HL Deb 20 April 1993 vol 544 cc1442-554

House again in Committee.

Clause 2 [Funding Agency for Schools]:

[Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

The Lord Bishop of Guildford moved Amendment No. 13:

Page 2, line 10, at end insert ("and

(c) persons who hold and appear to him to have shown capacity in any position carrying responsibility for the provision of education in voluntary schools or endowed grant-maintained schools.").

The right reverend Prelate said: In speaking to Amendment No. 13, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 15, 16, 24 —that amendment should stand in my name on the Marshalled List—and 26. Although I shall not speak to them directly, Amendments Nos. 14 and 25 are also grouped with Amendment No. 13.

My amendments seek to secure that people with experience of the voluntary sector should be members of the Funding Agency for Schools. They seek also to secure formal consultation with the Churches before such an appointment is made. The Churches provide some 30 per cent. of the schools in the voluntary sector, although there are other voluntary schools which are not Church schools.

With regard to the funding agency, the White Paper stated that: it will be important that some members should have experience of maintained, including voluntary, schools". We agree with that and my amendment goes some way towards ensuring it.

The Church of England's view is that Churches should have direct representation on the funding agency. The present position is that the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church have a statutory place on all local education committees. As and when those committees disappear, the Churches will lose their place in the strategic planning structures. The Government have recognised the value and contribution of the voluntary sector and in particular of Church schools. Therefore, in line with the White Paper, the least that we expected was that we should retain an acknowledged place in the formal structures.

However, my amendments are more modest than our original hopes. The amendments lay on the Secretary of State an obligation to consult the Churches before making an appointment of anybody representing the voluntary sector.

I must say in connection with that that there is a slightly technical point. Amendment No. 15 makes explicit reference to the Board of Education of the General Synod of the Church of England but does not make explicit reference to any corresponding body of the Roman Catholic Church. I had expected to see a further amendment in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, to effect a reference to the Catholic Education Service. I am aware that in the past there has been sensitivity about explicit reference in primary legislation to Roman Catholic bishops and Roman Catholic authorities. For our part we are entirely happy with any such reference. I say that having consulted the most reverend Primates the Archbishops of York and Canterbury.

This matter will arise again on Amendment No. 72 but I believe it should be mentioned at this stage. I am anxious that the position of the Church of England should not fall because of a technical or constitutional anxiety about any public formal reference in primary legislation to the Roman Catholic Church. I do not know what is the Government's view on that but I understand that there have been discussions and it may be that we are now able to move forward in that connection.

One of the amendments in this group is in effect a definition of endowed grant-maintained schools. I recognise that the amendment should probably be placed elsewhere in the Bill but I thought that if I did not include it here it would make it cumbersome and difficult to speak to such an amendment. We need a means of referring to those schools which were voluntary schools before they became grant maintained. Always to have to refer to them in such a clumsy way seems to be awkward. Therefore, it is better to have a definition which enables us to refer to them with a clear phrase. That is the purpose of one of the amendments in this group.

Amendments Nos. 24 and 26 seek to achieve for Wales the equivalent consultation with the Churches which we are proposing in the context of England. There are others better qualified than I to speak on behalf of the Principality but we move the amendment after consultation with our Anglican colleagues of the Church in Wales because we feel that what is done in this regard for the Churches in England should be effected equally for Churches in Wales. Therefore, I hope that my brief explanation indicates the reasons for the amendments, which I hope that the Government will be able to accept, at least in principle. I beg to move.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

I shall speak briefly to Amendments Nos. 14 and 25, which stand in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady David, and which form part of the group. We seek to ensure that those with experience of special educational needs are represented on the Funding Agency for Schools and the Schools Funding Council for Wales, although I hesitate to speak for Wales in the present company.

The funding authorities will have responsibilities for planning provision, funding schools and liaising with relevant LEAs. Those are all very important in relation to children with special educational needs in grant-maintained schools. Let us take the distribution of grants. I give just two examples. The funding authority will need to take account of the way in which formulae for the distribution of maintenance grant recognise the additional work that schools undertake for children who present challenges, including children with special educational needs and the need for capital expenditure—for example, to make buildings accessible for those with physical disabilities and to install a loop for hearing impaired children.

It is estimated that 20 per cent. or more of children in our schools have special educational needs. Surely there should be at least one member of each funding authority with special needs experience and expertise. The Special Educational Consortium believes that the amendment is necessary because within the sector, which has been established specifically to help greater autonomy, it will be particularly important to have an understanding of the multi-agency and co-operative approaches which may be needed to meet effectively the special educational needs of children. I hope that when the Minister replies he will be able to say something encouraging about special needs expertise being represented on each funding authority.

Baroness David

I support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy. The funding authority will have to deal with many local problems in planning school places. It is necessary to make sure that there will be people with the requisite expertise. The authority will have to be responsible for providing enough school places and the place and the way in which those are provided will have a significant impact on children with special educational needs.

It is recognised that many of those children will be in grant-maintained schools. They may not be among the 2 per cent. but they may be among the 20 per cent. The authorities will need to liaise with the LEAs in respect of work with children in grant-maintained schools who are at the pre-statutory school-based stage of assessment, who are undergoing full assessment or for whom additional provision is to be made as specified in a statement. While it is clearly anticipated that the day-to-day liaison on those issues will be dealt with among the school, the LEA and other voluntary and statutory agencies, there will need to be an understanding of the level of the agency and how additional provision and inter-agency cooperation can best be established for the benefit of children with special educational needs.

I believe that the noble Baroness mentioned the figure of 20 per cent. in respect of special needs. That is quite a large percentage of the population which will be affected. If they are to be more grant-maintained schools, the funding agency will have a real responsibility. In this case, I think that it is especially important that there should be someone on the funding agency who has special knowledge and experience of what is needed and that there should also be a connection with the many agencies which have to provide that expertise.

The Duke of Norfolk

I shall speak only to Amendment No. 15. I should like first to thank the right reverend Prelate for the way he said that sometimes in these happy ecumenical days we can say the word "Catholic" meaning Roman Catholics without having always to specify the word "Roman". It is a very happy occasion for us not to have to hide our light under a bushel and to know that we can be recognised as the Catholic Church with the word "Roman" being understood, though not actually mentioned. The right reverend Prelate was most generous in his remarks.

The right reverend Prelate also spoke to Amendment No. 15. We very much feel that the Churches should be consulted on the Funding Agency for Schools. On Report, I shall move an amendment which will insert after the words in the amendment, the Board of Education of the General Synod of the Church of England", the words "the Catholic Education Service" which is our equivalent. That will probably appear at line 13 on page 2 of the Bill. I am sure we all agree that the Churches should obviously be consulted on this particular matter.

Lord Parry

I must apologise first for the quality of my voice. Knowing my interest, Members of the Committee would expect me enthusiastically to support the amendments standing in the names of my noble friend Lady David and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth). There is a particular and most precise reason for that: it is because integration is now taking place. This Chamber generally favours integration of the special needs group with the general school population. Indeed, it is most important that the people who represent them on the body should understand the special needs of those with special social, physical and mental handicaps.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

This Chamber has, I believe, a deservedly high reputation for considering the interests of those with special educational needs. I am very much aware that that reputation is much to be laid to the credit of many noble Lords who have consistently, and rightly, emphasised the importance of that concern. However, I have to say that there is a general principle which worries me. I refer to the constitution of administrative or funding bodies whose numbers are inevitably limited. In this case we are talking about the Funding Agency for Schools with a membership of 10 to 15. As the Bill stands, it draws attention to two broad categories: the first is the category of educational experience and the second is the category of administrative and business experience.

The issue is very much open to doubt. Indeed, we have faced it in other recent discussions; for example, we faced it in respect of the higher education funding councils and in relation to a whole series of issues in recent Bills. It is very much open to doubt as to whether it is a good idea to have individual persons representing a whole range of interests filling up those 10 or 15 places. In no time at all we could find ourselves with representatives or delegates whose job it is to speak out for one particular interest group. I believe that the amendments are not well conceived, in that they add to persons who fall into one category persons who fall into another.

I believe that it would be much more appropriate to produce an amendment that would require the Secretary of state when appointing those 10 to 15 persons to have regard to the need for certain forms of experience and certain qualities to be represented. That would certainly be logical. If the Secretary of State was required to have regard to the interests of individuals with special educational needs and to have regard to the interests of those from the Church of England or the Catholic Church—or, indeed, other denominations such as are indicated here—that would make very good sense. But, if we are to load the funding councils and such bodies with this, that and the other named interest, we shall have a kind of sectarian division such as we have seen in certain comparable groups in the past.

For that reason I am very uneasy about the form of the amendments. They seem to suggest that we should simply add on a person for a particular cause of importance which interests us. I should be much happier if the amendment was phrased in a form that would cover the fact that there are issues and aspects here to which attention should be given by the Secretary of State in building up his composition of 10 or 15 persons, rather than singling out one person who will have regard to this issue while another person will have regard to another. For that reason, I have grave reservations about this group of amendments.

Lord Northbourne

I should like to correct the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, and make the point that the proposal of the amendments in relation to the Churches relates to the very special relationship which has, I think, existed since 1944. Under it, the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church have worked in partnership with the Government and the local authorities to provide education for about 30 per cent. of the pupils in this country. The Government have said that they wish that partnership to continue. It seems to me to be logical that, if the Churches are to work together with the Government to provide a coherent service, there must be representation on the funding council or, failing that—and it is the lesser suggestion which is being made here—at least consultation as to membership of the council. For that reason, I should like to express my support for the amendments of the right reverend Prelate.

Baroness David

Perhaps I may be allowed to speak now. I should like to respond to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew. He made the speech I expected to hear either from him or from the Minister, so it did not surprise me. However, I should like to draw his attention to the wording of Amendment No. 14. It speaks of, persons who appear to him"— that is, the Secretary of State— to have experience of". I do not think that that is so very different from the words "have regard to"; indeed, I do not think that the issue is much wider than that. I ask him to consider that point. I also ask the noble Lord to bear in mind the fact that people who have experience of special educational needs probably also have a good deal of experience of other forms of education.

Lord Elton

The composition of committees is familiar ground in this Chamber; indeed, scarcely an Act or a Bill passes through our hands without there being a committee involved. It seems extraordinary to me that this group of amendments is so small. Normally, five people table amendments a fortnight before the Committee stage, three other people think, "What a frightfully good idea, we ought to have gardening and aeroplaning in there" and, by the time the Committee stage is reached, there are 23 suggestions. But, on this occasion, the process has been exactly the reverse and we have actually lost local education authorities and equal opportunities for reasons of which I am unaware and which may not be entirely connected with the merits of the case. Consequently, we are perhaps freer than under other circumstances to look at this matter favourably.

I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that we have to remind ourselves that the state has been an enormous benefactor in its inheritance from the Churches. What is going into the GMS system now is what came into the maintained system after the war with the 1944 Act, which was an enormous endowment from the Churches. For the Churches suddenly to lose their voice in the affairs of this sector simply because of the change of administration would be a great pity. I hope my noble friend will not irreversibly close the door on this amendment at this stage.

Lord Addington

I wish briefly to support the amendment in the name of the two noble Baronesses. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, that when we talk about people with special educational needs we are talking about dozens of different types of special educational needs. There is a vast difference between someone who has dyslexia and someone who is in a wheelchair. Totally different problems are presented by those different disabilities. I suggest we need to appoint someone who has experience of at least one set of problems and possibly two or three.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

I rise to support the amendments broadly along the lines that have already been argued. In response to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, I should say that we are talking, in the case of the Church of England, of the provision of education for about 30 per cent. of pupils in schools in England. That is a huge sum and I believe it presents a strong argument for special representation on the FAS. In my view that leads on naturally to include the duty to consult properly with the Church of England on these matters.

As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, pupils with special educational needs comprise pupils with dozens of different types of problems. It seems extremely appropriate to appoint people who are aware of some of those problems and who will no doubt be aware of other educational matters. Two specific cases are being suggested here; it is not a question of blanket sectional interests. There is not going to be a divided delegate system as the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, seemed to imply. The provisions seek to ensure that two particular interest groups are represented on the funding agency.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

I, too, wish to support strongly the amendments tabled by the right reverend Prelate. The historic partnership between the Church and the state in education seems to me to have been something of immense value to the children within those schools and to all of us within society at large. Since 1944 the Church has had an historic right to be represented on local education authorities, as the right reverend Prelate said.

To deny the Churches that right to continue to have representation within the funding agency would seem to me to be a great deterrent to those many Church schools that may be considering choosing grant-maintained status. Many Church schools, particularly in north London and now in south London, have already opted out and become grant-maintained. Many more are considering doing so. I believe there is an enormous opportunity for the Church to recreate its influence in education with its schools in the grant-maintained sector. I hope the Minister will seriously consider conceding at least the principle of Amendment No. 15 and also perhaps of Amendment No. 13.

Lady Kinloss

I support my noble friend Lady Darcy (de Knayth) in her amendment. I hope that when the Minister replies she will give us some hope that there will be an understanding of the requirements of children with special educational needs. As the noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord Ponsonby, have already said, there are many different forms of disability which need understanding. I also support Amendments Nos. 13, 15 and 16 in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford.

Lord Sefton of Garston

I hesitate to jump into the welcome that has been extended to the principle of Amendment No. 15. Nevertheless, I feel I must do so because it is a bad thing to create agencies when we do not even know who will form the membership of those agencies. I should point out that we have a situation that may result in an atheist becoming the Secretary of State responsible for this matter. I do not welcome that position but that is the way things are run. The Church seems to be quite willing to accept that the person responsible for major affairs of state, including in some cases the destiny of the Church, may be an atheist who has been chosen by popular vote through our electoral system.

We are about to be subjected to a debate on the ordination of women. I shall be able to vote and speak on that subject although I am an atheist. Some Members of the Committee know I am an atheist. I shall not detain the Committee long as everyone knows the viewpoint of an atheist on this matter. I do not believe the education of our children should be in the hands of any religious body. I do not believe any religious body should have anything to do with the education of our children. Nothing in history suggests that it is advantageous for the education system—I am not talking about 1600 but about 1993—to be in the hands of religious bodies.

The Seventh Day Adventists have been mentioned recently in the newspapers. It appears that members of that sect would be perfectly entitled to claim that they should be represented on the agency we are discussing. I do not know whether anyone subscribes to the point of view that the man who has just been responsible for burning alive a large number of people in America is divorced from the Seventh Day Adventists. I could refer to many examples that I believe show that religion is responsible for many of the ills that affect the population today. I mention this matter to inform the Committee that there is by no means a unanimous welcome to the introduction of religion into our education system or into its maintenance. I believe our education system should be a secular system. If someone wishes to teach children stupid myths, they should pay the costs of maintaining a school.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Henley)

Perhaps this is the moment for me to respond to some of the points that have been made. These amendments tackle the issue of representation on the funding agency for schools and on the schools' funding council for Wales. I begin by setting out our thoughts on this issue. Echoing my noble friend Lord Elton, I should also like to say how grateful I am that a large number of associated amendments seems to have miraculously fallen off in a manner that is slightly unusual to what normally happens in this Chamber.

Clauses 2 and 3 together with Schedule 1 set out the detail of the funding agency for schools and the schools funding council for Wales. The members of both will each be appointed by the Secretary of State for their individual skills, talents and expertise. We shall not be reserving places for particular interest groups. Individuals from all aspects of education will bring with them expertise on the system as a whole as well as knowledge and experience of the reality in our schools. This definition is all-embracing. It precludes no one, even, in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Sefton, atheists.

Individuals from commerce and industry will bring with them management skills and financial acumen and they will ensure that the funding authorities operate as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. I repeat that what we are doing with this clause is not ruling anybody out. Individual appointments made by the Secretary of State will ensure that the best possible combination of people with the most appropriate experience and knowledge are appointed. The provisions as presently drafted give the Secretary of State the necessary scope to appoint members in all the pertinent areas and to appoint a group of individuals who will be able to take on this important task with vigour, enthusiasm and the relevant experience and knowledge.

Perhaps I may deal with the two basic subjects, the Church and SEN, in reverse order. I turn first to the specific amendments in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy, and the noble Baroness, Lady David—Amendments Nos. 14 and 25. Those amendments address the issue of special educational needs representation on the funding authorities. Again I must stress that we are not interested in any form of what might be called tokenism. We want the best individuals for the job.

I should also say that, by making explicit in subsection (3) (a) of both Clauses 2 and 3 that regard will be given to the desirability of including people with capacity in or experience of the provision of primary or secondary education, we already include special needs education. Children with special needs are encompassed by either primary or secondary education. Those two amendments are therefore not necessary and I hope that the noble Baronesses will not wish to pursue them. However, I note the concerns expressed by both noble Baronesses when speaking to the amendments and also those expressed by all others who spoke during the debate. I am sure that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will at least bear in mind their anxieties when he makes his appointments.

I turn now to the amendments in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford. As I believe the right reverend Prelate will know, my noble friend Lady Blatch and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State have considered carefully his amendments relating to the Funding Agency for Schools. They have had numerous useful discussions with representatives of both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church about consulting on representation on the funding authority and on the representation itself.

We made it very clear in the White Paper that we saw the role of the voluntary sector as very important and that ex-voluntary grant-maintained schools would have a vital role to play in the grant-maintained sector. Approximately 26 per cent. of operating and approved grant-maintained schools are ex-voluntary schools. They continue to enjoy useful relationships with the Churches. The Churches have a special place in the provision of education in England and I am keen to illustrate in no uncertain terms that this Government are serious about a long and fruitful relationship between Church and state. I should like to accept in principle Amendment No. 13 in the name of the right reverend Prelate, which would require the Secretary of State to have regard to the desirability of including on the funding authority a person or persons with experience of the voluntary sector.

I should make it clear that by accepting in principle the spirit of the amendment we are not accepting the notion that the funding authority is in any way a representative body, as my noble friend Lord Renfrew stated. This does not amount to a right on the part of the voluntary sector in general to nominate to a place on the funding authority.

Turning to consultation, in February this year my right honourable friend the Secretary of State agreed that he would make it a statutory duty for the holder of his office to consult both the Church of England and, I am happy to say —and I do not share the fears of the right reverend Prelate—the Roman Catholic Church on the membership of the funding authority. I hope therefore that my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk will not therefore feel it necessary to move the amendment which he spoke of moving at Report stage. I am happy to confirm that point and have it in the official record.

That is in part the spirit behind the right reverend Prelate's amendment, Amendment No. 15. However, we want to make the provision on the face of the Bill in a slightly different way from that suggested by the right reverend Prelate. We intend to bring forward at Report stage a government amendment which makes clear that in appointing members of the Funding Agency for Schools the Secretary of State will consult such bodies as appear to him to represent those appointing the foundation governors of voluntary schools and foundation governors of grant-maintained schools. That will, of course, include both the Church of England General Synod Board of Education and the Roman Catholic Education Service. However, by using that form of drafting we have maximum flexibility, leaving us room to consult and take into account the views of other denominational interests.

I should like to turn briefly to Amendments Nos. 24 and 26, in the name of the right reverend Prelate, which relate to the position in Wales, where the situation is slightly different. As most Members of the Committee will know, the voluntary sector is less prominent in Wales than it is in England. We therefore do not consider it appropriate to put on the face of the Bill a requirement for the Secretary of State to consider the desirability of appointing someone to the Schools Funding Council for Wales with experience of the voluntary sector. Voluntary-aided schools comprise only 8 per cent. of the total in both the primary and secondary sector in Wales, whereas in England the figures are approximately 34 per cent. and 16 per cent. respectively. Neither, therefore, do we consider it appropriate to put a right to consultation on the face of the Bill. That said, I am happy to give a commitment that such interests as appropriate will be consulted at the appropriate time.

Finally, perhaps I may say a little about the right reverend Prelate's Amendment No. 16 concerning the notion of endowed grant-maintained schools. We are very sympathetic to the concerns of both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church that Church schools which become grant-maintained should continue to have a separate identity. Church schools have made a distinct and vital contribution to education. They have led by example. Their distinctiveness is reflected in the legislative provisions of the Education Reform Act, carried forward in this Bill, whereby the majority of their governors are foundation governors nominated by the foundation of the school. Indeed, there is nothing to prevent those schools concerned even now from describing themselves as Catholic grant-maintained schools or Church of England grant-maintained schools.

In addition, the Government propose in future in circulars and other letters of guidance to refer generally to such schools as foundation self-governing schools. That will distinguish them from those grant-maintained schools or self-governing schools which have first rather than foundation governors and will maintain the distinction which existed in the 1944 Act between county and voluntary schools, carrying it forward into the new world of self-governing schools. I therefore feel that the right reverend Prelate's amendment, Amendment No. 16, is unnecessary.

I conclude by repeating that in principle we are prepared to accept the ideas behind Amendments Nos. 13 and 15. As I stated earlier to the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy, we do not believe that her amendments—Amendments Nos. 14 and 25—are appropriate, but we shall certainly bear in mind her particular concerns and the anxieties expressed so ably by many other Members of the Committee. With those remarks I hope that the right reverend Prelate will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

I am grateful to the noble Lord for that response. It is very encouraging and I am extremely grateful for the consideration that has been given to our anxieties.

I am happy to withdraw the amendment in my name. However, before doing so, perhaps I may clarify that the position is slightly different in relation to some amendments. I shall happily beg leave to withdraw Amendments Nos. 13 and 15 because the Minister has indicated that the Government will be bringing forward their own amendments to effect the same aim that was in my mind in drafting the amendments.

Similarly I shall beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 16 although I wish to see in more detail the distinction that I understand is to be secured for voluntary schools which become grant maintained as opposed to other grant-maintained schools. If that distinction can conveniently be achieved by other wording, then I shall be happy to withdraw the amendment. I shall withdraw the amendment, but I should like to understand that distinction before stating that I shall not bring another amendment forward at a later stage.

As to the Church in Wales, I shall consider the position and the possibility of returning with a different amendment in the light of what has been said. It is difficult to say that I shall withdraw the amendment because I have not had the opportunity of consulting with my opposite numbers in Wales. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 13.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 14:

Page 2, line 10, at end insert: ("(c) persons who appear to him to have experience of, and to have shown capacity in, provision to meet special educational needs.").

The noble Baroness said: Does the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), wish to speak first?

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)


Baroness David

The right reverend Prelate had a good response. If I had had such a good response, I should have been pleased. However, I did not. I have considered again the wording of Clause 2(3). No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, has studied and marked it. It states: In appointing the members of the agency the Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability of including". The noble Lord's phrase "the desirability of including", has already been taken up. It is on the face of the Bill.

Clause 2(3) (b) states, persons who appear to him to have experience of, and to have shown capacity in, industrial, commercial or financial matters or the practice of any profession". The provision does not include what I particularly wish—special educational needs. To refer in particular to industrial, commercial or financial matters but not to more educational matters is a great pity.

I do not feel inclined to withdraw the amendment; I wish to press it to a Division. I do not believe that we received nearly as good a response as the right reverend Prelate was lucky enough to achieve.

Lord Henley

I am sorry that the noble Baroness does not believe that she received as good a response as the right reverend Prelate. I suspect that whatever I say she will not feel that she has had as good a response. I suspect that the noble Baroness has sniffed blood and wishes to press the amendment to a Division.

I was seeking to say, first, that Amendments Nos. 14 and 25 are not necessary and therefore there is no need to put the provisions on the face of the Bill. Secondly, I noted the concerns that the noble Baroness, Lady David, the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy, and others expressed about the particular case of those with special educational needs. I stated categorically that I was sure that my right honourable friend would bear those concerns in mind when he made his appointments. But I did not believe that the amendments were necessary on the face of the Bill. I hoped that the noble Baroness might feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness David

Certain matters are on the face of the Bill. Educational matters are not among them.

Lord Judd

Will the Government give an assurance that they will change the Bill? Or will they not give such an assurance?

Lord Henley

If the noble Lord had listened to what I said, I stated that I was not accepting those amendments, that I had no intention of accepting them but that my right honourable friend would bear in mind those concerns. We have given assurances in relation to earlier amendments.

Lord Judd

Why do the Government specify some people whom, I think it would not be too cynical to say, many people believe to be friends and do not specify others who have a deep commitment to children in need?

Lord Henley

If the noble Lord will listen to me—I say it for the third time because the noble Lord obviously does not listen —these amendments are unnecessary in that it is quite explicit in Clause 2(3) (a) and Clause 3(3) (a) that regard will be given to the, desirability of including persons who appear … to have experience of, and to have shown capacity in, the provision of primary or secondary education". That obviously includes provision of education for those with special educational needs.

Baroness David

I said that I wished to divide the Committee and I have not changed my mind.

9.14 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 14) shall be agreed to?

*Their Lordships divided: Contents, 122; Not-Contents, 88.

Division No. 3
Acton, L. Guildford, Bp.
Addington, L. Halsbury, E.
Adrian, L. Hampton, L.
Archer of Sand well, L. Hamwee, B.
Ardwick, L. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Healey, L.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E. Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Hollick, L.
Blackstone, B. Hollis of Heigham, B.
Bonham-Carter, L. Hooson, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Bottomley, L. Howie of Troon, L.
Brimelow, L. Hughes, L.
Butterfield, L. Hutchinson of Lullington, L.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L. Irvine of Lairg, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Jay, L.
Castle of Blackburn, B. John-Mackie, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Judd, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Kagan, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Kennet, L.
David, B. Kilbracken, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Kinloss, Ly.
Desai, L. Kirkhill, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Lawrence, L.
Donoughue, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Dormand of Easington, L. Lockwood, B.
Dundonald, E. Longford, E.
Elis-Thomas, L. McGregor of Durris, L.
Ennals, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Ezra, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Faithfull, B. McNair, L.
Falkender, B. Mallalieu, B.
Falkland, V. Masham of Ilton, B.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Foot, L. Mayhew, L.
Gallacher, L. Merlyn-Rees, L.
Galpern, L. Milverton, L.
Geraint, L. Mishcon, L.
Gladwyn, L. Molloy, L.
Glenamara, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.] Mottistone, L.
Mulley, L.
Gregson, L. Newcastle, Bp.
Grey, E. Northbourne, L.
Northfield, L. Serota, B.
Ogmore, L. Shackleton, L.
Parry, L. Shepherd, L.
Perry of Walton, L. Stallard, L.
Peston, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Pitt of Hampstead, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Plant of Highfield, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. Tordoff, L.
Prys-Davies, L. Varley, L.
Rea, L. Warnock, B.
Redesdale, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Richard, L. White, B.
Robson of Kiddington, B. Wigoder, L.
Rochester, L. Wilberforce, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Russell, E. [Teller.] Williams of Mostyn, L.
Seear, B. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Sefton of Garston, L.
Annaly, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, L. Long, V.
Lucas, L.
Arran, E. Lyell, L.
Astor, V. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Barber, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Belstead, L.
Blatch, B. Marlesford, L.
Blyth, L. Mersey, V.
Boardman, L. Norfolk, D.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. O'Cathain, B.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Oxfuird, V.
Braine of Wheatley, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
Brigstocke, B. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Butterworth, L. Perry of Southwark, B.
Cadman, L. Prentice, L.
Caithness, E. Quinton, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Rankeillour, L.
Carnock, L. Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.
Cox, B. Rennell, L.
Craigmyle, L. Rodger of Earlsferry, L.
Cranborne, V. St. Davids, V.
Crathorne, L. Seccombe, B.
Cumberlege, B. Sharples, B.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Sherfleld, L.
Downshire, M. Skidelsky, L.
Elles, B. Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Stewartby, L.
Elton, L. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Ferrers, E. Strange, B.
Flather, B. Strathcarron, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Strathclyde, L.
Gisborough, L. Strathmore and Kinghorne, E [Teller.]
Goschen, V.
Hacking, L. Swinton, E.
Harmsworth, L. Teviot, L.
Harvington, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Hayhoe, L. Trumpington, B.
Henley, L. Ullswater, V.
Hesketh, L. [Teller.] Vivian, L.
Hives, L. Wade of Chorlton, L.
HolmPatrick, L. Wakeham, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Hooper, B.
Howe, E. Wynford, L.
Jeffreys, L. Young, B.
Jellicoe, E.

[*The Tellers for the Not-Contents reported 88 names. The Clerks recorded 87 names.]

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

9.23 p.m.

[Amendments Nos. 15 to 17 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3 [Schools Funding Council for Wales]:

[Amendment No. 20 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 21 to 23 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendment No. 24 not moved.]

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 25:

Page 2, line 28, at end insert:

("(c) persons who appear to him to have experience of, and to have shown capacity in, provision to meet special educational needs.").

The noble Baroness said: I spoke to this amendment when I moved Amendment No. 14. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 26 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 27 and 28 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

On Question, Whether Clause 3, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Elis-Thomas

This Question gives us a brief opportunity to talk about the funding council for Wales and its structure and date of operation. The issue here is when and whether the Welsh Office will establish a schools funding council in view of the fact that so few schools in Wales have indicated an interest in becoming part of the grant-maintained sector. I am particularly anxious for the Minister to tell us whether it is the intention of the Welsh Office to pursue the strategy of establishing a funding council in the teeth of the clearly expressed view of Welsh parents and teachers that they prefer to operate within the local education authority structure. It is for those reasons that I propose that the clause should not stand part of the Bill.

Viscount St. Davids

The noble Lord has raised a number of points in speaking against the inclusion of Clause 3 in the Bill to which I should like to respond. Clause 3 provides for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales to be able to establish a schools funding council for Wales. The council would have the same functions in respect of Wales as the funding agency for schools will have in England.

