HL Deb 01 June 1998 vol 590 cc122-76

(" . The Secretary of State shall keep under review all aspects of the new framework for maintained schools established by this Part of this Act, and shall report annually to Parliament on the new arrangements for the supply of school places and admission arrangements, with a view to bringing forward revised arrangements should it be found that the new framework unfairly discriminates against any category of school.").

The noble Baroness said: This is a very simple amendment which draws attention to the desirability of a parliamentary annual review of the new framework for maintained schools established by this part of the Bill. It is undeniable that there has been considerable unease in your Lordships' House about these new measures. I do not intend to refer to any of the arguments that have been deployed. I hope that no one else will use this particular amendment to go through those arguments all over again. However, there was considerable unease. The amendment would require Parliament to review whether the arrangements were acceptable, and any significant trend in the closure or amalgamation of church schools, special schools, grammar schools and so on could be challenged or prevented through revised arrangements.

I hope that the noble Lord will consider the amendment and will be willing to return to it at a later stage. I am particularly encouraged in that hope as a result of the reply of the noble Baroness to my noble friend Lady Maddock during the debate on whether Clause 24 should stand part of the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

If I understand correctly that the issue is parliamentary scrutiny, I believe that the amendment is unnecessary since the Government will monitor how the new framework is bedding down as part of the normal evaluation process of any major policy. It is always open to any noble Lord to ask a Parliamentary Question about any aspect of government policy. I see no need for an annual report to Parliament on these specific aspects of the Bill. I give the noble Baroness, and Opposition spokesmen generally, credit when I say that they will get a lot more mileage in parliamentary terms other than through an annual report.

The new categories of school will be different, with distinctive characteristics to match the aspirations of schools. There is no question of unfair discrimination in favour of or against any particular category, if that is the thrust of the amendment. The new arrangements on school places, planning and admissions will contain safeguards to ensure that all categories of school are treated fairly.

Each school organisation committee and adjudicator must behave reasonably and lawfully. Every case must be considered on its merits. While members of the school organisation committee will be organised in and will vote as groups, all members must be able to show that cases have been considered properly. Reasons for decisions must be related clearly to the case put and the view expressed upon it. There can be no question of a school organisation committee taking a policy decision to treat a particular category of school differently from others.

Those are more effective safeguards than that intended by the mover of the amendment. I hope that the noble Baroness will agree that with those inbuilt safeguards there will be no need for the Secretary of State to police the new framework for cases of unfairness. On that basis, I hope that she will agree to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

I must confess to being not entirely satisfied with that response. There is a great deal of difference between relying upon an individual Member in the other place to ask a Question and requiring the Government to make a report to the other place. The two things are completely different. I shall consult my noble friends. I shall read Hansard. I may well write to the Minister on this subject. I do not preclude bringing it back again at the next stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 27 [Proposals for establishment or alteration of community, foundation or voluntary school]:

Lord Elis-Thomas moved Amendment No. 114:

Page 25, line 27, at end insert ("and— (ii) to the requirements of schools with a different character").

The noble Lord said: I shall speak also to Amendment No. 141. The amendments are grouped together as they both concern pluralism, but two different kinds of pluralism. One is the pluralism of individual schools, and the second—a more familiar theme of mine—is the pluralism of the governance of the countries and nations of these islands. I shall not speak at any length on that, because that is a subject that will entertain us tomorrow and Wednesday.

With the first amendment we are dealing with the whole issue, which was debated in another place, of the Government's attitude towards schools which have a different form of curriculum. It is important to raise this issue in the Bill, because we need to state a case that schools that deliver the equivalent of the standards of the national curriculum in other forms of schooling can, indeed, form part of the maintained system.

In the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship they have established over 75 years 26 autonomous schools in the UK; 44 kindergartens; 730 schools worldwide; 1,500 kindergartens; and 60 teacher training institutes. They have an impressive track record of educational performance. It is educational performance which is dedicated to international principles and to a specific and proven form and method of teaching.

The pursuit of an international curriculum by these schools is at least the equivalent of what is pursued in terms of the national curriculum in the UK. As someone who was involved in various stages of the Education Reform Act 1988 which introduced the national curriculum, I have always been unhappy about the adjective "national" as applied to school curricula, because school curricula should be about the development of pupils; it should not be about the imposition of state standards, to use the national parlance.

The whole methodology of the Waldorf schools, with the extended teacher/pupil relationship over many school years, and, in particular, the emphasis on the greater integration of curricula which has always been a feature of those school, is now becoming more accepted throughout the school system. We realise the weaknesses of the artificial boundaries between the humanities, language, mathematical skills and science that we have imposed within the existing national curriculum.

For those reasons, it is important to recognise that there should be a method by which such schools can find their way into the maintained sector. Such issues as the integrated curriculum approach, the emphasis on different forms of pedagogical approach to educational provision in schools are relevant. They are issues which the Government addressed when in Opposition, and should address in the context of the Bill.

I do not make a special case for those schools. I emphasise the importance of breadth of curriculum. We need to move away from the forms of national curriculum which are prescriptive into a form which provides for the greater breadth for the development of concepts, attitudes, values, experiences and skills within the educational provision. In debating those issues, we wish to emphasise that the Government have an obligation to indicate to schools which provide for a different curriculum, and are pluralistic schools in themselves within the education provision, how they can progress their position.

We have debated, and will debate again in the Bill, the categories that the Government propose. What ways are open to schools which have a different form of provision within a pluralist education? In what ways can they progress their position within the maintained sector? That is what I seek to discover in moving the amendment.

I refer again to guidelines and the provisions on the face of the Bill. I am concerned that they will be set out in terms of the criteria for the provision of schools within the maintained sector. Those guidelines should be flexible enough to ensure that schools which achieve the equivalent of national curriculum standards by other means should be recognised as equally valid. The department will be aware of the recent statement on the aims, methods and curriculum of the Steiner Waldorf foundation edited by Martin Rawson. The document sets out clearly the way in which that specific curriculum attains the standards of the national curriculum in different ways. I emphasise that the Government should take seriously the issue of pluralism of school provision. Pluralism and the related issue of diversity are not just about religious provision; and I speak as a Welsh Anglican. They are also about the alternative forms of curriculum presentation which is not on a selected basis, but provides a genuine pluralistic structure within the school system.

The second amendment is simpler. If the Minister can give me a satisfactory answer on this amendment, he will have disposed of Amendments Nos. 161, 163, 167, 176 and perhaps a few others. That should provide the noble Lord with a little inspiration. The amendment relates to the role of the Secretary of State in relation to the Bill. I understand that for the words "Secretary of State" in the Bill, I shall read the words "national assembly" when those wonderful transfer orders, of which we have recently had the second draft, are implemented. With the exception of Clause 76 on employment law, everything else relating to the Secretary of State in this Bill relates to the national assembly. If the Minister agrees that that is correct, he will satisfy me. I beg to move.

10.45 p.m.

Baroness Maddock

I support the noble Lord on Amendment No. 114 for several reasons. The amendment has been put forward by the Steiner Waldorf group. No doubt the group hopes that it will open the door to its schools which have a specific character. It would like the opportunity for such schools to become part of the state system. Perhaps there should be some possibility for schools with a different philosophical framework to come into the state sector where local authorities feel that this would enhance their local provision.

The amendment is presumably proposed within this clause because this clause deals with local determination. Although the county would actually have to have this imposed on it, it just extends their possibility to choose to include schools with a different character.

When I was a Member in another place I had in one corner of my constituency Steiner Waldorf schools and also a community that looked after children who had extreme special needs. I know what wonderful communities they are and what a terrific quality of life children have in those communities. I remember going along with perhaps not a positive view of the organisations, and I came away changed by the experience of the whole approach that they have to the human person.

It is interesting that in a country that I left because I found conformity too great—Sweden—for some time there has been the opportunity for pluralism within its schools. It seems to work well, and it has been a great incentive to teachers to give of their best in schools. It is worth looking at and I look forward to hearing what the Government have to say about it.

I conclude by saying that in other areas of life we are looking at alternatives and looking at a more pluralistic approach. We do this in the health service, and perhaps we should look at whether this is the right time, given the nature of this Bill, to look at the possibility of having a more pluralistic approach to the different types of education available. I look forward to hearing what the Government say. There is something behind this that we should not dismiss too lightly. I hope that the Government will not do that.

Baroness Blatch

I rise to suggest what might cheer the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, because I believe my understanding of the letter that I received from the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, in terms of the reserve powers to the Welsh assembly, is that the amendments are not needed, and that almost everything that the noble Lord wants is achievable.

I say that for two or three reasons. First, under the law as it stands, even without this Bill, and which will not be invalidated by this Bill, there are powers to disapply the national curriculum. Cases need to be put to the Secretary of State, but it is possible to do that. That would allow for disapplication and for something else to take its place.

Secondly, there is provision within this Bill for those schools that are in action zones to disapply the national curriculum and disapply all sorts of other things, so clearly some other diversary provision will take place within those schools, irrespective of the structure of the schools.

The third reason, which, rather sadly, has not been raised in the course of our deliberations, is the Welsh dimension in this Bill. It seems to me, reading the letter that came to me from the noble Baroness in relation to Wales, that the Welsh Secretary, or indeed the Welsh assembly as it will become, has the powers to turn this Bill into something completely different. It could look completely different from that in England because the secondary legislative powers that will pass to the assembly are couched in such a way inside this Bill that they will, not technically, but in effect be equivalent to primary legislation. It will be possible for the Welsh assembly to do their own thing. For example, they do not have to have adjudicators; they do not have to have organisation committees. The Welsh assembly or the Welsh Secretary will, in fact, take on the role of what, in England, is the Secretary of State.

My understanding of both the Bill and the statute as it prevails at the moment, and will continue to prevail following the passing of this Bill, and indeed the effect of the devolved powers to the assembly, is that I do not believe these amendments are necessary.

Lord Monkswell

In speaking very briefly in support of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, perhaps I may say a word in support of England. There is a recognition that the situation in Scotland and Wales may be different in the future. However, for the vast majority of people in this country, the situation in England will be the basis on which we deliberate.

The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, mentioned that the object of the national curriculum enshrined originally in the 1988 Act was to improve school standards. We would all agree that that is a laudable aim.

We also need to bring to bear the recognition of experience. Perhaps I may give a couple of examples. The first is the experience of Summerhill School between the wars. Four members of my father's generation went to Summerhill. One became a doctor, one became an electrical engineer, one became a teacher and the fourth became a potter. In terms of the positive, successful outcomes, which is the important essence of what we are seeking to achieve in education, one cannot gainsay that Summerhill was successful.

The other example is the flexibility which pertained within the Rab Butler Act of 1944. It enabled the Conservative administration in Leicestershire County Council to introduce the concept of comprehensive education. That has had amazingly beneficial results in education in the past 40 years.

Diversity in education can produce significant positive outcomes. I believe that it was a little ingenuous of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, to suggest that such flexibility is already enshrined within the law. That has not been the experience of practitioners in education. I hope that the Government will respond positively to this probing amendment and say that they are minded to believe that pluralism is important.

I was advised tonight that in Holland, which has one of the most successful education systems in Europe, there are seven different educational characteristics. Six, as well as its own national curriculum, are supported by the state and are beneficial to the education of the people of Holland. I hope that the Government will respond positively to the advantage of pluralism and to state support of it.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

If I begin by saying some discouraging things about the wording and effect of both amendments, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, will not think that I am taking them lightly. I will address the issues which lie behind them.

Amendment No. 114 would not work because it is attached to a part of Clause 27 which enables proposals to specify the establishment of a middle school by extending the age ranges which may be considered as the admission ages for a particular school. If we were to put the provision in there rather than in a more general part of the Bill it would be incoherent and would not achieve what the noble Lord seeks.

As regards what he is seeking to achieve, I am sympathetic to what has been said about pluralism in education. During the chaotic period immediately before and during the early years of the war I attended a number of progressive schools. Noble Lords opposite may think that it shows and that my character has been deeply damaged as a result. I do not regret it, although the disturbance to my family was great. On two occasions I ran away from one school, taking a group of other seven year-olds with me. I did not get very far. However, as a result of connections with central Europe I am sympathetic to various progressive movements in education. Let me say from this Bench that the conditions in which we encourage schools to be maintained schools within the state system are rather different. We are of the view—and I think this has been the view on all Benches—that in order to maintain and increase school standards, there has to be a national curriculum, and, in general, teachers in maintained schools should have qualified teacher status. The Steiner Waldorf schools have chosen not to conform in those ways, and good luck to them. I am not saying anything against the work that they do, but the thrust of this Bill is the improvement of school standards by the means that I have been suggesting. I believe that that view is shared across the political spectrum.

So although one is sympathetic to pluralism in education, we hope that it will continue. It is not necessarily the case that for it to continue successfully there should be a change in the requirement for maintained status and for membership in the state system.

The second amendment has an unfortunate literal effect in the sense that it would enable the Secretary of State to act, as it were, by decree rather than by making regulations, whereas the Bill as drafted would enable him to act in the way that the noble Lord wishes, by regulation in the normal way.

The fundamental answer I can give to the noble Lord—and I am glad to hear that it affects so many subsequent amendments—is that, yes, in the Bill "Secretary of State" will, in due course, mean the national assembly, with the exception that he himself referred to. It is the intention that these powers should be devolved to the Welsh assembly in due course. On that basis, reflecting the seriousness with which the amendments have been proposed, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

11 p.m.

Lord Elis-Thomas

I am grateful to noble Lords who spoke on Amendment No. 114. It is important that we signal that we should like to return to this matter at a later stage. I feel that the Minister, despite his generosity in describing some of his personal experience, did not respond to the issues that were raised.

