HC Deb 11 November 1980 vol 992 cc323-9

Lords amendment: No. 60, after clause 54, in page 50, line 33, at end insert new clause H:— H Block grant shall be subject to the adjustments arising out of expenditure by local authorities on education and for connected purposes specified in Schedule [Adjustment of block grant in connection with education etc.] to this Act.

Mr. King

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take amendments No. 61, 64A, and 176. Privilege is involved.

Mr. King

These are technical amendments to do with the education pooling arrangements. Unless they substitute for the arrangements under the previous rate support grant arrangements, they are—

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise for delaying the House. After voting in the Division, I walked over to my office in Norman Shaw, North. On arriving in the building, I noticed that the television annunciator said "Division off". As I walked in the annunciator said that the Division had been timed at 9.12 pm. I see from the official board, kept by the Doorkeeper, that the last Division was at 9.12 pm. The annunciator then said "Division off". The bell went on the annunciator—I do not know about the real bells—and the annunciator showed "Division". I flogged back from Norman Shaw, North to join our enjoyable deliberations. The annunciator must make up its mind. Does it mean what it says?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for any inconvenience that he or any other right hon. or hon. Member may have suffered. Unfortunately, I misinterpreted the signal that the time had come for the door to be locked. I was immediately informed that it was not time for the doors to be locked, and I cancelled the order. The doors were immediately unlocked. I understand that the Tellers are all agreed that everything is satisfactory.

Mr. Dobson

In his brief reference to the amendments, including amendment No. 176, the Minister, in his usual casual way, referred to them as "technical amendments". The addition to schedule 8 is a technical amendment that adds nine pages to the schedule. That makes it a remarkable piece of technicality. Furthermore, it has a significant bearing on the future of local authority funding. The amendment particularly affects the Inner London Education Authority, which is made a local authority for the first time. The ILEA has been transformed into a local authority, instead of being left as a committee of the Greater London Council, not for technical reasons, but to allow the Minister and the Secretary of State to exercise the political bias that earlier clauses permit them.

9.30 pm

I am particularly concerned about the extension of substantial enabling powers in the eight or nine pages of the technical amendment to schedule 8. Those powers give considerable discretion to the Secretary of State and it is fair to assume that, in line with promises he has been making to, and arrangements he has been making with, representatives of county councils, the right hon. Gentleman will ensure that funds will continue to be shifted out of urban areas and into the shire counties. An earlier amendment excluded fish farming from rating provision and brought it in line with other forms of farming. Those living in urban areas feel strongly that the sooner that agricultural buildings become liable for rating, the better.

We shall not see a more blatant example of the shift of resources than in the settlement for the ILEA when the present system of funding is destroyed by the Bill. In future, the Department of the Environment will be able, presumably after consultation with the Department of Education and Science, to deal directly with, to fund directly and determine directly the sums given to the ILEA by the Government. The object of the exercise is clearly to take funds away from the authority.

Mr. Cant

My hon. Friend may be interested to know that an article in the current issue of Municipal Review sets out the authorities that are most likely to be at risk because of poor quality GREs, and the first authority mentioned is the ILEA.

Mr. Dobson

That is certainly the view of those who, I assume, not even the Government could accuse of political motivation. Even the technicians of the various local authority associations are convinced that the ILEA is the prime target to lose Government funds which will be transferred to the shire counties.

In the past year we have been exposed to the gross prejudices of the Conservative Party against the ILEA. The Baker report emanating from the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) was one of the most pathetic propaganda documents ever produced. It was denounced by the technical education press as a shoddy and trivial piece of work. Nevertheless, the trivial and shoddy Government Front Bench took it seriously, as the Government take seriously any document that appears to damage or threaten any organisation attempting to assist working class people get a better chance in life. Despite the fact that it was a pathetic report, the Government set up a ministerial committee chaired by Baroness Young. All sorts of information has been leaking out of the Department of Education and Science, mainly on the lines that, having looked at the matter, it has been concluded that the Inner London Education Authority, as a unitary service, should survive. I hope that the late inclusion of references to the Inner London Education Authority in the amendments is confirmation of that. There are, nevertheless, ways of doing down the Inner London Education Authority and damaging the standard of the education service that it provides besides breaking it up.

