HL Deb 20 October 1988 vol 500 cc1270-95

4.18 p.m.

The Earl of Dundee

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Dundee.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clause 18 [Financial powers of Boards]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 55: Page 11, line 31, at end insert ("Accounting procedures for the recording of the said funds and gifts should he agreed with the education authority and should he subject to internal or external audit.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment deals with the accounting procedures for moneys raised by the school boards. We believe that it is essential that any moneys generated by the school boards which are not forwarded to the education authority but retained for distribution by the boards should be accounted for in a proper manner. Accounting records and procedures should be standard throughout the education authority. Therefore it would be appropriate for the education authority to issue standard guidelines to ensure that these procedures are adhered to and that the books of accounts, documentation, etc. should be the subject of an annual audit. I think that would be a helpful measure for school boards. I am sure that most of them would appreciate having something to help them keep their own finances in order and to make it quite clear to everyone else that the moneys collected, donated or accrued to them were properly spent. I beg to move.

The Earl of Dundee

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his concern in this matter. However, I think we should be quite clear about exactly what it is that is under discussion. School boards could have two sources of funds. First, there are the sums provided to boards by their authorities for running their affairs and discharging their delegated functions. Those sums are governed by Clause 17. Any such moneys will remain within authorities' financial control mechanisms and will be subject to authority audit procedures in the normal way.

Secondly, there is the opportunity for boards, under the powers conferred by Clause 18, to seek to raise funds for the benefit of their schools. These powers are very limited. For example, a board may not borrow; it may not levy charges on parents for education; a board may not take an interest in land. In short, Clause 18 funds are the kind of thing with which we are already familiar in the activities of parents' associations and similar bodies. They are the funds which result from a dinner dance, a raffle, a school fete and similar functions.

I quite agree that such funds should be managed with appropriate care and should be properly accounted for. If boards want advice on how this should be done, I am quite sure that authorities will be happy to advise them. They may receive good advice from their own schools' parents' associations, too. However, I quite agree that Clause 18 funds should be the subject of appropriate management and accounting procedure. What I am not sure about is the suggestion that formal local authority audit procedures and audit by the commissioner for local authority accounts is a good idea for the results of a school fete. I am sure the commissioner would have little relish for the prospect. Is it not more appropriate for guidance and training material to advise boards that proper accounting for such funds is good practice, and perhaps also to suggest some methods and techniques? That is what we intended. I commend it to the Committee as the best approach.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I had no desire to use a sledgehammer to crack a nut in this situation.

I certainly appreciate that it is undesirable to exercise too much control over school funds. However, throughout the course of the Bill Ministers have been speaking in two different ways. On the one hand they talk about great powers being given to school boards, but on the other hand they talk about money raised by school boards only coming from such events as raffles. They say that school boards cannot invest, borrow money or have an interest in land.

However, if boards become as important as Ministers have suggested they will become as a result of the Bill, they may gather quite considerable funds. My amendment was intended to be a safeguard and not a means of minutely overseeing school funds. It was intended to be a form of guidance for school funds.

The Minister, towards the end of his contribution, appeared to suggest that there was scope within the Bill for proper auditing by education authorities to take place at a later date. If that were the case, it could act as a safeguard. At the first collapse or difficulty of a school fund people might be only too quick to say, much as they said about the Barlow Clowes affair, that the Government had the opportunity to put the correct machinery in place but they did not do it. School funds may not be in the same class as Barlow Clowes investments, but to individuals they could be just as important. However, I do not think the Minister is going to go any further on this point.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Before the noble Lord decides what he wishes to do with his amendment, I wish to ask my noble friend whether the Government have any picture of the limit up to which gifts may be received. Clause 18(1) of the Bill states: A School Board may—

  1. (a) raise funds by any means (other than borrowing); and
  2. (b) receive gifts,
and may expend any sums so received at their discretion. Schools may, in due course, receive quite a large gift. As that situation could arise, would it not be wise to include in the Bill some provision as regards the auditing of money? I do not know whether that provision is implied elsewhere in the Bill. I make that point because it occurs to me that we may be talking about more than the proceeds of a fête.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

The noble Baroness described this matter rather better than I did. No one wants to make this procedure unnecessarily cumbersome, but there is a point at which protection becomes necessary. The Minister seemed to hint that there were powers in the Bill in this regard. Will he expand on that?

The Earl of Dundee

Certainly. As regards limits on gifts I can say that there are none. A substantial gift could be made, but boards will always have to consider a head's advice on how they spend a gift. In addressing the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, again, it might be helpful if I remind him that boards have a duty to abide by correct procedures for accounting and accounting management. If they were to do otherwise they would be in direct breach of that duty as referred to in the Bill.

It might also be helpful if I remind the noble Lord of the right of parents to bring a board to heel if they feel that the board in any way is guilty of malpractice, and certainly if such malpractice should include mismanagement of funds and accounting procedures. In context I feel that measure provides the right balance. If we were to go further than that, in the words used by the noble Lord earlier, we might run the risk of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I have no desire to prolong this discussion. However, I remind the Minister that these boards do not even need to make annual reports to parents according to the Bill. Therefore I do not know how the parents would know about any malpractice. But perhaps this is something we can look at again.

The Earl of Dundee

The noble Lord will recall that at a previous stage of the Committee my noble friend Lord Sanderson of Bowden undertook to look at Clause 12 and consider putting boards under a duty to report to parents at least once a year. With that undertaking to look at the matter, I think we have gone some way to meet his concern.

Lord Hughes

If the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson of Bowden, decides not to call for a report, the one proviso that helps the situation would be removed. In those circumstances will the Minister undertake to have a look at the situation suggested in the amendment?

As the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, said, boards may well be the recipients of substantial gifts. My noble friend Lord Carmichael referred to the Statement we heard earlier about financial matters that had gone wrong on an enormous scale. In such circumstances it is no consolation to parents to know after some such event has occurred that they had been told about it. There is an obligation on the Minister, if he does not produce the suggested safeguard, to look seriously at the alternative as suggested in this amendment.

The Earl of Dundee

I am grateful to the noble Lord. I take his point that if gifts were to be substantial, if we were to fall foul of a time factor—that is to say that the malpractice had already occurred before parents heard of it—and if boards were not to heed whatsoever the advice which had been given to them on correct accounting procedures, there would be an unsatisfactory situation.