We deployed the argument that excellence in the attainment of the equivalent of the national curriculum, as mentioned in the report I quoted, should be recognised and that there is a difference between decreeing certain standards in the national curriculum and being able to deliver the equivalent in pluralistic alternative forms. That is the argument that we deployed and to which there has been no response, either in this Chamber or in another place. We may well want to return to that matter.

I am grateful to noble Lords who have taken part and I am grateful to see that there is a wonderful consensus, for once this evening, between both Front Benches about the meaning of the Bill, at least so far as concerns the National assembly for Wales. It may be that the Steiner Waldorf School will have to turn to the national assembly for Wales for some kind of recognition within the United Kingdom.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 27 agreed to.

Clause 28 agreed to.

Clause 29 [Notice by governing body to discontinue foundation or voluntary school]:

[Amendment No. 114A not moved.]

Clause 29 agreed to.

Clause 30 [Proposals for establishment, alteration or discontinuance of community or foundation special school]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 114B:

Page 29, line 14, leave out ("special school or a new") and insert ("or").

The noble Lord said: These amendments are the batch which survived the late night barrage by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, the other night and which I withdrew at that point. I have written to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and to the two opposition Front Benches at some length explaining the whole batch of amendments that we tabled at that point. I shall have to return to some of the others on Report.

I shall quickly explain the nature of these amendments, which are technical and consequential. Amendment No. 114B, together with Amendments Nos. 122A, 129A, 156A, 256B and 257E, deals with the question of clarifying the expressions "community" or "foundation special school". Amendment No. 256B is really substantive and is an addition to Clause 130, which defines expressions used in the Bill. That amendment makes it clear that such references should be read as meaning a community special school or a foundation special school. The rest of the amendments to which I have just alluded are in fact consequential on Amendment No. 256B.

Amendment No. 145A deals with the clarification of property transfers when schools change category. The amendment makes it clear that the regulations under the schedule will govern all property transfers, including transfers to and from group foundations, where a school changes category. Moreover, rights and liabilities associated with property will transfer with the property itself. The term "property" on its own would not cover the full range of rights and liabilities that might be associated with the premises; for example, it would not necessarily cover third party user rights which would, in that sense, be a liability associated with the premises. That is why it is necessary to make those explicit regulations under Schedule 8.

Amendment No. 206B deals with stamp duty. It is an amendment which has had to be approved by the Inland Revenue; and, indeed, it has been. It exempts transfers to local education authorities from payment of stamp duty. That is because transfers to charities do not attract stamp duty, so there is no need to exempt transfers to foundation, voluntary and foundation special schools or foundation bodies. Those are the technical and consequential amendments that I am putting forward tonight. As I said, some of the others which appeared in the rather longer list the other night will, I am afraid, now reappear at a later stage in the Bill's proceedings. I therefore commend those amendments to the Committee. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas

I most grateful to the Minister for the long letter of clarification which I found to be very clear. It answered all the questions that I had at that stage admirably. However, I have one further question for the noble Lord regarding the question of stamp duty. I quite understand his explanation but, if it is the intention of these amendments to make transfers from foundation schools to local authorities exempt from stamp duty, why are transfers under paragraph 1(3)(a) of Schedule 22 not included in the list of exemptions?

Lord Whitty

I have to hand it to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I must confess to the Committee that I am not entirely clear as to whether that paragraph relates to the same form of transfers, although I believe that that is probably the case. Therefore, that is something to which we will have to pay attention. So, once again—and, it is to be hoped in a rather shorter letter—I shall clarify the matter for the noble Lord.

Baroness Blatch

I should like to thank the noble Lord most profusely for the letter; indeed, it has been hugely helpful. I certainly do not have anything like the queries that I had when I heard the partial explanation which was given during the previous stage of the Bill. I understand that the amendments which preceded the amendment moved by the noble Lord tonight will be re-presented on Report. Therefore, it might be helpful if I mentioned one reservation about Amendment No. 90G so that I may perhaps be written to in the meantime, thus saving time as regards discussions at the next stage. I should also like to ask a question on Amendment No. 91C.

As regards Amendment No. 90G, I am concerned about yet more accretion of powers to the organisation committees. I should like to know more about why that power is necessary and why it is that the Secretary of State is off-loading yet another power relating to foundation groups.

Where the governing body will be the charity, as opposed to the school being the charity, I am rather anxious on behalf of governors to know what liabilities they will accept in that transfer of power. School governors will take on the responsibility of being the charity for the purposes of the exemption and it is important that they know the extent of their liabilities. I do not ask for an answer now but I hope the noble Lord will be able to supply it at the next stage.

I am rather pleased that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is in the Chamber. When I was a government Minister and my government produced large batches of technical amendments I found that it was helpful and also saved time if I wrote to the Opposition with copies of the amendments and with an explanatory memorandum in advance of discussing the amendments in the Chamber. The Opposition then had an opportunity to study the technicalities of the amendments. Usually I added an apology to the explanatory memorandum as I was often upbraided by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for submitting large batches of technical amendments at a late stage of a Bill. I make no criticism of the Government in this regard, but it would be enormously helpful to have the information as we are about to discuss yet more batches of technical amendments. I have pored over the Bill and the amendments over the past week but I am still at a loss to know exactly what they mean. As I said, it would be hugely helpful at further stages of the Bill to be sent a copy of the amendments with an explanatory memorandum.

Lord Whitty

Of course some of the technical amendments arise out of debate in the Chamber. However, we shall consider the possibility of providing the information in the form the noble Baroness requests. As regards the points she made on Amendment No. 90G and the other amendments that will be resubmitted at the Report stage, I would rather deal with them at that stage.

As regards the charitable status of governing bodies, we shall propose government amendments at Report stage which will make clear that it is the governing body of a foundation, voluntary and foundation special school which is the exempt charity and not the school itself. That point will be clearer at that stage.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Rix moved Amendment No. 115:

Page 29, line 30, at end insert ("and to the education development plan, the school organisation plan and any proposals for the regional coordination of services for children with special educational needs").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 115 stands in my name, that of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and that of my noble friend Lady Darcy de Knayth. I am conscious that this is the last amendment I shall move and no doubt it will receive the same short shrift as the previous four. I can see I shall be busy at Report stage but I would welcome the possibility of a meeting with the department before that stage. Perhaps I should send the amendments to the putative Welsh assembly.

I wish to stress that special schools are part of an increasingly complex network of provision for children with special educational needs. If the Government pursue their intentions as set out in the Green Paper Excellence for all Children, special schools will become a non-integrated part of a unified service. The service will also be more than a local service if Green Paper proposals for more regional planning are implemented. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that any proposals to open, alter or close a community or a foundation special school take account of other local plans and proposals; namely, the education development plan, the school organisation plan and any proposals for the regional co-ordination of services for children with special educational needs. I beg to move.

11.15 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Does the noble Lord want the good news or the bad news first? The bad news is that his amendment would not do what he wants. It relates to the part of the Bill that deals with who should be consulted rather than what regard should be had to the education development plan, the school organisation plan and proposals for regional co-ordination of services. I believe the noble Lord's intention is rather wider than the wording of the amendment.

The good news is this. I believe that the noble Lord wants us to say that the Government intend to put the issues referred to in the amendment into guidance. I can give him that assurance. To put it in the proper words of a speaking note, the guidance provided to the adjudicator and the school organisation committee will be reflected in the guidance on good practice that we shall be providing to proposers wishing to bring forward statutory proposals. It is our intention that the guidance to proposers will identify the plans they should consider when developing their schemes. That would include the local school organisation plan and any proposals for the regional co-ordination of provision for pupils with special educational needs.

There may also be instances when local education authorities or foundation special school governors will need to consider the education development plan when making plans to reorganise special provision. It has always been our intention that the issues raised by this amendment should be covered in guidance. We shall of course consult on the detail of both the guidance and the regulations governing special school reorganisation. That will provide a further opportunity for comment before the regulations finally come into force. I hope that gives the noble Lord the reassurance that he needs.

Lord Rix

I am grateful to the noble Lord for those assurances. I shall now consult with my colleagues outside the House and return to the matter on Report if required—

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord. Before he withdraws his amendment, I should have said that my noble friend Lady Blackstone and the department will be very happy to meet him between now and Report stage.

Lord Rix

I go home to bed even happier on hearing that. With that assurance ringing in my ears, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.

Clause 30, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 6 [Statutory proposals: procedure and implementation]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 116:

Page 120, line 15, at end insert—

("(4A) If—

  1. (a) by the end of such period as may be specified in or determined in accordance with regulations, the committee have not voted on the question whether to give any approval under this paragraph, and
  2. (b) the body or promoters by whom the proposals were published request the committee to refer the proposals to the adjudicator,
they shall refer the proposals to the adjudicator.

Regulations made for the purposes of this sub-paragraph (or any other corresponding provision of this Act) may be framed by reference to the opinion of the committee.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 117 to 122, 127, 128, 130 to 137, 217, 218 and 219.

Let me start by acknowledging that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, was right in saying that when she was in the Home Office she took good care to write to me whenever significant numbers of government amendments were tabled, putting them into their right order and explaining in a letter to me what they meant. I gather that she followed that procedure with a number of other noble Lords as well. I am sure that my noble friend Lady Blackstone will consider that helpful suggestion sympathetically.

All of these amendments are in response to suggestions made by the Opposition in Committee on 10th February in another place. Mr. Dorrell, who I gather has now left his responsibilities for these matters at his own request, criticised (at col. 377) the possibility of delay implicit in the process of consideration by school organisation committees and the need for unanimity in their reaching decisions. He said—I am sure rightly—that there would be great damage to schools, to children and to local education systems if there were excessive delay in the school organisation committees reaching decisions. Estelle Morris, the Under-Secretary, said at col. 377 that she was happy to give the assurance sought; that she agreed with the comments made by Conservatives and Liberal Democrat spokesmen; and that delay was the worst possible scenario. She said: I think that we included in the note that my hon. Friend the Minister circulated yesterday the requirement that school organisation committees must make decisions within two months. If that is not in the note, it will be set out in regulations. Committees will have two months to make a decision, at which point, if they have not reached a unanimous decision, the matter will be referred to the adjudicator, for the reasons that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. Delay and sitting around waiting for unanimous agreement is not in the best interests of children".—[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee A, 10/2/98: col. 377.]

All of these amendments seek to provide that assurance, not in regulations as was originally thought but on the face of the Bill. Unless I am challenged, I shall not go through every one of the amendments, but I wish to say something in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, about Amendment No. 116.

Basically all the amendments say that if the committees have not voted on a matter, or if they have voted on it and have not reached a unanimous decision, then the adjudicator is called in. But Amendment No. 116 has two other, puzzling phrases. The first is: Regulations made for the purpose of this sub-paragraph … may be framed by reference to the opinion of the committee". That refers only to the school organisation committee. The committee may, for example, express an opinion that two proposals are linked and need to be considered together. In these circumstances, the regulations will have to provide that the proposals whose time limit expires first do not need to be remitted to the adjudicator until and unless the other proposal also reaches its time limit. That is the purpose of the reference to the opinion of the committee.

The second reference which I agree could be confusing is: or any other corresponding provision of this Act". That relates to the fact that in the complexity of drafting we have to insert this into Schedules 6, 7 and 23. There are amendments to all these schedules in this group which will enable regulations to prescribe a time limit for deciding proposals. These are Amendments Nos. 120, 133 and 217. These amendments cover each type of proposal, because there are proposals of this kind discussed in Clauses 27, 28 and 30, with different schedules attached to them. That is the explanation of those particular points which the noble Lord raised.

In general, the purpose of the amendment that I have expressed from the comments in Hansard give the thrust of our arguments. They give the Secretary of State powers to make regulations limiting the length of the school organisation committee's deliberations on proposals for the organisation of schools. These amendments give the proposer discretion to require the school organisation committee to refer a proposal to an adjudicator if the committee has not come to a decision within a specified period. This is preferable to requiring the committee to refer proposals to the adjudicator after a fixed period. It also allows the person who is affected by any delay to decide whether the time taken is excessive and whether referral to the adjudicator would speed things up.

The length of the time limit is something most appropriately dealt with in regulations, although my quotations from Estelle Morris make our intentions clear since we shall need to ensure that, if necessary, the time limit can be amended in the light of experience. Of course, we shall consult on the regulations, but we intend that in most cases the limit will be two months from the end of the objection period. Where several proposals are linked, we intend that the time period for all proposals should be two months from the end of the objection period of the last proposal to be published. I commend the amendments to the House. I beg to move the amendment.

Baroness Blatch

I thank the noble Lord for the sympathetic way in which he explained the amendment, but also for agreeing that it would be helpful to have advance explanatory memorandums of the amendments.

I want to ask a question in relation to the reference to the "opinion of the committee" in the final paragraph of Amendment No. 116. Is that a formal statement? Is the "opinion of the committee" a formal definition? In which case, should not it be upper case "o" in its reference? Does that mean a decision taken by a committee that is a unanimous view or is it an en passant opinion? In other words, is it an informal view that at a particular point in time the committee thinks "X" or "Y"? It would helpful to know exactly the status of the "opinion of the committee".

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

We intend that it should refer to an informal opinion and that indeed was the thrust of my example of a committee expressing an opinion that two proposals were linked and needed to be considered together. In those circumstances capital letters are not appropriate.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendments Nos. 117 to 122A:

Page 120, line 16, leave out from ("If') to ("they") in line 17 and insert ("the committee—

  1. (a) have voted on any matter which (in accordance with regulations under paragraph 5 of Schedule 4) falls to be decided by them under this paragraph by a unanimous decision, but
  2. (b) have failed to reach such a decision on that matter,").

Page 120, line 19, at end insert ("(4A) or").

