, asked me many detailed questions regarding the waterways. As he acknowledged, he has had a great deal of correspondence from the Lord President. who unfortunately is not able to be here tonight. The decision to locate the headquarters for Waterways Ireland in Enniskillen was made by the North/South Ministerial Council on 13 December 1999. The staff at Waterways Ireland have been in inappropriate accommodation for four years in the expectation that the council's decision to create a new headquarters in Enniskillen would relieve accommodation problems.

    In July 2004 the Secretary of State concluded that giving effect to the council's decision is a matter of care and maintenance. That project is now proceeding.

    The noble Lord puts me in some difficulty. I shall answer in as detailed a way as is appropriate in dealing with an individual in an individual appointment. The post of director of corporate services designate was filled by an officer on secondment from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. His period of secondment has now ended. He has returned to his parent department. He was not removed from his post in Waterways Ireland. While he was offered and accepted the post of director of corporate services following open competition, he did not take up the post.

    My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. I am not sure what has happened here. I did not raise the issue of the location of Waterways Ireland in Enniskillen. I said it was a fact that the headquarters is in Enniskillen, so therefore, as part of the United Kingdom, one has to assume that the legislation for people who work in Enniskillen is UK legislation. Will the Minister confirm that?

    I did not talk about the director of corporate services, but about the director of marketing and communications—a totally different post. I will deal with the question of the director of corporate services on another day. With respect to your Lordships' House, this is not the issue I raised.

    My Lords, the sum total of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Laird, create an impression that positions were not being filled correctly in that organisation.

    My Lords, I wonder if I could be helpful on this matter, without concentrating on the individual involved. We do not simply use the United Kingdom's employment legislation—there is separate legislation for Northern Ireland, which includes fair employment legislation. I will not ask the Minister for a reply now, but perhaps she could let me know in writing if the fair employment legislation in Northern Ireland applies to all employees within these north-south bodies.

    My Lords, I would be delighted to do exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, asked.

    The noble Lord, Lord Laird, also referred to the issue of witnesses assisting the police with the McCartney investigation. We emphasise the Government's commitment to ensuring that witnesses should be able to give evidence without fear, and we encourage those with any information to come forward and give it to the police. I do not want to get involved in commenting on the specifics of the investigation, for reasons I know noble Lords will find self-evident.

    The Secretary of State has been meeting with Northern Ireland parties to find out their views. Our goal remains the restoration of an inclusive power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland, and we shall not abandon our commitment to that.

    I conclude by echoing the words referred to by the noble Lord. Lord Kilclooney. The reverend Ian Paisley said,
    "I have made it clear that, as a democrat, if people turn up with a mandate, and if that mandate does not depend on criminality, does not depend on armed revolt and rebellion … I would face up to the fact that I would have to do business with them."
    That is an unexceptionable position to be in. I am sure that in approving this order tonight, as I hope noble Lords will, we can work together to try and find a better way to work until we are in a position where the order is not essential.

    I am conscious that the noble Lord, Lord Laird, has asked me detailed questions with regard to a particular post. I am aware of the fact, and I have copies of the copious responses to the detailed questions put by the noble Lord. I am not in any way seeking to tell the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, that I want to be hasty about this, but I suspect that noble Lords would prefer that I wrote rather than read out all that correspondence. I commend the order to the House.

    On Question, Motion agreed to.

    District Policing Partnerships (Northern Ireland) Order 2005

    7.34 p.m.

    rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 21 February be approved.

    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, your Lordships might find it helpful if I briefly set out the basis of the proposals.

    The main purpose of the order is to ensure that district policing partnerships in Northern Ireland continue to function without interruption. As the legislation currently stands, these bodies would cease to operate at the date of the next local government election until reconstituted. The next such election is scheduled for May. Due to the appointment process for independent DPP members, which is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, the reconstitution of the DPPs will not occur for at least six months after the local government election. During that period there will be no DPPs in operation, which is of course unacceptable given their important role.

