HL Deb 19 May 1998 vol 589 cc1534-638

8.43 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Clause 8 [Reserve power of Secretary of State to secure proper performance of LEA's function]:

Lord Tope

moved Amendment No. 45: Page 6, line 46, at end insert— ("() The Secretary of State shall by regulations specify the circumstances in which a local education authority shall be deemed to be failing to perform a function to an adequate standard."). The noble Lord said: The clause gives the Secretary of State wide powers to intervene in a local education authority. We all accept, perhaps with varying degrees of reluctance, that those powers may be necessary. But I hope and believe that the Minister will assure us that they will be used only as a last resort.

The clause specifies that the Secretary of State may intervene in a case where an LEA is deemed to be failing to perform to an adequate standard. Nowhere in the Bill does it suggest what an adequate standard might be. It is reasonable that LEAs should know—the amendment suggests that it should be through regulation—what is expected of them and what will be deemed to be failure.

These are important and extensive powers for the Secretary of State to intervene, in effect to take away powers from a democratically elected body. I have accepted that there could be circumstances where that is necessary. However, in agreeing to the power, it is important that the Government give us some indication of what they consider to be failing to perform to adequate standards.

It is not only the view that this Government might take. I am sure that this Government will take a benevolent view and will use those powers only as a last resort. However, difficult though they might find it to believe now, there is a possibility—I know that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, finds the concept hard to understand—that one day there might be another government who might possibly be less benevolent towards a Labour-controlled LEA, should there be such a body at that stage.

These powers are given to any Secretary of State. It is therefore beholden upon us to be clear what powers we are bestowing and what the Government have in mind when they refer to failing to perform to an adequate standard. I move the amendment in the hope that some light will be shed and to give the Minister an opportunity to explain exactly what the Government have in mind in seeking this power. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

As the noble Lord said, the clause gives the Secretary of State a reserve power to intervene to put matters right when he considers that a local education authority is failing in one or more of its education functions. Amendment No. 45 would require the Secretary of State to specify in regulations the circumstances in which an LEA may be judged by him to be failing to provide, in general or in particular, a function adequately. I understand what the noble Lord says. The amendment is no doubt intended to ensure that those powers would be exercised objectively with regard to proper criteria and with the fullest justification. We intend that to be the case. But perhaps I may give the noble Lord some reassurance about the kind of evidence which the Secretary of State would need to consider on those, it is to be hoped, rare occasions when he will need to decide on possible intervention in a local education authority.

When an LEA is thought to be failing, the Secretary of State may use his existing powers to order a full inspection of the LEA by the Office for Standards in Education before deciding whether or not to intervene. The evidence produced by Ofsted will provide an objective and comprehensive basis on which the Secretary of State may come to a decision on whether or not to intervene. Ofsted's report will be made public, making available to all the evidence on which any decision to intervene was taken. The example last year of Hackney LEA may be recalled. On that occasion on a voluntary basis the Secretary of State decided, with the agreement of the authority, to send in an improvement team to work with the LEA. That followed an Ofsted inspection that provided the Secretary of State with the evidence for making his decision. That was on a voluntary basis, but this gives it a power to do so without necessarily the co-operation of the local education authority. Nevertheless, Ofsted's criteria in all such situations are publicly available in the document and laid out in the framework for inspection of the LEAs.

Equally, the situation may arise where a seriously inadequate education development plan could trigger intervention in a failing LEA. Again there are published criteria for approval of education development plans and that again would provide some safeguards against undue interference such as the noble Lord fears. Also, to give a third example, the performance of an LEA could be questioned as a result of a complaint. Then the Secretary of State may decide to intervene, but only where the complainant can provide sufficient evidence. These powers are not new. Comparable powers already exist, and in those circumstances under Sections 496 and 497 of the 1996 Education Act.

If we were to attempt to specify all the circumstances under which an LEA could be deemed to be failing we would be faced with a substantial task. In each situation where there is failure there would be the possibility of intervention. In no case would the Secretary of State take his decision lightly and he would need to take account of all the available evidence, and much of that evidence, as I have said, would be made public. It is our contention that it would impede the Secretary of State in his responsibility to ensure that all children and all schools are receiving the education from the LEAs which they deserve if his power to intervene were to be limited to specific circumstances set down in regulations which would not be able to cover other circumstances which it may not be possible to foresee. We consider that we need the reserve power, but we cannot in regulations envisage all the circumstances where it might be required.

I hope I have said enough to reassure the noble Lord, and that he will accept that in all those circumstances the Secretary of State would have regard to all published criteria and would give a full justification for his intervention. In the light of these reassurances I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Lucas

I am rather puzzled by what the Minister said. I do not see anything in Clause 8 which would allow a Secretary of State to send in a hit squad à la Hackney. The provisions in this clause are all to do with existing employees of the authority. I do not see how under this provision the Secretary of State could, when this is in force, do with the authority of an Act what has been done in a voluntary way now. I do not see anything here which would allow that to happen, and perhaps the noble Lord will enlighten me.

Secondly, I do not see how the procedure set out here gets round the problems of a place like Hackney, which has rightly been described as "a conspiracy of incompetence", where the procedures for promoting and recruiting people were such that they made sure that nobody who was capable of doing the job better than the people who were already there was recruited. You are not dealing with a collection of people who may be capable of doing what the Secretary of State wants them to do.

Thirdly, if you are instructing on a temporary basis some employee of a local authority to do something which may be greatly disliked by the elected members of the authority, where are the loyalties of this person going to lie? Are his loyalties going to lie with the Secretary of State who has instructed him to do something or with the elected members, who after a year or two of interregnum will be back in control and, if he has done what the Secretary of State wants, will ensure his rapid departure? Surely his long-term interests will be in keeping in with the local elected members. I share the concerns which the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has expressed but, listening to the explanation given by the Minister, I do not see how he thinks this clause is going to work at all.

Lord Whitty

In terms of the powers which are in the Act, the clause allows the Secretary of State to intervene to appoint persons to carry out functions which previously had been carried out by the LEA and to give directions to the officers of the LEA. Therefore, the powers are already there and there are also pre-existing powers, to which I have referred, under the 1996 Act. There is also the power to order a full inspection to provide the basis for intervention under Section 37 of the 1997 Education Act. So some of the powers are in this clause and others are in existing legislation.

The second half of what the noble Lord said referred to how officials of the local education authority, and presumably by extension schools, will react to that intervention. I think that if a local education authority were dealing with the Secretary of State in a serious way and was deemed to be failing in its function, then the responsibility of public officials, whether teachers or officials, must be to the Secretary of State's intervening measures in order to ensure that adequate education is provided within that local education area. Clearly we are hoping that in all such circumstances there would be co-operation from the local education authority, but there could be circumstances where there was a conflict. In such cases the powers are clear. The Secretary of State has the powers of direction and, if necessary, the powers of appointment within the LEA, and we would expect his directions to be carried out. Clearly the powers are there in this and existing legislation. I would hope that the conflict situation which the noble Lord outlines rarely arises but, if it does, the Secretary of State will take the necessary action.

Lord Lucas

I am sure it is my incompetence, but I should be enormously grateful if the noble Lord could point out to me exactly where in this Bill or in other legislation the Secretary of State will have power to appoint anyone to a local education authority or to give instructions to anybody who is not already an established officer or employee of that authority. I do not see anything in the Bill which enables people to come in from outside. I should be enormously grateful if the Minister could point me in the right direction.

Lord Whitty

I will give the noble Lord a fuller answer in writing, if he wishes. But under Clause 8(4) and (5) the Secretary of State can give directions to officers of the authority and can make sure that officers of that authority perform functions other than those previously designated by the authority. That can mean that an officer with the authority is given direct instructions or it can mean that somebody was put in by the Secretary of State to ensure that those functions are carried out. However, as I say, if the noble Lord, wishes to have further details I will gladly provide them in writing.

Lord Lucas

Yes; it is purely the point regarding the power of the Secretary of State to put in somebody else who is not already an officer of the authority to perform these functions. I should be happy for the noble Lord to write to me, but I should like to know exactly where that power comes from.

Lord Tope

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply and I hope that, when he does write to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, he will send me a copy because I too would be interested, although that is not strictly the purpose of my amendment.

Reference was made to Hackney. I do not want to allow myself to be distracted into discussing one particular LEA or one example. But just to make the point, as the Minister said, what happened there was done on a voluntary basis, so that under the changed administration Hackney was, I think, in the top 10 of most improved LEAs. It might well be said, therefore, that Hackney was in a good place to start from in becoming one of the most improved LEAs. But nevertheless it was moving substantially and significantly in the right direction. One lesson to be drawn from that is this: it is always better to try to do these things voluntarily rather than by imposition, whether by hit squads or local officers. I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that it puts an officer of an authority in a very invidious position if he has to act on instructions from the Secretary of State but in effect against his own employers, the LEA.

However, the purpose of this amendment was to seek from the Minister some idea of what the Government deemed to be a failure to perform to an adequate standard. I am grateful to the Minister for giving us information on that. Of course I accept what he says. These matters are difficult to put specifically in regulations, and one can rest assured that if regulations were drafted, very likely the first circumstances that arose would not be covered or envisaged by those regulations.

This was a probing amendment. It was an attempt for the first time in the process of this Bill to get the Government to say more clearly what they meant by an adequate standard and failure to perform to it. I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. We shall read it carefully in Hansard and consider whether to seek further elucidation at a later stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 [Education committees to include representatives of parent governors]:

9 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

moved Amendment No. 46: Page 9, line 3, after ("elected") insert ("without voting rights"). The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 47 and 48.

My honourable friends in another place are delighted, as we are, that the Government acceded to their suggestion that parent representatives on education committees should be representatives of parent governors. It is an important principle, and has already been established. My amendments build on that.

Amendment No. 46 seeks to oppose the principle of parents having voting rights on education committees. Again, the matter was discussed in the other place. My honourable friends proposed and defended that position. They felt, as we feel, that local education committees should be representative of the democratically expressed wishes of local people, and the only people with voting rights should be those elected for that purpose.

Responding, Mr. Byers thought that they should have voting rights because they are "consumers of the education service". We do not accept that argument. Challenged, he went on to say that elected members are personally liable for the way in which public money is spent, and it would be inappropriate for parents who do not carry that responsibility to vote on matters which have a financial implication. Since the great majority of decisions taken by education committees do have financial implications, it seems unlikely that the voting rights given to parent governors can often be exercised—in which case, what is the point of them?

I stand on this matter of democratic principle; namely, that no pressure, or lobbying, group, however successful or significant, should unbalance the decisions of those members elected by the voting population.

The purpose of the second amendment is to probe Ministers and make sure that under present legislation the inclusion of teachers as non-voting representatives is still part of their purposes with regard to education committees.

Finally, Amendment No. 48 seeks an assertion that parent governors who have been elected or appointed by other parent governors should stay in dialogue with those who have elected them, and not, for example, with the political parties of which they may or may not be members.

It is interesting that among the papers arriving from lobbying groups is one from CASE, which very much supports this amendment. It states that parents should be both enabled and expected to consult parents in the area, and that that principle should be established on the face of the Bill. It would make clear that those representatives are expected to consult parents. It would help give the parent representatives the confidence that they speak for parents in the area. It would establish the right of parents to practical support from the LEA in carrying out their role of consulting with and reporting to parents. It would prevent cynicism eroding the initiative of having parent governors in the first place as representatives become remote from local parents.

As a member selected because of my community connections to serve on a hospital board, I have found myself in a position where I did not know whom I represented, to whom I should go or how I should consult the people I was supposed to represent. I feel strongly that this amendment addresses the difficult position of those who are not elected as representatives to a local authority or other body but who nevertheless are there as the result of a process of choice. They should be enabled, indeed required, to go back and consult with those who have put them into that position. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

Perhaps I may address the final matter raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood; namely, that of the parent governor who is selected to sit on an education committee communicating with parents. It is simply not possible. I cannot think of a mechanism that would allow a single parent governor, or possibly two, since there are unlikely to be more, to do so. To take a county such as Kent, with nearly 2 million people and many hundreds of schools, what are the fora? How can those parent governors go back and consult with all the schools and parent bodies? In some very large counties we are talking about millions of parents. I cannot think of a mechanism. Are they to produce a newsletter? Are they delegates; or representatives?

My understanding is that they are voted as representatives for the time that they serve, and if parents find that their contribution on an authority is not what they want it to be, then it must be in the hands of parent governors within the authority to do something about it. Even if the consultation is only through the governors of schools, it is still a pretty tall order. They will be more concerned with taking notes and making sure that they take down all the information in an appropriate format than with making a contribution on a committee.

However, there is an important point on which I agree with the noble Baroness. I have grave reservations about parent governors being on education committees at all. There are serious problems in relation to that. There is almost a sovereign right of councillors who go out and talk to people on the doorstep and who are elected by their local communities to represent people on the education committees. I have found it difficult to remember a time during my experience on education committees when there were not parents. There were councillors who were parents, members of the education committee who were parents and officials who were parents.

As for the idea that somehow a parent is another person, when I was elected as councillor it was to represent the whole committee. When I served on education committees, one of my primary functions and concerns was how parents and their children were served by my local authority and in particular by my education committee. There is the suggestion that they should have voting rights and those rights should be confined to non-financial aspects. However, I find it difficult, going back in my memory, just as the noble Baroness did, to find any decision made by a committee that did not have financial consequences. It might have been the use of teachers' time or an aspect of the curriculum. Whatever the issue, there is a cost implication to the authority and/or the school.

It seems to me impossible to make fine judgments as to whether the people representing parent governors or parents could take part in the debate and vote. There would be constant calls on the county solicitor or some such body to make a determination as to whether it was appropriate for the person to vote. So there are huge difficulties. But there is something sovereign about a county councillor, district or parish councillor being voted in by the local community and being given the responsibility for the services of that council to the people they serve.

I hope the noble Baroness will agree with the only caveat I wish to add. There is a real role for county councils, and, within county councils, the education authorities, in meeting parents in fora and in meeting teachers. There are consultation groups in the authority I know best, Cambridgeshire, with the primary heads fora, secondary heads fora and parent groupings as well as all kinds of bodies. Public meetings are held all over the authority, some of them with statutory requirements and some being voluntary when a new issue arises. Therefore, local authorities find many ways of keeping in touch with their parent bodies. As long as they can be monitored from time to time to ensure that they are effective, that is the way to do it. The suggestion in the Bill is gimmicky.

I agree with the points made by the noble Baroness. We have the Bill but the idea that such people should have voting rights would devalue the role of the councillor. I would not wish to do that.

9.15 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, seeks to remove the voting rights of parent governor representatives. She is supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. However, the Government believe that this would considerably weaken their impact on decisions taken by the LEA. We want to ensure not only that parents have a strong influence in discussions about education matters but that they can also play a full part in decisions taken by the relevant committees or sub-committees. Only by having a vote can they do so.

Parent governor representatives will be elected by their fellow parent governors from schools in the local area. They, in turn, have a mandate to represent the views of parents with pupils at their school.

We accept that parent governor representatives will make a difference to the vote on some issues. That is what we want to achieve. There would be little point giving them the vote otherwise. But we also accept that voting by parent governor representatives should not disrupt the committee's business and should not undermine local government democracy. There is little chance of this happening in practice.

Diocesan representatives already have a vote on the same committees to which parent governor representatives will be appointed. Local authorities have not complained about how they use their votes and, to the best of my knowledge, their contributions are welcomed. There will also be a number of safeguards to prevent any difficulties arising. On critical issues it is always open to a council to withdraw delegation to a committee and take the final decision itself. Also, as my honourable friend, Stephen Byers, the Minister for School Standards, pointed out when this was discussed in another place, the appointment of parent governor representatives with voting rights could not overturn the political majority on the education committee. If the size of the political majority on the committee were smaller than the number of parent governor representatives to be appointed, the council would be required to appoint more members from the majority party in order to tip the balance back again. We also propose to issue guidance at a later date which, among other things, will advise parent governor representatives on how to use their votes responsibly. I am sure that they will do so.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, proposes in Amendment No. 47 a requirement for teacher representation on local authority committees which deal with education business. I have some sympathy with that suggestion because teachers play such a vital part in determining the quality of education provided by schools. But parents are consumers of the service, and as such have the main interest in the range and form of provision as well as the quality of that provision. It is only right that they should therefore have a bigger say in the way the education service is run. Teachers are in a different category. Many teachers are also, of course, employees of the local education authority. They have interests to protect, but those will not necessarily always coincide with the interests of the pupils, whose needs must always come first.

Many councils have already co-opted teacher representatives on to their education committees. The Government hope that that practice will continue. Indeed, in the consultation paper issued last month, we gave a very clear signal to all authorities that we highly value the contribution made by co-opted members and that we see no reason why the introduction of parent governor representatives should result in any changes to the present composition of their committees. However, we do not propose to pursue that through regulations because of the varying range of interests which are relevant to different authorities. For example, other groups such as local business or community concerns, or further or higher education institutions could all make a legitimate case for representation on education committees. We believe that, apart from parent governor representatives and the existing diocesan representatives, co-option should remain a matter for local discretion rather than central direction.

Amendment No. 48 raises the issue of how those parent governor representatives will consult with other parent governors. It seeks a provision that would enable the Secretary of State to determine how such consultation should take place. Again, I have some sympathy with the intention behind this amendment. The Government certainly believe that parent governor representatives should not act in isolation. We believe that they should keep in touch, where they can, with those whom they represent. But we do not want to be prescriptive about who they consult or how they consult. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, about the practicalities of the amendment.

There are various methods of obtaining the views of local parents, for example through local parent forums or parent-teacher associations, or schools' annual parents meetings. Many options are available, and none is clearly the best. No other type of school governor or local councillor is under a statutory duty as to the way in which they are obliged to keep in touch with those they represent. It would be a mistake to introduce such a principle. We want parent governor representatives to adopt consultation methods which are most appropriate to local circumstances—in just the same way as other members of education committees are allowed to. My department proposes in due course to issue guidance on the conduct of parent governor representatives and will want to offer some suggestions about consultation, based on responses to the current consultation exercise. We believe that that should be sufficient to achieve appropriate consultation without introducing a requirement through regulations. I hope therefore that the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw her amendments.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

The Minister made a number of points and by the time she reached the end I had forgotten some of the import of what she said at the beginning. However, perhaps I may pick out one or two points.

Of course, diocesan representatives have voting rights. But the diocese provides a considerable input into church schools in the area. Therefore they have a financial responsibility for what they do and local authorities are obliged to consult and work with diocesan representatives about proposals for reorganising, closing, opening or changing the character of schools. In all those matters we are obliged to consult the diocese. The diocesan representatives therefore play a totally different role as providers of education from anybody else. They are more akin to local authorities than anybody else and I suspect that that is why they have voting rights in committees. It is a totally different matter to parent governor representatives having voting rights.

In relation to teachers, all we want to do is ensure that what is going through Parliament now does not prevent the existing arrangements whereby teachers are co-opted on to education committees. I believe that I received that assurance from the Minister. Most people who have served on education committees know how valuable the advice from those teacher representatives can be. They often know things which we do not know and, in particular, they know about education theory and how things work in practice in the classroom, which many members of education authorities do not know. I believe therefore that we have cleared up that point.

Perhaps I may return to parent governors. What we are suggesting is not that parent governor representatives on local authority education committees should be able to consult parents, but that they should be able to consult the parent governors who put them where they are. That is what the clause says. The amendment inserts, the way in which such persons"— parent governor representatives— are required to consult parent governors whom they represent". Members of a committee of an education authority or a committee of any local authority can usually get assistance from the local authority in getting back to the people who put them where they are now. He or she very often has the right to dictate letters or to have free postage. There are a whole series of accommodations which local authorities make for their elected members in order that they may keep in touch with their local electorate. If one has on the education committee of a county council, a borough council or a city council parent governors who are sitting as members, particularly if they are voting members—the matter becomes a little less acute if they are not voting members—they should be assisted in getting back to the people who elected them.

I do not agree that this is such a tremendously difficult thing to do. It depends on how big the local education authority is. If one is talking about matters which affect secondary schools, there will not be that many secondary schools—perhaps 50 at the most—in any major local education authority; and probably fewer because the number of secondary schools has been falling over recent years as they have been combined. It does not seem to be an intolerable thing to do to draft a letter to the parent governors in those schools who are listed in information available at county hall, the town hall or wherever it is and for them to get assistance in making sure that the letter gets to the place that it needs to get to.

That is the kind of thing we have in mind. How can representatives play a representative role if they are not assisted in getting back to the people whom they represent? Members of education committees who are county councillors, borough councillors, London borough councillors or metropolitan borough councillors are so assisted. Why should not parent governors be assisted in the same way? Why cannot we say something about that either in regulations or on the face of the Bill. This is quite an important point. I hope that the Minister will give it some consideration.

Baroness Blackstone

We have selected parent governors to be representatives and to take part in the election process because they already have a mandate from parents in their schools. That is something which the Liberal Democrat Benches both here and in another place have welcomed. But I must stress that parent governors will not go on to education committees just to represent the interests of other parent governors or of schools of which they are governors. They will be elected to represent the interests of parents whose children are being educated by the authority. Their introduction on to education committees, and with a vote, will give them a strong voice in discussions and rightly enable them to take part in decisions which affect the quality of provision and the range of provision in that local education authority. I am not sure why the noble Baroness is shaking her head.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

I hate interrupting Ministers when they are speaking, but the quality and range of education that is offered by a local education authority involves decisions which affect finance. Therefore, under the very principles which Mr. Byers put forward in another place, the parent governors will not be able to vote on the matter.

Baroness Blackstone

I do not really accept that. Parent governors are elected in their own schools to take many decisions of a financial kind. They play a very important role. Those who are elected to come on to an education committee should be able to do exactly the same on an education committee. We want parents to have a genuine voice and a right to participate in decisions through being able to vote. That has been welcomed by many parents around the country.

As regards consultation, I do not believe that I can add very much to what I have already said. Of course, we would expect that parent governors do their very best to consult, as appropriate, but we do not believe that it is right to specify in regulations exactly how they should do that. That would be over-prescriptive and over-centralist in the way in which they perform their role. That is as far as I can go. In the light of what I have said, I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Young

This debate raises quite a number of rather important constitutional issues. I very much support what my noble friend Lady Blatch said. Whereas I am a complete supporter of parents on governing bodies, I am sceptical about the idea of elected parents, which, if I have understood it correctly, arises from indirect elections from parents who are already parent governors.

So there are three groups of people on an education committee: the directly elected councillors, the diocesan representatives, who, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, explained quite correctly, have a very real role to play, and teachers, who are there by co-option. Now there will be parents through indirect election.

Everyone in local government knows that education committees are the biggest spenders. Therefore, in financial terms they are extremely important. They spend a lot of money. There will be people on the committee who are there by indirect election and not direct election from the community. That is rather curious because I thought that the Labour Party believed in that as a matter of principle.

If I understood the noble Baroness correctly, if the parent governors were in a position to hold sway on an education committee because there was a very narrow political balance, the council would have to put more councillors on that committee. My experience of local government goes back some time, but under our standing orders the number of people on committees was laid down. The idea that one could top up a committee because it suited one's purposes simply was not possible. I would have thought that it was a very undesirable constitutional arrangement.

The noble Baroness should look seriously at what the committee will look like. It would be helpful to have a letter setting out a committee of, say, 18 members, pointing out how the Government see the 18 split, or whatever is the appropriate number of members for the committee. I was in an authority in which there was always a very narrow political balance. So this is not an academic issue. This narrow balance could be represented by parent governors and it could be in relation to the biggest spending committee. Within the council there would be the committee putting up something which, if it proved to be difficult or impossible, would be overruled by the whole council. The problems that are being created are not academic but very real. They need to be looked at. It was helpful of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, to raise the issue.

Lord Lucas

I share the concerns of my noble friend Lady Young. I want to raise again the much smaller issue which the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, raised; namely, how the parent governor representatives pay their way. If they are to talk to, say, a thousand parent governors throughout the authority on even a quarterly basis, that will cost them the best part of £3,000 to £4,000 each out of their own pockets unless they have the right to have this kind of communication handled by the council. That is not a question which the Minister addressed at all. Therefore I ask her directly: will the parent governor representatives have the right to use council facilities to communicate with the people who elected them when that is necessary, if only to give a progress report on how things are going?

9.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

Before the noble Baroness comes back on those points, perhaps I may respond to a matter raised by my noble friend Lady Young about the balance of a council and the number of people serving on committees. In an earlier response to this amendment the Minister said—if I understood her correctly—that the majority party would always hold sway because it could top up its numbers in order to counter-balance the number of parent governors. Many councils now are hung councils. One has only to consider the knife-edge balance on Islington Council, on which the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, serves, to know that when the majority party increases by one, that has to be counterbalanced by an increase of two in the minor parties; otherwise one creates an imbalance. By "majority party", I mean not only the majority party itself but also the largest single party within a hung authority. If its numbers are increased in order to counterbalance the parent governors, an even greater imbalance is created for the minor parties because not only are they outnumbered by the majority party, but they are outnumbered to an even greater extent by the additional parent governors. My noble friend Lady Young is right. Messing around with the balance of membership on committees is not a simple matter.

In addition, it is not simply a question of looking for more councillors to serve on more committees, although that is not easy to do. County councils are very busy. They have many committees and many other departments. Trying to find more people to serve who are there only as a top-up to counterbalance the parent governors presents some real logistical problems. As my noble friend Lady Young said, they are not academic problems; they are very real, practical problems.

Baroness Blackstone

Perhaps I may deal first with the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. Yes, a parent governor who is elected to serve on an education committee will have the same facilities as any other councillor in terms of being able to communicate with parents, organisations, the local education authority and other parent governors. It is right that that should happen.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, suggested that education committees spend a lot of money—probably more than is spent by most other local authority committees. That is true and I am glad that they have reasonable amounts of money to spend because, like many other Members of this Committee, we believe in the importance of education.

The noble Baroness also suggested that perhaps I should write to her setting out in more detail exactly what would happen in a hung council or a council where there was a very narrow balance of power. I am happy to do that. However, the Government intend to ensure that the balance is not disturbed by the small number of parent governors who might become members of an education committee. It is important that we do not exaggerate the number of parent governors who will serve on education committees. The number will be quite small, whereas, in my experience, education committees tend to be quite large compared with many other local authority committees.

