HL Deb 14 May 2002 vol 635 cc142-218

3.6 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 31 [Responsibility for fixing dates of terms and holidays and times of sessions]:

Baroness Blatch

moved Amendment No. 138: Page 18, line 33, leave out subsection (3). The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 138, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 138A and 140.

Amendment No. 138 proposes removing the regulations outlined in subsection (3). If I am not successful in that amendment, I would invite the Minister, as outlined in Amendment No. 138A, to say when a parent is not an individual. I do not know many parents who are not individuals. The phraseology used in paragraph (d) of Clause 31(3) does seem unusual.

In Amendment No. 140, I use the five-term year as an example of the way in which the provisions in this part of the Bill are being used to impose on all schools without proper consultation a particular pattern for the year. So it would be helpful if the Minister would give us not only the Government's view on a five-term year, but assurances that, if there were to be any changes along the lines of a five or even six-term year, as is now being advocated, there will be proper safeguards in the consultation process.

I return to subsection (3). The Bill provides, I think, for a record number of sets of regulations. Each of those sets of regulations is usually supported by another document described as guidelines and/or guidance which will be sent to each school. As I have said so often, our schools are now so overburdened by the task of interpreting the legalese of regulations and following guidance and guidelines that they have to spend almost more time on that than working in the classroom with our children. Every time I seek to remove regulations from the Bill, I do so really in the interests of teachers and the time available to them. Predominantly, however, I do so in the interests of the children who wish to have teachers' attention focused on their learning rather than on interpreting regulations generated from the centre.

My second objection to the number of regulations in the Bill concerns central control. Why should the Government under Clause 31(3) prescribe the procedure to be followed,

  1. "(a) where the governing body of a school within subsection (1) propose to make any change in the time of the school sessions;
  2. (b) as to the implementation of any such proposal;
  3. (c) for enabling the local education authority to determine, for any purposes of the regulations, whether any person is to be treated as a parent of a registered pupil at the school"?
Why does that require central regulation? Under paragraph (d) of subsection (3), to which I have already referred, why may regulations make provision, that for all or any prescribed purposes of the regulations references to parents are to be read as excluding those who are not individuals"? I look forward with interest to hearing the noble Baroness's reply. I beg to move.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

I begin with Amendment No. 138. Subsection (3) of Clause 31 is the direct re-enactment of the existing Section 41(3) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. The regulations made under that section set out the procedure to be followed where schools wish to make changes to session times. We believe that this is important. It is crucial that parents are notified of changes that may be made to session times. That is particularly pertinent, of course, to working parents but it is important for all parents to be given time to reflect upon, understand and have a say in the matter. As I say, the legislation as it stands as reflected in Clause 31 recognises that significant impact. We believe, therefore, that it would be wrong to remove that protection set out in regulations, certainly without first consulting those affected. At present we detect no desire on the part of schools or education authorities to make changes to the current situation.

I turn to Amendment No. 138A. As I said, we do not believe that we can remove subsection (3) of Clause 31. However, as the noble Baroness said, Amendment No. 138A would remove only paragraph (d) of Clause 31(3). That measure is also a straightforward re-enactment. The subsection exists to deal with the apparent anomaly of an authority being required to consult itself as a corporate parent about changes to school session times. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, made an important point. The current regulations do not distinguish between corporate and other parents. Therefore, we are happy to accept Amendment No. 138A as drafted by the noble Baroness.

I turn to Amendment No. 140. Term dates are set by local education authorities or governing bodies depending on the category of school. As things stand, that decision is taken on a local basis. As the Committee will be aware, a small number of schools are already running a five-term year. Few representations have been made to the department to change the present arrangements under which school term dates are decided locally by those most affected. The consultation procedures appear to work well without the need for procedures to be set out in regulations.

It is, of course, inevitable that there is some variation of term dates from year to year. Variations in the date of Easter have always caused annual variations in term dates. That being the case, we do not believe that one particular model of a school year should be singled out in primary legislation. I recognise, of course, that the noble Baroness used that as an example. The Committee will also be aware that discuare that discussions are being undertaken at the moment with the Local Government Association on a fixed-term year as an alternative. Those proposals, of course, are not covered in the amendment although the Government have made it clear that for our part we would need to be convinced that there was widespread support for change before lending our support either through legislation or guidance.

Although it is not a statutory requirement, we expect local authorities to consult widely on issues that affect people in their areas. Currently, several authorities are consulting locally on changing to a six-term year. The evidence is that local education authorities understand the need for wide consultation. We therefore do not believe that a duty to consult is necessary here. I hope that in the light of those remarks the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Blatch

I am grateful and, in fact, almost overwhelmed that an amendment has been accepted and so early in the day. I hope that that sets the tone for the rest of the day.

As regards Amendment No. 138, the noble Baroness seemed to say that because the relevant measure is a reenactment it is all right. When I stood at the government Dispatch Box I used the argument, "It has been done before and therefore why cannot we do it again"? However, that is never an intellectually sound argument for doing anything. Just because something has been done before does not necessarily make it right. I argue that there is a case for removing the regulations that we are discussing.

In responding to Amendment No. 140, the noble Baroness appeared to say that local consultation works well, that the Government expect it to continue to work well and that therefore they see no reason why the measure should be included in the Bill. However, that same argument is used in favour of requiring regulations in subsection (3); namely, that it is important that consultation and the way in which procedures work locally must be bound by regulations set from the centre. If the argument against Amendment No. 140 is a sound one, why is it not also sound in terms of supporting Amendment No. 138? There is an inconsistency here. I shall wish to read what the noble Baroness said and digest it carefully. I may return to the matter, but in the meantime I am pleased that Amendment No. 138A has been accepted. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blatch

moved Amendment No. 138A: Page 18, line 41, leave out paragraph (d). On Question, amendment agreed to.

3.15 p m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

moved Amendment No. 139: Page 18, line 42, at end insert— () for the principles and procedures to be followed by the local education authorities and governing bodies of schools in determining the dates of the terms in any school year The noble Baroness said: The purpose of the amendment is to help pave the way for something that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has just admitted she is fundamentally against; that is, changing the school year. The amendment must be read in conjunction with Amendment No. 157 which we have already debated, but which, lest the Committee has forgotten what it says, attempts to define the concept of the school term as those days within any discrete period of the school year, on which pupils are required to attend school". Amendment No. 139 asks that an extra subsection be added after subsection (3) of Clause 31—the subsection that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said was otiose—to enable secondary legislation to set out the principles to be followed in determining the dates on which school terms and holidays are to begin and end. Together, these two amendments pave the way for local education authorities to move towards a standardised school year. Neither amendment is strictly necessary. The response given to Amendment No. 157 was that the LEA, or the governing body in relation to voluntary-aided and foundation schools, has a clear duty to determine the dates of holidays as well as terms. That means that half-term holidays and faith holidays can also be fixed by the local education authority and that does not leave any ambiguity. However, some of us feel that there is a degree of ambiguity in that regard. For the sake of completeness it would be helpful to have on the face of the Bill a definition of the school term and—this is where the relevant subsection comes in—the principles that are adhered to by the local authority in determining the school year.

The case for standardising the school year is well known. With children frequently moving from one area to another and LEAs varying their holiday patterns, sometimes by as much as two weeks in one direction or another, many families can be greatly inconvenienced. The long autumn and, when Easter is early, summer terms cause stress and illness among pupils and, more particularly, staff. For exam years half the summer term is effectively lost and exams often come at the peak of the hay fever season.

City technology colleges free from LEA constraints have for the past 10 years experimented with a five-term year. They claim that part of their success derives from the smoother pattern of teaching and study that that has promoted. The current pattern of the school year with its long holidays in July and August, to coincide with the harvest, dates back to the 19th century. The Local Government Association set in train consultation among local education authorities a couple of years ago in an attempt to reach agreement on some form of standardisation. That led to the setting up of an independent commission under Mr Chris Price, which has been consulting extremely widely. It came up with two proposals involving relatively minor changes which would, in effect, create a six-term year. Those changes are: the standardisation of a two-week break for the half-term in October, making, in effect, two seven-week terms between September and Christmas; and the standardisation of a two-week break, whatever the date of Easter, in the second and third week of April, so that there would be two six-week terms between Christmas and the April break, followed by two six-week terms in the summer. That would leave the five-week summer holiday effectively intact.

Those proposals have received wide support and many LEAs will begin moving towards them in 2003–04. As has been said, strictly speaking, no new legislation is required. However, the two amendments would help to clarify the purpose and the ease of the process of standardisation. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

There are two issues in this regard. The first involves a fundamental change in the structure of the school year and the decision whether to go from the current arrangement to a four-term, a five-term or even a six-term year. I have seen the literature on the six-term year and personally I am quite attracted to it. However, that is a personal view, which I do not advocate for schools. I have a difficulty about imposing a "one size fits all" policy on our education system, and I should want to think very long and hard about imposing that approach on every school in every LEA. In relation to any change in that regard, there should be full consultation and total involvement of parents and people in the local communities.

In turning to my second point, I shall speak on behalf of parents. There is incredible frustration among parents about the fact that different schools in their locality start and end terms at different times. That creates all sorts of tensions in families with two or more children, who attend different schools. Parents are run ragged trying to cope with the different dates for the beginnings and ends of terms. There is much to be done in that regard; we must have better co-ordination and put in place better arrangements so that parents are fully involved and can express views on the start and end of a term. That is a different point from that made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, but it would be interesting to hear the Minister's response.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

I was much taken by the statement by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, about the need to consider very carefully before imposing a "one size fits all" approach in this regard. As we discussed in relation to the previous amendment, term dates are currently set out by LEAs or governing bodies, depending on the category of the school. Clause 31, which will bring nursery schools into the arrangements, leaves that position intact.

We have had few representations to change the system because, I believe, the consultation procedure is working well. Members of the Committee will be aware of the relevant examples. In Wigan, the pattern of terms was changed locally. A detailed consultation was conducted—the relevant information will be available to Members of the Committee. East Sussex is often quoted as an example of an LEA that consulted on a six-term year. In light of responses to that consultation, it decided against that change.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, was right to say that there is not a specific statutory requirement to consult. However, we expect LEAs and school governing bodies to consult widely on issues affecting people in their area. We have no reason to believe that there is anything wrong in this regard. We believe that the procedure is working well. We should not seek to regulate LEAs and schools unless there is a clear need to do so. The evidence is that LEAs understand the need for wide consultation, give parents good notice of term dates and generally take their responsibilities in this area seriously. I believe that governing bodies of schools—often as advised by their LEAs—understand that, too.

In this context, there is no real need for regulation. The current procedures work well and there does not appear to be a need for further change. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I thank the Minister for her reply. As she pointed out, the process of consultation has been extremely wide. LEAs that are attracted to the idea are also consulting extremely widely—there is no question of them not consulting parents. They are going along that route for precisely the reason described by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch; namely, that many parents are very frustrated by the fact that school holidays do not coincide. There would he advantages to some standardisation. It is around that notion that LEAs are consulting. That is what lies behind the approach.

I accept what the Minister says. I was asked to advance the amendment by Mr Chris Price, who is leading the consultation, because, as I said, he felt that it would clarify the position and help the consultations to proceed. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 140 not moved.]

Clause 31, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 32 [Annual parents' meetings]:

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Tordoff)

We now come to Amendment No. 141. I point out that if Amendment No. 141 is agreed to, that will pre-empt Amendment No. 142.

Baroness Blatch

moved Amendment No. 141: Page 19, line 7, leave out subsection (2). The noble Baroness said: I wonder how independent schools exist at all. They do not have an LEA or a Department for Education and Science, and they do not have regulations galore, guidance or guidelines hut, somehow or other, they get by. That is the thinking that lies behind this amendment.