    To deal with that, on this occasion and each time there is a local government election, the order proposes to extend temporarily the office of both currently elected and independent members until the new DPPs are established. The order is a permanent solution to that provision.

    The order also proposes to make two amendments to current legislation that are deemed beneficial to the practical workings of DPPs. First, holding the position as chair and vice-chair of DPPs is currently open to elected members only. The order provides that the position of vice-chair would, for reconstituted DPPs, be open to independent members only. The proposal is seen as integrating independent members further into the role of DPPs and acknowledges the important contribution they make to monitoring policing in Northern Ireland.

    Secondly, the order amends a "removal from office" clause to include a conviction for a criminal offence after appointment, whether committed before or after the date of appointment. It is intended that the provisions of the order will be brought into force on 1 April 2005 to allow them to be in place prior to the local government election scheduled for May.

    There has been a wide consultation process with all the relevant parties, including those directly affected by the changes—namely, the 26 DPPs—and addresses concerns raised by those bodies and others. Overall, the proposals have been welcomed and are considered appropriate.

    It might be helpful to remind the House of the role of the DPPs. The functions of these bodies are set out in Section 16 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000. Their role is to consult the public on policing issues, generate local-level dialogue and provide views to the police district commander and the policing board. They also monitor the performance of police locally in carrying out the local policing plan, and the wider annual policing plan. I take this opportunity also to acknowledge that many of those participating in this role have done so at the expense of their own personal safety, for which we thank them and pay tribute to them. I commend this order to your Lordships.

    Moved. That the draft Order laid before the House on 21 February he approved.—(Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)

    My Lords, once again I thank the noble Baroness for such a clear explanation of what the Government are proposing to do with this order. I should like first to associate myself with her comments about members who, in certain parts, have served on DPPs at considerable risk to themselves, and who indeed have been threatened and attacked.

    I am the first to admit that I was critical of the process of setting up DPPs when the Act was being debated. At the end of the day, I believe that we got the pro forma about right. I regularly read the reports from the Northern Ireland Policing Board, and it would appear from them that the DPPs are doing an excellent job and playing a very proactive part in the linkages between the Policing Board, the Chief Constable. the PSNI and local communities.

    The noble Baroness said that the role of vice-chairman was open to independent members of DPPs. As I understand it, the position of vice-chairman must be held by an independent member.

    I am sorry, my Lords; if I did not say "only" clearly enough, I should have done. I correct the noble Lord.

    My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that. The order does a lot of good administrative tidying up. I am not an expert on policing but it seems that the DPPs at this stage are a great success. I believe that there are difficulties in filling all the places on DPPs. That is not altogether surprising, for reasons that I have already given. Extending the life of DPPs to allow a six-month gap between the election and reappointment of the next DPP is eminently sensible. I support the order.

    My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness for bringing forward the order. I associate these Benches with the remarks made about DPP members and their bravery in the very difficult times in the past. We hope that in the future they will continue to flourish. We welcome the order; its provisions are very sensible and right.

    I had to turn to the Explanatory Notes to gain an understanding of why the consultation period has been shortened from 12 to four weeks. However, we understand the circumstances and hope that such an occurrence will be an exception rather than the rule in the future.

    Article 3, on the effects of local government elections on membership of DPPs, makes a very sensible change. It would be unfortunate to lose the good work that the DPPs are doing, even if only for a short period. due to a technical fault in the legislation.

    I am also glad to see the amended wording in Article 4, on the removal of members of a DPP from office. It is to be hoped that such a situation will not arise, but it is better to prevent the situation of a member being able to remain on a DPP following a conviction just because the offence was committed before his or her appointment. That would go entirely against the spirit of the purpose of the DPPs.

    We also welcome the amendment in Article 5 regarding the vice-chairman of DPPs. It is important that we should not prevent or preclude independent members from that position. We very much support the order.