However, conversely it does not necessarily follow—and particularly due to existing safeguards to which I have already referred—that, even if my noble friend Lord Sanderson is not able to arrange that there should be an annual report by the boards to parents, the situation is unsatisfactory. But I certainly take on board what the noble Lord has said and I shall link the matter with our current endeavours to improve the Bill as best we can.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

We shall watch for the publication of the amendments for Report stage with great interest. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

Amendments Nos. 56 to 59 inclusive have already been debated and disposed of.

[Amendments Nos. 56 to 59 not moved.]

Clause 18 agreed to.

4.30 p.m.

Clause 19 [Allowances for members of Boards]:

Lord Addington moved Amendment No. 60: Page 12, line 16, leave out ("section") and insert ("sections 45 and").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 60 I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 61. The aim of the amendment is to ensure that loss of earnings incurred by those attending hoard meetings will be no deterrent to attending such meetings and that anyone who loses earnings will be recompensed for those, and only for those earnings. A system under which someone lost wages or salary for attending such meetings might result in some people being barred from attendance because of financial considerations. Although I accept that such meetings would normally be held out of working hours, it might bear rather heavily on people doing shift work or part-time work outside normal working hours.

I grant that the numbers affected would be fairly small. Nevertheless, for the boards to be most effective membership must be an attractive prospect to all those who would be willing to serve on them, regardless of financial considerations. I beg to move.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I hope that the Committee will not accept the amendment. I entirely understand the point made by the noble Lord. He made it very succinctly. However, perhaps he has not realised that Section 45 of the Act—which I looked up this afternoon—relates to attendance allowances and is not about refunds for loss of earnings.

Attendance allowances are part of the structure of local authorities in Scotland. Local authorities involve councillors in very many more meetings and hours of work than will school boards. They also have the rather unfortunate effect that, because everyone receives an attendance allowance if they attend a meeting, people want rather more meetings than perhaps are necessary. I believe that school boards would be very susceptible to that tendency. I hope that the number of meetings will be limited and that they will be held at times which are convenient for the members of the boards. I do not believe that it would be at all a good idea to pay an attendance allowance.

The Earl of Dundee

I appreciate the intention of the amendment. However, I believe that we need to distinguish between the kinds of body for which allowances of different kinds are appropriate. Clearly board members may be involved in some activities—training for example—which will require them to travel and incur subsistence costs. In that they are similar to members of local authorities and many other kinds of body. It is therefore right that members of school boards should qualify for travel and subsistence allowances. The Bill provides for that. In order to give a degree of tidiness, it relates board members' rates of subsistence etc. to those used in local government.

However, there seems to me to be a very great difference between boards and local authorities in terms of the likely frequency and duration of their meetings and in the other calls which will be made on members. Board members will in no way be like elected members of authorities in those terms. My noble friend Lady Carnegy has already made that point. Therefore it seeems right that board members should not qualify for financial loss allowances simply because such allowances, like the attendance and special responsibility allowances which are also covered by Section 45 of the 1973 Act, are not relevant to the position of board members.

Lord Hughes

One of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, was that the proposal would not affect many people because most meetings would almost certainly take place in the evening. Therefore the loss of earnings would be limited, as he has suggested, perhaps to people who may lose evening work by attending a meeting. As it stands, the Bill refers to payment of subsistence allowances. If a man or woman loses wages he or she has lost subsistence for that period. Therefore, should such payments not fall quite naturally under the payment of a subsistence allowance?

I must agree with what the noble Baroness has said. Section 45 does not apply because it relates to attendance allowances. However, loss of wages used to be the common basis for payment. I believe that the Government could well consider whether there is a way in which people involved could receive compensation under the terms of payment of the subsistence allowance.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I hope that the Minister will give sympathetic consideration to the amendment. There is always concern about abuses, and there have been cases of abuse of attendance allowances in local authorities. I am sure that the problem occurs more widely. It should be remembered that the idea behind the introduction of the allowances was to try to achieve some equity and a reasonable spread of representation. Because someone happened to have a private income it was almost an abuse of their comfort and security that they were able to take on certain jobs that others were not able to do because of the necessity to earn a living. I think that we should always remember that a great many people who were in the position of having to have an attendance allowance almost certainly gave up the chance of promotion by taking part in public service. I know hundreds of such people.

There is another aspect of this matter. There will be instances where a good deal will be involved in attending meetings, particularly in Highland areas. I can imagine meetings in Highland areas being too far away for some members if the board covers a collection of schools because the individual schools are too small to have their own boards.

I hope that the Minister will give the amendment a fair amount of consideration. We all know that payment for public work is a difficult matter, but I hope that the Minister will at least give the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, the care they deserve.

The Earl of Dundee

I believe it is appropriate to consider whether membership of a school board is service which should be recognised for special leave from employment. The Government hope that employers will take an enlightened view of that possibility. Not only is it a valuable local service but there will be many employees who will learn much and develop many useful skills as a result of their participation in the work of boards.

In order to give a positive lead in this matter I can assure the Committee that the Government themselves will act as an enlightened employer in this respect and will regard service on a school board as an appropriate reason for civil servants to claim special leave.

Perhaps I may just return to the remarks about subsistence made by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. Subsistence payments are for expenses incurred away from home and are not a replacement for earnings.

Finally, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, I think that the kernel of the argument is that, in encouraging people to take an interest in school boards, we hope that they will act on a voluntary basis. We have very much in mind the dissimilarity from local government of school boards, which may be served by volunteers. When people join boards on a voluntary basis it is inconsistent that they should be paid for doing so.

Lord Addington

I regret that the Minister cannot accept the arguments put forward. Although I accept that people would join boards on a voluntary basis, there may be cases, even if they are few and far between, in which someone will have to forgo attendance on financial grounds. The point has been made about the amount of time spent in travelling, especially in rural areas, and the time taken in order to attend meetings. That point should be borne in mind. However, as the Government are not prepared to accept this amendment I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 61 not moved.]

Clause 19 agreed to.

Clauses 20 and 21 agreed to.

Clause 22 [Interpretation]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 62:

Page 13, line 35, at end insert— (""Community School" means a school designated by an education authority as a community school and which, during the normal school day for pupils of school age, provides one or more of the following activities: formal further education, informal further education, or community education for those beyond statutory school leaving age.").

The noble Lord said: We have already discussed Amendments Nos. 62 to 64.

[Amendment No. 62 not moved.]

The Earl of Dundee moved Amendments Nos. 63 and 64:

Page 13, line 40. after ("region") insert ("or of an islands area").

Page 13, line 43, at end insert— ("'islands councillor" means a councillor elected for an electoral division of an islands area, in terms of section 5(1) of the 1973 Act;").