I really cannot understand why the Government believe that they have to make regulations—they will be issued from the centre by the Secretary of State—governing how schools conduct their annual parents' meeting. There is already in statute requirements about what has to be included in annual reports and about what information has to be given to parents about their children. What about the idea that there should be regulations about the purpose of the annual general meeting or about the circumstances in which a governing body will be exempt from the obligations imposed by Clause 1?

Subsection (1) states: Once in every school year the governing body … shall hold … an 'annual parents' meeting' … which is open to … the head teacher, and … such other persons as the governing body may invite". Why do we need regulations on that matter? We have previously discussed innovation projects. The Government accepted that a project may be intended to raise standards in a school. It may be wholly acceptable within a project, for one reason or another, not to hold an annual general meeting or to hold it in a different manner—perhaps once every two years, for example. That could be dealt with as part of the application for the innovation project. However, as a rule, having regulations in that context is wrong.

We also have regulations on the procedure to be followed for any such meeting. What is there to stop a school from deciding how to run its annual parents' meeting? Schools that reside in the leafy lanes of our country have little difficulty with annual meetings—when they call a meeting, it is well attended. People arrive and are told about the school and the progress of their children. There may be a guest speaker and everybody goes away happy. In other parts of the land, head teachers and diligent governing bodies work incredibly hard to raise interest in the annual meeting but have great difficulty getting parents to attend. In those cases, they resort to different ways—perhaps more entertaining or novel ways—of encouraging parents to come along. Why not leave the way in which meetings are conducted to the schools? As I said, they are already controlled by statute in terms of the information that they have to give to parents in other ways.

Then there are regulations which make provision for imposing requirements on the governing body, the head teacher and the local education authority in relation to resolutions which have been passed at any such meeting. They include requirements framed by reference to any opinion formed by the governing body. The nanny state is going too far in this respect.

Finally, there are regulations to enable the governing body or, as the case may be, the local education authority, to determine for purposes connected with the annual meetings whether any person is to be treated as the parent of a registered pupil at the school. Again, do we really need that?

Therefore, the thrust behind the amendment is that these regulations are a step too far. The amendment gives the Government an opportunity to take at least one set of regulations out of the Bill and give schools the space and freedom to exercise their own professional judgment. Schools already have an obligation set out in statute to inform parents about what is going on. We should leave them to be as innovative as they wish and should not seek for them to he governed by regulation. I beg to move.

3.30 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

We on these Benches have a great deal of sympathy with the amendment put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. We go along with subsection (1). We are anxious that there should be an annual parents' meeting. I believe it is important for there to be an obligation on a school to arrange a time at which to acquaint parents with the developments that have taken place and to keep them in touch with ideas that are developing within the school. However, it seems to be unnecessary for regulations to stipulate precisely what goes on. If the department considers it necessary to lay down suggested guidelines, why does it not introduce guidance rather than regulations? That would be far less heavy-handed. Therefore, as I said, we have much sympathy with the amendment.

The Earl of Sandwich

I, too, warmly support the noble Baroness's amendment. I do not understand why we are not all on our feet saying that here at last is an opportunity for there to be no regulations. Can one imagine a parents' meeting at which the parents have to check the regulations to see whether anything has been offended against; or can one imagine governors scurrying down the corridor to check exactly what is being said? It is unimaginable, and I hope that the noble Baroness will take this second opportunity to accept an amendment.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

Opportunities come only once in a while. I take note of what noble Lords have said. I confess that I smiled to myself slightly as I have chaired several annual parents' meetings. I believe that I fall into the category, described by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, of struggling to get parents to go along to meetings. However, I know from previous experience that parents are quick to attend an annual meeting if it is to discuss an issue of great concern to them. In other words, if something is going wrong in a school or if an issue is burning within a school, then parents feel the need to be at the school and to know exactly what the processes and procedures are. That is the thrust of what we are trying to achieve here.

I accept that one reason for seeking to introduce the regulations is so that we can reconsider these issues over time and not wait for primary legislation in order to do so. Therefore, we understand and appreciate the thrust of what Members of the Committee are saying. I also understand the desire that everyone has to ensure that the meetings are fulfilling for parents and that they are innovative and novel in terms of persuading parents to attend.

However, in this case we are in the business of introducing safeguards. It is appropriate that, where things are not as parents would wish them to be within a school, we consider how to ensure that they are able to exercise their rights. That is why, if 20 per cent of the parents of pupils at a school attended such a meeting, they would have the ability to pass resolutions. The provision is intended to give parents power if they are faced with an issue of huge concern. We believe that it is important to retain that opportunity.

Therefore, although I appreciate that the spirit of the amendment is to allow freedom within schools, the purpose behind our desire to keep the matter within regulations is to provide a safeguard for the moments when things do not go so well. Having chaired several annual meetings of parents, I do not believe that spending a great deal of time on formal business takes away from those meetings if things are going well.

I understand that the concept of such meetings was originally based on the idea of a company directors' meeting, and that is why they are rather formal. However, in terms of what can be achieved beyond the formal part of the meeting, I believe that many people have produced interesting and innovative ways of involving parents with discussions, guest speakers and so on.

Therefore, the regulations allow us to make adjustments and to accept that, as times goes on, things change. Nevertheless, on this occasion we believe that the safeguard is necessary. While I appreciate entirely the Committee's wish that annual meetings should not be anything other than occasions where people can debate matters, the regulations would ensure that, if something went wrong, a process would be in place to which parents could turn and use for their benefit. I hope that, on that basis, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Blatch

One argument that the noble Baroness employed against my amendment was that, when things went wrong, the procedures would be needed. I believe that she also said that parents can be persuaded to attend a school when things go wrong. I know of some schools where the head, the teachers and the governors work their socks off, yet where, frankly, sometimes things do go wrong. Those people would give their eye teeth for 20 per cent or more of their pupils' parents to attend their meetings and to take an interest in what is going on and appreciate what the school is trying to do to resolve some of the problems. In those circumstances, co-operation with parents would make all the difference. Those schools have to resort to non-traditional ways of holding meetings and have to employ far more innovation in order to persuade parents to go along. Therefore, I do not believe that that argument is of help.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, was absolutely right. One problem in relation to regulations—we have read of more regulations passing through this House in recent times than I care to think about—is that they do not make allowance for each and every school. Whatever goes into regulations usually applies across the board. They may distinguish between primary and secondary schools or between one category of school and another. However, by and large, they usually refer to all schools in a particular group. Therefore, I am not sure that regulations are sufficiently sensitive to allow for the type of freedom that I believe, given the obligation in subsection (1), schools and teachers should have.

The other argument used by the noble Baroness was that regulations would act as a safeguard for parents who were concerned about what went on in schools. However, we have an inspectorate. When inspectors enter a school, they make judgments about the quality of the relationship between the school and its parents and the interaction between the school and the children. As I said in relation to previous amendments, the children are interviewed by the inspectors without their teachers being present.

In that way, one can obtain a feeling for the way in which a school is responding to its parents and the way in which the school is meeting its obligations under the law in terms of informing its parents. Certainly it would be possible for the inspectorate to pick up whether the school was meeting its obligations under subsection (1) of Clause 32 and, if it were, perhaps to make comment on the good, bad or indifferent way that a school was trying to meet that obligation and trying to increase the number of parents who attended meetings. I am not satisfied with the Minister's answer. Therefore, I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.

3.38 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 141) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 129; Not-Contents, 119.

Division No. 1
Addington, L. Hooper, B.
Alton of Liverpool, L. Hooson, L.
Anelay of St Johns, B. Howe, E.
Ashcroft, L. Howe of Aberavon, L.
Astor of Hever, L. Howe of Idlicote, B.
Attlee,E. Jenkin of Roding, L.
Avebury, L. Jopling, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Kimball, L.
Blaker, L. Lane of Horsell, L.
Blatch, B. Linklater of Butterstone, B.
Bledisloe, V. Livsey of Talgarth, L.
Boardman, L. Lucas, L.
Boothroyd, B. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Burnham, L. McNally, L.
Buscombe, B. Maddock, B.
Byford, B. Marlesford, L.
Caithness, E. Masham of Ilton, B.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Carlile of Berriew, L. Michie of Gallanach, B.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Miller of Hendon,B.
Chadlington, L. Monson, L.
Chalfont, L. Montrose, D.
Coe,L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Colwyn, L. Moynihan, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L. [Teller] Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Cox, B. Newby, L.
Cuckney, L. Newton of Braintree, L.
Cumberlege, B. Northesk,E.
Dean of Harptree, L. Northover, B.
Denham, L. O'Cathain, B.
Dholakia, L. O'Neill of Bengarve,B.
Dixon-Smith, L. Onslow, E.
Dundee, E. Ouseley, L.
Eccles of Moulton, B. Park of Monmouth, B.
Elles, B. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Elliott of Morpeth,L. Plumb, L.
Elton, L. Prior, L.
Ezra, L. Rawlings, B.
Falkland, V. Redesdale,L.
Finlay of Llandaff, B. Rennard, L.
Flather, B. Renton, L.
Freeman, L. Rix, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Roberts of Conwy, L.
Geddes, L. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Geraint, L. Roper, L.
Gilmour of Craigmillar, L. Rotherwick, L.
Glentoran, L. Sandberg, L.
Goodhart, L. Sandwich, E.
Gray of Contin, L. Scott of Needham Market, B.
Hanham, B. Seccombe, B.[Teller]
Haslam, L. Selsdon, L.
Hayhoe, L. Sharp of Guildford.B.
Henley, L. Shutt of Greetland, L.
Higgjns, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Holderness, L. Smith of Clifton, L.
Holme of Cheltenham, L. Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L
Stevens of Ludgate, L. Vivian, L.
Strathclyde, L. Waddington, L.
Swinfen, L. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Taylor of Warwick, L. Wakefield, Bp.
Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Thomas of Gwydir, L. Walmsley, B.
Tope, L. Warnock, B.
Vinson, L. Williams of Crosby, B.
Acton, L. Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Ahmed, L. Hussey of North Bradley, L.
Alli, L. Irvine of Lairg, L. (Lord Chancellor)
Amos, B.
Andrews, B. Jones, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. King of West Bromwich, L.
Ashton of Upholland, B. Lea of Crondall, L.
Bach, L. Lipsey, L.
Barnett, L. Lockwood, B.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Berkeley, L. McCarthy, L.
Bernstein of Craigweil, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Bhatia, L. [Teller]
Billingham, B. MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
Borrie, L. Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L
Boston of Faversham, L. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Bragg, L. Massey of Darwen, B.
Brennan, L. Merlyn-Rees, L.
Brookman, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Mitchell, L.
Burlison, L. Morris of Manchester, L.
Carter, L. [Teller] Moser, L.
Clark of Windermere, L. Nicol, B.
Clarke of Hampstead, L. Northfield, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Orme, L.
Cohen of Pimlico, B. Paul, L.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L. Pendry, L.
David, B. Peston, L.
Davies of Coity, L. Pitkeathley, B.
Davies of Oldham, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B. Prys-Davies, L.
Desai, L. Puttnam, L.
Dixon, L. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Dubs, L. Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Evans of Parkside, L. Rendell of Babergh, B.
Evans of Temple Guiting, L. Richard, L.
Evans of Watford, L. Serota, B.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Sheldon, L.
Faulkner of Worcester, L. Simon, V.
Filkin, L. Smith of Leigh, L.
Fyfe of Fairfield. L. Stallard, L.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Gladwin of Clee, L. Strabolgi, L.
Goldsmith, L. Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Gordon of Strathblane, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Goudie, B. Temple-Morris, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Tenby, V.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Tomlinson, L.
Gregson, L. Turnberg, L.
Grenfell, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Grocott, L. Varley, L.
Hardy of Wath, L. Weatherill, L.
Haskel, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Haskins, L. Whitaker, B.
Hattersley, L. Whitty, L.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Wilkins, B.
Hogg of Cumbernauld, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Williams of Mostyn, L. (Lord Privy Seal)
Howie of Troon, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L. Winston, L.
Hunt of Chesterton, L. Woolmer of Leeds, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

3.49 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees

I cannot call Amendment No. 142 as it is pre-empted by the result of the Division.