    My Lords, I particularly welcome the order; it is common sense. I thank the Minister and the spokespersons for both Her Majesty's Opposition and the Liberal Democrats for their tributes to the members of the district policing partnerships. I am a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board. We have heard today that, yet again, another member has been intimidated, in the Newry area. That goes on almost regularly. Some members are showing great courage and making a genuine effort to make policing work in Northern Ireland in a manner acceptable to all communities there. They should be supported; the Government's support is much appreciated.

    I can confirm that the DPPs are now working throughout every district council area in Northern Ireland. We had one problem, which went on for some time, but it has been resolved. All are working effectively and are very useful.

    On the restriction of the vice-chairmanship to independents, is the chairmanship restricted 1 o elected members or is it possible to have an independent both as a chairman and a vice-chairman? Given that local elections are about to be held in Northern Ireland, and since district policing partnerships comprise independents and elected district councillors, will DPP members who are district councillors but who lose their seats in the forthcoming local government election immediately cease to be members of the district policy partnership, or will they continue until the new DPI' is reconstructed?

    My Lords, I want to associate myself with the Minister and other noble Lords who have paid tribute to the setting up of the DPPs. When I first came to this House, there were community liaison police committees in Northern Ireland. I could not understand why the Government wanted to change them as they worked so well, but I now see the value of DPPs. I add my name to the tributes to members. I know personally a few members who work under great stress and threat. In a strange way the threat seems to make them all the more determined; that is good for Northern Ireland.

    The Minister talked about a six-month gap before the renewal of the DPP. Could a provision be included to ensure that the change did not happen all at once, and that it was staggered? DPP members have to learn a lot of things and keep that information in their head. If there were a complete renewal of DPPs, we would lose that experience in some areas. Staggering renewal or bringing members in at different times would help the situation.

    7.45 p.m.

    My Lords, I thank the Minister for outlining the order. Like other noble Lords I welcome this order, which is designed to extend the lifespan of existing district policing partnerships beyond the forthcoming election period, although the long-term beneficial impact of DPPs is yet to be totally evaluated.

    It is, however, extremely important that for whatever benefits the DPPs can deliver the Government maximise the continuity of service of those members already sitting. Given the time that it would take to interview people and the disruption of the holiday period following elections, it would probably be optimistic to imagine that the new DPPs would be operational before January 2006. As such, it makes sense that the current DPPs should operate as they are until that time. Continuity in this matter is essential.

    Another important point is that councillors who are already serving should be allowed to maintain their positions until the end of the session, regardless of whether they are returned in the forthcoming local elections. That again will reinforce that sense of continuity.

    Where it has not been possible to form a DPP as quickly as would have been wished, or where a DPP has functioned for less than two years, there should be, as far as possible, reappointment of independent members so that, again, maximum use is made of the experience of those members sitting.

    I join other noble Lords in paying tribute to the gallant members of DPPs. People on this side of the water may not fully appreciate their courage but we who wish to operate the system back in Northern Ireland fully appreciate it. I identify myself with the remarks about their courage.

    My Lords, I thank noble Lords on all sides. A very constructive approach has been taken all round the House to the debate on this order. I apologise if my voice was not clear enough; I shall confirm, so that nobody is in any doubt, that the position of chairman is restricted to elected members. Elected members will continue to serve during the transition period. The Northern Ireland Office intends to publish a code on completion of the order's parliamentary process and prior to the launch of the appointment competition for the independent DPP members. The timing of the launch of the competition is a matter for the board but it is likely to take place in the next couple of months.

    My Lords, the noble Baroness says that elected members will continue to serve on DPPs. Does that include elected members who lose their seats in the forthcoming local elections? Will they continue to serve on DPPs?

    My Lords, my understanding, from the information in front of me, is that that is the position. Were I wrong, I would of course want to correct that immediately.

    The reconstitution of DPPs and the appointment of independent members are the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Policing Board. It is the biggest public appointment exercise across all 22 district councils in Northern Ireland.

