HL Deb 18 November 1976 vol 377 cc1551-4

15 Clause 2, page 2, line 35, leave out from "unsatisfactory" to end of line 38.

The Commons disagreed to this Amendment for the following Reason:

16 Because the Amendment would deprive the Secretary of State of powers which the Commons consider are required for the effective exercise of his functions under the clause.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth not insist on their Amendment No. 15, to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason numbered 16. It may be for the convenience of the House if we were also to discuss Lords Amendment No. 17 to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason numbered 18, but to which the Government have tabled an Amendment in lieu thereof, No. 18A. Amendment No. 15 would leave out from "unsatisfactory" on page 2, line 35 to the end of line 38. If the original wording of this subsection is not kept, any local education authority reluctant to reorganise would be able, because of the inability of my right honourable friend to require that fresh proposals deal with the defects she has discerned in the earlier ones, to resubmit proposals which did not attempt to remove the unsatisfactory elements of the initial proposals. Thus the Bill's intention would be undermined.

I gave assurances in Committee that this power would not enable my right honourable friend covertly to dictate to local education authorities the form of organisation that they should adopt. This is not the Government's intention; we hold firmly to the view that decisions on how best to reorganise rest at the local level. This Amendment was rejected by the Commons for the Reason that it would deprive the Secretary of State of powers which they consider are necessary for the effective use of her functions under the clause. Although this particular Amendment was not debated, a similar Amendment had been fully discussed in their Committee stage. The Government could not then, and cannot now, accept this Amendment, and I hope that your Lordships will not press it further.

I have asked leave to consider Amendment No. 17 with this one because it also bears on the same subsection of the Bill. It was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, at Report stage and would require the Secretary of State to give reasons for finding proposals unsatisfactory. Owing to the fact that the Opposition took two and a half hours discussing Amendment No. 1, there was not time within the six hours allowed for discussion in another place for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to move the Amendment which she had intended to propose.

The Government are prepared to accept the principle underlying this Amendment but the present wording is, unfortunately, unacceptable. It has three defects: it refers to "local authorities" rather than to "local education authorities"; to "detailed reasons" rather than to "reasons"; and would, in its present form, bear only on proposals submitted by local education authorities and not on those submitted by the managers or governors of voluntary schools. I am sure that the intention of the noble Lord was that whenever the Secretary of State rejected proposals submitted to her under this section, whether put forward by local education authorities or the managers or governors of voluntary schools, she should give reasons for doing so. The Amendment which now stands in my name on the Marshalled List may have a rather unfamiliar look to the noble Lord. Nevertheless I can assure him that the substance of his original Amendment is contained in (a) of the one now before the House. Part (b) reinstates the words which your Lordships Amendment No. 15 omitted.

My Lords, the Government cannot accept Amendment No. 15 and I hope that your Lordships will not insist upon it. If your Lordships allow Amendment No. 15 to fall it will be in order for me to move the Government's Amendment to No. 17 at the appropriate time. If however your Lordships insist on retaining Amendment No. 15 it will not be possible, for technical legal reasons, for me to move the Government Amendment to No. 17. In that case the Government will be obliged to resist Amendment No. 17 because in its present form it is unsatisfactory for the reasons I have given. I hope your Lordships will not press Amendment No. 15 further.

Moved, That the House doth not insist on the said Amendment to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason numbered 16—[Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge.]


My Lords, this was a genuinely difficult part of the Bill, in that whereas we obviously could not leave the Bill without any teeth whatsoever, it was necessary to ensure that local education authorities and, of course, governors and managers, had the greatest possible choice themselves as to how they would solve problems set for them. I still see that there is a point in the Conservative arguments at an earlier stage that this, if the Government had their way, still gives the Government, the Secretary of State, a little too fierce power in dealing with this. On the other hand, if we are to pass this Bill, and we are, there has to be an end to delay at some time.

The Amendment which the Government are bringing forward is one which will improve matters because it will enable people much more easily to produce their own arguments, to get on to the telephone to which we referred often at an earlier stage, and produce their own solutions if they do not like the one put forward by the Secretary of State. I am grateful to the Government for accepting the burden of my Amendment. I am delighted that they have made it viable in two respects. I am extremely sorry that they have removed the word, "detailed", but I can hardly cavil at that because I think they have gone a long way to meet our point.


My Lords, I spoke on this Amendment at the Report stage. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, knows, I am exceedingly suspicious of what I call dictatorial powers in Bills which the Government are putting forward, whether in the case of education, health or tied houses. I see the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, coming into the House. This is an authoritarian approach to what, in the case of any local government matter, I believe should be dealt with by the people who are engaged in local government; by education committees who are responsible for children in their area. I do not believe this Government have got firmly in their heads that this is the right way to organise a democratic system.

Having said that, and having listened to the noble Lord, I think this is an improvement on what we had before. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, that the redraft of No. 18A is better than the original proposal. However, I still urge upon the Government, in all the legislation that is being put through both Houses of Parliament, that they must believe in local government, in the responsibilities of local authorities as they are elected, in education committees and many others, and not always hand everything over to the Secretary of State or to boards or to some other authoritarian body. This is my grave suspicion. However, I think this is better than it was, and I am not prepared to oppose it.


My Lords, may I just say that even the smallest approval from the noble Baroness is very welcome.

On Question, Motion agreed to.