The noble Earl said: These amendments have already been spoken to. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 22, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 23 and 24 agreed to.

4.45 p.m.

Schedule 1 [Electoral Procedure]:

The Earl of Dundee moved Amendment No. 65: Page 15, line 6, leave out ("(subject to paragraphs 4 and 6 to 9 below)").

The noble Earl said: This is simply a detailed drafting amendment which follows from changes made in another place to make authorities' electoral schemes subject to guidance from the Secretary of State. Paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 contains the reference: (subject to paragraphs 4 and 6 to 9 below) but, since the paragraph goes on to state that arrangements are to be in accordance with this schedule, the detailed references are not necessary. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Dundee moved Amendment No. 66:

Page 15, line 22, at end insert ("including the date at which such eligibility is to be determined in respect of any particular election. 5A. For the purposes of paragraph 5 above, the education authority shall, in respect of each school in their area, establish and maintain a list of the names of the parents of pupils in attendance at that school, and unless a parent's name appears on the list on the date determined by an authority under paragraph 5 above for the purposes of any election he shall not be eligible to be a candidate or to vote in that election.").

The noble Earl said: It is our intention that the electoral procedures for school boards should be secure, safe and efficient. During debates in another place there was much agreement on the need for the smooth running of the electoral procedure. The Government accepted amendments specifically requiring authorities to appoint returning officers and also provided that they should not submit electoral schemes for approval by the Secretary of State. Instead authorities would be required to draw up schemes in conformity with the Bill and in accordance with guidance on schemes which would be issued.

The purpose of this amendment is to give authorities a duty to compile an electoral roll for parent election and a specific power to set a date by which eligibility to vote and to stand can be determined for any particular election. For practical purposes it will be important that authorities should be able to set such a date a little way ahead of an election, by which time eligibility to stand or vote will have been determined. This will allow a definitive electoral roll to be established.

All these matters could be secured by provisions in the guidance on electoral schemes which the Secretary of State will issue or indeed inferred from authorities' general powers and duties in regard to board elections. However, we thought it right that these central provisions should appear on the face of the Bill, leaving the guidance to deal with more detailed issues. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Appointment of headteachers, deputies and assistants]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 67:

Page 16, line 18, leave out sub-paragraph (h) and insert— ("(b) in any other case, of an equal number of persons nominated by the education authority and by the School Board; and one of the nominees of the education authority shall act as the Chairman of the Committee and one other shall be the headteacher.").

The noble Lord said: It may be for the convenience of the Committee if we deal with Amendments Nos. 67, 68 and 69 together. As regards Amendment No. 67, the principle adopted generally by education authorities in making senior appointments in schools has been to consider that where elected members are involved in the appointment, one of their number should act in the capacity of chairman. This principle is based on the fact that since the ultimate responsibility and accountability to the public rests with the elected members, they should have a say in the appointment. That principle is recognised in Schedule 2 in the case of the appointment of a head teacher but the chairmanship in respect of the appointment of a deputy and an assistant falls to the headmaster.

It is believed that this system is inappropriate, for the reasons advanced above, and also that it would put the headmaster in an invidious position. He would be in a position of authority over those to whom he is accountable—namely, the elected member—and those whom he is advising—that is to say, the school board. In practice, quite correctly, great weight is given to the views of the headmaster. The opportunity to express those views and be involved in the decision to appoint can adequately be secured by his membership of the appointment committee without the need for him to act as chairman. In all the circumstances the public accountability of the committee would be more appropriately reflected by the chairmanship in all cases being exercised by an elected member of the authority.

Amendment No. 68 will have reference to, among other things, the sick pay scheme of the Scottish joint negotiating committee for teaching staff in school education, by whose terms a headmaster may, subject to medical certification, be on sick leave for a period of at least one year. If paragraph 3 remains unaltered, any functions of the head teacher in relation to staff appointments might be incapable of being exercised and deputy and assistant head teacher posts might have to remain vacant for long periods. Where that happened it would have a damaging effect on the running of the schools. I shall not bore the Committee with numerous examples of cases in which for perfectly legitimate reasons head teachers have been away from school for a considerable time. I ask the Minister to reflect on that point.

As lines 22 to 28 of the Bill stand, the provision conflicts with the existing line management arrangements and consequently would place the head teacher in a potentially difficult position. The procedures adopted generally by education authorities in making senior appointments in schools have been to consider that where elected members are involved in the appointment one of their number should act in the capacity of chairman. This practice rests upon the basic proposition that the ultimate accountability to the public rests with the elected members. In addition, in view of the possible conflict of interest in the case of appointments of deputies and assistant head teachers, it is recommended that here again the head teacher should not be the chairman of the appointments committee. I stress that the head teacher is a very important person in the school. However, in the instances that I have given, and with the position proposed in these amendments, while his point of view must be seriously taken into account, nevertheless we feel that in almost every case the chairman should be an appointed member. I beg to move.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Schedule 2, paragraph 2, proposes somewhat different arrangements for the appointment of the head teachers and of depute and assistant heads. I am happy that, for the appointment of head teachers, the committee should consist of an equal number of people nominated by the authority and by the board, and that the chairman of the committee should be one of the authority nominees. I can see that arrangement working very well.

I have been in some doubt about the arrangements for the appointment of deputes and assistant heads to which the first amendment refers and on which the noble Lord has spoken. This proposal also allows for equal numbers of members of the committee from the authority and from the board. In addition, the head teacher is chairman. When I first studied this schedule I was extremely surprised by the proposal. I gather that I was not the only one. All over Scotland in local authorities people were surprised and interested. They wondered how it would work. The idea that the head teacher should chair the committee for the appointment of his own depute or assistant was unfamiliar to me.

Members of the Committee will know that every local authority in Scotland has chosen to do this in a somewhat different way. I was familiar with the position where the head teacher was not a member of the appointments committee, but its adviser. When the committee had interviewed candidates and was discussing whom it might appoint to be the depute, if he or she would prefer not to work with one of the candidates, he or she could imply a preference but need not commit himself or herself to who should be appointed. This meant that if there were one or even two internal candidates the head teacher need not express an opinion for or against one of those people.

When I discussed this with CoSLA and with the EIS—the biggest teaching union— agreed with them at that time that this amendment was a good idea in part. I did not think that it was a good idea for the head teacher to be a member of the interviewing panel and not the chairman. However, I thought that for the head teacher not to be the chairman was sound. I have now heard that the associations which specifically represent head teachers of the secondary and primary schools—apart from the EIS who have some members who are head teachers—are very much in favour of this idea. When my noble friend replies to this amendment, perhaps he will confirm this fact if he knows that it is correct. I have not been able to speak to the associations myself.