    In response to the query from my noble friend Lady Blood and the noble Lord, Lord Laird, I understand that the policing board—the noble Lord would know this probably better than I—is considering the process, which will include reappointments where suitable to ensure that continuity, knowledge and experience that have been built up are not lost.

    I confirm that the answer that I gave earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, was correct.

    On Question. Motion agreed to.

    Special Educational Needs And Disability (Northern Ireland) Order 2005

    7.50 p.m.

    rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 9 February be approved.

    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am delighted to take forward this important legislation. It represents a positive step forward in fulfilling the Government's policy on inclusion, giving children, young people and adults with disabilities in Northern Ireland the same rights as their counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales.

    The order will achieve two things: it will strengthen the rights of children with special educational needs to be educated in mainstream schools, and it will introduce enforceable disability discrimination legislation into the education sector in Northern Ireland for the first time.

    The draft order was the subject of extensive consultation during April, May and June 2004. It attracted significant interest, with more than 250 responses received, and involved direct consultations with children and parents. In May last year, the Northern Ireland Orders Grand Committee debated the proposed draft order. That important debate, along with the consultation responses, the direct consultation with children and parents, and meetings with the Equality Commission and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, has helped to shape the draft order. The outcome is that the SEND order is generally welcomed by all sectors. It is viewed as having a beneficial effect on the education and lives of children with special educational needs and on children and adults with disabilities.

    Many of the issues that were raised during the consultation are not directly relevant to the draft order, but they are appropriate to the codes of practice which will support the order and which, in turn, will be consulted on. Some complex issues were raised: how to balance the best interests of the child against parental choice and the efficient education of others. It is tempting to add a third test to the question of whether the education provision is in the child's interests. We agonised for some time over the question of the best interests of the child. We sought advice from many quarters and listened to proposals from the Equality Commission and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. On reflection, we concluded that applying a third test would not be in the interests of children with special educational needs. The order already has the best interests of the child at heart. It already offers in many places the protection that is needed. To alter that protection in a simplistic way could have a negative effect. In fact, it could act as a barrier to children with special educational needs accessing mainstream education.

    A concern was expressed from all sectors that children's voices should be heard, and we agree. That is no less the case for a child with special educational needs, particularly so when a case is brought before the special needs tribunal. Therefore, the regulations that control that body will be revised. In addition, the SEN code of practice will place greater emphasis on the needs of the child.

    The order contains four elements: it builds on and strengthens our existing special educational needs framework; it introduces enforceable disability discrimination legislation in schools in Northern Ireland; it does the same for further and higher education providers; and it makes it unlawful for general qualifications bodies to discriminate on the ground of disability.

    The second element, the disability discrimination provision in schools, removes the exemption of the education sector in Northern Ireland from the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. For the first time, school children in Northern Ireland will benefit from the same rights that, until now, have been available only to staff and visitors to schools. Schools will not be able in their admission, expulsion and suspension arrangements to discriminate against children who have disabilities. They will have to take reasonable steps to ensure that children who have a disability are not placed at a disadvantage to other children. Schools and education and library boards too will have additional duties to improve the accessibility of buildings, the curriculum and the provision of information to pupils with disability.

    Disability discrimination provisions relate also to further and higher education. The third element of the order deals with potential disability discrimination in institutions of further and higher education. The Department for Employment and Learning is seeking to promote the inclusion of students with disability in further and higher education and will ensure that they are not singled out for discrimination.

    While schools will be required to plan to enhance accessibility for pupils with disabilities over time, colleges and universities will have a duty to ensure the physical accessibility of their premises and to ensure that students with disabilities have access to the curriculum. As with schools, those provisions will be supplemented by a code of practice to he produced by the Equality Commission, which will also provide further information.

    The disability discrimination provision relates also to the general qualifications bodies. That is the fourth element of the order. It makes it unlawful for general qualifications bodies to discriminate against people with disabilities in awarding prescribed qualifications.

