§ Queen's Recommendation having been signified11.28 pm
§ The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mrs. Angela Rumbold)
I beg to move,That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Education Reform Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any sums required by the Secretary of State for defraying the expenses of the staff commission established by the Act.The reason for the supplementary money resolution is simple. The new clauses which we have tabled in relation to part III of the Education Reform Bill make provision for the establishment of a staff commission to help with matters arising from the transfer of staff from ILEA to the inner London boroughs. As was the case with the staff commission established at the time of the abolition of the GLC, this body will be centrally funded.
The costs will not be large; the previous staff commission had a maximum of seven members of staff, and we would expect the new one to have no more, and possibly fewer. It is our intention that it should be set up in good time to offer guidance throughout the process of transfer. In this respect we want to draw on the lessons learnt at the time of the abolition of the GLC.
I hope that the Labour boroughs will also remember those lessons. If they adopt an ostrich-like attitude and refuse to recognise that this transfer will take place, they will be damaging their own interests, and those of the staff, parents and children concerned. I urge them to join the Government in early discussions about the transfer process, so that we can work together to make as effective a new start as possible for London's education service.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
I wish to ask the Minister a number of questions about the setting up of the staff commission. I have had a sense of déjà vu throughout this evening, because we had debates such as this when the Greater London council was being abolished. We asked the Government a whole series of questions about how much it would cost the ratepayers of London, how much they estimated would be saved and how many staff would lose their jobs. The Government could not tell us the exact figures at any stage.
Frankly, given the Minister's rambling wind-up speech earlier, I doubt very much whether she knows the answers; she seemed scarcely capable of reading what had been put in front of her. If I may say so, in a rather inelegant phrase, she stuck rigidly to her briefs. The fact is that she seemed to have no great knowledge of what was contained in those briefs. Can she tell us who will head the staff commission? Who will be its members? For how long will the staff commission remain in existence? How many people will work for the staff commission? Where is the staff commission to be based? Perhaps it will be based in county hall.
The Government have no clear idea of the likely economic impacts of the policy that they have enunciated on the hoof tonight. The Government clearly have no idea of the likely costs of the abolition of the Inner London education authority. They have no idea of the composition or costs of the staff commission. That comes as no great surprise to Opposition Members, because the Government had no idea in relation to the abolition of the GLC either.
1099 This proposal, coming at the end of a series of debates on the abolition of ILEA, has nothing whatever to do with the education needs of the children of inner London or of those who attend colleges in inner London. It has nothing to do with the pay and conditions and welfare of the excellent staff who work for ILEA, many of whom can expect to receive their marching orders under this policy. How many redundancies do the Government expect to arise from the abolition of ILEA? The staff commission will be charged with the responsibility to ensure that those who find themselves declared redundant are given reasonably favourable severance terms.
We asked similar questions in respect of the abolition of the GLC. We never received a satisfactory explanation. Indeed, Opposition Members could never have been satisfied because we found the abolition of the GLC totally unacceptable in political terms, just as we find the abolition of ILEA unacceptable. We knew that the abolition of the GLC and the setting up of the staff commission had nothing to do with the efficient running of local government in London and we know that the setting up of this staff commission has nothing to do with the efficient running of inner London's education services.
I realise that it has been a long evening for Conservative Members and that a large number are being forced to stay here in case the Opposition require a vote to be held later tonight. I shall not put them out of their misery. They will have to sit here and take one and a half hours—
§ Mr. Banks
—three quarters of an hour to debate the setting up of the staff commission. I shall not talk it out. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) has been sitting here with me throughout most of the evening, waiting to speak in the general debate on the principle of the abolition of the inner London education authority. Unfortunately, we missed the Campaign group meeting to hear this debate.
§ Mr. Banks
It was not worth that level of sacrifice, because the Conservative arguments were so appalling. It was clear that, even among all the Conservative Members, they could scarcely get a clutch of GCE O-levels between them. If they had gone to ILEA schools, like me, they would have been highly academically qualified. Thanks to ILEA, I have a clutch of qualifications and degrees for which I am most grateful.