Page 121, line 40, leave out ("that sub-paragraph") and insert ("sub-paragraph (1)(a) or (b)").

Page 121, line 43, at end insert—

("(4A) If—

  1. (a) by the end of such period as may be specified in or determined in accordance with regulations, the committee have not voted on any matter falling to be decided by them under this paragraph, and
  2. (b) the body or promoters who published the proposals referred to in sub-paragraph (1)(a) or (b) request the committee to refer that matter to the adjudicator,
they shall refer that matter to the adjudicator.").

Page 121, line 44, leave out from ("If") to ("they") in line 45 and insert ("the committee—

  1. (a) have voted on any matter which (in accordance with regulations under paragraph 5 of Schedule 4) falls to be decided by them under this paragraph by a unanimous decision, but
  2. (b) have failed to reach such a decision on that matter,").

Page 121, line 47, at end insert ("under sub-paragraph (4A) or (5)").

Page 125, line 21, leave out first ("special school").

The noble Lord said: With the leave of the Committee I should like to move Amendments Nos. 117 to 122A en bloc. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 123:

Page 125, line 38, leave out ("or buildings (or both)").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 123, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 124 to 126. These amendments correct an error in the original draft. They amend provisions which in some cases put local education authorities under a duty to provide new buildings for foundation, voluntary controlled or foundation special schools on land owned by the school's trustees or governing or foundation body.

The drafting in the Bill provides for the buildings, if that is the case, to be transferred to the trustees. But that is not necessary because the land owner will own the buildings by virtue of owning the land on which they are built. There is therefore no need for the local education authority to convey its interest in the new buildings and the amendments remove that unnecessary duty. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendments Nos. 124 to 128:

Page 125, line 40, leave out ("or buildings (or both)").

Page 125, line 42, leave out ("or buildings (or both)").

Page 125, line 42, leave out ("(in the case of a site) their interest").

Page 128, line 19, leave out ("are unable to reach a") and insert ("have failed to reach a unanimous").

Page 128, line 23, after ("paragraph") insert ("3 or").

The noble Lord said: With the leave of the Committee I shall move Amendments Nos. 124 to 128 en bloc. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 129:

Page 128, line 30, at end insert—

(""make", in relation to a transitional exemption order, includes (so far as the context permits) vary or revoke,").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 129 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 138. These amendments clarify the provisions relating to transitional exemption orders under the Sex Discrimination Act. They will ensure that school organisation committees have the powers to vary or revoke orders where that is necessary. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

I should like a more elaborate explanation of this amendment. It says that an organisation committee can vary or revoke orders and that sounds as though a fairly extensive power is being handed to the committees. I should like some examples of exactly what is meant, and the extent of those powers.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

We are of course referring to transitional arrangements. They are nothing like as threatening as they sound. They are traditional exemption orders under the Sex Discrimination Act. At the moment the Bill says that the school organisation committee may make such exemption orders, but it may be appropriate to vary or revoke them rather than to just make them.

Perhaps I may give the example that the noble Baroness seeks. It could happen when a single-sex school wishes to become a mixed school. It will enable it to refuse entry to pupils of one sex in years higher up the school which are otherwise entirely of the other sex. The introduction of mixed-sex education could be allowed progressively through the school which I understand to be quite a common occurrence, rather than it having to be introduced all at one time. If the orders were not made in this way schools would be obliged to accept pupils of one sex into a year otherwise composed entirely of the other sex.

Transitional exemption orders may need to be amended if the associated proposals are amended or revoked. The amendments that we are proposing will ensure that school organisation committees will be able to amend or revoke the orders and therefore operate the system satisfactorily. I hope that the noble Baroness will agree that that will make the local decision-making system more efficient and responsive to local needs.

11.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

I shall have to let this pass and read what the noble Lord has said because I still do not understand his explanation. What I am not sure about is whether the school organisation committee is doing something which is simply technical as a school moves either of its own volition or by agreed proposals. In other words, the school organisation committee is not doing something which may be inconsistent with the wishes of the school or the parents. When the noble Lord speaks of varying or revoking an order, under what authority is that being done? Is it being done under its own authority as opposed to doing it through agreed proposals with the agreement of the school concerned?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Certainly the examples that I have given are of the agreed proposals where a school wishes to make a change in its character in the way described and needs the school organisation committee to give it transitional exemption under the Sex Discrimination Act. But if there are examples where there could be conflict between the views of the school organisation committee and the individual school, which is what I believe the noble Baroness fears, then I shall write to her on that point. I hope she will agree that silence indicates that there are no such examples.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 6, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 31 [Direction requiring discontinuance of community or foundation special school]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 129A:

Page 30, line 10, leave out ("special school").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 31, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 32 and 33 agreed to.

Schedule 7 [Rationalisation of school places]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendments Nos. 130 to 138:

Page 130, line 47, leave out ("3(5)") and insert ("3").

Page 130, line 47, leave out ("8(2)(c)") and insert ("8").

Page 132, line 37, at end insert ("under sub-paragraph (4A) or (4B)").

Page 132, line 44, at end insert—

("(4A) If—

  1. (a) by the end of such period as may be specified in or determined in accordance with regulations, the committee have not voted on the question whether to give any approval under this paragraph, and
  2. (b) the Secretary of State requests the committee to refer his proposals to the adjudicator,
they shall refer his proposals to the adjudicator.

(4B) If the committee—

  1. (a) have voted on any matter which (in accordance with regulations under paragraph 5 of Schedule 4) falls to be decided by them under this paragraph by a unanimous decision but have failed to reach such a decision on that matter, or
  2. (b) have decided not to give any approval under this paragraph,
they shall refer the Secretary of State's proposals to the adjudicator.").

Page 132, line 46, leave out ("(2)(c)") and insert ("(4A) or (4B)").

Page 133, line 9, leave out ("(2)(c)") and insert ("(4A) or (4B)").

Page 133, line 25, leave out ("8(2)(c)") and insert ("8(4A) or (4B)").

Page 135, line 48, leave out ("are unable to reach a") and insert ("have failed to reach a unanimous").

Page 136, line 9, at end insert—

(""make", in relation to a transitional exemption order, includes (so far as the context permits) vary or revoke,").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 7, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 34 [School changing front one category to another]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 139:

Page 31, line 13, after ("categories") insert (", and

(b) in certain circumstances, requiring proposals to be published for a voluntary aided school to become a school within another of those categories;").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 140 and 142 to 146 inclusive and to Amendment No. 146P. I am sorry that I have not sent a letter in advance about these amendments. I would like to confirm what my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey said that in future we shall try to get out a letter in advance which explains any group of government amendments, whether technical or otherwise, because that is very helpful.

These amendments adjust the change of category provisions in the Bill in three ways. Amendment No. 146P makes clear that the approval of proposals to change category does not authorise the school to change its character in any way.

Amendment No. 146 enables regulations to be made preventing an LEA from disposing of or changing the use of land currently used by a community school which wishes to change its category. This power will enable the Secretary of State to prevent LEAs frustrating a school's wish to change category by, for example, disposing of some of the land it uses. However, regulations under this provision might enable an LEA to dispose of land in these circumstances with the permission of the school and, where appropriate, the Secretary of State.

The remaining amendments ensure that if the governing body of an aided school is unable or unwilling to meet its financial obligations, it must publish proposals to change category. It is in no one's interests if a school is unable to afford essential repairs and maintenance. In these circumstances, a voluntary aided school may need to change to a voluntary controlled school. We are therefore putting it beyond doubt that in that situation the governing body of a voluntary aided school must publish proposals to change category. This reflects the current position set out in Section 57 of the Education Act 1996, under which the governors of an aided school must apply to the Secretary of State to become a controlled school if unable or unwilling to meet their financial obligations. That section is a provision with a considerable history, dating back to the 1944 Act. The amendments introduce an updated version of the provision for the new framework. I commend them to the House. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 140:

Page 31, line 16, leave out from ("Except") to ("that") in line 17 and insert ("in relation to a change of category from voluntary aided to voluntary controlled school for which proposals are required to be published by virtue of paragraph 2A of Schedule 8,").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 141 not moved.]

Clause 34, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 8 [Changes of category of school]:

[Amendment No. 141A not moved.]

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendments Nos. 142 to 146P:

Page 137, line 8, at end insert—

("Mandatory publication of proposals for voluntary aided school to change category

2A.—(1) If at any time the governing body of a voluntary aided school are unable or unwilling to carry out their obligations under Schedule 3, they shall publish proposals under this paragraph.

(2) If the proposals are published during the period mentioned in section 34(2), they shall be proposals for the school to become a voluntary controlled school.

(3) If the proposals are published after the end of that period, they shall be proposals for the school to become either a voluntary controlled school or a foundation school, as the governing body may determine.

(4) Sub-paragraph (2) of paragraph 2 shall apply in relation to proposals published under this paragraph as it applies in relation to proposals published under that paragraph.").

Page 137, line 21, leave out from ("able") to end of line 22 and insert ("to carry out their obligations under Schedule 3;").

Page 137, leave out lines 23 and 24.

Page 137, line 31, after ("2") insert ("or 2A").

Page 137, line 34, after ("property") insert (", rights and liabilities (including such a transfer to or from a foundation body),").

Page 137, line 36, at end insert—

("(1A) Regulations under sub-paragraph (1) may, in particular, make provision with respect to—

  1. (a) restricting the disposal of land by a local authority which is used or held for the purposes of a school in relation to which proposals to change category are, or may be, published under paragraph 2, as from—
    1. (i) the date of publication of such proposals; or
    2. (ii) such other time as may be prescribed;
  2. (b) restricting the taking of action by virtue of which any such land would cease to be so used or held to any extent:
  3. (c) the consequences of any contravention of any such restriction;
  4. (d) conferring on any prescribed body such functions as may be prescribed with respect to any such contravention.").

Page 137, line 41, at end insert—

("5. A school's change of category under this Schedule shall not be taken as authorising or requiring any change in the character of the school conducted by its governing body (including, in particular, any religious character of the school).").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 8, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 35 [Governing bodies]:

Baroness Seccombe moved Amendment No. 146A:

Page 31, line 22, at beginning insert ("Subject to section (Grouping of community, voluntary aided, voluntary controlled and community special schools under a single governing body),").

The noble Baroness said: Even at this late hour, I am in an optimistic mood. It gives me great pleasure to move this amendment and to speak to Amendments Nos. 154A to 154G inclusive. The amendment concerns a straightforward administrative matter and I hope that the Minister will be able to accept it. I admit that it appears complicated, but it is really a very simple issue.

All that I am doing is proposing that the Bill maintains the provisions of the 1996 Act to enable two or more schools to continue to appoint a single board of governors. The best way that I can explain this is to give the Committee the background of the school which has enlisted our help and the situation in which it would find itself if the Bill were not amended.

The school in question is the Church of England-aided school of St. Alphege, the church where my husband and I were married many years ago. Therefore, I understand only too well its standing in the area as a centre of excellence. Parents from all over the borough are anxious to get their children accepted in the knowledge that they will receive the very best start in their academic life.

The school has been administered by a single governing body probably since Elizabethan times and certainly since 1862. During its history there have been separate schools for boys and girls while at other times they became amalgamated again. But in 1973, due to its popularity, the school wanted to expand but was unable to do so as the original one-form entry site was too small to cope with a two-form entry. As a consequence, the junior department moved to another site half a mile away. Throughout these changes, there has been one governing body maintaining that essential ingredient, continuity, and highlighting the fact that it is the school attached to St. Alphege Church. The governing body therefore wishes to remain one single body, albeit on two sites, so that it can retain that continuity but also because any child who enters at nursery stage is given the right of attendance through to the end of junior school. The admission rules are administered as for one school. It is felt that any action in the nursery and infant school has a knock-on effect on the junior school. At present due to more parental pressure consideration is being given to a three-form entry. That will obviously affect the junior school that must follow suit.

I have spoken to both the rector and chairman of governors who feel strongly about this matter. They believe that there would be a duplication of duties for those who had to be on both governing bodies. They also feel that the two schools may drift apart; that there will be increased administration costs; and that as it is the school of one parish it should be administered as one. The governors of an aided school are responsible for 15 per cent. of certain costs. As a single body it administers moneys that it has accrued for projects. Their concern is that they will have to set up a foundation or trust to administer that money. In the school there is one parent-teacher association.

The school accepts that change is necessary from time to time but only if it is for good reasons. It is a very successful school whose pupils achieve the highest results. It is also rightly proud of the way that it looks after children with special needs. I believe that such schools—there must be others in the same position—deserve consideration and support. I beg to move.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

I support the amendment. I have also received a letter from the chair of the governing body of the school to which the noble Baroness has referred. As she has said, this is by no means the only school that has this particular concern. There are a number of cases, particularly Church of England schools, where infant and junior schools are on the same site and a single governing body runs both of them, although technically they are separate schools. That is allowed under present legislation. That right is to be removed under the Bill. I find it difficult to see why the Government should not respond positively to this amendment. I welcome the possibilities for governing bodies which this amendment provides.

Baroness Blackstone

Before I respond to the opening remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, in moving her amendment it may be helpful if I make a few introductory remarks about our intentions on school governance. Our focus is on standards and not structures. We want governors to focus on what is really important: raising standards in our schools. The Government appreciate the major commitment and contribution that governors make in governing the nation's schools. We want to make their lives easier by defining the most important tasks and providing a simpler governance framework.

A new school framework will require a new governance structure. We have seized the opportunity to introduce a more streamlined structure which will get rid of some of the rather arcane and bureaucratic requirements of the present system, including articles of government. The existing school governance arrangements are rather incoherent and inconsistent. They represent an accumulation of previous legislation which has been added to over very many years. Some requirements operate directly through legislation and some are required by legislation to operate through articles of government, but every time there is a change in the law on an issue which operates through articles those documents have to be amended.