It is important that I draw to the Committee's attention a difference in the drafting of the respective clauses in the Bill. Clause 2 provides that: There shall be established a body corporate to be known as the Funding Agency for Schools". Here there is no doubt about the intention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education, who had made it clear that there are sufficient grant-maintained schools in England already to warrant the creation of a separate funding agency. Clause 3, however, provides that: The Secretary of State may by order make provision for the establishment of a body corporate to be known as The Schools Funding Council for Wales". My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales has equally made it clear that he will not establish the schools funding council for Wales unless the grant-maintained sector in Wales has developed sufficiently to justify the establishment of a separate body.

My right honourable friend takes nothing for granted. He is content to let parents in Wales decide on the size of the grant-maintained sector in Wales. Members on the Benches opposite will say that there is little interest in grant-maintained status among schools in Wales. We on this side say that there is already interest and that it will grow. There are currently seven grant-maintained schools in operation in Wales (six secondary and one primary). My right honourable friend accepts that at this stage the establishment of a separate schools funding council would not be justified. But he currently has four applications for grant-maintained status before him and is aware of proposals to seek a ballot of parents in some six others. Furthermore, the Welsh Office has received inquiries from some 100 schools about various aspects of grant-maintained status. Of course, it is not possible to say how many of those expressions of interest will convert into actual applications, but my right honourable friend is confident that many will do so. There is unlikely to be agreement on that issue, but the Government are happy to leave the question of the size of the grant-maintained status in Wales to the wishes of parents.

Let us look briefly at the functions of a schools funding council for Wales were it to be established. Its initial purpose would be to take over from the Welsh Office the fairly straightforward function of paying grants to grant-maintained schools. In areas where a significant proportion of pupils attend grant-maintained schools, it would share with LEAs the responsibility to secure sufficient school places.

Let us now look at the alternative scenarios. If noble Lords opposite are right and the grant-maintained sector in Wales does not grow, then we shall have lost nothing by the inclusion of this clause in the Bill. But if the grant-maintained sector in Wales grows significantly, surely the Committee will agree that it is necessary to have in place arrangements for the effective administration of the grant-maintained sector to ensure that the grant-maintained sector plays its full part in the provision of sufficient and appropriate school places.

Without the ability to establish a separate schools funding council for Wales there would be no option but for the Secretary of State for Wales, through the Welsh Office, to continue to undertake the executive task of paying over grant to grant-maintained schools. Such an increasing executive task is not appropriate for a government department.

But what is more worrying is the situation that would develop in respect of securing sufficient school places. It would certainly not be appropriate for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to take on board the duty to secure sufficient school places in respect of the grant-maintained sector, not least because of his statutory position in respect of deciding local proposals. We would therefore be faced with a situation whereby LEAs which had lost control over a large number of their schools would be trying to cope with the duty to secure sufficient school places without involving the grant-maintained sector.

Is it better for LEAs to have to try to cope on their own in such a situation and to have to deal with a number of, in effect, free floating grant-maintained schools over which they have no control than to have in place a mechanism for the coherent administration of the grant-maintained sector in the form of the schools funding council?

Whether or not schools become grant-maintained, and therefore the size of the grant-maintained sector in Wales, will be decided by parents in Wales. What Clause 3 seeks to do in the event that parents do decide that there should be a significant grant-maintained sector in Wales is to enable my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales to put in place arrangements for the effective and efficient administration of that grant-maintained sector to ensure that it complements the LEA maintained sector in the provision of quality education throughout Wales in the interests of pupils.

I have spoken at some length about Clause 3. It may also be appropriate for me briefly at this point to say that the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, has tabled a group of amendments—Amendments Nos. 32, 33, 45, 46 and 327—which are consequential to his opposition to Clause 3. I trust that, if the Committee agrees to the inclusion of Clause 3, as I am sure it will, the noble Lord will withdraw the amendments. I commend the clause to the Committee.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington

Before the noble Viscount sits down, for the record can he say how many schools in Wales are eligible for grant-maintained status? He said in the course of his speech that the fact that seven have opted out is an indication of the interest. To get a really true perspective, will he say how many are eligible?

Viscount St. Davids

I say to the noble Lord that all schools are eligible.

Lord Dormand of Easington

I presume that the Committee does not know the number of schools in Wales that are eligible. We simply do not know. If we are to have the correct perspective, we should know. It looks as though we may be getting the information now. Perhaps the noble Viscount can tell us.

Viscount St. Davids

The number is some 2,000.

Lord Prys-Davies

I am glad that the Minister has now given the Committee the complete picture. Half a dozen schools have shown an interest in opting out, but there are 2,000 schools in Wales. Perhaps the Committee will permit me to say, without making a Second Reading speech, that the Bill is very much against the grain of the tradition of Welsh education and, I believe, of Welsh public opinion. I know of no pressure from Wales for the Bill.

I accept that as we approach a new century there may well have been a case for a review of the legislative framework of the Welsh education system which emerged from the great Act of 1889. The opinion which will be heard in Wales is that that review should have been conducted or undertaken by a commission of the standing of the Aberdare Commission in the last century. So we deeply regret that the Government and the Welsh Office decided to go ahead with this reform without the benefit of such a commission.

However, given the realities of the position, we have to concentrate on this Bill and seek certain assurances from the Minister, particularly as local government in Wales will be restructured by April 1995. I should like the Minister to go further than he has and give me assurances that the schools funding council for Wales will not be set up until the 21 new authorities will have been established on 1st April 1995. In addition, I hope that he can give me an assurance that it will not be set up until the new authorities have consulted and drawn up their Section 38 schemes for delegation and control over the spending of the school budget. It is extremely important that the terms of the schemes should be known to the head teachers and the governors of the schools because it is basic, vital information in determining whether or not they will apply to be a grant-maintained school. Can the Minister go further and give me those two assurances?

Viscount St. Davids

I am a little surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, has brought up these questions when he did not care earlier to move the amendment to which they would have pertained. I shall do my best to give him what he requires. To begin with, he comments that there is no call for the provisions of this Bill within the Principality. I know that there is a very different relationship between LEAs, parents and schools within Wales and that the educational culture within the Principality is different from that in England. But I believe that the manner in which I have described the schools funding council for Wales as coming into operation as and when and if it is necessary recognises this difference in the educational culture of Wales.

The noble Lord must understand that there is no pressure being placed on the educational system in Wales to become grant maintained. There seems to be a total misunderstanding among the Welsh that this Bill is some extraordinary draconian method whereby schools are being moved from the public to the private sector. I do not understand where this total lack of understanding comes from. All this Bill does is to give parents, if they so wish, the ability to seek that their schools become grant maintained.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, has apprehensions that the schools funding council for Wales could be set up at a period when there is a certain to-ing and fro-ing due to the introduction of the unitary authorities. But the noble Lord can rest assured in this matter because the Secretary of State for Wales has responsibility at present for the grant maintained sector and will continue to do so until such time as the funding council comes into operation, which may or may not be during this period when, as I say, we move towards the unitary authorities.

We do not feel that there is any cause for concern that the change to the unitary authorities will bring about anything detrimental to the educational system in Wales. The various LEA and LMS schemes which are being prepared will continue to operate in exactly the same way as they have done hitherto. I hope I can satisfy the noble Lord.

Lord Elis-Thomas

In view of the Minister's response, I shall not be pressing my Motion. However, I am sure that we shall return to this subject at a later stage in our consideration of the Bill. I am grateful to the Minister for taking the opportunity to indicate the relative autonomy of the Welsh educational system.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 1 [The funding authorities]:

[Amendment No. 29 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 30:

Page 166, line 39, leave out ("second") and insert ("next following")

The noble Baroness said: This is a technical amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 31:

Page 166, line 40, leave out ("following that date")

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 4 [Meaning of the "funding authority" in the Education Acts]:

[Amendments Nos. 32 and 33 not moved.]

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 [Grants to funding authorities]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 34:

Page 2, line 42, after ("State") insert ("and any local education authority")

The noble Lord said: This amendment and the one that follows it look forward to a time when there are many grant-maintained schools and they are a generally accepted part of the educational scene. The history of this Government's educational changes has been that they are opposed when they first come in and a few years later everyone agrees what a wonderful thing they are. So I do not think that it is that inappropriate now to look a few years forward.

They propose a continuing role for local authorities in funding education in their areas; and the reasons why I feel that this is appropriate are threefold: first, for reasons of history. Many local authorities are proud to provide additional sums for education in their areas. Many local authorities have a strong tradition of supporting the education of their children and regard it as an extremely important part of their duties.

The second is for reasons of local interest. Education is an extremely personal and local matter. Anyone who has served on an education authority will know how deeply individuals feel about even small changes proposed to the way in which a school is run and how deeply parents feel about the education of their children. It is necessary to have a local focus in the control and influence on education, and whatever happens to the structure of education, it will always remain a key local issue.

The third is for reasons of local strategy. The quality of education in an area is a key part of attracting employers to the area. If someone is looking to locate a factory in a part of the country which they do not know well, among the first questions they ask are: "How well trained are my potential employees? What educational traditions do they have in the area? How well looked after will the children of the employees that I wish to move up there be? Will it be somewhere that they are keen to go or will they be clamouring to keep their children in the schools that they are now in because they can find nothing satisfactory in the new location?"

Education has a key role to play in dealing with local social problems. Many of the problems which local authorities face and which they have statutory duties to deal with have their roots in the school days of the people concerned. It is necessary for local authorities to be able to influence the way in which local children are educated as this may be part of the problem they have to deal with as those children grow to maturity.

I do not believe that it would be appropriate for local authorities to fund individual grant-maintained schools. That would be interfering too directly with what is intended to be an independent institution. It would produce obvious and continual conflicts between the local authority and the funding authority. I believe that funding could be directed from a local authority to the funding authority for the use by the funding authority for the schools of the local authority concerned. Funding should thus be subject to the particular local authority's wishes and to the approval and control of the funding authority concerned. I beg to move.

9.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My noble friend was kind enough to give me some notice of his concerns in the amendments. From speaking to the amendments and talking to me before the debate I know that he has concerns in a number of areas. My noble friend has explained to me his intentions, and I believe them to be entirely honourable. He is concerned about the relationship between key partners and how the reforms will work out in practice. I too envisage a situation in which GM schools and LEAs co-operate in the best interests of the community at large. Many LEAs already co-operate fully with GM schools in their area, recognising that their primary raison d'être is to provide the best possible education for the pupils in the area; and while some LEAs appear to believe that the existence of GM schools is a threat to the LEA, those are few, and I am happy to say growing fewer, as experience with GM schools demonstrates that both schools and LEA share a common aim.

It would be inappropriate to legislate to provide for the laudable aim behind the amendment, which is to allow LEAs to give a financial boost to local GM schools should they choose to do so. As I have made clear previously, the funding authorities will have funding responsibility for grant-maintained schools only. They will calculate and distribute grant to those GM schools in accordance with a formula provided by the Secretary of State.

In order to avoid any possibility of wasteful duplication of tasks, we have ensured that the funding authorities will not in any circumstances be in a position to make grants to LEA-maintained schools, which will continue to be funded by their LEA, and so it is very difficult to conceive of a situation in which an LEA should make grants to a funding authority as such moneys would not be used to make grants to LEA-maintained schools and those schools should not be deprived of funds to which they are entitled.

LEAs can make available to their own LEA-maintained schools "extra" injections of cash by means of an in-year budget change. To maintain a level playing field, GM schools in the LEA area would receive an extra sum calculated by replication.

I hope that my noble friend will consider that argument and accept that, while there are many ways in which LEAs and the GM sector will be able to co-operate for the good of all, the amendment would be inappropriate.

There are many other aspects of that relationship; for example, each year the funding authorities will estimate the amount of money they need for that year. If Parliament approves more money than, for whatever reason, turns out to be needed, then in accordance with normal practice the Government will take a view on where across the range of their programmes the money might best be used.

The financial memorandum for the funding authorities will set out a framework within which the funding agency will have to work. That will make provision for dealing with surpluses. In practice, of course, much will depend upon how large any surplus is. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State would, in practice, have to look also at what additional needs had occurred in other respective programmes of work of the funding agency and DFE. But of course there are a number of reasons why surpluses should not be a major issue. For the running costs of the funding agency itself we shall agree annual estimates. For the grant provision to be made to schools by the funding agency the position will need to be looked at according to each type of grant; for example, by far the biggest grant, the annual maintenance grant, should not be an issue as the costs of that are recovered from LEAs. If AMG is different from the initial estimates that will be covered by a balancing adjustment by the Department for Education with the relevant LEAs.

The sums paid to grant-maintained schools in other types of grants are not recovered from LEAs. But those grants should not present major issues either. Transitional and most special purpose grants are paid on pupil number related formulae. If pupil number estimates are out of line with real growth, that will be seen fairly early and action can be taken to divert funds to other programmes. As to capital grants, the majority of funds are allocated to schools which are grant maintained at the beginning of the financial year. Some funds are allocated on a pupil number related formula to schools as they join the sector but, as with special grants, any change in estimates compared with real growth will be monitored carefully and appropriate action taken. In the course of such a review of needs, the Secretary of State will obviously look closely at whether he has unmet needs in any of his programmes.

Grants to the funding authorities will be subject to terms and conditions. Those are terms and conditions which the funding agency must meet, not terms and conditions about the levels of grant to grant-maintained schools. Matters to do with grants to schools are best dealt with in debate on Chapter VI of Part II.

The funding agency will be a corporate body which will carry out the functions given to it by the Bill. It will be a NDPB which will operate in accordance with guidance and directions issued by the Secretary of State as to the exercise of those functions. The terms and conditions to be attached to payment of grant by the DFE to the funding agency will be set out in the financial memorandum.

The functions to be conferred on the funding agency are principally executive and operational. They will be concerned initially with the calculation and payment of grants and, increasingly over time, with the provision of school places. As a corporate body the funding agency can only exercise functions for which it has statutory cover. The funding agency's actions will thus be closely prescribed and monitored. We shall ensure that the funding agency has sound financial management arrangements and that it achieves its objectives efficiently and effectively within available resources.

Initially, the agency's main function will be the calculation and payment of grant to grant-maintained schools in accordance with regulations and guidance from the Secretary of State. We shall later have the opportunity to debate the provisions of the Bill relating to the regulations.

The funding agency will be accountable to the Secretary of State. Like any other member of the Government he is accountable to Parliament. The Secretary of State will be accountable for his actions in this area as in all others. It will be open to all Members of the Committee to table questions and to use all Parliament's procedures and opportunities, as I am sure they will, to hold the Secretary of State accountable through myself and others.

Perhaps we may begin with the relative funding of grant-maintained and LEA schools. There has been some confusion here. It has been suggested that it would be fair for a grant-maintained school to have extra responsibilities compared to LEA schools yet have no share of the money LEAs spend on meeting those responsibilities for their own schools. I think that the schools in question would soon get out of breath running up the side of that particular level playing field.

Grant-maintained schools receive their main running costs in the form of annual maintenance grant, which is a definite level playing field. That is calculated primarily on the basis of LEA budget information and local management schemes. The total is then recovered from the relevant LEA, a point to which I shall return. The precise arrangements for calculating AMG are reviewed each year.

Those arrangements each year have retained a clear link with local authority funding decisions. Some have criticised the fact that one element of that link is the percentage addition that grant-maintained schools receive over and above LMS. That point is frequently made to us in the department. Perhaps I may put all minds at rest on that.

Those additional moneys are based on the levels of central spending by LEAs themselves. All we are doing for grant-maintained schools through the percentage addition is giving them a cash sum in place of what LEAs spend centrally on their own schools. The moneys pay for a wide variety of items ranging from structural repairs to payroll services.

The calculations are fair and objective. They are made under regulations laid before the House each year by the Secretary of State. This will continue to be the case under Clause 76 in future. Parliament will be able to scrutinise what the Secretary of State has put in the regulations. The funding agency will administer the legal provisions; it will not decide them. By the time this Bill has Royal Assent we will have a working model of the common funding formula. Our intention is that it will be introduced in the first areas as needed in April 1994.

Another recurring theme has been the effects of the grant-maintained funding arrangements on certain LEA services. One example was home-to-school transport. Section 55 of the Education Act 1944, as amended by Section 100 of the Education Reform Act 1988, makes it quite clear that LEAs have the same responsibility towards funding provision for pupils at grant-maintained schools as though those schools were still LEA maintained. The calculation of AMG for grant-maintained schools is therefore made net of the money that LEAs spend on home-to-school transport.

Exactly the same point applies to a range of other services provided by LEAs. The educational psychology service is one example. Provision for statemented pupils is another. The money and the duty both reside with the LEA now and this will continue to be the case.

I recognise, of course, that not all pupils with, for example, emotional and behavioural difficulties, will be statemented; but many will be. Our own funding arrangements for those who are not will retain a basis in how LEAs make provision for such children. The great majority of funding for such pupils is delegated on a per pupil basis. Under current arrangements we replicate that pound for pound. Many LEAs also use proxy measures of educational need to channel additional funds to schools. We shall consider what it would be right to include in the CFF at the appropriate time.

I turn now to the anxiety that some Members of another place and Members of this Committee seem to have about the fact that the costs of AMG are recovered from local funds. Again, let me reassure them. The current SSA arrangements are such that LEAs continue to receive grant in respect of pupils in grant-maintained schools. There are some good technical reasons for that, though naturally it is something to be kept under review where the growth in numbers of grant-maintained schools is most pronounced.

In terms of fairness, this system is certainly fair to LEAs. They are in effect paying back money that they do not need, as they no longer have the responsibility for schools in their area which have become grant-maintained. If we were to spend new Exchequer funds on AMG then LEAs would receive a windfall; their grant income would remain as before but their spending on schools would be enabled to fall.

I shall now leave aside AMG, at least until we reach Clause 76, and turn to other grants received by grant-maintained schools. There is a variety of those to reflect their particular circumstances; for example, special grants which mirror the grants for education support and training paid to LEAs, and special grants which reimburse grant-maintained schools for their new additional VAT liability. There is also transition grant which assists LEA schools that are going grant-maintained to prepare themselves for grant-maintained status.

The Government are determined to ensure that grant-maintained schools are established on a sound basis and the Prime Minister made it clear in a letter released to the press last summer that we do look favourably at grant-maintained schools in allocating grants to capital expenditure. But this is by no means at the expense of schools remaining in the LEA sector. Ministers take decisions about the allocation of public spending, looking at competing priorities across all public services. They allocate separately to LEA and GM schools, and therefore less for GM schools would not necessarily mean more for LEA schools.

I have dealt with the matter at length because it is complicated. It is important to get it on the record because there is a great deal of interest both outside and inside this Committee. I thank my noble friend for being so helpful in warning me of the particular points which he wished to make in the debate. If he is happy with my reassurances, I ask him to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

I shall be brief because the Minister gave an extremely full reply to the amendments. I believe that on this side of the Committee we share a sense of bewilderment that there will be no lead planning role for either the FAS or the local education authorities.

Our problem with the proposals as put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is that, under his amendments, possibly even greater powers could be given to the Secretary of State. We would really prefer amendments along the lines of Amendment No. 49, and the corresponding raft of amendments. That would be our preferred approach to the problem.

10 p.m.

Lord Lucas

I believe that the noble Lord is speaking to a later amendment which is also tabled in my name. The amendment under discussion does not concern the relationship between LEAs and funding authorities in terms of allocation of responsibilities; it merely empowers local authorities to provide funding authorities with money. I gain the impression from the noble Lord's remarks that he is concerned with Amendment No. 57.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

I am sorry if I have confused the noble Lord. I thought that I was speaking to Amendments Nos. 34 and 35.

Lord Lucas

I hoped that the noble Lord was in fact speaking to those amendments, but I gained the impression that his remarks were not directed to them.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

I understand.

Lord Lucas

I thank my noble friend the Minister for the very full reply that she gave to my questions. I gained the sense earlier that she did not agree with my amendments and, indeed, she confirmed that fact at the end of her remarks. However, she said a great deal which I should like to take away and consider. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 35 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 36 not moved.]

Clause 5 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 37 not moved.]

Clause 6 [Provision of information]:

[Amendment No. 38 not moved.]

Clause 6 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 39 not moved.]

Clause 7 [Supervision of funding authorities by the Secretary of State]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 40:

Page 3, line 18, at end insert:

("() Subsection (1) does not apply to the exercise by a funding authority of their powers to make proposals for the establishment, alteration or discontinuance of schools, but in exercising those powers they shall instead have regard to any guidance published by the Secretary of State for the purposes of this subsection as to the considerations to which funding authorities should have regard in the exercise of those powers.").

The noble Baroness said: I shall deal briefly with the amendment. But, before I begin, I wonder whether I may first check the position as regards the wording in line 1 of Clause 7. I believe that the first word "Incising" is incorrect and that is should in fact be two words; namely, "In exercising". I hope that the Minister can confirm that that is a typographical error.

The amendment relates to Clause 7, which provides the Secretary of State with an unfettered power of direction which includes the power to overrule any decisions of the funding authority. Despite what may have been said earlier today, let us hope that some of those decisions will have been taken co-operatively with the LEAs. The effect of the amendment is intended to increase the Secretary of State's accountability by requiring him to publish guidance rather than unpublished directions, and by permitting the authority to have regard to his guidance and then form its own view rather than simply following the guidance blindly. I do not suggest that members of an authority would follow the guidance blindly but they should not be required to follow it without the opportunity to form an independent view.

Given that the matters which the authority will have to consider are major matters such as closure and reorganisation, they deserve public debate. We have talked about the centralisation of power and decision-making in the hands of the Secretary of State. We are keen that, whatever is written on the face of the Bill, there should be efficient and productive relationships with LEAs. All of us who have been involved in any form of government know that the more open and pluralistic the machinery, the better the decision that is taken. I beg to move.

Lord Elton

At an earlier stage my noble friend the Minister gave an interesting disquisition on the relative force of guidance and guidelines. It seems to me that it would be helpful if she could refresh my memory at least on that disquisition because what is proposed in this amendment is that the provisions of Clause 7(1) shall be disapplied to authorities at a particular and sensitive stage. What is disapplied is the power of making a direction. The authorities are no longer to be subject to direction. They are to be subject instead to, any guidance published by the Secretary of State for the purposes of this subsection". It would be helpful if the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, could tell us by what procedure those orders would be published. Is this to be a parliamentary procedure such as would fall within the purview of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, or will it be an informal matter, in which case will it have the force of law? If the authority disregards the guidance, will it be possible to take it to court, or will it face no penalty if it disobeys the guidance? I know that later on my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway will discuss appellate procedures of this nature. It would be helpful if we could know what it is that is going to be appealed against, and if my noble friend the Minister could tell us what force that would have.

Lord Skidelsky

I have considerable sympathy with the intention of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, as her amendment tries to loosen the bonds of the Secretary of State on the funding authority. I believe that on the whole that is a good thing. I believe that the Bill tends towards over-centralisation. I would like to see that loosened and more discretion given to the funding authority, particularly in the management of supply. I have only one question to ask at this point. Is it not the case that what the noble Baroness is proposing is in contradiction to Clause 48, which seems to give the Secretary of State the power to insert himself at will into the process of approving the implementation of decisions to open and close schools? That also would need to be addressed.

Lord Judd

This might be an appropriate moment to remember the old adage that rules are there for the guidance of wise men and observance by fools. Obviously if there is to be real responsibility in the development of education on the part of governing bodies, parents and others, there must be room for flexibility. There are real fears at present about an over rigid dirigiste approach. In this context, therefore, we should welcome the amendment.

Earl Russell

I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, for saying what he did. The point of a council is that one ought to take advice from it. Advice ought to partake of the nature of a dialogue. We are not at all points convinced that that is how the measure will work. The amendment could help it to work in that way and bring it into line with centuries of tradition concerning how one ought to take counsel.

10.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

As I understand it, Amendment No. 40 would disapply Clause 7(1) relating to the power of the Secretary of State to give directions as to the exercise by the funding authorities of their functions so that the Secretary of State could not direct the funding authority in matters connected with its functions of reorganisation, such as the establishment, alteration and discontinuance of schools.

The amendment of the noble Baroness would weaken the powers of the Secretary of State to supervise the actions of the funding authority. It would take away from the Secretary of State the ability to direct the authority to bring forward proposals where he deems them necessary to resolve a difficulty over the supply of places. Of course, we shall be giving the funding authorities some guidance on how they should approach their responsibilities, as my noble friend Lord Elton said. But we need to be able to back that up with a direction where necessary.

This is a complicated subject. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, said that it was just a matter of rules and questioned whether they were that important. I believe that this is such a complex and important part of the Bill that I should like to give the Committee some background information.

Members of the Committee have properly raised questions about our proposals for the future organisation and planning of school provision. I know that many Members of the Committee in particular are keen to explore how matters will work in practice between the 10 per cent. and 75 per cent. points when both the LEAs and the funding authority will have separate duties to act to ensure that there are sufficient school places in the area of a particular LEA. It is in that context that the noble Baroness raised her point.

I appreciate that the questions and, in some cases, even doubts are generated by genuine concern that we can always guarantee a proper and suitable education for each and every child in our nation. I can assure the Committee that much more thought has been given to ensuring that the system we envisage will work effectively and to the benefit of schools and pupils. I have confidence in the proposals and the way in which they will work.

We shall, of course, have the opportunity to discuss the details of what is proposed when we come to later clauses. However, in advance of those important discussions the Committee may find it helpful if I set out the principles which will govern the way the shared duty will work.

First, we propose that the LEA should remain responsible for its own maintained schools and that the funding authority should assume certain responsibilities in respect of grant-maintained schools. The powers of both bodies to bring forward statutory proposals affecting schools will be limited to those schools for which they are both responsible. The funding authority and the LEA should not simply ignore what is happening in the other sector. Therefore, we propose that when considering the needs of their particular sector both bodies should have to take account of the provision that already exists in the other sector.

Members of the Committee have asked how the new system will respond to increased demand for school places in an area, perhaps as a result of growth in the local school age population. Where there is a need for more places we would expect much of the response to come from the grant-maintained schools themselves. We believe that they will be eager to meet increased demand for places from parents. There will also be the opportunity for those in the voluntary sector to put forward proposals for new self-governing schools. The Churches will, of course, have a key role to play here, but we should also be very happy to see proposals from other faith communities and from business and industry.

All proposals for a new grant-maintained school or for the significant enlargement of an existing self-governing school will be decided by the Secretary of State. In other words, they will be treated similarly to proposals from the governing body of a voluntary school. That process will be familiar to a number of Members of the Committee.

The type of proposals I have described so far essentially respond to parental choice. I believe that giving schools the freedom to respond to demand will go a very long way to ensuring that that demand is met.

However, there will clearly be the need for a more strategic planning responsibility to be placed on local authorities in partnership with the funding authority if we are to guarantee sufficient school places. Both the local authorities and the funding authority will therefore need to have information about the needs of the area and the provision already made in the other sector. That is why Clause 5 of the Bill places a duty on LEAs to provide the funding authority with such information as it requires in order to fulfil its functions. Similarly the funding authority will be required to give information to the LEA to enable it to fulfil its functions. The type of information that will be required by the funding authority will include projected numbers of pupils in each age group requiring places in maintained and grant-maintained schools; and the amount of provision that already exists in county and voluntary schools.

Gathering and supplying such information should not place significant new burdens on local authorities. As indeed the noble Baroness knows, local authorities already need for their own purposes most of the information likely to be required. Members of the Committee may find it helpful to have some concrete examples. Local authorities should already know, for example, actual and projected birth figures obtained from the county's planning department; the relationship between birth and actual attendances; the number of pupils going to independent or special schools; the level of migration in and out of the area; the number of pupils receiving education other than at school; and the number of dwellings built in each area in the past year and projected future building derived from figures supplied by the planning department or the district council. Members of the Committee may consider that to be a long and complicated list, but it is all information that efficient authorities already collate. Certainly when I was a member of it, my local authority did that as a second nature activity. The only difference will be that the local authority may increasingly need to obtain information about grant-maintained schools in its area. But even that is not completely new. Local authorities which have grant-maintained schools in their area are already engaged in taking on board such information. The establishment of the funding authority should help and not hinder them in this task. I am confident that in practice the exchange of information between the LEA and the funding authority will be conducted on an informal and workmanlike basis.

That said, we have thought it right to set out on the face of the Bill the framework for the provision and exchange of information between those bodies. That way we can guarantee that each body will have access to the information that it needs. The results of the exchange of information between the LEA and funding authority should mean that both are clear what demands there will be for additional places in the area of the LEA. Our hope is that there will also be an exchange of views about the best way of meeting those demands. Until now there has been no real provision for co-ordinated action across the LEA, and grant-maintained sectors and the provisions of the Bill should make that possible.

Members of the Committee come from many walks of life, as we all know, but the Committee will also recognise how often a clear and thorough analysis of an issue reveals an obvious solution to a question or problem. So I hope it will often be in the planning of school places. But I am confident also that in most instances a common view will emerge about the types of additional provision that will best meet the needs of the particular locality. That is not dissimilar from the judgment that LEAs currently have to make when deciding whether to encourage the expansion of a voluntary school or propose the extension of a county school.