Lord Rix

had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 142: Page 19, line 9, leave oul paragraph (b) The noble Lord said: Shall I be able to return to my amendment in some form or another on Report? If that is possible, I shall want to do 30.

Lord Carter

It is pre-empted by the result of the Division, but the noble Lord may return to it on Report.

Baroness Blatch

Although the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rix, has fallen as a result of the Division, I believe that he is saying that there is still an outstanding point to be made. My understanding is that it will be possible to bring back a free-standing amendment on Report so that the matter can be considered at that time.

[Amendment No. 142 not moved.]

Clause 32, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 33 agreed to.

Clause 34 [Staffing of community, voluntary controlled, community special and maintained nursery schools]:

The Chairman of Committees

I have to advise the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, and others that if Amendment No. 143 is agreed to, I shall not be able to call Amendment No. 144A because of pre-emption.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

moved Amendment No. 143: Page 20, line 39, leave out subsection (2) and insert— (2) Any teacher or other member of staff who is appointed to work under the direction of the headteacher of a school to which this section applies is to be employed by the local education authority under a contract of employment. The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 143, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 144 to 147 and 150 to 153. This group of amendments relates to Clauses 34 and 35. Clause 34 deals with staffing of community, voluntary-controlled, community special and maintained nursery schools and Clause 35 deals with staffing of foundation, voluntary-aided and foundation special schools.

Amendments Nos. 143, 144 and 150 seek to clarify that a member of staff, teaching or otherwise, employed at a maintained school, a voluntary foundation school or a voluntary-aided school works under the direction of the head teacher and must have a contract of employment either with the LEA or in the case of the foundation and voluntary-aided schools with the governing body. The wording of the Bill as it stands merely states that there shall be a contract of employment at a school.

The subtle change in the wording from that on the face of the Bill has a significant effect. It means that any member of staff who has had a conventional relationship with a head, working, in the case of teachers, under the reasonable direction of a head within the framework of the school teachers' pay and conditions document, must be an employee of the LEA under a contract of service and must not be self-employed or employed by an employment agency. That would help to resolve any problems with employment agencies over contractual terms and pay. It is a sensible measure. For teachers it will achieve a consistent application of the pay and conditions document and resolve technical legal anomalies about the subsection's powers of direction. If nothing else, it is a good issue for debate.

The amendment does not insist that all staff working for the school must be LEA or governing body employees. That would be instantly rejected as being inconsistent with a large number of the provisions of this Bill. Rather it seeks to refer the distinction between employees and others to the question of whether the head is directing the work of a subordinate staff member or managing the engagement of a self-employed contractor or employment business contractee.

Amendment No. 150 in Clause 35 has exactly the same purpose as Amendments Nos. 143 and 144. Amendments Nos. 145, 146, 151 and 152 are submitted at the behest of the National Association of Head Teachers because they feel that these issues must be spelt out by regulation. For head teachers there is no "may" in this matter. They must run their schools and need clear guidance on these delicate issues of staffing.

Amendments Nos. 147 and 153 aim to reinstate in primary legislation the principle that the LEA should have a role in the appointment of head teachers. Primary legislation currently contains the principle that LEAs can advise governing bodies on the appointment of heads, an important role if LEAs are also to have a duty of promoting high standards of educational provision in their areas. The Bill drops that provision from primary legislation. These amendments seek to reinstate it. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

I rise to speak to Amendments Nos. 144A, 146A, 149, 152A, 153A and 153B. Amendment No. 144A allows LEAs to employ staff in failing schools. Amendment No. 146A explains who works at a school otherwise than under contract. It would be helpful for the noble Baroness to explain precisely who they are talking about here. If they are volunteers, why are they not referred to as such? Part-time staff work under a contract; professional people work under a contract; full-time people work under a contract. Who are the people who are employed at a school but do not work under a contract?

Amendment No. 149 would negate the need for regulations in subsection (4). Amendment No. 152A again refers to staff who work otherwise than under a contract of employment. Again, I should like to know exactly what that means. Amendments Nos. 153A and 153B refer to the schedule on page 130. Given that we are talking in Part 2 about foundation, voluntary-aided and foundation special schools, I cannot understand why the arrangements for the staff in the school should be determined by the local education authority for those schools. The provision goes on to say that in foundation, voluntary-aided and foundation special schools, Except with the consent of the authority, the governing body shall not—(a) appoint any teacher to work at the school, or (b) dismiss any teacher at the school". It would be helpful to know from the noble Baroness what that means. As we have said, these provisions concern the arrangements for staffing. Staffing in those schools which are community schools and maintained schools, voluntary-controlled schools, community special schools and maintained nursery schools should be free to appoint their own staff, unless they are schools which are failing in which case it makes sense that that should come under the control of the LEA. In the case of the staffing of foundation, voluntary-aided and foundation special schools, Clause 35(2) says, Except as provided by regulations under subsection (4), any teacher or member of staff who is appointed to work under a contract of employment at a school to which this section applies is to be employed by the governing body of the school". Yet on page 130, Schedule 2, Part 2, it says that the arrangements for the staffing of the school—that is, foundation, voluntary-aided and foundation special schools—shall be determined by the LEA; except with the consent of the LEA the governing body shall not appoint a teacher or dismiss a teacher at the school. That seems to contradict what is being said in Clause 35. It would be helpful, first, to know who these people are who are employed in schools other than on contract; secondly, it would be helpful to have better clarification about what appear to be inconsistencies on the face of the Bill as it relates to foundation, voluntary-aided and foundation special schools and whether the Government will consider giving just a little more freedom and autonomy to schools over their staffing unless they are, through inspection or any other measure for measuring competence, not competent to do so.

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn

I support the questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I too am in some confusion as to how this relates to voluntary-aided and foundation schools. Secondly, can the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, say whether, if we replace the word "may" with "shall" in subsection (5)(e), it will place on local education authorities powers with regard to the voluntary-aided and foundation schools? I rise to ask those questions because I do not know the answers and believe that, as presently drafted, the Bill is in some confusion about the matter.

4 p.m.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

The regulations and statutory guidance under Clauses 34 and 35 will enable the Secretary of State to provide detailed staffing arrangements for schools. As Members of the Committee have said, Clause 34 applies to community, voluntary controlled, special and maintained nursery schools where the LEA is the employer and Clause 35 applies to foundation, voluntary-aided and foundation special schools where the governing body is the employer. Those regulations will include arrangements for the appointment, discipline and dismissal of teachers and other staff and provision of appropriate professional advice.

I shall deal with the specific amendments in their groups. I turn first to Amendments Nos. 143, 144 and 150. They refer to employment by the local education authority or governing body. The amendments would place difficult burdens on schools as they currently operate. They would place unhelpful limitations on both their existing and future scope in utilising various staffing resources from outside schools for delivering education.

In answer to the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, about who these people are, many schools currently use staff who are not employed under contracts of employment with the local education authority or the governing body of the school. If Amendments Nos. 143, 144 and 150 were introduced, schools and LEAs would be unable to make use of teachers from supply agencies or to use contracted-out support services, such as for meals or cleaning.

Equally fundamental, the amendments prevent schools innovating by bringing resources in from outside the school to improve the education provided. For example, the amendment means that staff from other schools or from further education establishments could not be shared and that innovative arrangements for delivering education, such as the use of information and communications technology (ICT), would be restricted. That would be a backward step. The Bill does not alter basic staffing positions in schools, but we want to allow schools greater flexibility to use imaginative, collaborative arrangements, including the sharing of staff where that is appropriate, in order to raise standards.

Amendments Nos. 147 and 153 concern head teachers. I hope that I can provide the reassurance for which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, searches. Clauses 34(5)(d) and 35(5)(e) already provide scope to include provisions in staffing regulations which confer functions on LEAs in respect of the appointment of head teachers.

We intend to include in staffing regulations the current position of local education authorities in respect of the appointment of head teachers. Those include the scope for LEAs to advise governing bodies about the appointment of head teachers and an entitlement for the LEAs to make representations to governing bodies where they consider any candidates for head teacher vacancies are unsuitable. In the case of foundation, voluntary aided and foundation special schools, the advisory role of the LEA would, as now, be subject to advisory rights being agreed with the governing bodies of each such school.

Amendments Nos. 145, 146, 151 and 152 seek to insert that the Secretary of State "shall" instead of "may" make staffing regulations. The amendments place a duty on the Secretary of State to make particular provisions on all the matters identified in Clauses 34(5) and 35(5). As to the appointment of a head teacher, we believe that we are justified in taking a detailed approach in the interests of educational standards. We shall make provision on this matter in staffing regulations with further details and guidance. However, we may want over time to move other detailed matters to guidance.

Regulations could ignore minor matters and those effectively covered in general employment and good practice. They could take a detailed approach to important school-specific matters where the general employment law does not suffice. We need an enabling provision to achieve that. That is why we believe that "may" rather than "shall" is the most appropriate drafting.

The policy statement which sets out our intentions under Clauses 34 and 35 is available in the Library of your Lordships' House. We shall in due course consult representatives of all interested parties about proposals for the final content of the regulations.

Amendment No. 144A seeks to make a radical change to the staffing arrangement for community voluntary controlled, community special and maintained nursery schools. It removes the general arrangements for staff at these schools to be employed under contracts of employment with the local education authority. As the noble Baroness has said, this provision for employment by the LEA would only come into force where such a school failed to satisfy Ofsted as to its general standard of education and school management.

Community schools already have the option of seeking to become foundation schools and so taking on the rights of employment. Most have chosen not to do so and to remain with the arrangement whereby most staff are employed under contracts with the local education authority. That is their choice. Forcing them to take on direct employment responsibilities could be potentially damaging for the stability and success of those schools.

The staffing of schools accounts for the greatest cost in the funding of schools. It is important that resources are spent wisely in accordance with good practice and with appropriate professional advice. It is important that all schools have workable and effective staffing arrangements. Suddenly applying those measures when schools fall into failure will not make much difference in the short term. It would be far better to have arrangements which help schools to avoid failing in the first place.

Good employment practice produces results over the long term. Bad or inappropriate appointments made over the years, poor management of staff and inadequate professional advice, are not matters which can be turned around quickly. Getting the matter right in the long term is more effective than hasty measures when the damage has been done. The amendment makes it more likely for schools to stumble into failure because it takes away the checks and balances that can pick up danger signals and keep staffing arrangements in the bounds of good employment practice.

I now turn to Amendment No. 149. For similar reasons I do not support the amendment. It leaves foundation, voluntary aided and foundation special schools to their own devices in deciding arrangements for staffing. They would be left largely unaccountable and free to carry out those responsibilities in whatever way they saw fit until they fell—if they fell—into failure, when of course it would be too late to prevent failure caused by bad staffing practices.

Those schools are state maintained. It is right that basic arrangements for good practice and receiving appropriate professional advice should apply to them. Two examples of the kind of provision that will be covered in regulations and guidance help to highlight this aspect. The selection of a head teacher is of course the most important decision that a school takes. Getting the right person and someone who will be able to work effectively with the governing body is the bedrock of any successful school. Regulations and guidance will ensure that the selection of a head is conducted in a consistent way for all schools, following appropriate advertisement and so on.