A simplified structure will be easier for governors to understand and I hope more accessible for schools and parents. Indeed, our proposals for rationalising the process have been welcomed. The need to introduce new governance arrangements for the new framework has provided us with a unique opportunity to think afresh. However, much of what is existing legislation will remain. The substance remains broadly the same.

Primary or secondary legislation will contain all those requirements that currently apply through articles of government. There will be no articles of government in future dealing with the way the school should be conducted. All of that detail will be in legislation. But all schools will have their own individual instrument. No longer will they be subject to a block or group instrument applying to all schools of their category within an LEA as they are at present. They will have their own individual instrument, which schools themselves will initiate.

To reinforce the standards agenda we are honouring our election pledge to give more power to parents by increasing the number of elected parent governors and LEAs will be represented on all schools, including foundation schools.

I come now to the amendments which reinstate the existing legislation on grouped governing bodies. In implementing our standards agenda, one of our intentions is that every school should have its own governing body. A dedicated governing body, which is able to focus, with no distractions, on the performance of its own school, will stand a better chance of promoting higher standards. The amendments conflict with that by reintroducing the possibility of grouped governing bodies.

Two other main aims underpinning the governance provisions of the new framework for schools are strengthening the rights of parents and increasing the accountability of the governing body. The amendments proposed would enable LEAs to continue to group schools under a single governing body. We believe that such arrangements blur the lines of accountability and reduce the influence of parents on the governing body.

The retention of grouped governing bodies is not consistent with our manifesto commitment to increase the number of parent governors, about Which we feel strongly. Under a grouped arrangement far fewer parents are able to serve as parent governors, and parental influence at each individual school within the group is therefore diluted. The reduction in influence is significant. On a grouped governing body for separate infant and junior schools having 600 or more pupils between them, the two schools would have only five parent governors. If each school were to have a separate governing body under our proposals they would be able to choose whether to have four or five parents each.

These amendments are also in conflict with what we see as the basic spirit of the reconstitution proposals, which will allow governing bodies, within the legislative framework provided, to draw up their own draft instrument of government for approval by the LEA. Although Amendment No. 154C provides for the LEA to secure the consent of any voluntary school governing body, it would only be required to consult community and community special schools and could in theory impose a grouped governing body on them. That is undemocratic. It is also against the spirit of delegation. Although I appreciate that the amendments are based on existing legislation in the consolidated 1996 Education Act, the original legislation was framed at least 20 years ago at a time when it was possible for LEAs to set up single governing bodies covering large numbers of schools, which the Committee will agree was not a terribly good system.

I know from letters we have received in the department, how much some schools value being grouped. I understand that. They argue that it provides a better management structure for infant and junior schools sharing the same site, and improves decision making on those issues which affect both schools. They also argue that it provides for a level of continuity and progression across the phases which might otherwise be lost. Again I can understand those arguments.

However, I must say this to the schools. The benefits they describe will not be lost under the new framework. That is important. Schools can continue to enjoy the mutual benefits accrued from freely entering into co-operative arrangements and we hope that they will do that. Our proposals would permit some cross-representation as regards governing bodies—that again is important—either by LEAs appointing the same individual to both governing bodies or through the governing bodies' own co-option arrangements. If they wished to co-opt the same person on to two different governing bodies where schools share the same site, that would be wholly acceptable and entirely sensible. Although parents and staff will not be eligible for co-opted posts in their own school, it would of course be in the spirit of wider community interests to enable a parent, teacher or staff governor at one school in a former group to be co-opted to another.

It is also clear from the correspondence we have seen that there is a greater risk that those schools are spending a disproportionate amount of time on day-to-day site management and related issues. Of course the governing body must have a role, but operational matters concerning site management and related issues should for the most part be left to head teachers to resolve together. If there is too much discussion of such issues, they are somewhat of a distraction for governing bodies rather than talking about the real issues of standards and the performance of the schools' targets, and so on. They are important if schools are on adjoining sites or sharing buildings which are run harmoniously. But they should not absorb too much of a governing body's valuable time. Indeed, we have heard of grouped governing bodies where half the meetings are taken up by discussion of these matters. Governing bodies should be left free to concentrate on the really important strategic issues, of which improving standards is the most important of all.

We believe that it is important for every school to have its own dedicated governing body to oversee improving standards within the school. In the light of explaining the purpose and nature of the Government's proposals on school governance, and each school having its own governing body, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

11.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

That is probably the most disappointing answer that we have had all day. It seems a case of administrative tidiness gone absolutely mad. Does the noble Baroness say that where the parents, the governors and staff of the school, and the diocese, wish the management of two schools to be under one governing body there is no flexibility in the system to allow that to occur? As my noble friend said, if it were possible to be on one site, this would be one school. It expanded as a popular school and was unable to do that. The Minister refers to governing bodies wasting time on matters which are not concerned with raising standards. It seems almost an insult to say that this governing body is not primarily concerned with the standards of education in these schools.

Baroness Blackstone

The Government do not wish to have administrative tidiness for the sake of administrative tidiness. The point of having a set up in which each school has its own governing body is, as I sought to make clear, to make sure that parents are properly represented on the governing bodies of every school. There will be far more parent representation if each school has its own governing body. I have also suggested that there can be joint co-options so that there are people on the governing body of two schools which share the same site and there is continuity in decisions made between the two governing bodies.

In response to what the noble Baroness was just saying, if the need for a single governing body is so strong, one option would be for the schools to merge and, of course, that does sometimes happen. There is no requirement to do so and I am not suggesting that schools in these circumstances should necessarily do so. But we believe that it should be possible for governing bodies, if necessary, through cross-representation and by working constructively with their head teachers, to deal with common management issues.

The large majority of schools with group governing bodies are county schools. As the LEA is the employer and owns the land, and will continue to do so under the new framework for schools, the management issues involved should be quite straightforward. I do not think it is just a matter of administrative tidiness. It is a genuine wish to give parents in every school their own governing body, and the staff of those schools their own governing body, but with some shared membership.

I am sorry if I have disappointed the noble Baroness, Lady B latch, but I do want to try to explain that our intentions are not administrative, but entirely concerned with parental representation, and each governing body being concerned with the standards of education in the school.

Baroness Seccombe

I thank the right reverend Prelate and my noble friend Lady Blatch for their support. I am, of course, disappointed with the noble Baroness's response. She has said much tonight and it is important that I read and study it. I shall also want to talk to those who have given me the information.

At this stage I shall withdraw the amendment with the probability that I shall come back to it at a later stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford moved Amendment No. 146B:

Page 31, line 26, leave out subsection (3).

The noble Lord said: In speaking to Amendment No. 146B, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 146C, 148A, 148B and 149A.

The Minister has given the most perfect introduction to my amendments. In essence, these are amendments to give greater flexibility. They are quite important amendments, and, therefore, I want to develop them as far as I can, without keeping your noble Lords too long.

Under current legislation the government and management of each school are determined by instruments and articles of government. In the case of the present grant maintained schools—and these are quite important points—these are statutory instruments, and can only be amended after discussion with the schools concerned. The point I make about these particular technical points is that they allow local initiative for schools.

This Bill simplifies, as the noble Baroness has pointed out, the instruments and abolishes the articles and, in effect, incorporates many of the provisions of what were the articles into clauses and schedules of the Bill. In other words, it imposes a pattern.

The present situation, as we have seen from the debate that has just occurred, is that articles and instruments are personal to the school, and, as we have seen in this situation, which has aroused considerable feeling in the area, can be adapted to local circumstances, as they have been for the best part of a century or more.

I can give the Committee some examples. Under articles, which are being abolished, governors of certain schools have discretion over issues which will not be possible under the present situation where they have been included in clauses and schedules of the Bill. For example, there are issues like how vacancies are advertised, which the governors and headmaster decide; and whether there is an admission committee. Some powers are delegated to the headmaster; for example, the actual allocation of salaries subject to the overall financial control of the governing body. All this will go, since in schedules, but also in some clauses, all these arrangements are laid down for schools everywhere.

The Minister's answer to my noble friend was negative and I am puzzled by the fact that it contradicts what was said by her honourable friend the Minister of State, Stephen Byers, in the other place. When he was debating this matter he recognised the problem and said that flexibility could occur. He said: There is nothing to deny schools the opportunity of adding to these procedures the detail that might at present be included in the articles of government". The articles of government are personal to the school. I repeat that the Minister's colleague in the other place said: There is nothing to deny schools the opportunity of adding to these procedures the detail that might at present be included in the articles of government. Under the present Bill, that is replacing articles by a common instrument and including much in primary education in the schedule. That would provide a narrow and focused set of requirements but there would be nothing to stop schools adding to them". Since the Minister was in conversation with her colleague, I remind her that he said that there would be nothing to stop schools adding to the articles. Therefore, the Minister seemed to take account of the worries about the loss of local initiative, for which the noble Baroness has recently shown a conspicuous disregard.

The amendments are designed to discover whether the Minister in this House supports the statements made by her colleague in the other place. I remind her again that he said there is nothing to deny the schools. There is a lot to deny them—the Government have denied them.

The Minister of State made a statement over the position of governing bodies where the articles have been abolished, but he is saying, "Don't worry about the articles being abolished. You can include local initiatives". I want the Minister to put flesh on these bones because that is what her colleague said. I cannot understand her comments when concentrating on the overall pattern and paying little regard to local initiative. I am worried whether my amendments will permit the flexibility which the Minister in the other place suggested because things have been written in tablets of stone in the schedules and clauses of this Bill which would deny the local initiative which at present exists. We have a contradiction in government policy between what the Minister of State said in the other place and what the Minister is saying here. I would be grateful if the Minister could elucidate.

I shall speak briefly to my specific amendments. Amendments Nos. 146B and 148A remove the straitjacket. Amendments Nos. 146C, 148B and 149A give flexibility guidance. That is what the Minister of State said he wanted, yet the Minister, faced with something that has existed since Elizabethan times, said, "No way." How do we reconcile that? I beg to move.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)

As Amendment No. 149A is also being spoken to, I should point out to the Committee that if that amendment were agreed to I could not call Amendments Nos. 150 to 152.


Lord Whitty

I regret that we cannot accept these amendments. If they were carried they would delete Schedules 11 and 12 which are important provisions on the way in which we give statutory backing to the government of schools.

The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, appears to believe that we are engaged in over-bureaucracy and over-regulation, but it is not our intention to provide a straitjacket which could tie the hands of governing bodies unnecessarily. School governors are corporate institutions with their own legal identity and that has always been the case. It is essential that their constitution has legislative backing. That backing is provided for in Schedule 12 to the Bill, which works together with Schedule 9.

We have slimmed down the contents of the instrument of government to the bare essentials. The instrument of government will be a brief factual document setting out the school's name, category of school, categories and numbers of governors and the names of the appointing authorities. We do not intend to go further than that, except that schools with a religious character will be required to include an ethos statement. We regard this as the minimum content for the instrument of government to ensure that there are no difficulties or ambiguities in the membership or constitution.

My understanding of the position with reference to Stephen Byers' comments, although I have not managed to check the context in the last three minutes, is that the provisions which we laid down by statute are the core of the instrument of government, but we specify that schools are otherwise able, provided they meet those core requirements, to regulate their own proceedings. There is, therefore, no contradiction between what we are proposing in these clauses and schedules and what the Minister of State said in another place.

This legislation does, however, abolish the old articles of government. The present position is that these articles govern the way that each school should be conducted, including the respective roles, responsibilities and functions of the governing body and head teachers in certain key areas.

It is essential that there should be a clear understanding on these issues. That is why we shall be addressing them in primary legislation and in the regulations under Clause 37. It is also our intention to issue guidance on these matters. But they cannot be left—as the amendment would suggest—to guidance alone which would have no statutory force. Nor, in our view, given the range and types of school and the lack of uniform experience of governing bodies and of head teachers, do we feel it would be appropriate to go down the path of a formal code of conduct for governing bodies, as has been suggested.

The abolition of articles of government is not primarily a deregulation mechanism, although in a sense it is. It is a modernising one. The provisions currently within articles will be applied directly through primary and secondary legislation. To replicate such legislation in the form of articles, school by school, has proved unworkable and unnecessarily bureaucratic. We believe that abolishing articles of government as a consequence of the new framework will simplify the system of governance for all schools and not put it in a straitjacket.

In future there will be no ambiguity. Schools will rely on what is set out in the primary or secondary legislation and they will have their own instruments of government. These proposals have been widely welcomed by the local education authorities who, in practice, currently carry the main burden of amending school articles of government to conform to successive batches of new legislation, which is wasteful and ties up LEA and school resources which could more profitably be used on other things. The abolition of articles of government, therefore, is a tidying up measure which frees school resources.

If these amendments were carried and the schedules, to a large extent at least, fell, the statutory backing for the instruments of government would fall. And if we were to drop the proposal to require articles of government school by school, the local education authorities in schools would continue to face a substantial bureaucratic burden, which would be unnecessary.

But we do build in the flexibility to which my honourable friend Stephen Byers referred in that schools can add to the core content of the instruments to meet their own particular circumstances. I hope that clarifies the position.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

I must confess that I am worried about this. Articles are inconvenient, I will allow that. They are local, they represent large chunks of history and tradition, and this Bill, as I said on Second Reading, is dirigiste. It favours neither local history nor local tradition.

To incorporate a general picture in a Bill destroys not only the limited tradition that you heard recently but quite a lot more. I say again, articles are inconvenient because they represent a local community. LEAs have often found them inconvenient. They have often defended schools against what LEAs wanted them to do. I quote again that some schools have preserved sixth forms. Some schools to which the Minister's colleagues like to send their children are often due to local articles.