I know that these are all complicated and vexed issues and I realise that agreement may not always be reached. Even with genuine good will on all sides, consensus is not always possible. Where it is not, both the local authority and the funding authority would be free to bring forward statutory proposals—in relation, of course, to their own sectors only. It would then fall to the Secretary of State to decide what would be the most appropriate. I can say that there are some parents around the country who would heave a great sigh of relief if at least there were a choice between some forms of amalgamation and closure.

For his part the Secretary of State would make his decision having taken account of the views of parents and other interested parties. It will be vital that any proposals are well informed and reflect accurately likely demand for school places in an area. When considering bringing forward its own proposals, the funding authority will have the information from the LEA about the need for places. In some instances it may also wish to purchase other professional advice from consultants or from the Office for Standards in Education; and it would be free to do so.

I know that questions have been asked about the scope for the funding authority to establish a new school or to make significant changes to the character of existing schools. Changes to existing schools have rightly been identified as a matter which needs to be handled sensitively. Where the funding authority decides that it should itself propose changes to schools, or the establishment of a new school, it will be required to consult those who have an interest. The way it does so will no doubt vary according to the type of proposal. It is not for me to tie the hands of the chief executive, but there are a number of ways in which that consultation can properly be carried out. The funding authority might, for example, use consultants or its own staff to hold public meetings in order to gauge local opinion.

Once the consultation process has been carried out, the funding authority will need to publish proposals in the local paper and display notices in the relevant area. This requirement mirrors the format in which local authorities currently publish such proposals.

No doubt the funding authority will ask the relevant schools to display the notices at their school gates, just as local authorities do now. Proposals made by the funding authority will require the approval of the Secretary of State, if he gives notice to that effect, or if objections have been made. If the proposals do not attract any objections and the Secretary of State decides not to exercise his powers to call in the proposals so that he makes the decision about whether they should be approved, then they will be decided by the funding authority. The responsibility for the implementation of the proposals will rest with the governing body either of the existing grant-maintained school (Clause 91 of the Bill) or the funding authority in relation to a prospective grant-maintained school (Clause 9 of the Bill). The funding authority will be responsible for making the necessary grants to enable the premises called for by the proposals to be provided.

It will not have escaped the Committee's notice that from the 10 per cent. limit voluntary bodies will also be able to propose the establishment of new grant-maintained schools. From this point promoters, either voluntary bodies or perhaps business and industry groups, will be able to put forward proposals for new self-governing grant-maintained schools. The procedures for making such proposals would be similar to those that exist now whereby voluntary bodies may put forward proposals for new voluntary schools.

The funding authority would have to be consulted before such proposals were published and the funding authority, along with other interested parties specified in Schedule 3 Part II would also have the right to submit objections to the proposal.

I know that there is concern that giving the funding authority a part to play in the planning of school places will lead to duplication and unnecessary bureaucracy. I know that again that view has been expressed by members of the noble Baroness's party. I have already explained how we see the shared planning function working in practice and I hope that that explanation has offered some reassurance. But I need to explain why the funding authority needs to have some responsibilities for planning school places. Without the involvement of the funding authority, there can be no sensible planning framework for the grant-maintained sector. The local authority has no power to plan the grant-maintained sector, nor would it be right for local authorities to have such powers. Grant-maintained schools have voted to leave local authority control. Clause 10 and Schedule 2 of the Bill clearly leave the overall Section 8 responsibility for securing sufficient places with the local authority between the 10 and 75 per cent. points. Only when there are not sufficient places does the funding authority have a duty to bring forward proposals to increase the supply of places. Of course, this does not rule out the funding authority bringing forward proposals at any other time, if it judges that to do so would be in the interests of pupils or the efficient use of resources.

I am not against a little healthy competition and I see no evil in the existence of competing proposals: one set from the local authority and one from the funding authority for a new school or an enlargement to an existing school. In such circumstances, of course, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will have the responsibility for deciding which should go ahead. He, of course, will consult all those with an interest before he takes his decision.

The fact that the funding authority is based centrally will not stop it being able to obtain information about local concerns. It will be able to gather much of what it needs from discussions with existing grant-maintained schools and consultation with the local authority. But where the funding authority needed information that schools and local authorities cannot yield, it would be free to use its powers under Clause 18 to commission research for that purpose.

The funding authority will have a considerable amount of information available to it. Each proposal by a school for grant-maintained status is supported by detailed information. Of course, this information will need to be updated, but here again, there are existing mechanisms to provide for that. First, the regular four-yearly reports by OFSTED will give accurate and up-to-date pictures of each school. Secondly, the annual census data and information provided on examination results will yield information about the school's performance, year on year. In addition, the funding authority has the power under the Bill to request information from the appropriate local authority where that is necessary in order to enable the funding authority to fulfil its functions. If all that is not enough, Clause 18 gives the funding authority the power to carry out research in order to obtain any necessary information.

The practicality of the funding authority making all arrangements involved in establishing new schools is one that is now well-established in the minds of Members of the Committee. Pertinent and probing questions have been asked about how the funding authority can undertake such a long-term planning role. There is a long lead-in time from the point when it is decided that a new school will be needed until the school can open its doors. There is a need to identify several years in advance population increases or changes that will lead to the need for a new school. That will not be new to the noble Baroness, and it is certainly not new to me as a former member of a local authority. But that long lead-in time will give the funding authority the opportunity to investigate what the local needs are and to plan provision of a new school where that is considered necessary. The process that we envisage the funding authority following would be similar to that employed by local authorities. That would involve being aware of the likely demand for places in the area. As I have already explained, local authorities already have to collect detailed information about potential growth in the population of an area and about plans for housing development. Local authorities will continue to need to collect such information and will be required to share it with the funding authority.

Having recognised that there is a potential need for additional places in an area, the funding authority will need to consider whether that can best be met in the grant-maintained sector and, if so, by what means. The Committee will realise that we have specifically provided in Schedule 2 of the Bill for the funding authority to be under no duty to bring forward proposals at stage two where to do so would not be a cost-effective option. If the funding authority considers that the need for school places should be met in the grant-maintained sector, it can propose a significant enlargement of one or more existing grant-maintained school or the establishment of a brand new GM school.

Let us suppose that the funding authority has reached the conclusion that a new GM school is the best way to provide additional school places that will be needed for a few years hence. The funding authority will then need to purchase a site for its school. We shall bring forward amendments to enable the funding authority compulsorily to purchase a site either for a school it proposes or on behalf of promoters. The funding authority will then need to consult the local population and publish statutory proposals.

At the time the proposals are published the funding authority should also be able to give an indication of the temporary governing body and the proposals will fall to be decided by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. It is in that context that Amendment No. 40 exists. Because we are at the very start of the Bill it is important to be clear about the context because I believe that this will form the backdrop not just for Amendment No. 40 but for many of the other amendments that will come in the course of the Bill.

We need to be clear that the funding authority will only ever make proposals about the organisation of grant-maintained schools: schools that have already chosen to leave the control of the local education authority. The funding authority will not make decisions about LEA-maintained schools. Even then, controversial proposals that attract statutory objections will only be able to be decided by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. That means that where proposals arouse strong feelings in the community, local people will have the opportunity to make sure that the proposals are decided by the Secretary of State. That is the role he already has in relation to county and voluntary schools and there is no reason to suggest that it should not equally satisfactorily extend to grant-maintained schools.

The decisions about the organisation of grant-maintained schools are, however, not solely in the hands of the funding authority. It is open to the governors of existing grant-maintained schools or promoters to bring forward their own proposals. I have every expectation that that will often be the way that fresh demand is met. One has to recognise, however, that there will be occasions, as there are with county and voluntary schools, where it is easier for someone who is removed from the day-to-day running of the school to see that need for change. That is particularly the case where there is a need to rationalise provision. In such cases there is no reason why the funding authority, after appropriate local consultation, should not bring forward statutory proposals. The local authority does not lose responsibility under Section 8 of the 1944 Act for ensuring that there are sufficient cases until at least 75 per cent. of pupils are in grant-maintained schools. That will not happen unless parents in the area are firmly behind the grant-maintained option.

I know that this has been a long answer but it does set in context the specific amendment and other amendments.

Lord Elton

Before my noble friend sits down perhaps she will make her full answer complete by answering my question. What would be the force in law of the guidance proposed in the amendment? How would that differ from the force in law of the direction in the Bill as drafted?

Baroness Blatch

The particular status of guidance is precisely the answer I gave earlier; that is, that local authorities and key agents would absolutely, positively, have to have regard to it. Therefore, in coming to any decision and taking any action the local authorities would have to prove and be open to challenge that they did have regard to the guidance in coming to a view about policy.

Earl Russell

Perhaps I may further delay the noble Baroness in sitting down and ask her a question arising from the first part of her speech about the Secretary of State's power to give directives. Can she tell me any occasion when the Secretary of State has changed his policy because of advice originating from a funding council?

Baroness Blatch

That is an impossible question to answer because we do not have a funding council at the moment. Does the noble Earl mean a funding council as it relates to higher or further education?

Earl Russell

Any funding council.

Baroness Blatch

I do not know. It is not a laughing matter for the noble Earl. I deal with much of the day-to-day matters and my colleague in another place, Mr. Tim Boswell, deals with further and higher education. I know that any information that comes to us from such agencies is taken extremely seriously and we are entirely scrupulous about taking that advice into account. After all, they are key agents in the process.

Baroness Hamwee

The Minister yields to no one in her ability to speed read aloud. I thank her for an extremely full answer which covered a great deal more than the amendment and which will, I know, bear considerable reading and re-reading for further material.

I will not yield to the temptation of responding in detail to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, put his finger on it. The amendment is not about getting the correct procedures drafted at Committee stage. It raises the issue of the relationship between the authority and the Secretary of State; in other words, whether or not the authority, in "having regard to", is taking into account and considering but then perhaps forming its own view, having taken account of the Secretary of State's guidance or guidelines. Like the noble Lord, I recall the debate we had on those terms but not in sufficient detail, I regret, to remember the outcome. The distinction is between taking a matter into account and actually complying with a direction.

The noble Baroness spoke at some length about the strategic role of the local authority; she spoke too about weakening the powers of the Secretary of State to supervise the authority. The members of the authority and its chief executive are appointed by the Secretary of State. In other words—and without intending to be insulting—they would be his "creature".

Baroness Blatch

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. She is quite wrong when she says that they will be his "creature". If the local authorities wish to exercise that responsibility, that is entirely a matter for them. It is only when they fail to exercise that responsibility, and the funding agency also, that there is a role for the Secretary of State. So local authorities have it in their own hands to make sure that they do not place the Secretary of State in that position.

Baroness Hamwee

Amendment No. 40 is directed to the exercise of specific powers by the funding authority. I take the point that there might not be the scenario in which one reaches that stage; nevertheless the amendment is directed to the narrower point of the funding authority taking its own view rather than complying precisely with the direction by the Secretary of State. I appreciate that, whether or not the term "the Secretary of State's creature" was insulting, it was not perhaps the most tactful approach. But having appointed the members of the authority and the chief executive, it is surely appropriate for the Secretary of State then to allow the authority to exercise its discretion. After all, he must have had confidence in them in the first place. The amendment is directed to allowing the authority a degree of freedom from the Secretary of State's directions if those directions are very rigid.

Having had such a lengthy answer from the Minister, the appropriate and courteous course would be to read it carefully, which I shall do. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Faithfull moved Amendment No. 42:

Page 3, line 19, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (2A) below")

The noble Baroness said: This amendment and Amendments Nos. 44 and 254 concern small schools, particularly but not exclusively village schools. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that there should be a consultation process when the closure of a school, particularly a village school, is under consideration or, alternatively, if it is considered that in any area there are more schools than can meet the number of pupils and that therefore one school has to close. It is suggested that there should be consultation with parents, teachers and the community and that this should take place in the formative stage. The purpose of suggested closure should be known to those considering it. The representation should be conscientiously taken into account when a final decision is made.

The amendment applies to the funding authority after 10 per cent. of local authority schools become the responsibility of funding agencies. Amendment No. 44 applies also to local authority schools and grant-maintained schools. Under Amendment No. 254, if there is disagreement between those who have been consulted and the funding authority or the local authority the case should go to the Secretary of State. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Hooper)

This is intended to be a paving amendment for Amendment No. 44.

Baroness Blatch

I was given notice that the amendment was grouped with Amendments Nos. 41, 42, 43 and 44. Unless it is spoken to I am in some difficulty because I have treated them as a whole group.

Baroness Faithfull

I apologise to my noble friend because Amendments Nos. 41 and 43 are exactly the same as Amendments Nos. 42 and 44. Unfortunately, a duplication was made in the printing of the amendments.

Baroness Blatch

But they are in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Judd. Is the noble Lord withdrawing them?

Lord Judd

Not moved.

Baroness Blatch

What is the noble Lord not moving?

Lord Judd

Those in my name.

Baroness Blatch

Would the noble Lord like to name the amendments that he is not moving?

Lord Judd

I am not moving those amendments in my name—Amendments Nos. 41 to 44.

Noble Lords

Amendments Nos. 41 to 43!

Baroness Blatch

The noble Lord clearly does not know the amendments he has down on the Marshalled List. They are Amendment No. 41, I think, and Amendment No. 43. As I was given warning and had it confirmed by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, this morning, I shall speak to the group of amendments because they are all on the same theme.

I understand that the thought behind the amendments and the intention is to prevent the Secretary of State directing the funding agency to bring forward proposals in respect of a particular named school.

I am able to assure the Committee that the clause, as presently drafted, prevents the Secretary of State from doing just that. We have cast this particular net so widely that the Secretary of State can only direct the funding agency in respect of a group or class of grant-maintained schools or all grant-maintained schools. Therefore, it is not possible for him to single out a particular school. There is no question of him directing the funding agency to bring forward proposals for reorganisation in respect of a named school.

I hope that Members of the Committee will agree that the provisions of Clause 7 are such that there can be no question of favouritism for or prejudice against a particular school. I should also like to use this opportunity to draw to the attention of the Committee Clause 219 of the Bill, which concerns the Secretary of State's powers to direct either the local authority maintained sector or the grant-maintained sector, to bring forward proposals to remedy surplus places. Subsection (4) of that clause makes clear that a direction cannot relate to a named school. My noble friend's Amendment No. 40 would weaken the powers of the Secretary of State to supervise the actions of the funding authority. It would take away from him the ability to direct the authority to bring forward proposals, where he deems them necessary, to resolve a difficulty over the supply of places. I am sure that that is not what is intended by my noble friend.

We shall be giving the funding authorities some guidance on how they should approach their responsibilities in these areas, but we need to be able to back that up with a direction where necessary. I believe that much of my response to Amendment No. 40 is pertinent in these cases. I do not know which amendments are now under consideration, but I hope that they will all be withdrawn.

Baroness Faithfull

I thank my noble friend. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 42.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 43 and 44 not moved.]

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 [Extension of functions of Audit Commission]:

[Amendments Nos. 45 to 47 not moved.]

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 agreed to.

10.45 p.m.

Baroness Warnock moved Amendment No. 48:

Before Clause 10, insert the following new clause:

("Nursery education

(".—(1) Section 24 of the Education Act 1980 (Nursery Education: England and Wales) shall be repealed.

(2) It shall be the duty of every local education authority to secure that that there shall be available for their area sufficient nursery schools or places, and to maintain such schools or places established by them or a former authority, to provide full-time or part-time nursery education suitable to the requirements of any junior pupils who have attained the age of three years but have not attained the age of 5 years, and whose parents or guardians indicate that they desire such education to be provided.

(3) The Secretary of State shall satisfy himself in respect of each financial year in which this section has effect that the resources available to local education authorities are adequate to enable them to fulfil the requirements of this section.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment I shall be comparatively brief because it is a very simple amendment. Its aim is to return to the vision of the Education Act 1944 which laid down in Section 8(2) (b) that it should be the duty of the local education authority to provide nursery education for those children whose parents or guardians want it for them. The first subsection of this amendment requires that Section 24 of the Education Act 1980, which overturned that part of the 1944 Act, be repealed. That is contained also in Amendment No. 338.

Subsection (2) of the amendment places the responsibility for the provision of nursery places on the LEAs. Subsection (3) seeks to ensure that there is sufficient funding for the LEAs to enable that duty to be carried out. I want to return to finance in a moment.

I suppose that we would all agree that the overriding aim of the Bill now before us is to improve educational standards. I do not suppose that anyone would deny the need to do that and to do it for all children and not just for a few. Yet it is increasingly evident that the surest way to achieve this end is to provide children with an early start to all aspects of their education.

In 1978, in the report on children with special educational needs, the committee advocated strongly the general provision of nursery education for all children as a statutory duty of local education authorities—that is, for all children whose parents wanted it. We did this because, concentrating as we were on special needs, we held —rightly, I think—that, when children are between the ages of three and five, it is easy to pick up those of them who have special educational needs or who will have them in the future, needs which often manifest themselves when the children begin school.

It is still true that identification of future needs is very easy at nursery school. But in the argument for the statutory provision of nursery education I would now rely on a different and, I think, far more compelling argument. I would argue that there are numbers of children whose needs can be met and whose future development can be assured at nursery school and not thereafter - or only with great difficulty and enormous expense. We are, after all, increasingly aware now of the deprivation, the lack of care, the lack of suitable stimulus, and the lack of conversation as well as the positive neglect or abuse which form the background of an increasing number of children. There are large numbers of children—many of them, I suppose, the children of single parents—who simply do not have what the idealised picture of the family would give them. Times have changed radically since 1978, and we must recognise that.

Children learn amazingly fast between the ages of three and five, and everybody who has had anything to do with children recognises that fact. But, if those years are wasted, when a child enters school at five he will already be backward both in his linguistic and motor skills and in his behavioural achievements. He may never catch up. If we want to ensure that, nationally, our children are not disgracefully less competent at the ages of seven, 11 and 14 than we should like them to be and if we want them to be as advanced as many of their European or Far Eastern contemporaries, we simply must decide not to waste the crucial years between three and five.

Of course, it is obvious what the Minister's answer will be. I have already had it from various members of the Government and from civil servants. That answer is that the universal provision of nursery education is far too expensive to be contemplated. I am tired of that response. It will be relatively expensive, especially during the period in which it is being introduced. I would not be so insane as to suggest that it could be introduced by a fiat on one particular day. It will take time to introduce universal nursery education, but I believe that when something is as crucial as this measure the expense must be faced. Taxpayers' money —that commodity which is always said to be so rare and which we hear about so often - must be spent where it is fruitful and productive, as it will be in this case.

In 1992, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities produced some figures which were supposed to cost the provision of nursery education for all children between the ages of three and five. It suggested that the somewhat staggering figure of £456 million would be needed every year to provide nursery education for all those children. Of course, it based those figures on a guess of what the take-up by parents and guardians would be. On that point it is difficult to do more than guess: we cannot know. Nevertheless, the figure of £456 million that it produced is, I believe, considerably too high. It includes not just the introduction of the new provision for all those children but the improvement of all existing provision. It is based also, I believe, on the premise that nursery education should be full time.

I believe that half a day's school is enough for children between the ages of three and five, and that they can obtain enormous benefits from a half day's schooling. That entails the schools being full-time although the children are not. One group of children may be educated in the morning and another in the afternoon. That is what regularly happens now in local authority nursery schools. That means that the cost would be far less than the AMA thought it would be.

One has to remember also that many LEAs already support children in playgroups and that some local authorities admit children into reception classes at regular primary schools after their fourth birthday and before their fifth birthday. That is to say, if a child's birthday falls in August he will attend primary school from the following September when he is barely four. So all those children will already be in receipt of funding. Therefore not all the money that will undoubtedly be needed to establish universal nursery education will be new money. In any case, I believe most strongly that the financial argument is fatally flawed.

The argument would be seen to be flawed if Ministers were prepared to take their courage in their hands and look clearly at the future. I do not ask that Ministers should look at tomorrow. Still less do I ask that they should look at whatever day it may be that they have to try to screw money out of the Treasury. I want them to look a generation or more ahead, because we now know—we are not guessing—that the provision of nursery education, the learning, when learning is easy, of language and of physical skills such as the use of pencils and paint brushes, the disciplines of self-motivated learning, the social ability to become a member of a group and the understanding of the use of language by other people (the understanding that an instruction is something that is to be obeyed) are life saving for some children and for all children they are the firm foundation upon which they will build when they reach primary school.

It is impossible to exaggerate the difference that it makes to a child of five, who these days will be starting out, after all, on the national curriculum, whether he has attended a nursery school. That is the only sure way of raising education standards. I beg the Committee not to be put off by the argument that such provision costs too much. We must grasp the fact that we shall save far more money in the future if we spend it within the next year or two, or three or four.

Money now is wasted on a vast scale in trying to pick up the pieces of those children who fail at school. We should at once adopt the universal provision of nursery education as a principle to which we are committed firmly and from which we shall not again allow ourselves to be deflected and defeated by money problems. I beg to move.

Lord Judd

It is a great privilege to be associated with the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, in moving the amendment. I can think of no one with a more distinguished and admired record in this and many other related spheres.

In the Prime Minister's introduction to the White Paper, Choice and Diversity, he claims that, the Government are determined that every child in this country should have the very best start in life". Yet the Bill makes no proposals to extend nursery education, let alone to make it universally available. Given the extensive research evidence showing the value of nursery education, that omission is quite extraordinary and must call into question the extent to which the Government are genuinely committed to raising standards.

As far as I am aware the only independent evaluation of the 1992 key stage 1 SATs has been carried out by the National Union of Teachers in conjunction with Leeds University School of Education. The report was published on 15th March last. That evaluation identified highly significant variations in the performance of different groups of year two children. Significantly, children with nursery experience out-performed those who had not had nursery education.

Section 8(2)(b) of the Education Act 1944 contained a far-sighted provision which required local education authorities to ensure that education was made available for children under five. That was disastrously repealed by Section 24 of the Education Act 1980, which provided for local education authorities to have only a power to provide for educational facilities for children under five. The new clause which we are proposing, and the associated amendments, attempt to return the position broadly to that of the Education Act 1944, making provision for all those parents who want it.

Subsection (2) of the proposed new clause requires local education authorities to make available sufficient nursery schools and places, including both full-time and part-time provision, for children who have reached the age of three, as distinct from the 1944 Act which stipulated a minimum age of two. The subsection also requires that the provision should be "suitable". That is important because anxiety has often been expressed about four-year-olds being put into reception classes with children who are almost six. By insisting on the education being suitable it is hoped that nursery education will be provided for the younger children who can then progress to reception classes.

Subsection (3) of the proposed new clause requires the Secretary of State to satisfy himself each year that sufficient resources are available to meet the requirements of providing for nursery education. The amendments to Clause 10 on page 4, lines 12 and 14, exempt nursery education from the ambit of Clause 10. The Schedule 18 amendments remove Section 24 of the Education Act 1980.

Local authority nursery school staff are able to teach the children in appropriate ways because their work is based on firm principles of early childhood education. Teachers and nursery nurses discuss and plan their work together. For that reason there are rigorous and innovative approaches to curriculum development. The professional training of teachers and nursery nurses enables them to keep meticulous records and to provide a carefully planned and structured learning environment which encourages the all-round development of young children.

Research has constantly shown that nursery education offers children the best foundation for their future education, including the national curriculum. The Education, Science and Arts Committee in another place has been so impressed by the standard of nursery education that it has called for an expansion of nursery education to cater for all three and four year-old children whose parents desire it for them. Its report Standards of Reading in Primary Schools states: Our first concern is with pre-school provision. Before they learn to read, all children need a broad range of experiences, including playing, speaking, listening, using books, enjoying stories and recognising shapes. Nursery education provides an excellent opportunity for all these to be experienced. Our enquiry in 1988 into educational provision for the under-fives left us in no doubt of the value of nursery education". Across the Atlantic, the conclusions are similar. American research into the long-term effect of a nursery curriculum based on play shows that children who experienced such a curriculum were progressing better in their schools, scored higher on tests of functional competence—practical reading, writing and calculation—and were less likely to be involved in criminal activity such as drug abuse. The research suggests also that children who are encouraged to be independent, active learners while young will be more community minded and responsible in adolescence. Indeed, American researchers have concluded that it is cost effective to provide high quality nursery education. For every 1,000 dollars invested, 4,130 dollars were returned to the taxpayer by way of savings on education and social problems later in life.

The most recent statistics from the government statistical service may give the impression that over half of three and four year-olds are receiving nursery education. The correct figure for children attending local authority nursery schools and classes in approximately 25 per cent. By contrast, it is noteworthy that reports from the Select Committee in another place, Her Majesty's Inspectorate and educational researchers have highlighted the inadequacy of many reception classes as distinct from nursery schools. Those reports express anxiety about the lack of appropriately qualified staff; inadequate staffing ratios (some four year-olds have been admitted to classes containing over 30 children with only one adult, and class sizes are generally rising); the inappropriateness of the curriculum (children attending nursery schools and classes generally receive a broader, more meaningful curriculum than children attending infant classes); the lack of suitable space, particularly outdoor play space; and the low expectations of infant staff. Research has shown that reception staff sometimes have lower expectations of the ability of four year-olds than staff working in nursery schools and classes.

It is clear from those reports that little consideration has been given to the needs of four year-olds when early admission policies have been implemented. All that and much more leads to the conclusion that state nursery education provides the most effective foundation for the educational careers of all our children. The combination of qualified staff providing a well thought-out planned curriculum that is appropriate for meeting the needs of young children and the long-term positive outcomes are power contributions to raising standards. Any further removal of funding for state education—and there are already reports of a further round of such cuts being under way—will result in neglecting the educational needs of under-fives which must be a retrograde step.

We are constantly told by the Minister that this measure is designed to be a strategic Education Bill to carry us into the 21st century. Surely it is inconceivable that nursery education, arguably the single most important pillar of the Prime Minister's much trumpeted commitment to the very best start in life for all our children, should be ignored; hence the very deep and profound significance of this amendment.

11 p.m.

Baroness Seear

At this time of night and after the two speeches that we have already heard, I shall speak briefly in supporting this amendment. Like, I imagine, nearly everyone else in the Chamber, I have received a large number of letters from parents with children in nursery schools, particularly from parents who have children in nursery schools that face closure. The anxiety of parents who fear losing nursery education for their children is surely one of the best pieces of evidence available of the value that is placed on nursery education by parents who have children in nursery schools. In replying to those letters I have committed myself to saying what I can, however briefly, in support of this amendment.

I think we perhaps even now do not realise how seriously inadequate the education of the population as a whole in this country is. I suppose this Bill is intended to deal with that inadequacy. We can neither economically nor socially afford to allow our education to be as bad as it is at present for such a high proportion of the population. Of course it is excellent for some, but that is not the point. We have an appalling tale of under-educated people who will be quite unable to hold their own economically in the world of tomorrow. It is difficult enough for them to hold their own in the world of today and it will be infinitely more difficult in the world of tomorrow. Those people will almost inevitably become social liabilities and problems to themselves, to their neighbours and to society. There is no question about that. We have had all the evidence presented to us, and I shall not attempt to repeat it, of the educational value of nursery education. It gives children an opportunity to take advantage of the better education later on that we are hoping will be the outcome of this legislation. Nursery education is an investment. It costs a lot of money, as the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, has said. Of course it does. All good education costs a lot of money. But if the money is spent in this way it will avoid a tremendous waste of money later on. The truancy we experience in schools at the present time is a waste of money and of resources. The failure to take up opportunities that are there is a waste of money and of resources. The Government are often accused of being short-term in their view of policies in general. Let not the Government be short-term in their education policies. If the Government wish to prove they are not short-term and that they understand what investment means in areas of this kind, the best way they can show that is to invest in nursery education.

I wish to make one other point which I believe has not yet been made. I speak with total ignorance of small children. I have just been away with three of them and how anyone copes with 30 in one class without going stark staring mad I cannot imagine. However, that is another matter. The small children who do not receive nursery education are not without learning experiences. What kind of learning experiences are they receiving? They are learning from videos and from what they see on some of the most undesirable, as well as some of the most desirable, television programmes that are around and which their families absorb day after day and night after night. Those are the impressions they receive at their most formative stage. We need to take that point seriously into account. If we want to counter those impressions, we must counter them with impressions, opportunities and learning of a social, intellectual and cultural kind that only nursery education can give. I beg the Government not to regard this as a frill to be afforded later on when we have a little more money but as an absolutely central part of the current education programme.

Baroness Faithfull

I have added my name to this amendment and I rise to support it. I shall not go into the details which have been so ably explained by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. Nursery education is expensive, as the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, has pointed out. I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister would consider establishing the principle that nursery education should be available in this country.

I recognise that to introduce a policy of providing nursery education for all children in this country at this time might cost more than the country could bear, although I take the point that it would be money well spent. If the Government feel that they cannot do that, could they at least establish the principle of nursery education and then introduce it stage by stage? They might take three, four or five years to implement a policy of full nursery education for all children, but starting with the children most in need such as those who come to school at the age of five unable to speak any English and are therefore backward for all time. It might also be considered for the children of disruptive and unhappy families. Would it not be possible to work with Part III of the Children Act which states that care and education should be provided for all children in need up to the age of eight?

We must also consider that parents have choice. In the first instance they must choose for themselves what they believe to be right for their children. A number of parents in this country would prefer at this stage to joint the Pre-School Playgroups Association. Many of the people running playgroups are now being trained.

Therefore I make a slightly different contention. I am sure that if we were to ask all Ministers in Her Majesty's Government I dare to suggest that we would find that most, if not all, of them sent their children under five to nursery schools.