On the question of professional advice, the local education authority will have entitlement to make representations to the governing body about unsuitable applications or where there is serious concern about the performance of a serving head teacher. In addition, and as applies at present, the local education authority will be able to agree advisory rights on all teacher appointments and dismissals. It is important that all schools are subject to those arrangements to ensure that the matters are handled appropriately and consistently.

Amendments Nos. 146A and 152A deal with the question of provision and regulations for staff otherwise than under a contract of employment. The amendments prevent the Secretary of State making regulations which deal with the appointment of teachers and other staff, otherwise than under contracts of employment with the LEA or governing body as the case may be. The regulations are intended to establish safeguards to ensure that schools act consistently and with good practice. We shall be consulting on the necessary arrangements for the employment of staff otherwise than under a contract of employment. But our overarching intention is to give schools the scope to use effectively services provided in this way.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 153A and 153B—

Baroness Blatch

I thank the Minister for giving way. The noble Baroness has not returned to my fundamental question: who is employed at a school otherwise than under a contract of employment? To my knowledge, that could cover only voluntary labour. It is not a sessional worker, a part-time worker and/or a full-time teacher or full-time member of staff.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

I thought that I answered that within my first grouping when I described those who worked as cleaners or for the provision of meals, which are contracted out services. People who come into a school from a different school or a further education establishment, or—in looking at the world of information technology—people who may be employed on a different basis other than a contract of employment to provide services to the school are examples. I hope that that satisfies the noble Baroness. I did cover the matter earlier.

Baroness Blatch

It does not cover the matter because Clause 35(5)(b) states that, teachers and other staff to work at a school otherwise than under a contract of employment". That is not "a contract of employment to the school", but "otherwise than under a contract of employment". Anyone coming in to work at a school, whether a caretaker, cleaner, someone to mend the roof or someone to put some tarmac down in the playground, is someone who would be "under a contract", which is the actual wording on the Bill, but not necessarily under a contract to the school as the employer.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My understanding, having taken legal advice, is that the way that the amendment is framed would mean that those people would have to be under a contract of employment to a school and that people who work, for example, providing a consultancy or advisory service on technical aspects of information and communications technology may not be under a specific contract of employment. They may be self-employed individuals who give their services to a company with whom a school may sub-contract. The way that the amendment is phrased means that we would have to have contracts of employment. We are trying to ensure that schools are able to develop flexible arrangements, with which I am sure the noble Baroness agrees, under which people can work within schools under different arrangements from those of a contract of employment.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I thank the Minister for her replies, which are inevitably complex because they relate to a complex set of amendments. I return to the issue of agency or contract staff employed at schools whose contract of employment is with a different employer. Regulations lay down terms for the governance of the school. School governors must follow them for employment of staff.

The distinction that we were trying to make in Amendments Nos. 143, 144 and 150 is between those who are under the direction of a head, who will have a contract of employment either with the LEA or with the governing body itself, and those who are under the direction of someone else, because they are employed by someone else. That is a useful distinction to make, which is why we tabled the amendments. I am not totally convinced by the Minister's answer on that point, and we shall need to return to the issue. I shall not press the amendments but we shall probably table them again on Report to tease out the issue a little further.

The Minister's answer about the other amendments was somewhat more reassuring. I take her point about the "may"s and "shall"s. We now have the policy statement, so we have some idea of the terms of the regulations. That is reassuring to the National Association of Head Teachers. One can understand why it is worried by the provision and it is important that it has clear guidance. That is why we tabled those amendments.

On the amendments relating to local education authorities and the appointment of heads, I take on board the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. Local authorities have an advisory role but perhaps not an appointment role. We tabled the amendments to make the point that that advisory role should be maintained. The Minister's reassurances answer that point. I shall not press those amendments.

4.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

It may save time if I return to my amendments now rather than wait until they are called in numerical order. I think that I was satisfied by one of the Minister's answers, but I shall read it to make sure. That concerned whether a community school, a maintained nursery school a community special school or a voluntary-controlled school could opt to become a foundation school, which would give it more freedom. But the Minister then negated that point by saying in relation to Amendments Nos. 153A and 153B that there was a good case for the provision in Schedule 2, Part 2, which states: The arrangements for the staffing of the school shall be determined by the local education authority", for foundation, voluntary-aided and foundation special schools. It continues: Except with the consent of the authority, the governing body shall not … appoint any teacher to work at the school, or … dismiss any teacher at the school". I am not sure that I totally understand the Minister's point, other than that it was important that local education authorities kept some control because those are state-funded schools. My understanding was that foundation, voluntary and voluntary-aided schools had the freedom to appoint their own staff. Indeed, that was the argument used by the Minister to argue against my point about community, voluntary-controlled, community special and maintained nursery schools. So I am in a quandary.

I am bamboozled by what the Minister said about those who work at a school otherwise than under a contract. People who work in schools are under some form of contract, whether they are sessional or part-time workers of some kind or full-time staff. That applies whether they are caretakers, cleaners, catering staff, teachers or head teachers. As the Minister rightly said, other people work in schools who are under contract—who may have a maintenance contract for technical equipment. Other people provide supply teachers to the school. All sorts of other advisory people may work in the school. It is right that the school has a view about how they carry out their work on school premises and how they relate to the children.

But my understanding of how that works legally is that the contract drawn up by the agency that provides staff or with the company that provides the service to the school includes within it the constraints that will govern how those people will work on the premises and that there is no need to overlay that with another set of regulations that operate outside the direct contract of a school with either the commercial company, the voluntary sector or the teacher supply agency. So I am not entirely convinced.

If the noble Baroness is right—and I question whether she is—that "otherwise than under a contract" applies to anyone not directly employed by the school, the wording should be "otherwise than those directly employed under contract by the school". They will all be under a contract of employment with some concern—either their own employer, their agency or whatever. The contract between a school and the employer or agency will be where all the constraints and regulations should be imposed.

So I am unhappy with some of the Minister's responses and, like the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, I think that we shall return to the matter.

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn

On the other hand, I am relatively happy with the carefully crafted words of the Minister in response to my queries. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for conceding the point about subsection (5)(e). I do not want anything that I said to be misunderstood as being against the proper partnership between the LEA and voluntary schools. I regard that as important, not least because of the educational advice that the LEA can provide on the appointment of head teachers and staff. I am grateful for the Minister's clarification, which I shall read carefully. Some complex issues have been raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Blatch and Lady Sharp. I shall need to consider those before deciding how to proceed.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 144 to 147 not moved.]

Clause 34 agreed to.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

moved Amendment No. 148: After Clause 34, insert the following new clause— "EMPLOYMENT RIGHTS () In section 81 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (c. 31) (application of employment law during financial delegation) there is inserted— (3) No order may be made under this section so as to have the effect of denying to any person employed to work at any community, voluntary controlled, community special or maintained nursery school any of the rights he may have as an employee in respect of any power or duty imposed upon local education authorities by or under any enactment relating to employment as mentioned in subsection (1) and falling to be discharged by the authority in consequence of the operation of section 34(3) of the Education Act 2002 (staffing of community, voluntary controlled, community special and maintained nursery schools). (4) Regulations made under this section shall not have effect so as to release a local education authority from any duty imposed upon it by or under any enactment relating to employment by virtue of its status as an employer consequent upon the operation of subsection (3)." The noble Baroness said: This is another amendment that relates to employment rights. It purpose is to rectify a clear and serious anomaly in the law arising from local management of schools and its resulting three-party employment structure for teachers and other school staff. The problem was clearly identified in the courts in the case of Askew v the London Borough of Ealing. The amendment concerns the exercise of powers where a school ceases to exist as a separate entity on the occasion of a merger with another school or of its closure following a fresh start initiative.

LEAs employ teachers other than those who work in voluntary-aided and foundation schools in the legal sense that they are party to contracts of employment. The governing bodies of community and controlled schools, however, have certain employment powers conferred on them by statute. Those powers are defined in the Education (Modification of Enactments Relating to Employment) Order 1999, for which Section 81 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 makes continuing provision, as powers of appointment, suspension and dismissal.

As governing bodies of community and controlled schools are not employers, there is no transfer of staff from one employer to another in school mergers in which the schools merging are both community or controlled schools, even though the undertaking of each school is transferring from one governing body to another. The effect is the same as if there were no TUPE protections. Teachers are dismissed from their school by reason of redundancy on closure and can do nothing but hope that they will be selected for posts in the new school, all of which are deemed to be vacancies. The issue was taken up with the right honourable David Blunkett, when he was Secretary of State, after the decision in the Askew v. London Borough of Ealing case. He was advised that his powers under primary legislation did not extend to enabling him to make the necessary changes by amending the Education (Modification of Enactments Relating to Employment) Order 1999.

An amendment similar to this was tabled by my honourable friend Mr Phil Willis in Committee and on Report in the other place. In his response on Report, the Minister, Mr Stephen Timms, said: First, the current arrangements for dismissals in community, voluntary controlled and community special schools, which are set out in schedule 16 to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, require employing local education authorities to terminate the contracts of employees where their governing bodies have made determinations that they should cease to work at their schools. That requirement ensures that the employing LEA does not have to consider, in line with normal employers' duties, alternative employment options elsewhere in the authority area, including inquiries with other schools or services, in attempting to avoid redundancies. I understand the concern about that arrangement. The provisions of schedule 16 will be moved to staffing regulations under clause 34. We shall consult on the content of those regulations. In doing so, we shall give attention to the drafting of the staff dismissal provision, so that governing bodies will be required to give LEAs notice of impending redundancies. We shall make it clear that LEAs will be subject to the same duties as they are for their other staff and have to consider alternatives to redundancies before resorting to terminating contracts… Secondly, I will give further thought to the doubt that now surrounds some transfers of staff to and from maintained schools, following the Askew judgment. That judgment was clear, but its terms and explanation raised some questions. The Bill may already clarify the employment position sufficiently to ease the problem, but I am prepared to consider it further".—[Official Report, Commons, 6/2/2002; col. 970.] The amendment suggests a new formulation of the principle that might be more acceptable to the Government. However, we must know whether the Government will agree to use the opportunity to rectify the legal anomaly and put in the Bill a safeguard for teachers in such situations. Has the Minister thought further about the issue? I beg to move.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

In so far as it seeks to protect the employment rights of school employees, the amendment is commendable. However, it would make no difference to the principles or practice of an order modifying employment enactments for the purposes of delegated staff functions of school governing bodies. The protection of employment rights was upheld in the only order made under Section 81 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 and the only order made under its predecessor, Section 222 of the Education Reform Act 1988.

I assure the Committee that we have no intention of introducing an order that might diminish pre-existing employment rights. On the contrary, the purpose of an order made under Section 81 is to give full effect to employment rights where employment powers are delegated from local education authority employers to school governing bodies. That ensures that those who take such decisions are properly accountable for them under employment law.

The order made under Section 81 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 that currently applies does not diminish the employment rights of staff. Nor does it release any employer from duties imposed by employment enactments. Local education authority employers do not carry out all employer functions if a school is operating with delegated powers, but the authority still has a role in advising governing bodies. Depending on the circumstances, the authority may be made an additional party to proceedings if an employment tribunal application has been made against a governing body.