I still feel that this Bill is a nationalising, dirigiste Bill. It will impose patterns and I think there will be resentment. I can well accept that local authorities will like it; it eliminates all those awkward little things that stem from history, from tradition and from things like that.

I am not happy. I shall, of course, withdraw the amendment but it is yet another mountain that we shall have to climb on Report. I understand what the Minister is saying; namely, that the present provision will make it all nice and easy. It is like a nice little manor house standing in the way of a great highway: "Get it out of the way". It may be pretty, but it is inconvenient. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 146C not moved.]

Clause 35 agreed to.

Schedule 9 [Constitution of governing bodies]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 146Q:

Page 138, line 13, after ("preserved") insert ("and developed").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 146R to T, 146V to Z, 148C and 246C. The Government are very pleased to bring forward Amendment No. 146Q at the request of the Churches. The addition of the words "and developed" is in line with the original 1944 Act definition of the purpose of a foundation governor. We recognise that the Churches are forward-looking institutions and that "preservation" should not imply that there is no room for any change whatever. The wording has stood the test of time. We are very pleased to be able to reinstate it.

The remaining amendments are technical and are designed to improve the drafting of the Bill. The first set of amendments modify the provisions on additional governors. Amendment No. 146R alters the wording of paragraph 15(1) in Schedule 9 to allow the governing body of any maintained school to make provision in its instrument of government for any number of additional governors to be specified in the regulations. The intention is for the regulations to provide for a specified number of additional governors, or a maximum number to be determined by the governing body.

Amendments No. 146S and 146T modify the wording of paragraph 15(2)(b) to allow the governing body to decide which persons within the category they may seek a nomination from. Amendment No. 146V has the effect of adjusting the number of surplus governor provisions as they apply to additional governors to ensure that only a surplus governor of the type requiring to be removed could be removed, and not any other co-opted governor within the category.

Amendment No. 146Z provides for the dissolution of the governing body to take effect from the school's discontinuance dates or at a later date which the Secretary of State may specify by order. The definitions of discontinuance dates are in line with existing legislation. The new power for the Secretary of State to specify a later date by order will be used in cases where property transactions and other matters need to be dealt with by the governing body after the date on which the school is discontinued. Finally, Amendment No. 246C is consequent upon it and adds the new paragraph 4 in Schedule 10 to Clause 127 under the list of provisions not requiring statutory instruments. I trust that these amendments are in no way contentious and that Members of the Committee will accept that they should form part of the Bill. I beg to move.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

I should like to thank the Minister for introducing Amendment No. 146Q and for listening so carefully to the concerns of the Churches that we should be seen both as developing as well as preserving the religious ethos of the schools for which we are responsible.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

12.15 a.m.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 146D:

Page 138, line 20, at end insert— ("( ) Before appointing a governor of a school, a local education authority shall consult any district, town or parish council which covers an area served by the school.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 146F, H, J, L and N, all of which deal with minor authority governors. There is great concern that the present practice of minor authority representation on primary school governing bodies will cease if this Bill is passed, unamended, by Parliament. We have received many letters, telephone calls and personal expressions of concern about the new categories of governors as defined in this Bill. All speak of the current close link formed between their local primary school and their village or town community councillor. Yet here we are about to see the ending of this statutory right. Parish and town councillors—properly elected people—who are the closest community link to their school are to have that right removed.

That is even more puzzling as in the foreword to the White Paper the Secretary of State, the right honourable David Blunkett, stated, Partnership for change means commitment from everyone: from the family and the wider community". I am sure the Committee would echo that sentiment. Yet here in this important Bill the Government will end, by right, this closest and most important link. This comes only two months after the countryside rally in March when the Government acknowledged the importance of local communities and specifically included the role of village schools. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, when replying to a debate in this Chamber on the role of grandparents, spoke of the support given by the wider family, friends, neighbours and the community.

I now refer to the comments we have received from schools, parish councils and from the Association of Parish Councils. Mr. Michael Farrar, clerk of Stapleford Parish Council wrote, The council was dismayed to learn of this proposal and felt that the present link between a parish council and its local primary school is both mutually beneficial and essential for the maintenance of a proper sense of community". A letter from the primary school in the village of Stapleford stated: We have found the link … our minor authority governor has made between the school and the parish council to be of great benefit to the school…We urge you to reconsider this proposal, to ensure that local schools continue to enjoy good relations with their local communities, a principle which the Government states it believes in". That letter was sent by the chair and deputy chair of governors to David Blunkett.

Mr. Robin Wendt, chief executive of the National Association of Local Schools, wrote of, The key role which primary schools play in the life of local communities and the role of parish, town and community councillors in articulating the needs of these communities". Under this Bill the parish, town and community councillors can sit on primary school governing bodies only as co-opted members. This position has caused widespread anger and concern among local councils.

At present LEA appointees to governing bodies are made by the political parties, in roughly the proportion of the seats they hold on the county council. To supply an "opening" for a minor authority representation out of those seats implies a political involvement in an area which at parish level has hitherto been apolitical. This could well pose difficulties in deciding who would be nominated to fill this place.

I have raised my next point in previous debates. There are reports of some schools, particularly primary schools, having LEA places unfilled. I mentioned the school of which my husband is a governor which has three LEA places. Some 12 months later two of the places are still unfilled. At the one extreme LEA places are not being filled and therefore a contribution is not made to a particular school, and at the other extreme the Government's proposals on this Bill exclude the most locally and democratically elected personnel from service. Surely that is all the more reason that the present status quo should continue to exist and that minor authority governors should not be excluded by the Bill.

I know that the noble Baroness the Minister is aware of the strength of feeling that has been aroused on this issue. Indeed, she indicated as much in a letter to my noble friend Lady Platt, who is unfortunately not here today, when she spoke of reinforcing opportunities for minor authority representation. When this Bill was debated in another place, Mr. Hain, the Minister, speaking on this issue, said: We intend to ensure an opening for minor authority representation … We recognise its value … it can add to the strength and cohesion of governing bodies".

If the Government appreciate and acknowledge the important role that minor authority governors play, and if they wish to ensure an opening for such local councillors to be able to serve on their local governing bodies, why will they not rethink this whole important issue?

The amendments proposed by the Minister go half-way. We on these Benches ask the noble Baroness to reconsider her position and be persuaded by the strength of argument in this Chamber today and the depth of concern expressed by those who serve us outside this House. I beg to move.

Lord Dormand of Easington

Will the noble Baroness say what should happen in an area where there is no parish council but a parish meeting? I happen to live in a village where there is a very active parish meeting which is very interested in local affairs. It seems to me that this amendment would deprive those people of the representation about which the noble Baroness properly feels strongly.

Baroness Byford

Indeed, it was my intention that there should be a representative from the parish council. As I say, the parish council is a democratically elected group and elects a person to serve on the local primary school committee. If I am not making sense, I am sorry.

Lord Dormand of Easington

Without wishing to prolong the matter, I am saying that in some areas there is no parish council, but there is a regular parish meeting. Are those people to be deprived of the laudable provision that is suggested?

Baroness Byford

No, indeed, I do not see why they cannot be represented. If I have erred in some way, then I will bring the matter back at the next stage. The whole idea of these amendments is to be inclusive, so that we can have good representation at local level in schools. I have waited hours to speak in this debate. I wondered whether I should be speaking on the day on which I had thought to speak, or the day after. The whole debate is to make sure that the closest elected body is not precluded. At present, the Bill suggests that those people have the chance to be included and they are open-minded on the matter. But they are not there to serve as of right, as they are at present. That is my understanding. I shall wait to hear what the Minister has to say.

Baroness Maddock

I rise to speak to similar amendments standing in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Tope, who cannot be with us, and the noble Lord, Lord Hooson. I shall not reiterate the arguments as they relate to our amendments because the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, has set them out fully and we have heard enough repetition in these debates. We have been heavily lobbied by people outside this House. The noble Lord was concerned about parish meetings. Our proposal is to keep the legislation that already exists. If the noble Lord wishes parish meetings to be included, I suggest that he proposes an amendment. I should be happy to support it. The point is that we do not want to lose the representation that parish councils have now.

Our amendments are slightly different from the Conservative amendments. They include community councils in Wales and give the right to appoint a governor to every school in a parish. The Minister will introduce an amendment which recognises some of the concerns that we all have, and I shall listen carefully to her remarks. However, on examination, and after discussing it with others, it appears not to go quite so far as we should like it to go. It is just a little disappointing. At this time of night, it seems incredibly mean. We have waited until this time to deal with one of the parts of the Bill on which we have been lobbied by many groups. Given the strength of feeling, I cannot understand why the Government cannot go the whole way on this. If I understand correctly, they are saying that they put the matter in the hands of the governors and that minor authorities are given the right to nominate but do not have full nomination rights; the other governors must consider whether they will co-opt the minor authority nomination. I may have got that wrong. This matter was debated in the other place. It is an issue that people care about. Can we have a bit of caring at twenty-five past midnight, please?

Baroness Blackstone

As the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, suggested, I am aware of the strength of feeling among minor authorities about our proposal to withdraw their right to appoint school governors for some categories of primary schools. We have assured them that there will continue to be an opening for minor authority representation. The government amendments that we have brought forward now enshrine that commitment on the face of the Bill, while allowing governing bodies to choose for themselves whether or not they wish to co-opt a minor authority representative. I shall come later to the government amendments, but first I should like to address the points raised by the two sets of amendments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for the Conservatives and the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, for the Liberal Democrats.

Turning first to Amendment No. 146D, I am aware that not all LEAs are equally diligent about appointing LEA nominees to governing bodies. It is clearly unacceptable for vacancies to be carried for many months, with the governing body deprived of another useful pair of hands. For this reason, the Government have some sympathy with Amendment No. 146D, which would require an LEA to consult any district, town or parish council covering the area served by the school before appointing LEA governors. But we believe that these matters are more appropriate for guidance on good practice rather than legislation. I hope it is helpful to the noble Baronesses on both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Benches to say that we intend to encourage LEAs in the strongest terms to be mindful of minor authority links in making their own appointments, particularly where they are having difficulty in identifying sufficient appropriate LEA nominees, as we know they sometimes do. However, we do not feel that legislation would be appropriate as it would impede the ability of democratically elected LEAs to consider freely who should represent them.

It is also the case that the proposed statutory code of practice on LEA-school relations covers appointments to governing bodies. It states that LEAs should publish the process and criteria by which they will identify candidates for appointment as LEA governors and make those appointments promptly. In the guidance we shall issue on reconstituting school governing bodies we intend to give strong encouragement to LEAs to consider minor authority nominees, particularly in cases where they are finding it difficult to fill their places. But a great deal will depend upon local circumstances. To impose a blanket requirement on all LEAs to consult, even in cases where they had no need or intention to open up their lists, would only arouse expectations which could not be fulfilled. Providing another route for minor authorities via LEAs would be confusing and blur accountability at local level.

I should like to turn now to the two different sets of proposals to add minor authority governors or parish or town council governors to school governing bodies. While it is true that we have received a great many representations in favour of maintaining the status quo, both sets of amendments go very much further than that. To accept these amendments would result in minor authorities having considerably more influence on governing bodies than they do at present. Amendments 146G to 146N make no distinction between primary and secondary schools. Maybe that was just a mistake in the drafting. Under existing legislation and under our proposals there is no requirement for minor authority representation on secondary school governing bodies. Secondary schools often take pupils from a very wide geographical area, so a significant number of minor authorities could well be involved. Extending minor authority representation to secondary schools would greatly increase the risk of disagreement about who should represent them as more authorities would need to agree.

I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, does not suggest that a minor authority governor should be appointed at foundation schools. However, Amendment No. 146J, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, would require such schools to have a "parish or town" councillor governor appointed collectively by the parish or town councils covering the area served by the school.

It is a bit surprising that a Conservative amendment should require foundation schools to have a parish or town council governor. As Members of the Committee will appreciate, it is not unheard of for either town or parish councillors to be politically aligned—it is particularly likely in the former case. I fear therefore that this would cut across the undertaking we have already given to GM schools that no more than two local authority appointees should be added to foundation school governing bodies, irrespective of size or circumstances.

The Government gauged very carefully the appropriate level of local authority representation on foundation school governing bodies. The amendment would increase that representation and we understand that such a proposal would be unwelcome to the existing grant-maintained sector. The previous government made no provision for minor authority representation on grant-maintained school governing bodies. The Government do not wish to perpetuate unnecessary divisions between different categories of school. That is why we would wish to give all primary schools the right to decide for themselves whether minor authority representation is appropriate for them.

I note that Amendment No. 146F perpetuates the current unsatisfactory position of joint appointments by minor authorities acting collectively which provides no means of determining a dispute if the parties cannot agree. Those decisions should be made locally, but we know from experience that minor authorities are not always able to secure agreement. To rely on local agreements is unworkable and the Secretary of State does not feel that it should continue to be a function of the department operating from Whitehall to determine disputes of that kind.

I turn now to the Government's amendments relating to minor authority representation. Amendment No. 146U amends paragraph 15 of Schedule 9 to place on the face of the Bill the duty for governing bodies of primary schools serving minor authority areas to consider co-opting minor authority nominees. Where a primary school is served by more than one minor authority, it will be open to the governing body to approach any one or more of those authorities as they see fit. Special provision is made for voluntary-aided schools, which do not generally have co-opted governors, to have a co-opted governor nominated by a minor authority if the governing body thinks fit.

Amendment No. 208A is consequential to Amendment No. 146U. Placing the provisions on minor authority representation on the face of the Bill enables this amendment to Clause 78 to allow for a co-opted governor nominated by a minor authority to be an ex officio trustee at a foundation or voluntary school. That follows the spirit of the existing legislation which allows the governors appointed by foundations, LEAs or minor authorities, to be ex officio trustees at foundation or voluntary schools.