    I am pleased to announce funding from the Department of Education and the Department for Employment and Learning of £57·8 million for the implementation of the new law. That is in addition to funds already spent in anticipation of the legislation and funds already in place to support the inclusion of people with special educational needs and disabilities in education in Northern Ireland.

    I am conscious that the noble Lord, Lord Laird, raised an issue during discussion of an earlier order which is more appropriately answered here. It dealt with special provision for children in Northern Ireland with disability. I understand that the centre to which he referred deals with children who have problems with autism. I assure the noble Lord that I will scrutinise carefully the large number of questions that he has put to my noble friend the Lord President and see whether any of the points he has raised today have not already been answered by her. Were that to be the case, I would of course write to him. I beg to move.

    Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 9 February be approved.—(Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)

    8 p.m.

    My Lords, I again thank the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, for that clear explanation.

    We are being asked to pass a sizeable Bill as an order tonight. My briefing discussions and what the noble Baroness has told us makes me believe that it is all good news for children who have special educational needs. I am sure that is true, and that it is moving things forward in Northern Ireland.

    I am not an expert in this field, however, and this is the sort of thing that worries me about the way we are governing Northern Ireland. A lot of law is involved and there are many references to discrimination. These issues are normally debated in the usual processes of Committee and Report, when a number of people in your Lordships' House—and there is a lot of expertise in this House or this sort of legislation—or the other place, or both, have a chance to comment on whether the legislation could be improved, and whether it will make carers or teachers more vulnerable to wrongdoing.

    I shall not say anything further against the order. I support it, because I believe it is all good news on the face of it. However, the process of passing this sort of legislation does seriously worry me.

    My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, urged us to look at striking a balance and getting it right. I believe that these proposals go some way towards that, but of course each situation is different. The implementation needs to be carefully monitored. It obviously depends on the individual child's specific and special educational needs. Let us hope that this legislation will help those with and without statements, as well as other children, to realise their full potential.

    Of course, I wholeheartedly support the objective of the order—to give school pupils and students in Northern Ireland the same rights in regard to access to schools and further and higher education institutions as exists in England, Scotland and Wales. While I do not share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, about this particular order, I nevertheless agree with him about the difficulty in dealing with such lengthy and specific legislation, on which we are perhaps not specialists ourselves. Nevertheless, having made those comments earlier—as did my noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton—I certainly support this order.

    My Lords, I had not intended to speak. I just want to say how delighted I am that at last we have got something for the children of Northern Ireland. Back in Northern Ireland, we struggled to get ourselves included in the legislation going through this House. Currently there are a number of issues I am trying to get our Ministers at home to move on, so I am thoroughly delighted with this. I was at a meeting on Monday morning with folk from south-east Belfast who were talking about special needs. They could not wait to have this.

    I certainly support the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. It is a very difficult just to take it and read it. Obviously, however, the people involved in this knew what they were talking about. I am delighted that we are doing something tonight for the children of Northern Ireland.

    My Lords, while acknowledging the words of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blood, and accepting that it is a very lengthy document and there may be a lot of stuff in it that we perhaps do not fully understand, I too would wish to welcome the existence of this order and support it wholeheartedly.

    Any concerns I have about the Centre for Excellence in Middletown have nothing whatsoever to do with the Centre for Excellence. They are to do with the choice of Middletown; the way the property was purchased; the way the two companies were set up; the way it is run through the North/South Ministerial Council;, and the expression of nervousness in a document from the Department of Education on 21 May 2004.

    My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have given their support. I take on board the concern that it is the sort of issue that needs very careful consideration. I reiterate that there was a great deal of consultation.

    I am pleased by the endorsement of the order by my noble friend Lady Blood. Of course I wholeheartedly accept that the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Laird, were not about the quality of the provision for children with autism, but the procedure and the processes.

    On Question, Motion agreed to.

    Gangmasters (Licensing Authority) Regulations 2005

    8.6 p.m.

