HL Deb 23 October 1984 vol 456 cc145-9
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (The Earl of Avon)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement about the timing of the first direct elections to the new Inner London Education Authority, which is now being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. The Statement is as follows:

"The Government announced earlier this year that in the light of the consultations which they had carried out they had decided that the new Inner London Education Authority to be formed on the abolition of the Greater London Council should be directly elected. During the passage through Parliament of the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Act 1984, it was also decided that the term of office of the existing GLC members (from whom the bulk of the ILEA membership is drawn) should be extended from May 1985, when elections would have been due, to April 1986, the proposed date of abolition. We have been considering how best to secure continuity for the administration of education in inner London through the transition.

"The Government have concluded that the first direct elections to the authority which will succeed the ILEA should be held in May 1986 to coincide with the London borough elections. We propose that the new corporate body which is to take over the functions of the ILEA from 1st April 1986 should be established, like the new joint boards, in September 1985, in order to prepare the budget and fix the precept for 1986–87 and make other necessary preparations.

"From its establishment until the elections in May 1986, the new body would be composed of the present members of the ILEA (who will, of course, also continue to constitute the existing authority as a special committee of the GLC until 1st April 1986). Later elections would also coincide with those for the borough councils.

"Unlike other services for which the GLC has a responsibility, the functions exercised by the ILEA will be exercised by a single directly elected body. The new authority will differ from the existing ILEA only in the method by which it is constituted. In these circumstances it is appropriate to place the responsibility for the preparatory work which the new authority will need to undertake on the existing members of the ILEA. "This provides the best guarantee for continuity of administration and a smooth transition to the new arrangements and is consistent with the Government's decision to enable GLC members, including those who are members of the ILEA, to continue to perform their functions until 1st April 1986."

My Lords, that concludes my right honourable friend's Statement.

Baroness David

My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for repeating this Statement. We are glad that the elections will be held at the same time as the borough elections in May 1986 and that later elections will also coincide with those for the borough councils. This obviously means a better turn-out at the polls.

I have a few questions about the establishing of the new body in September 1985. How will this be done? Under what authority? What powers will it have? Also, is it a case of pre-empting legislation, the GLC abolition Bill, which we have not yet seen?

On the second page of the Statement it says: The new authority will differ from the existing ILEA only in the method by which it is constituted". How is it to be constituted? What will the representation be? Will there be nominees from the boroughs and from the City of London, as there are now, and will there be co-opted members?

We appreciate the Government's desire that there should be continuity of administration and a smooth transition to the new arrangements: that is a sensible recognition of the need for continuity in the best interests of the education service. I should like to ask, in preparing the budget and fixing the precept for 1986–87, under what constraints will the members be? In 1985–86, the Government say there has to be a £75 million cut in expenditure. Is the new authority to have greater freedom when it is fixing the precept?

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, we too should like to welcome the Statement and indeed join the noble Baroness in welcoming the timing of the elections. That seems to be an extremely sensible suggestion and the procedures so far outlined in this Statement appear to be of the right kind. We on these Benches have always been in favour of a directly elected ILEA, unlike some other noble Lords on this side of the House who are late converts to the idea, and we certainly hope that this will be a successful experiment. The question which the noble Baroness, Lady David, raised about the financial constraints under which the new authority will operate is a very pertinent one. Will it in fact have freedom to operate as it should within the limits which are necessary in London, and can we have some assurance—this is presumably the case—that the costs of the elections for the ILEA—and there are bound to be some costs, even though they are taking place at the same time as the borough elections—will in no way come out of the education budget?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am grateful both to the noble Baroness and to the noble Lord for their reception of this Statement and of the idea of these elections in May 1986. As the noble Baroness rightly thought, the authority for the elections will be in the Bill on the abolition which will be put before the House in the new Session. That is one of the reasons why nothing can happen before September 1985, because one would not expect Royal Assent to the new Bill until July next year.

We are looking to exactly the same representation on the interim committee as there is now, and we very much hope that the same people will continue in office. In the same spirit, the same conditions will affect the budget for the year after this one as have affected this one, and the same terms will apply. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, asked me about the costs of the elections. I do not have a brief on that. It is an interesting point and I shall find out for him what our thinking is on that subject.

Lord Alport

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he realises how difficult it is sometimes for laymen like myself to understand the full implications of a ministerial Statement? But would I be right in supposing that what this means is that the present ILEA will continue until May 1986 in two guises—first, as an established committee of the GLC until the GLC ceases to exist, and then subsequently as the new corporate body which will administer education in London until the elections take place? If that is the case, then may I ask my noble friend whether he realises that the discussions which we had in this House earlier in this Session with regard to this particular problem were concerned primarily with the essential continuity of the administration of education in London, and in so far as this plan produces that continuity and enables the future elected body to take over from the existing one in one day, so to speak, it will be greatly welcomed by those who are governors of London schools, the staff of the Inner London Education Authority and all those who have the interests of education in London at heart?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's welcome and I can say that the whole purport of this is the essential continuity which he describes. What will happen is that the present ILEA will take on a new hat in September 1985 and the same people will be wearing two hats until the abolition of the GLC in 1986.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, the noble Earl has told us that the authority for the new ILEA will come in the abolition Bill. Can he tell us what other details will come in the abolition Bill? Shall we know about the numbers for each borough and the method of election? Does not this timing give the Secretary of State time to issue a consultation document on these important matters; that is, the numbers of representatives from each borough, whether there will be any co-opted members and the method of election?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I hope that we shall have plenty of time to discuss this during the spring of next year and to listen to any noble Lord's suggestions on this matter.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, in view of the high-spending record of the current ILEA, and my noble friend's reference in his reply to my noble friend Lord Alport as to continuity, may I ask whether he can give some indication as to what constraints will be placed on the new ILEA as to the size of the precepts which it might levy on the London boroughs?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, in answer to my noble friend, of course the precepts will be as they are now——

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

Oh dear!

The Earl of Avon

At the moment, we are looking at the expenditure limits of the present budget and we shall continue to look at it in the same way as we are now.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, as one who took some part in the campaign for an elected ILEA, may I indicate that not everyone will be wholly pleased about the fact that the elections are to be on the same date as the borough elections? One of the chief arguments that we put forward was to try to separate in the minds of London's electorate the educational issues of the capital from the other issues concerning local government which come up in ordinary borough elections. It is clearly no use asking the Government to change their mind on this aspect, but might I ask the noble Earl the Minister whether he would put to his honourable friend the idea that in the elections there should certainly be a distinction and that on no account should the ballot paper be a single one for both authorities?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, of course I appreciate what my noble friend has said and equally what other Members of the House have said: that this will be an opportunity for people to elect two bodies on the same day. I asked the same question as my noble friend when I was given the briefing on this subject, and of course this is a point which we can raise when we debate the abolition Bill in the new year.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, may I follow up the question of the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock? Is it proposed that there will be a separate Bill in the form of a representation of the people Bill, which will outline the whole question of the conduct of the elections; will these matters be dealt with in the abolition Bill or merely by a clause there referring to sections on the conduct of elections, or have the Government not considered this aspect?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the idea is that this will be part of the abolition Bill.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that the previous speaker's suggestion, that the administration of education can be divorced from local government, is nonsense, bearing in mind that all of the local authorities outside the Greater London area have the responsibility of looking after the education of the people in those areas? Is the Minister aware that that is an accepted fact? Those of us with a history in local government were always taught that there were three political forces in local government—Conservative. Labour and the education lobby. I think that on this occasion the Government have got it right in keeping them separate.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's support and I am sorry that the right reverend Prelate has not spoken also.