Noble Lords opposite have not been as willing to concede as generously as I had hoped just how valuable it will be to have parent governors on education committees. I think that they have a role to play and a contribution to make. If they are to make that contribution, they ought to be able to vote also.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

I must express my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who raised a point that struck me forcefully when I was listening to the Minister's previous reply but to which I had forgotten to attend. I must confess that her thoughts and mine, and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, entirely coincide. I do not believe that it is possible to fiddle around with the representation of political parties on local authority committees. That is laid down in the Local Government Act which followed the Widdicombe Report. It must be proportional or as near proportional as possible. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is absolutely right. When there is no overall political control, or a very small majority—which is the situation now in a large number of education authorities—one cannot tinker with the representation without knocking askew representation in all the other committees. It is the total number of representatives of a political party on the committees as a whole which is at stake. If one begins to fiddle around with representation on the education committee one must alter it on planning, highways, social services and whatever else.

I do not believe that this point has been sufficiently taken into account. I disagree with the Minister on other points. I shall read very carefully what the Minister has said. I do not exclude the possibility of returning to these points at Report stage. I believe that this discussion has exposed a number of lacunae in government thinking on this matter. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 47 and 48 not moved.]

Clause 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 [Establishment of education action zones]:

Baroness Blatch

moved Amendment No. 49: Page 9, line 40, after ("maintained") insert ("school or group or). The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 49 and speak also to Amendments Nos. 50 and 51. It will assist the Committee if at the outset I ask a number of questions. This is a policy which in terms of implementation is very well advanced and therefore information should now be readily available. I have read a number of times with very close interest in Hansard cols. 1146 and 1149 of the debate last Wednesday when the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, responded to my concerns about education action zones.

Based on those columns I should like to ask a number of questions. The background to this debate is important in order for the Committee to view the other amendments in the context of those answers. When did the Local Government Association request to be involved in the assessment of education action zone applications, and on what ground was that refused? Why was it considered inappropriate for the Local Government Association to be involved formally? I was not aware that there was a panel. I understand that there is now an assessment panel involving DfEE administrators, Ofsted, the Government Offices of the Regions, the task force, head teachers, directors of education of local education authorities and business representatives. Given that the predominant bodies applying for action zone status were local education authorities—that has been borne out in practice—why was it thought unnecessary or inappropriate to include them as part of the assessment panel?

Who decided that the Local Government Association should see all the applications in detail in the large box that appeared on its doorstep? Most importantly, since when have officers of the Local Government Association, of which I am a vice-president, been asked to act as confidants to the Department for Education and Employment? What are my rights as a member of the Official Opposition vis-à-vis the rights of an official of the Local Government Association? Officials of the Local Government Association are no different from DfEE officials. DfEE officials are there to serve Ministers, just as local government officials are there to serve councillors.

Is it being said that Local Government Association officials have greater rights than their own councillors, or that local government officials and/or Local Government Association members have greater rights than I do as a member of the Official Opposition? At no time have I asked to see all the applications. I have merely asked who applied in the first place and have been refused that information. It is important that answers are provided to those questions. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, gave that information in the course of the debate on parliamentary process.

There is another piece of information which we need as background to this debate in order to clarify a matter once and for all and to lay to rest the ghost of the rumours which are flying about as a result of press comment following a meeting last week in London. What is meant by profit-making involvement in action zones? The Prime Minister said: Companies will he allowed to participate in the education action zones and to make a profit if they are successful". That is private companies. He went on to say: Moreover, zones are run under the aegis of the education authority, so although nothing disturbs whether the company is profitable, companies will not make profits out of schools".— [Official Report, Commons, 13/5/98; col. 371.] If they are allowed to make a profit if they are successful but not allowed to make a profit out of schools, how will they make their profit if they become involved with an action zone which is part of a management which is running a school?

In the Guardian on 13th May—and I do not always believe what I read in the Guardian, but it did give direct quotes—DfEE officials confirmed that they are in talks with an American entrepreneurial company with a view to helping to improve education in failing schools for profit. The officials went on to say that they thought that the private sector running schools for profit might in fact be legal.

It is important that we understand at the outset the position in relation to the Local Government Association. We need to have clarification, for once and for all, as to whether we are talking about private sector involvement, which I know is part of the Government's planning; whether the companies are allowed to make a profit; and if they are, what are the criteria by which they would be allowed to make that profit.

Finally, will the noble Baroness confirm that action zones will be subject to EDPs? From the answers which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, gave earlier, I believe that they will be subject to EDPs. Is it right that LEAs have powers of intervention? In order to negotiate targets and to make them part of the plans, will the LEAs have monitoring powers and interventionist powers, with however light a touch? How will this Bill interrelate with action zones?

I understand that the employers of staff will always be the LEAs, except for those staff who are appointed directly by an education action zone. Therefore, any private company or consortium, a public/private company, or an exclusively private sector company and/or consortium, would not have employment rights over those staff who had been taken on from the LEA. Am I right in that understanding?

I have set out those questions at the beginning of the debate because this policy is so far down the road of implementation that it cannot be possible for the Minister to say that the information is not available. It is important that we have that information before I speak in detail to this series of amendments to Clause 10.

9.45 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has expressed her concern about the role of the Local Government Association in participating in consideration of the applications for education action zones.

A letter was sent today by my noble friend Lord Richard to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, describing its involvement in the selection of EAZs and I am sorry that the Leader of the Opposition has not been able to provide the noble Baroness with a copy of that letter. However, I shall refer to extracts from that letter.

The LGA was provided with details of the applications received. That was at officer level and was intended to be in confidence. I regret that that confidence was broken when an officer at the LGA wrote to leading elected members of all parties on 23rd April informing them that he had obtained a complete set of applications from the department. As a result, an official from the Conservative group office at the LGA was allowed to see the applications.

The letter says that the Government will today write to the promoters of each individual application asking whether they can seek the agreement of the parties associated with their application to make their involvement public. We welcome the opportunity to do so, but I am sure that noble Lords will understand that we do not want to be in the position of breaching the trust of those private companies which have indicated their support for this initiative.

As I mentioned earlier and, indeed, on a number of occasions when education action zones have been discussed, this is a developing area and the Government want to keep Parliament fully informed. Although the 60 applications have not yet been fully assessed, we would want to see full use made of the scope provided by Clause 10 to raise standards by introducing flexibility and innovation in schools, by tackling school exclusions and levels of truancy following the recent reports on these issues by the Social Exclusion Unit involving private partners in education and by linking with other government initiatives like the health action zones and employment zones.

The DfEE is in the process of considering the 60 applications, and, as my noble friend Lord Richard said in his letter to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, today, I will write to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and will ensure that she receives the letter tomorrow. It will give her details of the locations covered by the applications. At the same time, my honourable friend Stephen Byers will provide the same information in a PNQ in the other place, which will be repeated in this Chamber, and he will be writing to Stephen Dorrell. That will enable us to set out and list all the areas from which applications for EAZs have come.

As I said, we shall also ask the individual applicants if they are happy for their application, and information regarding those involved in it, to be made public. As I am sure the Committee will understand, we do not want to be in the position of breaching the trust of those private companies which have indicated their support for the initiative. I am sure that the noble Baroness will accept that it is important for us not to do so.

I cannot give the noble Baroness the precise date on which the LGA requested that it should be involved in considering the applications. However, in the letter that I shall send her tomorrow, I shall be happy to indicate when that was. I can tell the Committee that the Government did not think that it was appropriate for the LGA to be involved in going through every application and giving advice in that respect. As I have already made clear, the department will look at the applications seeking suitable advice from wherever appropriate on their quality. We did not consider it appropriate for the LGA to be involved in that kind of process. I do not believe that that would normally be the case.

I should like to make it absolutely clear that we, or officials in the department, thought that it was perfectly reasonable in terms of the good relationship that we try to maintain with the LGA to give its officers access to the applications on an "in confidence" basis. I very much regret that that confidence was broken by officials at the LGA. Indeed, that was most unfortunate. I would not want a situation to arise in which the noble Baroness, or indeed any Opposition spokesman, would be at a disadvantage in relation to elected members in local authorities who are officers or who have positions, if I may put it that way, on the LGA.

I apologise for what has happened. As I say, I wish to do my very best to rectify this by giving the noble Baroness tomorrow a list of the areas from where applications have come. As soon as we can obtain the agreement of those who have made applications to making that public, we shall, of course, also provide a list. All schools will be part of an EDP. An LEA could therefore intervene in a failing school which is part of an EAZ. I believe the noble Baroness also made reference to that.

The noble Baroness mentioned profit-making. I can confirm that a private sector company might get a management contract for a fee, but for absolutely no more than that. I hope that I have answered the questions the noble Baroness asked and that we can now consider the amendments that she has tabled.

Baroness Blatch

We certainly cannot consider the amendments I have tabled until I have been given more clarification on the points the noble Baroness has just made. As to whether a company can make a profit in this regard, the noble Baroness did not mention or clarify the words of the Prime Minister. I repeat that he said, companies will be allowed to participate in the education action zones and to make a profit if they are successful … Moreover, zones are run under the aegis of the education authority, so although nothing disturbs whether the company is profitable, companies will not make profits out of the schools".—[Official Report, Commons, 13/5/98; col. 371.] The only way they can make a profit in this regard is through being involved in the action zones, which involves the running of schools. Can they or can they not make a profit in this regard? If the noble Baroness is saying that a private sector company will obtain the management contract for a fee, but no more, on what is that fee based? What is that fee for? Will it be the money that is normally allocated for running a school? Will a company be allowed to make a profit out of that sum of money?

I return to the letter that I mentioned. It is not surprising that I did not see the letter because I was already in the Chamber when the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, arrived this afternoon. I was told quite firmly that the letter concerned the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. The letter was not copied to me. Before the noble Lord, Lord Richard, replies to that point, I must say that the noble Baroness has not answered the questions that I asked. I asked why it was considered inappropriate for the Local Government Association to be involved formally when it was agreed that the DfEE, administrators, Ofsted, government officers of the regions, the task force, head teachers, directors of education of LEAs and business representatives were all allowed formally to be part of the assessment panel, yet it was inappropriate for the Local Government Association, which represents all of the LEAs—the predominant body that has applied for action zone status comprises local education authorities—to be part of the formal assessment. Why then was it appropriate that it should receive every single detailed application in order for the Department for Education and Employment to make assessments and evaluations? I understand that the DfEE declined to do so.

The noble Baroness has not addressed the other question that I asked her as regards a breach of confidence on the part of an official of the LGA. The noble Baroness regretted that. What is the official of the LGA guilty of? Is the noble Baroness saying that it is possible for information to be imparted to an LGA official under confidential terms so that he cannot communicate it to the very people whom he serves—the local councils? That body exists purely to serve the needs of its councillors, just as the DfEE officials exist to serve the needs of their Ministers. So is the noble Baroness saying that it was even a breach of confidence to tell councillors that those papers existed and therefore it was an even greater breach for me to know that those papers existed with the Local Government Association?

Perhaps I could say to the noble Baroness that whatever comes in the letter tomorrow, I know the locations of the bids, I know who made the bids, I know what the costings of the bids are. I have that information now but sadly, according to the rules to which the noble Baroness is now referring, I received it illicitly. So my question is: what is the LGA official guilty of and what am I, as an official Member of the Opposition, guilty of? Why is it that I, as a Member of the Opposition, cannot have the material information that is provided for a third body under what is now described as "confidential terms"?

Baroness Maddock

I do not wish to delay noble Lords for long but I am rather astonished at this debate and the secrecy surrounding it. I thought that this Government were, like us, in favour of open government. I find it extraordinary that somehow businesses who want to be part of providing government services wish their names kept secret. As far as I am aware, in local authorities when private companies are bidding for local authority business, their names are there. Indeed, they have to be on a tender list. I am absolutely amazed at the tenor of the debate. Clearly we shall not get to the bottom of the matter tonight, but I shall be interested to hear the further replies of the noble Baroness. I feel sure that we shall be returning to it at Report stage.

Lord Skidelsky

Before the Minister replies, I wonder if I can add to those last comments. It seems to me that these are the vaguest and thinnest clauses dealing with major education reform I have ever seen in a Bill. Everything that has been said confirms my view that we have not had the information necessary to debate the quality of this legislation. Not only do we not know what has been happening about the bidding; there is actually no mention of bidding anywhere on the face of the Bill. I should like to ask the noble Baroness what is the purpose of education action zones. She talks about innovation. But will those zones have any freedom to innovate? We are told that of the 60 bids the vast majority are LEA led. We are told that the forums will be subject to the education development plans. We believe that the teachers will continue to be employed by the LEAs. LEAs will be the employer of the teachers in the zones. We are told that schools in the zones can vary their national curriculum requirements. But already schools have power to apply to vary these requirements.

It is a mystery what the education action zones are designed to achieve. I agree with the noble Baroness that they should have the freedom to innovate, and that they should have the freedom to vary things and to do exciting things. But the way the scheme has been set up, or at least the amount of information given so far in the Bill, does not suggest any of that. It does not suggest anything at all. It is rather as if we are listening to "II Trovatore". All the action is taking place off stage and unfortunately the tunes are rather better than in Clause 10 and 11.

Baroness Young

Before the noble Baroness replies, I am bound to say that this is the most extraordinary saga that I have heard in the course of an education Bill, and I have taken part in a great many in the course of my public life. I think it would be very helpful to the Committee, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, is present, if he can perhaps identify what was in this letter that has apparently gone to my noble friend Lord Cranborne, not copied to my noble friend Lady Blatch, which is presumably relevant. It would be helpful if he could explain.

10 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard)

I am delighted to do so. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, wrote to me on whichever day it was. I do not have the letter with me. A letter was drafted for me to reply to him. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, knew that the letter was on the way. I am told that this morning she inquired on a number of occasions as to whether the letter had arrived, so it came as no great surprise to her. Of course I replied to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, because he wrote to me. After the noble Baroness's intensive inquiries this morning as to whether the letter had arrived, I am staggered that she did not receive it before the debate started this afternoon.

The letter was passed to the Conservative Whips Office in the certain knowledge, so far as we believed, that the noble Baroness would see it. I find it extraordinary. I answered a letter which the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, wrote to me. Quite clearly, it was written to me at the behest of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I responded to the noble Viscount—he was the person who had written to me—and am now very surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, did not receive the letter about which she had been inquiring during the course of the morning. That is all I know about the intricacies of this argument.

Baroness Blatch

The noble Lord misses the point. First, there is a courtesy that the person to whom the letter is addressed sees the letter first. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, was not in the House until about four o'clock this afternoon.

Secondly, the letter was meant to have been delivered before the weekend, then Monday, Monday afternoon, and then we were told Tuesday morning. I understand that it did not in fact arrive until lunchtime today.

Thirdly, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has now thrown the letter across the Chamber at us. We can now see it.

Lord Richard

I am sorry to interrupt. My noble friend has not thrown the letter across the Chamber to the noble Baroness. He passed the letter over because she did not have a copy. It is a pejorative way of putting it.

Baroness Blatch

I apologise most profusely for putting it in a pejorative way. I did not mean it pejoratively against the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. It was clear that the noble Lord had a copy of the letter. He brought it over so that we could read it.

I have now read the letter. It throws no more light. It does not answer the questions. The questions are these. Are we creating new rules now? Is the Local Government Association officer a hierarchical animal above the Local Government Association member or an official Member of the Opposition in this House? A Local Government Association officer was deemed not fit enough to be part of the assessment panel and was then told that he could have all the applications in detail so that an assessment could be given to the DfEE. Those people, having been told that they could not be part of the panel, saw the applications. Whether or not they read them I do not know, but they declined to be part of the assessment. They then wrote to their members of all political parties and told them that they had this complete set of applications.

As I have said to the Minister, I know that they are there with the Local Government Association. Is the noble Baroness saying to me that as vice-president of the association I have no rights? Does the noble Baroness say that the local authority members have no rights so far as concerns the LGA? The noble Lord, Lord Richard, stated in his letter that the poor Local Government Association official is being blamed for a breach: that he regrets this breach of confidentiality. Of what is the official guilty? Of what am I guilty now that I have seen the information for which I asked in my Written Questions?

Baroness Blackstone

I have not suggested that the noble Baroness is guilty of anything whatever.

It is a time-honoured practice for officials to share information at an early stage when an innovation of this kind is being introduced. I do not think that there is anything particularly unusual about that. I believe that it has happened in the past. This is an important new policy development which I believe the noble Baroness and other Members of the Opposition welcome and think important. I shall return to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, in a moment. I believe that it is part of a mature administrative system that such information should sometimes be shared at officer level, and on that basis agreed confidences should not be breached. I do not think it should have been breached in these particular circumstances.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

Before the noble Baroness sits down, I should like to endorse the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. We are talking about open government. We are talking about education action zones. What has emerged in the course of letters going backwards and forwards, with courtesies being observed and so on, is Byzantine in its complexity.

I appreciate the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, about entering into a Committee stage when masses of people know certain things but they are not supposed to tell anyone else. The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, on the Opposition Benches, knows nothing; I knew nothing until this morning beyond the vague rumours that were circulating. But, above all, this is a Government who believe in open government and this is the direct opposite of open government; and that is what concerns us. I am not interested in the letters exchanged by the noble Lord the Leader of the House and my noble friend Lord Cranborne. The concern on this side is that massive negotiations have been going on with your department—and I say this to the Minister, who is responsible, not to the Leader of the House. You are responsible for this: you did this—

Noble Lords


Lord McIntosh of Haringey

There is a convention in this House that noble Lords are referred to in the third person.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

I apologise. Indignation goes too far. Let me say calmly that open government demands a rather clearer explanation than this. I do not accept the Minister's explanation that this is the way officials in a department behave. Quite honestly, it perplexes us; it perplexes the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock; and I think it worries quite a number of us. I think it has to be faced in the directions.

Baroness Blackstone

Perhaps I might explain again what I thought I had explained earlier. The Government did not feel it was right to provide information about the promoters of all these individual applications without seeking their agreement first. I said earlier that I think this would have been breaching the trust of those private companies which had indicated that they wanted to support this initiative. For that reason we are now going to write to all the applicants for education action zone status to ask them whether they would be willing for us to make public their application.

We have to remember that some of those applying for this status will fail, and I do not know whether they would feel it appropriate that their failed application should be published in the public domain. I think it is fair that we should ask them that first.

Baroness Blatch

Will the noble Baroness tell me whether they were asked if they minded their applications being seen by the DfEE administrators, by Ofsted, by government officers in the region, by the task force members, by the head teacher, by the directors of education of authorities, by business representatives—but not by me?

Lord Tope

I wonder whether I might intervene, although with some hesitation, because I do not want to delay your Lordships any longer since we have already spent about half-an-hour discussing private correspondence between two noble Lords, of which certainly I and my colleagues know nothing whatsoever. As this goes on I become more and more surprised, and so I must press the Minister on this.

I have many years' experience in local government and I have never known anything on this sort of basis. When companies apply and submit tenders, they know that the name of their company is going to be made public—not the amount, for obvious reasons, because that is commercial information—but they know that the name of the company is going to be made public. That is standard practice. It would be astonishing, and indeed the Government would come down on us like a ton of bricks, if we did not publish those names.

I would have expected that anyone applying to run an education action zone would assume that their application would become public knowledge. I would not have thought that they would have expected it to be confidential. Presumably they have some knowledge of how local government works and would expect that. I cannot understand why apparently the DfEE, when inviting those submissions did not tell people that this information was to be made public. It seems extraordinary that we should be here at this time of night making this sort of prolonged fuss to persuade the Minister, tomorrow, to ask those companies, individuals and organisations whether their names can be revealed. Why was that not done in the first place? Why is not standard practice? I find it quite astonishing.

Baroness Blackstone

I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that the private sector bodies involved in the education action zone applications are not tendering; they are joining in with a group of schools or a local education authority to bid for funding. That is totally different from tendering. I am sure that, on reflection, the noble Lord would agree.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, suggested that the applicants for education action zone status would not have known that there is a group of people, including DfEE officials, and a small number of advisers who have been selected because of their expertise in these matters to support DfEE officials in making judgments about the quality of these applications. I am sure that all the applicants would have thought, indeed did think, because it was made perfectly clear to them, that there would be a group of such people making those judgments. I do not think that the noble Baroness's remarks are in any way valid. She used words such as "Byzantine". I do not accept that.

To repeat, it is a central government panel of the DfEE, Ofsted, government offices, and the standards task force. Those people are all involved, rightly and legitimately, in assessing the way in which public money should be spent. That is quite different from the LGA being involved in assessing applications from local authorities. It would put the LGA in a rather difficult and invidious position to involve it in the actual process of selection. I am sure that on reflection noble Lords opposite will agree.

I wonder whether, in the light of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, we may go on to consider the amendments on Clause 10. Perhaps I may then respond to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, about the purpose of education action zones. Indeed, perhaps I may do so now.

Education action zones are at the heart of our—

Baroness Blatch

If the noble Baroness is moving on, I am afraid that I must continue to press her on this matter. She did not mention all the people involved in the assessment panel as I understand it. She did not mention the government offices, the task force, the head teacher, the director of education of an LEA and business representatives.

The LGA was not part of the formal assessment panel. That was made clear by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. Therefore, were the applicants told, or asked for their permission, that their applications in total could be sent to the Local Government Association? If they were told, why was it that we could not have very modest information? I never at any stage asked to see all the detailed information-I am not making an assessment; it is being made by an assessment panel. As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has said, I simply asked whether an application had been made by the local education authorities, non-local education authority interest or by commercial and business interest. I was not even asking who the applicants were or which LEAs were involved. However, I was told that I could not have that information.

First, were the applicants asked whether the information could be passed to a non-assessment panel member—that is, the Local Government Association? What is the convention that now says that Local Government Association officials—not members, but officials—can have information from the DfEE that is denied to their members and denied to me? Will the noble Baroness say what was so secret about the names of the applicants, or merely whether they were LEA or non-LEA interests? What was so secret about that information that it could not be imparted to me?

10.15 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

I do not think there was anything particularly secret about the applications. As I said, there was a process of consideration and assessment of 60 applications, when only 25 could be successful. In the circumstances, the Government judged that it was right and proper to wait until that assessment had been completed and then make an announcement in an orderly way about who the successful applicants were.

The question was put by the noble Baroness about whether the bidders were asked whether bids could go to the LGA. The answer is no. As I said before, the bids were sent to the LGA in confidence. The panel entirely represented central government, if I may say so. I have already listed the groups that were represented or are represented on the panel, including government officers, whom the noble Baroness suggested I had omitted.

I hope that we can now move on to discuss the substantive amendments on Clause 10. Then I can explain to the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, the purpose of education action zones. We hope that they will bring additional support in areas which are facing particular social and economic challenges. In too many of those areas, existing strategies for improvement are simply not working quickly enough and we are determined further to empower local schools to put things right.

In finding new ways of working to respond to these challenges, action zones will become test beds for wide-ranging educational reform. The legislation we are debating today will provide an enabling framework for schools to do whatever works in order to raise standards. I have no doubt that a number of valuable lessons will be learned from the strategies we will see developed within action zones and we shall want to put these lessons to good use in designing the schools of the future.

For action zones to achieve their fullest potential, a great deal of work will need to be done. We shall be asking all those involved—both the schools and their partners—to give to this programme their creativity and their willingness to work together. The commitment we shall be asking for will come from all the sectors involved: from LEAs, businesses, parents, voluntary sector groups and, above all, from the schools themselves. No school will be forced to join an action zone. Indeed, schools must convince the Government of their determination to take full advantage of the funding and freedoms offered by the policy before a zone will be awarded to that area.

The recent application round produced a very healthy response from across the country and a wide range of exciting ideas for schools in zones. Indeed, in recognition of the quality of the applications we received, the Government recently decided to increase their contribution to each zone, I am pleased to say, to up to £750,000 (with up to £250,000 coming from the private sector). As well as additional funds, of course, schools in action zones will enjoy a number of additional freedoms. As the noble Lord will be aware, they will be able to vary teachers' pay and conditions in ways which will reward excellence and attract staff to consultancy posts or hard-to-fill existing vacancies. They will be able to use the forum creatively to co-ordinate the work of these consortia of schools. Some zone schools, for example, may choose to pass or formally to cede powers to the forum so that it becomes a kind of supra-governing body for all the schools involved. In other zones, governing bodies will choose to retain their existing powers but, through the forum, they will set joint targets for improvements across the zone. Finally, zone schools might opt to take advantage of the freedom to vary the national curriculum so that it better suits the needs of the local community.

I hope that that answers in some detail the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky. I should now be grateful if Members of the Committee opposite were able to go forward and move their amendments.

Baroness Blatch

In a sense, what the noble Baroness is saying is a repetition of what she has said before on these matters. I still want an answer as to whether or not a private contractor will be allowed to make a profit.

Baroness Blackstone

I believe I have already given that answer. The answer is no. They will be paid a fee. They will not be allowed to make a profit in the normal sense. As I have said before, they will be allowed to receive a fee.

Baroness Blatch

The Prime Minister therefore was wrong when he said on 13th May that schools will be allowed to participate in the education action zone and to make a profit if they are successful.

Baroness Blackstone

They will be receiving a fee and will make money from that fee. I believe that that is what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister meant.

Baroness Blatch

Can the noble Baroness say what is the difference between making money and making a profit?

Lord Henley


Baroness Blackstone

I believe I answered the question.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Baroness Blatch

The noble Baroness said that these companies will not be allowed to make a profit. On 13th May, at col. 371 of Hansard, the Prime Minister said, companies will be allowed to participate in the education action zones and to make a profit if they are successful". Is the noble Baroness saying that they will not be allowed to make a profit? When she says that they will not be able to make a profit, but will be able to make money, will she define what the difference is between making money and making a profit, as the Prime Minister said?

Baroness Blackstone

I have nothing further to add to what I have already said.

Baroness Blatch

Those who read Hansard will make of it what they will. The noble Baroness gave a different answer from her right honourable friend the Prime Minister.