§ Mr. Banks
Not at all. I did not buy my academic qualifications in Private Eye. I did not have to descend to that level of misrepresentation, as Conservative Members so often must. I got my education at ILEA schools. I am proud of that fact. If I had any children, they would also go to ILEA schools. Unfortunately, I have to spend so much time in the House that I have very little opportunity to propagate within my family. I intend to remedy that anon.
The Inner London education authority has been in existence for some 117 years. It is being abolished and a staff commission is being set up, according to this measure, to satisfy the internal politicking in the Conservative party.
1100 Neither the setting up of the staff commission nor the abolition of ILEA has anything to do with the interests of education in inner London.
The Secretary of State, who helped to preside over the abolition of the Greater London council, was hijacked by the right hon. Members for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) and for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit). There was a point when he had no intention of abolishing ILEA. As my hon. Friends have said, that was not included in the terms of the 1987 Conservative manifesto. The Secretary of State knows that to be a fact. He was hijacked because he is playing for big stakes within his terms — for the leadership of the Conservative party. I am sure that the staff commission plays a minor part in his campaign for the position as the next fuhrer of the Conservative party.
The right hon. Gentleman found it necessary to listen carefully to what was said by the right hon. Member for Henley, who knows nothing about education requirements in inner London. I do not suppose that the right hon. Gentleman sent his children to an ILEA school. He knows nothing about ILEA requirements, for the simple reason that he does not represent an ILEA seat. Many of the Conservative Members who contributed to the debate do not represent ILEA constituencies—
§ Mr. Banks
The hon. Gentleman does not represent an ILEA constituency. He is saying to me that I, too, do not represent an ILEA constituency. Of course I understood that. I did not need the hon. Gentleman to convey that information to me.
I must declare my interest. I was an elected member of ILEA from 1970, so I have some passing knowledge of its activities. I have already told Conservative Members of my experiences as a beneficiary of the excellent education provided by the Inner London education authority. Of course, I am also chairman of the London group of Labour Members, which is why I am speaking on this resolution about the setting up of the staff commission. So, although I do not represent an inner-London constituency, I am wholly qualified to speak on the subject.
I said earlier, during the speech of the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) that the outer-London borough of Newham, an education authority in its own right, wanted to opt into ILEA—something it will no longer be able to do when ILEA is abolished. Newham recognised just how good ILEA's educational provision was. Newham, the second most deprived local authority area in the whole of England, wanted to benefit from being able to tap into the enormous resources that ILEA could generate. That is why it is a scandal that the staff commission is being set up to preside over the dismantling of ILEA—
§ Mr. Banks
It is undoubtedly a quango, just like the London residuary body. I hope that the Secretary of State will tell us who will chair, and who will be the members of, the staff commission. What will its budget be? How long does he expect it to last? He must have some sort of time span in mind. I asked him earlier how long the London residuary body should exist. Its powers will now be extended to take account of the break-up of ILEA.
Conservative Members know that there is no mandate for setting up the staff commission, or for the break-up of 1101 ILEA. The Government held a consultation exercise about what they called the reform of education and opting out of ILEA. They did not include the setting up of the staff commission in that consultation exercise. I understand that. They probably had not even thought about the need to set up a staff-commission, because so much of this idea is being spatchcocked together as the Government work out what to do on the hoof.
As I have said time and again, this proposal has nothing to do with the education needs of the children of inner London. There was a consultation exercise over opting out. The Government have never seen fit to publish its results, for the simple reason that the great majority of those who were consulted and who submitted their views said that they were not in favour of the Government's proposals. If the Government were prepared to consult over the setting up of the staff commission, they would receive precisely the same response. There is no support for the Government's proposals to disband the Inner London education authority. There is no support for it in the schools, the divisions within ILEA or the boroughs. If the Government could quote a measure of support for their proposals to set up the staff commission or to abolish ILEA, they would be on their feet doing so.