Bringing provision for minor authority representation on the face of the Bill now requires the term "minor authority" to be defined in the Bill. Accordingly, Amendment No. 255C inserts a new clause defining the circumstances under which a maintained school would be regarded as serving an area for which there is a minor authority. I point out to my noble friend Lord Dormand of Easington that a parish meeting will provide the representative where there is no parish council. It provides for minor authorities to be either parish councils or parish meetings where there is no parish council, community councils in Wales or district councils. Town councils are included in the reference to parish councils. Where a school is not situated within a parish or unitary authority, the clause allows for more than one district council to be regarded as a minor authority.

Finally, Amendment No. 257S adds a reference to a minor authority in the index of expressions set out in Clause 131. I would like to assure all concerned that there is no intention to undermine the quality of rural life or indeed to undervalue the enormous contribution which representatives on minor authorities make to their communities or to the schools which serve them. We believe that the majority of primary schools, given the choice, would still wish to include a minor authority governor as a co-opted representative.

We understand the uncertainty that many minor authority interests have felt over the Government's intentions and that is why we have decided, given the very obvious strength of feeling on the issue, to make those intentions clear on the face of the Bill instead of in regulations as originally intended. Alongside those regulations we plan to issue strong guidance urging governing bodies to consider co-opting a minor authority nominee to represent the local community. We also plan to ask LEAs to consider nominating such individuals themselves. We have reflected very carefully on this issue, as I hope what I have said indicates. But on balance we believe that the decision should be left to governing bodies themselves.

As I indicated, we have received a great many representations on this matter although we have received hardly any from the schools themselves and none at all from LEAs. Our proposals for the constitution of governing bodies are consistent with the rest of our proposals for the governing bodies. Our desire is to see schools treated more equitably and to ensure that governing bodies are kept to a reasonable size. By "reasonable size" we mean with sufficient governors to ensure that business is conducted efficiently, but not so many that the governing body becomes over-large and unwieldy.

In the light of what I have said, I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.

Baroness Maddock

Members of the Committee will know that that was an incredibly disappointing answer. I felt that the Minister was offering crumbs from the table to parish councils. I believe the Minister said that particularly in cases where the local education authority could not find governors itself it might consider asking the parish council. I found that particularly disappointing and surprising. It is not the kind of remark which the Minister normally makes.

She also indicated that we were slightly changing the amendments. I believe that my amendment improves the situation that we have now. We were not even asking for the status quo. If we asked for that, would the Minister look on the matter more favourably? Perhaps she will indicate whether that is so. The noble Baroness then tried to sell the provision to us by saying that it was going to be put into regulations, but we have been very kind and put it on the face of the Bill. I do not believe that anyone is going to be fooled, least of all the parish councils and minority authorities who lobbied us. I feel sure that we shall return to this matter again.

Baroness Byford

Perhaps I may return again to the Minister's response. I, too, am equally disappointed. It was hoped that the status quo would be allowed to exist. The Minister has moved some way to meet some of our requests. She spoke about co-option; possible openings; recommending the strongest terms; not imposing; and primary schools being satisfied at having someone from their LEA appointed rather than a local person being appointed.

I wish to ask the Minister two things. On looking at the amendments as they stand, obviously we have asked for a place in primary and secondary schools. If our amendment referred just to primary schools, would the Government reconsider? The last comment that the Minister made was about the size of the governing body. We are not changing the size of the governing body. All that we are changing—or rather, all that the Government are proposing to change—is that there may be certain nominees, with appointments being made by LEAs, with perhaps political rather than non-political appointees. The point of our amendment is to ensure that a parish council, which is duly elected and is the closest link to the school, should be allowed to continue to put forward its nominee for election as a governor as of right in primary schools.

Baroness Blackstone

Perhaps I may answer those two points briefly. It would be an improvement if the amendments related only to primary schools and did not go wider to include secondary schools, but I do not think that confining the provisions to primary schools would solve the Government's problems for the reasons I have explained, relating to an undertaking that has been given to grant-maintained schools.

The issue of the size of the governing body is not crucial to the argument. I mentioned it at the end because it is clearly important, as I am sure the noble Baroness will agree, that governing bodies should be of a sensible and reasonable size to get on with their business.

Baroness Byford

I thank the Minister for her response. Obviously, I am not happy about it and I expect that there will be great disappointment out there among our primary schools and parish councils. I should like to read Hansard—not tomorrow, but the day after—and to return to the issue at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 146E to 146N not moved.]

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendments Nos. 146R to 146V:

Page 143, leave out line 20 and insert ("specified in or determined in accordance with regulations.").

Page 143, line 24, leave out ("by whom") and insert ("from amongst whose members").

Page 143, line 24, leave out ("may be made") and insert ("are to be sought").

Page 143, line 25, at end insert—

("(3) If, in the case of any voluntary aided school which—

  1. (a) is a primary school, and
  2. (b) serves an area for which there are one or more minor authorities,
the governing body so determine, the instrument of government for the school shall provide for the governing body to include (in addition to the governors required by virtue of paragraph 14 and any required by virtue of sub-paragraph (1)) one co-opted governor nominated by the minor authority or (as the case may be) one of the minor authorities in question; and the governing body of any such school must decide whether or not to make a determination under this sub-paragraph.

(4) Where any such school serves an area for which there are two or more minor authorities, the relevant governors may, for the purposes of the appointment of any such co-opted governor, seek nominations from any one or more of those authorities as the governors think fit.

(5) In sub-paragraph (4) "the relevant governors" means those members of the school's governing body who are not co-opted governors.

Co-opted governors nominated by minor authorities

15A.—(1) In the case of any maintained school (other than a voluntary aided school) which—

  1. (a) is a primary school, and
  2. (b) serves an area for which there are one or more minor authorities,
the relevant governors shall, when making an appointment of a co-opted governor in accordance with paragraphs 9 to 13, consider whether to appoint as such a governor a person nominated by the minor authority or (as the case may be) one of the minor authorities in question (unless one or more such persons are for the time being so appointed).

(2) Where any such school serves an area for which there are two or more minor authorities, the relevant governors may, for the purposes of the appointment of any such co-opted governor, seek nominations from any one or more of those authorities as the governors think fit.

(3) In this paragraph "the relevant governors" has the meaning given by paragraph 15(5).").

Page 144, line 2, at end insert—

("(4) Where the governing body of a maintained school includes any additional governors appointed in pursuance of paragraph 15, this paragraph shall apply to the school as if such of those governors as are nominated by a particular category of person constituted a separate category of governor.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 9, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 10 [Incorporation of governing bodies]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendments Nos. 146W to 146Z:

Page 144, line 18, leave out ("by") and insert ("before").

Page 144, line 23, leave out ("by") and insert ("before").

Page 144, line 25, leave out ("by") and insert ("before").

Page 146, line 27, at end insert—

("Dissolution of governing body

4.—(1) If the school is discontinued, the governing body are dissolved by virtue of this paragraph—

  1. (a) on the discontinuance date, or
  2. (b) on such later date as the Secretary of State may specify by order made before the discontinuance date.

(2) In this paragraph "the discontinuance date" means—

  1. (a) the date when proposals for discontinuing the school are implemented under Part III of Schedule 6,
  2. (b) the date when the school is discontinued under section 29, or
  3. (c) the date specified in a direction given under section 19(1) or 31(1),
as the case may be.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 10, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 11 [Membership and proceedings etc. of governing bodies]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 147:

Page 148, line 24, leave out ("they consider") and insert ("is").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 147, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 148 and 152. Amendments No. 147 and 148 are an opportunity to ask the Government how they expect local authorities to be held to account for the standards they apply to governor training. Is this one of those wonderful bits of education legislation which leaves everybody powerless and the local authority without any real responsibilities or somewhere hidden in the wording is there something which will allow either the local people or the Secretary of State to impose some degree of guidance or control on the standards of governor training?

Amendment No. 152—a totally separate issue—concerns the meaning of the phrases "high standards" and "educational achievement". Perhaps I can find the right page in the Bill. I am very surprised. I thought that I had found it earlier. Perhaps the Government know where it is. I believe that it should be on page 32, line 5. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, understands that that is where it is supposed to be.

The promotion of high standards of educational achievement is a very noble aim, but it does not appear to be anchored to any ability to turn that into reality. If that is something that a governing body is supposed to do it must know what is meant by "high standards". One could say that the hills in East Anglia were high. By local standards they might be high, but they would not be high by Welsh standards. Educational achievement varies across the country in a similar fashion. I believe that a governing body should have regard to a national measure of "high standards" rather than whether it is doing better than its neighbours.

As to educational achievement, that can be very loosely and differently defined. What is important? What level of educational achievement is satisfactory? By what measures will such achievement be judged? I see nothing in the Bill to enable the Government or anyone else to set out the standards by which the two phrases in Clause 37(2) can be judged. My rather imperfect Amendment No.152 may provide a way of doing that, if it is put in the right place in the Bill. I beg to move.

12.45 a.m.

The Chairman of Committees

I should point out to the Committee that, as Amendment No. 152 is also being spoken to, if Amendment No. 149A is agreed to I cannot call Amendments Nos. 150 to 152.

Lord Whitty

It appears from the drafting of the first amendment that the noble Lord aims to do what his Front Bench has argued the Government should not do; namely, to lay down precise formulations and impose a straitjacket on local authorities and governing bodies.

Amendment No. 147 relates to the provision of information. It is clear that at present governing bodies can carry out their functions only if they have the information in a form that they can understand. Most governing bodies will look to the head teacher to provide such information. Clause 41(4) of the Bill places a requirement on the head to provide the governing body with such reports in connection with the discharge of his duties as the governing body may require to enable it to exercise its functions. Clause 41 places a similar duty on head teachers and governing bodies to provide information to the LEA for the purpose of exercising its functions.

These requirements, which reflect existing legislation, are to be further buttressed by the guidance on exchanging information in the proposed code of practice on LEA-school relations. If LEAs, head teachers and governing bodies are to work in partnership they will need to agree among themselves sensible arrangements for exchanging information and the form of that information. The department is providing increasing amounts of information to governors, but it will be up to the LEA to agree with governing bodies what further information it can usefully provide to help governors set their schools' performance in context and understand how it compares with others. The effect of the amendment is to try to establish an objective single form of information that applies in all local authorities, whereas we believe that the information which follows discussion between the local authority and the governing body will meet the circumstances of particular areas and schools.

A similar argument applies to Amendment No. 148 which relates to governor training. Local education authorities are well placed to consider along with their governing body partners the type of information and training which governors need to do an effective job. Given the wide range of interests and individuals represented on governing bodies we do not believe that a single centrally imposed model, which the amendment implies, would be the right course of action. Governors are at different stages of development, and have marked differences in knowledge and understanding.

However, we share the noble Lord's concern, which lies behind the amendment, that there should be an improvement in the amount of training for governors. We have already stepped up that provision. That is why the White Paper Excellence in Schools committed the department to issuing guidance on how governors' training needs can best be met, drawing on the best of existing LEA practice. Officials are working with LEA governor trainers to identify good practice, and intend to publish a document in the autumn. In view of all that activity, amendments which imply that there should be one form of training for all governors in all areas should be resisted. There should be a recognition that the back-up and support which the department is giving to governors and LEAs in the provision of training should be supported.

With regard to Amendment No. 152, I understand the noble Lord's anxiety that we should define more closely "high standards" and "educational achievement". If we follow that through, there is a danger that we start to write targets for schools into regulations about governing bodies. That is something we wish to avoid. The regulations proposed in this clause are concerned with things such as establishing the governing body's terms of reference, role and responsibilities, and the respective roles which the head teacher and the governing body should be playing. They are not about setting targets for the school's achievement.

There is plenty of advice in this area. The department has issued recently, for consultation, draft guidance for LEAs on education development plans, which covers pupils' standards of achievement, the quality of teaching and learning, and the quality of leadership and management, including support for governors. Governing bodies clearly have a major role to play in the raising of expectations and of standards. To write into regulations the precise educational targets which governors will be required to deliver would be counter-productive and would not gell well with what is required under the regulations which state the more basic requirements for governing bodies.

The raising of educational standards is clearly shared by us all. That statement does not pretend to be a defined objective target against which the performance of a governing body can be measured. It is a description of the role which we see governing bodies having in driving up standards in schools in general. We do not wish to be restrictive or prescriptive in the way in which we define that in regulations, as the amendment implies. I understand the noble Lord's anxieties in this area. I hope that he will accept that his amendments would not achieve his objectives.

Lord Lucas

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply to the amendments. I accept what he has said. I am delighted to have his assurance about guidance on governor training and information for governors. That answers the question underlying those two amendments. I accept his strictures on Amendment No. 152. I shall read in Hansard tomorrow what he has said, and if I have any further questions I shall write to him. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 148 not moved.]

Schedule 11 agreed to.

Clause 36 [Instruments of government]:

[Amendments Nos. 148A and 148B not moved.]

Clause 36 agreed to.

Schedule 12 [Instruments of government]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 148C:

Page 149, leave out lines 12 to 15 and insert— ("(ii) the categories of person from amongst whose members nominations for the appointment of any additional governors required by virtue of paragraph 15 of Schedule 9 are to be sought, (iii) the number of such governors for whose appointment nominations are to be sought in the case of each such category of person, (iiia) where the school is a community special school, whether it has a representative governor by virtue of paragraph 10 of Schedule 9, and").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment has already been spoken to.

Baroness Blatch

I have given notice of my intention to oppose Schedules 11 and 12. I said "not moved" to Amendments Nos. 148A and 148B. I did not say "not moved" to Schedule 11. Schedule 11 has not been called. I am sorry, but I did not hear Schedule 11 called.

Noble Lords

Yes, it has.