I accept the Government's point with respect to money. Could we not establish the belief in nursery education for all children, taking five years to implement such a policy, beginning by providing nursery education for those children most in need?

Baroness Young

I do not believe that there can be anybody who takes an interest in education, as all of us taking part in this Committee stage of the Bill do, who does not accept the importance of nursery education, which has been so well advanced in the speeches which we have heard. I do not intend to go over those arguments again because I am sure that my noble friend the Minister accepts them as much as I do or anybody who takes an interest in this matter does. There are a great many statistics to support all the contentions that have been made.

I believe that as Members of the House of Lords we have to be very careful before we commit the Government to the enormous amounts of extra expenditure involved. I listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, say that it was no use saying that it was all too expensive and that she was tired of that argument. That may well be the case. We are often tired of hearing arguments repeatedly. However, I have heard the noble Baroness expound at equally great length on the importance of special education and how much more money we should spend on that. I have heard other noble Lords, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, in particular, expound at great length on how much we should do to keep children at school after the age of 16 and in higher education.

The arguments are all ones which we understand, but those of us who take a responsible line in public life know that it is a very soft option to argue a case and say that the cost does not matter. That has led the country into a great deal of trouble. It would be quite wrong at this stage of the Bill to say that the cost does not matter.

The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, said that it had been estimated that to provide nursery education would cost £460 million. It is my understanding that it would cost considerably more than that and that if the Government were to provide nursery education for every three and four year-old the cost could be over £1 billion. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister can confirm that when she replies. It may well be that that would apply if every child were in full-time nursery education. I would accept the argument that part-time education is quite enough for three to five year-olds.

I was very interested in the argument of my noble friend Lady Faithfull, who supported the amendment but hoped that we could introduce nursery education stage by stage. If my noble friend looks at the statistics, that is exactly what is happening with regard to nursery education. Over 53 per cent. of under-fives were attending a nursery school in 1992. In the academic year 1991–92, 55 per cent. of children aged four were admitted to nursery classes. A further 19 per cent. of children aged four were admitted to primary school. Therefore, that provision is coming in stage by stage.

I was pleased to hear what the noble Baroness said about play groups. Over a quarter of a million places are available in pre-school provision—day nurseries, child minders and play groups. Forty-one per cent. of under-fives attend play groups. Therefore, to suggest that almost nothing is happening for the under-fives is quite incorrect. I believe that there is great virtue in the argument that there should be different forms of provision: there should be nursery schools and play groups. Play groups which involve parents are very valuable indeed. They help to train and they help mothers in difficult situations to see what is the best way to help their children. Quite incidentally, they provide an enormous amount of employment for people as well as benefiting the children.

What my noble friend argues for is happening. The numbers of children in nursery schools have risen by 55 per cent. since 1983. That is another way of saying that such provision is being introduced stage by stage. That being the case, I believe that the amendment is unnecessary. But even if it were to be necessary, the House of Lords is not involved in raising money: it does not involve itself in taxation matters. It is quite wrong for us to commit the Government to expenditure of this proportion. Once we start to do that we are in great trouble. I ask my noble friends not to support the amendment on that ground, if not on any other.

11.15 p.m.

Earl Russell

I have listened with interest to the noble Baroness, Lady Young. However, in referring to the financial privileges of another place, she has introduced a little bit of a blue herring, if I may so put it. The situation is perfectly well understood. It has always been in order for this House to make requests to another place involving the spending of money. Another place is perfectly well able to protect itself from those requests if it so wishes. However, to put about the idea that we in this place are not even allowed to ask is a voluntary abnegation of our functions which I do not believe is necessary.

The noble Baroness drew attention to the fact that trouble has occurred through spending money that we did not have. I agree that it has. I agree that that trouble must be avoided. What we are only just beginning to realise is the magnitude of the case for arguing that we have got into even worse trouble by not spending money; and indeed that not spending money may be a very expensive habit. I was most impressed by the figures supplied by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, about the cost of not doing what the amendment recommends. Before invoking the argument of cost, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, might have costed it both ways. Doing nothing is not a cost-free option. One should consider the costs of that in any spending proposal that comes before one.

I shall not gild the lily of the arguments that we have heard already. I wish to add two small points. Speaking as a parent, I thoroughly agree with the arguments that have been put forward about the usefulness of nursery education. We have heard much during the Bill about the importance of parental choice. I am expressing a parental choice: I should like to be allowed to have it.

My noble friend Lady Seear alluded to some letters. I have received them too. They are impressive, well written, individual and with strong feel underlying them. I have great respect for those who regularly brief us, but I think Members of the Committee will understand what was meant by my friend the late Lord McNair. He said that he was always particularly impressed by letters from "real people". They have authority over the other place and one day they may express it.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

If I may say so, this has been by far the most impressive part of the debate this evening and one of the most impressive debates I have heard in the House for a long time. It seems to me that the quality has been like that of an Unstarred Question debate on a Wednesday evening. It has had something of that quality, though in a moment I shall say why I think it would be inappropriate for the Committee to accept the amendment this evening.

I hope nonetheless that there are benefits to be gained from the Committee stage debate which we are having. Almost everything the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, said touched a chord in the Committee. I have for a long time been a firm believer in nursery education. I had the privilege of helping to organise the day nursery at the University of Southampton some 15 years ago and it was an important part of the higher education institution. However, it must be admitted that in the initial stages it was conceived as much for the benefit of the parents, as is often the case with nursery education, as it was for the children. Happily, the children benefited greatly.

Since that time it is true that the provision of nursery education in this country has increased by some 40 per cent. but it is still clearly only partial. As Members of the Committee have emphasised, it is, in the main, extended or partly extended to children who are least in need of it, although no doubt all are in need of it. I was much impressed by the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, made: one thing that has happened in the past 15 years is that more and more children sit at home watching television and playing computer games. It is the experience of many children aged three to five that what passes for education is experience in playing Nintendo or the equivalent, rather than learning to talk, to paint, to take part in theatrical or musical experiences—all the things that a good playschool can offer. So there is much common ground between us.

The Bill before us focuses on particular areas: primary education, secondary education and, to some extent, further education. We are assured and I believe we are reaching agreement that it probably does not centre on higher education and certainly, as it stands, it does not centre on nursery education. I agree with Members on all sides of the Committee that nursery education has been the Cinderella, if that is the appropriate word, of the education programme in this country, despite the improvements which my noble friend Lady Young indicated. I hope that one of the fruits of this unstarred debate, as I regard it, will be to elicit a response, though not necessarily on this occasion, as to how we may see more resources devoted to this important issue.

However, there is a Motion before us and although the noble Baroness said that it was not her intention to suggest that something should be done by fiat, the Motion is exactly that. It is a fiat. Subsection (2) of the amendment states: It shall be the duty of every local education authority", and then in what must be subsection (3)—although in the Marshalled List it is numbered as a second subsection (2), which must be an error—it goes on: The Secretary of State shall satisfy himself in respect of each financial year… that the resources available to local education authorities are adequate. How is that to be done? No one on the other side of the Committee has addressed that issue. I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that it is money well spent. It may indeed be money that will save other expenditure later. That is a fair point. But where is the money to come from now? The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, suggested that it might be of the order of £456 million: I have seen quoted a figure more of the order of £1.5 billion.

It is not responsible to introduce in a Bill of this kind a huge order of expenditure. I am not contradicting the noble Earl, Lord Russell, I am not saying that it is improper in the House of Lords to draw attention to or to propose measures which would incur expenditure. I am not making that technical point. I am making the point of irresponsibility. It is not sensible to say, "OK, now we'll spend another £450 million a year" or "Now we'll spend another £1.65 billion a year". If one looks at the costing, there are about 165 words in Amendment No. 48. That would be £10 million per word of the amendment per year if we were to accept this motion.

I believe that there is no case for writing in a fiat —for that is exactly what this motion is—at this stage. On the other hand, as I said at the outset, I think that this has been the best part of the debate so far. I agree with most of the observations made as a goal. I think that that is what the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, intended, though it is true that she has run short of patience on hearing the financial argument utilised. I think it is also what the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, intended; namely, that we should be asking for a goal. I hope that we shall indeed have a Wednesday Unstarred Question debate on this theme very soon, and I hope that we can move towards a position where nursery education in this country has the higher priority it deserves. But the Committee, I hope, appreciates that it would be most irresponsible to carry an amendment which would have the effect of putting a burden on the Exchequer of the order of £1 billion per year.

Lord Northbourne

It is unfortunate that this most important issue has arisen at such a late hour. I do not intend to repeat arguments so ably made save to say that I understand that new American research due to be published tomorrow on a cohort of young people now aged 27 shows the financial advantages achieved as a result of nursery education by that half of the cohort which had such education.

My concern is specifically for disadvantaged children. I wonder if the noble Baroness will be able to give at least some comfort along the lines of the suggestions of the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull. Children who are abused and neglected at home from birth do not have any hope by the time they are aged five. They have low self-esteem and lack social skills. When they arrive in primary school they do not know what to do and are the butt of their fellows. So they go on from failure to failure.

I wonder if there is some compromise by which the Government can at least try to ensure that children who are entitled, for example, to free school meals have some sort of voucher assuring them of the availability of nursery education. The advantages are twofold. First, the children themselves get the support they need; and, secondly, family problems can be identified early in a child's life and the parents, one hopes, given support, so avoiding much more serious problems later.

Lord Elton

I have heard the Government criticised on a number of occasions on the basis of the performance of other countries in Europe. One wonders why there is no mention of Europe now, when, with the exception of one country, we are alone in having compulsory education at the age of five. Our children go to school on average 12 months ahead of European children. When I hear the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, talk about what goes on at home, I wonder why British homes are so much more dangerous than French, Spanish or Italian homes for children of that age.

Lord Northbourne

Is the noble Lord aware that in France 95 per cent. of children have nursery education?

Lord Elton

I was aware that that was so in Belgium, not in France. If I have been misinformed, I apologise. I understand that in the great majority of European countries—there are now two exceptions —compulsory school education starts 12 months after it does here. I am tempting too many people—

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I wonder whether the noble Lord will allow his colleagues to pursue the argument. It is not a matter of what is compulsory; it is a matter of what actually happens. The fact is that in comparison with most European countries we have a smaller proportion of the cohort of 3 year-olds to 5 year-olds going into nursery education whether it is compulsory or not. That is what really affects the issue.

11.30 p.m.

Lord Elton

I will leave my noble friend to answer that question from the Dispatch Box because she can dispose of it much better than I.

First, if we are to speak of these vast sums of money to be expended I agree that television offers a danger to very young children, young children and just children. Some of the resources should be spent on cleaning up our media, and particularly our television.

Secondly, I look at the reforms, which I hope my noble friend is going to encourage, to which I referred in an earlier amendment in regard to whole school behaviour policies. I have seen the effect that that has had on the performance of the children who enter those schools, and it is dramatic. I believe that a good deal of those resources should go into the GESTs which have recently ceased for encouraging that sort of development in schools. Those are more modest sums; they are within the terms of the Bill and do not call into question the privilege of another place in the disposing of revenue.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Renfrew that this has been an important debate. It is extremely difficult to argue against motherhood and apple pie, because nursery education is clearly a good thing. But it is good up to a point and only in an order of priorities. We have massive problems in our secondary schools which we need to cure. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, was perfectly right that we have disadvantaged children who need help because they cannot obtain it from the home. But the home needs protection and we do not want the automatic removal of all our children, at increasingly earlier years, from an environment in which they should be nurtured and develop the most important elements of their characters.

Lord Skidelsky

I do not want to take up much time because it is late. However, I should like to reinforce one or two points made earlier.

The issue between us is not about desirability of pre-school provision. The issues relate to how best that provision can come about; what the role of private and public money is in providing pre-school education and particularly—a point mentioned by my noble friend Lady Faithfull, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and also other noble Lords—to what extent, in starting a process of improvement, one should target provision on those in most need and therefore allow money of a sensible kind to be spent in the initial stages on those for whom problems have been identified.

The kind of wreckage spoken of by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, occurring in later life due to lack of pre-school education arises particularly in those families which are under-privileged and disadvantaged. Therefore, the issue of targeting is extremely important. I do not believe that a blanket duty on the local authority to provide pre-school education for all addresses the problem of targeting.

That is my first point and it reinforces what has already been said. My second point relates to the role of private money in the whole process. Germany has a high proportion of pre-school children in some kind of nursery education, of which 71 per cent. is either wholly or partially privately funded. It is a high proportion and I am not saying that it will be as high in this country. But to say at this point that it is up to the local authority exclusively to be providing pre-school education is to deter other methods of finance from coming into the business. It is also to deter variety in the provision of pre-school education.

Therefore, both issues are important: first by targeting we should try to get public money going to those families that are most in need of it; secondly, we should not agree to things that would have the effect of preventing private money coming into pre-nursery schooling.

Baroness Blatch

I too recognise that there is in this Chamber enormous support for the notion that children younger than five can derive a good deal of benefit from education. Some would also argue that, in consequence, such education should be provided by the state for all three and four year-olds. Indeed, that is what the amendments are about.

The Government would certainly agree that young children can gain a great deal from starting school before the age of five. Other forms of group provision for three and four year-olds, such as pre-school playgroups, can also do much to broaden these children's experience, to introduce them to new ideas and to new friends and to help prepare them for their compulsory schooling. Incidentally, what a disappointment that there has not been a word in favour of pre-school playgroups. That is why it is our policy to encourage the development of a diversity of provision for the under-fives which takes account of local needs and circumstances. Taking into account educational and other forms of group day care, over 90 per cent. of all three and four year-olds are now participating—over 50 per cent. in schools, the others in playgroups or day nurseries.

Despite this high level of participation, we are often compared unfavourably with our European neighbours in the provision we make for the under-fives. There is scope here for a good deal of sterile argument, which I do not propose to get into. But I should like to make two points. First, with an overall three to five year-old participation rate for education alone of around 65 per cent., we compare well with many of our European neighbours—and I may add that almost all of our under-fives' education is provided by the state, without charge. The proportions elsewhere are much lower. Secondly, those figures do not take into account one of the real strengths of this country—the contribution which the voluntary playgroups make to provision for the under-fives. The Pre-school Playgroups Association estimates that 41 per cent. of three and four year-olds now attend playgroups—19,000 playgroups serving many hundreds of thousands of children. Why on earth should we have to leave them out of the statistics?

The intention of the amendment—in fact the absolute consequence of it—is that the playgroup movement shall cease to exist. It is to provide state education for all three and four year-olds whether or not they need it: it should be made available just in case a family decides it wants to use it.

Lord Peston

Will the noble Baroness give way for a moment? I am really staggered by the tone of her response to the debate, which in my judgment simply does not meet the requirements of the amendment. My children went to playgroups. Playgroups are fine but they are not pre-school education. They are playgroups. We are discussing pre-school education. I think that the noble Baroness ought not to be making these party points but addressing the substantive issue here, which is an extremely serious one. It is one on which we may differ—I am not suggesting that the noble Baroness has to agree with us—but we do not need this kind of point.

Baroness Blatch

I also need no lecture from the noble Lord, Lord Peston, suggesting that I am being frivolous or scoring party points. I believe that we have good reason in this country to be extremely proud of a very healthy part of the voluntary sector. A direct result of the amendments would be to kill off pre-school playgroups. That would be a tragic day in this country.

This is particularly true at a time when there are inevitable limits to what can be afforded from the public purse. Providing free education for all three and four year-olds would need an increase in annual spending. All kinds of figures have been bandied around, so just let us say that it would be a very large sum of money: certainly in the billions rather than in the millions. There would also be very substantial capital costs, as I know to my cost, as a former county councillor. Additional spending on this scale is not something that we can sensibly contemplate at the moment. I agree absolutely with my noble friends Lady Young and Lord Renfrew that, while we must be free to discuss these matters, we must also exercise responsibility and not be frivolous, harbouring idealistic notions that these sums of money need not be worried about in this place.

Surely it is better to find ways of making the best and most productive use of those resources which are available. The Government therefore hope that the steady growth in education for the under fives which has characterised the past decade will continue. But we also believe that at the same time we should do all we can to maximise the educational opportunities presented by other types of provision, and ensuring that what they offer young children is of the highest possible quality. That is why we are currently supporting a very substantial increase in the Pre-School Playgroups Association's training for playgroup leaders.

I also understand that many Members of the Committee are also concerned that the local education authorities' role in planning and monitoring provision for the under-fives may in future be hampered, particularly where there is a sizeable increase in numbers of self-governing state schools. I can assure this Committee that that is not our intention. Local education authorities will retain the power to establish nursery schools and to propose the addition of nursery units or classes at schools that they maintain. I have tabled an amendment to make sure that can happen even when responsibility for securing the provision of primary and secondary school places has passed wholly to the funding agency.

Local education authorities will be able, if they wish, to make arrangements with self-governing primary schools for the provision of nursery education, either as an integral part of the school or with the school acting as an agent for the LEA. They have the right to make representations—and, if they wish, statutory objections—about any proposal which a self-governing school may make for the creation or discontinuing of nursery places. We shall also bring forward an amendment to ensure that they are able to get from self-governing schools the information they need to discharge their Children Act responsibilities to review provision for young children. We have also tabled amendments to clarify the position of self-governing schools which wish to provide part-time nursery education.

We intend in due course to offer advice to LEAs and self-governing state schools which will encourage them to collaborate, particularly in relation to young children with special needs, and will stress the importance we attach to the continuing development of a diversity of provision for the under-fives to suit local needs and circumstances.

We have done much to address the issue of quality. I have here the Rumbold Report. Starting with quality, it stressed the importance of securing the highest quality for the under-fives in all the settings that they attend; nursery and reception classes and playgroups. We in the Department for Education and our colleagues in the Department for Health are asking the Pre-School Playgroups Association to secure a real improvement through greatly increased training of playgroup leaders in the quality of experience offered by playgroups.

As I said, I am sorry that we have not heard more support tonight for the playgroup movement. I spent eight of the most happy years of my life as chairman of my local playgroup and toddlers' group. We linked in with the local primary school. We served about eight rural villages and I would match what we did with our children with any nursery school in the land.

Playgroups do a great deal to involve parents in their children's development and the Rumbold Report stressed that very important point. Paragraphs 106 and 107, on page 14, state: The one constant element in the child's experience of these transition processes is the parent, and not surprisingly it is the quality of involvement or partnerships between parents and educators which is likely to determine the effectiveness of continuity. It is only by drawing on parents' detailed knowledge of their children that educators can begin to gain an understanding of the range of their previous experiences together with an indication of their social and intellectual skills and competencies. On this basis, educators can build continuity of experience with children, and ensure that the provision made reflects and values their cultural and language background. The potential of this partnership will be fully realised when educators more clearly see the home itself as normally affording a rich natural context for all aspects of young children's development. Parents can significantly influence their children's learning: but this potential contribution needs to be fully recognised and acknowledged by both parents themselves and by teachers. Partnership implies a two-way process with knowledge, information and insights flowing freely both ways". An important point was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, about serious underachievement among our teenagers. I want to put a personal spin on that particular point. I spent 25 years of my life fighting those people in education who were against a structured approach to reading, writing and basic numeracy in our schools; those people who believed that it was more fashionable that children should not involve themselves in competition which flew in the face of all the natural abilities and natural inclinations of young children. I refer also to those young people who were allowed to drop key subjects and who thus missed the acquisition and consolidation of basic skills early in their lives.

Worse than that, it was fashionable for years and years throughout the 1960s and 1970s to forsake the teaching of spelling, grammar and punctuation in favour of what I like to call "unstructured creativity". All that I can say about that is that even young people who are naturally creative need reading and writing to give full expression to that creativity, and those of us who are not naturally creative need those basic skills to live our lives competently and confidently. So, if anything was responsible for the under-achievement of our teenagers, it has a great deal more to do with that movement than with the lack of pre-school playgroup provision. The amendments would sound the deathknell of the pre-school playgroup movement and I have said all along that I believe that that would be sad.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, made a very important point about disadvantaged children. Local education authorities are highly responsible in that the provision that they make is always targeted at those children with special needs. When they come to my department with an application for nursery provision, we take that as a first category of need in determining whether the provision shall be approved.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Renfrew that this has been an important debate. We must not talk ourselves down. Something like 94 per cent. of our under-fives are in some form of provision. In 1979 we inherited a pretty poor provision for under-fives. We now have a much healthier provision and it is growing all the time. Let us encourage the growth of that sector, but do not let us put an impossible imposition on this House and the country. I can tell the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that I, too, have received real letters from real people, but it is real people also who would have to pick up the bill and it is an impossible bill to impose on this or another place.

11.45 p.m.

Baroness Warnock

I am grateful for the Minister's response. I listened to the enormous puff which she gave to playschool groups. My friend who is in now in charge of this business, who lives in Cambridge and who I know well, will be very pleased to read of it. However, I do not think that pre-school playgroups provide nursery education. If more of those who take charge of them become trained, I fear that the great advantage that those groups now have—that they are cheap —will be lost and there may then be fewer of them than previously. Yet without trained teachers who understand thoroughly what child development demands, we shall not get what I believe that we should have in this country.

I find it difficult—in fact, almost incredible—to be told that this amendment is irresponsible. I find it almost incredible that the argument of cost should be advanced without any notice being taken whatsoever of the savings that will result. And I find this incredible and rather insulting: I do not think that any of the noble Lords who put their names to this amendment could be accused of putting forward frivolous proposals without—as I was told in my case—thinking that the cost mattered. I never said that the cost did not matter. I said that the cost was enormous, but that it would pay in the end. To describe the principle of universal nursery education for those between three and five as an ideal is perhaps right, but nobody could put forward such a proposition without taking it seriously and believing that it is a necessity.

I agree with a good deal that has been said about targeting, but when in 1978 we were thinking about how to ensure that nursery education was provided for those children who were at risk of having special educational needs later, it seemed difficult to get the targeting right. I now think that we have become much more honest than we were in 1978. We realise that the people who will have educational and behavioural needs will, to a large extent, be children who come from deprived parents. So it is quite possible that targeting may be a way forward.

I also believe that it is important that the Minister has said that LEAs will retain the power to establish nursery schools even in an area—if such areas exist—where all the schools are grant maintained. That is an important matter to pursue, because we should have the power—even if we cannot have a mandatory provision—to provide that nursery education is left in the hands of the LEAs, which are the only people who know how a whole area looks with regard to special deprivation. I hope that the principle will be pursued in future amendments.

I hope also that the Minister can assure me that we shall hear what is intended with regard to the LEAs and nursery education provision and will say whether she is willing to contemplate the helpful and sensible suggestion that has been made about the phasing in of nursery education over a period of years. I do not say anything against pre-school playgroups, but I hope that we shall hear no more about how they will do as a substitute for nursery education.

If we can be assured that the goal of universal nursery education is a principle that the Government have in mind and that the responsibility for nursery education will remain with the local authorities, then I am willing to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Blatch

It would be less than honest of me if I did not come to the Dispatch Box to say two things. One of course is, as I have spelt out already, that local authorities will retain the responsibility for providing for pre-school playgroups. Other than that, there is no assurance over the universal goal of nursery school education. We believe in a diversity of provision, as I have said. We believe that the pre-school playgroup, as a part of that choice, should remain in being. Where local authorities put a request to us to expand or provide new nursery places, we shall consider that request alongside all other bids for money.

We cannot go along with the principle behind the amendments or the idea that we should have one monolithic system for all three and four year-olds.

Baroness Warnock

I must be satisfied with that answer for the time being. I do not promise that this amendment or something similar, perhaps in a modified form, and taking into account targeting and phasing in, will not come back at a later stage. But for the time being I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Blatch


On Question, amendment negatived.

Clause 10 [Responsibility for providing sufficient school places]:

Lord Judd moved Amendment No. 49:

Page 4, line 9, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (4) below")

The noble Lord said: Clause 10 and Schedule 2 will undoubtedly seriously compromise the orderly planning of the school system as a whole. They will disadvantage the planning and provision of nursery, special needs, adult and other specialist forms of education. I shall argue that they will erode parental choice, notably in smaller authorities. The funding agency for schools and the local education authorities will effectively be set up in competition with each other. There is no guarantee as a result that sufficient schools in terms of the Act will be provided since there is to be no ultimate responsibility.

The Bill provides that in the event of dispute the matter should be determined by the Secretary of State, drawing central government into detailed local controversy. The Secretary of State will be directly accountable but how can he meaningfully discharge such responsibility across every neighbourhood throughout England and Wales? Does that not inevitably call into question the viability of meaningful accountability and is this not a matter of profound constitutional significance? It is wholly impractical to establish split statutory responsibilities with no proper lead role. That should rest with the local elected bodies best placed to assess and adjudicate upon local needs.

In Committee in the other place the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Mr. Forth, explained the provisions by saying that at stage 2 there is a shared responsibility exercised by parallel duties. Both the FAS and the LEAs have a shared responsibility for securing sufficient places. He said that his words are the definitive answer and that the FAS and the LEAs have separate, but parallel duties for achieving sufficient places. The LEA has the Section 8 duty and the FAS has a similar but different duty under paragraph 3 of Schedule 2.

To add to the complications involved, the two bodies will be expected to take account of provision within each other's sector while being able to propose a provision only in their own. Given that plans by the voluntary sector will also need to be considered, the importance of a clear lead responsibility is evident.

As was pointed out on Second Reading in this Chamber, there are a number of areas of the education service where the splitting of the planning provision duty would be of serious concern. Perhaps I may give four examples. The first example is nursery education. If no single body is to have the sole function of providing nursery education the planning of comprehensive coverage and the most efficient dovetailing of nursery places with existing primary schools will be compromised. Future grant-maintained schools in the primary sector will have little incentive to run expensive nursery provision. And if they do, thereby pre-empting the use of available funds, that may have little to do with meeting the most acute need in a particular locality.

The second example is special needs. The proposal for the extension of grant-maintained status in the special needs sector is contentious. The Bill proposes a further laudable strengthening of the rights of parents of pupils with special needs yet threatens to weaken those same rights by producing a divided responsibility to implement them. The third example is adult education. The debate last year on the Further and Higher Education Act and further debates this year in this Chamber demonstrated deep concern over the future of adult education in the new further education regime. Much of the provision takes place in schools but Clause 10 proposals would leave LEAs with a residual function but declining control over premises and shrinking resources.

The fourth example is the youth service, music tuition, other cultural provisions, outdoor activities and extra-curricular activities in general. The provision of extras—such as facilities outside school hours for teenage pupils, music tuition and outdoor activities—will become increasingly difficult as LEAs lose the role of planning and overall service. I suggest that that is particularly deplorable when the United Kingdom has established such an outstanding international reputation as an example for young musicians, helped in their development by local authority orchestras, and when there has been by contrast so much recent acute anxiety about standards of safety in outdoor pursuits outside the control of local authorities. Indeed, the grant-maintained sector will be expected to look elsewhere for extra-curricular activities, increasing the likelihood that LEA provision will be progressively withdrawn under pressure from central government on spending.

In conclusion, we must recognise that the funding authority and the LEA are different bodies. The LEA is locally accountable through the ballot box. Inevitably, the funding agency for schools, however committed its servants, will be a distant body operating at national level. Apart from the unnecessary cost of creating a second body to carry out functions already performed by an existing body, experience shows that serious difficulties will inevitably occur where bodies are expected to deliver public services under parallel or shared duties. An example is the current upward split of responsibilities for pupils with special educational needs which are shared between the LEAs and the National Health Service.

It is abundantly clear that the sensible way to proceed is for a lead role to be preserved for local authorities. Of course LEAs will be expected to work with the FAS but the agency should not have the duty to plan and provide school places. I beg to move.


Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

Of course, Amendment No. 67 is the key amendment. I support these amendments for the reasons that have already been given. There is so much in the planning of school provision that the sharing of responsibilities is bound to cause difficulties. Areas already mentioned such as special needs, nursery provision, peripatetic music tuition and adult education will be at a particular disadvantage. And who is it who is best informed about local feeling and conditions? Who knows about the future and structure of local housing, industry, police, social services, transport and so on, all of which may need to be involved in issues of school provision? Is it the locally elected members and their staff or is it a new and remote body appointed from London?

Furthermore, parents, in whose name so many of these reforms are being introduced, will have real problems as regards knowing whom to approach with a complaint or for information. The involved provisions in Clause 10 and Schedule 2 are really unnecessary. That is the main criticism of them. The lead role can and should be left with the local community until it clearly has no further part to play. I support the amendments.

Lord Renton

Clause 10 has the admirable objective of ensuring that there should be enough school places and that funds are provided for them by the funding authority. I should have thought that nobody could object to that.

The group of amendments to which the noble Lord referred—and of course he is technically speaking only to Amendment No. 49—has a rather strange combined effect on the purpose of the clause. Indeed, the crux of the group of amendments is to be found in Amendment No. 67 to which I invite the attention of the Committee. It states: No order may be made under subsection (1)"— it is subsection (1) which is operative in providing the power to fulfil the purpose of having enough school places and the money for them— unless 100 per cent. of the pupils for whom education is provided in county, voluntary and grant-maintained schools in the area are registered pupils at grant-maintained schools". I suggest to the Committee that that is a completely unrealistic proposition. Indeed, it is so unrealistic that I beg to suggest—and it is not a phrase which I use very often—that Amendment No. 67 is a wrecking amendment.