The amendment is unnecessary. In asking the noble Baroness to withdraw it, I reinforce the assurance given in the other place by my honourable friend the Minister of State for School Standards about the rights of school staff employed by LEAs when redundancies are in prospect. We shall make it clear that LEAs will be subject to the same duties as they are for their other staff and must consider alternatives to redundancies before resorting to termination of contracts, when governing bodies no longer need any of their staff. That position is not the result of an order made under Section 81 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, but of a staffing provision in Schedule 16 to that Act, which this Bill will repeal and replace with regulations and statutory guidance issued under Clause 34.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, said, my honourable friend the Minister for School Standards said that we would give further thought to the doubts that surround some transfers of staff to and from maintained schools, following the Askew judgment. We have carefully examined transfers of staff between schools in the light of that judgment and the questions that it raised. Practical experience of current staffing arrangements does not make a clear case that there is a problem in that area. In addition, we consider that the provision for staffing arrangements in Clauses 34 and 35 will remove any adverse effects on employment rights. We will consult on the regulations and statutory guidance to be issued under those clauses before they come into effect. We will, of course, listen carefully to any representations that we receive concerning the protection of the employment rights of staff. I hope that, on that basis, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I thank the Minister for her reply. I take on board the fact that she feels that the provisions of Clauses 34 and 35 and the regulations to be made under them will be sufficient.

It is, as the Minister will agree, a complex issue. We will examine her answer carefully and think about whether we need to come back to her directly or on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 35 [Staffing of foundation, voluntary aided and foundation special schools]:

[Amendments Nos. 149 to 153 not moved.]

Clause 35 agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Effect on staffing of suspension of delegated budget]:

[Amendments Nos. 153A and 153B not moved.]

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clause 36 agreed to.

Clause 37 [Interpretation of Chapter 1]:

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

moved Amendment No. 154: Page 24, leave out lines 3 to 6. On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Walmsley

moved Amendment No. 155: Page 24, line 10, leave out "or a maintained nursery school The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 155, I shall also speak to Amendment No. 156. They are probing amendments. There are several inconsistencies in the Bill relating to the definition and status of nursery schools. We would like to know, quite simply, whether the various provisions apply to maintained nursery schools, rather than debate whether the application of the Bill's provision would bring benefits or disadvantages to nursery schools.

I shall give detail of the places where clarification is needed. I am aware that the Minister has had notice of that. In Clauses I to 4, the measures on innovation appear to apply to nursery schools. Is that correct?

In Chapter 2, Clauses 5 to 9, we assumed that earned autonomy does not apply. Why is that? In Chapter 3, Clauses 10 to 12, are we correct in believing that the measures about companies apply? In Part 2, we wonder whether Clauses 13 to 17 in relation to grants apply.

In Part 3, Chapter 1, do the measures on the government of maintained schools apply to nursery schools? In Chapter 2, on the financing of maintained schools, will nursery school funding be part of the local education authority's school budget and the individual school's budget, as defined under Clause 39?

In Chapter 3, Clause 44, will nursery schools be represented on admissions forums? Am I right in assuming that Clause 49 on exclusions applies? Does Clause 50 relating to attendance targets apply, even though it is ridiculous to set attendance targets for non-compulsory education?

In Part 4, we believe that Clause 51 applies, but what about Clauses 52 to 56, which appear not to apply? Perhaps the Minister can give us some clarification on that.

In Part 5, does Clause 69 apply? I assume that Clause 70 applies to nursery schools and that they can be part of a federation school.

There are places where Parts 6 and 7 apply where relevant. I assume that all of Part 8 applies, but is there any clause in Part 8 which does not apply to nursery schools?

I presume that Part 9 on childcare and nursery education applies. I assume that Part 10 applies where relevant.

In Part 11, does Clause 179 apply to trainee teachers in nursery schools? We presume that it does but perhaps the Minister will clarify that. Are there any implications in terms of the provision of free school meals to part-time pupils in maintained nursery schools? Do Clauses 197 and 198 apply? I understand that they amend previous legislation to make way for the foundation stage, so clearly they affect nursery schools?

What are the implications in Clause 200 for the recoupment of funds to nursery schools? Does primary education in this clause at page 121, line 38, include education in nursery schools? I beg to move.

4.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

I rise only to support the noble Baroness in asking those questions. Reading the Bill, it seems impossible to ascertain what does and does not apply. Maintained nursery schools are specifically mentioned in some parts of the Bill, but in other parts they are not. In some cases, therefore, it is implicit that they are included and it is seen fit to put that on the face of the Bill. However, it is important to ensure that we know what parts of the Bill pertain and have an impact on which category of school.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I am in a little difficulty. The question is whether it would be more appropriate to write to the two noble Baronesses who have raised the points—I could certainly do that—or whether they and the Committee have the patience for me to deal in detail with all the questions that were asked. They were asked in advance and I believe that I have the answers to hand.

If that is the wish of the Committee, I will gladly do that while prefacing what will be an inordinately long reply by saying that the intention behind the Bill is to bring nursery schools within the scope of the governing body in school management requirements in Part 3. We have been out to extensive consultation on this matter and had an overwhelming response in favour of the broad framework.

Baroness Walmsley

Before the Minister goes any further, it may be helpful to him to know that I shall be content for him to write to me about the detail of my amendment.

Baroness Blatch

I am sorry to add a sour note but I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has done some painstaking work in asking the questions and it is important that they should receive an answer. We in the Chamber are self-indulgent but another body of people is most interested in the answers. If we receive a letter from the Minister, that will be helpful to us in improving our understanding, but the answers will not be a matter of public knowledge. Therefore, for the sake of the record it is important that the answers are given in the Chamber. Those who are concerned and who ultimately will be affected by the clauses will then be able to read the Government's response.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I am of a puritanical rather than self-indulgent frame of mind, so here goes!

The first question related to the power to innovate, earned autonomy and school companies. It is the case that maintained nursery schools are explicitly identified as qualifying schools. That is to be found on page 2, line 13, in Chapter 1 of the Bill.

As regards Chapter 2, Clauses 5 to 9, the noble Baroness asked whether earned autonomy applies and why. Maintained nursery schools are not judged against normal performance/leadership criteria. The flexibilities under earned autonomy are limited to teachers' pay and conditions and the national curriculum. There is no freedom for maintained nursery schools in relation to the foundation stage of the national curriculum and therefore there is little to be gained by maintained nursery schools qualifying for earned autonomy.

On Chapter 3, Clauses 10 to 12, the noble Baroness asked whether the powers to form companies applies. Yes, those provisions do apply. Clause 10(8) defines "maintained school" to include maintained nursery schools. As regards Part 2 relating to new grant-making powers, the noble Baroness asked whether Clauses 13 to 17 apply. Yes, all those clauses apply. I think that is an obvious point.

On Part 3, Chapter 1, the provisions apply to the government of maintained schools. Clause 37(1) defines "maintained school" to include maintained nursery schools for Clauses 18 to 38. Clause 27(3) and (4) make one exception regarding the power to send pupils elsewhere for training.

On Chapter 2, the financing of maintained schools, the noble Baroness asked whether nursery school funding will be part of the local education authority's school budget and individual school's budget, as defined under Clause 39. Yes, paragraph 99 of Schedule 21 amends the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.

The noble Baroness asked whether nursery schools will be represented on admissions forums, dealt with in Chapter 3, Clause 44. No, they will not. Again, that is an obvious point. As she said, Clause 49 relating to exclusions and the power of head teachers to exclude pupils, does apply, but she asked whether Clause 50 relating to attendance targets applies. No, Clause 50 does not apply. As the noble Baroness indicated, it would be rather ridiculous to set attendance requirements for pupils who are not under a statutory obligation to attend.

On Part 4 relating to the powers of intervention, the noble Baroness said that Clause 51 setting out the duty to notify where inspection shows schools causing concern applies but asked whether Clauses 52 to 56 apply. Clauses 52 to 56 do indeed apply. Paragraph 92 of Schedule 21 amends the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.

As regards Part 5 on school organisation, Clauses 62 to 68 do not apply. Clause 69 proposes alteration by the governing bodies of community schools. Nursery schools are not community schools, so that does not apply.

The noble Baroness presumed that Clause 70 on proposals to establish a federated school does apply as nursery schools can be part of a federation of schools. Indeed they can and therefore those provisions apply also to nursery schools.

In Parts 6 and 7, the curriculum in England and Wales, it is correct that that applies where it is relevant. Part 9 relating to childcare and nursery education also applies.

I believe that I have dealt with the main points that the noble Baroness raised. However, if there are additional questions to which she needs answers I have one or two additional points in my brief. I was not sure whether in her long list of questions she had covered everything.

Baroness Walmsley

I thank the noble Lord for his reply. I also asked whether Clause 179 would apply to trainee teachers in nursery schools. Perhaps he could respond to that point.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I apologise to the noble Baroness. She did indeed raise the point with me whether student loans, covered in Clause 179, would apply to trainee teachers in nursery schools. It would depend on the regulations governing the loans.

The noble Baroness also asked about LEA functions with regard to school lunches, school milk provision and so forth. In response to her question about whether there are any implications in terms of the provision of free school meals to part-time pupils in nursery schools, the clause would remove the entitlement of children whose attendance does not span the lunchtime period. I am sure that the noble Baroness will recognise that that is reasonable. This was done in response to LEA concerns about the impracticality of meeting the requirement when the child is not in school or the school is not open.

Any children currently receiving free school meals will of course be protected. Children currently attending stand-alone nurseries are not entitled to free school meals. The Bill rectifies that where such children attend over the lunchtime period. In due course, when funds become available in the period 2004–05, the entitlement will also be extended to non-maintained settings.

I hope that those responses have now covered most of the points raised by the noble Baroness.

Baroness Blatch

I realise that it may have been tiresome for the noble Lord to have to go into such detail, but it is extremely helpful for those who follow our debates to know exactly what are the Government's responses to all the questions put by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley.

I turn to the response that the Minister has just given to the noble Baroness in regard to student loans. My understanding from every policy statement made by the Government when referring to concessionary arrangements for teachers was that they were related to specific subjects. Indeed, those subjects have even been named. Given that people in nursery schools do not teach specific subjects as such, then when the noble Lord said that it would depend on the regulations, the policy does not include nursery school teachers. Should I take it from the noble Lord's response that the policy might be extended or that the Government are about to make another announcement?

Lord Davies of Oldham

I may have been slightly less precise than I ought with regard to the regulations on student loans. As the noble Baroness will know only too well, the issue is that the loans are subject to very significant revision and review which is being carried out by the department at the present time. However, I do not want to raise the hopes of the noble Baroness that we have extended the criteria in this respect. That is not the case.

Baroness Blatch

My interpretation is not the central issue here, but I think that teachers in nursery education may well have misinterpreted what the noble Lord has said; namely, that this is all about regulations. In fact, I understand that it is about pending policy.

Baroness Walmsley

I thank the noble Lord for his detailed answers. I should like to study them before seeking to respond and consider whether any of these issues will need to be brought back on Report.

I wish to make only one comment. The noble Lord said that under Clause 44 in Chapter 3, nursery schools will not be represented on admissions forums. It will be well known to Members of the Committee that the notion of schools forums is not much favoured by noble Lords on these Benches. However, we feel that if they do come into existence, then maintained nursery schools should be represented on them. With those comments, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 156 and 157 not moved.]

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

moved Amendment No. 158: Page 24, line 17, leave out subsection (2). On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 37, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 38 agreed to.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Lucas

moved Amendment No. 159: After Clause 38, insert the following new clause— "RELIGIOUS GUIDANCE (1) The School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (c. 31) is amended as follows. (2) In section 91 (special arrangements to preserve religious character of foundation or voluntary aided school) after subsection (1) insert— (1A) Before proposing any special arrangements, and at intervals of no more than five years where such special arrangements are in force, the governing body shall take note of any relevant guidance issued by any religious authorities which the governing body acknowledges as having influence over the school." The noble Lord said: I wish to begin by saying that I do not have any particular attachment to the wording of this amendment. It seeks more to find out what might be possible rather than to provide a recipe for a particular solution. I wish also to say that I am a strong believer in the right and the desirability of having religious foundation schools in this country. They make a great contribution to our nation's education system.