If that is the case, it is necessary to consider the matter further. I realise that head teachers will be operating in a very different situation from that which applied hitherto. There will be much more delegation to the schools. They will be operating in a very different atmosphere with much less to-ing and fro-ing with councillors, but more with the board and the directorate.

I suspect that gradually the appointments system will become even less political than it has been hitherto. It has varied in different parts of the country. In some places it has been rather political. Therefore to chair the committee which interviews one's potential deputes and assistants is very helpful in this new atmosphere. For someone who has experience of the old system, as does the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, one has to think oneself into that situation. However, it could work better than the noble Lord suggests and perhaps better than the present arrangement. If the associations representing head teachers want this arrangement I should not like to stand in the way and vote for this amendment.

On the point raised by the noble Lord about the head teacher who is in post but who is unable to be there, perhaps through illness, for as much as a year—as I have known happen from time to time—an extremely difficult situation is created by the Bill. I do not agree that the acting head teacher should chair an appointments committee for a depute or an assistant. Perhaps my noble friend will look at the Bill to ensure that it provides for an adequate operation of the system when the head teacher is off for some weeks or months. That can crop up and I cannot see that it is allowed for in the Bill, as has been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael.

I cannot support this amendment for the reasons that I have given. I ask my noble friend whether he will confirm that the head teachers have indicated through their associations that they are in favour of this arrangement for appointments. Perhaps he will also consider what will happen when head teachers are off duty for a prolonged period.

Lord Hughes

Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, I do not attach the weight to the views of the head teachers that she does. It would be astonishing if they were to write to the Secretary of State to say, "No, we do not think a head teacher should be the chairman". It would be almost like crying, "stinking fish" in their own shop.

However, I wish to tackle the issue in a different way. Paragraph 2(a) requires the committees to be equally composed of persons nominated by the education authority—and one of them will be the chairman—and by the school board. But paragraph 2(b) begins by stating that it will be, an equal number of persons nominated by the education authority and by the School Board; and the headteacher of the school, who shall be chairman of the committee". If one takes that at its face value it will no longer be a committee of equal numbers unless the assumption is made that either the education authority or the school board must nominate the headmaster as one of their nominees. I do not think that that is the most logical interpretation.

I assume that under paragraph 2(b) it will be an unbalanced committee, with the head teacher automatically becoming a member of the committee in addition to the two groups of nominees. Although my name is on this amendment, along with that of my noble friend Lord Carmichael, on thinking about the matter again I am not happy about the part of the amendment which puts the head teacher on the committee as a member. I know that in the past there have been occasions in local government when officials have been suggested as members of a subcommittee. In practice they did not like it because when they were present as the official they were the professionally qualified adviser to the committee. Anything they had to say was treated with the respect that the position gave them. In those cases where they became just members of the committee that is how they were regarded. The education authority members, the education committee members or the members of whatever committee it was, tended to say, "After all, you are no more qualified than I am".

On a different point, I should not like to be a headmaster chairing a committee who had the duty of falling out with a member of his education authority. It may not matter very much on one occasion in the appointment committee; if it happened regularly it would not stand the headmaster in very good stead in future. It would be very much better—I hope that my noble friend will agree—that in either case the headmaster should be in attendance as the professional adviser and the chairman of the committee should be a member of the education authority.

5 p.m.

The Lord Advocate (Lord Cameron of Lochbroom)

As the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, has made clear, the purpose of the amendment is to take away the role of the head teacher as chairman of the appointment committee which is to select members of the senior management team at his school; that is, the deputy and assistant head teachers. In parenthesis I should point out to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, that there will be no head teacher at the time when an appointment of head teacher is being considered. I suspect that the noble Lord was aware of the difficulty in this regard. Lord Hughes: Indeed, I can read, and I noted that. I was talking about the second instance where it would be three, three and one, or where one of the three was to be the head teacher.

Lord Cameron of Lochbroom

As I understand the justification for this series of amendments, it is effectively to preserve the existing role of the education authority in these appointments. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, referred to ultimate accountability and public accountability. I do not understand the logic of the case put forward; nor, indeed, do I see the force of it.

Let us consider how Schedule 2 stands as drafted in the case of a vacancy arising when a deputy or assistant head teacher post comes to be filled. In paragraph 1 we are told that it is the education authority that advertises the post. We are then told that the education authority, having decided to proceed further with the appointment, sets up a committee for the purpose of considering a short leet of candidates provided by the education authority. I see little here that removes any of the proper rights or responsibilities of the authority. It seems to me that at this stage the authority has had every opportunity to satisfy itself that all the candidates on its short leet are acceptable to the authority. Indeed, I find it hard to believe—as I understand it, this was not suggested—that the authority would include candidates that it did not find acceptable. As pointed out, at this point the appointment committee is made up of equal numbers of members nominated by the education authority and the school board concerned. The head teacher takes the chair.

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, said that this places the head teacher in an invidious position, to use his term. The Opposition ask us to envisage that the appointment committee will operate on an adversarial basis with the so-called education authority members ranged against the school board members leaving the head teacher to hold the ring and take a difficult decision. I should have thought that that was a travesty, a caricature, of the position. It suggests that that members of the appointment committee would act in an entirely improper way.

Members of the appointment committee are selected with a single, clear task. It is to select from the short leet drawn by the education authority the candidate who in the view of the committee is best suited to the post in question. At that point the members are not there in a representative capacity. If the authority has particular views about the criteria for suitability of candidates, these will already have been exercised at the stage when the authority draws the short leet. At the point under discussion, what is in question is a collective effort to select the best person for a particular post from a group of candidates, all of whom are eligible and all of whom are considered acceptable by the authority that will be the employer.

It may well be that this committee will require direction and guidance. And that is what we have provided. Who better to direct the deliberations of the committee than the head teacher of the school at which the vacancy arises? It is entirely right that the head teacher should have this role. He is the senior manager of the school; he should have the opportunity to wield substantial influence in the selection of his colleagues. I repeat that this selection is being made from a leet drawn up by the authority. There is no question of the head teacher being set over against his employers.

I was distressed at the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, that there would be any question of falling out with an education member. It may be that members of the appointment committee will have different views as to who is the better person, but that will be as members of the committee, not as members of the education authority or of the school board.