Baroness Blatch

I absolutely agree with that. It is a wrecking amendment. Is the noble Lord, Lord Judd, suggesting that where parents have decided that the schools their children attend should opt out of local authority control—even where the relationship with the local authority is a good one; that applies in Lincolnshire, Bromley, Hillingdon, Kent and Essex—until 100 per cent. of all schools are in the grant-maintained sector the LEA should retain full control? I have spent a great deal of time this evening spelling out how this process would work. The amendment we are discussing is a wrecking amendment. Even at this late hour I ask the Committee positively to reject it.

Lord Judd

I have heard what the Minister said and indeed what the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said. I would only say again that I find, not for the first time in this debate, that we have been presented with an extraordinary proposition. If we argue—of course, it is open to counter-argument—that it would be better to continue with the existing arrangements, with local democracy having a lead role in the planning and provision of education in an area, we are accused of proposing wrecking amendments. But that argument can be stood absolutely on its head because what we are arguing—this comes out in one clause after another—is that what the present provisions in the new Bill are doing are wrecking the whole relationship of partnership which has existed between central and local government in the past. Therefore I ask Members of the Committee, whom I greatly respect, to be careful in the deployment of the word "wrecking" or we shall find ourselves compelled on almost every clause we debate to accuse the Government of wrecking principles which have been basic to not only the educational system but indeed to the spirit of shared democracy between the centre and localities for many decades in this country.

Lord Renton

Before the noble Lord sits down I hope he will allow me to intervene. He seems not merely to have overlooked but to have denied what is said here —indeed he has not tabled an amendment to leave it out—that it is not only the funding authority and the Secretary of State whose responsibility is involved but also that of the local education authority; what he quite properly describes as the operation of democracy. It is there. It is written in the Bill as it stands. So his argument falls completely.

Baroness Blatch

I wish to speak in defence of my noble friend. He is extremely economic in his use of the word "wrecking". I do not recall a frequent use of the word. It is a proper word to use in this context because there is an arrangement to put in place a mechanism when grant-maintained schools opt out of local authority control to take care of both funding and planning. The amendments we are discussing fly wholly in the face of that and invalidate the very essence of grant-maintained status. It is for that reason that I believe the Committee should reject the amendment.

Lord Judd

I have listened carefully to what the Minister said. I do not find the matter quite as straightforward as she suggests because until, for example, the 10 per cent. threshold is passed, the Minister accepts that a local authority will continue to have legal responsibilities. Therefore, it seems to me that this is a matter of judgment. It is not an either/or situation. However, in deference to the Committee, the late hour and the pressure we are all working under with this far-reaching and extensive Bill, I do not intend to pursue the point tonight. I shall withdraw the amendment but I expect that in one way or another we shall return to it at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Noble Lords


On Question, amendment negatived.

Baroness Perry of Southwark moved Amendment No. 50:

Page 4, leave out lines 11 to 13

The noble Baroness said: Unlike the previous amendment, this amendment provides for a single transfer point at the halfway stage between 10 per cent. and 75 per cent., or at least between zero and 100 per cent, for the responsibility of securing provision of sufficient places. It is not my intention to make an issue of this in any sense of the word or to divide the Committee but I should like to hear the Minister say how she believes this extended operation of joint planning and joint responsibility for the securing of provision of sufficient places will work in practice. I and several others feel a considerable amount of anxiety about how that period will be operated, particularly for the benefit of the pupils in the schools.

It is generally accepted that in some local authority areas it may well be many years, if not many decades, before the 75 per cent. point is reached. Therefore, as soon as 10 per cent. of pupils are in opted-out schools there will be a long drawn-out shared responsibility.

I have to confess that, unlike the proposers of the previous amendment, to a large extent I wish that the Bill provided for a single and imminent point at which all schools become grant maintained. That is not because I do not see an important and continuing role for local authorities. I believe that they will continue to have such a role even when all schools are grant maintained. It is because I believe, as I said at Second Reading, that the thrust of the Bill towards independent status and autonomy for educational institutions—always, of course, accountable to their immediate community and their stake-holders—is a desirable end and the best guarantee of quality education. I also believe most strongly in the value of direct parental involvement in their children's education.

Nevertheless, I recognise that that is not what the Bill proposes and that there will be a very long path from where we are now to where I, at least, wish us to be. In many areas the going will be slow. It will be at the whim of each individual school whether it moves to grant-maintained status. My concern now is to ensure that the path is as smooth as possible and that the children who pass through the schools in that period, which may last many decades, have the best possible provision in the meantime. In that regard I have anxieties about the operation of the joint planning.

I recognise that some of the arguments have already been addressed in relation to earlier amendments, and I thank the Minister for having addressed them in response to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I believe that the spirit of competition can be positive. I believe that competition between individual schools will be wholly to the benefit of the children within them if it is healthy competition and each school tries to do its best. The possibility of negative competition arises where there is hostility between the local authority and the principal of a funding agency. Let us not suppose that that will not occur, because it will. We have already seen that in some local authorities. Such hostile competition can be very destructive and can involve pupils in the schools in inter-authority warfare. That will be a cause for concern. I hope that the Minister can reassure me on that point.

Secondly, I believe that even in authorities where there has been a friendly relationship with the funding authority there will undoubtedly be tension when there is a question of either opening or closing a school. Undoubtedly either side will be reluctant to close a school or see a new school open on the other side of their binary divide. I fear that the Secretary of State may find herself or himself—because that will occur for a considerable period in the future—constantly involved in having to make a judgment between what may be perfectly reasonable proposals of the local authority and the funding agency, well supported we must hope for the children's sake by the quality of the schools which the authorities already run.

Thirdly, we must suppose that even in the worst of scenarios of the closing and opening of new schools that will not occur. In the meantime, where co-operation is not good in an area, the local authority may very well decide to undermine the funding agency, or vice versa, by increasing its own provision school by school, perhaps by small amounts of 10 per cent. or 15 per cent. so that the Secretary of State would have no cause to intervene. The result would be gross over-provision and, in consequence, waste of public money, with unfilled places either in the funding agency grant-maintained schools or in the local authority schools. In addition, education for pupils is unsatisfactory because we all know that when there is a mismatch between the resources and the numbers of pupils the education suffers in many ways.

I feel a great anxiety about the matter. I hope that the Minister can reassure us. I should like to see at the very least a single transfer point when more than half the pupils have opted out. However, I hope that the Minister can reassure me that the 10 per cent. and the 75 per cent. divide will work well. I beg to move.

12.15 a.m.

Lord Renton

With deep respect, perhaps I may point out that to leave out paragraph (a) of Clause 10 (1), leaving paragraph (b) where it stands, would not be feasible. It would not make drafting sense. Therefore, presumably the amendment which my noble friend has moved is merely a probing amendment.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

With the leave of the Committee, perhaps I may briefly reply. All four amendments have to be read together to make sense.

Lord Renton

Even if they are, the point I have made remains valid, I am afraid.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

Paragraph (a) refers to the possibility of dual responsibility; and that is precisely what my amendment seeks to eliminate.

Lord Renton

The point is this. Clause 10(1) (b) would read as follows: In respect of the area of any local education authority, the Secretary of State may where he wishes that responsibility"— there has been no earlier reference to "that responsibility"— to be held by the funding authority alone, make an order under this paragraph". One could not possibly legislate like that.

Baroness Faithfull

I have put my name to the amendment. I too recognise that it is a probing amendment for information from the Minister. I take the point made by my noble friend. However, for clarity's sake, one wishes to have some further information from the Minister at this stage.

When I was first appointed a director of social services, I was sent by my local authority on a management course to Birmingham University. I was instructed by Professor John Stewart; he was responsible for the course. I learned from Professor Stewart—he has written extensively on the subject—that for good administration one must have clear lines of management and that it must be clear to all exactly who is responsible for what. If there are no clear lines of responsibility there is a great deal of trouble for the people using the service. In this case that is the community, the children, the schools and the teachers.

I submit that the management structure of the local education authority facilities is flawed. The funding authority is responsible for some duties; the local authority is responsible for others; and the Department for Education is responsible for others. It cannot be more strongly and clearly stated that the management structure is flawed. If the funding authority were to be limited to funding, and not to planning, then we would have a clear understanding of the structure. Does the Minister agree that the structure is flawed and will not be understood either by the public or by many of those who administer it?

Furthermore, if the local authority were to be responsible for the planning, it would be a democratic exercise, whereas if the funding agency is to be responsible for some planning, it is not a democratic exercise. There is no question of pressing the amendment, we are merely probing for information from the Minister.

Baroness Brigstocke

I too worry about the sharing between the funding agency and the local education authority of responsibility for the provision of school places. From my own experience as a school head, albeit in the independent sector, I believe that both the LEAs and the schools, not to mention the teachers and parents, will be confused by the division of responsibility and the complicated arrangements proposed for dividing that responsibility. I hope that the Government will take note of the underlying anxiety that has been expressed this evening. The funding agency needs, for the foreseeable future, to work with the LEA. One or the other needs to have overall responsibility. I just cannot see how it would work otherwise.

Perhaps I may adapt a favourite quotation of the eminent banker, Sir Sigmund Warburg. He had written in all the books in his extensive library: Progress in thinking is progress towards simplicity". I would say: "Progress in management is progress towards simplicity".

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

It seems that Members of the Committee opposite are articulating many of the anxieties that we expressed in the previous discussion, where we put forward our preferred solution to the problems. I agree with many or all the anxieties, particularly those of the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, about the possibility of hostility between the two funding sources.

There are a couple of points of detail on the amendment on which we should like clarification, if possible. First, it appears that all the powers will be taken away from the local education authorities when the figure of 50 per cent. of pupils in the grant-maintained sector is reached. I should have thought it would be more logical to have something above 50 per cent. rather than 50 per cent. It is a small point, but it seems to be more logical.

A second larger point is that there will be no planning role for the grant-maintained sector up to 50 per cent. of the pupils in the grant-maintained sector. I suggest that that is not addressed by the amendments. Finally, perhaps I may clarify whether I correctly understood the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, when she said that she personally would like to see the FAS having a funding not a planning role. That is not what is suggested by the amendments, although I heartily agree with her.

Baroness Blatch

Clearly the amendment is of a very different order from the previous amendment. I understand the tensions on both sides of the Committee about how they believe the reforms will work. It is important that I spend my time, as we proceed with the Bill, to do what I can to reassure the Committee that we believe that the arrangements we have set in train will work. As to whether the amendments are defective, I have to defer to my noble friend Lord Renton because I am simply not competent to detect any deficiencies in the amendments. On the question just posed by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, I note that he would clearly prefer the figure to be much higher than 50 per cent. and, if I accept that he was supporting a previous amendment, he would prefer it to be 100 per cent.

On the other point that he makes about there being no planning role for the grant-maintained sector, that is true. My understanding of the amendments—or at least my understanding of the sentiment behind them—is that the planning role should remain with the local authority, both for local authority-maintained schools and for the grant-maintained sector; otherwise, the amendments would simply not work at all. That means, as it did in the previous amendment, that grant-maintained schools which opt away from local authorities would find themselves, at least up to 50 per cent., still in the hands for planning purposes of the local authorities.

As a prerequisite of all this, it needs to be remembered that there will be shared information on an annual basis on all the basic statistics known to both the funding agency and to the local authorities. That will provide evidence of tensions—either for there being a need for more or fewer places; or indeed of none. I believe that is important. It means that both the funding agency and the local authority can look ahead. Where the relationships are good —I suggest that in most local authorities they are good—I think my noble friends are a little too pessimistic in assuming that local authorities and the funding agency for schools will refuse to co-operate and will always compete in an atmosphere of hostility. I believe that that results from nervousness. These amendments can only be addressing a situation that does not work. The arrangements will work perfectly where there is an amicable relationship. For example, in relation to provision for 16 to 19 year-olds we already have the further education funding councils and, potentially in competition, local authorities and self-governing grant-maintained schools. Experience to date suggests that the bodies concerned can and do co-operate effectively. In particular, the further education funding council does not simply represent that all provision should necessarily be in its own institutions.

Perhaps I should explain the parallel duties. Once an order has been made under Clause 10(1) (a), responsibility for securing the provision of sufficient places will rest on both the local authority and the funding authority. Separate but distinct duties will be placed on each body. That will mean that each body will be separately accountable for whether it has fulfilled its responsibility. The local authority will continue to be required to discharge the duty under Section 8 of the 1944 Education Act, which is to secure that there are sufficient schools available for children in its area. But in addition, a separate duty will be placed on the funding authority so that wherever schools which are available for an area providing relevant education are not sufficient, the funding authority will be under a duty to publish proposals for securing the availability of sufficient school places.

Those two separate duties will ensure that where there is a shortage of places, both the local authority and the funding agency will be prepared to act to remedy the position. So it is important to remember that the Section 8 duty of the 1944 Act will remain right up to the 75 per cent. point with the local authority—in other words, in that sense it is the lead body that has the prime responsibility for making sure that there are places for children in schools; but the duty to provide those places will rest either with the grant-maintained schools sector if it is appropriate or with the local authority.

In practice, at stage 2, both the local education authority and the funding authority will have the power, as distinct from the duty, at any time to propose significant enlargement of an existing school or the establishment of a new school.

As soon as the proposal by the funding authority to provide a new school has been approved by the Secretary of State and implemented, the duty on the LEA to secure the provision of sufficient places has been met. In its planning the local authority would of course be able to take account of the fact that a proposal had been approved in relation to the grant-maintained sector. That would be its duty under Section 8 of the 1944 Act.

If there was a need for a new school and there were no proposals from the funding authority, the LEA would need to act to ensure that there were sufficient places. If the local authority failed to act and a shortage of places resulted, the local authority would clearly be in default of its Section 8 duty. At the same time, the funding authority would come under a duty to bring forward proposals to make good the deficiency. That duty will not apply where for the funding authority to act would be inconsistent with the efficient use of its resources; for example, where there were no GM schools in the area and the only cost-effective solution was to make a significant enlargement of an existing LEA maintained school.

It would, of course, clearly be desirable for the local authority and the funding authority to discuss with each other which of them it would be the more appropriate to act in a specific situation. But if following any discussion both bodies still wished to bring forward proposals, then clearly the final decision about which type of school would be established would rest with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

Whatever trigger point was chosen, to hand over sole responsibility from the local authority to the funding authority would create a situation where one sector or the other could not be managed effectively, which is the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. It is therefore essential to have a period where responsibility is placed both on the local authority and on the funding authority. Since the local authority and the funding authority can make proposals only in relation to their own sectors, it is essential for there to be a period where both bodies assume some responsibility for securing the provision of sufficient places. That enables both the grant-maintained sector and the local authority sector to be managed effectively.

Amendment No. 50 raises a number of issues which we discussed in earlier debates. The effect would be that until 50 per cent. of pupils in maintained primary or secondary schools were in grant-maintained schools, there would be no possibility of strategic planning for the grant-maintained sector. That is the inevitable consequence of the amendment, since it would clearly be difficult for schools which had chosen to leave local authority control to be returned to it by the force of law. I should not like to be the one to go to Birmingham schools, which went through great difficulties to become grant maintained, only to tell them that they were to be returned to the local authority until 50 per cent. of the schools there are in the grant-maintained sector.

However, it cannot be right that grant-maintained schools should exist outside any kind of planning framework until the point when 50 per cent. of pupils were in grant-maintained schools. That would carry the risk of undermining the coherence and effectiveness of the provision of schools in the area. The way forward, therefore, as the Bill provides, is to have a system of parallel LEA and FAS responsibility between the 10 per cent. and the LEA exit point, which, as I have earlier described, is perfectly practicable and feasible.

Therefore, while understanding the anxieties and knowing that there is a genuine nervousness about how these things will work in practice, I believe that what the Bill proposes is the best possible way forward.

12.30 a.m.

Baroness Seear

Before the noble Baroness sits down, it may be due to the late hour that I am not following her properly. This is a technical point; it is not an educational policy point. It is likely that the 50 per cent. target will not be reached in many areas for a long time and therefore the dual control will exist not only for months but perhaps for decades.

I understand from what the noble Baroness said that, if there is disagreement between the local authority and the funding authority, they have to collaborate in making planning decisions. However, who has the last word? With whom will the responsibility lie if one thinks that there should be another school and the other does not? Does it all then have to go to the Secretary of State? If they fall out it may not cause a considerable amount of delay and I am sure we all want the same thing, but I see that it could be confusing when the two are making decisions. It is not as though in many areas it will be for a short period of time. It may go on for a long time or it may not.

Baroness Blatch

It would depend on the situation, but in practice what would happen is that right up until the 75 per cent. point has been reached, when all the control moves to the funding agency for schools, and during the period up to 10 per cent. and between 10 per cent. and 75 per cent., the local authority has a duty under Section 8 of the 1944 Act to be responsible for providing sufficient places for the numbers of children within its area of responsibility. That remains intact throughout the whole of this period. Therefore, if there were, for example, a need for more school places and the local authority was not addressing that, the local authority would clearly be in breach of Section 8 of the 1944 Act. It would be for the Secretary of State to issue a direction to the local authority saying, "You must see to your duty under the Act to provide for places for your children".

At the same time, as long as the two bodies were in being they would have to look to their duty as to which of them should provide those extra places. It may fall naturally into an LEA-maintained schools' area; it may fall naturally into a grant-maintained schools' area. It may well be that one of them will see the duty quite clearly. It may be that the local authority will talk to the funding agency and say, "There is a tension here. We need more places. What do we think is the best way of approaching it?"

That is how we would expect it to happen on most occasions. It could be that the local authority simply drags its feet. It would then be given a direction by the Secretary of State and would have to look to its own area of responsibility to see whether it was at fault or, indeed, whether the funding agency was at fault. But at the end of the day—the noble Baroness is right—if one gets through all of that and there is still no agreement, the Secretary of State would issue a direction for one or the other to meet its responsibilities under the Act.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

Before the noble Baroness sits down, can she help me to understand this? I share the concern about this extended period of dual responsibility. If there is a shortage of places and the local education authority is failing to supply the places that are needed it will be told by the Secretary of State to do so and the funding agency will bring forward proposals. All that will take a little time. What will happen to the children for whom there are no places?

Baroness Blatch

We all know that it does not quite happen like that. We know that year-on-year information is made available about where tensions are. They are usually seen well in advance. There is a great deal of information much earlier in the day, or yesterday. There is information about live births in the area, the numbers of children from the time of birth to their arrival in school, migration rates, and so on. It is known well in advance whether there will be pressure for more places in an area. Schools would therefore plan for that. Schools know their duties under Section 8 of the 1944 Act and I cannot think that local authorities would not address that. Any tension would be over who should provide—whether it should be the funding agency or the LEA. If the funding agency proffered places it would be for the LEA to accept that meeting of the need. If the local authority believed that it should provide, it would be for the local authority to do so. If they both decide that they would like to offer an answer to that need, it would be for the Secretary of State to consider both applications—for either an extension of the school or a new school. It is only where local authorities do not have a civilised relationship with the funding agency that there is a problem. I suggest that there is less of a problem about new places than there would be about surplus places.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

Before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may seek clarification on one other point because I have become as confused as anyone at this time of night. It concerns something that she said earlier. Surely she is not saying that grant-maintained schools will actually return to the LEA if there is this 50 per cent. cut-off point. That cannot be in any real sense. I think I can see what she meant, but it is not as though control over their affairs is taken away from them and given back to the LEA. That is not what she was saying, is it?

Baroness Blatch

The way schools are run now, the LEA schools are not controlled in that way. We are talking about a very real control, which is planning control. It is control over the size of the schools; control over whether they should expand or not expand; whether they should be amalgamated or be closed. One of the problems with the amendments before us is that, although the intention may be that up to 50 per cent. of the planning role remains with the local authority, the local authority cannot be assumed to have control over the grant-maintained schools. So unless, as the the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, suggests, we give planning controls over grant-maintained schools, which means putting them back into the local authority sector, there is a vacuum. One would have to exercise all planning over one sector of schools in an authority. That would be extremely difficult. As I say, putting these schools back into local authority control for the purpose of planning would be highly unwelcome to at least some schools in the country.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

Before my noble friend sits down, perhaps I too may ask for a clarification. I am confused as I was not confused before. I understand my noble friend's answer to the last question but I believe that she said earlier that the local authority would continue to have the overall duty to secure the provision of sufficient places. As I read Clause 10, I believed that between the 10 per cent. and 75 per cent point that duty was to be shared. Is that the case or does the local authority retain the major responsibility anyway?

Baroness Blatch

We are into legal terminology. The local authority continues to have a duty under Section 8 of the 1944 Act to provide sufficient places for the children in its area. My understanding of the way in which the Bill is written is that there is then a duty to meet that need if there is a funding agency and a shared duty with the local authority. The requirement that it should be met by one and/or the other remains with the local authority.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

I thank my noble friend the Minister very much for her patience and many replies to our questions. I believe that she has gone a very long way towards reassuring me that at least there is good will there. I still worry about the areas where the good will does not exist. It is one of the major questions within the Bill where we have to hope that good will will prevail and that the arrangements will work. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 51 to 54 not moved.]

Lord Addington moved Amendment No. 55:

Page 4, line 17, at end insert (", but shall not cover education provided to children with special educational needs.")

The noble Lord said: I wish to move this amendment, standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Ritchie of Dundee. The amendment is basically designed to keep the planning of special needs in local education authorities. That is primarily as a result of the fact that local authorities in various parts of the country of various political hues have made tremendous strides in meeting a great many of the problems that arise with special educational needs. A great deal of progress has been very hard won since the 1981 Act. There have been problem areas throughout the country and there has not been an even level of progression by any means. As the Minister pointed out, local authorities will still be involved in certain areas of special educational needs; for instance, dealing with individuals when it comes to statementing.

It should also be noted that, as the Audit Commission said in its report, since the 1981 Act a great deal has been achieved by schools and LEAs on behalf of pupils with special educational needs. I suggest that it would make sense to at least hear from the Government how they plan to deal with special educational needs on an area basis. It is extremely difficult for individual units and schools to deal with the problems because almost invariably there will be new problems of special educational needs coming in. Peripatetic teachers and others will be needed at times and there will be a changing situation. So that we may have some idea of the whole picture for areas, I beg to move this amendment.

Lord Renton

Some Members of the Committee may remember that I have a special interest in children with special educational needs and in special schools. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, has moved this amendment, because I believe that this Bill needs a little clarifying and cross-referencing. There is no reference to such schools in Clause 10 or to an obligation to provide such schools.

Therefore, we have to turn to Part III, which includes a great many clauses under the heading of "Children with special educational needs". They are Clauses 148 to 180, but one is particularly relevant. I refer to Clause 173(1) (a). I should like to consider it in detail because it is relevant to the amendment which the noble Lord has moved and to the motive which all of us have in mind; namely, that enough special school places shall be provided and that funds shall be provided for them. Clause 173(1) reads: The funding authority may establish in the area of any local education authority a school which is specially organised to make special educational provision for pupils with special educational needs if— and it is a very big "if"— (a) an order under section 10(1) of this Act applies to the area". Therefore, there is a link, but it is a question of having to run in order to read. It may be that, if only to help the users of this long, complicated and detailed Act, a reference in subsection (1) of Clause 10 to subsection (1) of Clause 173 will help its readers in the years to come.

I say no more because I am sure that we are all united in wishing in one way or another that the funding authority shall - I know that the provisions state "may", but we all want it to be an obligation—make sure that there are enough special school places. I hope that I need say no more.

12.45 a.m.

Baroness Blatch

I defer to my noble friend who has taken a special interest in making sure that legislation makes sense and is clear and coherent. I note what he has said.

Perhaps I may advise the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that a major objective of the Government's proposals and schools policy is to strengthen provision to meet pupils' special educational needs. Our proposals for all pupils with any special educational needs—those with or without statements—have gained a warm welcome and a wide measure of support. It is also true that children with statements are more easily identified and catered for in the sense that I know underlies the concern behind the amendment.

We are emphasising the role of the school in the new structure for special educational needs under the Bill; for instance, by requiring governors to formulate and report on their policies towards pupils with special educational needs. We are tightening up on LEAs' procedures in making assessments and statements. We are giving parents new rights of appeal to an independent tribunal. Underpinning all those initiatives is the code of practice which the Secretary of State will put before Parliament.

We shall be debating these important measures later. But I mention them now for two reasons: first, to demonstrate that we are in this Bill establishing a coherent structure for all special needs provisions; and, secondly, to emphasise that the system for special needs should not be seen as separate from the mainstream education system.

This amendment would go against both those principles. Its effect would be that in carrying out its duty to ensure that a sufficient number of school places was available in an area, the funding agency would not be responsible for places for children with special educational needs—up to 20 per cent. of the school population.

All schools—ordinary and special, self-governing and LEA —have a vital part to play in providing for pupils with special educational needs. The coherence of the planning system obviously requires that places for those pupils are properly considered alongside those for other pupils. In the majority of cases an individual pupil's special educational needs do not affect his or her requirements for a school place.

In order to maintain the coherence of the system which we have designed, it is essential that the FAS retains its responsibilities for planning school places for pupils with special educational needs in an area at stages 2 and 3. Education for such pupils should therefore remain within the scope of Section 10 orders. It would be invidious to take 20 per cent. of the population and to deal with them separately in terms of finding places for them. A large proportion of that 20 per cent. of young people belongs in mainstream schools. It will be for mainstream schools to ensure that they have places for those children, whether they are grant maintained or LEA maintained.

Lord Addington

The amendment was moved at this time of night in the spirit of inquiry. I thank the Minister for her reply. It helped to clarify at an early point government thinking in respect of the rest of the Bill. I shall read what the Minister said when I have a clearer head. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 56 and 56A not moved.]

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 57:

Page 4, line 24, at end insert:

("() in the case of an order under paragraph (a) of that subsection, whether the local education authority or the funding authority shall have prime responsibility.").

The noble Lord said: The amendment follows on and covers much of the same ground as was discussed on Amendments Nos. 49 and 50, and I shall endeavour to avoid too much repetition. The amendment has two purposes. First, it clarifies the way in which an LEA and a funding authority would work together. Listening to our debate tonight, even in this august company, it is clear that clarification is needed.

Specifying either the LEA or the funding authority as having the leading role, will make it become crystal clear to everyone to whom an outsider should refer in the first instance. In my experience, that is a common pattern for industrial co-operation where a conflict of interest may be involved, and for good reason. It is a simple arrangement and it works. It is a pattern that has been adopted with great success in the Ministry of Defence in its prime contractor arrangements. It does not lessen the influence of the junior partner, but makes the working relationship clear, and avoids uncertainty and jockeying for position.

Secondly, the amendment would give the Secretary of State encouragement to designate a LEA as having prime responsibility when the 10 per cent. barrier has been passed and where that LEA was clearly performing well, as for instance, does my LEA in Hampshire, which has been extensively, and quite rightly, praised by Ministers recently. By doing that, good current practice would continue with the minimum of uncertainty and the funding authority would be able to concentrate, in the early years when it is developing its role and skills, on those areas in most need of its attention. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

I should like to be helpful to my noble friend, but I have to say to him that once the 10 per cent. trigger point has been reached and passed, then funding agencies are responsible for grant-maintained schools and LEAs are responsible for LEA schools. While the LEA has a duty under Section 8 of the 1944 Act, as I have already said, if it failed to act under that responsibility, and there arose a shortage of place, the local authority would clearly be in default of that Section 8 duty. At the same time the funding agency would, for its own schools, come under a duty to bring forward proposals to make good the deficiency unless the duty did not apply; that is, unless an order to do so would be inconsistent with the efficient use of resources or if it were a clear-cut case that the responsibility was more with the LEA than with the funding agency. Therefore, it is impossible to say that the LEA will be in the lead when it has no control over GM schools and that GM will be in the lead when it has no control over LEA schools.

The important point is that there is a prime responsibility in terms of the Section 8 duty under the 1944 Act for the local authority, but both bodies have a duty to provide. I suspect that in 99 per cent. of cases the issue of who should provide is clear cut. It is only on the rare occasions when they disagree or when there is tension about who should provide that the matter will come before my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. Clearly, one hopes that it will be resolved at local level. It would be desirable for the bodies to co-operate, but in the unlikely event of them not co-operating there is a fall-back position for my right honourable friend.

Earl Russell

I am not sure that the Minister has taken on board the thrust of this most interesting amendment. I take her point that the funding agency cannot be responsible for local authority schools or the local authority for grant-maintained schools. However, I cannot help wondering whether in putting that argument forward the Minister has done more damage to her Bill than she realises.

Her argument is of course perfectly sound in so far as it relates to individual schools. But if the Minister is thinking only in terms of individual schools she is giving away the Balkanisation which is at the back of the thinking on the Bill. There are of course many questions to which the noble Lord's amendment would direct our attention which stretch beyond any individual school. The question of overall provision is the most obvious and whether, for example, the building of a new housing estate will lead to a case for a new school. There are also the questions which we shall touch on later about the youth and music services, school meals and the careers service. Those matters call for overall thinking about the service as a whole which stretches beyond the range of any individual school. That is where I should find the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, extremely helpful. I should be glad to know that the Government had understood and had considered the thrust of the point behind it.

Baroness Blatch

The noble Earl raises an interesting point, but we are not necessarily talking about an individual school. We are talking about there being more children than there are places, or there will be deemed to be some time in the future a tension between the numbers of children and the provision of places.