Amendments Nos. 49 to 51 allow a single school to be taken over by a third party; whether or not that is a private concern, it is a third agency. It seems to us that it is consistent with the talks taking place in the DfEE at the moment with private bodies, with the possibility of making a profit—the noble Baroness has not yet denied that—to allow the flexibility of not simply a consortia of schools, but as few as one school to take part.

I know that talks have been taking place with the DfEE because I spoke to one of the participants who went to see the DfEE in relation to the possibility of turning around a particularly difficult school that is failing by anybody's standards—either the DfEE's or the local education authority's. On past record, certain bodies have been singularly successful in using their talents to work with a school to improve education and the great beneficiaries have been the children themselves. Given that the DfEE is apparently open-minded about the situation, we believe it to be important, at least in this Bill, to enable the possibility for one or a group of schools to be included in the new policy.

That relates to Amendment No. 49. Amendments Nos. 50 and 51 are consequential. There is one quite disturbing aspect of the Government's plans for EAZs. As there are only four clauses in the Bill to go by, it is difficult to make any judgment about what the detail will be. However, I notice that nowhere does it appear that the consent of parents is involved in any of this. If one accepted that a single school should be taken on by a third party, it is important that parents at least have the benefit of, first, being consulted and, secondly, having their opinion taken.

I happen to know of schools that are said to be participating in bids—I have now seen all the bids—where individual governors do not even know that it is going on. I attended a meeting in the past three weeks when participants met in a public house in London, yet a governor of one of the schools represented at the meeting did not even know that her school was involved.

Many thousands of parents simply do not know what is going on. They are not aware of the policy and they are not aware of what third parties are discussing on their behalf. There are many teachers who are hearing what is going on third hand or fourth hand and are simply not in the picture. That does not seem to be the best way of setting up a consortium which is there precisely to bring about improvements in educational standards and to improve the lot of children in those schools.

My plea is that all the governors of schools should be in the picture. Parents should certainly be in the picture and their opinion should be sought. Certainly, all teachers should be in the picture, particularly when the national curriculum could be disapplied. That would have an impact on the children, because who would determine what would take its place? In the case of teachers, pay and conditions could be disapplied. I know that in one of the back-up papers the noble Baroness said that there will be consultation at the time. I suggest that there needs to be preconsultation before an action zone is set up at all. The specific point in my Amendment No. 49 is that there should be flexibility for there to be as few as one school and as many as up to 20, which is proposed by the Government. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone

These three amendments are designed to allow individual schools to become action zones in their own right. I am not unsympathetic to the idea that more schools may like to take part in an action zone, but to set up "zones of one" would be to overlook a large part of what the policy is really about.

Education action zones are about groups of schools in disadvantaged areas working together to raise standards across the zone. Action zones are intended to support and encourage the development of effective working partnerships, both between the schools themselves and with the forum members they have drawn in from the public, private and voluntary sectors. In action zones, schools will set targets for the zone together; they will devise joint strategies for improvement; they will operate by consensus through an action forum; and they will work together, across phases and institutions, on specific local initiatives.

Allowing schools to become zones individually misses the point of what zones are about. They are about partnerships and working together to come up with creative and interesting ideas. I see little point in creating an action forum, specifically designed to co-ordinate work across a group of schools, if there is only one school in the zone.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked about parents and whether they had been consulted. It seems more appropriate to respond to that point when we reach Amendment No. 54A. I hope that she will find that acceptable from the point of view of trying to be orderly. In the light of what I have said about the importance of groups of schools working together, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

10.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

In the light of the answer the noble Baroness has given, may I ask her another question? It is well known that DfEE officials are actively discussing the possibility of a single school being taken on by a third party with a view to improving education for those children. If the noble Baroness is not prepared to accept it being called an action zone, is she receptive to an amendment being brought forward to the Bill, not under the aegis of action zones per se, but to bring forward the possibility that a single school could be taken over by a third party which could include a public and/or private or voluntary concern?

Baroness Blackstone

I shall be happy to look at any amendment that the noble Baroness wishes to bring forward either at the next stage or at a later point in the Committee. I shall be happy to examine it and see whether it is acceptable. Until the amendment is tabled it is hard for me to give a categorical response as to how the Government would respond.

Baroness Blatch

My question was whether the noble Baroness was receptive to the notion. If officials are actively considering the possibility of a single school being taken over, then all one would put into the Bill is an enabling power to allow that to happen. It does not necessarily have to happen because at the end of the day the DfEE has the final say on even the action zones, let alone on single schools. Is it going to be possible or are the people addressing the DfEE talking in a vacuum and there is no intention of permitting a positive response through this Bill to the idea of turning around a single school that, by anyone's judgment, is deemed to be failing?

Lord Lucas

Or is it that officials are discussing the matter in confidence and therefore are unable to discuss it with the Minister?

Lord Skidelsky

It is a shame in a way that the grouping has meant that we have to have two discussions on exactly the same point at widely dispersed intervals. In Clause 12 I have an alternative kind of amendment designed to achieve the same purpose as that of my noble friend. We ought to have a combined discussion. We shall have to come back to it in half-an-hour or so.

Baroness Blackstone

I am very sympathetic to what the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky says. In the groupings that the Government put forward his amendment was grouped with those of the noble Baroness, but then de-grouped. It is the absolute right of the Opposition Front Bench so to do.

Perhaps I may respond again to what the noble Baroness said. Of course, the Government will look at any amendments that she wishes to table, but an amendment of the kind she describes has nothing to do with education action zones. They are designed to be groups of 10 or 12 schools working together with various other organisations, perhaps one or more private companies or voluntary organisations, to try to collaborate to raise standards. What she is discussing seems quite different. There can be no question of a private firm taking over a single school.

Baroness Blatch

That final statement makes it absolutely clear. Are serious talks going on in the department with a view to a company taking over a single school? An answer to that question would be enormously helpful. The noble Baroness says that there is no question that a company could take over a single school. I accept that as a statement of fact now it is on the record. Are talks going on in the department to that effect?

Baroness Blackstone

I do not think that that has much to do with the amendments. If we are to make progress at half-past 10, it is right to try to stick to the amendments on the Marshalled List rather than introduce issues that do not really relate to them. Discussions go on between the department and organisations, across government and outside it all the time. As a Minister in the department I cannot comment on every conceivable discussion that may be going on. As a former Minister, the noble Baroness will be aware of that and, no doubt, is sympathetic to it. As far as I know, there is no discussion about a private firm taking over a single school.

Baroness Blatch

I understand the point that the noble Baroness has just made: she cannot be responsible for everything going on in the department. However, it seems that the Guardian, the Daily Mail, the Mirror and all the other newspapers know about it.

Having said that, I am afraid that I find it almost offensive that the Minister said that that has nothing to do with the amendment. The amendment seeks precisely to allow a single school to be taken on by a third party—voluntary, private and/or public—in order to address failing schools. This part of the Bill—albeit only four clauses—is about addressing failing education. The Minister rightly said that education action zones represent more than one school and that they will be established in areas where education is failing. However, having seen some of the applications, I regard that as a loosely defined criterion. The Minister said that this matter has nothing to do with the amendment and that we should move on to matters more pertinent to the amendment. My remarks could not be more pertinent to the amendment, which relates to a single school being taken on by a third party. However, in view of what the Minister said and in the light of the unfolding saga, in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Hooper)

I apologise for having assumed that this amendment had been moved prior to my taking the Chair. Is it your Lordships' pleasure that the amendment be withdrawn?

Noble Lords


The Deputy Chairman of Committees

Is it your Lordships' pleasure that the amendment be withdrawn?

[Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.]

[Amendments Nos. 50 and 51 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 52 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Baroness Blatch

moved Amendment No. 52A: Page 9, line 42, at end insert— ("() The Secretary of State shall extend any disapplication of statutory provisions or regulations granted to schools in education action zones to other individual schools or groups of schools which apply to him for such a dissaplication. () Where a disapplication of statutory provisions or regulations is granted to an individual school or a group of schools without education action zone status such school or group of schools may also be granted the status of the employer of all teaching and non-teaching staff at the school or group of schools."). The noble Baroness said: As we understand it, the policy is that action zones should be located in areas of the country where education is failing. It seems to me that if one can disapply the national curriculum and pay and conditions agreements in an area where education is failing, there must be an even stronger case for saying that where a school can convince the Secretary of State that it is delivering good education which is entirely satisfactory to the Secretary of State, the disapplication provisions should apply. I cannot think of a reason why the provisions could be disapplied for failing schools in areas where education is failing but could not be disapplied in areas where education is succeeding and where good and successful schools would like to innovate further in order to be even more successful. I hope the Minister will consider that point.

Turning to the second subsection of the amendment, referring to who employs the teachers, we seem to have the worst of all possible worlds in that in come the third parties—whether that is the LEA plus a consortium of people or a private concern plus the LEA plus a consortium of people—to manage an education action zone with the LEA as the employer. If education development plans apply, and if intervention powers apply to the quality and monitoring of education within those schools, those who are innovating and who are in the business of improving standards of education in those schools are not being given a great deal of freedom if they are not given the power to hire and fire staff, both teaching and non-teaching. It is, sadly, a fact of life that where education fails that is not always because the children cannot or do not learn or because not all families are supportive. Sadly, it can sometimes be because the quality of the staff is not what it should be.

We were all depressed by the Answer the other day to a Question about the fast-tracking procedure for removing seriously incompetent members of staff. According to that Answer, it seems that that policy is some way from being implemented. It appears to be very much part of a package. If one has responsibility for running schools one must have the power to exercise that responsibility; in other words, one must not tie the hands of these people behind their backs. The very thing that they cannot do is reorganise the staff in such a way that education in those schools is improved. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone

Perhaps I may take the amendment in two parts. The first seeks to extend action zone freedoms to other areas; the second seeks to change the employer of staff. I very much welcome the support for some of the principles of education action zones which is implicit in these amendments. I, too, am keen to encourage creativity and innovation throughout the education system. My concern, however, is to ensure that change and experimentation in schools are introduced with proper care. Action zones will be test-beds for the schools of the future and as such will be expected to go beyond the many existing flexibilities that are already available to other schools. I say without hesitation that the success of zone schools will inform future education policy. We shall be keen to ensure that the lessons with which they provide us are widely disseminated to other schools around the country.

As to disapplication of the teachers' pay and conditions Act, this will help to provide models for how recruitment and retention can be improved—which is terribly important if we are to raise standards in schools—and how schools in challenging areas can have more of the best teachers than they currently attract. It is a rather sad fact that many of the best teachers are not teaching in some of the particularly challenging and difficult areas of the country. We hope that we can attract more such teachers to those areas. The education action zone experiment will, among other things, provide valuable evidence for the school teachers' review body.

But action zones are pilot programmes and are intended to be areas of controlled innovation. They are to be targeted where support is most needed. For these reasons, it is surely only prudent to monitor and evaluate progress and select them very carefully on the basis of need and the quality of proposals put forward. I am sure that the Committee agree that that is the right way to proceed.

Schools in all areas of the country were invited to apply for action zones and many of them took up that challenge. This is an important and exciting initiative and we do not want to rule out any future useful contributions. That is why, subject to the comprehensive review, we hope to expand the programme during this Parliament to include other groups of schools and other areas. I am sure that the expansion will provide us with an even wider range of new ideas and valuable lessons, but it must be managed carefully.

Turning to the second part of Amendment No. 52A, the Committee may well be aware that in practice all governing bodies act as the employer of their staff, unless they have had that privilege removed for failing to provide an adequate education or because of unfortunate financial mismanagement. In practice, this would make very little difference to an individual school. Where a group of schools applies I fear that this can lead to confusion over who actually is the employer, unless the group has a separate legal entity. However, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that the quality of staff is very important. For those reasons, we have decided that if an education action zone wishes to suspend normal teachers' pay and conditions it can do so. Governing bodies would know that they are losing their employment powers. That would reduce the number of governing bodies wanting to take part. Given that participation is voluntary, it is important that those governing bodies have a choice. Otherwise, there may be a reduction in the number of schools applying. If they want to cede that right, that is fine and is provided for in Clause 12(2)(b). However, it is for them to decide whether they want to cede it.

10.45 p.m.

Baroness Maddock

I was extremely interested in the Minister's reply to the amendment. She has told us carefully that the Government are concerned to take proper care in setting up education action zones. We have made it clear that we support the aim of education action zones but throughout we have been rather concerned about how they will operate and how democratic accountability will be maintained.

My concern this evening, particularly on this amendment, is to keep democratic accountability. The Minister was obviously more concerned not to go ahead too quickly and was being cautious. But I did not hear her mention anything to do with democratic accountability.

Earlier on this evening, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, was talking about the merits of local education authorities and how they could best deal with money for buildings and so on. There were several occasions on which she was singing their praises. This measure seems to me to work against keeping good democratic control through local authorities. That is one real concern which some of my colleagues and I have about education action zones. It is a matter which we shall pursue on the next set of amendments which deal with them.

I am disappointed that the Minister does not recognise that there is a problem, if we are not careful, in relation to where that leads us in the democratic process in the future.

Baroness Blackstone

The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said that that matter arises on the next set of amendments. It may make sense for me to respond to those amendments when we reach them.

Baroness Blatch

I do not see any inconsistency here. This measure will bring about a diffuse accountability. The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said that she is in favour of action zones. There is a movement away from local authorities. Those schools will move away from local authorities. The noble Baroness will be greatly enlightened when she sees the list. The schools are to be run by a consortia of third parties. The running of those schools will be such that the LEAs will continue to involve them as part of their education development planning. They will continue to have a role in terms of intervention and monitoring the quality of education. They will continue to employ the staff.

In fact, one wonders just how radical, interesting and innovative this policy is. It sounds as though a third party is being given this exciting and challenging job to do which will change quite dramatically the quality of education in areas of the country which have dogged governments going back many years. But they are not to be given the powers to do that. One either believes in the policy or one does not. If one believes in it, then it seems to me that one should place the necessary responsibility and accountability within that body. There should not be that diffuse separation of functions. The LEAs are losing those schools in one sense, but not quite, and thap is sufficiently not quite to tie the hands of the third parties which are there taking on the job of innovating and improving the lot of children in those areas.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, I believe that this is an exciting adventure. It is being implemented in the most inefficient, incompetent and secretive way. It will not work. I believe that there is serious coercion going on out there and, indeed, I can prove that that is so. It will be for me to bring forward the evidence to sustain that allegation. I shall do so. I also know that there are many people who ought to be aware of what is going on but who do not know the facts. I am not just referring to myself in that respect. I was quite deliberately slighted by the Minister. When I saw the applications, I could understand why it was that I was not meant to see them at this stage.

I have to tell the Minister that I am disappointed by what she said. It would seem that areas of the country where education is failing will have all of these powers to disapply the national curriculum as well as pay and conditions of service. However, the Minister is not prepared to consider the extension of such provisions to schools which are successful and want to be even more so, thereby broadening out opportunities for young people. I shall reflect on the Minister's response. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Maddock

moved Amendment No. 53: Page 9, line 46, at end insert— ("() When the three- or five-year period is concluded, it shall be the duty of the local education authority or authorities originally responsible for the participating schools to devise reasonable transitional arrangements either—

  1. (a) to return the participating schools to the control of the local education authority or authorities; or
  2. (b) to establish by agreement with the governors of those schools other appropriate arrangements for the management of those schools.").
The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 54 and 55. However, perhaps I may return for a moment to EAZs. It is not surprising that authorities and other people are interested in bidding for them because it is a way of getting more resources into schools in areas which badly need them. It is right that we have welcomed the idea behind EAZs, but it is also true to say that, during the Committee stage in another place, we proposed amendments which would have ensured that LEAs were very much part of the process and that they would not drop off the end at some future date.

Amendment No. 53 relates to what will happen at the end of the period during which schools are involved in EAZs; in other words, what will happen to the participating schools at the end of the process. The amendment is set out in two parts. The LEA, which is responsible, must devise transitional arrangements, to return the participating schools to the control of the local education authority or authorities", as the case may be, or, to establish by agreement with the governors of those schools other appropriate arrangements for the management of those schools". The purpose behind the amendment is to provide at least a skeleton of legislation under which those schools which have been EAZs may return to normal.

Perhaps I may point out to the Minister at this stage that what concerns us most is what will happen to LEAs in the future if many EAZs are established. For example, where is the future for LEAs? Perhaps it is part of the Government's plan that they do not particularly want to have LEAs in the future. I should be interested to hear the Minister's comments in that respect because it is a matter of concern to some people.

Education action zones will be established for three years in the first instance. However, with the agreement of the Minister, they can go on for another two years. However, at the end of that period there could be a potential crisis. How will education action zone schools survive that post-zone period? It seems likely that some of their staff will perhaps have been paid rather more than other teachers. If the LEA then resumes direct responsibility for such schools, how will that financial burden be met? We cannot really expect those teachers to accept reduced salaries. So will they just leave? That is one of the areas which we are anxious to pursue when considering what happens at the end of the period for an education action zone.

Undoubtedly benefits will be gained by schools belonging to an education action zone. How can those be retained when a school ceases to belong to an education action zone? What will happen as regards the input from commerce and industry? I hope the Minister will enlighten us on those points. The amendments we have tabled propose alternatives for dealing with this matter. As I said in my opening remarks, we are anxious to get a provision on the statute book to determine the position of a school that no longer has education action zone status.

I now turn to Amendment No. 54. Under the Bill as drafted the Secretary of State can add to the number of schools in an action zone, but there is no provision for a school to leave an education action zone. For example, a governing body may wish a school to be removed, or other participants may no longer wish a certain school to participate in an action zone. This amendment would allow the Secretary of State—where a governing body has asked him to do so—to remove a school from an action zone. The decision to do that would rest with the Secretary of State; there is no question of failing schools removing themselves from an action zone. I know that during the debate in the Commons the Government were concerned that schools might be able to benefit from the extra funding of action zone status and then try to remove themselves from the zone. I believe this amendment addresses that worry. In the rare instance where a school becomes unhappy in a zone and the relationship with others in the zone may have broken down to the extent that the effectiveness of the whole zone may be undermined, the Secretary of State can—under the amendment—permit the school to leave the zone. It is not expected that such a provision would be used often. It would be used only in the rarest of circumstances. Nevertheless we think that it should exist in the event that it is needed. Some discussions we had earlier tonight revealed that we need to consider much more carefully how education action zones will operate.

Amendment No. 55 seeks to ensure that whatever the Secretary of State may do in establishing or ending education action zones, the local education authority is properly and adequately consulted at each stage. We are concerned about democratic accountability in the future in the event of an increasing number of education action zones being established. The Local Government Association and my colleagues in another place have supported the Government on the establishment of education action zones, but it is clear that a great deal of detail still needs to be considered as to how schools join education action zones. Tonight some of us have been somewhat concerned at the secrecy surrounding that. There have been suggestions that I and my colleagues may be surprised to learn who is applying for education action zone status. I look forward to finding out who it is.

Obviously there is a great desire on the part of all those involved in education to improve standards in our schools. If there is an opportunity to obtain extra resources to do that and to work together in partnership with others to improve standards in innovative ways, people will want to take advantage of that. I urge the Minister to consider carefully the amendments that we have tabled. We believe they would enable education action zones to operate in a satisfactory way. It has become clear that there are grave concerns among all those involved about how they will operate. I hope that the Government will look favourably on the suggestions here which are intended to be helpful for the future of education action zones.

11 p.m.

Baroness Blotch

The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, has raised some interesting points. Again, they are not covered in the four meagre clauses in this Bill. That there should be transitional arrangements that are appropriate is essential. If at the end of a three or five-year period these schools are to be returned to local authority rule and the education action zones do not enjoy an extension, it seems to me that there have to be proper arrangements. It is a great pity that that is not covered in more detail in the Bill.

I certainly support in principle the point that the noble Baroness is making. How it is done mechanically within the Bill I do not know. But that is simply not covered by the detail that we have before us. So I certainly support the noble Baroness in principle.

On Amendment No. 54, concerning where a governing body does not agree, what worries me is that it is possible for governing bodies in part not to agree even to go into an action zone, let alone disagree with what they see once in an action zone. Again, there is so little on the face of the Bill for us to go by. As I have already said to the noble Baroness, I know some governors of a school who are meeting clandestinely, in one case in a pub in east London, discussing all the details of going into an action zone, and governors on the same governing body are not aware of what is going on.

It seems to me to be important that if these actions zones are to work at all, there should be a body of consensus about the adventure upon which they are about to embark and there should at least be some degree of consensus that they think it is a good idea. What happens once it is up and running where governors do not agree? I understand that if they have ceded all their functions to the forum, they cannot be taken back under that arrangement. If they are partially ceded, they can do so, but if they are fully ceded there is a very real difficulty for a governing body that does not agree.

The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, need not worry about Amendment No. 55. The noble Baroness in this amendment is saying that regard must be had to the views of representatives of the relevant local education authority. I can say that in something like 59 of the 60 authorities the views of the LEAs are well known. When the noble Baroness sees the information she will understand what I mean. There is only one case, as I understand it, where the LEA is almost hostile to the bid. The bid is being conducted by a third party completely outside the aegis of the LEA. That is a very interesting state of affairs. So in terms of having regard to the views of the representatives of the LEA, that is well known.

My Amendment No. 54A brings into the picture the people who in my view matter most; that is, the parents of pupils who are attending the schools which will be part of the action zone. Subsection (4) of this clause states that no order shall be made by the Secretary of State under subsection (1), (2) or (3) except on an application made for the purpose with the consent of parents of pupils and governors at every school.

If the Government are not happy that parents should be involved in this process, then I have very real concerns about this proposition. It seems to me that parents of pupils at these schools are critical to the success of this scheme. After all, the backing that children receive from their home and their parents and/or guardians is essential. If these action zones take place without a body of consent from the parents, it seems to me that the Secretary of State will have started off with a very good, exciting idea that could go very wrong indeed. So I hope that when it comes to Amendment No. 54A, the noble Baroness will feel able to accept it.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I hope that it will be thought appropriate if I speak to Amendments Nos. 53A, 54B, 54C and 257F which are government amendments in this group. The purpose of the amendments is straightforward. An important aspect of action zones is that a group of partners work together for a set period of time. Stability in the partnership is important, but there is one particular circumstance where it may be necessary to allow a new school to enter. This is where school reorganisation has created new schools in the area after the zone has been created.

For example, if two participating schools are merged and a new school is created as a result, it is logical that the new school should participate. Amendments Nos. 53A, 54B 54C and 257F all permit the Secretary of State to include newly created schools in a zone. This could be important in some cases and I shall commend the amendments to the Committee.

Perhaps I may refer to the other amendments in the same group which have been moved or spoken to. Amendment No. 53 was moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. All these amendments concern the setting up and dissolution of action zones. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is right: good transitional arrangements for action zones will be essential. We expect all applicants to have considered carefully their exit strategies before they begin. But it is not necessary to take what I fear is a paternalistic stance with these zones. The local partners, with support, of course, from the department where they want and need it, will have put forward the ideas. They will be responsible for implementing them. They will be responsible for ensuring that they are sustainable, or, if not, that they can be ended in a sensible way. To legislate for one body, as does the amendment—the local education authority—to be responsible for devising transitional arrangements to cope with the zone's ending seems to me to miss the point that this is all about partners working together.

Of course, the local authority will have an important role in this. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, who knows more than I do about the applications, has confirmed that in 59 cases out of 60. But what about the role of the other partners? What about the schools themselves? I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, will agree the principle that unless they are failing, schools, whether within or outside action zones, should be managed by no one but themselves.

It is important to realise that these zones are not just about additional resources boosting performance for a short period of time. The idea is that the zone allows schools in the zone, and their communities, to find different ways of working. We are looking to find ways which continue after the zone ends which can be useful models for other areas which are not zones.

Let me give some examples. Private sponsors will continue to be involved in supporting and helping to advise on the running of the schools. New curriculum models may be found. If these are successful, we would expect the schools in the area to continue to use them. We would also want to feed these findings into reviews of the national curriculum. New models for staffing may have been tried. If those are successful, we want to see whether they can be of benefit more widely.

I turn to Amendment No. 54, which would allow a school to exit in the middle of the term of an action zone. These zones are about a voluntary commitment to schools to work in partnership and try new ways to raise standards. In return for satisfying the Secretary of State that they and their partners have strong proposals for doing this, they stand to receive significant additional support. As well as funds, this will include priority access to many of our standards-raising programmes. Some of these programmes, once established, will continue indefinitely.

The Government are extremely happy to complete their side of the bargain because we know that we shall have tested the local proposals and will want to support them. But it would not be fair for a school, having received significant extra support—I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, recognised the force of this point—to decide that in fact it did not want to meet the higher levels of achievement expected in zones, or did not want to continue working in partnership with other schools. Three years seems to us a minimum time for which such a commitment could legitimately be expected.

There is another issue. Zones will be set up in which each school has something to contribute or learn from. In some zones, schools will have much good practice to share with their partners. It would be a pity if such schools left when things became a little difficult. Surely it is better to stick it out for at least three years and make a real difference.

The noble Baroness explained that the amendment only gives the Secretary of State a power; he does not have to use it. It is surely important that the partners should know that they are working together for three or possibly five years. It would be very distracting if different schools were debating whether or not they wanted to continue. I know the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said that this would not happen very often, but the debate about whether or not they would continue might happen more often, and really that would not be a very good thing.

Amendment No. 55 requires the Secretary of State to consult before creating a zone. This was debated in some detail in Committee in the Commons. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment said—and I am delighted to give the same reassurance now—that: We have made it clear at every stage that we expect local authorities to be consulted. Clearly, if an application was made and the local authority had not expressed a view on it, we would take the initiative and ask the local authority why that was so. Again, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has the advantage over me. She tells me it is possible that this has occurred only in one case. I can assure her that in that case, had we not done so already, we would take the initiative and ask the local authority why it was not supporting the application. When that assurance was given in another place, I understand that the Liberal Democrat spokesman accepted that assurance and withdraw the amendment. I hope that the noble Baroness will do the same.

Finally, and with apologies for the length of this reply, I turn to Amendment No. 54A, spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I am sympathetic to the idea that parents will have an important voice in the creation and running of an education action zone, but we really do not need a parental ballot to achieve that. The governing body of each school should be close to the views of parents and of course will have direct parental representation on it. The governing body itself, as the noble Baroness knows, will have to agree to participate and the applicants will have to demonstrate not only the school's agreement but their commitment to working in this way.