The Secretary of State knows that there is no support anywhere in London, apart from within the rabid ranks of the Conservative party and in a few Conservative boroughs, for the abolition of ILEA. The setting up of the staff commission, and the abolition of ILEA have nothing to do with the interests of educational needs of children in inner London, and everything to do with the boxing and coxing going on in the Conservative party to see who will take over from Mama Doc at No. 10 when she eventually decides to stand down. In the abolition of ILEA and the setting up of the staff commission, we are seeing cobbled together a mish-mash of joint boards, shabby compromises and Whitehall control over local services which no one outside the ranks of today's neo-Fascist Tory party wanted to change in the first instance.
If the Secretary of State thinks that I am wrong, why does he not have a referendum in inner London on the setting up of the staff commission and the abolition of ILEA? If he were to do that, and the vote went against us because there was a majority in support of the Government's proposals, we would—I say this without reference to my estimable colleagues — drop our opposition to the Government's legislative proposals immediately. The Government will not have that referendum because they know that they will never get the support that they claim they have.
Why do not the Government say that there will be one last election in ILEA on the single issue of dismantling the authority? We should stand for its retention, and the Tories could stand for abolition. Will the Government then say that they will abide by the decision of the people of inner London, exercised through the ballot box? If they could say that tonight, we could save ourselves a lot of discussion about the various ramifications attendant on abolition, including the setting up of the staff commission.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Does my hon. Friend recall that, during the debates on the abolition of the GLC, four Labour members of the GLC resigned their seats so that there were 1102 by-elections to test public opinion on this matter, and the Tories refused to join in that contest because they were scared, and knew what the result would be?
§ Madam Deputy Chairman (Mrs. Betty Boothroyd)
Order. I remind hon. Members that this is a restricted debate which concerns only a money resolution that deals with the setting up of a staff commission, and arises out of new clause 64.
§ Mr. Banks
I have kept myself within the bounds of the debate. I have continually referred to the staff commission and the money resolution, and I will continue to do so.
I find it difficult, even after the years that I have been here—it seems like a lifetime, but it is only five years—to accept the level of cynicism that exists among Tory Members. I still find myself being genuinely outraged by what comes from them. I wish I had the cynicism of the Secretary of State, which is such that he can stand on his head at regular intervals, and deny his principles.
§ Mr. Banks
That is because he puts half a pint of Brylcreem on it. I cannot do what the Secretary of State does, because I still have certain principles. One of those is that one does not dismantle a democratically elected body and set up a quango such as the staff commission in the face of opposition from those who will find themselves most affected by the Tory proposals. The exercise before us has been dressed up in language of democracy, to camouflage a deeply cynical and politically motivated act of educational vandalism, which the Secretary of State is perpetrating on the people of inner London.
The Secretary of State is to answer this debate on the staff commission. He touts his political principles around like a tray of cheap jewellery. He was denounced by the previous leader of the Conservative party, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) in a debate in December 1984. The Secretary of State has not one principle that he is not prepared to sell for political advantage. That is how cheap and tawdry he is. He found himself being outflanked by two political shysters—two flash Johnnies in political terms who out-tried themselves. We do not know which one tried to manoeuvre for the leadership of the party.
The Secretary of State saw that coming and decided that it would be best to cut and run, and to abolish ILEA. There is nothing in the establishment of the staff commission and—
§ Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to refer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) as a political shyster?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
It is not something that the Chair would request the hon. Member to withdraw, but it is certainly not the sort of parliamentary language that I would welcome or wish to hear.
§ Mr. Banks
I thought that I was being fairly complimentary to the right hon. Member for Chingford. That was the nicest thing that I could think to say about him. I could say much more to his face and I should like to say them across the Chamber, but if I did, Madam Deputy Speaker, you would require me to withdraw them, and I would not wish to risk your anger this evening.
1103 Cheap, tawdry and unprincipled is a fairly good description of the Secretary of State and the abolition of ILEA.
§ Mr. Corbyn
We should all thank the Crawley food mountain for his speech. It is one of the best that he has ever made. If he stopped eating salmon, he might be able to grow a beard.
While introducing the guillotine motion, the Secretary of State described this Bill and the staff commission in the same way that one could imagine a hangman addressing a group of condemned prisoners about the efficiency of the rope and how it would not hurt when they had been hanged.