It is clear that the Government now intend to retain the unitary service. This committee of Ministers, if they have any grain of sense, could scarcely come to any other conclusion. They are now clearly attempting to say that they will deny the Inner London Education Authority the money that it needs to continue to provide the present standard of education and will refuse to provide the additional funds considered necessary by those who believe that Inner London Education Authority standards should be improved. I am one of those people.

I am fearful of the consequences of these small technical amendments to schedule 8 that the Minister introduced so casually. I should like to have from the Minister some indication of the processes that it is intended the Government should go through before determining the level of grant to the Inner London Education Authority. There are no criteria applying to any other authority that can be applied to the Inner London Education Authority. Only one one-purpose authority is found in the Bill—the Inner London Education Authority. According to my reading of the Bill, the grants to all other organisations will be determined by assessing the various functions that those councils—district councils, metropolitan district councils, London Borough Councils and so on—carry out. We need some indication of how the Secretary of State for the Environment is to exercise the discretions that he receives under schedule 8 in so far as they affect the Inner London Education Authority.

We need to know what input we can expect from the Department of Education and Science which is supposedly pursuing a policy of improving educational standards and achieving standards of excellence. That clearly is not the case. The impact of the measure before the House is clearly intended to lower the standard of the education service in the London area. I should like to know how the Secretary of State intends to determine this matter. Will the Secretary of State for Education and Science have chats with his right hon. Friend so that his right hon. Friend can exercise the wide discretions granted to him throughout the financial provisions of this Bill before deciding to do down the Inner London Education Authority? These two Secretaries of State, like Burke and Hare, will be descending upon the ILEA and trying to kill it. That will no doubt be followed by the Prime Minister appearing at the Dispatch Box and, when asked about standards of education in the inner London area, saying "All we have done is to introduce these restraints. It is entirely up to the elected members to decide how to cope with the fact that they have no money". We have the two Secretaries of State acting as Burke and Hare together with the usual Pontius Pilate attitude of the leader of the Government. The Minister owes the House some explanation of how the Inner London Education Authority is to be funded. Such explanations have not yet been proffered by anyone.

Mr. King

I gave the amendments a fairly brief introduction. They are technical, and have nothing to do with the matters that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) sought to raise. They merely consolidate existing statutes and provide for the existing education pooling arrangements and those under the Education Act 1980 to be incorporated in the new legislation. The hon. Gentleman raises much wider issues. If he finds mention of the Inner London Education Authority anywhere in the Bill, no matter in what connection, he appears to see it as an opportunity to deliver the speech that we have heard. I shall, none the less, respond.

He asks how ILEA will be assessed under the grant-related expenditure assessment. It has been done under the expenditure subgroups that have been working in conjunction with the associations, and of course a lead role is played by the Department of Education and Science to try to find, as happens every year, the fairest way in which education expenditure can be assessed. It is not in the Bill and nor was it in previous Bills. It is a matter that is handled separately, outside the legislation. It does not arise on these amendments. I apologise if I am straying outside the strict terms of order of the amendment.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

For the sake of accuracy and in order not to mislead the House or those who may be listening, will the Minister agree that in the Bill there is a change in the funding arrangements for ILEA, in that it becomes eligible for direct control of direct funding, other than precepting on the boroughs, which it does at the moment? For the sake of accuracy and completeness, the Minister should admit that that is so and that the controls that my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn, and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) mentioned can and will operate.

Mr. King

I have made it clear that the matter does not arise on these amendments. It was raised on the previous debate. I have already confirmed that ILEA will, for the first time, receive grant direct. It will, however, continue to have powers to precept on the member boroughs. Regarding the pooling arrangements with which these amendments deal, the amendments merely consolidate existing statutes. It is only a change of nomenclature.

Mr. Dobson

I normally find it fairly easy at least to understand what the Ministers attempts to tell us. However, I find it difficult to believe that the points that I make are entirely irrelevant or out of order. The right hon. Gentleman appears to be criticising you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, rather than me.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman should not make another speech. He may only make a short intervention in the Minister's speech.

Mr. Dobson

Does not the Minister agree that these technical amendments include provisions that will have an impact on ILEA, for instance, on the apportionment of the English block grant?

Mr. King

The amendments merely consolidated the existing statutes. They make no difference to the previous position under existing statutes.

Question put and agreed to. [Special Entry.]

Lords amendments Nos. 61 to 64 and 64B agreed to. [Special Entry.]

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