    The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
    (Lord Whitty)

    rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 26 January be approved [7th Report from the Joint Committee and 9th Report from the Merits Committee].

    The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Gangmasters Licensing Bill was introduced into this House last summer by my noble friend Lord Carter. It had received all-party support in this House and another place. It marked a significant step in the effort to curb the illegal and exploitative activities of some gangmasters in agriculture and related sectors. Some of the experiences and stories of what goes on in that rather murky part of the labour market are indeed horrendous. It was necessary for us to step in.

    The Act provides for a gangmasters licensing authority to be established. It covers labour providers operating in agriculture, shellfish gathering and associated processing and packaging sectors. Once the licensing arrangements are in place, it will be a criminal offence for a person to operate as a gangmaster without a licence or to enter into an arrangement with an unlicensed gangmaster.

    Throughout the process, from the beginning of Jim Sheridan's Private Member's Bill in another place, there has been considerable co-operation with key industrial stakeholders. In particular, the Bill was in part sponsored by the Transport and General Workers Union, who worked very closely with the National Farmers Union, the Fresh Produce Consortium, the Association of Labour Providers—which provides a positive front for the trade—and other elements within the food chain. Agriculture will always need a seasonal and irregular supply of labour. It is very important that that labour is provided on legal terms. We know that there have been far too many instances of breaches of a number of different rules, from immigration through to taxation and health and safety.

    When the Act was passed, we set ourselves the ambitious target of establishing the authority by 1 April this year, and we are on track to achieve that. The regulations before the House tonight relate only to the establishment of the authority, but further regulations will be required before licensing can start. Defra itself will be responsible for the Gangmasters (Exclusions) Regulations, which will be used to fine tune the scope of licensing by specifying the circumstances, such as where workers are loaned by one farmer to another or where there are established practices which do not raise the same kind of problems encountered as those where a gangmaster is used, in which a licence is not required. The background and drafts of those further regulations are now out for consultation.

    We shall also need the Gangmasters (Appeals) Regulations and, in the longer term, regulations to set out the "reasonable steps"—the exercise of due diligence—that an employer of such labour must take to satisfy himself that a gangmaster has a valid licence. Beyond that, the authority will be responsible for making orders setting out the licence conditions. We expect that the authority will make early progress on this as soon as it is legally established. If this is the case, we anticipate that gangmasters will be invited to apply for licences in the late autumn of this year.

    The regulations before the House today deal solely with the establishment of the authority. They set out the framework within which the authority will operate and give it its constitution and structure. They also deal with a few operational matters.

    I am aware that the major comment on these regulations has been about the unusually large size of the board which we are establishing to oversee the operation of the authority. The reason for the large size of the board at this stage is that it builds on the coalition that was so important in ensuring a wide consensus on this issue within the industry. The board includes 19 representatives from the stakeholder organisations specified in Schedule 1. They include trade unions, farmers, labour providers and retailers. That will help ensure that the authority starts up with a wide range of people who are fully informed on what will be required to make the new licensing system work, while ensuring that the system contributes to the prosperity of the agriculture and related sectors.

    Nine ex officio members of the board will be government officials drawn largely from the range of departments involved in enforcement. They will encompass a broad range of authorities dealing with immigration issues, the minimum wage, health and safety, taxation and Customs and Excise. Their presence will be needed to ensure a co-ordinated approach to compliance and enforcement activities and, even more important, to ensure that intelligence is shared between the different agencies. Representative and ex officio members will have the same voting rights and must act in the best interests of the authority at all times.

    We believe that a large board is necessary at the outset, but that this requirement may change over time. In view of this, we have decided that the structure and working of the board will be reviewed after three years. At that point we shall consider the size of the board, probably with a view to reducing it, and to reviewing the respective role of the board and the liaison groups required by the Act. At this stage, however, it is our view that the board needs to be of the size specified in the regulations.