Perhaps I may take the specific example which the noble Earl gave of the building of a new housing estate with a need for a new secondary school. Let us suppose that the FAS is in place and that it is in the secondary sector, as are most of its schools. There is then the Section 8 duty on the local authority to make sure that the needs of that potential population are planned for. However, planning and meeting that need could be for the LEA, if it is its responsibility, or it could be that of the grant-maintained sector. If all the schools in an area were in the grant-maintained sector, for example, it would make more sense that that sector took upon itself the responsibility to meet that need. Therefore, there is no tension.

There is a clear Section 8 duty on the local authority to ensure that children in its area have places, but the duty to provide is on both the LEA and the FAS, if it is in existence. It may be clear cut if the FAS has only one or two schools, but if it has a quarter, a half or the whole of a sector the duty is much clearer; it falls to the funding agency. Therefore, it is not possible to give one sector or the other a leading role. It would be a moveable feast and it would change year to year.

Earl Russell

Does the responsibility for overall planning rest anywhere at all?

Baroness Blatch

The structural planning, which is a local authority responsibility, remains with the local authority. However, we are dealing with planning for school places within the context of a structured plan, of development in an area and of there being a rising or a falling birth rate. It would fall to local authority statistics in the first place and the reading of those statistics would show whether more or fewer places were required in an area. It would then be the shared duty between the FAS and the LEA to meet that need.

1 a.m.

Lord Lucas

I was very interested to listen to that exchange between the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and my noble friend the Minister, as I was to her initial reply. We have heard much this evening on these matters and no doubt we shall hear more in the future. I shall read what my noble friend said. I expect that I shall return with further comments but for now I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Seear moved Amendment No. 58:

Page 4, line 24, at end insert:

("() Before making an order under subsection (1) above the Secretary of State shall satisfy himself that the making of such an order will not endanger the provision of facilities for adult education.").

The noble Baroness said: I know that the Minister is sympathetic towards adult education. I believe that she recognises that at present the need for effective and well-supported adult education in the country has never been greater. There are high levels of unemployment. There are large numbers of older people for whom adult education provides many extremely valuable outlets. People are seeking a second chance, a fresh start. There are a whole variety of needs which are all very much to the fore at present.

I am sure that the Minister will agree that it is extremely important that adult education should expand rather than decline. I am sure that she knows also that in many parts of the country there is very grave anxiety as to whether adult education colleges will be able to maintain their place, let alone expand as many of them would wish, because of the resource problem.

As the Minister knows, it has always been a problem that the responsibility for financing adult education has rested with the local authorities, but that responsibility has been discretionary rather than mandatory. That inevitably means that when there is pressure from schools and other areas where there is a mandatory requirement on local authorities to make adequate provision, it is extremely tempting—indeed, sometimes there is no choice—to relegate the claims of adult education to the bottom of the queue and the claims are not met or not met adequately.

This amendment is not unrealistic. It does not seek a mandatory requirement on local authorities to provide adult education. It merely seeks that in meeting their other obligations laid out in the clause, they, will not endanger the provision of facilities for adult education". That is not imposing a mandatory requirement on the local authorities to provide those facilities. It merely asks them to bear in mind that amid various competing claims for the money which the local authorities have, adult education requirements shall be borne in mind. We believe that it would be extremely helpful to avoid the further development of the Cinderella position of adult education if that could be written on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Judd

There is also a specific point on which it would be helpful if the Minister can reassure the Committee. Great use is made of school facilities in the provision of adult education. There is real anxiety—it may be well-founded, it may not—that any acceleration of grant-maintained status may mean that those facilities will not be so readily available for use in the furtherance of adult education.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. We know that the Minister is well disposed towards adult education and has put on record her commitment to improving access to higher education. The use of schools for the provision of adult education takes place in some of the most deprived communities of our society. There is anxiety that this could be undermined unless specific reassurances and provisions can be given. I believe the Committee will therefore be particularly interested in the Minister's reply tonight.

Baroness Blatch

This is another important point. Clause 10 concerns the provision of sufficient places in a local authority area for pupils of compulsory school age but it is not appropriate that the introduction of procedures which are intended to facilitate the efficient planning of provision for school pupils should hang on the adequacy or otherwise of facilities for further education for adults.

Local authorities have a duty by virtue of Section 41 of the 1944 Act, as substituted by Section 11 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, to secure the provision for their area of facilities for further education for adults. Any order made under Clause 10 will not change the LEA's responsibilities under Section 41 of the 1944 Act, even where the responsibility for providing school places remains wholly or in part with the funding authority. In any case it is for the governors of individual schools to decide whether or not their school premises should be used for adult and community education provision and it will remain open to local authorities at all times, by agreement with the governors of schools, including grant-maintained schools, to provide further education for adults through school-based provision if they so wish.

The use of school premises out of school hours is a matter for the governors. This is similar to the position in LEA-maintained schools. A GM school would be expected to charge sufficient to cover the cost if its premises were used for non-school activities. Evidence suggests that a significant proportion of GM schools have increased the community use of their premises since becoming grant maintained. I have seen some interesting results of the early surveys on that.

Under the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 the duty to secure the provision of adequate facilities for further education for adults is divided between the new further education funding councils and the local authorities. The Funding Agency for Schools has no role here. The further education funding councils' duties will be to secure the provision of adequate facilities for further education for adults as set out in Schedule 2 to the Act. Schedule 2 includes courses leading to academic and vocational qualifications; courses enabling adults to gain access to such qualifications; basic skills courses; courses to develop proficiency in English as a second language and courses for students with learning difficulties, preparing them for entry to one of the above courses.

Local authorities will continue to be under a duty to secure the provision of all types of further education falling outside the scope of Schedule 2. Such courses will largely be of a less formal nature, mostly not leading to qualifications, and they will serve the general educational and leisure purposes of local communities. It is not a question of there not being provision or whether there should be provision. The provision for adult and community education is made within other legislation and not necessarily in this legislation.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

I hope it is in order for me to speak to Amendment No. 60, which is grouped with this amendment and stands in my name.

Noble Lords


Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

I shall therefore quickly address that matter. The Funding Agency for Schools, as its name implies, is concerned with schools. Much of the provision of the youth service takes place in schools, and therefore it could be argued that the FAS will have an interest in the youth service. However, the responsibility of the FAS will be planning provision of school places rather than extracurricular facilities such as the youth service. The FAS will therefore be likely to have only a peripheral interest in the youth service.

In authorities where the Education Secretary gives the FAS a shared responsibility for planning school places under Clause 10, the sharing of responsibility is likely to cause confusion, and the service be destined to suffer as a consequence. The future provision of the youth service could be at risk if grant-maintained schools no longer wished to be involved in its provision. For communities in which there were only grant-maintained schools access to the youth service could be lost if alternative provision were not available to the LEA. This amendment standing in my name seeks to ensure that the youth service will remain wholly the responsibility of the local education authority.

Baroness Seear

I am not surprised but I am disappointed by the Minister's reply. Of course we are aware that the vocational and other courses which she listed will be financed by the funding body. However, as we have argued previously, there are a great many other activities in adult education, many of which lead on to vocational courses. It is those courses, which are not directly funded by the funding authority but which are still the responsibility of the local authority, about which anxiety is being expressed.

Although, as the noble Baroness said, there is an obligation on local authorities to provide for adult education, that has been discretionary. I do not believe that she met my point that when money is very tight and there are heavy demands from the schools, for which there is a mandatory responsibility, and real pressures, it is inevitable that the non-vocational part of adult education—and I believe that the distinction between vocational and non-vocational courses in relation to adult education is a false one—is in real danger of being squeezed out.

I am sure that the noble Baroness is aware that adult education colleges up and down the country are extremely anxious about this Bill. She knows some of the more fortunate colleges in London and my own particular area of interest. Those colleges have been well supported. We are very grateful that that is so. But that applies to a very small number of fortunate colleges in London. For a great many others, that is not true and adult education, which is not specifically vocational, is to go. We believe that if the proposed words were on the face of the Bill the position of adult education colleges would be strengthened when approaching local authorities for support.

At a quarter past one I shall not press the amendment. If I say that I wish to withdraw the amendment I hope that I shall be allowed to do so. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Judd moved Amendment No. 59:

Page 4, line 24, at end insert:

("() For the purposes of this section responsibility for providing sufficient school places means the provision of school places which are sufficient in number, character, and equipment available to afford for all pupils education offering such variety of instruction and training as may be desirable in view of their different ages, abilities, and aptitudes, and of the different periods for which they may be expected to remain at school, including practical instruction and training appropriate to their respective needs, but does not include music education.").

The noble Lord said: Frequently, some of the richest educational experiences of children are derived from co-operative efforts which have been organised effectively on a local authority basis for the past 40 years. Much cultural activity is most unlikely to continue on the same scale without the excellent stimulus that so many education authorities have provided.

The envisaged reduction in the role of local education authorities has serious implications for music provision, as it has for the arts and museums, which are covered by Amendment No. 62. The attack on local education authorities—and I believe that it is an attack—will undermine activities such as school orchestras and choirs. That is a deplorable development when the United Kingdom has acquired such a high international standing in those spheres. I fail to understand how we can go through an identity crisis as a nation and wonder why we are not good at this or that yet, having reached a peak of excellence in music, we do not do everything possible to sustain that role which is admired throughout the world.

As we have seen, more than half the provisions of the Education Bill are aimed at extending the number of grant-maintained schools. That has the potential to separate individual schools from the wider educational and social community with important implications for arts and music activities. On a practical level, the co-operation which has existed between local authorities and national bodies such as the Arts Council is likely to suffer. The tasks of those bodies in encouraging high standards of performance and participation in artistic ventures will be monumental when they have to communicate with the governing bodies of schools or small groups of schools.

Individual schools lack the resources to co-ordinate group music making such as orchestras and choirs. To achieve that requires a structure which will strategically co-ordinate, organise and maintain quality and range of provision. It is clear that most schools could not possibly provide a wide range of musical opportunities on an individual school basis. The cost of providing musical instruments and specialist teaching would be prohibitive. Clusters of schools—the prophesied consortiums—could not match the provision an LEA-wide service is able to provide. LEA advisory and support functions, including peripatetic teaching, are clearly vital for high quality music tuition. The removal of peripatetic teaching will cut off access to instrumental teaching, usually in groups as part of the curriculum in primary and lower secondary phases. I gather that the Government have been considering using Section 145 of the Local Government Act 1972, provision of entertainments, to allow LEAs to maintain school bands or orchestras. But school bands and orchestras are just one part of music provision in schools. One cannot be divorced from the other. Orchestras and bands feed off the music in schools. LEAs should be retaining the planning role for music in schools.

I know how seriously the Minister takes the challenge to education and how much she cares about the standing of Britain in the world. She has not infrequently referred to it in her speeches. I hope that the Minister will consider seriously the issue of music and culture. I hope that she will realise that there is a great deal of anxiety abroad and will be able to reassure us today in the context of the amendment.

1.15 a.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

I support the amendment because I see the object of it as to create, as it were, a safe haven for a very special and specialised subject, music, which in terms of teaching and learning is quite unlike any other subject in the curriculum. Of course, the curriculum includes music education, and that is not what concerns me. But I hope that we would all agree that any respectable school programme must include a great deal of extra-curricular music, especially musical instrument tuition, instrumental ensemble work, school and county orchestras and choirs of all sorts, shapes and sizes. On this side of the Chamber we would like to be sure that music education outside the curriculum is not affected by Clause 10, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give us an assurance that such will be the case.

The prime responsibility of the funding agency for schools must be the planning of school places rather than the organisation of extra-curricular programmes, and it is in the nature of things that music education, in its widest sense, will be only a marginal interest to the FAS. To divide responsibility would also be a recipe for comprehensive confusion. In any authority where the Secretary of State had given the FAS shared responsibility, the future of music education would be in grave danger if grant-maintained schools did not want to be involved in it. Everybody else would then suffer. We believe that the provision of music education can best (and most safely) be left to the LEAs. They have, after all, a remarkable track record.

Practical music differs from other subjects in one way above all others. You cannot teach the trombone to 20 people at the same time. Instruments have to be taught one to one or in very small groups by expert teachers. The LEAs over the years have developed an excellent system of peripatetic music teachers, serving groups of schools and providing skilled, targeted teaching with the maximum economy of time. If Clause 10 is to apply to music, peripatetic teaching is gravely at risk—not that it is not at risk already.

The rot has already set in. The London borough of Barnet disbanded its service in 1990. Coventry Centre for Performing Arts closes this year. South Glamorgan Visiting Music Service will be terminated if it is not self-financing within six months. So much for gwlad y gan, the land of song. In Newcastle the size of the service has been halved; 11 teachers have been made redundant. In the London borough of Barnet all 43 teachers in the award-winning music team have been awarded their own redundancy notices. In North Tyneside the service has been disbanded and the teachers have been offered jobs in other council departments. I have it on good authority that the senior woodwind teacher was offered a job as a gardener. Just imagine it: he might perhaps be able to prune with his piccolo, but what will he do with his bassoon?

In the matter of extra-curricular music education, local education authorities have always given remarkably good value for money. Now they are being so persecuted, cribb'd, cabin'd and confined that they are being forced to make these crazy cuts in a service which has been the envy of the world. They must be allowed to provide musical education services because the FAS has other priorities, no commercial adventurer will think it worth his while and the school music teachers are simply not equipped to cover so wide a range. No music teacher can teach the violin, the oboe, the trumpet, the guitar, the synthesiser, the sitar and the lute, run an orchestra, organise a steel band or a jazz combo, recruit and train a choir and at the same time and for low pay give instruction in harmony, counterpoint, composition, analysis and the entire history of music. There is a vast area in music education which can only be filled by the services of a local education authority. I hope that the Minister will see the sense of the amendment and accept it.

Earl Russell

All the amendments are joined by themes which are perhaps a little more appropriate. It is more far-reaching than the Government Front Bench realise. One is that they all raise the question of overall planning, on which I say no more at the moment. The other is that they all deal with activities which are carried on very often in the schools in association with the education service but without being the central part of the school's activities.

Those are all, therefore, likely to become peripheral in the horizon of the funding council. In fact, it means that they all run the risk of being relegated to an educational Channel Islands. We all know the difficulties which arise whenever we have to try to deal with an issue which falls between the boundaries of different ministries. It is hard to get it to the top of anybody's attention.

What we suggest in all the amendments—the youth service, music and adult education—is that they will be put in that position where they fall, as it were, between the boundaries of different ministries. We suggest that since these are services which large numbers of people value in all quarters of the House, it could produce an unfortunate and unforeseen effect. We hope that that point will be given some thought.

Lord Addington

I wish to support the noble Lord, Lord Judd, in his Amendment No. 59. Also, since Amendment No. 61 covers similar concerns in a different field, it may be appropriate and assist brevity if I try to tie in my comments on that amendment as well.

Here we are talking about issues where we have economies of scale of interest and finance. We have people with expertise across the local authority area which is used in outdoor activities. One teacher or other person is available to take people, for example, sailing, canoeing, camping, hill-walking or whatever else goes on. Also, we can recruit people into large enough groups to make up the units. For example, one needs x number to crew a boat and x number to go walking safely. One also needs a certain amount of expertise from various fields such as safety and navigation on land and water. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, pointed out, in music one cannot expect to find all the human resources in one school. In addition, if there is one type of expertise in one school, in x number of years one may conceivably not find sufficient people to utilise that expertise.

Thus I suggest that this whole group of amendments, Amendments Nos. 59, 61 and 62, to an extent should all come together. I should have no objection, although I cannot speak for other noble Lords, if the noble Baroness chose to answer them all at once. It is a situation where we are trying to maximise and become as efficient as possible in using the physical interests of the pupils and the physical resources of the teachers.

Lord Judd

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, has made a sensible suggestion which the Minister may find convenient. Therefore, perhaps I may add a word on outdoor activities, the arts and museums.

Outdoor education centres have, as I believe everybody realises, provided powerful learning experiences for nearly a quarter of a million young people through direct contact with mountains, moorland, rivers, caves and sea in a form of education which is sought often through arduous and adventurous undertakings or careful observations and research in order to explore both the physical world and the more difficult terrain of human aspirations and capabilities. It is a form of education which we recognise has proved to be a powerful experience which is increasingly shown to complement and enrich the curriculum, and it is one for which Britain has again long been recognised as a world leader.

The residential outdoor centres, which have so well shouldered the responsibility for the lives of countless young people over the years, have become internationally respected models of good outdoor practice. The concern is that qualified and experienced staff are the most expensive item in any centre's budget and are most likely to suffer when cuts are made. The tightening of LEA central budgets as schools opt out is already affecting the budgets of outdoor centres. The addition of other provisions to that made by LEAs could put still more pressure on costs and cause the dismantling of the provisions currently made.

We have to recognise the fact that in recent weeks there has been—a matter already referred to in the debate today—acute anxiety about what happens when this kind of activity moves outside the well-proven and responsible spheres of local education authority provision with all its professionalism.

Local authorities also currently provide extensive arts, museum and cultural activities. There is a natural overlap between those and the provision of the rest of education. Local theatres often provide the best opportunity for those studying English or foreign languages to see plays or books they are studying performed. Museums provide a valuable resource to schools, whether to give children examples of life in a particular period of history or a specific event in their own area. Initiatives such as city farms offer inner-city children a valuable opportunity to see animals in the flesh and learn about the workings of farms which directly or indirectly provide them with food. Those services are all invaluable educational resources which help interest children in their school and in learning.

For such services to be planned and provided to meet the needs of schools at a realistic cost which reflects their educational value they must be overseen by the local education authority—the only body which currently and for the foreseeable future has some responsibility for the totality of education in the area.

Baroness Warnock

I must add my support to the amendment. I probably said enough on another occasion about the importance of music education. I fear that in speaking again on the other aspects of this amendment I may well be accused, as may other noble Lords, of thinking that money does not matter. There is a cost element. The local authority must expend its money on keeping these services going. I believe that educationally this is one of the most important fields. No single school, as we have heard, can possibly supply the teaching of music; nor can it keep the necessary supply of musical instruments required for people who are embarking on their instrumental studies. We cannot afford to lose that glorious aspect of education.

On the subject of museums, it is not just the schools which will suffer but the museums themselves. I know that the museum whose running I have been deeply involved in—the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge—depends very largely on support from the local authority, which pays the museum a yearly subsidy provided that the museum will lay on exhibitions especially for schoolchildren. The museum loves to do that and does it very well. If the local authority has no responsibility for that form of education, then the museum will greatly suffer.

I see no alternative to local authority involvement. No independent trusts or companies will be interested in what cannot be a commercially viable provision.

The other feature of local authorities which I must emphasise in all those connections, but particularly in music, which is what I know about most, is the knowledge of the individual children who are taught and provided for in, for example, the Saturday morning music schools that the local authority provides. That has an important careers aspect in the sense that the local authority music advisers are extremely good at finding places for children to continue their musical education and at suggesting careers that they may adopt and helping with their training. If we lose all that, we lose not only a great music tradition, which has only recently been built up, but also a personal interest in the children which enormously supports and helps them and, putting it at its crudest, helps to prevent them from becoming delinquents. I therefore hope that we shall be assured that the local authorities will retain those powers.

Lord Lucas

I do not entirely share the anxiety expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and others. If I may take an example, in Hampshire we have an excellent music service which is in the process of being devolved under the local management of schools scheme. The initial indications are that about one-third of schools will not take it up. The reason is that they wish to spend more and spend it better. They have found and are finding ways in which they can organise their music more to the taste of their pupils than is done under the Hampshire music service, good though that is. The reason is that parents demand that there should be good music provision, good sports provision and good extra curricular activities in schools. It is one of the major things by which they judge a school because they know much more about that than about education. I am sure that the grant-maintained schools, which have to compete hard for new pupils, will be particularly concerned to provide those sorts of services. And were not the examples given by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, those of local education authorities cutting provision rather than of grant-maintained schools cutting provisions?

I hesitate to add a concern of my own, but I feel a shadow coming on from the direction of the further education funding council, which appears to be developing the idea that a lot of funding of sixth form colleges should be related to outcomes and that outcomes should be measured in terms of examination results. If that becomes the way of sixth form colleges, and certainly if that seeps into the rest of the education system, there will be a strong disincentive to provide extra curricular activities generally. I hope that my noble friend Lady Blatch can assure me that there is no intention of allowing that to happen either in the school system or in further education.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

Following the lead of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, perhaps I can add a word on Amendment No. 61 because mutatis mutandis what I said about music education applies equally to outdoor education. It is extra curricular; it is vitally important; and it is heavily funded by the LEAs both in terms of money and experience. It is perilously at risk. Outdoor education gives opportunities for excellence to non-academic pupils in schools or to those who are not particularly artistically gifted. Its very existence permits more people to do better, and that is perhaps one of the central concerns of all education.

In this specific matter there is the unique importance to be borne in mind of safety—safety on mountains, on rivers and in caves. And this is a labour-intensive matter. One cannot put 30 school pupils into Lliwedd Slabs in Snowdonia to teach them the elements of rock climbing with only one instructor: they tend to fall off and it reaches the newspapers. Once again, Clause 10—despite what may be grimaced on the other side of the Chamber—is inappropriate, irrelevant and perhaps even positively dangerous if it applies to outdoor activities.

Lord Addington

I want to make one very brief point in response to the taunts of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. He talks about maximising the response. How does he know exactly whether that musical response will meet the needs of the pupils and not just their parents? How does he know whether in two or three years' time, once they have set up a wonderful classical section, there will not be half a dozen budding jazz musicians?

Baroness Blatch

I wonder where some noble Lords have been over the past 25 years. All I can say is that the musical needs of many hundreds of thousands of children are not being met in schools because of the very ad hoc system. I have seen the liberating of systems—just the kind of example that has been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Lucas—where more children's needs in terms of musical talent are being met. It is very exciting. I am in and out of schools all the time and I am constantly moved by the quality and the quantity of good music sung and played by our young people.

Amendment No. 59 does not make sense. It is not possible to exclude music education from the provisions of Section 8 of the 1944 Act. Music is a foundation subject of the national curriculum and compulsory for all pupils aged five to 15. It was indeed this Government who made it a compulsory subject in the national curriculum. Schools can also offer music as an A-level subject. It is therefore not possible to exempt schools within the grant-maintained sector and under the responsibility of the funding authority from providing music education.

Our proposals will not prevent schools, as now, offering extra-curricular music activities such as school choirs and individual and group instrumental tuition. Where they provide instrumental tuition as an optional activity, they can of course charge a fee, which must not exceed the cost to the school of providing the service. I see no reason at all why our proposals should discourage schools which are keen to provide such additional activities from doing so.

There is no reason why the delegation of funds to schools in respect of non-mandatory music services should affect the existence of these services. Local Management of Schools, the method by which money is delegated to schools, does not reduce the overall amount of money which is available for education. It is simply a fairer way of allocating resources. We know already how much better schools make use of that money than LEAs themselves. It must also be said that local authorities are not required under our law to delegate provision for music services.

Turning to the other amendments, as I have already explained in relation to Amendments Nos. 59 and 60, the current provisions of the Bill are based on Section 8 of the 1944 Act. I do not intend to go over that ground again. But it is our view that the local authority's duty under Section 8 of the 1944 Act does not extend to the providing of music. As for Amendment No. 61, there is no reason why the delegation of funds to schools in respect of non-mandatory outdoor education services should affect the existence of those centres. I repeat that Local Management of Schools, the method by which money is delegated to schools, does not reduce the amount of money available for education but is simply a fairer way of allocating resources. Again local authorities are not required to delegate provision for outdoor education.

I think that noble Lords have taken a very pessimistic view. All the evidence is that these services are thriving. I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, that he follow my tracks around some of the counties in this country where the prospects are very exciting indeed.

Lord Judd

I notice the fervour with which the Minister speaks. I always think that that illustrates her commitment. I do not question her commitment. It is the doubt whether she is deploying it in the most effective way that disturbs many of us in the Committee.

I hope the Minister will understand that we listen when the Prime Minister and the noble Baroness talk about the best possible chance for all our children and talk about one nation. I imagine that all those who have participated in the debate are relatively privileged members of society. I am sure that we would all be glad to contribute to the wider activities of the schools and groups to which our children belong. We would be glad to see the children benefiting from that. We know that resources are not limitless. But what we are really disturbed about is that in so many of the areas of the most acute deprivation it is simply not possible for parents living on a minimal income to contemplate fees. It is not possible for them to contribute to the provision of the kind of resources which more affluent communities in some of our shires can contribute.

Therefore, far from moving towards one nation with better opportunities for all our children, this process is becoming divisive. That is what underlies our whole anxiety. We sit in this Chamber and beat our breasts about what is happening with crime and delinquency which results from people going through pretty negative experiences in the grim reality of their daily routine in life. What is so challenging about so many of the outdoor activities which we have heard about is that they enable precisely those kinds of children and young people to have an experience which helps to build character, self-confidence, and the rest, and to become positive. That goes for other cultural activities.

I am not questioning the good faith of the Minister but if it were some other hour rather than 20 minutes before two o'clock in the morning, because of the anxiety which exists I would be pressing this amendment to a Division. In the circumstances, I do not intend to do that. I shall seek leave to withdraw the amendment. But I hope that the Minister will find it possible to say something a little more reassuring tonight.

Baroness Blatch

Before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether he will accept an invitation from me to visit Great Barr, Handsworth and Small Heath schools in Birmingham. They are grant-maintained schools serving very difficult and deprived areas. He should listen to the music and see what the cultural experiences are of those children. They are second to none. They are schools which can do it. What we need to do is to disseminate that good practice. Those schools are serving the children and their families extremely well.

Lord Judd

I shall be delighted to accompany the Minister on a tour of the whole country. The sooner we can arrange that together I shall willingly clear my diary to do it. It would be a good experience. If we are doing that we shall have to make it a representative journey. There are quite a number of places which I shall invite the Minister to visit as well.

Baroness Blatch

The point I make is that if those schools can do it, all schools can do it. They need the will and the determination and the attitude to do it.

Lord Judd

They also need the parental income.

Baroness Warnock

Will the Minister address the problem which I do not believe that she has addressed? I do not doubt that individual schools can make very good contributions to instrumental music.I also believe that schools are capable of entering into a consortia and perhaps having larger choirs and orchestras. Nevertheless, I do not believe that any single school or small group of schools, even if they had the will to do so, are capable themselves of producing something to the standard of the best of our town-based and country-based orchestras, which leads to many of their children members going into the National Youth Orchestra. That is the kind of thing which individual schools are quite incapable of doing because of their size. Can the Minister address that problem as well as telling us, which I believe, that many schools have good standards of music. Many schools have a lousy standard of music as I know from going around the schools.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 60 to 69 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 70:

Page 4, line 44, at end insert:

("() For the purposes of subsection (3) above, the kind of education to which an order relates—
  1. (a) where an order is expressed to relate only to primary education, includes any secondary education provided in a primary school and excludes any primary education provided in a secondary school, and
  2. (b) where an order is expressed to relate only to secondary education, includes any primary education provided in a secondary school and excludes any secondary education provided in a primary school.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 70 I speak also to Amendments Nos.96, 97, 140, 175, 182, 192, 308, 316, 318, 321, 323 and 328. I know that these amendments may at first sight seem rather complicated, but their essential purpose is simple. First, it is to enable grant-maintained middle schools to be established and to enable them to be fitted into the framework already set out in the Bill. Secondly, it is to make clear that the funding authority may not propose the establishment of a grant-maintained nursery school although proposals may be made for a grant-maintained school to provide nursery education as well as other primary education.

I have pages of explanation of these amendments and if any noble Lord wishes to question me on any of them I shall, of course, respond to such a request. However, because of the hour I hope that the Committee will allow me simply to move Amendment No. 70. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

1.45 a.m.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 71:

Page 4, line 46, leave out ("in respect of the area to which it applies")

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 71, I should like to speak also to the other amendments grouped with it. Again, if Members of the Committee are not over-inquisitive about what these amendments are about, I shall deal with Amendment No. 71 which is required as the effect of Schedule 2 is no longer to be restricted to the area of the LEA to which the order applies. In particular, Schedule 2 (as proposed to be amended) will contain provisions which may affect who is to pay for boarding places outside the area to which the Clause 10 order applies. As noble Lords know, LEAs do purchase places in boarding and independent schools from time to time. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 10, as amended, agreed to.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford moved Amendment No. 72:

After Clause 10, insert the following new clause:

("Duty to consult

.—(1) Before publishing proposals under sections 45, 92 or 101 of this Act (and without prejudice to the provisions of subsection (4) of each of those sections) in relation to a school or schools in any area each funding authority shall consult and at all times have regard to the views of the bodies described in subsection (2) below.

(2) Those bodies are—

  1. (a) the local education authority for the area in question;
  2. (b) the governing bodies of other schools in the area;
  3. (c) the Diocesan Board of Education (where the proposals relate to or may affect any Church of England voluntary school or any endowed grant-maintained school to which the Diocesan Board of Education appoints one or more of the Foundation governors);
  4. (d) where the proposals relate to or may affect any voluntary schools or any endowed grant-maintained school other than one mentioned in paragraph (c) above, the persons or bodies who appoint one or more of the foundation governors of each such school.

(3) Any reference in this Act to a Diocesan Board of Education shall be interpreted as a reference to the Diocesan Board of Education constituted under the Diocesan Boards of Education Measure 1991 for the diocese concerned.").