However, by such a school I refer to one in which the teaching and ethos of the school accord with a particular religious point of view. I do not see that that has to imply that the school becomes a ghetto which only members of that religion can attend. It may appeal to some, but I think that in certain circumstances that may be quite a destructive way to run a school, in particular for local communities. For myself, I cannot see why an adherence of, say, over 50 per cent to a particular religion plus control over the religious beliefs of the key teaching staff should not suffice to ensure that a school is run according to a particular religious ethos. In going any further than that, a school in the maintained sector ought to take account of the effect that becoming a religious ghetto has on the surrounding community.

In the course of my business as the publisher of the Good Schools Guide, I have seen a large number of parents become extremely upset when they found that they had been excluded from their neighbouring schools. This can take place from inner-city London to leafy Hertfordshire. It is extremely difficult, when it so happens that your local school is one religion and you are not, that you then have to go a long way to locate what may be considered to be a less good school. This is now happening in the maintained sector. We do not have religious hospitals and we do not have party political schools. The system in a sense imposes a considerable inconvenience on those who are not of a particular religion. The question then arises: is such inconvenience and hurt to the local community justified by the freedom which we choose to accord to religions to run state schools?

When the Bill was considered in another place, amendments were tabled, I believe, by the Liberal Democrats proposing that there should be regulations covering what proportion of a school's intake could be selected on religious grounds. I cannot see how that would work in practice. How can that be judged when one is sitting in the centre? When dealing with a particular case on the ground, it might not matter. It might be perfectly acceptable for a particular school to comprise entirely one religion. That may not cause any noticeable diminution of the educational opportunities for the rest of the community. For myself, I cannot see that it matters that the London Oratory is entirely Catholic. It is easy to travel around London and gain access to many other schools. I cannot see that it is important to regulate to ensure that half the pupils in JFS should not be Jewish.

On the other hand, there are schools in leafy Hertfordshire which used to be open to all religions, but are now closed to all but one faith. Considerable local upset has been caused. This must be something for local decision and, again, I do not see why this power should be given to local education authorities because that would go against the whole thrust of how we are seeking to introduce greater freedom for schools. My personal inclinations, too, err towards greater freedom for schools.

I look on the amendment as another way of tackling the problem. When this point was discussed in the debate on Second Reading, the Bishops were loud in their belief that there was a social dimension to their mandate, that they did have to take the effect on local communities into account, that local opinion was important to them and that it would influence how they wanted to run their schools. I believe that that is also as true of the Roman Catholic Church, as it is true of the one or two Muslim schools with which I have had opportunity to discuss this matter.

Given that that is the case and given that these major religions will account for the great majority of religion-based schools, and that Parliament and the media have ways of influencing what attitude the great religions will take towards the schooling of which they are in charge, it would be right to use those means to seek to change the way in which some Church schools have closed their doors to certain other religions and thus to have an effect on the disadvantages that that policy has brought to local communities.

I should like a system whereby the Churches have a power over the schools within their flock. They should be able to ask those schools to have regard to guidance which they had formulated on balancing the needs of the religion to which their members are adherents and those of the local community. They should be able to ask the governing body, not too frequently, to come to a decision based on that guidance. It should be of sufficient comfort if we are then able to take the Church of England or any other Church to task in the context of any perceived hurt as a result of putting that guidance into practice.

We should not try to regulate centrally on how religious schools manage their intake. From what was said at Second Reading, I believe that such a system would produce a situation with which I felt comfortable. I hope that we do not have to go down the road proposed as regards regulation. I look forward to hearing what other noble Lords have to say. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

As my noble friend spoke, I was at times on his side and at times not so certain. I came full circle. My noble friend makes an interesting proposition. I agree that this is not an area for regulation.

The truth is that there are faith schools. Parents of children of a particular faith, Muslim, Catholic or Anglican, would expect to be given access to a school of that faith. They would be very upset if there were some form of quota system—I understand that my noble friend is against that—which determined by informal or formal methods that X per cent of the school shall be made available to children not of that faith and that only a certain percentage of children of the faith could be received into the school. It is a stepping stone to schools becoming secular rather than faith schools. Therefore, I have difficulty on that point.

I have difficulty also as regards regulations, as proposed in an amendment in another place. First, there are a large number of faith schools in our country—Jewish, Catholic, Anglican and Muslim. They offer places predominantly to children of the faith of those schools. However, there has been a tradition, in particular in the Anglican Church, for places to be made available to children who live in the local area. Many faith schools have a good record of receiving children who are not of the faith but whose parents wish them to be educated in a school with a Christian, Muslim or Jewish ethos.

I visited the King David school, an exceptionally good school in Liverpool. I understand that fewer than half the children who attend the school are of the Jewish faith. Therefore, more than half are not of the Jewish faith. In addition to the national curriculum which all those schools are required to follow, there is a distinct Jewish ethos. One walks out of that school feeling very good about education. There is an exceptional mentoring system. The ethos within the school is exceptional. There is clearly a generous approach to young people of that area being accepted into the school.

I assume, because I do not know, that places are made available to children not of the Jewish faith because there are not enough children of the Jewish faith to take those places. I should like priority to be given to children of that faith who wish to take those places rather than having them taken by children of other faiths. The same argument applies to Anglican, Catholic and Muslim schools.

With regard to Muslim schools, I am not certain whether doors are opened similarly to children not of the Muslim faith. My caveat is that there are few of those schools and they are in areas of high Muslim population. Therefore, it is likely that those schools would have almost 100 per cent of children of the Muslim faith.

Equally, I have visited an exceptional school in the Tower Hamlets area, headed by the partner of Chris Woodhead. Ninety-something per cent of the children were of the Muslim faith; yet it was not a faith school. Respect for and accommodation of the faith of those children was managed well by that school.

It is a sensitive issue. I do not believe that we should go down the road of quota systems. Nor should we follow the road proposed in the amendment passed in another place. I agree with my noble friend. I believe that there is scope for the Churches—it will be interesting to hear the right reverend Prelate if he speaks on the amendment—and faith groups themselves to consider the policy which they operate not only to meet the needs of the people of their faith in the area but also those of children of other or no faith.

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn

I had intended to intervene in debate on this part of the Bill. I am not clear whether the noble Lord favours faith schools but he seeks to be helpful. Unfortunately, the amendment is too vague to achieve his aim, with which I have a great deal of sympathy, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch.

Like the noble Baroness, I vacillated in my appreciation of what he said. The introduction of words such as "religious ghetto" is extremely unhelpful. If one wants to use the word "ghetto" about schools, there are ghetto schools in almost every class of school. Community schools serve socially deprived or socially elite local communities, and so on. I would resist that phrase.

Most faith schools are community schools serving the local community, whether Roman Catholic or Anglican. That would be equally true of the few Muslim schools. For some of us the difficulty arises with regard to secondary education. As there are so few such schools the kind of things which the noble Lord described can happen. On these Benches, we do not believe that a quota system of percentages would he helpful. That would push the problem a little further down the line. One would still have to make awkward and difficult decisions. What would be best in one neighbourhood would not be best necessarily in another.

However, the noble Lord may have noticed that a further amendment has been tabled as regards this matter; namely, Amendment No. 211 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, which would deal with this question as far as concerns Anglican schools. We have deliberately asked the department, the Government, to make provision for Anglican schools in the light of criticisms that have been made about admissions policies being what I would call "eccentric" in some schools, or perhaps determined not to listen to local need, so that the diocese would have at least some part to play in that process. It is for others to say whether that kind of arrangement would be suitable to other faith communities. No doubt some noble Lords will be able to enter into that debate.

I would resist this amendment on the grounds that it is too vague. I urge the Committee to support Amendment No. 211, which our authorities have carefully negotiated with the Government. However, we must not underestimate the difficulties involved. Many people who are supporters of such schools would press the local initiative of the local governors. We must be careful that we are not, as it were, speaking double-speak: on one set of proposals we want the most local input that we can get, while on the other we want to bring in other people. It would be helpful if governors of Anglican schools had, in some way, to listen and have regard to advice given by the diocesan authority. I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment, and to put his support behind Amendment No. 211.

5 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

The name of the Liberal Democrats has been mentioned on a number of occasions; indeed, we were party to a series of amendments put forward both in Committee and on Report in the other place that did propose a quota system. However, the debate that took place in another place and which, subsequently, took place both within our party and within other forums has indicated that that is not the right way forward. That is why we have not tabled a similar amendment in this Chamber.

I do not know whether noble Lords have noticed, but we have tabled an amendment under the clause dealing with admission forums; namely, Amendment No. 178A. The amendment was put down rather late, and, arguably, ought to have been grouped with the amendment now under discussion. I apologise to the Committee for failing to spot the connection. Our amendment suggests a slightly different way forward. It relates to the admission forums, which cover all maintained schools and, therefore, all voluntary-aided schools, foundation schools, as well as voluntary-controlled and community schools. The amendment proposes that a voluntary-aided school that is a faith-based school should make clear to the admission forum the proportion of pupils coming forward from a particular faith.

Our amendment would also place some responsibility on the admission forum to take account of local need and the demand for faith-based places locally. I believe that it is a fairly bland amendment; it does not seek to push such proposals. However, it raises the issue that exercised people's minds when the discussion took place in the other place; namely, that such schools are substantially funded by the state, from the public purse—indeed, to the tune of 100 per cent in relation to current revenue costs. Of course, part of the capital funding comes from the Churches, which, as the right reverend Prelate said, recognise the need to serve the local community. There seems to be some inequity if some schools are excluding would-be pupils who are living right next door because they are not of that particular faith, despite the fact that a wish has been expressed to attend that school. The issue of proximity must sometimes be taken into account.

Although Amendment No. 178A has a somewhat different approach to the matter, it relates to the same issue that we believe needs to be aired; namely, the question of serving the community and, to some extent, the availability of some school places for the local community. That is precisely what the majority of faith-based schools try to achieve. Indeed, the inequity arises in a small minority of cases. That is why we have put forward our amendment.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for her observations. I am pleased to note the change in tone and, indeed, of direction from that which dominated our earlier debates on the subject. I agree that it would have been helpful if Amendment No. 178A had perhaps been grouped with the amendment now before the Committee. That would have enabled the debate to be taken in its entirety at this point.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is well intentioned in placing his amendment before the Committee today, but the reason for the tension on this question goes back to our Second Reading debate and the discussion on the role of faith schools in our society. Indeed, it does not just go back to the Second Reading debate, or to the debate that took place in another place; it goes right back into the mists of time. Similarly, I can tell noble Lords from my former party that this is not a new argument for them. It was Mr Gladstone who said: As to its politics, this country has much less, I think, to fear than to hope; unless through a corruption of its religion—against which, as Conservative or Liberal, I can perhaps say I have striven all my life long". That, in turn, led to the great debate at the turn of the 20th century, which found Hilaire Belloc, who was then a Liberal Member of Parliament and a Catholic, leading some 80,000 people in a protest to the Royal Albert Hall against his own party and government when the charge was being made that any contribution towards the new schools for poor Irish immigrants would be "Rome on the rates". Echoes of that debate emerged during the 20th century in, for example, the debates on the Education Act 1944. Indeed, such questions return to visit us from time to time.