We do not really want to have this kind of obsession with structure and procedures getting in the way of innovative policies of education action zones. In the applications we have received—and I look to the noble Baroness to confirm or correct what I am saying—there are tremendous examples of initiatives to improve the way in which the whole community can be involved in education, encouraging children to learn with parents and parents to further their own education alongside their children In many of the disadvantaged areas where the zones will be set up, one of the most challenging issues is how to promote the importance of education.

I urge the Committee to allow this task to be undertaken and to allow those working and living locally to make judgments about the need to apply, in discussion with parents, pupils and staff as necessary. But, please, let us not saddle the procedure with unnecessary bureaucracy.

I hope that noble Baroness will in due course decide not to move Amendment No. 54A. I commend the Government amendments to the Committee and, with great respect for the motivation of the others, ask the noble Baronesses concerned not to press them.

Baroness Maddock

I thank the Minister for the long reply he has given and for the clarification of where the Government stand on these issues. I would perhaps take issue with him on being regarded as "paternalistic". What we are trying to do is to ensure democratic accountability. I do not believe that that is paternalism. Perhaps earlier this evening we saw the Government being very paternalistic in the way they were guarding the secrets surrounding people who were applying for education action zones, and so I would take issue there.

The Minister did not quite get to the bottom of how schools would manage so far as resources are concerned if they came out of education action zones. He rather skated around the point. I shall read his remarks carefully, and we may return to the matter at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

moved Amendment No. 53A: Page 10, line 5, at end insert ("; or (b) with a view to enabling it to achieve improving standards in the provision of education once it becomes a maintained school, any new school which has a temporary governing body."). The noble Lord said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 53. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 54 not moved.]

11.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 54A: Page 10, line 7, at end insert ("parents of pupils at every school and"). The noble Baroness said: I am deeply saddened that the noble Lord has dismissed parents as a bureaucratic irrelevance. His words were "an unnecessary bureaucratic process". Those parents are likely to have children in schools with a formation which is not yet properly set. These systems will be up and running in a matter of 12 to 14 weeks' time. Parents are not aware of what is going on and are not party to the consultation. Governors are discussing the detail of the proposals without any consultation with parents.

If a school is about to become part of an education action zone where the national curriculum might be disapplied, do parents not have a view about that? Do parents not have a view as to the pay and conditions of the teachers who may or may not be pleased about that? The parents are the most important key. This very radical proposal will take schools out of local authority control and place them in the hands of third parties, some of whom the parents do not know and have never met. They do not know the background and are not party to the consultation. They should be formally consulted.

This proposal is not very bureaucratic. We are talking about a group of schools where the parents could be asked to give their consent, which could easily be done by means of one ballot box resting in the school for one day when the parents can vote on the proposition. It should be put before them in some sort of detail so that they know what to expect over a three-year and/or a five-year period. Some of these applications exist because there is money on the table. There is no secret whatever about that. Many more include European money, and DfEE project money, with the emphasis on the action zones and not, sadly, on some of the schools in the area whose needs may be just as great.

There will be endless publicly funded bodies. There will be business enterprise organisations. Lottery funding forms part of the bids. There will be training and enterprise councils. Single regeneration budget moneys, work-related learning programmes—all are involved. And there are contributions in kind. Is it not fair that the parents should have some understanding of the proposition for their particular action zone? If the noble Lord considers that a bureaucratic irrelevance, then a very distressing message is being sent to parents. Where an LEA is known to be hostile to an application, the DfEE already knows very well the views of that LEA.

[Amendment No. 54A not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

moved Amendment No. 54B: Page 10, line 13, after ("Chapter") insert—

  1. ("(a) references to a governing body shall be read as including the temporary governing body of a new school;
  2. (b)")
The noble Lord said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 53. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

moved Amendment No. 54C: Page 10, line 15, at end insert— ("(6A) In this section "new school" has the meaning given by section 69(3)."). The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 55 not moved.]

Clause 10, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 11 [Establishment of Education Action Forum for zone]:

Baroness Blatch

moved Amendment No. 55A: Page 10, line 20, at end insert— ("() An Education Action Forum shall be the employer of all teaching and non-teaching staff at all schools within the education action zone."). The noble Baroness said: The third parties are being given the power to take over a group of schools, to disapply the national curriculum, to substitute another innovative novel curriculum and the power to disapply pay and conditions of service for their teachers. Why should they not be trusted to employ the staff, both teaching and non-teaching? I think the case is very powerful and I beg to move.

The Earl of Lauderdale

I am unaccustomed to joining in an education debate and I shall try to intervene peacefully. I wonder whether the Minister can answer one or two queries about Clause 11(3)(b). It concerns a new animal called an education action forum. I understand from reading the Bill that the Secretary of State can appoint two members, while others will be recruited from the LEAs.

Are we to understand that these are to be LEAs in miniature, minuscule LEAs or will they embrace outside experience as well? For example, will the education fora simply be the current LEAs in miniature or will they have some fresh air let in from faraway experience, possibly of an unusual kind? I notice that scattered in the Times Educational Supplement last week is a whole batch of ideas on new non-local experience. In one case a teacher of phonics and word/sound association was mentioned. Another was a Scottish Office staffer with experience of school standards and effectiveness and of premier football club study centres.

Also mentioned in the Times Educational Supplement was a former ILEA chief inspector who was used to investigating institutional cultures. Are those new bodies, the education action forums, simply the LEA in miniature or are they to be LEAs plus outside experience that might enrich them? I ask this in a peaceful way, I am not trying to stir up trouble, I do not usually join in this kind of debate anyway. I hope that in the circumstances we may be given information by the Minister.

Baroness Blackstone

I am grateful for the opportunity afforded by this amendment to clarify further the employment aspects of education action zones. That said, I must admit that I have some reservations about the effect of the amendment.

The amendment seeks to make all education action fora the direct employers of staff in the zone. This means that any governing body joining the zone does so in the knowledge that it loses its employment powers. This may be appropriate for some, but not for others. As I said earlier, it is better to give a choice of routes through which to enter.

In anticipation that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, may wish to come back with a further amendment offering this choice, perhaps I should say that it is not necessary. It is already dealt with in Clause 12(2). Under paragraph (a) of the subsection, governing bodies can use the forum as an agent, with the governing body retaining the legal responsibility. Under paragraph (b) of the subsection, governing bodies can decide formally to pass all their powers to the forum. That would include employment powers. This flexible menu of options is perhaps better than the proposed set meal which, I think, would deter many governing bodies from wanting to become zones.

In reply to the noble Earl, the legislation allows each governing body to put forward a member and the Secretary of State can appoint members. Other appointees may come from business or voluntary organizations—all those the applicants feel can contribute. They are not local education authorities in miniature in any way.

I have considered each of these amendments, but, for the reasons I outlined, I do not believe that they are an improvement and that the policy will be better for them. In the light of that, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Swinfen

Before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps she can help me. I understand that in an education action zone the contracts of the teachers can be changed in relation to salaries and various other aspects. However, I also understand that the teachers are employed either by the school or by the local authority and that therefore their contracts are with the local authority or with the school.

If the education action zone can change that contract willy-nilly, and the teacher wishes to go to court in order to enforce the contract to which he or she agreed with the original employer, against whom does the teacher take the action? Is it the school, the local authority or the education action zone?

The teachers have no contract with the education action zone but, as I understand it, the EAZ will have the power to change the contract whether or not the teacher likes it. There is therefore a great deal of merit in the amendment. I go further. When an education action zone takes over the contracts of the teachers they should take over the existing contract, otherwise they would have to negotiate a completely new one with every single teacher.

Baroness Blackstone

I hope that no teacher who is involved in an education action zone will want to go to court about the changes that the education action zone may want to make in relation to his pay and conditions. After all, the whole purpose of the zone is to give teachers greater freedom and to give the education action zone the opportunity, if it so chooses, to pay higher salaries.

The contracts will remain either with the local authority or with the school, but it is the governing body which has employment powers. The forum does not have power over that unless the governors cede that power or the teacher takes up employment with the forum. Whoever the employer is will obviously be the agency with whom the teachers, if they wish to go to court—as I say, I hope that no teacher would want to do so—will be in dispute.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

I have been listening to this discussion with a bit of difficulty at this hour of the night—my brain does not seem to be functioning too well. As I understand it, in some cases teachers may be, and in others they may not be, transferred from one employer to another. In those circumstances, does the transfer of undertakings regulations—TUPE—govern the transfer of those employees?

Baroness Byford

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, has again beaten me to it: I must rise more quickly, though I know it is late.

When schools come into the action zones, presumably not all the teachers in those schools will necessarily have their contracts continued. Part of the action zones' objectives is to improve standards in the school. I presumed—maybe in my innocence—that some of the teachers, and let us hope the majority, will still have contracts that continue to run, but some may well find their contracts not continued.

My question to the Minister is twofold. First, what happens to those teachers who, once the school has joined the action zone, find that their contracts are not renewed and kept up? In fact, to whom does the teacher look in that situation? At the other end-I first raised it with the noble Baroness after Second Reading and she kindly wrote back to me-what happens at the exit?

Teachers whom the zones feel will do a good job will have been taken on and presumably, as a result, their pay may have been increased. But what will happen when the zone ends? Will they revert to their previous level of pay? By whom are they employed? What will happen to their pension rights? I refer particularly to those who were not taken up in the first place and, more importantly, to those who have had an increase in their pay during their time in the zone, which will presumably have an effect on their pensions as well.

I should be grateful to the Minister if we could have a little more clarity on the matter. Perhaps it is the time of night, or perhaps it is because the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, keeps beating me in rising to speak, but I am still a little confused about what exactly the situation is for those teachers as the zones develop.

11.30 p.m.

Lord Swinfen

It is not just a question of the finances. It could well be the hours of work or the length of holidays. It may well be that in an education action zone it is decided that the school day should be longer or that the school term should be longer in order to make certain that the pupils are given sufficient time to learn more. It may be wished to break up the school year not just into three terms but into four, five or six so that everything comes in short, sharp bursts and the pupils can learn together. All those points need to be taken into account. The education action zones that will be putting this into effect should be responsible. I wonder whether the Government have really thought this through yet. The idea of an education action zone is a good one but there are all kinds of other points that we need to consider.

Baroness Blatch

My noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, have posed a number of questions which need to be answered in detail. Many members of staff will be following our proceedings very carefully and they will want to know the answers to these very detailed questions on matters which will affect their careers.

The Minister said that the function of employer can be passed on or can be ceded. Perhaps I may remind her that paragraph 14 of the background paper says that the establishing of an education action zone would not alter who employs the staff. In other words, the employer of staff will continue to be the local education authority. The teachers would remain employed on contracts within the teachers' pay and conditions document unless the governing body was given permission to disapply that document and renegotiated contracts with staff. But before giving permission to disapply, the Secretary of State will want to see that consultation has taken place with staff and their representatives.

Consultation is one thing, but what are the rights of teachers in these situations? Paragraph (c) says that where governing bodies cede their powers to the forum the forum will only become the de facto employer of the school staff in place of the governing body, although the legal employer will not change. In other words, the LEA will continue to be the legal employer and that cannot be ceded to the forum, to a governing body or to anyone else. It is only for the day-to-day purposes of employing a teacher that the power to disapply pay and conditions will be ceded, and the actual legal employer will go on being the local education authority. The only way in which the forum can be an employer in the full sense of that word will be for those teachers which it employs directly.

The question posed by my noble friend Lady Byford is an important one. What will happen to them at the end of a rather short period like three years? Is one really going to find these superhero teachers, who will come in on a contract for just three years, with perhaps an extension of the contract of two years? However, there is nothing in the Bill to say that it can be extended beyond that period.

The question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, is quite important. Under what we have colloquially understood to be called TUPE, does the transfer of undertakings apply? My understanding is that when public authority employees move from one public body to another or to a private body, then the transfer of undertakings does apply. It would be very helpful to know from the noble Baroness whether it applies in this case.

Lord Skidelsky

Before the noble Baroness replies, can she clear up the confusion in my mind? My noble friend has just said that the legal employer is the local education authority. The Minister has said equally certainly, in my recollection, that the legal employer is the school governing body. They cannot both be legal employers: which of them is the legal employer?

Baroness Blackstone

As I understand it, it is the governing body that is the employer although the contracts remain with the local authority. However, they can be with the school and it will depend on what kind of school it is. All the things that the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, raised might happen on fixed-term supplementary contracts. If we are talking about new teachers who are taken on by a zone, they will operate on fixed-term contracts.

As regards the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, if teachers return to normal employment under the existing terms of the teachers' pay and conditions set-up, when they return to work with a school governing body or a local authority they will return to the existing terms and conditions which will only be suspended while they are new teachers working for an education action zone.

I return to what the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, asked. As I believe I made clear, the legal employer depends on the type of school. If it is a community school, it is an LEA, but if it is an aided or a foundation school, it will be the governing body. I hope that that clears up his question.

I shall be very happy to write to Members of the Committee on both the Liberal Democrat Benches and on the Front Bench of the main Opposition party, and to Back-Benchers too, setting all this out in detail rather than, at this time of night, enter upon complex aspects of the suspension of teachers' pay and conditions under the education action zone proposals where that may happen. I hope that that will be acceptable and that in the light of it the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Blatch

I am sorry that it has not been possible to bring this kind of information forward. The debate was well predicted. The teacher trade unions have shown a very real interest in the answers to some of these questions. I know that education authorities are particularly interested. The DfEE knows that. It is quite extraordinary that the information has not come down to the Minister in order that she can answer some of these questions.

For example, the answer as regards TUPE must be that either the provisions apply or they do not. It would have been very helpful to have had an answer on whether the transfer of undertakings applies in this case and if not, under what powers is there exemption from it. Does not the noble Baroness agree that when one disapplies pay and conditions provisions, just like investments they can worsen or improve? The noble Baroness has spoken a great deal about teachers getting more money and more generous conditions. Equally, there is no control over that, for once they are disapplied they are disapplied. Under this application it is possible for a third party, especially if given a fee and able to make money—as the noble Baroness said earlier and as the Prime Minister has agreed, profits can be made—it will be possible to vary one way or the other. Nothing in the Bill says that pay and conditions can be disapplied as long as they are disapplied more generously. It states merely that they may be disapplied. It would be helpful if the Minister would agree that they could be more generous or even less generous.

Lord Lucas

Perhaps I may add to the confusion in this area. It is clear the employer is the local authority. Schedule 16, and others, contain detailed provisions whereby the school decides who should be appointed as a teacher and the LEA then has to make that appointment. Nothing in this part of the Bill gives the education action zones the right to impose on the LEA changes to the terms and conditions under which it is employing teachers. It is not clear to me, therefore, how this mechanism is supposed to work its way down from decisions of the education action zones. As my noble friend Lord Swinfen said, perhaps teachers will be told to attend for an extra two hours and to provide extra tuition in games after school to improve pupils' performance. Clearly, the education action zone has to have the right to tell the LEA to do that so that it can change the terms of employment of its teachers. The teachers will then have a cause of action against the LEA, which is their employer. The Government have set out the route (in Schedule 16) by which those instructions are given for the ordinary course of events, but they have not done so for education action zones, and I hope that the Minister's letter will make the way in which the chain of command will work absolutely clear.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

Further to the comment just made by the noble Lord. Lord Lucas, in relation to voluntary aided schools, it is not the case that the LEA is the employer; the governing bodies of such schools are the legal employers.

Lord Swinfen

Where the LEA is the employer, the pension arrangements are probably that the LEA pays a set percentage of the salary, but if the education action zone gives the teacher an increment, who pays the extra on the pension? Will it be supplied by the education action zone or will the LEA be forced to pay the extra on the amount due as a pension? I wonder whether such points have been taken into account and properly thought through.

Baroness Blackstone

Of course that has been taken into account. I think that I have already said—if I did not, I apologise—that pensions will be unaffected by these arrangements. The pensions organisations for teachers will cover this and the employer—whether the governing body or the LEA—will be responsible.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked me whether teachers' pay might go up or down. In theory, she is absolutely right: it is possible that under these arrangements teachers' pay could go down, but in practice I should have thought, as I have already implied, that it is fairly obvious that it will tend to rise. After all, we are trying experimentally to find a way to encourage good teachers to work in areas where raising standards is a big challenge. Therefore, it would not make much sense for an education action zone to lower the pay of teachers. However, I entirely accept that, theoretically, teachers' pay could go down under this legislation.

The noble Baroness also asked about the transfer of undertakings. Again, as I understand it, TUPE does not arise because employment does not formally transfer.

With regard to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, I shall certainly set out clearly in a letter how the change, as he put it, will work when an education action zone decides that it wishes to suspend teachers' normal pay and conditions.

I hope that I have responded to the questions that have been put, but I repeat my offer to set this out at length in writing.

11.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

We will have to wait for the letter from the noble Baroness, which will have to cover a very large number of points. In response to my noble friend Lord Swinfen the Minister said that pensions would be unaffected. How can they be unaffected? If someone receives considerably more, perhaps by way of merit pay or another system for enhancing pay, that will give rise to enhanced pension contributions, including contributions by the employer. Is the noble Baroness saying that a teacher can receive pay on a better scale and yet the pension will be frozen at a lower salary rate? I cannot believe that that was what the noble Baroness meant.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

This point is particularly relevant where senior teachers are coming to the end of their career—precisely the very senior classroom teachers who may be the most desirable ones to become involved in action zones. Those teachers' pensions will be affected. Their employer will have to pay the additional pension no matter what happens because they will have earned it. I do not see how it can be unaffected. We appear to be receiving a series of contradictory answers.

One is also concerned about conditions, for example contact hours and so on. Those teachers whose salaries are not to be raised but who nevertheless have to work in less advantageous circumstances may have their noses put out of joint, to put it mildly. Does the noble Baroness suggest that teachers who are not worth additional money—all of these expressions are in inverted commas—will be dismissed or their employment terminated in some way and only teachers who are worth higher salaries will be employed in education action zones? When one looks at the detail it is hard to see how the system will operate.

Lord Swinfen

Will the Government top up local authority funding? They will not have budgeted for the increase in pensions that they will have to pay to the pension company. They will be bound to pay that if the salaries of some of the teachers in the action zones are increased. They will be paying a proportion of that salary as pension, for which they will not have budgeted.

Lord Tope

As I listen to the debate I become more and more concerned. We will have to await the Minister's letter to make the situation clear. It has already been said quite correctly that if a teacher's salary is increased then the pension contribution increases. The teachers' superannuation scheme is a final salary scheme. The teacher will be entitled to a pension based on his best salary in the last three years, normally the last year for obvious reasons. That is an ongoing commitment.

I speak from experience as a local authority leader. One agrees to a relatively small increase in salary but when the employee retires one has a very substantial commitment to the superannuation scheme. If that is to fall on the LEA at the behest of an education action zone perhaps for very good reason, the LEA will look for considerable reassurance and, I expect, recompense for the extra costs incurred over a very long period of time over which it has little or no control.

Baroness Blackstone

I said that pension rights will continue for teachers who move from a school or LEA employer to a forum, just as if they had moved from a foundation school to a community school, when the employer also changes.

These are complex issues associated with the teachers' superannuation scheme. It would be much more sensible if I were to set out exactly what the impact of this will he on the scheme and, indeed, the local education authorities which the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said will not have budgeted for such an impact. I should point out that we are talking about only 25 education action zones, a relatively small number of schools and a relatively small number of teachers who will be affected. Not all the education action zones will wish to suspend teachers' pay and conditions. It is important that we do not exaggerate the impact of such changes. But as I have already promised. I shall set this out in writing in detail.

Baroness Blatch

We shall have to wait. It is a great pity. The debate and the questions raised should have been anticipated and the information available. It was highly predictable that we should have a debate about the effect of this policy on teachers.

When the noble Baroness writes the letter covering the points raised in the debate, will she take into account also the way in which some of those outside bodies work? Certainly from the information I have already seen on the applications, longer days and more days in the year are being talked about. There is a suggestion of using hours before school starts for breakfast clubs. There is a suggestion of after-school clubs. All that will add considerably to the burden on teachers unless there are more members of staff. Therefore, it is conceivable that teachers will receive more pay. However, as my noble friend Lord Swinfen said, they may have to do a great deal more for it. Therefore, the benefit to teachers is neutral. They are working longer hours and therefore receiving more pay.

The noble Baroness said that pensions will he unaffected. Pensions will indeed be affected. As pay rises, so too will the contributions both from the teacher and the employer. As the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, pointed out, we may well he talking about senior teachers because it may be the most experienced teachers who will move into those positions. Therefore, there will be an impact on pensions and final salary arrangements for local authorities. Some of those local authorities will be serving the most difficult areas. There will be pressures on them to find extra money and, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said, that extra money needs to be found for the life-time of those teachers, not simply for one or two years. It will be well beyond the period of time during which those action zones are in place.

These are complex issues to which we need some answers. We look forward to receiving the letter from the noble Baroness. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Tope

moved Amendment No. 56: Page 10, line 28, after ("appointment;") insert— ("() no fewer than two persons representing the local education authority responsible for maintaining the participating schools or, if there is more than one such authority, at least one person appointed by each of them;"). The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 56, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 57, 58, 59, 60, 63 and 64. In view of the hour of night and the amount of business we have yet to transact, I shall be extremely brief because all these amendments very largely speak for themselves.

Amendments Nos. 56 and 59 are concerned to ensure that the local education authorities are represented on the education action forums. If what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has told us is correct, and I have no reason to doubt it, it would be bizarre in the extreme if the vast majority of those education action zones, which are run by or involved with local education authorities, were not to be so represented. But it is appropriate that it should be stated clearly on the face of the Bill that they must be represented. Thereby they will retain the proper contact and influence that they should have, not least for the reasons which we discussed on the previous amendment.

Amendment No. 57 refers similarly to representation of teachers. They should be represented on the education action forum. That is right and proper. They are represented as of right on governing bodies and education committees. I should have thought it entirely right and appropriate that they should be represented, as suggested, also on the education action forums.

As regards Amendment No. 58, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, has waited extremely patiently for a very long time to pursue the matter, not only this evening but also on the previous Committee day. I really do not want to steal his thunder by speaking to it now. Perhaps I may simply say that we warmly and wholeheartedly support his amendment and look forward to hearing what he has to say and, indeed, what the Minister has to say in response.

Amendment No. 60 seeks to preserve the general balance of interests and experience that exists at present so that no expertise and experience is lost in that way. Amendment No. 63 refers to the importance of maintaining proper interests in gender and in race. In passing, I should point out to the Committee that if there is any ethnic disadvantage these days it probably rests far more with white, young males than it does with any other members of ethnic minorities.

These are important amendments. I have spoken to them very briefly because of the hour of night. However, that should not in any sense indicate that they have any lack of importance in our view. They are extremely important and self-explanatory. I hope that we shall receive a positive response from the Government. I beg to move.

Lord Rix

In speaking to Amendments Nos. 58 and 64, I seem to have been granted a solo spot on the Cross-Benches, which is perhaps appropriate for a rapidly ageing thespian at this hour of night. The Minister and a handful of noble Lords who were present on Second Reading, some of whom are present tonight, may recall that I confessed to studying the 248-page document while waiting for a train—any train—to get me back to Euston from Crewe. But the enforced delay did allow me to note that there were few substantial references to special schools or special educational needs in the Bill, and I reported that fact on Second Reading. The Minister responded quite positively. I shall not quote her response now because of the lateness of the hour.

As my concerns arose in Crewe and as the Government—or, rather, a senior Minister in the Government—fairly recently decided that Crewe can be bypassed, I am naturally concerned that special needs, too, can be treated in the same cavalier fashion unless specific commitments are made to them on the face of the Bill. Hence my amendments today and others for future days, or nights, in Committee. They have the support not only of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and my noble friend Lady Darcy de Knayth but also from outside this Chamber. That support comes from the Special Educational Consortium, which includes such renowned voluntary bodies as Mencap, the Council for Disabled Children, Barnardos, The National Autistic Society, Scope (plus many others), as well as teaching unions and local government organisations. No one can be in any doubt as to our sincerely held convictions.

The purpose of the two amendments is as follows. Amendment No. 58 is designed to ensure that at least one person is included in an education action forum who has experience and expertise in special educational needs. Amendment No. 64 would ensure that everyone who is part of an education action forum has to have regard to the code of practice on the identification and assessment of special educational needs.

I hope and believe that the Minister will accept my amendments or propose others worded in a similar vein on Report. If she does not, I can only paraphrase the late, lamented Marie Lloyd: Oh, noble Baroness, what shall I do? Excellence for special needs, left behind at Crewe". Furthermore, I think I can persuade the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, to use his undoubted operatic talents to underline the point in song once this session is over. That, I am convinced, will persuade the Minister; of that I am absolutely certain.


Lord Lucas

I hope the Minister will agree with me that Amendments Nos. 60 and 63 are particularly "daffy". Amendment No. 60 suggests that the governing body of an education action zone should reflect the, balance of interests and experience of a set of governing bodies which have, almost by definition, failed in what they might have thought of as their mission to provide education up to the standard they wish. I hope that the Government will not seek to hamstring an education action zone in this way. Amendment No. 63 introduces the concept that standards in the provision of education can have due, variation by sex or race". Surely no such variation can possibly be acceptable. The concept expressed in Amendment No. 63 must be totally unacceptable.

Lord Whitty

All of these amendments, directly or indirectly, deal with the membership of education action fora. Clearly we had to consider how we establish the membership, given all the constituencies which have various demands they wish to be represented. There are, however, two difficulties with the concept that we allow all such constituencies to be represented. First, the education action zone will bring together 10 or 20 schools. That could mean the membership of a forum swelling rapidly—if everyone were included—to 50 plus. That is unlikely to constitute an effective decision-making body.

The second issue is one of flexibility. Within the education action zone concept, different relationships will exist between governing bodies and the fora in different areas. As we have heard, in some cases governing bodies will cede their powers to the forum; in others they will not unless formal arrangements apply. In any case the way in which the fora will operate will require consultation and consensus so that the views of teachers and of other bodies will be represented through their governing bodies and other means of consultation within their areas. It is therefore, in our view, not sensible to lay down that all these constituent bodies should always be members of an education action forum. The compromise we arrived at was to leave membership decisions on the forum to those who were putting forward the proposals. They will know the ways of working they have in mind. It is important that we do not restrict them in that way. It is important on the other hand that we ensure that each governing body in an education action zone area which wishes to be represented should be represented. That is the only thing we have laid down.

