HC Deb 30 October 2000 vol 355 cc555-9

Amendments made: No. 23, in page 19, line 29, leave out "established" and insert "constituted".

No. 24, in page 19, line 30, at end insert— '. A Special Health Board constituted under section 2 of that Act.'.

No. 25, in page 20, line 30, leave out— 'constituted under section 62A or 62B' and insert— 'within the meaning of section 235(1)'.

No. 26, in page 21, line 6, at end insert— '. A regional development agency established under the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998 (other than the London Development Agency). . Scottish Enterprise and Highland and Islands Enterprise, established under the Enterprise and New Towns (Scotland) Act 1990.'.—[Mr. Touhig.]

Mr. Tipping

I beg to move amendment No. 27, in page 21, line 13, at end insert—

'Other educational bodies . Governing bodies of—

  1. (a) educational establishments maintained by local education authorities;
  2. (b) institutions within the further education sector (within the meaning of section 91(3) of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992); or
  3. (c) institutions within the higher education sector (within the meaning of section 91(5) of the Act of 1992).
. The managers of a grant-aided school (within the meaning of section 135 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980). . The managers of a central institution (within the meaning of section 135 of the Act of 1980). . The board of management of a self-governing school (within the meaning of the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Act 1989). . The board of management of a college of further education (within the meaning of section 36(1) of the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992). . The governing body of an institution within the higher education sector (within the meaning of Part II of the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992).'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 29 to 31, 33, 43, 46 to 48 and 50 to 53.

Mr. Tipping

The amendments add public sector educational bodies to the list of specified bodies for the purpose of the duty to promote race equality in clause 2. They also provide for a number of consequential amendments: in particular, the duty on educational bodies currently at section 19 of the Race Relations Act 1976, which is a more limited duty than the new duty, is being repealed. I draw that to the attention of the hon. Member for Aylesbury, who I know is concerned that disproportionate duties should not be imposed on schools and school governors.

One aspect of the amendments which I should explain for the avoidance of doubt is the apparent absence from the list of local education authorities—and in Scotland, education authorities. Those authorities are covered by the duty, but there is no need to make a specific reference to them, because the existing references to local authorities in the schedule cover local authorities in all their capacities, including their education capacity.

The amendments also take the opportunity to remove the requirement in the 1976 Act for a two-month period to elapse before proceedings against education bodies can be progressed through the courts. The original purpose was to provide the Secretary of State with the opportunity to investigate the case and direct the bodies against which the discrimination case was being brought, but the Government now agree with the Commission for Racial Equality, which recommended the change in its third review of the Act, as the delay is thought to be unnecessary.

The amendment relating to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 amends schedules 4 and 5 of that Act, which require school organisation committees to have regard to the obligations placed on local education authorities and school governors in part III of the Race Relations Act 1976. The amendment requires school organisation committees also to have regard to the obligations placed on those bodies by clause 2 of the Bill.

The amendments ensure that educational bodies are subject to the duty to promote racial equality, as other public authorities are. That makes them important, and I commend them to the House.

Mr. Lidington

No one—least of all me—would quarrel with the proposition that it should be part of the duty of any responsible educational institution to help to promote good race relations and oppose racial discrimination. It would be hard to find a head teacher who would say that he or she was not already engaged in trying to give effect to that aspiration.

I want to flag up one or two concerns. Clause 2 and schedule 2 give the Government new powers to impose specific duties on public authorities—including, when Government amendment No. 27 is made, the state sector of education—if those impositions are necessary in order to make those bodies comply with their duty to promote good race relations. Having heard his response to my earlier comments on this theme, I emphasise to the Minister that it is of the utmost importance that there is thorough consultation with practitioners in the education sector.

We all want schools and colleges to play their part in building a society in which the various ethnic communities respect one another, but it is important to do that without prejudice to what is surely the prime duty of schools—to promote high standards of achievement for all pupils, regardless of ethnic background.

I refer again to the recommendations of the Runnymede Trust report. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), that most of the previous debate on that report concerned its references to the notion of Britishness, but my criticism of it is more that its conclusions place too much faith in the beneficent power of Government intervention.

The Parekh committee gave us a list of specific proposals concerning educational institutions. There is a proposal that the national authorities should require local education authorities and schools to keep substantially more detailed and helpful statistics on ethnicity than hitherto. The committee also recommended that all higher education institutions should review and improve their arrangements for encouraging access for students from the ethnic minorities—again, a principle with which no one in the House would quarrel, but the extent to which central Government should seek to impose a specific view of how that objective should be attained is a matter for debate.

The Parekh committee recommended that schools and colleges alike should review their courses and syllabuses with a view to making them culturally more inclusive "wherever appropriate". Of course, the devil is in that phrase, different people's interpretation of which may vary tremendously.

The Minister's consultation with schools and colleges should be serious and thorough, and he should treat with appropriate scepticism the pressures that will undoubtedly be brought to bear on him constantly to have new codes, duties and guidelines handed down from Whitehall to individual schools and colleges. What I said earlier in respect of local authorities is the key to identifying examples of best practice and encouraging their wider dissemination. That, rather than a centralised, prescriptive approach, will work best.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I had a word with the Minister for School Standards the other day and put to her the concern felt by many heads and deputy heads about the proliferation of paperwork. She assured me that the Government were on target to deliver reductions in paperwork. I think she said that there would be a third fewer bits of paper this year and only half as many next year. That is absolutely the right principle. I am the chair of governors of a primary school and I know that that is right, but if, as a result of this Bill, there has to be any more paperwork, let us ensure that there is as little as possible; that it is sent by non-paper means whenever possible; and that bits of paper that have to be sent are sent at the same time as other bits of paper, in as few bundles a year as possible.

Mr. Tipping

I am grateful for the comments of the hon. Members for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), who both acknowledged that there is already good practice in many schools. It is important to build on that good practice so that the standards of the less good reach those of the best.

The hon. Member for Aylesbury spoke specifically about the need to consult practitioners. It is the intention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to ensure that practitioners' views are heard.

I heard what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said. Schoolteachers say to me, too, "Don't send us paperwork—send us pound notes." They want investment in education in real terms, to make a difference. It is no secret that the current Secretary of State has taken a close interest in this part of the Bill. Like my right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards, he is determined that the obligations—the rules from the center—diminish, and keen that any new obligations that are put on schools are proportionate and that, again, there will be consultation on those matters.

6.30 pm

The good practice at the moment springs in part from the fact that there is already an obligation on schools under sections 17 and 18 of the Race Relations Act. Schools are liable to challenge. The Bill brings forward a new duty—the duty to promote. Again, one of the issues that one would need to look at is the steps, say, that a small village school with perhaps a head teacher and one other teacher might want to take, as against a large comprehensive school with 100 teachers on its staff. Again, it is important that we get that right, that we do not make unrealistic objections and place unrealistic demands on the attitude of schools. We think that, taken carefully, thoughtfully and, most important, practically, the Bill can make a real difference to schools. Again, I am grateful for Opposition Members' support.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 28, in page 21, line 13, at end insert—