I have sat through this debate, the previous motion and many discussions about ILEA because I have a special interest in it. For several years I was a full-time official of NUPE, which has many members working for ILEA, and I have been involved in several campaigns to save ILEA from break-up and destruction. I should inform the Secretary of State that every one of those campaigns has been successful; the Government have not succeeded in destroying ILEA yet. The Secretary of State may smirk, but if he casts his mind back to the bellicose statements by many of his predecessors, he will remember that they have always lost because of opposition from parents, workers in the authority and teachers, and because of professional support for those campaigns.
It is significant that, although we are debating the staff commission proposal, the resolution gives no indication whatever of how much money will be involved in financing the staff commission, how many staff will be involved, how much property will be sold to pay for redundancy payments, and what the future holds for many of the 40,000 staff employed by ILEA. It is a disgrace of the highest order that the Government should force this nasty little amendment, which will curtail the livelihoods and jobs of so many ILEA staff, to a Bill which is halfway through all its stages.
There have been no consultations with the staff. The first that they heard about the proposal to break up ILEA was the early-day motion tabled by the right hon. Members for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) and for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit). Other hon. Friends have already said that that early-day motion has more to do with the leadership of the Conservative party than any possible concern that those two right hon. Gentlemen may have about ILEA.
I wonder how the right hon. Member for Henley would react if we introduced a private Member's Bill to destroy the education authority in Oxfordshire and pass it over to some local quango or district council. It is a gross impertinence and interference in the democratically elected authority of ILEA for such people to promote its abolition. It is a demonstration of the Government's weakness and the Secretary of State's weakness that one puff of wind from that pair of shysters and he is on his way.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. The English language is a rich one and I believe that there is better vocabulary 1104 that we can use. I remind the hon. Gentleman that I would appreciate hearing about the money resolution, new clause 64, the staff commission and how it will function.
§ Mr. Corbyn
The English language is indeed rich and I could make it richer if you wish, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I intend to continue to discuss the staff commission because I have a particular interest in, and experience of, the way in which the GLC was broken up, the way in which the housing transfers took place under similar staff commission proposals some years before and the years that it took to sort out those difficulties, in spite of good will on both sides.
We should give some thought to what will happen to the staff of ILEA if it is abolished. If ILEA is broken up in the way envisaged, power will pass to the local education authorities based in each borough, and problems will be caused for the ILEA staff. Figures have been quoted by other hon. Members, but I will refer to them again briefly because they help to amplify my argument.
The borough of Islington, through its ratepayers, contributes £44.3 million per annum to ILEA and receives, in return, £72.8 million. Therefore, there is an expenditure gap of £28 million. Whatever honeyed words the Secretary of State used earlier to gloss over the problems, he failed to mention two things. First, under local government legislation, the Government have virtually complete power over the level of spending in each borough council, because they can impose the rate cap at any time they like. They can also decide what level the business rate will be across London and, in effect, decide how much money will be available for inner London.
The Government have said that they will take account of the socio-economic factors when deciding the level of expenditure for each authority and the number of staff that it employs. However, if the Government use the same criteria as those used in deciding the social fund allocations, I fear for each authority. My constituency faces 40 per cent. cut in social fund expenditure, but Bognor Regis — an area of undoubted deprivation, poverty and appalling conditions—has had an increase in expenditure. Are we to trust the Government to decide how much should be spent in inner London if they cannot decide, reasonably, the levels of expenditure under the social fund? The more one considers the funding of the education authorities, the more horrifying it becomes.
School caretakers in my constituency, having seen the figures, have come to me because they know that their jobs will be on the line. They work hard and well to ensure that the schools are open, sometimes seven days a week as youth centres, and often in the evenings for adult education and other activities. School cleaners may be a matter of trivial importance to Conservative Members. It is clear from the way that they have treated them and tried to privatise their jobs that they have nothing but contempt for cleaners. However, I believe that one cannot have a school without cleaners, school meal workers or caretakers, any more than one can have a school without teachers. They are all an essential part of an educational community. All those people will suffer, and all those jobs will be at risk.