On the point about local education authorities, we expect local education authorities to be represented on the action fora. Of the 60 applications we have received so far, LEAs are a partner in 58 of them, and so will naturally be represented on the fora. We need to bear in mind exceptions. There is the possibility that a different set of partners—for example, a group of schools working with a private sector company, or a voluntary organisation—make a strong application that deserves consideration, but which is not involved with a local education authority. In an extreme case it is possible that a local education authority is either not interested or is deeply opposed to what is being proposed. Obviously that opposition would be given due weight, but where we seek to go ahead with the education action zone it would not be sensible for the LEA to have a veto over an application by reserving to itself a place, even if all the other parties know that is done only to be obstructive. That situation is extremely unlikely. but nevertheless we must recognise that it could arise. It is certainly not borne out by the experience of the applications received under the non-statutory programme so far, but nevertheless we must preserve that flexibility.

Amendments Nos. 60 and 63 contain the phrase, without undue variation by sex or race". We would expect the organisations involved in the forum to reflect the make-up of the schools involved in the wider communities in which they operate. We would not expect to see any gender under-representation.

The Minister for School Standards has already had some discussions with the Commission for Racial Equality on this issue. Sir Herman Ousley has indicated that he supports the EAZ concept. It will be necessary to design strategies to make sure that we raise achievement in particular sections of the community which are under-performing. That will be reflected in the requirements on EAZs rather than in the formulation in these amendments.

On the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Rix, particularly Amendment No. 64 relating to the SEN code of practice, I can assure the noble Lord that there is no question that regulations would allow the SEN code of practice to be disapplied or bypassed in education action zones, whether in Crewe or anywhere else. These regulations will—indeed, from the wording on the primary legislation, they can—only affect the way in which certain functions are passed from governing bodies to the forum where both the governing bodies and the forum agree that such a transfer is sensible. That does not affect the need to observe other responsibilities in other important documents and regulations which would certainly include such fundamental documents as the SEN code of practice. Therefore, in our view the objectives of Amendment No. 64 are met and the amendment is unnecessary.

We are therefore adopting a process of flexibility in this area. The prime proposals for membership of each education action forum will be from the proposers themselves. Obviously the department will have to make a judgment on those proposals, but that is the original flexibility which we would wish to see. With that understanding and that principle of flexibility, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able not to press the amendment.

Lord Swinfen

When inviting proposals from people who are prepared to set up special education zones and fora, will the Government be asking the proposers what their ideas and proposals are on dealing with special education needs and how they intend to handle them? I know that this only covers, as a general rule, a small proportion of pupils but it is a highly specialised and highly skilled sector which needs special handling. There is a danger, because of small numbers, that these specialist cases could fall through the net and be neglected. Although they may have special education needs, they are people who, if properly taught, could offer a great deal to the country in due course.

Baroness Blatch

When the noble Lord replies, can he also pick up my point? The noble Lord said that gender balance, ethnicity and even special needs interests would be addressed. But each school is an entity within the zone. Each school will put forward its representative on to the forum. How will it be addressed? Will the school be told, "Sorry, you cannot have another woman from your school", or "You cannot have another man from your school", because the numbers seem to indicate too many women or too many men?

What will be the means of seeing that those issues are addressed—for example, if the area has a high ethnic presence in the community but not enough ethnic people are put forward by individual schools? The schools will be dealing with the most appropriate representative of their schools. It may not reflect the local community, gender balance, ethnic balance or, indeed, specific interests in special needs. How will that be managed?

Lord Whitty

As far as gender and ethnic balance are concerned, clearly we are saying that there will be a general guidance that there should be no undue variation, but we are not operating on mathematical formulae. Therefore, any intervention would be only if there was a serious distortion of the gender balance and the community ethnic balance. We do not propose mathematical formulae here or rigid rules. But clearly one could have a situation where there is a severe imbalance which no doubt the department would draw to the attention of those proposing the forum.

Baroness Blatch

I do not follow that. Who would intervene? The noble Lord has already said that the schools are their own entities. They have control over who they put forward. The DfEE will have its two appointees. Who will intervene; and under what power will that body intervene if it believes that there is an imbalance?

Lord Whitty

There will be an ongoing relationship between the education action zones and the department. At the end of the day the department would intervene, but I am sure that these matters can be dealt with on a consultative basis. We are not asking them to meet a specific formula. We are asking them to be reasonable about the balance of the membership of the education action zone.

On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, the issue of special educational needs would be included in consideration of the proposals from those putting forward the action zone. The curriculum still provides equal opportunities for all pupils, including those with special educational needs. Therefore any proposition would have to be assessed to ensure that it met those objectives as part of the original proposition. If it were not adequately covered within the proposition, suggestions would be made to ensure that it became part of it.

On representation, the main point is not the exact balance of the membership, but how it raises the standards for all pupils in the areas. In agreeing the membership, the Secretary of State will bear those objectives in mind rather than any mathematical formula.

Lord Rix

Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may ask about Amendment No. 58. The noble Lord states that the Secretary of State can intervene in the education action forum if appropriate people are not placed on the body. Why cannot we make sure that someone with expertise is specifically included—someone who has regard to special educational needs? Someone in the education action forum will need to make a sound assessment of a course of action, an experimental approach—a change in staffing or a change in curricula. Such assessments require experts. They do not require a well-meaning person with some knowledge. They require someone with specific knowledge.

I accept the assurances on Amendment No. 64. However, Amendment No. 58 refers to, One person with experience and expertise in special educational needs". The rejection of that amendment seems in direct contravention of the Minister's response at Second Reading when she said: I agree that we should be judged by our ability to meet special needs, including ensuring that they are taken into account in all education development plans".—[Official Report, 17/4/98; col. 714.] I should have thought that the simple amendment, Amendment No. 58, which stands in my name, that of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, took care of that neatly and would satisfy the special educational consortium.

Lord Addington

The noble Lord, Lord Rix, is right. The commitment which the Government have given is not strong enough to guarantee that one will have the people with the knowledge to be able to respond, and quickly. If a mistake is made with special educational needs the child invariably loses years of schooling. When examinations dictate the way one's life may progress, that is an important omission. One must have a person who responds quickly. Expertise will enable that to occur. In these zones, such expertise will be vitally important. You have a person who will be under even more pressure than is normal. I would suggest that something very like what the noble Lord has proposed is actually essential.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

I support the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and wish to make just one additional point. There is a vast difference between a forum listening to those who may be experts and a forum having among its membership somebody who was able to speak with authority as a member of that group. That is the point this amendment seeks to press.

Lord Whitty

The forum will have access to expertise in this area. I have already given a commitment about what the forum's proposals will need to take into account before any approval of the provision for special educational needs. It is the same commitment as that given by my noble friend on Second Reading. We are anxious not to specify too tightly the membership of the forum. Clearly, were there to be a major absence of anyone with expertise on these fora, the Secretary of State may well want to intervene, but the original proposers of the action zone will come up with their own propositions for membership, which need to be flexible.

Therefore, we are not happy about specifying in the Bill a range of people who should be represented, beyond saying that each school should have the right to be represented on that forum. Clearly, some of the representatives from the schools will have special educational needs expertise. If that should be absent, clearly some intervention would be necessary; but it is not always appropriate for a forum to have a senior representative with ESN experience. If the proposers themselves come up with something positive, then that will be part of the package that the Secretary of State and the department would have to assess. We would have to assess whether that needed to be rectified in a particular instance. However, if we put a provision on the face of the Bill, it would introduce inflexibility in an area where we want to have maximum flexibility.

Lord Rix

I thank the Minister for that response, but I am not happy with it. Clearly, as I am not moving these amendments I can only say that I shall have to return to this matter at the Report stage.

Lord Tope

This has been a useful debate. I can understand—indeed, I share—the Government's desire not to be too prescriptive in the membership of the forums. I can understand that each forum, if it is actually to be a workable body, should not be too large, although I could not quite understand how the Minister got to the number 50—I think he suggested it could rise to that number—because it would need to be a much larger action zone than I understood was envisaged to reach the figure of 50, even if all these amendments were accepted.

We are not talking about prescribing whether it should be this businessman or that businessman, this person from here or there: we are talking about three additional categories of people, all of which are important. One is the local education authority, or authorities if it covers more than one area, where we are talking about two people. If, as it seems, they are going to be there anyway because they are involved in the education action zone, that is good. There is no harm therefore in it being in the Bill. I did not understand why the Minister said how inappropriate it would be to have them there if they had opposed the setting up of the education action zone. If that is what he said—and I think it was—then I entirely disagree with him. He actually used the words that they should not have the right of veto, and I really did not understand that at all. It is one thing to oppose the establishment of a zone, rightly or wrongly—and the Secretary of State will make a judgment about that after consultation, and if he judges that it is right to set up the education action zone then it will be set up. The LEA will have to face the reality that it has in its area an education action zone, whether it likes it or not. It will be there.

It must be in the LEA's interests, and particularly in the interests of the EAZ and the schools, that the LEA then works co-operatively with that zone. It certainly will not have any right of veto, but it should work co-operatively. It is not too dissimilar from what has happened in a number of areas with grant-maintained schools. LEAs have sometimes opposed the establishment of a GM school; but once that has gone ahead a productive partnership has ensued. It does not necessarily mean that people have changed their original views, but they work together in partnership. I therefore suggest that having the LEA represented on the education action zone is important whatever the original stance, but it is particularly important if it has been one of initial coolness or even hostility that they should learn to work together in partnership.

Similarly, teachers are enormously important to the success of any education action zone. We are not talking about a teacher representative from every school; we are talking about two teachers from schools within the zone. If an education action zone is to be successful, it is important that the teachers "own" it; that they are part of the zone in every sense and play a part in directing the practice and policy. Therefore teachers are an important category to be prescribed.

I do not need to add anything further to what has already been said about a representative for special educational needs. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, is absolutely right. The right reverend Prelate was right to say that access to expertise—which I should certainly hope such people would have—is very different from having that expertise among the membership. It is not the same at all. That is the point made in this amendment.

At this time of night and at this stage of the Bill I shall not press these amendments. However, I remain very unhappy with the replies given. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, has already given notice of his intention, and we shall return to an examination of this matter at a later stage of the Bill. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 57 to 60 not moved.]

Clause 11 agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Provisions relating to an Education Action Forum]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

moved Amendment No. 61: Page 104, line 31, after ("State") insert ("and to the Comptroller and Auditor General"). The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 62, 62A and 257M.

Amendments Nos. 61 and 62 require education action fora to send their accounts to the National Audit Office and for the NAO to report on them to Parliament. It is important that the fora which run action zones are subject to financial scrutiny. That is why, as well as being sent to the Secretary of State, accounts should also be available to the Comptroller and Auditor General. In this way, reports on the use of funds in education action zones will be available to both Houses of Parliament.

Amendments Nos. 62 and 62A propose exempt charitable status for those education action fora. An important aspect of action zones is the partnership between the public and private sectors. We know from discussions that contributions from the private sector are more likely if the action fora are charitable. Increasingly, private sector contributions will improve the value for money of the programme. Action fora should be exempt charities, which means that they are free of some of the powers of the Charity Commission and the Charities Act 1993 because they are already accountable to the Secretary of State, and, through Amendments Nos. 61 and 62, already open to inspection by the National Audit Office. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

I wish to ask the noble Lord two questions. First, whether it is making money or making a profit, how does charitable status fit with a surplus being made from the fee that is paid for taking on an action zone? It is important to consider that point. Perhaps the noble Lord can throw a little more light on the technicality of how charitable status would work.

For example, as I understand it, there are bodies that are likely to be part of the partnerships that set up the action zones. But equally, the same bodies are likely to receive funds for providing services to the action zone. If they are already part of a consortium and are receiving funds from the consortium for providing services to the group of schools, will they receive money as though they were charities? How will that interrelate?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Exempt charities are outside the supervision of the Charity Commission because they are considered to be adequately supervised. But they are still subject to the legal rules generally applicable to charities and a few of the provisions of the Charities Act 1993. For example, they must meet certain accounting guidelines, but these are less stringent than we would expect from education action fora in any case. They do not have to be submitted to the Charity Commission.

The fiscal benefits of exempt charity status are the same as those for registered charities. They have relief from income tax, corporation tax and capital gains tax. They have exemption from inheritance tax and relief from business or non-domestic rates. They are not VAT-exempt as a class but some of their activities are.

That leads me to the second part of the noble Baroness's question. As she knows, many charities which are themselves unable to make a profit—and the education action fora will not be able to make a profit—are able to have trading arms which are companies usually in charitable circles limited by guarantee. Alternatively, they are private companies to which the charities contract to perform a service for them as could, for example, the Prince's Trust. Those private companies can make surpluses on the fees they charge. I hope that that answers the questions put by the noble Baroness. I should be glad to go into more detail if she needs it.

Baroness Blatch

No, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that answer. However, if the companies are part of the consortium and provide services to it and they are allowed to make profits for the services they render to the consortium as members of it, they will be making profits from schools within the consortium.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Unfortunately the noble Lord, Lord Rix, has left the Chamber. He has been advising me on this matter and is a great expert on it as the Committee knows. As my noble friend Lady Blackstone said in response to an earlier discussion, what happens is that the trading part or private companies who are carrying out contracts on behalf of the fora can charge fees. Part of those fees can be a profit, but the fora, because they will be exempt charities, will not be able to make a profit.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

I understand the explanation which the noble Lord gave about charitable status. I welcomed the first two amendments. If I remember correctly, at Second Reading my noble friend Lord Tope referred to the desirability of involving the Auditor General. I am happy to see the two amendments.

I am much less happy about the charitable status element of the group for a much more general reason than the reasons given by the noble Baroness, Lady B latch. It seems to me rather curious that in education some organisations have charitable status and some do not. Private schools have charitable status. I think I am correct in saying that grant-maintained schools have charitable status. I believe I am also correct in saying that in this Bill foundation schools, which are the successors to grant-maintained schools, will have charitable status. But ordinary maintained, about to be called community, schools do not. That is quite indefensible. Either all education establishments ought to have charitable status or none of them. I urge the Government to think carefully because the matter of rates is important to large secondary schools. It is not a small amount of money in terms of the business rate paid by large secondary schools out of the funds given to them by local authorities.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The noble Baroness is tempting me way outside the scope of these amendments. They are about the charitable status of education action fora. If the noble Baroness wants to have a debate on charitable status for schools, let us have it at some decent time of day.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

moved Amendment No. 62:

Page 104, line 39, at end insert—

("() The Comptroller and Auditor General shall examine, certify and report on each statement received by him in pursuance of this paragraph and shall lay copies of each statement and of his report before each House of Parliament.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

moved Amendment No. 62A:

Page 105. line II. at end insert

("Charitable status

An Education Action Forum shall be a charity which is an exempt charity for the purposes of the Charities Act I993.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule I, as amended, agreed to.

12.30 a.m.

Clause 12 [Functions of Education Action Forum]:

[Amendments Nos. 63 and 64 not moved.]

Lord Skidelsky moved Amendment No. 64A:

Page 11. line 25, at end insert

("(7) A Forum may lease out any school in its zone designated by the Chief Inspector for England as failing to an approved educational body on such terms and conditions as it may specify.

(8) A school leased out under subsection (7) above shall remain accountable to the Forum but shall not be subject to its direct management control.").

The noble Lord said: I am sorry to return to a subject we started two hours ago. We just have to continue with it.

The aim of Amendment No. 64A is to use the machinery of the forum which Clause 12 of the Bill sets up for a rather more flexible purpose than envisaged by the clause. I move the amendment in a constructive spirit. I would have moved exactly the same amendment had I been on the Benches opposite and I hope that the Minister—I do not know which Minister is to reply; perhaps I should say the ministerial zone—treats it no less sympathetically because I am here rather than there.

The amendment seeks to give effect to what I believe was the main idea behind the action zone concept; that is, to give the worst performing schools new leadership and fresh ideas. That is what Mr. Blair proposed in his Ruskin College speech in December 1996 and somehow it has been lost in the complicated legislation before us tonight. I want to put it back.

Action zones are defined as clusters of schools up to around 20. Not all of those schools will be failing. No doubt the whole zone might benefit from what the Minister called improvements across the zone. That is not in dispute. But seriously failing schools may well require special treatment—often a different school ethos; often a different, special kind of stimulus for that specific school which might in turn light the way for other schools.

Mr. Stephen Byers talked about beacon schools. Schools such as those I am proposing might become beacon schools—beacons to others throughout the land—and the amendment is designed to make that possible. Why should not groups of teachers, parents or other educational bodies be allowed to bring their enthusiasm and energy to bear on the task of raising standards in schools which, year after year, defy the best efforts of local education authorities to do that? We know that that can happen.

We have heard of the spectacular successes of the charter schools. There are now 1,000 charter schools in the United States; it is the largest growing educational reform movement in that country. We have seen what can he done by dedicated groups of teachers in East Harlem. In all those cases, school district boards have been courageous enough to say to the proposing group, "We think your ideas are worth a try. Here are your targets. You have three to five years to achieve them. Get going." But that movement could not have got going with this legislation.

The trouble with the present legislation is that no educational trust, no groups of parents and no groups of teachers can ever get into the bidding system. They cannot apply for a charter to run an individual school as they can in the United States. I am appealing to the Government to be bold enough to allow a charter school movement to develop in this country out of the idea of the education action zone. There is a great deal to be said for studying how charter schools in the United States deal with the difficult problems of pay and conditions, which were raised earlier in our debates.

My amendment has roughly the same purpose as Amendment No. 49 moved by my noble friends Lady Blatch and Lord Pilkington, but with this difference, which I want to stress. My leased out schools will be inside the action zone forum framework set up by the Bill. The individual school will be in the zone and responsible to the forum. It would be the job of the forum to decide which of its schools to put out to tender and on the terms and conditions of the charter, if I may call it a charter. The school will he responsible to the forum for its results but it will not be managed by the forum. It will be the proposer's task, and the proposer's task alone, to make a success of the job, and the proposer will be accountable to the forum for results but not for processes. I believe that this extra flexibility is needed to round out what is a valuable concept—that of the education zone—to make sure that the seeds which Ministers have talked about actually fall into fertile beds and not on stony ground. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

I rise briefly to support my noble friend. The flexibility which he proposes is entirely within the aims of the Government. The Government want to see education changed and standards raised. If the forum has determined that it would like to take this route, and if it is to be trusted to raise standards and to retain the responsibility for seeing that that happens, there is nothing to fear and everything to gain by accepting the amendment.

Lord Whitty

This amendment deals with the leasing out of schools already covered by an education action zone. Action zones are partnerships which cover whole areas. We are building those partnerships between all the schools in the zone, between the wider partnership with business, with parents, with the voluntary sector and with the local authority and other aspects of the public sector. This proposition effectively sees us hiving off one school out of this partnership and asking it to work to a different set of rules without the support of its neighbours in the zone. Having established the zone with a coherent approach and a partnership base, it seems to me that what is proposed would have a negative and divisive effect.

Having said that. I think that some of the objectives alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, can be achieved within the existing proposals. We do not want unnecessarily to restrict the freedom of the forum to take decisions to improve the management of particular schools. Clearly, there will be many situations where they wish to improve the management and other forms of expertise available to those schools. If the governing bodies of an action zone have chosen to cede their powers to the action forum, that forum itself will already have the authority to subcontract strands of work within its schools to a private educational consultant. That could include an educational management consultant. But the point is that under our proposals all the schools would remain within the action zone and the consultant would work directly to the forum rather than manage a hived-off school. In those areas where the governing bodies have not ceded any of their powers, a private educational body could still be hired by the forum to act on its behalf either across the zone or in one particular school. Of course, where the governing body retained its powers the consultant's powers would be more limited than in the first example. Nevertheless, they could be brought in to improve the management and the leadership of the particular schools and schools in general.

The ability of the forum itself to bring in expertise is a better solution already available within the rules we are proposing than the idea of leasing out, hiving off or pushing away from the forum's general approach to a separate organisation as suggested in the amendment. There is already substantial flexibility in the rules and I do not believe that we need to go that one step further. Therefore, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Skidelsky

I appreciate that reply which is sympathetic to the purposes I put forward. Has the Minister considered at all seriously what has been achieved by charter schools in the United States? Has he looked at what has happened in Springfield, Massachusetts, and East Harlem where spectacular results have been achieved by exactly the method I have been talking about? That success has been achieved precisely because they have been able to bring in fresh energy and commitment by groups of people to a single school. That is worlds away from the language that the Minister used about bringing in management consultants and that kind of thing.

As explained to me, not in this House, but outside, one of the main philosophies of the education action zones seems to be to rationalise services across the area. That is why a company like Capita is involved in so many of the bids. I am sorry; I am revealing something. I know that to be the case. It is a management consultant body and believes that one should rationalise services across the forum such as financial, administration and management services. It has a good case.

However, that is not what I am talking about. It worries me that in his reply the Minister should talk about consultancy and management skills. I am talking about the energy, enthusiasm and zeal of groups of educationalists who believe they can turn a school round. I want them to be given a chance. If one says that that will be possible within the forum structure I would be very happy. But the Minister needs to say more than he has said to persuade me that that would be possible.

Lord Whitty

There is quite a degree of flexibility built into the action zones in bringing in anyone—educationalists, management consultants or whoever—who can offer expertise. To some extent the noble Lord is addressing a slightly separate and different problem. We are debating here action zones directed at changing the educational attainment of whole areas and co-operation between schools. I believe that what is at the back of the noble Lord's mind is the question of failing schools where clearly innovative measures would be contemplated. Indeed, any measures which offer improvement for failing schools identified by the department and the local education authority would be contemplated on a one off school-by-school basis. That seems to me a slightly different issue than how we conduct the education action forum and zones.

Certainly, we are deeply concerned about failing schools and the need to turn them round. We would welcome expertise and innovative ideas in those areas. We are dealing here with the management of the whole of the education action zone. That concept requires co-operation and, to some degree, co-ordination, but not necessarily uniform co-ordination, across the schools rather than having established an education action zone and then removing one school from that approach. The whole question of failing schools was addressed earlier in the debate. I take some of the noble Lord's points about the issues and expertise which exist in America. That is relevant in that area. As I say, I do not believe that it is relevant here or appropriate.

12.45 a.m.

Lord Skidelsky

I shall make just this one further intervention and then I shall shut up in order to allow the debate to go forward. If it were true that all the schools in an education action zone were of the same kind and were roughly of the same standard, there could be uniform treatment. If 10 people were suffering from the same disease or were in the same mediocre health, you would give them one medicine and they would all improve. The Minister talked about education action zones as though they contained schools of a similar type. That is not true. Within any education action zone some schools will be failing. The whole object of education action zones is to target some of the worst schools—and some of the worst schools in the country will be in the education action zones.

My proposal was to use the machinery which the Government have created in order to enable those schools to be dealt with. I was not trying to use machinery that is not in the Bill. The machinery is there; it is set up. Charter schools have been successful. I emphasise that failing schools will not be chucked out of an education action zone; they will remain in the zone and will be accountable to the forum for their performance, but they will not be under the same degree of management and control precisely to allow some new flowers to bloom.

I cannot believe that the Government do not intend that to happen. However, I do not think that the machinery is sufficiently flexible at the moment for it to happen, and I am suggesting a way in which it may be made so. If the Government felt that there was a different way of achieving this, for heaven's sake I wish that they would say so. At the moment, a bit of stonewalling seems to be going on, with the Minister saying, "I share the objectives, but they can be met within the existing framework". I am not sure that that is true.

Lord Lucas

Perhaps the Minister would like to take the opportunity to enlarge a little on what exactly the regulations under subsection (3) of Clause 12, but possibly also under subsections (4) and (5), will look like. Will they be regulations which will allow a great deal of flexibility? Will they allow an education action forum which wishes to experiment with one of its schools to say, "What happens if we let this group of teachers take on the school in their own way and see where it goes? Why do we not try that in this school, see whether it works and take that experience around the rest of the zone?". Will that be allowed, or will the regulations state that all that is allowed is to pursue initiatives across a range of schools, and that those initiatives will have to be fairly universal and similar within the zone?

If the regulations are to allow a lot of scope for a forum to decide that it will pursue individual experiments—or trials—of particular ideas, ways of managing schools and degrees of freedom and innovation within an individual school to see whether they work (with the support of the rest of the zone, but with the rest of the zone looking on and learning) perhaps we can do something to make possible my noble friend's ideas within the perhaps regrettable limits of this initiative, but at least allowing it to happen, if that is what is wanted.

I am concerned by all the fog and uncertainty surrounding the regulations. Having heard the Minister, I was uncertain about whether the regulations would be drawn in such a way as to allow that to happen or whether they would be so restrictive in terms of how a zone may operate that no initiative of the sort proposed by my noble friend would ever be possible.

Lord Whitty

I am not sure why noble Lords give the impression that I have suggested that education action zones should treat all their schools in a uniform way. Clearly, there will be a mix of schools, attainment, performance, demography and history. All of those schools will be treated differently. As to the regulations, they will provide a very high degree of flexibility. Neither I nor the regulations advocate—and the Bill does not imply—a uniform approach. The bulk of the regulations will be procedural rather than substantive and a good deal of discretion will be left to the education action zone. A substantial amount of innovation about how the schools are run will be available to the forum in the individual zones. Nevertheless, the zone consists of a number of schools which support, challenge and learn from one another. The forum will be responsible for the education attainment within the zone as a whole and therefore it must be approached as a whole. That does not imply uniformity or exclude the input of energy, initiative, ideas, new management and educational techniques for which the noble Lord is looking. Indeed, quite the opposite. We hope that the education action zones will deliver those differentially according to the needs of the schools in their areas.

What we do not want to see, and fear slightly given the noble Lord's amendment, is one school completely outside that mutually supportive system dealing with an entirely different management structure. Nevertheless, I believe that most of the objectives of bringing in expertise and so forth can be achieved within the structure that we propose.