The right reverend Prelate said: This amendment seeks to ensure that before making proposals the funding agency should consult essential interested parties. The Bill already provides clearly who can object once the proposals have been published. Clauses 92 and 101 set out who can object in detail, but consultation before proposals are issued is just as important as objection once proposals are made. Indeed, consultation before proposals are made may be more important because once proposals are formulated they have a tendency to take on a life and momentum of their own.

The Bill indicates that the Secretary of State will give guidance to the funding agency as to who shall be consulted, but I think that that should be on the face of the Bill, as who should object is already on the face of the Bill. The Churches have a particular concern here. Because we have been represented on the local education committees, we have automatically been involved in the preparation of proposals affecting any school. That has helped the Churches to do their own strategic planning when trying to ensure that a church school is within reach of every child. However, as and when the local education committees disappear, we shall have no assured place in this strategic planning and in the preparation of proposals, and we need one if we are to be sure of genuine choice and diversity. We need, therefore, to be assured of this full and genuine consultation before proposals are made by the funding authority.

Amendment No. 72 is grouped with Amendment No. 72A. They are almost identical except that they differ in the reference in Amendment No. 72A to the "Roman Catholic Diocesan Bishop" concerned where the school affected is a Roman Catholic school. The Committee will remember that in moving an earlier amendment I said that in the past there have been sensitivities about referring to the Roman Catholic bishops in primary legislation. We for our part do not see that difficulty, but in case there is difficulty either on the part of the Government or elsewhere we have moved the provisions in two alternative forms—if I can put it like that. I hope, however, that the Government will accept them in principle. Although I am happier with Amendment No. 72A than with Amendment No. 72, I move Amendment No. 72 which stands in my name. I beg to move.

The Duke of Norfolk

As Amendment No. 72A is grouped with Amendment No.72 perhaps it is in order for me to speak to it. Amendment No. 72A seeks to include Roman Catholics in the arrangements set out in Amendment No. 72. In brief, the requirement sought by way of the amendment is a duty to be imposed upon a funding authority to consult the providing bodies when the funding authority is preparing proposals for Clause 45 (the establishing of new grant-maintained schools); Clause 92 (the changing of the character of former voluntary schools); and Clause 101 (the discontinuance of a former voluntary school).

At this time we acknowledge reluctantly that representation of the voluntary providing bodies on the funding authorities will be minimal. By this amendment I hope to secure a statutory right to be consulted in the case of proposals being prepared in one or more of the key areas to which the clauses I have listed refer. Again, the Catholic Bishops are anxious to be seen, as the Government have frequently acknowledged, to be an active partner in the provision of state education. Without the close involvement the amendment seeks to secure, the Churches' oversight of their own schools could be perilously and permanently impaired.

Lord Northbourne

I support Amendment No. 72A. The right reverent Prelate referred to developing a coherent policy so that there is an appropriate church school available at each stage of the child's development. We are talking here about a partnership between the Church and the state to provide education. In the amendment we are asking only for consultation. It would be unacceptable in a partnership if the partners were not consulted in the case of important issues such as the establishment, change of character or discontinuance of one of the partnership's schools. I therefore strongly support the amendment.

Lord Hylton

Perhaps I may say a word in support of Amendments Nos 72 and 72A. They go some way towards remedying the lack of consultation that there has been in the preparation of previous legislation and in the prescription under previous legislation as to what should be done in specified cases.

Baroness Blatch

I wonder whether the right reverend Prelate and my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk will accept that I accept what they say and what they ask for in principle, will take this proposal away, think about it and return with it on Report and between now and Report will consult the right reverend Prelate.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

I am most grateful to the Minister for that assurance and I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Duke of Norfolk had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 72A:

After Clause 10, insert the following new clause:

("Duty to consult

—(1) Before publishing proposals under sections 45, 92 or 101 of this Act (and without prejudice to the provisions of subsection (4) of each of those sections) in relation to a school or schools in any area each funding authority shall consult and at all times have regard to the views of the bodies described in subsection (2) below.

(2) Those bodies are—

  1. (a) the local education authority for the area in question;
  2. (b) the governing body of other schools in the area;
  3. (c) the Diocesan Board of Education (where the proposals relate to or may affect any Church of England voluntary school or any endowed grant-maintained school to which the Diocesan Board of Education appoints one or more of the Foundation governors);
  4. (d) the relevant Roman Catholic Diocesan Bishop (where the proposals relate to or may affect any Roman Catholic voluntary school or any endowed grant-maintained school to which that Bishop appoints one or more of the Foundation governors);
  5. (e) where the proposals relate to or may affect any voluntary school or any endowed grant-maintained school other than one mentioned in paragraph (c) or (d) above, the persons or bodies who appoint one or more of the foundation governors of each such school.

(3) Any reference in this Act to a Diocesan Board of Education shall be interpreted as a reference to the Diocesan Boards of Education constituted under the Diocesan Boards of Education Measure 1991 for the diocese concerned.").

The noble Duke said: I am pleased to follow the Church of England, as usual, in these ecumenical days. I shall not move the amendment.

[Amendment No. 72A not moved.]

[Amendment No. 73 not moved.]

Baroness Faithfull moved Amendment No. 74:

Before Clause 11, insert the following new clause:

("Criteria for an exclusion

.—(1) The articles of government for every maintained school, grant-maintained school, maintained special school and non-maintained special school shall provide that no pupil shall be permanently excluded unless—

  1. (a) all reasonable steps have been taken by the school to avoid excluding the pupil, and
  2. (b) allowing the pupil to continue to attend the school would be seriously detrimental to the education or welfare of the pupil, other pupils or staff at the school."

(2) A plan should be made for a pupil excluded from school which may include placement in a residential school.

(3) At all stages parents and pupils must be involved.

(4) Account must be taken of inadequate social conditions and a disruptive family.").

The noble Baroness said: I have great compassion for my noble friend the Minister for the way in which she is withstanding this terrible ordeal at such a late hour. Combined with that it is a worry and distress to me that we should now be discussing these amendments. I propose to speak to Amendments Nos. 74 to 78 en bloc. They refer to exclusions from school.

When dealing with the Education Reform Bill in 1988 I moved an amendment relating to non-school attendance. I regret to say that at that stage my amendment was refused by the Government. Now we are in a terrible state in relation to non-school attendance. Recently I visited a city where 7 per cent. of all the children are out of school on any one day. That city has the highest juvenile crime rate in Europe. Therefore, I believe that the amendments are of vital importance.

I shall speak first to Amendment No. 74, which lays down that all reasonable steps should be taken to avoid excluding a child from school. I have deep sympathy with many teachers who find that particular children are so disruptive, difficult and upsetting that they are almost glad when those children are not in the class. However, I am afraid that that will not do. There must be some way of helping such children to attend school.

I understand that some pupils are so disruptive that they disturb all the other pupils. Under those circumstances something must be done about them. I recommend that a plan should be made for every pupil excluded from school. That plan might include placement in a residential centre. There are in this country some excellent schools, many of which are known to the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, in which there are vacancies. However, those vacancies are not being taken up by the local authorities, which would be cheaper for the taxpayer, although the schools are expensive. If children cannot be helped at home or in their day schools there are residential schools which are able to take them.

The plan should include the attendance at a case conference of someone from the social services. At all stages the parents and children should be involved. I also believe that, when children are excluded from school, account must be taken of inadequate social conditions and of the disruptive family. I have known children stay away from school because they are living in bed and breakfast accommodation and because of the difficulties at home which have led to their becoming out of control. Some children may live with single parents who are unable to cope with them, or they may have been sexually abused in the home. When considering the position of children who are excluded from school, social conditions and the disruptive family should be taken into account. There are places which can deal with such children and many of them are successful.

I cannot refrain from saying that the Home Secretary has recommended that centres should be set up for children who have committed crimes. Many such children have not attended school. It would be far better to spend the money which the Home Office recommended should be invested in those extraordinary centres on sending to existing residential schools which have vacancies the children who have been excluded from school.

Amendments Nos. 75 and 76 cover the whole question of the reviewing of cases of children excluded from school. Amendment No. 77 provides for a tribunal so that if the parents of a child who is excluded from school are upset about it and feel that they have good cause to be upset, they can apply to a tribunal. They would be able to apply to a tribunal on various other matters, in particular as regards a child who is excluded from school for a term and then not allowed to return.

I have been brief because it is late. I shall not divide the Committee because I wish to return to the matter. We must tackle this problem and tackle it well. Although all measures should be taken to keep the child at home and in school where it is possible and practicable to do so, some children need to attend residential establishments and such establishments do exist. I beg to move.

2 a.m.

Lord Elton

My sympathy goes equally to the Minister and to the Deputy Chairman who also seems to be having some difficulties. I have amendments in this disintegrated group. I shall speak first to Amendments Nos. 81A, 81C, 81D and 87A. Those amendments are grouped together and also deal with exclusions.

We have a difficulty in this regard, to which I referred earlier. I am sorry that the Minister is not on the Front Bench at present because it was her reply to a Written Question which led me to suppose that we should by now have the Government's response to the consultation on exclusions. A two-year monitoring period of exclusions was established. The committee, which I chaired, inquiring into discipline in schools, recommended a three-year monitoring period. The Government completed it in November of last year. I had thought that the report would be ready in time for the passage of this Bill. It was not available for its passage through another place and it is not available now. Because of the difficulties of the situation, I gently chide my noble friend. I hope that it will available before we return to the issue. It will be extremely serious if it is not available for the Report stage of the Bill.

The Bill does not seem to recognise the fragility of the situation when a pupil is readmitted on a direction but the school is reluctant to receive him. In that regard I am slightly on the other side of the net from my noble friend Lady Faithfull. I see the great difficulties which disorderly children can in extremis cause in a school and the penalties which all the children in the same class, and perhaps in the same school, can suffer as a result. Their interests must be guarded.

If a pupil is to be ejected as a result of Clause 11 by an order made under Clause 12, the odds against the successful return of that pupil are extremely high. I realise that recourse must be had to forcing a pupil on an unwilling school from time to time, but one must recognise that, to be fair, the school must be given rather more purchase on the pupil that it formerly had.

These amendments propose that a school may make conditions or specify an agreement and that the direction to return a pupil to an unwilling school shall be made subject to the agreement of the parents or the pupil, or both, to certain conditions. If those conditions are not fulfilled, the pupil shall again be excluded and, probably, permanently excluded.

Amendment No. 87A proposes a new clause after Clause 12. It sets up a method whereby the conditions may be enforced or altered as needed during the period of return. It is a long measure and I shall not now go through it with the Committee. I hope that the Government will look closely at this matter because when we made our report we looked closely at the idea of home/school contracts and came to the conclusion that an unenforceable contract was a menace because once it was seen to be unenforceable it would be exploited and be worthless. This provision at least has an element of enforceability and I commend it to the Government.

In the same group I have Amendment No. 86. That deals with the occasion when the relevant authority is making a direction on a school within a group of schools among which a child has not been able to find a welcome. It seems to me that before making such a direction the authority should not only consult the school on which it is making the direction but it should also consult the other schools that have excluded the pupil to see what the trouble really is so that it can make its direction in reasonable terms. That is a great deal less than I had intended to say on the matter of exclusion which I think is central to getting the system right. However, I think that is all the Committee is able to take aboard at this time of night. Therefore, I shall sit down.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

I, too, shall be extremely brief on this subject although I share the view that it is an extremely important subject. I wish to start off by performing the sporting feat of being on both sides of the tennis net with both the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I can see the need to keep children at home and to keep children with their families. I can also see the need to protect the interests of other children in the class and indeed in the school. I echo the anxiety of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, about the fact that the Government's consultation paper has not been produced for this debate. I share his hope that it will be available for the Report stage.

I am sorry to return to the question of funding but surely one partial solution to this problem is to give local education authorities adequate support services which are properly funded. Perhaps one additional idea which is not contained in these amendments but has been suggested—I hope the Minister will be able to address this point in his reply—is the idea of providing financial support for excluded pupils through the GEST programme; the grants for educational support and training. That is all I want to say on these topics. I shall listen with interest to the Minister's reply.

Lord Henley

I offer my apologies for the absence of my noble friend the Minister but she cannot reply to all the amendments. However, I assure the Committee that my voice is bearing up. I hope we can come back to this debate on exclusions at a later stage in Committee. Later on I will be repeating the assurances given earlier by my noble friend that we shall have an opportunity—I believe she mentioned this in her answer to my noble friend Lord Elton—to see the Government response before we come back to this in Committee.

My noble friend has already referred to the vital importance of maintaining good discipline in our schools. It is—and has always been—a key indicator of school performance. In maintaining good order the head faces many difficult decisions. One of the most difficult is whether to exclude a pupil. Exclusion of a pupil from any school is a serious matter. It is a sanction that should be used sparingly and wisely. It should always be the last resort, never the first. The Government are concerned about the number of pupils that are being excluded from our schools and that the provision made for them once they are excluded is not always satisfactory.

As my noble friend mentioned, those concerns led us to issue a discussion paper on the subject at the end of November. There was a good response to that paper. Over 200 constructive and thoughtful replies were received. Those comments are being considered and the Government will shortly be bringing forward their own proposals in the light of the analysis of those responses.

A number of the amendments appear to echo, albeit in somewhat different wording, the existing provisions of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986. I am thinking in particular of the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lady Faithfull. I am sure that the Committee will agree that we should be wary of change for change's sake. Indeed, a number of respondents to our discussion paper made that very point. If changes are required—and I stress that the Government will be announcing their own proposals shortly—I hope that we may restrict them to matters of substance. Furthermore, for the reasons I expressed earlier, I do not consider it appropriate to impose in primary legislation detailed and specific requirements.

The Government's discussion paper specifically asked whether guidance would be helpful and what aspects it should address. There was a generally positive response and, although the Government are frequently criticised for the amount of administrative guidance offered to schools, I believe that this is one area where a constructively worded DFE circular would be both welcome and timely.

As for appeal arrangements, in the case of county, controlled and maintained special schools, LEAs already have powers under the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 to review decisions to exclude pupils permanently and to consider, after consulting the governing body, whether the pupil should be reinstated and, if so, to give directions to that effect. Where the LEA confirms the exclusion decision it remains open to the parent—or the governing body if the pupil is to be reinstated—to appeal against the decision to a special committee established by the LEA. Arrangements also exist for parents to make representations to the governing body and, if they are not satisfied, to appeal to a separately constituted appeal committee against the permanent exclusion of their child from a voluntary-aided or grant-maintained school.

I do not see any need to replace those existing arrangements for review and appeal, which seem to have worked reasonably well over the years. However, we are considering what further guidance could be given on the conduct and procedures for appeals in the context of the analysis of responses to our discussion paper on exclusions. The present Bill also includes provision for independent members to be appointed to appeal committees.

The Government are not persuaded of the need for an exclusions tribunal to be established. As I have explained, there are existing procedures for review and appeal, firstly, to the disciplinary committee of the governing body and beyond that, either to the LEA or, in the case of GM schools, the governing body's appeals committee. Adding a third tier to those arrangements creates a further layer of bureaucracy in a process which needs to be resolved relatively quickly in the interests of the child. Our aim should rather be to improve and speed up existing appeals procedures so that the arrangements to secure suitable education for the pupil—either by reinstatement, admission to another school or the provision of education otherwise—can be made for the pupil as soon as possible.

I hope therefore that my noble friend Lady Faithfull will not press her amendments. I believe that she said that two o'clock in the morning was not a suitable moment to do so. Perhaps we can return to the subject at a later stage.

I turn briefly to Amendments Nos. 81A, 81C, 81D and 86 in the name of my noble friend Lord Elton. I agree entirely with my noble friend that the decision-making power should be used only after consultation with all the parties directly concerned, but I believe that the requirements to consult already imposed on the directing body in Clause 12 are sufficient. I do not think that there is any need to impose further requirements as suggested in the amendments.

With respect to Amendments Nos. 81A, 81C and 81D in particular, we support the notion of non-binding agreements between schools and parents but would not want those to become an integral part of the admissions or exclusion procedure. That is why I resist those amendments—although I suspect that my noble friend will not wish to press them tonight—which would allow schools to set conditions before they agreed to admit a child under Clause 11.

2.15 a.m.

Lord Elton

If my noble friend will forgive me for intervening, it is important that we get it straight. I would not dream of pressing any issue at this hour or without reading what he said. However, I am not sure that what he says is clear.

Amendment No. 87A is the new clause providing the procedure for consultation and agreements (or contracts as we used to call them) before readmission. Does he say that that is a matter against which the Government's face is set? I would think that that was a mistake.

Lord Henley

I was speaking to Amendments Nos. 81A, 81C and 81D. I do not believe that I had come to Amendment No. 87A.

Lord Elton

Amendment No. 87A was part of the group with Amendments Nos. 81A, 81C and 81D. It is the new clause after Clause 12. I sent a copy to my noble friend's department. I believe that it is aware of the grouping. Although quasi-judicial is too grand a word, Amendment No. 87A sets out the procedures by which a contract, agreement or conditions can be monitored and can trigger the final exclusion of the child or can be used as a means of inculcating better behaviour.

Lord Henley

I would not like to say that our face is firmly set against the provision. Bearing in mind the late hour, it would probably be best if we came back to the issue or corresponded on it between now and a later stage in Committee. My advice at present is that we would not be happy with Amendments Nos. 81A, 81C and 81D. However, I would be prepared to have another look at Amendment No. 87A, possibly before a later stage, if there were something on exclusion which might meet my noble friend's concerns.

Lord Elton

I am most grateful to my noble friend. He has received further advice which I do not think will take him a great deal further down the track.

I too believe that we should come back to the issue. I am a little puzzled that he says we should return to it later in Committee. We are now dealing with the part of the Bill which deals with exclusions, as I understand it.

Lord Henley

If my noble friend will bear with me, when we reach Part IV, Clause 181, in a day or two's time, it might be a suitable moment to come back to this subject.

Lord Elton

Again I am grateful to my noble friend, although how much digestion of the report he promises we shall be able to procure before then is open to doubt.

Baroness Faithfull

We are in great difficulties over this issue. In moving Amendment No. 74 I have spoken rather volubly. I thank the Minister for what he has said and beg leave to withdraw the amendment. I shall be bringing the matter back at the next stage of the Bill. Am I allowed to withdraw Amendments Nos. 74, 75 and 76?

Lord Henley

What my noble friend should do is not to move them when those amendments are called. Perhaps she will withdraw Amendment No. 74.

Baroness Faithfull

I do so, so long as I can bring the amendments back at the next stage of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 74.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 75 to 80 not moved.]

Baroness Faithfull moved Amendment No. 81:

Before Clause 11, insert the following new clause:

("Welfare of the child

. It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State and of the funding authorities, local education authorities, governing bodies of grant maintained schools and the governing bodies of voluntary schools in the exercise of their functions conferred upon them by or under this or any other enactment to ensure in any decision concerning a child that the welfare of the child shall be a primary consideration.").

The noble Baroness said: My noble friend Lord Elton and I seem to be on two sides of the fence, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said. However, this provision connects with the children who are disruptive and difficult possibly because of very difficult home circumstances. Perhaps they have been sexually abused. There may be disruptive conditions at home. The best way to help that child may be to send him to a residential school.

Experience has shown that a number of children have been recommended by a psychiatrist and a psychologist to go to a residential school but the school named by the psychiatrist for the child was expensive and the city treasurer was not prepared to pay the fees on behalf of the local authority. I point out that, under the Children Act, the welfare of the child is paramount. I believe that however expensive a school is the primary consideration for a seriously disruptive child should be the welfare of the child and not the fact that the treasurer says the school is too expensive. Therefore, I wish to air the whole problem of expense. Paying for those children to go to an expensive school is in the end cost effective because most of the children are successful and leave the place well adjusted, and not delinquents. I beg to move.

Lord Elton

The group has been broken up and I shall deal with my amendment briefly when I reach it.

Lord Henley

I thank my noble friend for that. My noble friend Lady Faithfull has moved Amendments Nos. 79, 80 and 81, I believe. As I indicated earlier, Section 22 of the Education Act 1986 lays on head teachers the responsibility for maintaining high standards of discipline and behaviour in schools and for regulating the conduct of their pupils, subject to any guidance provided for them by the governing body. Having given this responsibility to head teachers, we look to them to exercise it sensibly.

Lord Elton

I believe that Amendments Nos. 79 and 80 were not moved, which is why I did not speak to my amendment. We are now on Amendment No. 81.

Lord Henley

I apologise, I shall move straight on to Amendment No. 81 and the question of the welfare of the child and, as my noble friend said, the provisions of the Children Act. Those provisions lay stress regarding the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned. This is appropriate in that context. They apply when important decisions are taken which affect a particular child. However, although there are some areas of overlap, the main concerns of the Children Act and the Education Bill before us are different. The former is primarily concerned with every aspect of a child's welfare—parental responsibility, guardians, care orders, the protection of children and fostering. The Education Bill includes provisions to ensure that parents will play an active part in choices regarding the child's education. There is therefore no need to include on the face of the Bill a provision regarding the ascertainable wishes of the child, as the noble Baroness stresses.

We have long exhorted LEAs to take into account the wishes of the child when carrying out their duties, particularly on occasions such as were mentioned, but we do not believe that it would be necessary or desirable for the Secretary of State to set guidelines on how people's views might be ascertained. Those are matters which are entirely for local determination in the light of the particular circumstances. I hope therefore that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Faithfull

I think perhaps we have not understood one another very well. Amendment No. 81 is concerned with the financing of special cases of children excluded from school who cannot be dealt with either at home or in the school and the funding of those cases. Inevitably the child is consulted under previous legislation.

I do not really agree with the Minister, but at this late hour it is a complicated business and I shall not pursue the matter further. I shall withdraw the amendment and bring it back at the next stage of the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 11 [Direction to admit child to specified school]:

[Amendment No. 81A not moved.]

Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 81B:

Page 5, line 14, at end insert:

("() If no school meets the criteria set out in subsection (2) of this section the appropriate authority may make a recommendation to the Secretary of State under section 12 of this Act.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is one of a very small group: 81B, 85A, 86A, 86B and 86C. Clause 11 makes no provision for when a pupil is permanently excluded from the only school within a reasonable distance which provides suitable education. The system under Clause 11 is that a pupil shall be put into a school by direction provided that the school is within a "reasonable distance", offers a suitable education and that the pupil has not already been permanently excluded from it. For instance, if one excludes a classicist from, say, Ashbourne Grammar School, I think it most unlikely that there will be another place available. I may be wrong, but I am sure that in many rural areas it will be impossible to find another place to deal with him satisfactorily; and he must be dealt with. It would be a pity if he were dealt with necessarily by education other than in school.

The amendment draws attention to that difficulty and suggests that the authority should in that case make a recommendation to the Secretary of State, who might or might not act upon it, to re-inject the pupil into the school from which he has been permanently excluded. I am on the other side of the net this time. I hope that the noble Lord is seized of the problem, and if he cannot deal with it now perhaps he can deal with it later.

Lord Henley

I hope that I am seized of the problem and that I am on the right or the appropriate side of the net. I hope that we understand the concerns which lie behind these amendments. My noble friend envisages a situation in which the only suitable secondary school within easy reach of a child's home had either excluded the child or had refused to admit him or her. I expect that that already happens from time to time. It is precisely in order to help parents with children in such circumstances that we have included Clauses 11 and 12 in the Bill.

Perhaps the Committee will allow me to explain why I think that the clauses as drafted would provide sufficient protection for all parties involved. If the child had been refused admission to the only school within easy reach on the grounds that the school was full, the appropriate authority would be perfectly entitled to direct the school to admit the child. Clearly it would have to think carefully if there were a large number of pupils in the same position, since a school could reasonably claim that it would not be able to accommodate them all. The admission of one extra person would be unlikely to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. The LEA or the funding agency would not need to consult the Secretary of State before making such a direction but it would need to consult the school in question, which would have the right to refer the matter to the Secretary of State.

The options available to the directing authority would be different if the child had been excluded from the only school within reach. It would not be able to direct the school to re-admit the child. But under amendments which the Government will table shortly the LEA in which the child in question is resident would be required to provide suitable education other than in school. Again, there would be no need for the appropriate authority to make a recommendation to the Secretary of State. I hope therefore that my noble friend will be satisfied with this explanation and will not feel it necessary to press the amendment.

Lord Elton

It is late at night. I shall only say that the Government therefore say that a child so excluded must necessarily be educated other than in school. It may well be the right decision, but it is perhaps a regrettable one and we shall discuss it later. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 81C and 81D not moved.]

Lord Northbourne moved Amendment No. 82:

Page 5, line 22, at end insert (", unless the school is a voluntary school that has in place a section 6(3) (b) 1980 Act arrangement, the terms of which would preclude such admission or, in the case of a grant maintained school that was formerly a voluntary school where such similar arrangement forms part of the agreed admissions policy as under the provision of section 72 and paragraph 2(a) (iii) of Schedule 5 of the 1988 Act, the terms of which would similarly so preclude.")

The noble Lord said: I apologise for the fact that there appears to have been a typing error on the Marshalled List. The second line of the amendment should read "section 6(3) (b)" rather than"6(6)".

This small, but important, amendment relates to voluntary schools which have a special agreement with the local authority about admissions to the school and to grant-maintained schools which are likely to negotiate a similar agreement at the time of their formation. Under those agreements the LEA imposes a limit, either in numerical or percentage terms, on the number of "non-adherents" who may be admitted to the school at the relevant age-group. That is done in order to protect the religious character of the school. Schools are obliged to admit up to the standard number of non-adherents. For example, a Catholic primary school with a standard admissions number of 30 each year, might reach agreement whereby only five non-Roman Catholics should be admitted.

Where the Section 6(3) (b) agreement is in place, the imaginary school already cited may accept five non-Catholics —the limit of the agreement—but if for one reason or another they only recruit 24 Catholics the amendment confirms the existing situation that they should not be forced to accept another non-Catholic to make up the standard number, even though the school remains one short of that number.

Amendment No. 82 seeks to place on the face of the Bill a continuation of agreements, where they exist, in the sort of cases described at Clause 11. I beg to move.

2.30 a.m.

Lord Hylton

In supporting the amendment perhaps I can point out that when replying to an earlier amendment the noble Lord, Lord Henley, defended the existing arrangement. Amendment No. 82 refers specifically to an existing arrangement under the 1980 Act. As has been pointed out, it continues an existing practice which tends to preserve the character and ethos of specific schools.

It is important in this context to remember that many Roman Catholic schools were built and created with 15 per cent. of voluntary contributions, often from parents, parishioners, from the diocese, and from a whole range of bodies outside the educational system as it then stood. That is only one reason why it is desirable to continue what already exists.

Baroness Blatch

I am well aware of the anxieties of voluntary bodies that the direction-making power in this clause could be used to override agreements for preserving the religious character of aided schools. But I hope that I can convince the Committee that their anxieties are without foundation. Both I and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State have great respect for the valuable contribution which Church schools have made to the education system over the years. Indeed, I absolutely respect the point made in regard to the 15 per cent. contribution and the efforts of parents. We will not allow that to be undermined.

Clause 11 must be read in conjunction with Clause 12. We believe that the body responsible for securing the supply of school places in an area needs a new power to deal with the tiny minority of pupils who are unable to obtain a place at a school within a reasonable distance of their homes. But we have no intention of allowing either LEAs or the funding agency to ride roughshod over the rights of schools or parents. That is why Clause 12 requires the direction-making body to consult all those concerned before it makes a direction. And, as an ultimate safeguard, the governing body of a school will have the right to refer a proposed direction to the Secretary of State.

We do not expect this power to be used at all frequently. It is rare for a pupil to be excluded from or refused admission to all suitable schools in the area. But plainly there will be occasions when it is reasonable, and plainly in the best interests of the child, that a school, even though it is full, should be required to admit a pupil; for example, when the nearest alternative school with spare places is some miles from the child's home.

I accept, of course, that the possibility of direction to a voluntary-aided school may arise. But the Secretary of State would only uphold a direction which would override the religious character of an aided school in exceptional circumstances where there was no other alternative within easy travelling distance. I trust that Members of the Committee will feel able to rest on that assurance and withdraw the amendment. I repeat that it would be only if there were no other alternative and that became the most appropriate school; with, of course, the right to challenge that decision.

Lord Northbourne

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for what she has said, which certainly gives some comfort on this issue. At this late hour I should like to have the opportunity of taking away what she has said to consider it further. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 83 to 85 not moved.]

Clause 11 agreed to.

Clause 12 [Procedure for giving direction]:

[Amendments Nos. 85A to 86C not moved.]

Clause 12 agreed to.

Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 87:

After Clause 12, insert the following new clause:

("Excluded pupils

.—(1) The Education (No. 2) Act 1986 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 23—

  1. (a) in sub-paragraph (ii) of paragraph (a) the words "or indefinite" are omitted; and
  2. (b) in paragraph (b) the words "or indefinite" are omitted.

(3) In section 24 paragraphs (c) and (e) are omitted.

(4) In section 25 paragraphs (d), (e) and (f) are omitted.").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 87 has broken loose from the group but the noble Lord need not seek for his notes. I move it only to say that I shall return at Report stage to the question of the ending of indefinite exclusions. That was covered in my noble friend's group but the noble Lord did not mention it in his reply. It is too important to leave aside. I shall be returning to it at a later stage. I beg to move.

Lord Henley

I merely say that I note what my noble friend says and will come back to this at a later stage.

Lord Elton

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 87A not moved.]

Clauses 13 and 14 agreed to.