When discussing the staff commission, the Minister of State deliberately failed to go into the problems of the non-statutory sector of education in ILEA. The Secretary of 1105 State will know that ILEA provides a good standard of statutory education. The HMI report that he suppressed demonstrates how good pre-school education and primary and some secondary schools are. It is particularly complimentary about further education and the non-statutory further education sector.
What am Ito say to part-time lecturers employed at the "City Lit" or full-time lecturers employed at Morley college or Birkbeck college and all the other places that will suffer because of the destruction of the education system of inner London?
Education should be a process for life, not just for the statutory school ages or in statutory further education establishments. I am certain that, if the proposal is passed, we shall suffer the most appalling damage in the further education sector, which gives adults who have missed out on their own further education the opportunity to study and develop new skills to enrich their lives — in some cases not even because they want to exploit those skills commercially. It might seem amazing to Conservative Members, but some people believe in learning for the sake of learning and enriching their lives rather than exploiting somebody else and making money while they are about it. That is the difference in attitude between the Opposition and the Government.
What are we to say to the pensioners who use the "City Lit" or Camden college—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I have reminded the hon. Member once that we are discussing a restricted motion. I bring him back to the motion on the Order Paper.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Indeed. I am anxious to keep to the subject of the motion, which is the staff commission, and the future of the staff. However, the proposal is so vague that one has no idea how many staff are affected, what jobs will be affected, and what the future is for lecturers at the further education institutes or any other ILEA institution. We have no idea about the future of nursery workers, nursery teachers, nursery nurses and head teachers in nursery establishments. Once again, we are considering the non-statutory provision of education. ILEA has been complimented on its pre-school provision. Is all that to suffer on the altar of the ambition of three right hon. Members to be the leader of the Tory party? That is what it is all about.
As I mentioned, there has been no consultation whatever with the staff, be they teaching or non-teaching staff. The parents' organisations have linked with the staff on the matter because they are deeply suspicious and angry. I have had nothing but letters condemning the break-up of ILEA. I have had nothing but letters from parents expressing their concern and support for the staff in their campaign to prevent ILEA being broken up.
When the parents' poll takes place, as I hope it will, I am certain that it will show an overwhelming rejection of the Government's proposals. The Secretary of State, with the contempt that he holds for the people of inner London for having the temerity to elect a Labour authority, will no doubt seek to ignore that and use his tame sheep on the Benches behind him to take the proposals through the Division Lobby.
The staff commission proposal has effects on particular areas of ILEA. I have mentioned pre-school and further 1106 education. I shall now mention the effects on the statutory sector itself. There are problems of staffing. ILEA has had a long dispute with the teaching unions, which I believe is now resolved, about the transfer of staff between divisions and schools to compensate for the movement of children from one school to another.
Another problem will now arise immediately. If the new education authorities are set up on the basis of the boundary of one borough or the other, there will be a problem. Secondary school children in my constituency do not all attend secondary schools in my constituency. For example, they go to Acland Burghley school, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). It will be in a different borough, under a different education authority.
What will be the transfer arrangements for staff? What will happen to schools that are deemed to be overstaffed or understaffed? How will staff transfer not within one employer but between two employers? That is the consequence of the staff commission proposals.
I believe also that education is not just a matter of the teaching that is done in the classroom or in the lecture theatre. It is also the quality of life that the student or child can have within the school. That means things like the quality of the cleaning that is done in the establishment, the quality of the upkeep of the building, the quality of the environment in which the school is sited, the quality of the decorations of the school, and, indeed, the quality of the food that the children eat during the school lunch break.
The ILEA has a good school meals service, with a large number of dedicated staff, all of whom have suffered badly because of the removal of the basic nutritional standards in 1980—which, I am glad to say, ILEA resisted. The staff are now to suffer also because of the break-up of the authority and the implicit threat of privatisation of the school meals service. Indeed, over half the children in my constituency receive free school meals. As a result of the Social Security Bill that is going through the House at the moment, many children will suffer, and, implicitly, staff will also suffer. How will the staff commission deal with that problem?