Baroness Blotch

In the light of the answer just given by the noble Lord, and as I understand my noble friend's amendment, it is only if the action forum, having looked across the diverse range of schools, decides that a particular school has specific needs that it goes to a third body to which it will give its authority. It will stay within the family of the zone but will buy in expertise, turn that school around and give it different measures from those required by all the other schools because the forum has defined it as a specific issue. It is the forum which gives birth to the proposition and retains control, because that body will be accountable to the forum for as long as it exists. If that is so, what is there to fear? It is not outside the control of the forum because the forum has the final responsibility to ensure that education is improved in that area. That will be the contract between the forum and the body given the specific job of turning the education around in one of its schools.

Lord Whitty

Certainly, there is no barrier to the forum bringing in particular expertise and managing the school in that way, subject to its overall control. It may be that the terminology adopted in the noble Lord's amendment gives us greater cause for concern than it should. However, "lease out" means that for a period one can lease out a school to a separate educational institution. Although it will remain accountable in that it must fulfil its contract, it will be separate from the overall structure of the education action zone. Perhaps there is some terminology that is half-way between us, but the concept of leasing out gives the impression of not simply an arm's length relationship of the kind to which the noble Baroness referred but one in which the school is treated completely outside the education action zone when we want to see a mutually supportive system between all the schools in the zone.

Lord Skidelsky

If there is some terminology that is half-way between us, why do the Government believe that it is not appropriate to put it on the face of the Bill?

Lord Whitty

It may be that that is something which will be covered by the regulations and I shall think about that proposition. However, I am not sure that we want to start hares running by suggesting a new approach which would mean that an individual school could be treated separately from the whole action zone.

Lord Skidelsky

I welcome the assurance that the Minister will reflect on the matter and possibly go half way somewhere in the Bill to meet the arguments which my noble friends and I have been putting forward. With that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 12 agreed to.

Clause 13 [Disapplication of pay and conditions order in relation to teachers at participating schools]:

Baroness Blatch

moved Amendment No. 65: Page 11, line 26, leave out ("For") and insert ("After"). The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 66 and 158. If I understand the Bill correctly, if Clause 13 is passed in its present form there will be a substantial invalidation of part of the 1991 Act which deals with disapplication of pay and conditions in existing participating grant-maintained schools.

As the Minister will see from my amendments, I wish to ensure that grant-maintained schools do not disappear in the course of the new proposals. But whether or not they do and whether or not we succeed in convincing the Government, we believe that those provisions should be transferred to the newly formed foundation schools.

One argument used in the past by the Minister and no doubt destined to be used again is that although there has been this provision for grant-maintained schools, not many of the schools have made use of it. If only one finds an advantage doing it, first, there is no fear on the part of the Government that it will be operated wholesale; and secondly, the fact that it benefits one or two schools seems to me an argument for at least allowing the flexibility for that provision to remain in place.

My case is that that part of the 1991 Act should not be repealed. Amendments Nos. 65, 66 and 158 seek to preserve what has existed in the past and what we believe will still be a useful facility for schools, particularly as we now have this widespread facility for action zone schools. It may be that if the provision works for action zone schools, it will become more popular over time. But whether or not it becomes more popular and whether it is taken up by one or 101 schools is not relevant to the case I am putting. I am simply saying that the facility has been beneficial, has done no harm, and does not get in the way of good education. Perhaps the Minister has interpreted the disapplication measures as meaning, in practice, better pay and conditions for teachers rather than a worsening of the provisions. I await her response.

The case is a good one. It would be unfortunate if that part of the 1991 Act were to disappear. Therefore, I wish to ensure that those provisions are retained in addition to the Clause 13 provisions. I beg to move.

1 a.m.

Baroness Blackstone

It is important that education action zones are able to apply to opt out of the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act, even though there is considerable flexibility within the legislation. However, these amendments are about allowing other types of school to opt out. Grant-maintained schools are already able to do so, but, as the noble Baroness admitted, only two schools have in fact taken up the opportunity. She is absolutely right to anticipate that, in these circumstances, the Government do not think it right to continue with the arrangements.

The Government do not want to extend those freedoms to large numbers of individual schools at present. It would be more appropriate for schools working collectively in education action zones and with additional resources to have that added scope. I make the point again that EAZs are for experimentation of this kind; they are a test bed. They may well point the way to the future, as the noble Baroness suggested. For all I know, there may well come a time when large numbers of schools will benefit from greater flexibility in teachers' pay and conditions. However, these are pilots. I really do believe that it would not be right to allow any grant-maintained schools to do so; that is, if they were to survive. I know that the noble Baroness has tabled further amendments in that respect. The intention is that they should become foundation schools. It would not be right at this stage for any foundation or voluntary school to be able to opt out. We must wait and see how a properly monitored and evaluated experiment operates before we move down that particular path. In the light of that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Blatch

That was a deeply disappointing answer. This is not an experiment, nor are we asking for schools to opt out. We are saying that schools should have available to them the facility for disapplying the pay and conditions of service for teachers. There is no question of schools opting out and no question of experimentation. Indeed, this has been tried and tested over many years since grant-maintained schools were established. Therefore, we know the consequences of disapplying, albeit in two schools. Nevertheless, we have seen it work in practice and observed that it actually means a better deal for teachers when it happens.

I took note of what the Minister said. She said specifically that the Government do not want to extend this to a large number of schools at the moment. But that is precisely what the Government are doing: they are extending it to cover over 300 schools. If there are to be 12 zones with a possible number of 20 participating schools in each zone, that is nearly 300 schools, with another 325 schools in a matter of six months' time. So the contention that the Government do not wish to extend this to a large number of schools at present is simply not true.

There is a proposition built into the Bill that this facility will be afforded to hundreds of schools. So, first, it is not an experiment because it has been tried and tested. Secondly, it has not been a great threat to teachers. In fact, those teachers who have enjoyed the benefits of it have received more generous pay and conditions as a result of the move. I simply cannot understand the arguments put forward by the Minister. I am clearly not making much headway with the amendment, but I shall return to the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 66 not moved.]

Baroness Blackstone

moved Amendment No. 67 Page 11, line 39, leave out ("by them") and insert ("at the school"). The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 68 and 69. These are technical amendments, which are necessary to ensure the effective working of Clause 13. The clause is most important because it will allow governing bodies to apply for permission to opt out of the teachers' pay and conditions document in order to find new ways of working with and rewarding staff. It will also help governing bodies to improve the recruitment and retention of staff, and to make effective and flexible use of the school's human resources.

The amendments will give governing bodies which use the clause the power to offer alternative contracts. Amendment No. 69 clarifies that existing contracts will continue to have force until any new contracts are put in place. It ensures that, where the LEA is the employer, it must implement the decisions of the governing body. That is, of course, already the case where the pay and conditions document is in place and the school is operating a delegated budget. This is an important clause. In order to ensure that it works effectively for all types of school, I ask Members of the Committee to accept the amendments. I beg to move.

Baroness Maddock

I wish to discuss Amendment No. 70 which in many ways is closely connected with the amendments just spoken to by the Minister. We are concerned that councillors, governors and teachers are fully consulted when new arrangements apply within an education action zone to suspend the present teachers' pay and conditions. As the noble Baroness has said, under Chapter III of the Bill education action zones are established and there are powers to disapply the teachers' pay legislation. Many people are concerned about that. As the Minister said earlier, no one is particularly anticipating that teachers will receive lower pay, but the consequences of this measure may be serious for local authorities, particularly as regards teachers' pension rights.

I appreciate that the Minister will give us further information on this matter after today; namely, how the provision will affect local authorities. Important matters are involved in the provision. The Minister recognises that there must be some consultation. However, matters remain to be ironed out, for example the responsibilities of local authorities in this area, particularly any extra financial responsibilities they may incur. I hope that at a future date the Minister will give us further information on this important matter.

The Minister referred to the recruitment of teachers. That is a matter of concern. I do not think I am as optimistic as the Minister. Schools already have considerable difficulty recruiting teachers. I have received quite a long letter from the headmaster of a school in Southampton that my children used to attend which mentions his concerns about this Bill. He states that the school is experiencing considerable problems at present recruiting teachers even where additional salary points have been awarded. He wrote that the school had sometimes advertised twice for staff but had received only three applicants for a post. I can confirm that it is a reasonable school. In the foreign languages department of that school only four candidates applied for a fairly attractive job. As I said, I am not as optimistic as the Minister on this point. I believe there will be problems in recruiting teachers.

We should all be concerned about what may happen to schools adjacent to education action zones if teachers are attracted to schools within those zones. People must be consulted properly on this important issue. As I said, we must consider the knock-on effects on schools adjacent to action zones as well as the effects on teachers within action zones. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply. As I said, I realise she may not be able to say too much tonight as she will write to us on some of these matters in the future.

Baroness Blackstone

We are strongly in favour of consultation, and indeed applications to opt out will not be considered without evidence that this has taken place. I hope that is helpful to the noble Baroness. We maintain that the requirement to consult is best placed on those putting forward the proposals, not on the Secretary of State. It makes no sense at all for the proponents to put forward a proposal without discussion with teachers. That is why the requirement is built into the Bill.

In terms of the consultation we would expect to see from the governing body when it applies for this opt-out, the Minister for School Standards has made it clear that he expects consultation with teachers, teacher representatives and LEA representatives if the LEA is the employer. There may be other groups which are particularly relevant in some local contexts, such as diocesan bodies, parent groups or governor associations. However, there is no reason why this needs to be on the face of the Bill. Assurances have been given that we will expect consultation of all those affected, and that the Secretary of State will take account of this consultation in reaching a reasonable decision. But this will vary depending on the type of school which is putting forward the proposals and the nature of what is proposed.

With those assurances, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, will feel able to withdraw the amendments.

Baroness Maddock

We have only one amendment in the group; the others belong to the Minister. Our amendment has not even been moved. But in replying to the Minister's response to our amendment, let us get it right. It is ten past one in the morning. I hear what the Minister says. In view of the discussions we have had tonight, we shall all need to look carefully at what was said and at further information we receive from the Minister on some of these issues. When we reach the Report stage we may wish to tidy it up a little more. But we shall have to look carefully at what has been said. There has been a great deal of discussion about this matter tonight. I know that we shall be getting further information so I shall not press the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Blackstone

moved Amendment No. 68: Page11, line 46, leave out ("by them") and insert ("at the school"). On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Blackstone

moved Amendment No. 69: Page 12, line 10, at end insert— ("() Where by virtue of an order under subsection (4) above a pay and conditions order ceases to apply in relation to any school, the statutory conditions of employment of the school teachers employed at the school shall be—

  1. (a) such as may be determined by the governing body, or
  2. (b) so far as the governing body have not made any determination with respect to any such conditions of employment, those having effect under the order immediately before it ceased to apply;
and (so far as necessary) the local education authority shall give effect to any such determination of the governing body."). On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 70 not moved.]

Clause 13, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 14 agreed to.

Clause 15 [Cases where LEA may exercise powers of intervention]:

1.15 a.m.

Baroness Blackstone

moved Amendment No. 71: Page 13, line 11, after ("notice") insert ("in writing"). The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 71, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 72. I can be brief. These are minor drafting amendments to make explicit the need for the LEA to put in writing the warning notice and the intention to use the powers available. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Blackstone

moved Amendment No. 72: Page 13, line 32, after ("notice") insert ("in writing"). On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 15, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 16 [Power of LEA to appoint additional governors]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

moved Amendment No. 73: Page 14, line 35, leave out subsection (4). The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 73, I shall speak also to Amendments No. 74, 75 and 76. Amendments Nos. 77 and 77A are in the same group, but before responding it might be better if I wait until the right reverend Prelate has spoken to Amendment No. 77.

Amendments Nos. 73, 74, 75 and 76 put right an omission in the Bill. They are concerned with the period immediately following failure when a school and its LEA have to send plans to the Secretary of State for improving the school: these are the school's action plan and the LEA's statement in response.

The effect of our amendments would be to bring into line the point at which the appropriate appointing authority for voluntary-aided schools can use its powers to appoint governing bodies with that already in the Bill for LEAs to exercise their powers. In both cases, this will be 10 days after the Secretary of State has received both the action plan from the school and the statement from the LEA. That was unfortunately omitted from earlier stages of the Bill, but it replicates existing arrangements in the School Inspections Act 1996.

Amendment No. 75 provides for the same 10 days waiting period before, in the case of voluntary aided schools, the appropriate appointing authority uses its powers to appoint additional governors. The other amendments are matters of drafting following on from that. I shall gladly respond to the right reverend Prelate when he moves his amendment. I beg to move.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

Perhaps I may speak to Amendment No. 77 which stands in my name and also Amendment No. 77A which amends my amendment.

Amendment No. 77 refers to the provision which enables the Secretary of State to appoint additional governors to a failing school. This measure replaces the existing provision for the Secretary of State to appoint an educational association. Under the existing provision, the authorities referred to in my amendment have to be consulted before the Secretary of State takes that decision. There is therefore a prima facie case for the same arrangements to be in place.

The argument for doing so is not that these authorities should sway the Secretary of State in a decision to appoint additional governors, but to allow the Secretary of State access to local knowledge in deciding whom to appoint. The appropriate authorities may feel that they know the person they think would be right to sort the matter out. But they may have no power to appoint such a person. Amendment No. 77 requires the Secretary of State to consult the appropriate diocesan authority so that with local knowledge of the situation that authority can advise the Secretary of State.

The Minister may say that with good practice this would happen. However, under this provision the foundation majority on the governing body of an aided school would be lost. It seems only proper that consultation should be a right, as is the case at present. The Secretary of State does not have to listen when he consults; he will be free to take whatever action he chooses. But the provision allows him access to local knowledge. It is in everyone's interest to deal with a failing school. A partnership is more likely to achieve a successful result.

On Amendment No. 77A, I entirely welcome the intention of the amendment. I believe that the point is already met by paragraph (b) of Amendment No. 77: that the person or body that appoints the foundation governors would be the appropriate authority in the case of all other religious schools. I hope that the Minister will be able to give a positive response to the amendment.

Baroness Blatch

I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for that explanation. I am not certain that that position is true in every case. The governors of each of the schools may be the appropriate body, but there may be the equivalent of a diocesan authority for Jewish or Moslem schools. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, is not with us, but he has a number of amendments down to protect the interests of Methodist schools. There will be others too.

I do not wish in any way to take issue with the right reverend Prelate. However, when the Minister responds, I wish to be absolutely assured that paragraph (b) totally subsumes my Amendment No. 77A and that no single denomination other than the Anglican and Catholics will be left unprotected by these amendments.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate and to the noble Baroness for explaining their amendments, and I am also grateful to the right reverend Prelate for this opportunity to record the valuable role played by the Churches in supporting their weak and failing schools. They strengthen the local partnerships needed to raise standards.

The power to appoint additional governors is an important element in the range of measures needed to provide support for schools in difficulty: failing schools need outside help. In a voluntary school, both the diocese and the LEA can bring in support and expertise by appointing additional governors to the governing body. Where this, and the support of the LEA more generally, is clearly not working the Secretary of State needs the flexibility to move quickly and decisively to bring in extra help.

Before deciding that appointing additional governors is the right course of action, there will already have been discussions with and about the school. Having decided that additional governors would help to improve the school, we shall need to find out about the strengths and weaknesses of the existing governors, to make sure that we appoint the people who can make the necessary contribution. It is inconceivable that we could do all of this without talking to the LEA and the diocese. This will have to be a temporary solution, because the Secretary of State will appoint his governors for a fixed term. What this will be will depend upon the circumstances of each case.

This is not a permanent takeover of the governing body. To be brutal, the school will either be improved or it will face closure. The comparison is made with the power to set up an education association. I suggest that a closer match to this power lies in Clause 19 of the Bill, which gives the Secretary of State the power to direct the closure of a school. Before issuing a direction to the LEA, the Secretary of State has a duty to consult the appropriate diocesan authority, among others. If the Government were to accept the case made for this amendment, consistency would seem to dictate that we would need to have a parallel provision for LEAs to be consulted. The need to consult would have to be extended to all categories of school and not just voluntary-aided schools.

I think this could complicate what ought to be an informative dialogue to find solutions which, up to that point, all parties have failed to find. I am not convinced that a duty to consult placed on the face of the Bill will increase the pace of the improvement of standards in badly performing schools, which is at the heart of this clause. So I am afraid I must ask the right reverend Prelate not to press his amendment.

So far as Amendment No. 77A is concerned, of course I accept that schools of a religious character, other than those listed in Amendment No. 77, provide a valuable contribution. I will certainly ensure, in accordance with the assurance I have already given to the right reverend Prelate, that in appointing additional governors for any such schools, whether they be Jewish, Muslim, Methodist or whatever, we shall be in dialogue with the appropriate authority for the school.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

I am grateful to the Minister for his assurance about consultations that will take place. However, I have to say that I am disappointed that he is not willing to see this on the face of the Bill, and I do not immediately accept his argument that there would necessarily have to be parallels in other cases. I do not intend to press the amendment, but reserve the right to return to this issue at a later stage.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

1.30 a.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

moved Amendments Nos. 74 to 76: Page 15. line 22, after ("may") insert ("(subject to subsection (9A))"). Page 15, line 23, at end insert— ("(9A) The power conferred by subsection (9) is only exercisable if the following conditions are satisfied, namely—

  1. (a) the relevant document has been sent to the Secretary of State;
  2. (b) the appropriate appointing authority have received a notice in writing from the Secretary of State informing them he has received that document; and
  3. (c) a period of not less than ten days has elapsed since the date of the notice.").
Page 15, line 45, at end insert ("(13) In this section "the relevant document" means a copy of a statement prepared—
  1. (a) under section 18 of the School Inspections Act 1996, or
  2. (b) under section 17 of that Act, if the school does not have a delegated budget within the meaning of Part II of this Act.").
The noble Lord said: With the leave of the Committee, I beg to move these three amendments en bloc.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 16, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 17 agreed to.

Clause 18 [Power of Secretary of State to appoint additional governors]:

[Amendment No. 77 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch

had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 77A: Line 6, after ("authority") insert ("and in the case of all other religious schools, the appropriate authority"). The noble Baroness said: I share the right reverend Prelate's disappointment with the answer that he received. The confidence of the denominational sector would be much increased if this provision appeared on the face of the Bill. If the right reverend Prelate returns to this matter at another stage, I may well seek the same assurances as I have sought this evening.

[Amendment No. 77A not moved.]

Clause 18 agreed to.

Clause 19 agreed to.

Clause 20 [New categories of maintained schools]:

Baroness Blatch

moved Amendment No. 78: Page 18, line 9, at end insert— ("() grant-maintained schools;"). The noble Baroness said: Late as the hour is, this amendment is extremely important to me and to my colleagues. I ought to deal first with Amendment No. 81, which is coupled with this one, since in a sense that is the way I wish to approach this amendment.

School by school, across the country, sometimes against the most incredible physical, as well as mental, opposition to becoming grant-maintained, grant-maintained schools were established and were democratically voted for by bodies of parents. Parents painstakingly went through all the processes that it took. Under this Bill, at the stroke of a pen, or so it seems, they lose their status and their autonomy. There is absolutely no case whatsoever in a modern democracy where the views of parents has been cast aside in such a cavalier way The least that can be offered to these schools is that, should they wish to become foundation schools, controlled schools or voluntary aided schools, it should be a matter for the parents to make that determination. It may well be that overnight the schools will all want to become foundation schools. It may well be—though I suspect that it is not entirely true—with all the measures in place for foundation schools, which are meant to be the successors of grant-maintained schools, although I see a number of significant differences, that all the 1,000 to 1,200 grant-maintained schools will wish to become foundation, or community, or voluntary schools. If that is the case, and the parents support the decision, so be it.

In these two amendments, and in Amendment No. 81 in particular, I ask only this. The parents, of their own volition and against considerable opposition on occasions, having opted for the schools to become grant-maintained, it is only right and democratic that there should be afforded them the opportunity to give up that autonomy and return to local authority control.

The noble Baroness has read a letter a number of times which was written by the Grant-maintained Schools Triumvirate Association. That organisation and many individual grant-maintained schools have viewed realistically the Government's majority. They know that whatever we do in this place, however well we argue our case and whatever the strength of the intellectual underpinning of any argument advanced, another place will reverse the amendment. They do not agree with that; they do not like it. But it is a fact of political life and they have accepted it. They have therefore fought for the best deal possible. It is very much second-best. For many of them, it is decidedly second-best. What they would really like is for the schools to be left as they are, as grant-maintained schools—which surely must be open to them if that is what parents voted for. There is nothing in this Bill which gives parents a pre-eminent role—not in the creation of action zones or any other measure.

In the formation of grant-maintained schools they were given a pre-eminent role. The parents themselves elected that the schools should become grant-maintained. I am simply asking that they should be afforded that privilege, to exercise their own preferences, and for the schools either to remain as grant-maintained or to become foundation, community or voluntary aided schools.

Amendment No. 78 makes it technically possible. It retains the category of grant-maintained school which may or may not disappear over time, depending on how parents exercise their choice. No doubt the noble Baroness will find some argument that, however undemocratic it is, for the purposes of deciding what kind of school it shall be the views and preferences of parents do not count. That will be a great pity. It was a unique opportunity for those parents to vote for the schools to become grant-maintained. I believe they should be afforded an equal opportunity to determine their fate in the future. It may well be that they will want to go down the road that the Government wish, which is that they should become foundation, community and/or voluntary aided schools. I beg to move.

Baroness Byford

I wish to support my noble friend Lady Blatch. It seems to me ironic that we have just spent the early part of this evening debating the education action zones which give freedom and independence to achieve excellence in schools. Now we will debate reducing that opportunity for grant-maintained schools. I know the time is late, but it seems ironic.

I also support my noble friend Lady Blatch in her request that if this is to come about, whatever we say on these Benches and whatever happens in the other House, at least the parents should be able to have a vote on the outcome. All in this Committee would acknowledge the good academic record of grant-maintained schools. It has not happened overnight; it has been worked at steadily. It seems to me a great pity that we will dismiss the very success that the schools have built up over recent years. I support my noble friend's amendment.

Baroness Blackstone

I begin by reassuring the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that I shall not read out the same letter again. I read it out at Second Reading and I do not wish to repeat myself. The noble Baroness made much of the success of grant-maintained schools, and of course the Government agree that there are some aspects of the grant-maintained initiatives that were positive. For example, it demonstrated that schools are capable of managing their own affairs. It showed that schools welcomed greater responsibility in controlling their budget. That is why the new schools framework will retain the best aspects of the grant-maintained initiative. As school self-management and greater budget delegation are key principles in the new framework, perhaps I may remind the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, so is a much more sharply defined role for LEAs.

Intervention in schools will be kept to an essential minimum, with a code of practice on relations between LEAs and schools. There will be no return to the kind of unnecessary intervention by LEAs in controlling schools, as sometimes happened in the past.

However, there were also major flaws with the grant-maintained initiative. The GM/LEA divide was not a sensible basis for a school system. Opting out divided school from school and schools from LEAs. I think it led to a rather unhealthy preoccupation with structures and status which distracted schools and LEAs from their central task of raising standards.

The new framework will promote partnership and stability. We believe that it is based on principles of fair funding, fair admission, partnership and equal treatment. There will not be preferential treatment for a few schools at the expense of the many. That was one of the problems that marked the GM schools: they were getting preferential treatment in certain ways, which was unfortunate.

Every school under this framework will receive fair funding through new local management of schools' arrangements. Every admission authority, whether the school or the LEA, will have to follow the code of practice on admissions. All schools will work together in a local partnership to raise standards. But each category of school in the new framework will be distinctive. The foundation and voluntary aided schools will have many of the characteristics that grant-maintained schools value most. Foundation and voluntary aided schools will own their premises, employ their own staff and take primary responsibility for their own admissions arrangements. Again, I say specifically to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, who was implying if not actually suggesting that grant-maintained schools that become foundation schools will lose all those aspects of their independence, that they will not.

The noble Baroness has criticised the Bill for being focused on structure and not on standards. It is therefore surprising to hear that she believes that grant-maintained status in itself raised standards. Of course it is true that on average grant-maintained schools have achieved better test and examination results than LEA-maintained schools. But there is no evidence that that has anything to do with their legal status. Grant-maintained schools have tended to serve more advantaged areas than LEA schools. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools' most recent annual report confirms that when similar schools are compared, quality of teaching and progress made by pupils in the grant-maintained and LEA sectors are very similar.

That is not to deny the success of some grant-maintained schools. The Government praise all successful schools, whether they are grant or LEA maintained. We want our standards agenda to help all schools, including former grant-maintained schools, to go on performing well and, where possible, where they are not performing so well, to raise their performance.

Grant-maintained schools have nothing to fear from the new framework. Our manifesto promised that they would prosper, and we will deliver that promise. We have been working closely with the organisations representing grant-maintained schools. In their own words, they are looking forward to the new framework and not backwards to old divisions. That is a reassuring response from them.

In contrast, the amendments of the noble Baroness seek to allow repeated ballots about whether or not a school should remain grant maintained. They also attempt to enable other schools to change category to become grant maintained. That would perpetuate the very divisions which the new framework is designed to heal. I therefore urge the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Blatch

Before I respond more fully, will the noble Baroness give me specific examples of the preferential treatment that GM schools received and therefore what they will lose as a result of the Bill?

Baroness Blackstone

Over a number of years, grant-maintained schools—I use this word with some hesitation but I believe it is the case—were bribed. Many schools were bribed to become grant-maintained schools by being offered generous capital provisions. They were far more generous than those for local education authority schools. We will have a fair system for the treatment of schools.

Baroness Blatch

Apropos that answer, perhaps I can ask the noble Baroness if it is right that earlier today the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, boasted of a £1.2 billion capital allocation which he said was extremely generous—more generous than the previous government had made available to grant-maintained schools.

Baroness Blackstone

I completely reject any suggestion that he boasted. He was giving factual information about a decision the Government have made. The Government will apply capital in a fair way to all schools with improvement needs whether in respect of science labs, repairs to leaking roofs or any other aspect where they are not up to scratch as a result of neglect by the previous government.

1.45 a.m.

Baroness Blatch

I make the point only because the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said that he treated grant-maintained schools in terms of capital allocation more generously than the previous government. The Government cannot have it both ways. They cannot accuse us of having treated GM schools more generously and then boast, as they did earlier today, that they are treated more generously by the new Government than by the previous government.