Baroness Faithfull moved Amendment No. 87B:

After Clause 14, insert the following new clause:

("Mid-day dinner break

(".The mid-day dinner break shall be organised so as to enable all children to be seated together and served either with school dinners, a cafeteria meal or a meal brought from home.").

The noble Baroness said: We come on to a different subject and I feel quite hungry at the thought of it. I move this amendment out of experience of visiting several schools.

Since school dinners ceased under the previous Act, only children whose parents are in receipt of income support are supplied with school dinners. At one school I visited, the school bell rang at one o' clock and, tinkle, tinkle, tinkle, outside the gate of the school was the pizza van. There was a rush from the school to the pizza van. Children bought themselves a pizza, not having washed their hands. I happened to go on a spring day. They all sat about on the steps of the school eating their pizzas.

I do not think, first, on social grounds, that that is a good way for children to be brought up. I believe that the way school dinners used to be served provided a social training for children. They all sat down together. They had to talk together and talk to the staff, not that the staff always enjoyed it. Nevertheless, it was a social occasion. I believe that, from the point of view of the atmosphere and discipline of the school, school dinners were a good institution.

I realise that it would be unwise to recommend the return of school dinners as they used to be. Therefore I have said: The mid-day dinner break shall be organised so as to enable all children to be seated together and served either with school dinners"— to which the children whose parents are on income support are entitled. Even now a cafeteria meal that the children can buy is served. Alternatively, some children bring their meal from home. I believe that this amendment would serve to produce a better social atmosphere in school and would be healthy for the children. I beg to move.

Baroness Elles

It may be convenient if I speak to Amendment No. 88 which is grouped with Amendment No. 87B if that is acceptable to my noble friend the Minister. I should like to suggest that any education policy cannot ignore the importance of providing and maintaining certain standards for the health of the pupils who are meant to benefit from the education policy. Amendment No. 88 seeks to ensure that the Government accept their responsibility to make a contribution by publishing guidelines on the nutritional values required to provide for and maintain those children attending schools, whether LEA schools or self-governing grant-maintained schools.

As my noble friend Lady Faithfull has already said, at present not only is there no obligation on any authority or school to provide food for their pupils other than for those eligible for free school meals, but there is also no quantifiable or identifiable yardstick which sets out what those free meals should contain; so that the provision can vary from a couple of sandwiches, which I understand is sometimes the case under some LEAs, to what would generally be considered to be a proper hot meal. We should remind ourselves that this situation is applicable to those children of parents in the country's lowest income groups and for whom the school meal is frequently the only substantial meal of the day.

Taking into account school meals in general, however, there is a lack of adequate provision of certain nutritional contents in the diet which can, as we know, lead to a number of diseases; coronary heart disease being particularly prevalent. The foundations for that illness can begin in childhood. It is the single largest cause of death in this country as well as being the highest cause of death when the United Kingdom is compared with other developed countries. The question of coronary heart disease has been singled out as one of the key areas targeted in the recent report of the Department of Health, The Health of the Nation.

These are not the only problems which have arisen in this country, particularly among the young. There is the problem of obesity and in certain cases, for instance, severe behavioural problems which are influenced by unsatisfactory diet. Amendment No. 88 would place responsibility on the Secretary of State to issue guidelines—I emphasise guidelines—which would be widely drafted, offering wide options allowing for considerable flexibility, and setting out what are in effect minimum requirements for a healthy diet based on the needs at different ages and separate standards for boys and for girls.

Much work has already been done in this field. The national nutritional guidelines have been established by the committee for medical aspects of food policy and recent surveys have shown, in line with the Government's 1991 dietary reference values, that, for instance, in the case of a high proportion of girls both iron and calcium intake are below even the lower reference for nutrient intake.

These aspects of dietary recommendations have been skilfully analysed and recently published by an expert working group under the aegis of the Caroline Walker Trust. The findings were endorsed by all three major government departments concerned—the Department of Health, MAFF, the Department for Education—and supported by leading scientists in the field, including Sir Francis Avery Jones, a very distinguished gastro-enterologist.

The advantages of adopting this amendment are clear to me, at any rate, if not to my noble friend. There would be a standard attainable throughout the country; it would enable schools and LEAs, when publishing tenders for catering contractors, to identify required standards. For instance, one LEA in Berkshire used the Caroline Walker Trust publication to guide it. The catering contractor in that county which obtained the tender for Berkshire schools, emphasised the desirability for such standards to be identifiable when tendering.

Efficient and imaginative provision within the guidelines, and co-operation where possible in each school with the head teacher, has resulted in Berkshire with an increase in the take-up of school meals from about 30 per cent. to 39 per cent. in the space of about two years. Monitoring by the authority or school is also easier when there are guidelines on which to base their investigations into value for money and for the kinds of provisions supplied. In a recent survey by the Consumers' Association parents have responded with nine out of 10 in favour of the provision of school meals.

Finally, budgetary implications must not be overlooked. With grant-maintained schools and the setting up of local management schemes there could well be a dramatic slipping of standards of nutritional value in order to allocate funding for other purposes unless there is some guideline or target which, while not being mandatory or essential, should be encouraged to be followed. Parents and school governors would also have their responsibilities simplified if some kind of guidance is made available.

The immediate budgetary responsibility must also be seen against the background of the long-term health of children which in the end dictates the general level of good health in this country. Already in 1937, Boyd Orr recognised that, From the point of view of the State, the adoption of diet lower than the optimum is uneconomic. It leads to a great amount of preventable disease and ill health which lay a heavy financial burden on the State. If for no other reason, I very much hope that my noble friend will accept my amendment. I beg to move.

2.45 a.m.

Earl Russell

In supporting these amendments, I shall say only that I hope that the Department for Education will consider the excellent section on diet in the Government White Paper, The Health of the Nation.

Lord Elton

Those who read my noble friend's speech will find that it made an excellent case for the guidelines for which she is asking. It is not necessary to support it further.

I do not in all honesty expect the Government to accept the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Faithfull, but I hope that while the Bill is going through the House they will look at their school dinners policy and, perhaps over the years to come, will remember that it is not only a question of nutrition but of socialisation. As I have said before, what happens in the dinner break has a marked effect on what happens in the first period after the dinner break. The whole thing is part of the same policy.

Lord Rea

In supporting the two amendments tabled by the two noble Baronesses, I shall try to be as brief as possible although this is an extremely important topic. A mark of that importance is the fact that I am still here at 2.45 a.m. to support them. I am not alone in considering the amendments important. That is also the opinion of the organisation of which I am vice-chairman, the National Forum for Coronary Heart Disease Prevention, which represents 35 national bodies with an interest in the prevention of heart disease.

If the Minister agrees to the amendment here and now, that would be wonderful. If she intends to take it away and think about it, I seriously commend to her the report which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, on nutritional guidelines for school meals, published by the Caroline Walker Trust, which translates the recommendations of COMA, the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy, on recommended dietary allowances to the school situation. Several facts about diet in childhood have become scientifically much clearer since the nutritional guidelines for school meals were abolished in 1980—mistakenly, in the view of almost all nutritional expertise of all political shades.

With regard to coronary heart disease which has been mentioned and in which the United Kingdom is a world leader —if "leadership" is the right word for a parade of death certificates—it is now clear that the origins of this illness occur early in life and that diet in infancy and early childhood matters. It is now clear that those adults who develop coronary heart disease are more likely to have had a nutritionally deprived childhood than those with healthy hearts. The ill effects of that can be countered to a great extent by good, well balanced meals at school, to which the children who are most in need will be entitled because children with a deprived diet are more likely to develop heart disease in later life. I commend both amendments to the Committee.

Lord Judd

Perhaps I may say from this Front Bench that if the Minister is able to respond positively to the amendments, she will have the full-hearted support of the Opposition.

Lord Henley

That Minister is not responding; I am responding, but no doubt I shall have the full support of the noble Lord.

Responsibility for school meals matters rests with local education authorities and the governing bodies of grant-maintained schools. It is for them to decide what sort of service should be provided—a three-course meal, a snack service or the statutory minimum of a meal for those entitled to free school meals only—and the facilities that are appropriate to deliver those meals. The Government do not specify the type of service that LEAs and schools must offer, but they must provide a meal free of charge to any pupil whose families receive income support. We are satisfied that these arrangements allow LEAs and schools to provide a service which takes into account local priorities and tastes—because they differ across the country—while establishing safeguards for those on the lowest incomes.

The amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Faithfull would require schools to make arrangements for all children to sit together to eat either a meal prepared by the school meals service or food that they have brought from home. But children's eating habits have changed. Not all children eat school meals or packed lunches. A significant minority now choose to make their own arrangements, which might involve going home for lunch or eating off the school premises. What pupils eat, or do not eat, at lunchtime is a matter for the pupils and their parents.

A requirement for all pupils to be seated together would place unacceptable constraints on the organisation of schools. It is for the head teacher of a school to plan the school day. He may, with good reason, decide that dinner should be taken in two sittings, with half the pupils in lessons while the other half are eating, and to make his arrangements for lunchtime supervision of the pupils accordingly. It is entirely a matter for the individual school.

LEAs and schools are at liberty to specify nutritional standards to those who prepare meals. Most authorities have introduced "healthy eating" options on school meals menus and are changing their ingredients and cooking methods in response to medical advice.

The Education Act 1980 removed the requirement on LEAs to provide meals which conformed to government-determined nutritional standards. LEAs supported the change. Guidelines were abolished because they resulted in a great deal of what I am told is called plate-waste and were very expensive. Furthermore, they acted as a straitjacket within which LEAs were unable to make improvements in terms of variety of food, use of convenience foods and changes in food delivery, such as the cash cafeteria system.

It would be impractical to impose national nutritional standards on the meals served in schools today. To apply standards to meals served in secondary schools would be very difficult, since most operate cash cafeteria systems offering pupils multiple choices. In primary schools, most of which still offer a set meal, the problem, as most parents will know, is creating meals which children will eat. Children have a greater choice than before. The fact is that, if school meals are not to their liking, however nutritionally advisable, pupils will not eat them, will bring their own food, go without, eat snacks or eat at shops and cafes outside the school gates, where they are likely to eat worse at greater cost.

But, as I have said, an absence of government guidelines does not mean that no thought is being given to nutritional standards. The Caroline Walker Trust, mentioned by my noble friend Lady Elles and the noble Lord, Lord Rea, published last November a report on nutritional guidelines for school meals. The report includes guidelines for the nutritional composition of school meals which the authors hope will be adopted voluntarily by school meals providers in drawing up tender specifications. The Government have acknowledged the trust's initiative as a contribution towards the aims set out in The Health of the Nation White Paper, referred to by my noble kinsman Lord Russell. The practicability of the guidelines is to be tested by the catering working group of the Nutrition Task Force established following the White Paper. Government departments, catering groups and representatives of the School Meals Campaign are all involved with this.

For the reasons I have given, I believe that it is inappropriate for the Government to dictate what a school's lunchtime arrangements should be or to promulgate national nutritional guidelines. Those matters are best left to others. I hope therefore that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Faithfull

I thank my noble friend for his reply, by which, I must confess, I was somewhat shocked. It seemed to me to be divorced from the reality of what is happening in schools today. Many women are working. They give their children nothing to eat, either before they go to school, or for lunch at school. That is not true of every child in every family, but a high proportion of them.

I sought the views of some children. I spoke to three different sets of children from three different schools. One would hardly believe it, but they all wanted school dinners back again. However, they said that they used not to like the school dinners provided in times gone by. When I asked them what kind of school dinners they wanted, they said, "We should like to have good salads and good fruit". They especially wanted good fruit.

I am sorry that my noble friend does not think that this requirement can be included in the guidelines. I can quite see that Amendment No. 87B should not be included on the face of the Bill, but I think that it should have gone into the guidelines. I might bring this matter back at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Elles moved Amendment No. 88:

Before Clause 15, insert the following new clause:

("School meals

. The Secretary of State shall issue guidelines to local education authorities and grant-maintained schools on nationally agreed nutritional standards for school meals.").

The noble Baroness said: I was disappointed, not surprisingly, by my noble friend's reply to the previous amendment. There was no question of dictating what anyone should eat. If the Minister had looked at page 70 of the Caroline Walker Trust report he would have seen a summary of nutritional guidelines for school meals. That could not be simpler. It merely dictates —if one can use that word—the amount of iron, calcium and nutrients which should be provided in school meals during a certain period.

I thought that that was a minor request. I understand that the Government may not want to change the face of the Bill at this stage. However, I hope that the Minister will ensure that schools are issued with the guidelines even if they are not included in the Bill. That is the least that can be done by a responsible Department for Education. After all, it is responsible not only for the moral, spiritual, educational and intellectual development of children but, above all, for their health. If they were not in good health they would not be able to benefit from the teaching. I beg to move.

Lord Henley

I wish to stress that we acknowledged the publication of the Caroline Walker Trust. We acknowledged that its initiative was a useful contribution towards the aims set out in White Paper, The Health of the Nation. We do not believe that it is a matter which should appear on the face of the Bill. However, I am prepared to take away my noble friend's advice and look at the possibility of guidelines. Perhaps we can return to the matter at a later stage.

Baroness Elles

I thank my noble friend for that much more helpful reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 15 [Miscellaneous functions relating to grant-maintained schools]:

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 89:

Page 8, line 25, leave out paragraph (b)

The noble Lord said: The amendment removes from Clause 15 the reference to Clause 98. It is a technical amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

Perhaps the Minister will give the Committee a few words of explanation. I understand that the amendment prevents the Secretary of State from delegating to the funding agency the responsibility for approving the change of site of a grant-maintained school. What is the purpose of including that provision?

Lord Henley

It requires that a self-governing state school may transfer to a new site only by order of the Secretary of State. I stress that the amendment is technical. It is a necessary consequential change so that new provisions which we shall be introducing at a later stage in our deliberations regulate the transfer of site of both self-governing and LEA-maintained schools. The new provisions will replace Clause 98.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 15, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 16 agreed to.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 90:

After Clause 16, insert the following new clause:

Functions in respect of grants for certain expenditure due to immigrant population

(".—(1) The Secretary of State may by order impose on a funding authority the function of paying on his behalf grant under section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966 (grants in respect of special provision for immigrants) payable by him by virtue of section 211(1) (a) or (b) of the Education Reform Act 1988 (grant-maintained schools, CTCs and CCTAs).

(2) The payments shall be of such amounts and be paid to such persons as the Secretary of State may, in accordance with section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966, determine.").

The noble Baroness said: The amendment provides for an enabling power so that, should the Secretary of State so wish, he would be able to transfer to a funding authority the mechanical function of paying Section 11 grants to grant-maintained schools, the education associations, the CTCs and the CCTAs. The funding authority would not judge claims for Section 11 grants but would simply make those payments of Section 11 grants which the Home Secretary had determined. I beg to move.

Lord Judd

We are supportive of the principle behind the amendment but perhaps the Minister will clarify a few points. Will the responsibility of the grant be transferred to the Department for Education given that nearly 90 per cent. of the grant is used for educational projects? Will the terms of the grant be extended to include all immigrants, not only those from new Commonwealth countries?

I understand that Section 11 grant is given pro rata to grant-maintained schools, no matter how small the number of children from new Commonwealth countries. I give just one example. I gather that in Tower Hamlets a Church of England secondary school with few ethnic minority pupils receives an excessive share of the Section 11 money that is given to Tower Hamlets. Why is that so? How will the grant be distributed to CTCs? I hope that the Minister can clarify those points.

Also, what explanation do the Government have for the 30 per cent. reduction in the amount of Section 11 money available for the 1994–95 financial year?

3 a.m.

Baroness Blatch

First, the intention is that the grant remains with the Home Office. However, the noble Lord raises an interesting point in that regard; namely, the number of ethnic minorities covered by the grant. The noble Lord will know that that is a contentious issue on which considerable debate is taking place between my department and the Home Office. We know the particular challenges which schools face when they are dealing with a child who has a language difficulty. It should not matter from which country that child originates. If there is a language difficulty, that imposes a burden on the teacher in the classroom. However, that is a matter for other legislation at some other time.

As regards the other point about allocation systems, this amendment is about the mechanism for allowing grant to be paid. I hope that the noble Lord will support it. I shall write to him about the allocation and distribution system.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Elton moved Amendment No. 91:

After Clause 16, insert the following new clause:

("Duty of Secretary of State to issue guidelines

.—(1) The Secretary of State shall issue guidelines as to the arrangements to be made by—

  1. (a) every school; and
  2. (b) every local education authority
in England and Wales to ascertain, where practicable, and to give due consideration to the views of pupils.

(2) The guidelines shall in particular provide for arrangements to ensure—

  1. (a) that proper consideration is given to the views of the registered pupils at a school as to matters affecting them in the running of that school; and
  2. (b) that in making any decision affecting an individual pupil, the ascertainable views of that pupil about the decision are given due consideration, having regard to his age and understanding.").

The noble Lord said: Two organisations have drawn to my attention the subscription by the United Kingdom to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child. Both have suggested stronger amendments than this in order to secure compliance with a duty which will fall on this country on 1st January next year. I do not advance any particular merit in the amendment except that it will give my noble friend the opportunity to say what is the position and whether any amendment is necessary. I beg to move.

Lord Henley

My advice is that there is no conflict between the Education Bill and the UN convention. Article 12 of the convention states that the child shall in particular be provided with the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child. We believe that the provisions of the Children Act should cater for that. Therefore, I believe that my noble friend's amendment is unnecessary to bring us within the ambit of Article 12.

Lord Elton

I must read that reply before I understand it. In the expectation that I shall but without any promise not to return to the matter, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 92 not moved.]

Baroness Cox moved Amendment No. 93:

After Clause 16, insert the following new clause:

("Complaints procedure

.—(1) Section 23 of the Education Reform Act 1988 shall be amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (1), the words "with the approval of the Secretary of State, and" shall be omitted.

(3) After subsection (1) there shall be inserted— (1A) The Secretary of State shall by regulations provide guidance for local education authorities' working arrangements subject to subsection (1) above and such guidance shall provide for complaints to be dealt with

  1. (a) speedily and
  2. (b) anonymously, if the complainant so requests."

(4) After subsection (2) there shall be inserted— (2A) In the case of a complaint made under section 68 or 99 of the Education Act 1944, the Secretary of State shall be required to acknowledge receipt of a written complaint within 3 weeks of receiving it and give due reason to the complainant if he has failed to dispose of the complaint within 3 calendar months".").

The noble Baroness said: This is a probing amendment. It seeks to insert a new clause relating to complaints procedures: first, to speed up a response to complaints procedures; and secondly, to allow them to be made anonymously if parents so wish.

Under Sections 68 and 99 of the Education Act 1944 parents and others have had the right to complain to the Secretary of State. But the more recent Education Reform Act provided parents with greater scope for making their anxieties heard at local level. Section 23 of the Act required all LEAs to set up local complaints procedures to deal with complaints about the curriculum. Each local procedure must be acceptable to the Department for Education. Parents can complain about LEA policy or the policy of a school. Under the Act, they cannot complain directly to the Secretary of State until the complaint has been dealt with locally.

Local complaints procedures are excellent in principle but there is evidence that LEAs can and indeed have dragged their feet in dealing with complaints. There has also been evidence of victimisation of parents who have complained. There is also an anxiety that parents are ignorant of their legal rights.

I give two examples. In June 1989 Mrs. Denise Bell complained about Ealing's religious education service. It was not until May 1990, nearly a year later, that the complaint was considered by the LEA and formally dismissed. Mrs. Bell then complained to the Secretary of State and the Department for Education took a further 16 months to deal with that complaint. Mrs. Bell eventually succeeded in her complaint but the whole process took over two years. Mrs. Bell also suffered a certain amount of intimidation. In fact it often takes a great deal of courage as a parent to lodge a complaint; that is, courage not only on one's own part but on the part of one's children who may be on the receiving end of victimisation.

More generally, the comprehensive report from the National Consumer Council of November 1992 highlighted instances where parental complaints had been dealt with satisfactorily and had led to changes in school policies. However, it also reported that the current system needed tightening up. For example, one LEA rejected a complaint with a terse letter and gave no reasons whatever for its decision. Another complaint took four months to be dealt with locally and a year by the Secretary of State. The report's recommendations include, timelimits for acknowledging complaints, replying to requests for information and … the final response to the complainant should be set and made public". This proposed new clause would require the Secretary of State to regulate the local complaints procedure so that complaints can be made speedily and, if the complainant so desires, anonymously. It also suggests a time limit on the Secretary of State to acknowledge a complaint and give due reasons if he fails to do so within that specified time limit. This is a probing amendment but I hope my noble friend might be sympathetic to the principles behind it, particularly as regards parameters of time and of the possibility of anonymity to protect parents and their children who might feel that they needed to make a complaint. I beg to move.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

I wish to express general sympathy for what the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has said certainly as regards the anxiety about complaints not being dealt with within an adequate time. However, I am a little uneasy about the way this measure is expressed here. I wonder whether it might not be better to suggest, for example, that if a complaint has not been dealt with within a specified time by the local education authority, a person has a right to complain to the Secretary of State. I am uneasy, too, about anonymous complaints. I quite understand the reasons why such a suggestion is being made, but a great deal of mischief can be made by people who cannot be held accountable for the complaint that is being made. I hope we shall not pursue that course.

Baroness Blatch

At the outset I must say that my noble friend has my admiration as she has sat through the full deliberations on the debate today and has performed duties too. I know that she is not well and I am sorry that her amendment is being discussed at such a late hour. I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendments, and certainly with the principle of them. I know that people are concerned at the speed with which complaints are dealt and at the intimidation that often arises in the process.

Let us look first at the proposed new subsection after subsection (1). It suggests that the Secretary of State should provide guidance to local education authorities by means of regulations. I am not sure that regulations are the appropriate vehicle for issuing guidance, but in any event the Secretary of State has already provided guidance to LEAs about arrangements for the consideration of complaints about the curriculum. DES Circular 1/89 outlined the criteria LEAs should follow when setting up procedures for the local handling of complaints and required them to submit their proposed arrangements for the Secretary of State's approval. It stipulated that the Secretary of State would need to be satisfied that the arrangements would offer full and fair consideration to any complaint and avoid undue delay. It specifically highlighted the need to incorporate a mechanism to identify urgent complaints and to institute procedures to consider these appropriately. Every LEA has since had its procedures approved by the Secretary of State.

I recognise the concern that some parents may lack the confidence to make their complaint or will hesitate for fear that their child will suffer in some way. The circular of guidance specifically points out that a complainant should be allowed to be accompanied when making representations and that arrangements for an interpreter's presence should be made where necessary. Beyond that, there is no bar to a case being handled by a third party on the complainant's behalf, although I suspect that anonymity would be easier to preserve where the complaint was of a general nature than when it referred to provision made for a particular child.

I believe that the point has been made by the right reverend Prelate that the amendment may be defective. It is not so much a matter of anonymity but of the protection of the parent while the complaint is being made. It is difficult sometimes for parents to go through this procedure. I am sympathetic to that part of the amendment, but there is no need to legislate for guidance when arrangements are already in place. I shall willingly keep the adequacy of the guidance under review.

Turning to the proposed amendment after subsection (2), this concerns complaints which, having exhausted the local machinery, are referred to the Secretary of State under Sections 68 or 99 of the Education Act 1944. I agree entirely with my noble friend and other Members of the Committee that it is reasonable and desirable to ensure a prompt acknowledgment of any complaints that are received in the department, and for a progress report or explanation to be provided if it proves impossible to resolve a complaint within a specified time. The department's internal procedures already cover such issues but I have asked for a check to be undertaken to ensure that the timescales proposed in the amendment are always adhered to. I believe that it is appropriate to include this sort of prescriptive detail in primary legislation.

We aim to dispose of complaints as speedily as possible, but the timing is not totally under our control. Most complaints call for consultation with the school and the local education authority involved, and also with the Office for Standards in Education. Given the limited number of precedents, issues are often raised on which legal advice is necessary. Moreover, there is sometimes further correspondence with the complainant, who may introduce new evidence after making his or her initial complaint. As a result, some cases take much longer to resolve than the department would wish, but we shall continue to make every effort to keep delays to a minimum. My noble friend knows that there is a great deal of scope for improvement, but I hope that she will withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Cox

I should like to thank the right reverend Prelate for his support in principle. I should like to reassure my noble friend that when I used the word "anonymous" it may have given the wrong connotation. I meant that a complaint might be made through a third party, say a parent governor, so that the child would not be picked out and victimised. However, I accept her point.

I thank my noble friend for her sympathetic response and her assurances concerning guidance and checking what is currently happening. I should like to read her remarks in the clear light of dawn, which is imminent. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Blatch

Before my noble friend sits down, having heard my words coming back to me perhaps I may apologise now rather than tomorrow in front of a crowded Chamber for the fact that I said that I believed that it was appropriate to include this sort of prescriptive detail on the face of the Bill. I meant to say that I did not think that it was appropriate to put it on the face of the Bill.

Baroness Cox

Sadly, that is how I understood my noble friend's remarks. While reserving the right to return to the matter later, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 17 [Resolution of disputes]:

Lord Judd moved Amendment No. 94:

Page 9, line 1, at beginning insert: (".—(1) There shall be established a body corporate to be known as the Schools Tribunal, to exercise in relation to England and Wales the functions conferred upon them

(2) The Secretary of State shall appoint—

  1. (a) a President of the Tribunal,
  2. (b) the panel of persons who may serve as chairman of the Tribunal, and
  3. (c) a panel of persons who may serve as the other two members of the Tribunal apart from the chairman.

(3) The President and the members of the chairmen's panel shall be appointed by the Lord Chancellor.

(4) The members of the lay panel shall be appointed by the Secretary of State.

(5) Regulations under subsection (1) above may provide for the jurisdiction of the Tribunal to be exercised by such number of tribunals as may be determined from time to time by the President.

(6) The Secretary of State may, with the consent of the Treasury, provide such staff and accommodation as the Tribunal may require.").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to set up an independent body on the lines of the special needs tribunal to resolve disputes between the funding authorities and local education institutions.

Given the lack of clarity over the working arrangements of the parallel duties of local education authorities and the funding authorities it seems highly likely that disputes will occur not infrequently. The most obvious example is where there is a need to close a school within an area and the funding authority wishes to see an LEA school close and the LEA to see a grant-maintained school close. In such a case there may be many considerations to take into account: the catchment area of the school which will close, the alternative schools for children in that area and the provisions of the school proposed for closure which meet the particular needs of the community in terms of the curriculum, denominational provision or single sex provision.

Closing a school is always an emotive matter for the local community. It therefore seems appropriate to have an independent body familiar with similar situations with the experience and knowledge to take the decision, able to adjudicate in such cases. The tribunal proposed is similar in composition to that set up to deal with the special needs cases. I hope that the Minister will be able to give the proposition serious consideration. I beg to move.

3.15 a.m.

Lord Henley

I shall give the matter serious consideration. However, I have to say that I believe it is an invention of an additional complicated and completely unnecessary bureaucracy. I think it would also be a considerable waste of public money. Clause 17 already provides for the Secretary of State to resolve disputes. Perhaps the noble Lord thinks—I do not know—that in the example he gave, the Secretary of State would always find in favour of the funding agency, whatever "in favour" in that context might mean. There can be no question of such a situation arising. The Secretary of State must act reasonably at all times. He is, of course, open to judicial review.

Nor do I accept that there necessarily will be that many disputes. I hope very much that LEAs and the funding agency will be able to work together in harmony the great majority of the time. I think that disputes will arise rarely. The Bill tries to spell out in some detail which body is responsible for which functions. However, we recognise that there is the possibility. That is why we intend to legislate in the way that we do.

Lastly, I have to stress the cost. The proposed tribunal would have associated costs. Those costs would start to accumulate even before the tribunal was required to resolve any disputes. Members of an operating tribunal have to be drawn from panels of potential individuals. Those potential individuals would have to be appointed, a time-consuming and costly operation. I hope therefore that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Judd

I find that a bit rich. We are seeing an immense growth in bureaucracy with the funding authorities and the complexity that will arise from the legislation. To refer to the proposal as unnecessary bureaucracy when it is designed to smooth the working of the bureaucratic muddle that will be created is to me a little disingenuous.

There will be problems of credibility for the poor old Secretary of State. He will say, "We think we ought to set up a funding authority now, and it will take on increased powers." Then some disputes arise and he makes the judgment about what is right in the dispute. I do not believe that that will build up public confidence in the system.

Perhaps I may say this in the best possible spirit. It has been a long and exacting day. It is sad that we finish on a note that is characteristic of the preparation of the Bill, its passage through the Commons and the way in which it has been considered in this Committee. The one position of the Government is that they will not listen to any suggestions, however good in intention and however constructive, which come from outside their own ranks and bureaucracy.

Lord Henley

I simply do not accept that. I have taken on board quite a few points. I repeat the points I made. I do not accept that it is necessary to create another layer of bureaucracy. I do not believe that there will be the disputes that the noble Lord claims.

Again I must stress that the Secretary of State will be acting in a quasi-judicial manner. He therefore must act reasonably at all times. He is, of course, open to judicial review.

Lord Judd

I am a realist and withdraw. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 95 not moved.]

Clause 17 agreed to.

Clause 18 [Duty to compile information and conduct research about provision of education]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 96:

Page 9, line 11 leave out ("relevant")

The noble Baroness said: I have spoken to Amendment No. 96. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 18, as amended, agreed to.

Viscount Astor

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

House adjourned at twenty minutes past three o'clock.

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