There have been arguments over Jewish schools, and now the discussion has moved to Muslim schools. I was especially pleased to hear the remarks made by the noble Baroness on the King David High School in Liverpool, which served many of the people who I represented when I was a constituency Member of Parliament for that city. The noble Baroness is quite right to say that that school has always served people from many walks of life, and from different backgrounds. The authorities of that school would say very clearly that it is a Jewish school, and that that is its great strength. Its ethos is a Jewish ethos. If others wish to participate in that, they are welcome to do so. I know that this amendment does not seek to do so, but to dilute its ethos—as emerged in the previous debate—would be quite the wrong way to proceed. Indeed, it would alienate many people throughout the country who passionately support the provision of Church schools.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, will know that there are others who have taken a much tougher line on such matters. For example, the former education spokesman for her party in another place said that, in an ideal world, there would be no religious state schools. He went on to say that his party would put a stop to the daily act of worship. I fundamentally disagreed with him at the time; he knows that, and we corresponded on the subject. I do not think that it is an "ideal world" to prevent people from being able to send their child to a school with a religious ethos. It would diminish all of us if we removed such practices as the daily act of worship from our schools. It is most important for us to transmit our cultural values from generation to generation.

As the right reverend Prelate said earlier, I also believe that it is something of a caricature to talk about schools as though they are "ghetto schools"—to use the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. The schools that I visit throughout the country that are run by different Churches and faiths serve many people from beyond their own communities, but they have their own identity because of the community from which they have sprung. The facts bear out what I am saying. There is no need to impose a quota along the lines suggested in the Liberal Democrat amendment in another place—for example, that 25 per cent of places should go to people from other faiths. In the United Kingdom 20 per cent of pupils in Catholic schools happen not to be Catholic.

The experience of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in places like Hertfordshire is true. In the Westminster archdiocese and in that of both Liverpool and Salford, demand for Catholic places is extremely high and will often outstrip the supply. More than 90 per cent of pupils in those dioceses tend to be Catholic, but they are the exception rather than the rule. In the Birmingham archdiocese, for instance, 27.1 per cent of pupils are non-Catholic; in the Clifton diocese, which serves the Avon and Bristol areas, the figure is 30.1 per cent; in Hallam in the Sheffield area it is 32.6 per cent; in Plymouth 39.5 per cent; and in the Wrexham diocese it is 24.9 per cent.

Everyone knows that in some situations and in certain areas we may be approaching a position where the character and the ethos of a school can be radically altered if the proportions become too unbalanced. This is why the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is right to say that we should approach this issue with great discretion and trust the people on the ground to make the right decision. We should not have a regimented approach.

During the Second Reading debate the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, promised an amendment at this stage which would be based on catchment areas. I am delighted that that amendment has not so far appeared on the Marshalled List because its effect would be to create a situation where the ability to buy a house in close proximity to a particular school would be the one reason why someone would be able to get into that school. It would not be on the basis of someone's faith, commitment, social need or the desirability of having a place in that school, but because that person could move there. It would mean replacing the sensitively worked-out approach which is pragmatically being applied on the ground with something far more arbitrary and socially damaging.

I believe the Government have got it right. I welcome the approach that the Minister has taken to this whole issue. It is a sensitive question but she has acted in accordance with the concordat that was made in 1944 between the Churches and the state by the government of the day. The Government are entitled to our support on these questions today.

But we do have to address some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, one of which was the need for shared civic values. We have a right in our society to ask Church schools and schools of other faiths, "Are you teaching children in your schools to share the same civic values as the rest of us?". If a shared love of democracy, our civic institutions and the upholding of the rule of law is not being taught, we have a perfect right to ask questions. If the schools are not teaching the value of diversity, pluralism and respect, again we have a right to ask questions about that.

But my experience of such schools is that they do indeed promote precisely those things. In the City of Liverpool last night, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, was present at a lecture at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. Eight bishops were present—four Roman Catholic and four Anglican. The sight of the Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, and the Roman Catholic Archbishop, Patrick Kelly, was a great metaphor in itself of the progress that has been made in that once sectarian city and of the way in which Church schools have become the engine for that kind of rapprochement between people who were divided at one time and living in, if you like, twin houses of hate. The schools in our city—more than 40 per cent of which are Church schools—have played a very important part in achieving that.

Last night, children from some of those Church schools were receiving awards for their engagement in the civic life of the city. One of the young men present was a Young Conservative, James Maudsley, a human rights activist who went out to Burma. He is the product of a local faith school. We can all be enormously proud of him, having read in the newspapers how Aung San Suu Kyi, that marvellous beacon of democracy in Burma, was paying tribute to the risks that he took with his life, motivated and fired as he was by his faith. Another dimension is sometimes given to people as a result of their upbringing through our faith schools, so the use of the term "ghetto" in describing those faith schools is disingenuous.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was wrong to say that we do not have religious hospitals. We do have hospitals which are run by religious orders. There is one in the constituency that I represented previously in another place which serves the wider community. Religious institutions are part of the web and weave of our lives in every respect. We should value that, uphold it and ensure that they continue to prosper.

If the amendment were incorporated into the Bill, it would have a practical effect which may be undesirable from the noble Lord's own point of view. The amendment suggests that notice should be taken of, any relevant guidance issued by any religious authorities which the governing body acknowledges as having influence over the school". That does not mean that it has to act on that guidance—in that sense it is not prescriptive—but if there were to be an offending school it would be the least likely to take any notice because it is not mandatory.

The amendment refers to "any religious authorities". What is a "religious authority"? Does it mean that if a cult—for instance, the Scientologists, the Moonies, the Children of God and so on—came along and said, "We have a child in this school and we wish you to take note of a prescription that we wish to impose on the school", would the school be required to do so under the terms of the amendment?

Were the amendment to be incorporated it would be unhelpful to the legislation. We should go with the amendment that the Government have placed before the Committee. We should keep the spirit of the Bill and the spirit of the agreement that has been carefully worked out between the Churches, the great faiths and the state. It is an agreement which is serving this country well.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for bringing forward this proposed amendment to Section 91 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, not least because it has allowed us to range more freely in our discussion. In responding on behalf of the Government, I do not wish to pre-empt the discussion that we will have later when the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, brings forward her amendment, but, as did the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, I wish to draw attention again to Amendment No. 211. I look forward to the debate. I hope that we will be able to find common cause within it.

The Committee may be aware that Section 91 allows aided and foundation schools with a religious character to preserve that religious character by rejecting applications from families not of their faith or denomination. A typical Section 91 arrangement defines a limit on the number of places at a particular faith or denominational school that may go to pupils not of that faith or denomination.

Where schools give children of a faith or denomination priority for admission and are oversubscribed with pupils of that faith or denomination, a Section 91 arrangement has no additional effect. It makes a difference in practice only where fewer children of the faith or denomination apply to the school than the arrangement envisages. If that happens, the arrangement will allow the school to keep empty those places it cannot fill with pupils of the faith or denomination, even though there may be a demand for those places from other families.

The Government have been giving serious thought to whether Section 91 arrangements are compatible with our aim of establishing an admissions framework that ensures that as many parents' preferences as possible can be met. We believe that allowing schools to keep places empty when there is demand for them is at odds with our aim. We do not believe that it is an efficient use of resources for places to remain empty in some schools if overall demand for places in a local education authority's area can be met only by the authority having to meet the cost of providing additional school places elsewhere. Empty places mean less funding for the schools themselves and fewer resources available for children in those schools.

In practice, there are very few Section 91 arrangements in place. Many Catholic schools and their dioceses already take the view that it is better to fill all their places by admitting children of other faiths or denominations or of no faith than to keep places empty. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, about 14 per cent of children in Roman Catholic primary schools and more than 20 per cent of children in Roman Catholic secondary schools are not Catholic.

I am able to announce today that we shall be bringing forward an amendment at Report stage to repeal Section 91 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. That will end the possibility of faith schools under-subscribed by faith adherents agreeing arrangements with their local education authority to keep places empty.

In coming to this decision we have been very grateful for the helpful approach taken by the Roman Catholic authorities. We have discussed our decision to repeal Section 91 with these authorities and will continue to discuss with them how our decision is to be implemented. Where Roman Catholic demand has been met, they are happy for the benefits of Catholic schooling to be extended to other families who appreciate and want those benefits. I hope that the Committee will agree that repealing this section is an important contribution to ensuring access in principle to faith schools for members of other faiths or none.

I can, however, assure the Committee that repealing Section 91 will in no way alter the rights of governing bodies of Catholic and other religious voluntary-aided or foundation schools to define their own admission criteria and priorities, and in particular to give priority admittance, if over-subscribed, to members of their faith or denomination. The Government recognise that many schools hold sincerely to the credo that they were established to serve their particular faith community and that that is where their primary responsibility lies.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, will acknowledge that, in the light of my remarks, his amendment could be withdrawn.

Baroness Blatch

Perhaps I may ask the Minister a question. What evidence does the department have of school places deliberately being kept vacant when others in the area who are not of that faith wish to attend those schools? What percentage of available places does that represent?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

I am afraid that I cannot supply the percentage, but we know that a few schools—only a few—have used these arrangements in order to keep places empty. This led to our discussions with the Roman Catholic authorities. They have been extremely helpful and are in agreement that we must work this through in a practical way which will make sense. On that basis, we believe that the proposal that we intend to bring forward on Report will enable us to ensure that where there is a demand for school places—the noble Baroness gave a good example; namely, the King David High School in Liverpool, where the demand for places far exceeds the number of children from that particular faith—the school will be kept full so that children will be able to enjoy the benefits of the quality of education in the school.

There is no disagreement among those who currently hold places open; it is simply something that we want to move towards. If the noble Baroness would like me to write to her setting out the detail she requested, I shall do so. I apologise that I do not have the percentage in front of me.

Lord Lucas

I have been fascinated by the debate. I am delighted to hear that Amendment No. 211 will move in the direction in which I had hoped to find the Churches moving. I had presumed from the fact that it was not grouped with this amendment that that was not the case, but I shall listen to that debate with interest. I hope to hear from the Roman Catholic Church as to what it is doing of an equivalent nature. I do not know how strong a control it has over the policies pursued by its individual schools, but I very much hope that it will find a way. Not being the established Church, it does not have the advantage of our being able to legislate for it. However, I hope that we shall find that the two Churches are moving in unison.

It is important that we do not allow, more than we absolutely have to, the development of separate communities in this country. For children to grow up without experience of anyone who is not part of their immediate community can be all right in small quantities—the world is big and the rest of the world is out there for them to see outside the school gates. However, one can see the ultimate expression of that in Northern Ireland, and the beginnings of its expression in places such as Oldham.

It is possible for the Church school system to become part of an instrument separating a community into constituent parts which grow up without proper experience of each other. I hope that we shall not allow that to continue—particularly when we are examining the possibility of having more faith schools, which I am happy to see. We must make sure that the possible side-effects of that are not allowed to develop in this country. It depends very much on the determination of the great religions to make sure that that is not the way in which matters develop.

Perhaps we can arrive at a position where the Churches are freely able to found new schools, as I shall advocate in a later amendment. In that way, the Churches would be sure of having more than enough places for their own adherents and the ability to draw into their schools pupils whose parents—we are talking about selection in terms of parents, not pupils—may not be members of the religion but who want their children to be brought up in the faith, which they may admire from the outside while not accepting it themselves. I was brought up on stories of Don Camillo. I remember that Peppone had his child christened after great trials and tribulations. That is an approach that we should allow as many people as possible to follow. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Clause 39 [Determination of specified budgets of LEA]:

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord:Murton of Lindisfarne)

In calling Amendment No. 160, I would point out that, if it is agreed to, I shall not able to call Amendment No. 161 owing to pre-emption.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

moved Amendment No. 160: Page 25, leave out lines 30 and 31. The noble Baroness said: in moving this amendment, I give notice that I shall not be speaking to Amendment No. 162 or Amendment No. 163, which we have effectively withdrawn from debate.