This policy was so successful that the Prime Minister—not simply because he sent his children to a grant-maintained school—was attracted to it. Hence an aversion to perpetuate something invented by the previous government and therefore labelled a Tory policy. But in fact an attempt was made to reinvent it.

I happen to believe that there is a real tension between the Department for Education and Employment and Number 10 about the understanding of just how similar the foundation school provisions are to those for grant-maintained schools. I know, for example, that the Prime Minister is under an illusion that somehow or other what the Oratory enjoys as a grant-maintained school will be enjoyed by foundation schools. I can say to the noble Baroness that that is not the case if one reads the Bill and if one reads the distinction between grant-maintained schools and foundation schools.

The Oratory school, as a grant-maintained school, will not be as free to run its own affairs as it would as a foundation school under the provisions of the Bill. Hammersmith and Fulham, which has no role whatever in the Oratory school at this time, will indeed have an involvement under the new arrangements. So I am saying that this policy was very attractive to the Prime Minister; so much so that he actually sent his children to such a school. The same applies to Ms. Harriet Harman. She sent her children to a grant-maintained school because that school was attractive to her. And I say strength to the elbows of parents who look around for what they consider to be the best school available.

Perhaps I may also say to the noble Baroness that it is not just this Government who praise all successful schools, whatever their character—whether they are denominational schools, LEA schools, grant-maintained schools, special schools, or whatever. Wherever good education resides and wherever schools are well run, we equally would wish to recognise that. But we did see very real distinctions and we did see very real benefits with them becoming grant-maintained schools.

However, my amendment is not about that. It is a matter of record that grant-maintained schools have worked. It has been a very successful policy. It has moved forward the way in which LEAs manage their own schools. The amendment says that these parents chose the status "grant-maintained" and some of them went through great difficulties to become grant-maintained schools. We are simply asking the Government to afford them the same privilege to stay as they are. If the foundation schools are so attractive in the way that the noble Baroness has spelt out, and if they are to enjoy almost the same facilities as they do now as grant-maintained schools, there is really nothing to fear. The chances are that they will all accept that option and become grant-maintained schools. But it was a democratic right that they had to become grant-maintained schools in the first place and therefore that democratic right should be afforded to them in the future.

The noble Baroness invoked the code of practice as one way of saying that grant-maintained schools should not fear this new government policy, as the exhortation in the code of practice, which I have read from cover to cover, is that intervention should be in inverse proportions to needs. All I can say to the noble Baroness is that that is all it is. The code of practice is mere exhortation. It says to the local authorities that they must have regard to the code of practice. There is no penalty for not doing so. There is nothing in the Bill to explain what would happen if a local authority were more heavy handed then it ought to be. There are so many clauses in the Bill which give local authorities a rationale for intervening in a school.

For example, if the local education authority has a responsibility to monitor, and if the LEA has a responsibility to be concerned about good education in the local authority area, it does not wait on the outside until the school has failed. If it is doing its job properly, it will argue—and I think with some force—that it ought to be on the inside of those schools where it thinks the problems are beginning to happen in order to intervene early.

In the discussions on a previous amendment we were talking about the virtue of early intervention to deal with disruptive behaviour. The earlier one intervenes, the more likely one is to remedy the problem. The same will apply for local authorities. They will have a legitimacy in making sure that those schools perform well. Some local authorities which gave the schools a particularly hard time when they became grant-maintained will have a very real opportunity for some score settling. Far from the tension being resolved, as the noble Baroness said, I can say that in some cases tension will increase. I know of a number of grant-maintained schools which are very worried about returning to local education authorities which were very threatening at the time they became grant-maintained.

I do not believe that the foundation schools necessarily offer the same facilities and opportunities as grant-maintained schools. But that is not my central point. It is that under the Bill there will be a range of schools. I am simply saying let that range of schools include the existing grant-maintained schools, but give the parents the opportunity to exercise their own choice.

My final point is in the form of a question to the noble Baroness. She emphasised the point that these schools, particularly foundation schools, will be their own admissions authority. I believe that was in response to my noble friend Lady Byford. Will the schools be subject to the admissions code of practice or exempt from it? If they are their own admissions authority and are exempt from the admissions code of practice, then the answer is that they will have control. If they are subject to it, as I believe they are because there is nothing in the Bill that says they are not, the fact that they are their own admissions authority will not be worth the paper it is written on because it will be possible for the organisational committees and the all-powerful adjudicator to have the last say. Therefore, it will invalidate their freedom to have control over their admissions.

1.45 a.m.

Baroness Blackstone

I can answer straightaway the last part of the question asked by the noble Baroness. They will be subject to the admissions code of practice. The Government consider that is the right thing to do in order to secure a fair deal between different categories of schools.

Perhaps I may put her mind at rest. There is absolutely no tension, conflict or disagreement between the Department for Education and Employment and No. 10 on this matter. That is pure fantasy and I do not know where the noble Baroness got it from. Grant-maintained schools will really have nothing to fear from these changes. I can only repeat what I have said, but I do not want to at this time of night.

I also dispute what the noble Baroness said about score settling by local education authorities. That is very unfair to LEAs. I do not believe that any LEA would want to indulge in such behaviour. I am sure that they will not. The Secretary of State would take a very dim view were it to happen.

Many of these schools will be foundation schools rather than community schools. Grant-maintained schools will have a choice of category in the new framework. Parents of such schools will be able to secure a ballot on the schools' future category by presenting a petition. The rules of the ballots will be very similar to the ballots for the grant-maintained schools. Those schools will not have the choice of remaining grant maintained. As I have already explained, that would simply perpetrate the divisions within the school system which the new framework is designed to heal. In the light of that answer, I very much hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Tope

Perhaps I may intervene in the dialogue that has been going on. I am sure that it will come as no surprise that we on the Liberal Democrat Benches strongly oppose this amendment. That will be self-evident both from what I have said on many occasions and from the amendments which are to follow on the issue of foundation schools.

We are not talking specifically about grant-maintained schools. I accept that most of them provide an excellent standard of education. I do not deny that, but rejoice in it. To my belief, had they had the same leadership, and even more particularly the same resources within the LEA framework and worked within a proper partnership with it, they would have achieved at least the same success and excellence. One could argue that it would be even more so. It is not a question of being jealous or envious of GM schools or of wanting to destroy them. Of course we do not. We are as much committed to excellence as everyone else. As the Minister said, this is about the framework within which GM schools operate.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has made much of democracy. When schools opt out of LEA control and take GM status, that has an effect also on neighbouring schools, on pupils and on parents who have been unable to send their children to GM schools. They have had no part in this "democracy". They have had no say in whether a GM school would opt out or on the impact of that on their area, their children and their opportunities. That democracy applied only to parents who happened to have children in that school at that time. Because of the nature of such schools, many of the parents of pupils would not have lived within the LEA area. That was certainly the case in my borough. "Democracy" is a much over-used and misunderstood word, and in this case the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is using it in a particular and extremely limited way. It is not the sort of democracy that I recognise.

Similarly, I find it impossible to understand why the Conservative Party when in government (and now in opposition) proclaim GM schools as a great success. I have acknowledged that individual schools are successful, but it is wrong to suggest that the policy was a success. When it was launched, it was expected that vast numbers of schools would leap at the chance of GM status and that before long virtually all schools would have opted out and become GM schools. That is what was proclaimed. I wish that I could remember the figures that were quoted when the policy was launched. It was said that there would be thousands. However, in spite of all the increasingly desperate inducements over the years, only a tiny number of schools opted out. Most did so solely for financial reasons and because of the inducements offered. A number opted out because the LEA was attempting to reduce the number of vacant school places, or because of other particular problems. Nevertheless, only a tiny number (relative to the total) opted out. In recent years, almost no schools have opted out.

I really do not understand how the Conservative Party can claim that GM schools were a great success. To my mind, it was one of the biggest failures of a much proclaimed Conservative government education policy. It did not work. It did not happen. Most schools decided that they were very happy working within an LEA partnership and chose to continue to do so. Quite a number of schools which tested the opinion of parents found that they too shared that view and so the school stayed within the LEA.

I reject the arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and I reject the concept of GM status, as I always have. As we may discover in a few minutes' time—personally, I hope that it will be in a week or so—we have considerable differences with the Government in their view on foundation schools.

Baroness Maddock

I rise to support my noble friend Lord Tope. I quoted earlier from a letter from the Cantell School in Southampton. The headmaster has written to me at some length about the Bill. He is extremely concerned and makes some important points about the role of LEAs and the effects on other schools of a school being able to opt out of LEA control. Perhaps I may quote from the headmaster's letter. He is writing on behalf of his staff, governors and the community that they serve because this issue has been discussed in the community. He states: We want equitable funding for our children; we want to be part of the developing education ethos of the City of Southampton. I would not wish Cantell to be resourced at the expense of neighbouring schools when I believe in the opportunity for all children in all schools". That is a very important point and one that we have been making for some time in the debate about GM schools. That headmaster gives good examples of how LEAs help schools and how schools work together in Southampton, stating: Southampton schools share a significant amount of teacher in-service training especially at Key Stage 4; the structure of post 16 education in the City demands collaboration at Key Stage 4. Southampton Secondary Hcadteachers' Conference is a powerful expression of partnership with the LEA for the improvement of education achievement in the City". I know that to be so. He goes on: I strongly request that there must be strategies to enhance the resourcing of ambitious and successful schools which will reinforce collaborative education". That has been the theme when this House and another place have discussed this Bill. He goes on: My conviction is that disintegration of partnerships within the Local Education Authority will only serve to weaken a structure which could offer answers to other challenging issues". He refers to inclusion policy and continues: My concern is that schools like ours should be able to secure substantial resourcing within the context of local partnerships. I believe"— this may be relevant to discussions later tonight or at another time— that we should not have to follow a shadow 'grant maintained' route which from experience we know puts at risk the welfare and opportunities of other local schools and their communities". That explains the fears that many Members of the Committee have expressed about what happens if certain schools receive special treatment and funding. It means that somebody else misses out unless one puts into education a lot of extra money.

Baroness Blatch

I am not surprised by the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, because they do not believe in foundation schools either.

Baroness Maddock

The contribution came from a headmaster, not me.

Baroness Blatch

Does the noble Baroness say that she supports foundation schools? I have looked at some of the amendments on the Marshalled List. I understand that the Liberal Democrats are to table amendments intended to take foundation schools out of the framework.

Baroness Maddock

I made it clear where we stood on foundation and grant-maintained schools. I merely point out that the evidence I gave the Committee this evening came from someone other than a politician; namely, someone who ran a school and who had been on the receiving end of changes he did not like.

Baroness Blatch

The point is still made for me. My understanding is that the Liberal Democrat amendments are intended to take foundation schools out of the framework. Therefore, a letter such as the one just quoted which refers not only to grant-maintained schools as they presently work but the perception of how foundation schools will work under the new framework is not surprising. I repeat that I was not surprised by that contribution.

I must press the noble Baroness. If the noble Baroness offers the one example which clearly in her perception is one of the differentials between grant-maintained schools and the funding of other schools—the initial capital funding—will the noble Baroness confirm whether there are any other distinctions that are unfair in terms of funding? I do not mean "unfair" because more of the central moneys go to grant-maintained schools simply because they take on those central responsibilities. Is the noble Baroness saying that there is any other feature of the funding of grant-maintained schools which creates disproportionate unfairness for other schools? If so, the corollary is that under the new framework grant-maintained schools will lose some funding. It would be helpful to have that quantified in some way by the noble Baroness.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, condemned the idea that grant-maintained schools were a success. I will have to leave him with that view. I believe that they were a success. As to their number, I do not want to get into the arithmetic and discuss whether there were 1,000, 2,000 or 3,000. Those who made the transition to grant-maintained status did so entirely of their own volition. The school in Southampton made it clear that it would not wish to go down that road. That must be a matter for the school. I believe in choice. That school made its choice and I support that.

But the noble Lord, Lord Tope, did not have the experience that I had in the department when these ballots were taking place. On one occasion I invited to my office a group of head teachers who had undertaken the balloting process and lost. They came to talk about that experience. I can honestly say that I have never been more moved than when listening to the horror stories of how it was that they lost the ballot. Colleagues in the LEA and even colleagues in other schools made threatening phone calls in the middle of the night and were carrying out the most awful, and sometimes physical, threats on key members of the schools and sometimes even on the head teachers themselves.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Did they go to the police?

Baroness Blatch

They tried very hard indeed to identify where the threats were coming from. They were frequently anonymous. They were frequently not able to identify the people involved. In some cases they tried to go to the police and certainly in Birmingham I know that a case was pursued but it never came to anything because it was always difficult to pin down the people involved.

On one occasion, I asked the head teachers what they would have done to make things different. One reply that I received was that in another situation the school would never remain neutral. "We believed it was the best way forward for our school but we played fair by the parents. Parents contacted us, as head teachers and members of staff who supported the proposals. They asked us for our views". But in order to play fair, the head teachers said, "I must not influence you in this decision. It is something about which you must make up your own mind".

Parents are often greatly influenced by head teachers. Head teachers did not wish to influence them unduly and parents became suspicious and did not vote. I am merely saying that considerable distress was caused. If the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, wants evidence of those incidents, he could talk to some of the head teachers, chairmen of governors and governors who went through extremely difficult times. Many members of staff in those schools did not like what was happening and made life difficult for them. Many of them changed their minds once grant-maintained status was secured.

Therefore, I am not surprised that some schools saw what was happening and did not want to go down that road because they felt that it was too difficult and controversial a road to follow. Others tried and failed. Very often they failed for what I regard as the wrong reasons.

Lord Tope

I am sure that the noble Baroness will accept that I do not, for one moment, condone the sort of behaviour which she is talking about. I accept that, sadly, in a number of cases—although, I suspect, exaggerated—it did happen and condemn that at least as strongly as she does.

I am sure that she will accept that, equally, I could swap horror stories with her—and I do not intend to do so at this time of night—about some of the threats, intimidation and wild exaggerations that were made by some of the more extreme proponents who wished to opt-out. I am afraid that it was the divisive nature of the whole practice that caused some of the more extreme proponents on both sides to behave in ways that none of us would condone.

However, I wish to return to the so-called success of that policy. I am not arguing about whether GM schools, as schools, have been successful. I question whether the policy has been successful. The noble Baroness does not wish to swap numbers with me and I do not wish to become involved in a numbers game either. The noble Baroness could not remember whether it was 1,000, 2,000 or even 3,000. From memory, I believe it is nearer 1,000 than 2,000 schools which have opted out. Even if we accept the suggestion that a number of others have either chosen not to do so or have lost on a ballot because of whatever fears they may have had, there are more then 24,000 schools in this country. The noble Baroness cannot be suggesting to us that more than 10,000 of those have been intimidated into not opting out.

The reality is that out of 24,000 plus schools, just over 1,000 have chosen to opt out. To me, that is not the mark of a successful policy.

Baroness Blatch

I was not ignorant of the numbers. I know the numbers. I was simply saying it was irrelevant whether it was 1,000, 2,000 or 3,000. That is not the argument. I am one of those people who genuinely believes in choice. If a vast majority of the schools do not wish to go down that road, that must be for them. I support that. I support the freedom to choose. That has always been the basis of the policy.

It may only be about 1,200 schools, but about 25 per cent. of those are secondary schools. A very large proportion of secondary schools are in the grant-maintained sector. With my amendment, I am seeking to allow the parents of those schools to exercise their choice.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, for saying that he would not condone such practices, but they were very widespread. Indeed, there are officials sitting not too far away from me tonight who know about some of those practices. They were aware of them in the department. If the noble Baroness or the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, wishes to discuss the matter with officials, I have no doubt that they will be told about some of the difficulties, especially as regards the early schools which opted for grant-maintained status.

I can remember the chief education officer in my local authority handing round anti-GM leaflets at public meetings. I did not regard that as fair game when the schools themselves were not allowed to present their own case, particularly when the head teachers very often played it fair and were neutral in these cases. I support the principle and the policy that fairness should be applied in the first instance and that the schools which chose of their own volition to become grant-maintained schools should be afforded the opportunity to exercise the choice of whether to remain grant maintained, to become foundation schools, or, indeed, to become voluntary aided and/or community schools.

However, with the great Lib/Lab alliance which is alive and kicking both in this and another place, it is clear that I shall not make much progress on the matter. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment on the understanding that I shall return to the matter.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Tope

moved Amendment No. 79: Page 18, leave out line 11. The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I feel that I should pronounce the end of the Lib/Lab alliance that the noble Baroness seems to have spotted. We have consistently held the view—and, indeed, still retain it— that there should broadly be two categories of school; namely, what are now to be called community schools, with which we are content, and voluntary schools along with the categories which fall within that sector.

There should not be three categories of schools. I believe that that is a view which is shared widely within the maintained education sector. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has said that she sees many differences between foundation schools and grant-maintained schools, although, perhaps out of deference to the time of night, she did not elaborate on the nature of those significant differences. I am bound to say that they have eluded me. The only significant difference that I can see is that they have a different name. There is very little other difference between the two.

It is the view of my party, and remains so, that schools which are not voluntary aided should come within the framework of a light-touch LEA working in partnership with those schools. I acknowledge that not all LEAs achieve that goal. In my view, all LEAs should achieve that and I hope that the better parts of the Bill will enable them to do so. That briefly restates my party's principled objection to the concept of foundation schools.

I am moving the amendment at this stage because it seemed to be the most appropriate place in the Bill to do so. In the unlikely event of our amendment being accepted, I acknowledge that there would need to be other consequential amendments throughout the Bill. However, I did not feel it appropriate either to trouble the Public Bill Office or, indeed, the Committee in trying to move every conceivable amendment to delete every reference to foundation schools, or anything consequential upon it. I recognised that fact but just wanted to move the amendment, although I had hoped to do so rather earlier in the night and at greater length. Nevertheless, I wanted to put that on the record.

I move on to the other amendment which deals with the new concept of foundation special schools. That is something which, in a way, concerns me even more. We have had a difference of view with the Government about foundation schools ever since they proposed the concept when in opposition. It is a different matter with foundation special schools. In common with everyone else, we believed that the Government did not believe in foundation special schools. That belief was based not only on their statements when in opposition but, more importantly, on statements made since they have come into office. The White Paper Excellence in Schools, issued only last year, proposed that special schools would become community schools, and the Green Paper regarding excellence for all children also proposed community status for special schools.

Therefore we had the belief—as did everyone else and particularly those working in that sector—that that was what the Government were proposing. All those who were in agreement with that had nothing to say because they agreed with the Government's stated view. If I remember correctly, on Second Reading the Minister in addressing this point said that the Government had changed their mind and had decided to go for foundation special schools because of representations received from grant-maintained special schools. However, that comprises a small number.

That seems to me to be rather strange. It is inevitable that those who have some disagreement with a proposed policy will say so, but to change the policy without giving those who had assumed the Government would stand by it an opportunity to express their views seems to me to be rather less than fair. There are many reasons—they have been stated previously and will be stated again—why it is particularly inappropriate for special schools to have foundation status. One of the most important reasons is the need for LEAs to be able to plan and to target their special needs resources effectively. That is difficult under any circumstances, especially as resource demands seem to be growing enormously, but it is even more difficult when a special school is no longer properly within the LEA framework. It is much more difficult to plan and to target scarce resources so as effectively to meet the broad range of special needs that need to be met today.

While I have no grounds for optimism that our plea on foundation schools will fall on fertile ground, I urge the Minister, and the Government she represents, to adhere to their original view of only a few months ago that they expressed for the reasons they gave in both the White Paper and in the Green Paper, and to reject the concept of foundation special schools. I beg to move.

Lord Elis-Thomas

In the spirit of a Liberal Democrat Party of Wales alliance I rise to support the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and to speak to Amendment No. 82 standing in my name which is grouped with them. This is concerned with the position of grant-maintained schools in Wales. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, claims that they were a roaring success in England. However, a total of 17 schools opted for grant-maintained status in Wales. That is fewer than 1 per cent. That is hardly a success. The majority of the schools that adopted such a status did so because they were faced with closure because of falling rolls or because they were denominational schools seeking particular advantage in capital funding arrangements. Those issues have been covered earlier in this discussion.

The new foundation category—New Labour, new foundation, I am tempted to say—introduced by the Bill is certainly designed to accommodate the substantial number of grant-maintained schools in England. I believe it makes no sense in the context of Wales to have such a category. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that it makes little sense in England either. As regards my amendment to Schedule 2 I argue that this category should not become primary legislation in relation to Wales and to the work of the national assembly, which will be responsible for implementing the Bill when the Government of Wales Bill passes through all its stages in this Chamber and the assembly is established in a little under a year from now.

Therefore there is no case to legislate formally for a category which appears to me to be redundant both in terms of numbers and in terms of a principle. It makes little sense to establish a category in law to indicate the position of such a tiny minority of schools. I am much in favour of diversity of provision—as mentioned in later amendments to this Bill—but it seems to me that this category is not really about diversity; it is a complication in the structure. What is important is that all the schools in Wales are perceived to be of equal standing within the maintained sector of schools. It is not helpful therefore to have such a category. This is the position also of the Welsh Local Government Association. I hope that for all the reasons I have mentioned the Welsh Office and the Minister will consider this provision sympathetically.

Baroness Blackstone

We are committed to creating a new school framework which strikes a better balance between the interests of individual schools and those of pupils and schools collectively. To do that we need to start from where schools are now, not where they were 10 years ago. The school system in this country has never been monolithic, and we value the principle of diversity. Schools have traditionally had different degrees of autonomy. But in the past these differences have almost always been linked to religious character.

GM status gave secular as well as religious schools greater autonomy, and a fifth of all secondary schools took up the GM option. But as we have already discussed in dealing with the last group of amendments, grant-maintained status was a flawed initiative, although it demonstrated clearly that schools are willing and able to run their own affairs.

Our new framework is designed to preserve the benefits of self-management while removing the divisiveness of opting out. Creating a new foundation category is essential to achieving that. It will allow former grant-maintained schools to retain many of their existing characteristics—employing staff, owning premises, acting as admission authorities—within a framework based on fair funding, fair admissions and partnership between schools and LEAs. In time, the foundation category will also give community and voluntary controlled schools the opportunity to take on additional responsibilities.

The alternative would be to deny schools this choice and to force most GM schools into the community category. Apart from being intrinsically undesirable, that would create substantial practical problems. It would mean the transfer of land ownership and staff employment at around 1,000 schools. That would create an unacceptable level of turbulence and distraction for these schools when they should be concentrating their energies on raising pupils' achievements. I am sure that cannot be what the noble Lord, Lord Tope, wants.

The noble Lord has said that LEAs were initially opposed to the foundation category. It is true that in responses to the White Paper and the technical consultation document a number of LEAs expressed reservations about the three categories of school. But much of their unease came from the proposals to require all schools to choose their new categories simultaneously. They felt that this process would create too much turbulence.

We listened to their concerns and have phased schools' choice of category. Only grant-maintained schools will have a choice of category when the new framework is implemented. LEA schools will be assigned to the nearest equivalent category. All schools will be able to seek an alternative category, if they wish, from a year after the new framework is implemented.

I turn now to those amendments concerning the foundation special schools. They would deprive special schools of any choice by removing the foundation special category. Our White Paper and technical consultation paper suggested that there were advantages in all special schools becoming community special schools. But of those who responded to that suggestion, the majority said that it would be wrong to deny parents at grant-maintained special schools—who had voted for greater autonomy for their school—the right offered to parents at mainstream schools to participate in choosing the school's future category. That was a powerful point, and the decision to give special schools a choice of category was made in that light.

We are very conscious of concerns about foundation special schools developing in ways that do not reflect local plans for SEN provision. We thought about those concerns carefully before deciding that special as well as mainstream schools should have a choice of category. In the new framework, both community and foundation special schools will be expected to participate in and be bound by local and regional planning arrangements.

I turn now to Amendment No. 82, which is about changing indicative allocations in Wales. Schedule 2 provides for grant-maintained schools—special as well as mainstream—to be indicatively allocated to the new category which most closely resembles their current characteristics. For example, former county grant-maintained schools employ their own staff and own their own premises. The nearest equivalent category is foundation, not community. That is just as true in Wales as in England.

The purpose of indicative allocations is to simplify the process by which GM schools move into their new categories. Schools which accept their indicative allocation will move automatically into this category. But governing bodies will be free to choose an alternative category if they wish.

With only one exception, all the grant-maintained schools in Wales are ex-county or ex-voluntary. We understand that most of those schools are content with their indicative allocation to the foundation category. Grant-maintained schools and LEAs in Wales are starting to work together. So transition to the grant-maintained category should be achieved smoothly in virtually every case.

The amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, would mean that to become a foundation, grant-maintained schools in Wales would have to choose the foundation category as an alternative category. Their final category would then have to be decided by the Secretary of State for Wales. This would cause complications, much uncertainty, and delays, which are unnecessary.

In conclusion, the foundation and foundation special categories are integral to the new framework for the organisation of schools. They will minimise disruption when the new framework is introduced. In time they will give community schools an opportunity to seek greater autonomy while maintaining their partnerships with LEAs and other schools. The amendments seek to remove that opportunity or to complicate the process by which schools choose their new category. I therefore urge the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Blatch

Before the noble Lord, Lord Tope, responds, can the Minister confirm when the Government will allow community schools under the new framework to opt to become foundation schools?

Baroness Blackstone

I cannot confirm the precise date. If we have a precise date I shall write to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Blatch

I asked the Minister to confirm the date because during the course of speaking to the amendment the noble Baroness referred to a year after the Bill comes into force.

Baroness Blackstone

I am sorry. I think the noble Baroness is absolutely right. That is the period of time which we shall deploy.

Baroness Blatch

This is important. It is a fact that one year after Royal Assent for the Bill local authority community schools will be allowed to make a choice, if they wish, to become foundation schools.

Baroness Blackstone


Lord Tope

I predicted that we were unlikely to reach agreement here. However, I was encouraged to hear that the Minister is concerned about turbulence in the education sector. The relative turbulence of 1,000 schools across the country returning over a period of time to LEA seems fairly minor compared with the welter of new initiatives pouring out of the noble Baroness's department every day: the creation of education action zones; the development—which we support—of education development plans, and so on. The added turbulence, to use her word, of a relatively small number of schools in a relatively small number of areas returning to the LEA framework, it is to be hoped in a spirit of friendship and co-operation, will be minor. That is not an argument I accept.