Baroness Blatch

The noble Lord has just called Schedule 12. Therefore I shall oppose Schedule 12 and put forward the same arguments as I would have done to Schedule 11.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Burnham)

Schedule 12, Amendment No. 148C, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone.

Baroness Blackstone

It has already been moved.

[Amendment No. 149 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Schedule 12 stand part of the Bill?

Baroness Blatch

If the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, is being allowed to backtrack on having said "not moved" I find that extraordinary. I have been told that I cannot speak to Schedule 11 and go back on what I thought was an omission.

I rise to oppose that Schedule 12 stand part of the Bill. I shall be brief because the arguments were made earlier by my noble friend Lord Pilkington. This really is a straitjacket. The Government have made much of the importance of local flexibility. They have made much of the importance of attending to the wishes of local people and of local schools. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Pilkington suggests that by cancelling out Schedules 11 and 12 we should remove the straitjacket that every school shall be bound by the one single stricture: the one single set of procedures for governing bodies; the one single set of instruments; and the disappearance and abolition of the articles of government. It is the articles of government which give schools their distinctive character. Some schools may not wish to avail themselves. A large proportion of schools in the country may well settle for model guidance and there will be no problem.

However, the Government go for the administrative, tidy solution, because some schools may want distinctive, characteristic, idiosyncratic articles of government which conform to all the laws but nevertheless reflect the distinctive nature of the school and which might give local education authorities more work. Local education authorities are there to serve schools. They are there to serve governing bodies. A number of governing bodies would lament very much the passing of the articles and the fact that they are bound by the single regulatory framework which is offered by Schedules 11 and 12.

It is administratively tidy. It offers no flexibility. It panders to one of the worst notions I can think of: dull uniformity. How can we accept the proposition that dull uniformity should persist? Even the school which the Prime Minister's children attend has distinctive articles of governance which will not be allowed under the Bill because they will be subject to the strictures of the regulations set out in Schedules 11 and 12.

The words "control freaks" have been used about the Government. When one considers the Bill, that is what it adds up to—central control throughout. Membership and proceedings, instruments and articles of government should be a matter for guidance from government. We think that Government should take an interest in it, but the idea that those matters should be hidebound by strict, monolithic sets of regulations flies in the face of what we would all want to see, which is distinctive characteristic diversity at a local level.

Lord Monkswell

Perhaps I may intervene. My understanding was that Amendment No. 148C was moved but not called by the Chairman of Committees, so that the Committee did not have an opportunity to make a decision on that amendment. I appreciate that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, spoke on whether the clause shall stand part, but I wonder if the Committee could prevail upon the Chairman of Committees to call Amendment No. 148C. That would enable the Committee to make a decision on that amendment, prior to the Minister responding to the argument of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on whether the clause shall stand part.

Baroness Blatch

Amendment No. 148C had already been debated and I simply said "not moved".

Lord Monkswell

My understanding was that the government response to Amendment No. 148C being called was that it had already been spoken to, and by implication that they were moving it. The difficulty we are placed in is that, for fairly understandable reasons, the amendment was not called in terms of a Division, so it would seem to me that it would put matters right, if I can put it like that, if the Chairman of Committees could ask whether Amendment No. 148C is agreed. The Committee could then make a decision on that and the Minister could then respond to the arguments that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has made about the clause stand part.

The Chairman of Committees

Perhaps the matter can be resolved in this way. I understand that the question on Amendment No. 148C was not put. Perhaps I may put it now. I believe it can be moved formally.

Baroness Blackstone

I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Whitty

Returning to the Question that Schedule 12, as amended, shall be agreed to, the noble Baroness has spoken against the Motion. Perhaps I could reply to her before we take a decision on it.

As the noble Baroness said, much of this was debated in the amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. The noble Baroness claims that the abolition of articles of government and the provisions relating to the instruments of government form a straitjacket. The instruments of government are not a straitjacket; they are a modernisation. They provide for certain core information that will be required, detailing the name of the school, its category, the composition of its governing body and, where applicable, those entitled to appoint foundation governors, and, for schools with a religious character, a statement of the school's ethos. As I said in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, there will be additional provisions to those provided by individual schools, which will build in the flexibility to those instruments of government.

As far as the old articles are concerned, I understood the romantic notions of the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, that these often archaic documents were great defences of freedom. Nevertheless, they were very outdated in many cases, and schools as well as local education authorities found them difficult to work to, requiring regular updating as legislation or regulations changed.

If Schedule 12 were deleted it would delete all reference to instruments of government. The instruments of government are necessary. Some uniformity of part of those instruments of government is necessary; other parts will be agreed between the governing body and the local education authority; and other parts can be added by the individual school. I think that gives adequate flexibility, and I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her opposition to this schedule standing part of the Bill.

Baroness Blatch

That is a deeply disappointing answer. There is one set of regulations for all 25,000 schools in the whole country, with no flexibility for idiosyncratic characteristics to be reflected. I would like the noble Lord to point to where in the Bill, either in Schedule 11 or Schedule 12, it is spelt out that governing bodies can be additionally flexible.

Lord Whitty

It sets out the basic information that is required. It then requires that the instrument will be completed by the governing body using a model pro forma. But it will be possible to complete it in the light of the circumstances of that school.

It is interesting that few GM schools wanted the amendments to the standard instruments because it was so difficult to keep them in line with regular updatings of the regulations. That will be even more true with community schools, as we will be calling them.

We are not imposing a straitjacket. We are tidying up the situation and making it a little more modern than the manor house of the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. Nevertheless, we are preserving the essential ethos of that manor house in a new context. I trust that the destruction of the schedule, which would remove all statutory backing for instruments of government, would be regarded as a deregulation too far, even by the noble Baroness opposite.

Baroness Blatch

It would not remove the need for instruments or articles of government; it would insist that all schools need to have instruments and articles. It would leave flexibility for them to determine their nature. The noble Lord has wheeled out the old chestnut that because not many schools do it none should do it. That is a policy of despair. Regardless of how few schools want to do it, if they have good reason for doing so they should be supported.

The school which the Prime Minister's children attend cedes powers to the head under articles of government which are agreed by the governors. Under the Bill, that will not be allowed. If the noble Lord is saying to me that under the Bill powers can be ceded over and above the regulations set out in Schedule 12 I shall be a much happier bunny as I go to bed tonight—or this morning.

Lord Whitty

The basic provisions cannot be altered because they are standard provisions. But there can be flexibility over and above those standard provisions relating to the particular ethos of the school. That is the context in which my honourable friend Stephen Byers was speaking in another place.

Baroness Blatch

I am not talking to the honourable gentleman Stephen Byers, I am talking to the Minister in this House. I am not talking about the basic regulations. They are already here and the noble Lord has made it clear that they cannot be altered and will apply to all schools. Beyond that, can he assure me that over and above the regulations in Schedule 12 powers can be ceded within the governing body to the head? Can matters over and above what is in regulations be ceded? Accepting that Schedule 12 stands part of the Bill, will there be flexibility to exercise some of the powers which are now exercised under present statutes?

Lord Whitty

I do not believe that the term "over and above" is correct. It is in addition to what is provided; they cannot alter what is laid down as standard provisions. There can be additional provisions, but they cannot alter the standard provisions.

If the noble Baroness wishes, I will clarify the matter in writing. However, I am suddenly advised that they can build in extra procedures and rules, but not ones which contradict the basic requirements of the instrument. I repeat that if the noble Baroness requires further clarification I shall be happy to provide it in writing.

Baroness Blatch

I certainly do need further clarification. If I remove my words "over and above" and say "additional to", so that I use the same language as the noble Lord, can he assure me that the powers that are used by, for example, by the Oratory School under its present articles of government can be translated under the new Bill'? In other words, can the things it does not do, which are not included in Schedule 12, be done in addition to what is laid down in Schedule 12

Lord Whitty

I regret that I am not sufficiently aware of the precise provisions of the London Oratory School. What I am saying is that schools can provide, under their own standing orders and procedures, additional arrangements for how they conduct their affairs. What I am also saying is that they cannot contradict what are the basic requirements for the instrument itself.

Schedule 12, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 37 [General responsibility of governing body for conduct of school]:

[Amendment No. 149A not moved.]

Baroness Maddock moved Amendment No. 150:

Page 32, line 7, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment and Amendment No. 151 were moved by the Liberal Democrats in another place. We want to see, not that regulations may set out terms of reference, but that they shall set out the terms of reference for governing bodies of schools and define the respective roles of governors and head teachers, etc. Amendment No. 151 also provides for them to make standing orders to regulate the conduct of their business. I think it is important to stress that although we want to ensure that their respective functions and relationships are spelt out, we are not setting out to prescribe from the centre what they should be.

I shall quote from my honourable friend in another place, Phil Willis. I think he put the case very well from his own experience in saying: The relationship between the head teacher and the governing body is crucial to the effective running of a school. Nothing is more important, particularly if we consider the relationship between the head and the chairman of governors. I can say that from having been chair of governors in a school. Most head teachers would value knowing exactly where their operational responsibilities lay. … It is crucial that each school should know exactly where it stands. We want to see that enshrined in regulations. He went on to say: The governing bodies in all GM schools have operated under standing orders. Again, head teachers value enormously a good relationship with the governing body".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee A, 10/2/98; col. 438.]

The Minister, Estelle Morris, in another place, understood the point of what we were saying and pointed out that they were in the process of consulting on the regulations and that they were happy to include these ideas in the consultation. If the Minister has anything to report tonight, we should like to hear it. If not, perhaps we shall have to wait for a further stage. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone

The Bill already provides the necessary scope to regulate on the terms of reference for governing bodies and the respective roles and responsibilities of the governing body and head teacher and to confer responsibilities. These are powers which we fully intend to use. But we do not want to be tied to legislating on every detail set out in Clause 37(3). The powers are intentionally permissive in order to give us the latitude to cover in regulations only those matters which we consider most helpful in clarifying the respective roles and responsibilities.

Our aim is to produce regulations which provide genuine clarification on the framework within which governing bodies and heads should work together. We plan to consult widely on the draft regulations. Prior to that we will test the views of the key partners so that what we do produce is workable.

Much of the content is likely to be familiar territory. For example, some provisions are already in existing articles of government. However, we plan only to regulate on key roles and responsibilities. We do not want to be drawn by this amendment into producing a long list of governing body and head teacher responsibilities which would repeat much of what is in existing legislation or proposed by this Bill.

Our particular concern regarding standing orders is the additional burden that producing them would impose on governing bodies. We fear that it would divert governing bodies from concentrating on the key issue of standards if they were required to spend time discussing their own procedures. Such procedures as we consider essential for the smooth conduct of governing bodies will be contained in regulations to be made under Schedule 11. Beyond that, governing bodies should be free to choose for themselves with what degree of formality they should conduct their affairs. Governing bodies vary greatly, and what is appropriate for a large secondary school may feel quite wrong in a small primary school. However, we have indicated in another place that our minds are not closed on the issue of standing orders. The Bill, as currently drafted, would not preclude a requirement for standing orders in the regulations if a consensus for their support emerged on consultation. Any school will be able to adopt standing orders if it wishes as Schedule 11 allows governing bodies to regulate their own procedure and that of any committees subject to what is set out in regulations. We will be seeking practitioners' views on whether governing bodies should have standing orders, and what they might contain.

It is neither necessary nor desirable to have every detail of what regulations may include on the face of the Bill. The regulations will be fully consulted upon and a decision taken about the inclusion of standing orders. Therefore, I ask the noble Baroness to consider withdrawing her amendment.

Baroness Maddock

I thank the Minister for that response. I shall read very carefully the Hansard report of what she said. At this time of night it is not always easy to take in such a response and interpret exactly what it means. However, I picked up the fact that the Minister is of the view that we want to put everything in the Bill. We have indeed been very specific here. We were concerned about the relationship between governors and head teachers. I believe that the Minister is accusing us of seeking to do more than we actually intended. Nevertheless, I shall study her response. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 151 and 152 not moved.]

1.15 a.m.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 153:

Page 32, line 20, at end insert—

("(4) The first regulations under this section shall be laid in draft before both Houses of Parliament and shall be subject to approval by resolution of each House.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 154, 160, 162, 166, 199, 200, 224, 225, 227, 228, 248 to 251 and 253 to 255. These amendments are coupled with two government amendments; namely, Amendments Nos. 255A and 246A. Our debate so far on the Bill has more than convinced me of the need to take a very close interest in the secondary legislation which will flow from it. As we all know—and this is certainly true of all legislation—the devil is very much in the detail. Indeed, when one looks at part of this Bill, it is clear that we shall find a very real devil as regards the detail, especially in connection with the four action zone clauses. A great deal of activity will flow from them, much of which is still only a matter of speculation. My reason for tabling this raft of amendments is to ensure that any regulations produced will be subject to approval under the affirmative resolution procedure of both Chambers.

I have two brief points to make. First, on reading the amendments tabled in the name of the noble Baroness—Amendments Nos. 255A and 246A—it seems to me, from my limited technical understanding of them, that it could just be possible that they subsume all of my amendments in toto; in other words, that every one of my amendments where I call for affirmative resolution for regulations that flow from the Bill will in fact be subject to that procedure. I would not only welcome confirmation of that, I would also be very pleased to hear it.