    I hope that the House will approve these important regulations so that the authority can be set up and start work on addressing this very serious problem. I beg to move.

    Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 26 January be approved [7th Report from the Joint Committee and 9th Report from the Merits Committee].—(Lord Whitty.)

    My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing so fully these draft regulations. Before I comment any further, perhaps I may remind the House of my interest as president of Concordia, a charity which places thousands of young people and students in placements both in the UK and internationally. In the past the students have usually studied farming-related topics, which is why they seek to come here. These students are well recognised and are certainly not the kind of workers which these regulations seek to address. However, as the Minister pointed out, some gangmasters take their responsibilities very seriously and ensure that their employees are well looked after. I appreciate that the Act and these regulations in no way seek to do them down.

    We welcome this important step forward and we thank the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for bringing forward his Bill, which received our full support as it was taken through this House. In my opinion it addresses the longstanding problem of rogue gangmasters who misbehave in relation to their workers. Noble Lords on all sides of the House have expressed their abhorrence of those practices.

    Having said that, I want to put on the record a reflection of what the Minister has already indicated. Farming in general, and horticultural businesses in particular, could not operate successfully without employing seasonal workers. Given that the season is being extended at both ends of the year, the working period is now much longer. Our task is to ensure that everyone employed is dealt with in a fair and responsible manner. There is no disagreement between us on that.

    The Minister rightly referred to the Merits Committee, which drew the House's attention to the regulations. Its main focus was the number of board members—some 28—to which the Minister has referred.

    Perhaps in the first instance that is not a had thing. We need to have a good understanding between unions and employers, and crucially, the nine officials and departments that enforce the regulations—or who have done so in the past.

    In another place further questions were raised that were not answered fully, so perhaps the Minister can clarify the position tonight. I am sure that he will agree that consensus is much better than confrontation. Will he confirm that a further review of the numbers of board members will be undertaken? I think that a suggestion of three years was made. Will the Minister say whether the Government accepted that the number of board members would be reviewed after three years?

    Under regulation 8(2), to be quorate the board must have,
    "at least one half of the representative members",
    plus the chairman or his deputy. I have worked that out at 11 persons in total. However, regulation 8(3) allows that quorum to be reduced to only five persons. I wonder why. It is not clear whether that would be for one meeting only or for all meetings thereafter. Will the Minister clarify the position?

    On Monday my honourable friend Michael Jack asked the Minister what would happen if someone had breached the law as an employment gangmaster but subsequently decided to go "legit"—that sounds strange for me to be saying—and made an application to the new authority. What would be his position? In other words, would someone who was considered not to be of a suitable standard be barred? If he wished to fall in with the new standards would he be considered as a suitable gangmaster in the future?

    In response, Alun Michael said that the board would have to consider that, but I wonder whether it is our responsibility to clarify that issue rather than leaving it to the board. I am not sure whether that falls within the scope of the statutory instrument.

    Another matter that was not clarified was whether non-registered UK companies are covered by the same regulations. In other words, if someone from outside wants to become a gangmaster but he is not registered here, will he have to conform in the same way?

    Will the Minister also say whether the new body will be required to carry out a Criminal Records Bureau check on those who apply for licences? How will it go about its job?

    What about the anticipated cost of financing the agency? I understand that in setting it up, Defra will bear the costs. But we have not been told what those are, or whether the fees will cover the long-term costs of running the agency.

    Lastly, will the Minister comment on an issue raised by my honourable friend Owen Paterson who said that currently there are about 14 existing pieces of legislation that were relevant to gangmasters which, had they been enforced properly, could have prevented the horrors of Morecambe Bay? Once the agency is established, will those people's roles be redundant, or will they continue alongside the new agency? Their role is not quite clear, and I should be grateful for clarification.

    Having said that, we welcome regulations that were supported by colleagues in the other place—anything to raise the standards required of UK employers, especially for those who come from overseas. They are long overdue and we support them.

    Lord Greaves