Once again, by the break-up of the authority into at least 12 different authorities, the possibilities of transfer from one school to another, and the possibilities of career advancement from one grade to another, will be reduced. We must examine other aspects of school life, such as school cleaning staff. Exactly the same problems arise for them. At the moment, they work for one authority. They have fixed terms and conditions that are negotiated between their union and their employer.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
My hon. Friend has referred to a most interesting aspect of the staff commission. With regard to the abolition of the Greater London council and the setting up of the staff commission, it was claimed that there would be a great saving of jobs—in our terms, of course, that means much higher unemployment — but the figures were never actually produced by the Government.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend would care to comment on the fact that, if jobs are to be lost, they will be lost at the level of the most basic but most essential tasks within Inner London education authority schools. I refer to the cleaners, the dinner ladies, and those who provide the ancillary services. Those at the administrative level of the authority will find that ample opportunities 1107 will suddenly produce extra opportunities for advancement and enhanced salary projection. —[Interruption.] I am sorry, I did not realise that I was boring the House.
§ Mr. Corbyn
I thank my hon. Friend for his important intervention. I realise that Conservative Members are being kept from a restaurant, a bar or somewhere. They can either leave or listen. It is entirely up to them.
I endorse my hon. Friend's remarks, although I urge caution. I should not want to be party to dividing teaching staff from non-teaching staff, or administrative staff from manual workers. I am sure that my hon. Friend would not want to do that, either. He made a valid point. If Conservative Members think that these are minor matters of no importance, I urge them to examine authorities such as Barnet and others that have cut school meals and cleaning staff.
§ Mr. Banks
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I am not trying to drive wedges between different groups of staff; I was merely trying to point out that, whenever there is a reorganisation of local government, there is an increase in the number of administrators. It is always interesting that those who are required to dismantle the service find that the first impact is an increase in jobs for those with the task of running the service down. It is not a question of driving wedges, but of pointing out that what the Government are trying to achieve will be counterproductive.
§ Mr. Corbyn
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Every reorganisation with which I have been involved, either of local government or of health, always results in greater administrative costs— usually a loss of manual jobs on the grounds of efficiency, and an overall increase in the cost of running the service. Ministers know that that has been the result every time that the Health Service has been reorganised. They know that that has been the result of local government amalgamation, and they know that it will be the result on this occasion. If the Ministers came clean about the real cost of the break-up of the GLC and of the staff commission that was established following its break-up and which has now apparently been given a permanent life, and included the inflated salaries of Sir Godfrey Taylor and a number of other people who are there to destroy jobs in London, we would get a bit nearer to the truth — which, of course, they do not want to come out with.
§ Mr. Banks
The Government do not have the foggiest idea of the savings that they claim will come from the abolition of the Inner London education authority, just as happened with the abolition of the Greater London council and the setting up of the staff commission there. It will cost the ratepayers of London more for the abolition of the Inner London education authority than for its continuation, just as happened with the abolition of the Greater London council.
§ Mr. Corbyn
There is a lot of evidence that abolishing ILEA will cost more than keeping it going, but the Government will not admit that tonight. The Government have never bothered to look into the way in which ILEA is run, what it actually does or the problems it faces. Contemptibly, over the past three years, nine months of detailed consultation and negotiation within ILEA have been vetoed in a 90-minute debate in this place as the Government put through the rate precept order for ILEA as they do for transport authorities and everything else — turning this place into a sort of glorified county council chamber. We are witnessing the disgraceful process of the destruction of local government.
The provisions for the staff commission are so vaguely worded and general that we do not know how it will fit into the wage and salary negotiating structure and what its relationship will be with the small number of people who come under the Whitley council, the Burnham committee, the Greater London Joint Council for Manual Workers and those affected by the craftsmen's conditions. What will its relationship be with those negotiating bodies? What guarantees will be given to staff who transfer across the local authorities? Indeed, if they were asked to—
§ It being three-quarters of an hour after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MADAM DEPurY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted Business).
§ Question agreed to.
That, for the purpose of any Act resulting from the Education Reform Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any sums required by the Secretary of State for defraying the expenses of the staff commission established by the Act.