I ask the Committee to bear in mind another important provision in paragraphs 14 and 15 of the schedule. They provide that the director of education should be notified of all appointment committee proceedings with a right to attend meetings and give advice, which must be considered. Section 78 of the Education (Scotland) Act describes the director of education as "the chief education officer of the authority". Again I wonder how we are to believe that these provisions remove or weaken authority responsibilities.

Two other provisions in the Bill have a bearing on the matter. There is a small but significant provision in paragraph 17, which reserves the right of appointment to the authority. It is not given to the appointment committee. We shall discuss this further in relation to Amendment No. 71.

There is the far more substantial provision of Clause 15(2)(b) which prevents the selection of a head teacher, deputy or assistant being delegated to a school board. In other words, the careful provisions governing the proper rights and responsibilities of the authority in relation to these appointments are preserved. They may not be replaced by more local arrangements under delegation.

Upon a proper reading of the Bill, in particular Schedule 1, it is clear therefore that the rights and responsibilities of the authority as employer are in no way weakened. It is equally clear that the position accorded to the head teacher is an entirely proper one. Only if we conceive of an appointment committee acting in a quite improper manner does the view of the headmaster as a "ringmaster" have any context whatever.

The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, asked about head teachers' unions. The provisions of the Bill have been warmly welcomed by head teachers' representatives. In an article in the Glasgow Herald of 30th September this year, the President of the Head Teachers Association in his presidential address to the association's conference, is recorded as saying, Hope burns brightly …that come next November when school boards are in place headteachers will recover some discretion to do what they were appointed to do, manage their schools". What is more germane to the management of the school than to play a leading role in the selection of senior staff? As I have indicated, this entirely proper role can be given to the head teacher without causing any harm to the rights and responsibilities of the education authority. Another point that was raised was what will happen if the head teacher is not available to chair an appointment committee. Concerns were expressed by all three of the noble Lords and the noble Baroness who have spoken.

The effect of paragraphs 3 and 19 of this schedule is that no committee may be formed even if the head teacher's post is being filled by one of his senior colleagues. I know that it was argued opposite that this could cause problems. Perhaps we may look at this in a little more detail to see the extent of the problem. It can only arise, I suggest, if, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, there was the possibility of the head teacher being on extended sick leave. There is no problem there. There would have to be a combination of other factors. First, he would have not only to be on sick leave but on extended sick leave. Secondly, he would have to be so ill that he could not attend the appointment committee. Thirdly, a vacancy for a senior appointment would have to occur during that period.

Obviously I accept from the noble Lord opposite that there are occasions when the head teacher is on sick leave, and there may be other occasions when that sick leave has to be extended. However, the likelihood of all those factors coming together to cause significant delay must be fairly minuscule. I have no doubt that there are occasions when during a period of extended sick leave a senior appointment vacancy may become available, but the question then is the length of delay. How long will it be before the head teacher comes back to take his proper place or a new head teacher is appointed?

Let us make the assumption that this combination of factors occurs. What happens then? The answer is simple. The deputy head teacher vacancy must be filled on a temporary basis until the head teacher returns or is replaced; then a properly constituted committee can sit. That is not so unreasonable because it reflects the importance which we attach to the head teacher having a major role in the choice of his senior colleagues. I agree that filling senior posts on a temporary basis is unsatisfactory, but it has to be done as a matter of fact. I think that it is still less satisfactory for the senior team in a school to be selected by an appointment committee chaired by someone who is himself only temporarily in charge. Certainly the number of times that that would occur is so limited that it simply does not provide a basis for taking the head teacher out of the chair of the appointment committee.

My noble friend Lady Carnegy spoke about a conflict of interests. If we allowed an acting head teacher to chair a depute head teacher appointment committee we would be causing considerable difficulty. Let us assume the situation of a head teacher on sick leave; the depute head teacher post is vacant; an assistant head teacher is acting for the head in the absence of a depute. In the normal course of events the assistant head would be a candidate for the vacant depute post, but because he is acting head teacher he has to chair the appointment committee for that very post. That indicates quite clearly that the way in which we have proceeded is the most sensible way and the one that should stand. The difficulties which it may cause in, I should have thought, almost hypothetical cases, are such that can be resolved by using temporary measures. The difficulties which would be caused by removing it could not readily be remedied.

I have spoken for some time because I recognise the concerns which Members of the Committee have expressed about this matter. However, we take the view that this is a new Bill which is intended to give school boards a proper place in the running of the school and the head teacher a proper place in the running of his school. That is secured by the provisions which are already in the schedule.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Hughes

I thought that the amendment was an important one, but it did not occur to me for one moment that it was so important as to justify this lengthy intervention by the noble and learned Lord, in the course of which he demonstrated that he is well qualified to keep us on our toes so far as the law is concerned.

However, I would suggest that in two respects he is riot as well informed as perhaps he thought he was. First of all, he said that it was most unlikely that an education committee, in putting forward a leet of three, would be doing other than nominating three people, any one of whom would be qualified to do the job. In this matter the Lord Advocate shows his ignorance of local authorities. A predecessor of mine as Lord Provost of Dundee was for many years a very successful and distinguished chairman of the Dundee Education Committee. It was almost unheard of for Sir Garnett not to have the person of his choice appointed. Why? He was very much concerned, as chairman, in drawing up the short leet. Once he made up his mind who should be appointed, he made certain that the other two candidates on the list had not a hope in hell of getting the job. I doubt very much whether that practice died with Sir Garnett Russell.

Secondly, the Lord Advocate glided over the possibility of a difficult situation arising due to a prolonged absence of a head teacher. My noble friend referred to particulars that had been given. There were three given by the convention. The third of these is perhaps the most acute problem that would be created.

The head teacher of a primary school was absent though illness from June 1987 until September 1987. That is a very short period indeed. However, she was again absent from February 1988 until her death in June 1988. The Lord Advocate said that in these circumstances there would have to be a temporary appointment. Who is going to make the temporary appointment? He has stressed the importance of the head teacher being the one who is most involved in the appointment of these members of his staff. Yet we will have a situation where there cannot be an appointment committee because the head teacher is not available and the head teacher therefore is out of the count. How is the temporary appointment made? By whom is it made and under what circumstances?

Unless the Lord Advocate can produce an answer to the second point—and I see that he is sending for help—it would be better if the Minister would at least give some further consideration to this matter.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I think that the noble Lord is correct in what he has just said. I hope that my noble friend will look to make quite sure that when the head teacher is off sick there are no holes left in the system so that it is not possible to operate these senior appointments while he is away. I do not see how it is going to work either in this respect.