We have a difference of view about the desirability of a foundation status. I hold to my original view. I regret even more the response on foundation special schools. I make the point again. Had the Government indicated in their White Paper or Green Paper that they were in two minds and had a balance of view, I am certain that the responses they received would also have been more balanced, and more accurately weighted in favour of simply having community special schools.

I did not expect to win the amendment at any time, let alone approaching half past two in the morning. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 80 and 81 not moved.]

Lord Whitty

moved Amendment No. 81 A: Page 18, line 42, after ("day"") insert ("(except in Schedule 31)"). The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 81A, and in doing so I need also to refer to the large batch of amendments grouped with it. For the record, these are Nos. 83A, 83B, 85A, 90A, 90B, 90C, 90D, 90F, 90G, 91B, 91C, 114A, 114B, 122A, 129A, 145A, 156A, 206A, 206B, 256B, 257C, 257E, 257G, 257J, 257L, 257N, 257P, 259A.

Following that, I have seven pages of notes explaining what each of the amendments does. However, I would hope that at this hour your Lordships will accept my assurance that all are technical and consequential, intended to clarify the Bill's substantive provisions relating to the new school categories. None of the amendments makes any additional substantive changes not already dealt with by other amendments. I am of course prepared to answer any questions on any of the amendments to the best of my ability, but I hope that the Committee will accept that they are technical and so allow us to proceed to the rather more substantial amendments which are to follow.

Baroness Blatch

I do not rise to ask for the seven pages of explanation regarding these amendments, but I do ask this. Consequential on what? And in relation to what?

Lord Whitty

Consequential on the definition of the new schools framework, with definitions of the new foundation schools. They also relate to timing and provisions on property and status.

Lord Lucas

I, on the other hand, would like to ask the noble Lord a few questions. It may be convenient if I do so amendment by amendment. I start with No. 145A. My question is: like what? As I am sure the noble Lord realises, the amendment introduces additional words, in this case "rights and liabilities". Therefore I ask: like what?

Lord Whitty

The whole amendment deals with property transfers and makes it clear that rights and liabilities which are attached to properties will transfer with such properties. That is what Amendments Nos. 145A and 90C are about.

Lord Lucas

If the noble Lord would prefer to write to me I will allow him to, but I should like to know: like what? What sorts of rights and liabilities which were not subsumed in the original wording are now brought in by this wording? I cannot think of any, because "property" subsumes it all. Doubtless the noble Lord knows, though he may not be able to recall the knowledge at this time of the morning, and I would be happy for him to write to me. But I do wish to know.

Perhaps we can move on to the next one. I very much welcome his removing the wording in Amendment No. 114A, which was extremely obscure. I should also very much like to understand Amendment No. 206A and what exactly has been done there. It appears that some tax or rating concession has been removed from schools, but the noble Lord will doubtless be able to inform me better.

Lord Whitty

I regret to say that the noble Lord will have to rely on a letter from me because I cannot immediately find the necessary information among my notes. I can inform him about Amendment No. 206B, but I will write to him about No. 206A.

Baroness Blatch

This is actually a rather serious point. I accepted what the noble Lord said at the beginning, that these are minor technical amendments and entirely consequential, but if one reads subsection (2), which is to disappear from the Bill, it says that: The code may include guidelines setting out aims, objectives and other matters in relation to the discharge of their functions under this Chapter by local education authorities and such governing bodies. It shall he the duty of…the bodies and persons mentioned in subsection (1) when exercising functions under this Chapter, and…any other person when exercising any function", and so on. These provisions are more than merely technical, minor and inconsequential. Therefore, I wonder whether the noble Lord will agree—because we do not want to hold up the progress of the Committee—to write with an explanation to my noble friend and have the letter copied to other noble Lords, and we will deal with these amendments at the next stage and, it is to be hoped, without any difficulty.

2.30 a.m.

Lord Whitty

I am happy to confirm that I will write to the noble Lord. The bulk of these amendments are fairly straightforward. I have now found my briefing on Amendment No. 206A in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. That relates to the issues arising from discussions with the charity commissioners. I will put all this in writing to the noble Lord, with a copy to the noble Baroness.

Lord Lucas

If I have a full explanation of all the amendments in this group I shall be content. But there are certainly others on which I had questions.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will remember the trouble he gave me in the past on technical amendments. It is a lesson I learnt well at his hands. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will be better prepared—as I learnt to bev—on a future occasion.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I doubt whether I did that at 2.30 in the morning.

Baroness Blatch

On more than one occasion when I was a Minister noble Lords opposite did that at 2.30 in the morning.

To put the record straight, I read from page 59, not page 57. The section I ought to have read was that dealing with mandatory and discretionary rate relief, a point raised by my noble friend.

If the noble Lord was not prepared to write ahead of our voting on these amendments, then we should feel it necessary to vote against them tonight.

Lord Whitty

The only amendment moved is Amendment No. 81A dealing with the question of the appointed date, simply making the difference between that referred to in Clause 20 and the same expression used in Schedule 31 dealing with transitional provisions. It just makes the point that these are different appointed days. That is the amendment that I have moved. The other amendments are within this grouping. No doubt if my letter does not satisfy the noble Baroness or any other noble Lord in the interim, they will return to these matters on a subsequent Committee clay.

Baroness Blatch

Am I mistaken? I understand that we are going as far as Amendment No. 96, which means that Amendments Nos. 81A, 83A, 83B, 85A, 90A, 90B, 90C, 90D, 90F, 90G, 91B and 91C would be dealt with this evening.

Lord Whitty

My recollection is that none of those amendments was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I will move them at the appropriate point if the noble Baroness wishes to come back on them. The amendments referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, were beyond Amendment No. 96.

Baroness Blatch

The noble Lord is missing the point that we are making. Because my noble friend has raised at least a couple of points that do not fit the description of minor, technical and no more than consequential amendments, they raise issues for debate, of which rate relief is one, and there may well be others. We took it as read that that was of no consequence. We believe now that it possibly is of some consequence. The noble Lord has promised to write to those of us on this side of the House, including those on the Liberal Democrat Benches, so that we understand what these amendments are about. I am sure that the noble Lord does not want to spend all night reading out these matters. It would be a very minor matter, and I suspect that these amendments will be passed when we have all received a proper explanation. But perhaps he will let us have that proper explanation and allow the amendments to be dealt with at the next stage of the Bill. Otherwise, we have to accept them without question.

Lord Whitty

I do not know what the noble Baroness means by her reference to the next stage of the Bill. I will certainly provide subsequently tonight an explanation of all the amendments which are within this group. It will then be up to noble Lords as to what they do at a subsequent stage of the Bill.

Baroness Blatch

Once we agree tonight, there is no subsequent stage for these amendments. If amendments up to Amendment No. 91C are dealt with and are accepted, then they will be part of the Bill. I am simply saying that it would be helpful to have the letter of explanation and then deal with the voting at the next stage of the Bill. Nothing is going to happen in relation to these amendments between now and the next stage of the Bill. They will be dealt with relatively quickly because we will have had a detailed explanation from the Minister.

Lord Whitty

We may proceed as far as Amendment No. 96 tonight. I have already moved Amendment No. 81A and if the noble Baroness objects to any subsequent amendments being moved, she can do so at that point. Either she can return to the issues at Report stage or I can do so. I do not see the difficulty. I suspect that had I read out the seven pages, we would still have the problem, but I now wish I had read them out. Nevertheless, if we proceed we will see which ones the noble Baroness or any other noble Lord objects to.

Lord Monkswell

Perhaps I may help my noble friend on the Front Bench. It seems to me that we are talking about government amendments about which the Opposition have some reservations. They seek explanations for them, but the amendments have been put down and debated. If they are moved and agreed at this Committee stage, then if, following the further explanation which the Government have said they would provide to the Opposition, the Opposition has further difficulty with the amendments, then further amendments altering them could he put down for Report stage. That would satisfy all parties.

It seems to me to be quite in order for the Committee to agree to the government amendments at this stage, with the opportunity for the House to consider the Bill prior to Report stage. If the Opposition or even the Government, following further consideration, felt that other amendments should be made, that could be done at Report stage.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

Perhaps I may suggest a compromise. We are all facing the fact that it is the middle of the night. The amendments are technical and it is highly probable that a letter would do everything. Possibly we should postpone these technical amendments; it would not affect the Government's business and they would pass without trouble. I am sure that when the arguments are written down, without the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, reading them all through, we are reasonable people on this side of the Committee and we would accept them. I think a letter on the technicalities would solve the problem. I assume, from what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said—which I accept absolutely—these are legal matters relating to property and similar technicalities. But doubts have been expressed; people will worry about them. I suggest a letter. Then assuming that what the Minister said is correct that no whale is hiding behind the amendments, that course is the one we should take. That is what I suggest, otherwise we will be here until 5 o'clock in the morning, and at my age that is more than I can take.

Lord Whitty

I do not believe that. However, in the circumstances, in order to make progress, if we withdraw the amendments for today we could undertake to bring them back at Report stage, following a letter. But we should not then have procedural difficulties in the Government bringing amendments forward at Report stage. If that is understood between us, on that basis I shall not move them, but I intend to re-submit them. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 81A.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 20 agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Allocation of existing schools to new categories]:

[Amendment No. 82 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch

moved Amendment No. 83: Page 106, line 14, after ("paragraph") insert ("1 or"). The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 83 is grouped with Amendments Nos. 84 to 90. They were tabled because I believe it is necessary to give the local education authority schools (what will be community schools) an opportunity to exercise their choice as to the kind of schools they would like to be on Royal Assent of this Bill. It is an amendment which I should still like to succeed. However, I am much heartened by the previous statements of the noble Baroness that at least the end is in sight for local authority schools and they will have an opportunity to exercise their choice within a foreseeable length of time.

Baroness Blackstone

I want to clarify a point I made earlier where I may have given inaccurate information.

The noble Baroness asked when local education authority schools—community schools—could change categories; whether it is a year after Royal Assent. It is in fact a year after the new framework comes into force, not a year after Royal Assent. The new framework will come into force in September 1999, so it will be one year after that, in September 2000. But that is quite soon.

Baroness Blatch

That is unacceptable to me, and I will go back with full force to my amendments.

I do not understand the turbulence argument. There will not be any ballots; the schools will not have to go through great procedures; they simply choose whether they want to be a community or a foundation school.

The Government's supporting argument for foundation schools has been that they are part of the family of LEA schools and it gives them a greater degree of autonomy—I do not know to what extent because it is difficult to work out precisely what that will mean. But I do not understand the turbulence argument.

I agree with the views of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, that the pressure from LEAs was because they did not like the policy for foundation schools. However, given that there are going to be foundation schools and given that grant-maintained schools are to be given the option to become foundation schools, I see no reason whatever why community schools should not also be given the option. It may well be that none of them wants to take the option; it may be that many of them do. But there is no good reason why they should be at least two years away from making that decision. The schools should be given an opportunity as soon as the framework comes into being. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

We are all committed to giving all schools a choice of category. The problem that arises is the problem to which my noble friend alluded. It is true that in our technical consultation paper last summer we proposed that all schools should have a choice when the new categories of school were introduced. However, it was quite clear from a large number of respondents to the consultation that they were concerned that making all 23,000 schools choose simultaneously could he extremely disruptive. We have taken that into account and revised our proposals.

All schools will have a choice of category in the new framework, but the opportunity to make choices will be phased. GM schools will have a choice of category under Schedule 2 at the point when the new school categories are introduced. That is because the new framework involves more changes for GM schools than for LEA schools. Parents were balloted when most schools became GM, so we believe it is right for them to have an opportunity to express their view, through a ballot, immediately.

Conversion of LEA-maintained schools is different. The new framework will involve little change for those schools, so they will be assigned to their nearest equivalent category when it is established. After the moratorium referred to by my noble friend, any school will be able to change category under the provisions of Clause 34 and Schedule 8. That moratorium, I repeat, will last for one year after the new categories are introduced, after which community schools will be able to propose changes to their status at that point or at any time thereafter. That will give all schools time to experience their new categories and make a considered decision as to whether they want to change. By then the new system on local determination of statutory proposals should be operating. So the Bill provides for changes of category proposals to be dealt with in the same way.

All schools within the framework, whether they were formerly LEA-maintained or grant-maintained, will be free to consider a change after that period. In contrast, these amendments, if adopted, would force all 23,000 schools in the system to undertake their choice and to go through the choice process at the same time. We do not believe that would be sensible. We agree with the aim of giving all schools choice, but we cannot agree with the method proposed by the amendments. The 23,000 all deciding instantaneously would not enhance the introduction of the new framework. A year's moratorium seems to us to be a sensible process. I therefore ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment on the understanding that all schools will, after that moratorium, have the choice.

2.45 a.m.

Baroness Blatch

It is not surprising that GM schools are being given that opportunity early. It is not that they are being given it out of the generosity of the Government's heart. It is that the Government cannot wait for the GM schools to disappear from the scene. They have made no secret of that. That is why grant-maintained schools are going to be first in line.

Will the noble Lord point me to the specific place in the Bill where the commencement order for the framework in terms of the particular date is set out? Perhaps I may also correct something the noble Lord said. He said that my amendment would force all schools on day one to make the choice. My amendment does no such thing. My amendment and the amendments coupled with it simply make the provision available. Schools may not exercise it for years, or perhaps never. It is simply there as an option. There is nothing in my amendment, unless the noble Lord can point me to it—in which case I shall go away and make sure that it is removed—to force schools to make a choice to become foundation schools.

Lord Whitty

On that point, they are not forced to make a decision. They are required right at the beginning to decide whether they wish to take the category of community school or not.

Baroness Blatch

There is nothing in the amendment to require them to do anything of the kind. If they do not want even to give a passing thought to it, they will not have to give a passing thought to it. But if they want positively to give a passing thought to taking on the new status, they are free to do so. There is nothing in my amendment, unless the noble Lord can point me to it, that requires them to do anything whatever once the Bill comes into play. But it would help me to know where in the Bill I can find the commencement date for the framework and where in the Bill I can find that one year after the commencement date for the framework the opportunity will be given to local authorities to make their choices if they wish to become foundation schools.

Lord Whitty

The framework date is the date designated the appointed day in Clause 20(6). The moratorium is not defined as one year, but we are indicating the intention that it would be one year after that appointed date.

There is at least a passive decision required of community schools to remain community schools if the amendment were carried. That is why I am saying that everyone would have to make a decision. All 23,000 schools would have to make a decision. Clearly, the vast majority would be expected to take the decision to take on the community status that they had been assigned. Nevertheless, they would require to take that decision. The clause under which the moratorium date is specified is Clause 34(2).

Baroness Blatch

The subsection does not name the appointed day, it simply states that the power to do so shall rest with the Secretary of State. Nowhere in this Bill does it say that the moratorium will be one, two, three or four years. I would like to have confirmed yet again the precise date that the Secretary of State intends to put into regulations for the commencement of the new framework, and also to have it put on record that it shall be one year after that date that local authorities will be free to make a choice.

Can the noble Lord point to anywhere in my amendments where local authorities have positively to make any decision or choice whatsoever? If on day one they carry on as now and they do not think positively about anything and take no action, such inaction is entirely acceptable under my amendments. Action or inaction is acceptable. Local authorities do not have to make a choice, unless I am misreading my own amendments. I ask the Minister to point to where in my amendments a choice has to be made.

Lord Whitty

I thought I had made the point that a passive choice is a choice, as in many things in life. They have to have made that choice before the framework comes in or not challenge the framework. That would have to apply to 23,000 schools which the authorities would have to assign to one category or the other rather than the automatic assignment to community schools which applies under our proposals.

As regards the date, if we ever finish this Bill, the date proposed by the Secretary of State for the commencement of the framework will be September 1999. It is the intention under Clause 34(2) to specify that the moratorium before which community schools can propose changes will be one year. That would be provided in regulations under that clause.

Baroness Blatch

This is positively my final question. Will that include all community schools?

Lord Whitty

I am not quite sure what lies behind that question. All community schools would be able to propose a change from that point or from any subsequent point. It does not mean that at that point all 23,000 schools would have to make a decision.

Baroness Blatch

I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 83A to 90A not moved.]

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clause 21 [Kinds of foundation and voluntary schools and types of foundations]:

[Amendments Nos. 90B to 90D not moved.]

Baroness Blackstone

moved Amendment No. 90E: Page 20, line 11, at end insert— ("(aa) with respect to the revision or replacement of the instruments of government of schools joining or leaving the group in such circumstances and the reconstitution of their governing bodies;"). The noble Baroness said: The Government have considered what the report of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers says on Clause 21(7). We accept that the scope of this clause needs to be narrowed and have brought forward Amendments Nos. 90E and 91A to address fully the concerns raised by the committee.

Clause 21 enables the Secretary of State to make regulations governing the establishment, membership, functions and winding up of group foundations. As it stands, subsection (7) enables those regulations to apply or modify any part of the Bill for those purposes.

Subsection (7) was intended to make it possible to do three things for schools joining and leaving group foundations. First, to enable the Education Transfer Counsel to help with land transfers; secondly, to apply the provisions of Schedule 21 to such transfers. Schedule 21 sets out rules for land transfers, but it applies only to transfers made when the new framework is implemented. Ongoing provision for transfers linked to group foundations will be needed. Thirdly, it was intended to deal with changes in instruments of government and reconstitution of governing bodies.

We have thought very carefully about these three functions in the light of the committee's comments. We have concluded that the first two could be dealt with in other ways and that the provision required to deal with governance could be much more specific.

I will be proposing a new schedule to the Bill, dealing with the functions of the education transfer council. Among other things, this will enable the council to help with land transfers for schools joining or leaving group foundations. As for the rules applying to land transfers, the regulations made under Clause 21 will provide for those directly by including provisions based on the relevant parts of Schedule 21.

This leaves governance. Amendment No. 291 adds a new paragraph to subsection (6) of Clause 21. This enables the regulations to provide for changes to instruments of government and the reconstitution of governing bodies where schools join or leave a group foundation.

Amendment No. 294 removes the present subsection (7) and replaces it with a much narrower provision relating to a single paragraph of Schedule 12—

Baroness Blatch

I am grateful to the Minister, but those amendments are not in this group. As far as I know, we are dealing only with Amendments Nos. 90E, 91 and 91A. At this hour of the morning it seems inappropriate for the Minister to introduce many other amendments that we have not even considered.

Baroness Blackstone

I accept what the noble Baroness says. Unfortunately, my speaking note seems to have gone beyond the grouped amendments I believe that the amendments to which I have spoken meet the Select Committee's concerns about subsection (7). In doing that, they cover the same ground as Amendment No. 194, which has been proposed by the noble Baroness, so I hope that she will feel able to withdraw that amendment. Once again, I apologise for speaking to amendments which are not in this group. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

I am grateful to the Minister for the efforts made by the department to respond to the scrutiny committee's report. My copy of the Bill now resembles a Damien Hirst exhibit for an art exhibition. I have tried to make sense of the amendments that have been tabled to this part of the Bill in response to the committee's report. I do not know what was intended by officials when they designed the note without giving us the benefit of knowing that the Minister would speak also to other amendments. I accept the Minister's apology, but it is now difficult for us to make sense of the limited amendments in this group, Amendments Nos. 90E, 91 and 91A.

I turn now to the proposals by which I am unnerved and about which I should like to think a little more. I refer to the Secretary of State's powers and functions in relation to modifying, changing or amending the instruments of government. I do not quite know the implications behind that suggestion. I am concerned about instruments of government, to which we shall come later. I am particularly concerned about the idea of having model instruments and articles for all schools. Different schools will have different requirements and will need tailor-made instruments. I am not sure whether this provision cuts across that. I shall need to concentrate on that point a little more. Unlike the other very large group of amendments— we have yet to learn what they mean—

I shall not object if the Minister moves her amendments and they are accepted on the face of the Bill as long as the Minister accepts that I may well have to return to this and possibly table an amendment at a later stage.

3 a.m.

Baroness Blackstone

The intervention of the noble Baroness is helpful. The problem is that the amendments in my speaking note are wrongly numbered. To return to instruments of government, Amendment No. 90E adds a new paragraph to subsection (6) of Clause 21. This enables the regulations to provide for changes to instruments of government and the reconstitution of governing bodies where schools join or leave the group foundation. Amendment No. 91A removes the present subsection (7) and replaces it with a much narrower provision relating to a single paragraph of Schedule 12. This is needed to allow a revised instrument of government to be made before a school joins or leaves the group foundation so that changes to the governing body can be arranged in advance. The previous instrument of government would continue to determine the composition of the governing body until the date of the change. That would be incompatible with paragraph 1 of Schedule 12— hence the need for regulations which could modify that paragraph in relation to instruments of government.

I believe that these amendments meet the concerns of the committee, but in view of the muddle I shall understand if the noble Baroness wishes at a later stage to return to her amendment. But I believe that when the noble Baroness has a chance to study this matter she will discover that we have fully met the suggestions of the committee and that what we put forward is in line with her amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 90F and 90G not moved.]

Baroness Blatch

had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 91: Page 20, line 30, leave out subsection (7). The noble Baroness said: I believe that Amendment No. 91 is subsumed in Amendment No. 91A.

[Amendment No. 91 not moved.]

Baroness Blackstone

moved Amendment No. 91A: Page 20, line 30, leave out subsection (7) and insert— ("(7) Regulations made in pursuance of subsection (6)(aa) may, in connection with the making or variation of instruments of government in preparation for schools joining or leaving the group, modify paragraph 1 of Schedule 12 in its operation in relation to such instruments of government."). On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 91B not moved.]

Clause 21, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 22 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 91C not moved.]

Schedule 3 [Funding of foundation, voluntary and foundation special schools]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

moved Amendment No. 92: Page 111, line 1, leave out ("new"). The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 92 and speak also to Amendments Nos. 93 and 94. In anticipation of the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 95 and 96. Amendments Nos. 92, 93 and 94 are technical amendments that clarify that where a local education authority has a duty to provide an additional or alternate site for a voluntary aided school, the authority must always transfer ownership of the site to the school trustees or foundation body if there are no trustees. The amendments do not change existing responsibilities for voluntary aided schools but simply put the provisions and existing practice beyond doubt.

Amendment No. 95 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, does not take account of the grant payment system and therefore is defective. In practice, payment and acceptance happen simultaneously because grant is paid direct to school governors' bank accounts by the Bank Automated Clearing Service. I understand that the noble Lord seeks to protect voluntary aided school governors by offering them an opportunity to consider the grant conditions before accepting payments. I reassure him that we recognise the implications of the grant condition systems for school governors. We shall ensure that, where a condition of grant is to be applied, the governors will fully understand and can comply with the requirements being stipulated before any building work starts and grant is paid. In those circumstances, I hope that when the noble Lord comes to speak to his amendment he will understand the points that we make.

Amendment No. 96 in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon is concerned with the grant condition system. The grant condition system will protect public fund investment in voluntary aided schools. Where any voluntary aided school property is bought or enhanced with public funds and ceases subsequently to be used for a maintained school, we want to ensure that if the assets are not recycled within the maintained school system, public funds will be appropriately compensated. The Churches have always made it clear that they support that principle.

I understand the right reverend Prelate's reservations about the Secretary of State's power to set a condition of grant after the grant has been paid. Therefore, I propose to bring forward an amendment on Report which I hope will meet his concerns. We cannot agree to forfeit completely the power to set a retrospective condition of grant. However, we expect to use the power rarely and only when it is reasonable to do so. The amendment I shall table will modify the power so that it is exercisable only where the Secretary of State is of the opinion that it is reasonable to set a retrospective condition.

It may help if I give a couple of examples where we judge that it will be reasonable to use the power; for example, where, as a result of clerical oversight, the grant condition is excluded from the formal grant letter which sets out how much grant is to be paid. In such a case, the governors will already be aware of the intention to set a condition and it would be quite reasonable, in our view, to correct the error and set the formal condition after grant payment has commenced.

Another example may be that when grant is requested, the school trusts appear to secure satisfactory recycling and a condition is not set. However, it may be that the terms of the trust deed have been misconstrued or that the trusts are subsequently changed and satisfactory recycling is not secured. In such circumstances, we should want to have the power to set a condition after the grant has been paid and we believe that that would be entirely reasonable.

As I have said already, we expect such cases to arise rarely. I do not consider that there is a real threat to Church schools. I hope that the right reverend Prelate will accept my proposal for an amendment on Report and therefore will in due course see fit not to move his amendment.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

After the disappointment of Amendment No. 77, I am delighted at the announcement by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. As he said, the Churches have always accepted the principle that if public money is used to enhance trust assets and those trust assets in due course may be realised, then any public money should be returned. We have no difficulty with that.

The difficulty lay only in the power of the Secretary of State to impose requirements at any time after the making of a grant. Once again, we accept entirely the situation which the noble Lord has described, that there may, on occasions, be administrative oversights, and in those circumstances we are prepared to accept that a retrospective imposition would be right.

However, I am grateful to the noble Lord for the assurance that he has given that that power will be rarely used and for outlining the amendment which he will bring forward on Report to make it clear that such a retrospective condition would be imposed only when the Secretary of State regarded it as reasonable to do so. In those circumstances, I shall not move the amendment.

As Amendment No. 96 is the last amendment which we are considering this evening, I should say that at least one of your Lordships will be returning home tonight with a lighter heart.

Perhaps I may also express my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and her colleague, the Minister for Schools, for their graciousness in receiving representatives of the Churches to attempt to sort out some of those difficulties. Also, I thank the officials of her department for the way in which they worked so closely with staff of the Board of Education, the Catholic Education Service and the Free Church Federal Council. I believe that those consultations have enabled us to iron out most of the remaining difficulties that we have in this Bill, and I am delighted by the announcement made the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, this evening.

Lord Lucas

I should just like to thank the Minister very much for what he said. Indeed, I am quite content.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendments Nos. 93 and 94: Page 111, line 14, leave out ("new"). Page 111, line 22, leave out ("new").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 95 and 96 not moved.]

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.

House adjourned at eleven minutes past three o'clock.