HL Deb 02 December 1993 vol 550 cc662-5

3.19 p.m.

Baroness David asked Her Majesty's Government:

What they estimate will be the cost of putting the Education Bill [H.L.] through Parliament.

The Minister of State, Department for Education (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, we estimate the cost to the department to be in the region of £80,000.

Baroness David

My Lords, does the Minister not think that that is a waste of money? The Government are keen on containing public spending. The second part of the Bill on student unions could perfectly well have been dealt with by other means. A great many of the clauses could have been dealt with under the Education Act 1992. The first part of the Bill relating to the teacher training agency is unnecessary. The higher education funding council can deal with those matters for Wales. Why waste public money and a great deal of the time of this House on a Bill which is unnecessary?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, first, the bulk of the Bill deals with initial teacher training reforms. The noble Baroness and many of her friends on the Benches opposite would have jumped up with apoplexy in this House had we precipitately brought forward a Bill on teacher training without full consultation.

Secondly, once a year it is the freedom of every government, through the gracious Speech, to address both Houses with their programme. That was done. There were four days of debate in this House. The point was not raised. It certainly was not voted upon at that time. Through the democratic process the issue is now before the House, which can discuss the measures in the Bill. It is now for the House to do the job which it does well: to scrutinise and, if necessary, revise the Bill.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, would it not be better to defer debate on the Bill until we have the Second Reading on Tuesday?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, my noble friend has put more succinctly the point that I sought to make rather clumsily.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, will the Government consider dropping the Bill altogether, thus saving every penny of the amount to which the Minister referred? The two main features of the Bill are completely irrelevant to educational problems at present. We realise that the student unions' proposals were put in the Bill to obtain a necessary cheer at the Tory Party Conference.

On teacher training, every educational association and organisation is completely opposed to the proposals. When will the Government enter the real world on educational problems?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, through the gracious Speech the Bill was announced. There were four days of debate; a vote was not taken at the end of the debate. The Bill received a First Reading. That was passed without comment in this House. The Bill must now be left to the democratic process of this House.

Lord Elton

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady David, has revealed that her Question relates to the appropriate nature of expenditure on procedures in this House. Does my noble friend have a note of the cost of conducting yesterday's procedure on a superfluous Motion of no confidence?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I do not. However, it was a question that I posed to myself in order to obtain the information for today.

So long as the democratic processes are properly used, and people are given proper opportunities to discuss Bills, it is right and appropriate that staff are paid the cost of their work in association with a Bill. In this specific case staff costs—I refer to superannuation, national insurance and so on—are covered. So, too, are all the internal and related printing costs of the Bill. It is absolutely right that that should be so. It is now for the House to discuss the Bill in its appropriate stages.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, do the costs that the Minister has given us include the fixed costs—that is, ministerial and Civil Service time—and do the Government take those costs into account when deciding whether to introduce a Bill?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I do not receive any bonus for taking a Bill through the House. My salary is not deducted if I do not have responsibility for a Bill. So far as concerns my services, the costs are absolutely neutral. Indeed, so too are the costs of the civil servants, who would be working anyway. We have costed work that is superfluous. That is a Freudian slip. I should have said "additional". We have taken the genuine costs of the department over and above the normal work of the department. The staff costs, which include national insurance, superannuation for staff time and overtime for the hours that are kept in this House, are £48,000, with £10,500 for overtime. That figure is dependent on how long we take on the Bill. There is £20,000 for all related printing and reprinting of the Bill as it proceeds through the House. We have rounded the figure up for miscellaneous items. The figure is actually on the high side.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I do not object terribly to education Bills; we have had 15. It is the Education Acts that I oppose. The Bills do not seem to do any damage.

The noble Baroness states that £80,000 is the marginal cost of producing the Bill. Did she also state—I may have missed it during the general jocularity—that the figure does not include any costs for your Lordships' House and another place? Is that an additional cost that we could obtain if we asked for it?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, we did try, but, given that there is Question Time every day, once Members are present, the costs of their attendance and travelling to and from the House are already part of the overheads of the House. They are not included in those figures.

Much is being made of the number of education Bills and subsequent Acts that have passed through the House. However, I remind noble Lords of some of the items that these Bills covered. I refer to the repealing of the requirement on local authorities to set up comprehensive schools; the very important special needs Bill based on the Warnock report; the national curriculum, to which I understand noble Lords opposite agree; funding councils for further and higher education; education support grants for training of teachers; a pay review body for teachers—it was welcomed by all sides of the House; and the abolition of the ILEA, for which I do not expect support from the other side of the House.

Lord Peston

My Lords, perhaps I may pursue the other matter which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, raised. Since many of us have not previously seen many of the friends of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, who were present at Question Time yesterday, will the noble Baroness make absolutely sure that they know how to fill up the relevant form?

Noble Lords


Lord Peston

We can then calculate correctly the cost of running this House.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the Government can be well pleased with the impressive vote of confidence on the Motion put forward by noble Lords opposite. However, I believe that it was the feeling of this House yesterday that it was not the best use of time and certainly not the best use of money.

Baroness David

My Lords, the Minister criticised me for not having raised the matter during the debate on the Queen's Speech. Perhaps she would be kind enough to read my speech again. She will find that I criticised the Government for bringing forward a Bill in which the student unions proposals could have been dealt with by making certain acts by students ultra vires. That measure was unnecessary; and I stated that.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I apologise unreservedly if I did not say that the noble Baroness criticised the Bill; she did so. However, there was an opportunity to vote. There was also opportunity to comment at First Reading, and that was not done.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, is the Minister aware that implementing that legislation will cost the universities a great deal more than £80,000 a year?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, that is a detail that I have no doubt will be dealt with at great length in the course of discussing the Bill in Committee.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, did I understand the Minister to say that we did not vote at First Reading? If that is right, she surely knows that there is a strong convention that we do not vote on First Reading. Would the noble Baroness like to comment?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, it is an unusual question. I stated that the Bill was mentioned in the gracious Speech. The debate was not voted upon. I had understood by rumour, if rumour is anything to go by, that there was to have been a vote on the gracious Speech, but there was no vote. There was too no comment at First Reading.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Wakeham)

My Lords, as the matter has been raised, for the guidance of your Lordships perhaps I may read from the Companion to the Standing Orders which states: The First Reading is almost always accorded without dissent or debate, both as a matter of courtesy and because the House has normally no knowledge of the Bill until it is printed; but it is not unknown for the First Reading to be discussed, opposed or refused".

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, thank you.