On the question of the drawing up of the leet, with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, this Bill is going to create a situation where the local authority will not be able to use that old trick of weighting the leet so that the chairman of the committee stands a good chance of getting the person he wants. I do not think that it has happened in Tayside for quite a while. The Dundee habits died a little when Tayside came into operation. They may be coming back now.

I think that this system, where the local authority produces a leet and the committee makes a recommendation to the local authority, is equally balanced between the authority and the board. The head teacher will be in the chair so the local authority must first produce a short leet of people whom it believes can do the job. I believe that that will be good and more suitable for modern practice. I take comfort from it and believe that it is a good system.

I noted that if there were to be an equal number of members with a head teacher as chairman, he should not have to give a casting vote because there will be seven people.

Lord Hughes

I do not believe that the noble and learned Lord has answered the question. Will there be an equal number plus one, or is it assumed that the headmaster must be a nominee of one of the groups?

Lord Cameron of Lochbroom

It is quite clear from paragraph 2(b) that it is an equal number of persons who are nominated by the education authority and the school board. In addition it is the head teacher of the school who shall be chairman of the committee.

I take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, about the short leet. I believe that he fell into error, which he seldom does, by talking of a short leet of three in relation to the topic which we are discussing; that is the type of appointment committee under paragraph 2(b). It is covered by the terms of paragraph 13 of the schedule which states: In every other case the authority shall prepare the short leet (in the case of the appointment of a deputy or assistant headteacher, in consultation with the headteacher) and shall send the short leet to the appointment committee". I should not like to think of education authorities acting in quite the way he suggested. It may have happened in the past and perhaps it indicates that we are now putting a better system in place.

Temporary appointments are not covered by Schedule 2. That is plain when one looks at the function delegated to the school boards which is, effectively, permanent appointments. The education authority would propose the temporary appointments to fill the gaps until such time as the proper appointment is made, which would fall under Schedule 2.

Lord Hughes

Is it clear that the education authority would have the power to make a temporary appointment? That is not stated in the Bill but is it stated elsewhere?

Lord Cameron of Lochbroom

It is not stated in the Bill because the Bill does not deal with that. It deals with permanent appointments.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

We should be grateful to my noble friend Lord Hughes for his openmindedness because he has said that he has changed his mind about one or two matters to which he had put his name. He spoke powerfully and with a great deal of experience of appointments and short leets.

I do not believe that the noble and learned Lord is as naive as he tried to pretend. He has read too many political biographies and diaries from across the political spectrum not to know that such matters are not unusual. My noble friend Lord Hughes is merely pointing out what we all know.

I suggest that there is another way of looking at the matter. The short leet is merely the education authority saying that three, four or five people are suitable for the job of assistant headmaster or headmaster in its authority. However, one is not merely choosing a headmaster but one is choosing a headmaster for a specific school. Therefore they are not necessarily equal. There are two levels. The first level is the short leet which states that they are suitable for an appointment. The second is the specific level where they are stated as being suitable for a particular school

I should like to suggest to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, that I do not know how many head teachers are members of the EIS. I imagine that there is a high proportion of Scottish assistant head teachers and head teachers who are in the EIS and who may also be in the other organisation.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Many head teachers who are members of the EIS also belong to the Head Teachers Association. It is through that organisation that they have expressed an opinion.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I should not like to say which is the parent body, but it is obvious that head teachers are concerned and involved parties in the procedure for making appointments. The noble Baroness suggested that she wanted people to move to and from the school board, and we should also like to see that. However, we had to drag out of the Government correspondence and information—which we have been promised only later—from the school boards to the parents. I earlier gained the impression that there may not even need to be an annual report because nothing may have been done.

Therefore, the parents may not know who are the members. It is difficult enough to know who are councillors but it is more difficult to know who is the school board's chairman when, up until now, there has been no necessity for it to issue even an annual report.

I believe that we were perfectly correct in tabling the amendments and in emphasising the role of the elected member. Despite the fact that there will be school boards, I am sure that the elected member will still be considered to be more available. It may be a long time before many parents will dream of going to the chairman of a committee because, for sad, difficult and historic reasons, even going to a school to see the headmaster is a trauma. However, to go to a local councillor can be a great deal easier.

I am sorry that the noble and learned Lord has not seen fit to say that he will at least take back the amendments. Despite the eloquence with which he put the case, I believe that the fairly simple suggestions made in the amendments would have created a smoother way of solving the problems which have been discussed. However, I realise that we shall not get very far with them and I beg leave to withdraw.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 68 and 69 not moved.]

5.30 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 70: Page 17, line 14, leave out from ("Board") to end of line 16.

The noble Lord said: The reason for tabling Amendment No. 70 is that it is inequitable that a staff member should be excluded from the appointment procedure unless he is a candidate for appointment. Unless that is so there is no conflict of interest. If there is to be any kind of partnership among the various interests represented and the boards, one group of members should not have a second-class status. I beg to move.

Lord Cameron of Lochbroom

I do not detect in the noble Lord's utterances and the strength of his arguments the usual note of confidence, and I am not entirely surprised.

We are here dealing with the provisions apertaining to the appointment of a head teacher. Under the schedule, the school board has two stages of involvement in the selection of a new head teacher. First, it may consider the short leet drawn by the authority. Within certain limits it may adjust that short leet. Secondly the school board may nominate half the membership of the appointment committee for the post. As the Bill stands, the staff members of a board may not take part in either of these stages of consideration.

I do not think it is necessary to explain the reasons for this exclusion in any detail. We believe that it is wrong in principle to involve the representatives of staff of the school in the process of selecting their head teacher. This is not an elective office any more than is the captaincy of a ship. We also believe that it is unfair on the staff representatives themselves to be so involved. The pressures on them to discuss the details of applications received and perhaps the detailed curriculum vitae of colleagues at the same school with other members of the staff would be intolerable. I believe that the noble Lord would accept that.