Secondly, I have a question for the Minister. I suspect that it is more a case of ignorance on my part. I cannot really blame this on the lateness of the hour, it is just that the information has gone from my memory. Can the Minister confirm that Amendment No. 247 was agreed to on either the first or second day of the Committee stage of the Bill? It actually relates to Clause 1, so I presume that it must have been discussed on the first day of Committee. I ask that question because I should like to couple it with my amendments. My dim, distant memory of the early stages of the Bill is that Amendment No. 247 was in fact accepted by the Minister. If that is so, I would appreciate her confirmation in that respect. I feel strongly that we ought to give Parliament an opportunity to see some of the detail that we would like to have had before us in discussing the Bill. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone

As I said when the Committee met for the first time on 5th May, the Government will respond in a positive manner to the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee's report. In answer to the noble Baroness's question, Amendment No. 247 concerned class sizes. I said that we would return to the issue of class sizes on Report. During our previous debate I proposed amendments which clarified the Committee's concerns in respect of Clause 21(7). I shall be delighted to move the two government amendments in the group of amendments we are discussing, Amendments Nos. 246A and 255A.

Amendments Nos. 246A and 255A give effect to the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee's recommendations in respect of the resolution procedures to be used for those provisions covering governance, local management of schools, admission and exclusion appeals and grammar schools. The particular drafting employed by parliamentary counsel means that only these two amendments cover recommendations of the committee over much of the Bill and cover the same issues as the 19 amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I am not sure how they have done it, but I am assured that these two amendments cover the same issues as the 19 amendments that the noble Baroness has tabled for discussion today.

Regulations made under Sections 37(3), 38(1), 45, 46, 47(1), 100 or 101 (2) will all be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure on the first occasion that those regulations are made. That is consistent with what the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee suggested. In addition, orders made under paragraph 19 of Schedule 18, paragraph 16 of Schedule 24 or paragraph 14 of Schedule 25 will be subject to the affirmative procedure. I do not know whether the Committee will find it helpful if I discuss each of the committee's recommendations in turn.

Noble Lords


Baroness Blackstone

In that case I hope the Committee will welcome the Government's amendments. They meet the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee's recommendations in all the areas that I have just listed. The Government will propose more amendments in due course.

Baroness Blatch

I do not think anyone would want an even longer technical explanation, but I want an answer to my question. I understood the noble Baroness to say that she is responding to the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee's recommendations. My amendments go rather wider than that; they ask for affirmative resolution on a number of regulations which are additional to those recommended in the report. Are any of my amendments not subsumed by the noble Baroness's amendments? I need to know whether that is the case. If they are not, I shall want to make my arguments in the context of particular sections of the Bill.

As regards Amendment No. 247, I thought we had addressed this matter when we discussed class size pledges. The noble Baroness simply said that she would return to the matter. Will she bring forward an amendment that meets my request; namely that the regulations which flow from Clause 1 of the Bill will be subject to affirmative resolution by both Chambers?

Baroness Blackstone

As I said when we discussed class sizes, we shall return to the issue on Report. This evening we are not discussing the part of the Bill that relates to class sizes. I cannot therefore give the noble Baroness the positive answer that she requires. As I said, I shall return to this matter on Report. I am hopeful that I shall be able to give a positive response, but I cannot confirm that this evening.

I was not aware that the other amendments tabled by the noble Baroness went beyond the proposals in the report of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. I thought that the amendments reflected the committee's recommendations. The two government amendments are entirely responsive to the committee. They do not go beyond that. I hope that that answers the noble Baroness's question.

Baroness Blatch

It does partly, and I am grateful for that. However, when I was a Minister I had a response for every single amendment that came before the House. I simply wish to know from the noble Baroness whether or not all my amendments to which officials have given a response are consistent with the proposals of the scrutiny committee, or whether they are subsumed by the noble Baroness's amendments.

Baroness Blackstone

The advice that I received was that the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness give effect to the recommendations of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. If that advice is wrong, I shall be happy to write to the noble Baroness on those amendments which are apparently different. I hope that reply is helpful.

Lord Lucas

I should be grateful if the noble Baroness could explain to me what dangers of hybridity arise under Clause 100 which she is seeking to evade.

Baroness Blackstone

Perhaps I might write to the noble Lord. I cannot answer that question at this time of night.

Baroness Blatch

This is positively the last time that I shall speak tonight. Perhaps I may thank the noble Baroness, as I promised my noble friend Lady Young I would, for acceding to her request that she might go home earlier—she was not feeling too well and she has a heavy day tomorrow—and for accepting that the last amendments tabled for debate tonight might become the first amendments for debate on Thursday. There was another point that I wished to make; however, I shall leave it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 37 agreed to.

Clause 38 [Additional functions of governing body]:

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 153A:

Page 32, line 31, at end insert—

("( ) The governing body of a maintained school shall have a duty to facilitate and give reasonable assistance to parents who wish to establish an organisation within the school to represent parents.").

The noble Baroness said: The aim of this amendment is to clarify the role of governors to assist parents who want to set up an organisation for parents based on the school. This section in the Bill which confers additional powers on the governing body provides an opportunity to clarify what has been a confused situation.

Although the 1986 Education Act gave the right to parents to elect parent governors to the school governing body, the right of parents to set up an organisation to meet together in the school is not clear in law. If parents are to be treated as partners, it is essential that, if they wish, they should be able to form an association based on the school. This subsection would clarify the right of parents to form an association if they wish. It would not require such organisations to be set up, but would establish a climate so that such organisations would be encouraged.

Governors have an overall duty for the running of the school. It seems sensible that it should be the role of the governing body to assist parents if it is clear that the parents want to have such an organisation. It would give the governing body a clear role in encouraging parental participation.

This change would not be by any means a cure-all to ensure perfect home-school relationships. Parent involvement involves individual parents working with individual teachers to help their child learn. It also has a wider perspective which includes how a representative parental voice can be heard in the governance of schools.

This subsection is based on one which will be included in a Irish Education Bill. The Irish Bill will also enshrine the right of parents to be consulted on education policy.

This clause also reflects one of the functions of Scottish school boards, which is to promote contact between the school, parents and the community and to promote the formation of parents associations. Surely we do not want to be left behind other parts of the UK.

Also, many European countries have class meetings and parents' councils in schools. Parents' councils or associations allow parents to consult and be consulted on school policies in a democratic way. They establish an expectation that parents will be, and should be, involved in schools. Are we to do less?

Despite the great deal of rhetoric about parental power in recent years, so-called power is in fact limited almost entirely to parental choice at the time of choosing a school. In fact, it is not always parental choice; it gives the parents the chance to name their preference, but they may not get their choice. Parents do have rights to information through the prospectus, the annual report from governors and an annual meeting. Influence within the school once the "choice" is made can in fact be fairly minimal. Parents do not want power but to be consulted and to have their views taken seriously.

The amendment has the support of the PTA for Wales, the UK Education Forum, Family Education and Playwork in Devon, which has been doing splendid work in involving families, and the Alliance of Parents and Schools. In response to a letter to my noble friend, Lady Blackstone, from Mrs Tulloch, the chairman of CASE, the civil servant responding for my noble friend said in her letter: Parents' associations can provide an important underpinning for effective partnerships and the Government would certainly encourage governing bodies to ensure their school has one".

I am now giving the Government the opportunity to do that. I beg to move.

1.30 a.m.

Lord Whitty

I am grateful to my noble friend Lady David for raising this important issue at this late hour. The Government believe that parents should be more involved in the education in their schools. We have brought forward in the Bill proposals for home-school agreements in Clauses 103 and 104. We are increasing parental representation on governing bodies and parent representatives on education committees. We are providing better procedures to protect parents by ensuring that governing bodies take their complaints seriously, and that will be laid down in regulations. We also propose to retain the annual parents' meeting.

The amendment clearly goes further than that in requiring governing bodies to facilitate the establishment of a parent representative committee in some form, leaving it to the parents as to what form that representation would take. I am aware that, as my noble friend said, this proposal has widespread support. We are mindful that existing arrangements at school level are not always very satisfactory. However, I ask my noble friend to allow us to reflect further with colleagues on the issues raised and to return to the matter, I hope, at Report stage. I hope that in the light of my remarks, which are intended to be positive, my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment at this stage.

Baroness David

I thank my noble friend the Minister for his response, which, on the whole, was fairly satisfactory, although it did not go the whole way in saying that governors would have the possibility of having parents' associations in the school. However, it was quite a decent response and I hope it means that the Government will come back with an amendment at Report stage. On that assumption, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 154 not moved.]

Clause 38 agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 154A to 154G not moved.]

Clause 39 agreed to.

Schedule 13 [Control of school premises by governing bodies]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 155:

Page 152, line 43, at end insert ("and shall reimburse the governing body for any expense necessarily incurred by the governing body solely as a result of such directions and not otherwise recoverable by the governing body").

The noble Lord said: Paragraph 1(3) of Schedule 13 gives the local authority an absolute right to, give such directions as to the occupation and use of the premises of a community or community special school as they think fit".

The kind of things I would expect to see happening under this provision are the after-hours use of theatres or other premises within the school for the local community, youth clubs or other groups. I do not seek to raise any objection in principle to that but simply to say that, if that does happen, a school can face considerable costs in terms of security equipment and other provisions to ensure that its premises are secure at a time when there are not pupils and staff to keep a watch on what is going on in the place. I can think of several examples where large sums have had to be expended to accommodate the results of such a decision and to deal with the problems of vandalism and theft which would otherwise arise if the school was not properly secured.

It is not reasonable that a school should have to meet from its own resources the costs of providing the security which is only required because the local authority gave a direction that the school should be used out of hours. The purpose of the amendment is to make sure that the local authority bears the costs of its decisions in that regard. I am comforted by the Government's decision to group some of their amendments with this one and by the response of the noble Lord, Lord Whiny, to the last amendment. I hope that this may be similarly greeted. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

I shall speak mainly to the government amendments which deal with an issue slightly different from that raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.

The amendments are straightforward. They deal with the power of governing bodies to transfer the control of their premises to a third party during school hours. That is covered by Amendments Nos. 155A to C. The Bill provides that the governing body of a community, foundation or voluntary school will have control of the premises both during and outside school hours and that the governing body of such a school may transfer to a third party control of the premises outside school hours. The governing body of a foundation or voluntary school may also transfer control of the premises during school hours. The Bill as drafted leaves uncertain the powers of the governing body of a community school to transfer control of the premises during school hours—for example, access to a theatre or whatever.

The amendments will make it clear that the governing body of a community school has the same powers as those which are enjoyed by foundation and voluntary schools: that is, the power to transfer control of the premises to a third party at any time while the premises are under the control of the governing body. Those amendments all deal with that issue.

We consider the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, to be unnecessary as it is already covered by existing legislation. As he says, a local authority has the power to give directions to the governing body of a school about the use of the premises, and the LEA may give such instructions as it sees fit. At present, the governing body may spend its budget share only for the purposes of the school; it may not subsidise non-school activities. If a governing body therefore is directed by the LEA to make the school premises available for non-school activities, under existing provisions the LEA must separately compensate the governing body or else ensure that the school is compensated directly by the user. That will include any additional expenditure on security mentioned by the noble Lord. Guidance is already given on that in existing departmental circulars.

Under the revised local management of schools framework, which we will be discussing, that basic position will remain. In addition, the Secretary of State will have a power under Clause 49(3) to prescribe other purposes for the expenditure of school budget shares. Regulations will allow conditions to be attached and those conditions may include a requirement that costs arising from non-school activities be taken into account in calculating school budgets. Therefore under existing provisions and under the proposed change under LMS which we will be debating on Thursday, we consider that those provisions together cover what the noble Lord intends by the amendment. In the light of that, I hope he will feel able to withdraw it.

Baroness Blatch

Perhaps I can ask one question of the noble Lord. What about the use of schools by organisation committees? My understanding is that local authorities could use schools to enable the committees to meet. How would they stand in relation to what the noble Lord has just said?

Lord Whitty

Local authorities using premises for their own non-school purposes would have to compensate the school for the cost of the access. I assume that the same applies to the use of those premises by the school organisation committee. However, I shall take further advice on this matter to ensure that I can give the correct answer. I assume that the same applies as at LEA meetings, but I am not entirely sure.

Lord Lucas

I am grateful for that explanation. I feel sure that the noble Lord will feel able to write to me and point out where these powers are in existing legislation so that I may review the full position in time to table an amendment at Report stage, if necessary. With that nod indicating assent, I have pleasure in withdrawing the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 155A to 155C:

Page 153, line 2, at beginning insert ("Subject to sub-paragraph (2),").

Page 153, line 3, after ("agreement") insert ("with any body or person").

Page 153, line 4, leave out ("school premises outside school hours") and insert ("whole or any part of the school premises").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 13, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 40 and 41 agreed to.

Lord Carter

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved, That the House do now resume.—(Lord Carter.)

Baroness Blatch

I hope that the Chief Whip will forgive me, but I have another point which I forgot. Someone has changed the system for numbering amendments. I was told by the clerk to the Chief Whip this morning that that had happened. I do not know why that was. The Chief Whip's office apologised for it this morning. It caused confusion earlier when we were discussing amendments. The order is now askew and we do not understand the system. It would be helpful to know whether we can revert to the old system, but if we are to have a new system it would be helpful to have it explained to us.

I was quite surprised when my noble friend Lord Swinfen made remarks about the groupings. I am sorry, but these are important points when we come to the next stage of the Bill. I had my copy of the groupings at about 11 o'clock, but I cannot be precise: it may have been about twenty past eleven. It was always the practice when we were in government that not only both opposition Front Benches had the groupings, but anyone who had an amendment down in the Marshalled List was asked whether they would like copies. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and my noble friend Lord Swinfen did not see the groupings. It may well be that there were others who had tabled amendments. When suggested groupings are circulated it would be helpful for everyone who has tabled amendments to receive a copy.

Lord Carter

It is unusual to have a debate on the Motion that the House do now resume. I certainly undertake to investigate. I was told earlier this evening by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, about the problem with the groupings. I shall investigate that and also the other points that the noble Baroness raised.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

House adjourned at seventeen minutes before two o'clock.