HL Deb 14 June 1994 vol 555 cc1584-6

3.2 p.m.

Baroness David asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made on proposals for consolidating the extant Education Acts from 1944.

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

My Lords, a Bill to consolidate these Acts is in the process of being drafted by parliamentary counsel at the Law Commission. Since, subject to minor amendments by the Education Act 1993, the law relating to further and higher education is comprised in the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 it is proposed that the consolidation Bill should deal mainly with the law relating to schools.

Baroness David

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer but we have in the past been promised a consolidation Act. Is she aware that since the 1944 Act there have been 35 Acts and the 36th is going through Parliament at this moment? It is the 14th Act since 1979. Only nine Acts have been repealed completely and the 1993 Act repeals quite a lot of all but the most formal provisions of the Education Act 1981. I believe that the Law Commission has been working on consolidation since 1987 but there have been four big Acts since then. Will the Minister give some idea about when this process will be complete?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, it is not possible to be precise. The noble Baroness has given the catalogue of work that must be undertaken. It is a large task and it will be a large Bill, incorporating material from more than 20 Acts. The noble Baroness also pointed to the fact that some consolidation has already taken place. For example, the 1993 Act consolidated parts of the 1944, 1980, 1981 and 1988 Acts. The work is in hand and the noble Baroness is right in saying that it is desirable. We hope that it will not be too long before we see it.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I am relieved that consolidation is to take place: I congratulate my noble friend. Will she bear in mind the desirability of having a separate statute which deals with the education and training of those with special needs?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point. I can assure him that the whole subject of legislation relating to children with special needs will be part of the consolidation Act.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, is this not a comparatively simple piece of consolidation, probably direct reenactment?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I defer to the noble and learned Lord about whether the task is simple. I am told that it is a very large task. I believe that it is time-consuming and complex. I simply take advice from parliamentary counsel that the work is in hand but, of course, other legislation often takes priority.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, what is the use of consolidating the legislation when a great deal of it will be repealed after the next election?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, it would be helpful to have that in writing. There is some very desirable legislation on the statute book and I believe that it would be a very retrograde step to consider the possibility of repealing it. It is an important task and the work is in hand.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does the Minister accept that a consolidation Bill will greatly assist the process of repeal rather than having to deal with a whole range of annual Bills, as we have had to do of late? Does she accept that there is a great deal of anxiety and pressure among teachers, governors and parents in respect of the great weight of contentious and disruptive legislation that there has been in recent years and that consolidation will help to clarify the situation? Will she also confirm that the indication of consolidation means that in the years ahead we shall have a moratorium on such legislation?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I understand the point that has been made about assisting schools, teachers and researchers to facilitate their work when dealing with legislation. We issue a great deal of guidance to help people in that task. Consolidation, where it is possible to incorporate it in Acts, takes place. I can repeat only that it is important work. We believe that it is desirable and the work is in hand.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, in view of the talk about repeal, does the Minister remember that Part III of the Act relating to children with special educational needs had the support of all sides of your Lordships' House?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, again, my noble friend makes an important point. A great deal of legislation is welcomed by the whole House. That includes the Education Act 1944, which I understand has support from the other side of the House. Much legislation, including that dealing with young people with special needs, education and training, the national curriculum and so forth, is desirable. We are talking about the technicality of consolidating legislation passed by both Houses of Parliament.

Baroness David

My Lords, is the Minister aware that when talking about the 1993 Act the Secretary of State referred to it as being the last piece of the jigsaw as regards schooling? During the Report stage of the Bill that is now going through your Lordships' House, the Minister used the same words and referred to the last piece of the jigsaw. Can we hope that we shall no longer have a Bill a year, as we have been doing lately?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, at the risk of repeating myself, I must say that I cannot pre-empt what will come in any future parliamentary Sessions. I thought that noble Lords opposite were promising a good deal of legislation in place of the legislation we are talking about today.