It has been argued that the staff member of a board will have an invaluable role in advising the board about what is required in a head teacher for that school. That is as may be. But this advice could be sought and given in general terms before the appointment comes before the appointment committee. We take the view that it would be wrong in principle to involve the representative staff members in that part of the school board's considerations for the reasons that I have given. Therefore, I cannot accept the amendment.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I believe that the noble and learned Lord is probably correct. This is a probing amendment to obtain the Government's view. There is a role on the board for the staff member who has been on the board continually, who knows how it works and has the feel of it and who also knows the feel of the school in general and so perhaps can help in that intangible way in deciding whether or not someone will fit in. However, I believe that there are difficulties in that another member of staff could be applying for the post. I shall look with care at what the noble and learned Lord said. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 71:

Page 18, line 4, leave out paragraph 16 and insert— ("16. The Appointment Committee shall, unless they consider that no person on the short leet is suitable for the post, make an appointment; other than where the preferred candidate for a Headteacher appointment was not on the short leet submitted by the authority but was added by the School Board. 17. Where the preferred candidate for a Headteacher appointment was not on the short leet submitted by the education authority the Appointment Committee will recommend the candidate to the authority. The education authority will appoint that person accordingly unless it appears to them that the candidate is not, for good reason, eligible or suitable for the post, in which case they may refuse to appoint him.").

The noble Lord said: Although the stages in the procedure differ as between the head teacher and the deputy or assistant head post, those stages conclude with an identical procedure involving interview of the leet by the appointment committee and subsequently a recommendation of an appointment to the education authority. That latter element appears to me unnecessary. It would be in the interests of all concerned if the procedure could be short-circuited to the extent that the appointment committee was empowered, where the preferred candidate had been included on the orginal leet by the education authority, to make an immediate appointment following interview without reference to the authority. That would automatically include all posts of deputies and assistants along with the majority of head teacher appointments.

The only appointment not covered by this proposal would be where the preferred candidate had not been included on the authority's short leet but had been added by the decision of the school board. I am not quite sure from where the power for this arises. However, in those circumstances it would be appropriate to safeguard the position of the education authority in terms of its established responsibilities by including a reference-back clause requiring confirmation of the appointment by the authority.

In those circumstances, if the reference is to be meaningful it will not only be on the basis of eligibility, as provided for in the Bill, but also upon that of suitability in order to permit the proper assessment of qualifications and capabilities of the candidate. I hope that, this is not revolutionary and that it will perhaps save a great deal of anguish and backstair bargaining, which is not unknown, if once a candidate selected from the short leet had been selected by the board then a firm appointment could be made. I beg to move.

The Earl of Dundee

I believe that this amendment has two aspects. First, it suggests that the appointment committee should make appointments directly. If I may say so, this is a little misconceived. Schedule 2 has been drafted specifically to reserve the right and power of appointment to the authority itself. This emphasises that appointment—rather than selection—is a matter for the authority alone and preserves the authority's rights as an employer.

Secondly, the amendment gives the authority the right to decline to appoint a candidate chosen for the post of headteacher. This is the most important feature of the amendment. It may allay some fears if I explain the appointment process. The schedule is complex and it is difficult to see the whole process in the words of the Bill. I hope that I can explain the procedure clearly and briefly.

The Bill provides that an authority will advertise the post and draw up a short leet. The leet is then passed to the board who will consider it and can subtract or add names from among eligible candidates. The leet is then passed to the appointment committee who will make a selection provided it considers a candidate suitable. The authority is obliged to appoint the chosen candidate if he or she is eligible for the post. Eligibility in effect means being registered with the General Teaching Council but for certain posts—for example, in a special school—eligibility might also include a specialist qualification. But such cases will be rare.

It is important to distinguish between suitability and eligibility. They are not one and the same. Although suitability is a more subjective judgment, it does have strong professional components and that is why we have included in the schedule express provision for the director of education to advise both the board and the appointment committee in the exercise of their functions.

The authority will have its own view as to a candidate's suitability. Similarly, the board will have its view. The authority will be able to declare its view by drawing up the short leet. the board when it considers the leet. The appointments committee then has the final say, based on the revised leet. And here the authority has the major say. As the Committee is made up of half board and half authority-nominated members with the authority in the chair, it will be the authority's view on suitability which prevails in the final analysis.

There is therefore ample scope for the authority to have a decisive voice in regard to the suitability of a candidate and yet another opportunity to declare its view is unnecessary. At the same time, I believe that a good balance of input is able to be made by the board.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

The Minister will realise that he made a very important and detailed reply with many references and cross-references. At this stage I believe the best that I can do is to withdraw the amendment and read what he said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Delegation Orders]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 72:

Page 18, line 19, leave out paragraph 1 and insert—

"1. Where an education authority propose making a delegation order under section 15 of this Act on their own initiative, they shall provide a draft of the Order to the School Board.

2. The School Board shall then call for a ballot of all parents of pupils in attendance at the school to determine whether a majority of the parents voting in the ballot are in support of the request for delegation of that function.

3. The education authority shall carry out the ballot under paragraph 2 above by providing to all parents of pupils in attendance at the school:

  1. (a) a ballot paper;
  2. (b) a statement of the education authority's proposals and of any reasons for them given to the Board by the authority;
  3. (c) a statement of the School Board's position on the proposals, and the parents shall be invited to vote "yes" or "no" to the proposals.

4. Schedule 1 of this Act shall apply (with the exception of paragraph (9) and of references to candidates) to a ballot under paragraph 2 above as it applies to an election of parent members held under that Schedule.

5. Only if a majority of parents voting in a ballot under paragraph 2 above express support for the delegation order will the order be made.").

The noble Lord said: It will be convenient to discuss at the same time Amendments Nos. 73, 74 and 75. The purpose of these amendments, which have been suggested by the Lothian Parents' Action Group and Education Alert, is to increase accountability of school boards to ordinary parents, particularly with regard to the important area of delegation orders.

As the Bill stands, school boards may take on delegated functions without consulting the parents at the school when an education authority initiates such a proposal and the school board agrees to it, or where the school board requests the delegation of a function and the education authority agrees. Only in the latter case, where an education authority refuses a request from a school board, may a ballot of parents be called.

These amendments are proposed on the sure basis that the representative views of the majority of parents are expressed during the consultation process and that the board should be properly accountable. It is further supported by the results of the survey conducted by the Lothian Parents' Action Group and Education Alert in June when a very high percentage of those asked were opposed to the board being able to apply to the local authority for, and being granted, extra powers without consulting or advising the schools' other parents or teachers.

When discussing the results of this survey in another place the Minister said that the survey statement was unfounded and untrue. However, when asked to explain this the Minister replied in subsequent correspondence with the Lothian Parents' Action Group that the Bill puts, a general duty on Boards to…consult parents…and would certainly include any proposals a Board might have for increasing the range of its functions which were likely to be of interest to parents of pupils at the school".

It is clearly the Minister's intention that consultation should take place in all cases where delegation of functions is sought, not just where there is a dispute between the school board and the local authority.

However, parents must feel that such an important point should not depend on a general duty. It should be clearly stated in legislation that the School Boards (Scotland) Bill will be used as a reference document by parents who will understand what they read but will be unaware of any further duties that may be required of them by the general legal principles that govern all statutory powers and duties. It is therefore important that it is both the wish of parents and the Minister's intention that school boards should consult parents on any proposals for delegated functions and that provision for such consultation should be clearly made in the legislation itself.

I make one further comment. The Minister originally sought to suggest that the survey of the Lothian Parents' Action Group and Education Alert was perhaps not as general or as powerful as claimed and had not been carried out as scientifically as it might have been. Nevertheless, he agreed that the general duty should be to consult parents. Therefore, I believe that the Minister has largely conceded the case made by these bodies that delegated powers should be notified to all the parents of the school and that the proposal to seek delegated powers should be noted by other parents in the school. I beg to move.

The Earl of Dundee

I can understand the noble Lord's concern in this respect, but the effect of this group of amendments, if adopted, would be to produce a recipe for democracy run riot. They appear to require that a ballot of all parents is held before a board takes on any additional functions, no matter how small.

I think that the amendments rather miss the point of the ballot procedure. It was not included in this schedule as a consultative mechanism or as a substitute for proper communication between a board and parents locally. Rather it is a part of the specific procedures which apply when a board seeks additional responsibilities but cannot gain the agreement of the authority that these functions should be delegated. Support of a majority of parents in a ballot is then a necessary pre-condition for the board to appeal to the Secretary of State.

The Bill already provides separately for boards to have a duty to communicate with parents. There is a general duty to this effect in Claue 12. In correspondence with the Lothian Parents' Action Group, the Scottish Minister responsible for education and health has clearly stated his view that a board which is considering taking on substantial functions would need to let parents know about its proposals as part of its discharge of that duty; and the general duty is backed up by a power for parents themselves to call for a meeting with a board if the board fails in its duty to communicate.

It is always theoretically possible that some board somewhere will act in a way that is unacceptable to parents in its locality. We have included in this Bill a range of safeguards and provisions to ensure that boards are representative and accountable: half the parent members demitting office every two years; secret postal ballots; the duty to communicate in Clause 12, and so on. All of these are reasonable and sensible provisions which will guarantee that boards behave in an appropriate and reasonable manner. To legislate—as this group of amendments would have us do—for the wildly extreme case, would be to risk producing a Bill full of chaotic, jumbled and bureaucratic procedures. In view of those comments I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Hughes

There is some merit in what the Minister said and I am inclined to think that my noble friend will accept it, subject to reading those comments later. In the great majority of schools the parents will fairly quickly become aware of what is going on. The difficulty will be in the large schools in the cities and in the senior secondary schools in the county areas. It will not be so easy, informally, to contact the parents.

However, I am reassured. I do not think there is any great danger that the authorities will be rushing in to delegate further powers to the school boards. They will want to be satisfied that the school boards are working in a satisfactory manner before they divest themselves of their own powers and pass them on to the school boards. There will therefore be plenty of time to come back to this point if it should prove that the boards are not working as we hope they will work.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I agree with my noble friend that in the light of what the Minister said my amendments would be taking rather more powers than are required. However, it should also be accepted that the Lothian Parents' Action Group and Education Alert were putting these amendments forward when there was a great inadequacy of routes for allowing parents to be aware of what is happening in the schools.

I draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that Clause 12, when we were debating it on Tuesday, was shown to be woefully inadequate and needed a great deal of beefing up. The noble Lord, Lord Sanderson of Bowden, therefore said that he would look at the possibility of giving more formal duties to the board to keep parents involved. Perhaps that will solve the problem. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 73 to 75 not moved.]

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 76: Page 19, line 11 after ("school") insert, ("and having regard to the duty of the authority to operate within its budget and to run the whole education service efficiently").

The noble Lord said: This is an important amendment. From August 1989 the education authorities will have to have submitted a number of services to compulsory competitive tendering in order to comply with the provisions of Part I of the Local Government Act 1988. These services—or, as they are known, "defined activities"—include, specifically, school cleaning, the provision of school meals and ground maintenance.

In order to achieve value for money and to avoid being challenged by private contractors for acting in a manner having the effect, or intended or likely to have the effect, of restricting, distorting or preventing competition, an authority may have to package contracts for the provision of defined activities in a way which would not allow it to delegate responsibility for these services to individual school boards.

Therefore the Secretary of State should have regard to the requirements placed upon education authorities by the 1988 Act when considering a request by a school hoard for the delegation of a function. The Minister will be aware that the problem is that large contractors will claim that they are able to take on a group of schools for, say, school meals, ground maintenance or other functions, and that the task will be much more profitably done by a firm that has the equipment and the resources to take on a number of schools rather than individual ones. Obviously, in some areas it would be more profitable for the school board to have the job done by a local contractor. However, in some cases—this may be even more so in the future—central depots may be set up by the big contractors. They may think that there was unfair competition if they were allowed only to tender piecemeal for each school in the area instead of for the schools en bloc. I beg to move.

Lord Cameron of Lochbroom

I am grateful to the noble Lord for making clear the purpose of this amendment. Let us consider the manner in which Schedule 3 is set out. If the kind of considerations that he has put forward are material as regards certain functions requested by school boards and as to whether they should be delegated, they would have two bites of the cherry. First, under paragraph 4 of this schedule they are able to put their reasons for refusing the request before tie parents. The parents are then able to see the counter proposals and to vote upon them. If a majority do not support the reasons for the authority's refusal, the matter has to go before the Secretary of State.

Paragraph 8 makes it clear that the Secretary of State has only to reach a decision after considering the views of the education authority and the school board. If those considerations are germane, again the Secretary of State is required to consider them before he reaches a view on the proper basis which is consistent with the overall intention of the Bill; namely, that the delegation would not prejudice the good running of the school. The effect of this amendment in other circumstances might allow the excuse of administrative inconvenience to feature in the matter of the refusal of delegation.

We take the view that here we are putting the matter on a proper basis; namely, that the decision has to be taken in what is the interests of the school concerned. That situation is reached only after the education authority has an opportunity both to influence the parents and subsequently the Secretary of State. For those reasons I feel that this is an unnecessary provision.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate. I assume that I can take it from his words that there is no conflict with the schedule and with the Local Government Finance Act 1988. If that is the case, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Schedule 4 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 77 not moved.]

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.