We now move to the part of the Bill dealing with the setting up of schools forums, which are dealt with in Clause 39. After dealing specifically with the amendment, I want to address more generally the provisions relating to schools forums in Clauses 39 and 40.

The Bill provides for each local authority to establish a schools forum. Most of the functions of the forum, which be made up mainly of heads and governors—it is not an elected body —will be consultative. They are set out in the draft regulations that have been circulated by the department.

However, under Clause 39 proposed new Section 45A(4) gives a forum the power to decide classes of expenditure which can be deducted from schools budgets. Under the draft regulation circulated, the provision will relate only to relatively small categories of expenditure such as primary school meals, licences, subscriptions, museums and galleries, and library services for schools. However, further classes of expenditure could be added at any time by regulation. It is for that reason that we have great reservations about the subsection.

As I have pointed out, the schools forum will not be an elected body. It will be an unelected body, effectively appointed at local level. For it to have the power of decision over classes of expenditure which the local authority, which is elected and is accountable to the local electorate, has traditionally decided is wrong. It is appropriate that where expenditures are made, there should be some accountable elected authority, rather than an unelected authority which takes decisions over and above those of the elected authority. The proposed amendment would provide for a schools forum to have consultative functions only. It would have no power to decide on classes of expenditure.

That brings me to the more general discussion of Clauses 39 and 40, which set up the statutory framework for the new system of funding councils and schools in England from April 2003. Under the new system there will be separate funding assessments (standard spending assessment blocks) for expenditure on school pupils, which are deemed to be the schools budget, and the central functions of the local education authority, which will be deemed to be the LEA budget. The bulk of the schools budget will, therefore, be placed directly under the control of individual schools and will be known as the individual schools budget.

In addition to schools forums being able to set limits or conditions on some items of expenditure, there is a new requirement to notify the Secretary of State of the proposed level of the schools budget by the end of January. The Secretary of State will have a reserve power to intervene and to impose a prescribed minimum level, in all circumstances, where the council's proposal is considered to be inadequate.

This would have significant implications for budget setting. It would effectively require the education budget to be set to an earlier time-scale than that of other services, and would divorce spending decisions on the main local authority service from consideration of the council tax.

The Local Government Association has been concerned by those developments. It has consistently opposed the concept of the reserved power, which is often referred to as ring-fencing. The Government have recognised some of the arguments against ring-fencing of local government expenditure. They pointed out in the finance Green Paper of September 2000 that it weakens local accountability and democracy, whereas delegating powers to local authorities encourages democracy and encourages local authorities to take their responsibilities seriously. When funds are ring-fenced, some local authorities may give less attention to their proper responsibilities for strategic planning and quality improvement of schools.

Ring-fencing also erodes local authorities' financial responsibilities and freedoms and leads to weaker coordination between education and other local services, which can make a lot of difference to schools and families. It also creates pressure for ring-fencing in other services. If we ring-fence education funding, there will be calls to do the same for social services, transport and other services. That takes away from the basic democratic rights of local authorities. Already, many of their responsibilities have been eroded and taken by central government.

If we are to get people interested in participating in democracy, they must see it as something that affects them. If all the decisions are going to be taken away, people will think that local authorities make no difference. That is already a tendency at local election time. Ring-fencing detracts in many ways from the necessary vibrancy that we ought to be trying to inject into local democracy.

While the proposed reserved power does not constitute wholesale ring-fencing, its application would involve an erosion of local accountability and financial discretion. Although the Bill has remained unaltered after the initial stages in the Commons, we recognise that a significant number of ministerial assurances have been given that it is the Government's intention, in keeping with the local government White Paper, to reduce the number of ring-fenced and specific grants for education and to transfer resources to the general budget grant. On the specific issue of the reserved power, Ministers have said that the Secretary of State will consider the implications for other council services before setting the minimum schools budget and that the reserved power will be used very sparingly.

Despite those assurances, there are still deep reservations on these Benches and from the Local Government Association about the move. We hope that greater consideration will be given to the general impact of these two clauses and their potential significance in relation to local democracy. I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

I have no hesitation in saying that the Government are the greatest guilty party on the funding of schools. An unprecedented amount of money is now top-sliced from the education budget. Initiative after initiative is made almost daily—certainly several each week. That comes from the main education budget. Then, the Government are guilty on a second count, by imposing additional burdens on local education authorities. This Bill, the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 and other legislation have created enormous burdens on local authorities. They all have to be paid for. The only place from which that money can come is the overall education budget. That erodes yet further the core funding that should go into our schools.

Make no mistake, the Government are being heavy-handed in producing an unaccountable system that second-guesses local authorities. The Government, not the local authorities, are guilty. That is inexcusable and I support much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has said about giving freedom at local level and about the whole issue of the erosion of accountability.

I have serious reservations about the schools forums. They are not elected, but are simply established in the local area. Other bodies akin to the make-up of a schools forum already exist. Before setting a budget, most well run authorities—this is certainly the case in my own local authority in Cambridgeshire—will have roadshows to meet parents and the local community and will definitely talk with the local heads forum, the school teacher unions and the teacher representatives. There will be a great deal of discussion before the budget is finally set. The statistics show that most well run education authorities spend above their standard spending assessment on education, often at the expense of other services, because they consider education a priority at local level.

There is no reason to regulate in this way. If the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, wishes to press that Clause 39 should not stand part of the Bill, I shall be with her. I fully support Amendment No. 160. I am not sure what was in the noble Baroness's thinking to remove, or the authority's schools forum", under Amendment No. 162, but I assume that those words would disappear anyway under Amendment No. 160.

Accountability is important. The members of our local education authorities are elected and have sharp accountability with their local communities—at least until the Government in their wisdom remove them and take responsibility further away to regional government. Our schools deserve more of their share of core funding. That can come only from government initiatives to relinquish some of their propensity for holding back money at the centre.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

When amendments are withdrawn on the spot, I have to adjust my speaking notes. I hope that I have got this correct. I shall speak to Amendment No. 161 and then respond to the debate on Amendment No. 160.

As drafted, the new subsection (4)(c) has the side-effect of conferring an additional power on the Secretary of State. As well as enabling her to empower the forum to decide certain matters, it also enables her to lay clown rules that need not appear in the regulations and so would not be subject to parliamentary scrutiny or approval. Government Amendment No. 161 corrects that position. While it may in some contexts be appropriate for a Minister to make rules in the way in which paragraph (c) would authorise, we have managed satisfactorily under the present legislation without that facility. We therefore think it right to table the amendment, which means that any rules on top-slicing that the Secretary of State wishes to make will need to be set out expressly in the regulations and laid before Parliament, as at present. I am sure that the Committee will welcome the amendment.

No doubt we shall discuss schools forums in great detail when we reach Clause 41, but they form an important part of the debate on Amendment No. 160, so it might be helpful if I say a little about our general intentions. Clause 39 provides for the establishment of a schools budget, to contain proposed expenditure on provision for pupils, and an LEA budget, which covers the LEA's essential core functions and various services—such as special educational needs statementing and transport—which are most sensibly provided by LEAs.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has said, the schools forums to be established under Clause 41 are essentially advisory and consultative bodies. The functions that we intend to give them will reflect that role. However, we think that there is some limited scope for giving them a small decision-making role in respect of decisions on whether to delegate to schools certain items of expenditure within the schools budget. In reaching that decision, we have of course talked at length with the Local Government Association.

We have in mind here meals for primary and special school pupils; museum services and library services for primary and special schools; and copyright and similar licence fees. However, we shall be consulting to see whether that list is right. Whether delegation of those items of expenditure is more desirable than LEA central funding will often depend on local circumstances. We think that schools forums can usefully reach a collective view for schools on that issue.

For most items in which expenditure is centrally retainable, a decision to delegate will rest with the LEA, as is right and proper in the light of the authority's overall responsibility for the budget and—as the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Blatch, said—accountability to the electorate. This is particularly so with special educational needs because of the LEA's responsibility for ensuring that SEN requirements are fulfilled and the often volatile nature of budgets for that responsibility. We therefore do not at this stage intend any significant extension of the list that I have set out. I hope that that reassurance, and the Government's willingness to introduce Amendment No. 161, will enable the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, to withdraw Amendment No. 160.

As noble Lords are aware, Clause 39 modifies the framework within which LEAs fund their schools. The "Fair Funding" framework, based on a broadly defined local schools budget, has worked well. It has improved the school funding system's transparency, and the level of financial delegation to schools has risen sharply. On average, LEAs delegated more than 86 per cent of their budget last year, compared with 79 per cent in 1998. What "Fair Funding" has not addressed is the way in which LEAs themselves are funded.

The present arrangements for funding LEAs through the education spending assessment have attracted widespread criticism. Under existing local government finance legislation, we shall replace the education standard spending assessment with two separate spending needs assessments—a "school" assessment and an "LEA" assessment. I shall not go into more detail on that now as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has explained the point extremely well.

Clause 39 brings the school funding system into line with the new LEA funding system by establishing a "schools budget" and an "LEA budget" instead of the current "local schools budget". Broadly, the schools budget will cover all expenditure for which funding is generally delegated to schools at present, along with most other expenditure on actual provision for pupils, including schools meals and out-of-school education. The LEA budget will cover functions which cannot sensibly be carried out except at the level of the LEA. These are likely to include most functions which are currently funded centrally by LEAs under the heads of strategic management, school improvement and access, which include home-to-school transport. The LEA budget will also cover LEA functions which do not relate to primary and secondary education. By aligning the scope of the two budgets with that of the two needs assessments, we shall clear away the "funding fog" that results from the mismatch between the local schools budget and the education SSA. Most of the schools budget will have to be delegated to schools, although LEAs will need to retain funding for certain purposes, as I have outlined.

Clause 40 gives the Secretary of State for Education and Skills a power—to be used in exceptional circumstances—to set a minimum level for an authority's schools budget, as defined by Clause 39, where she considers the budget is seriously inadequate. The level may apply to the next financial year or to the financial year after that. We are introducing the measure to help to ensure that funding increases for schools made available by central government are passed on to schools by local authorities. We expect that the proposals we have made to require local authorities to provide a transparent account of school funding will put pressure on authorities to pass on funding increases. But where that does not achieve sufficient progress, we need a reserve power. As I said, in practice, we do not expect to use it except on exceptionally rare occasions.

In setting the minimum level, the Secretary of State must have regard to all the relevant circumstances. We have set out in the explanatory notes some of those circumstances: how the authority's proposed budget compares with its school funding assessment; the performance of an LEA's schools; pressures—as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said—from other services, recognising the joined-up nature of those services; and the degree to which the authority has failed to pass on the increase in funding to its schools. That is not an exhaustive list and there may be other criteria that we would wish to consider. We do not want to try to list all the criteria in the Bill only to discover later that we have missed something important which we would not then be allowed to consider. Such an omission could of course weaken the position of an LEA as much as strengthen it if the Secretary of State were not able to take on board very particular criteria which would mitigate the exercise of that power.

The clause sets out the timetable for use of this power. We shall be asking local authorities to let us know their proposed budgets by the end of January—no earlier than we did this year, and a little later than in previous years, when we have approached authorities early in January to ask them to indicate whether they intend to pass on increases in education SSA. The timetable also allows authorities to make representations if they object to the level of budget set for their schools. They will, for example, be able to explain the impact that the proposed minimum budget would have on other services run by the council. Where there is an objection, the clause allows the Secretary of State to make an order setting the level of budget, to be subject to affirmative resolution, so Parliament would be able to debate it.

This clause is important for our plans on school and LEA funding, it allows for a dialogue between central government and local government on the minimum level of the schools budget, and it recognises the real importance of education to our children. It should therefore stand part of the Bill.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Smith of Leigh

I should first declare my interest as leader of a local authority. Will my noble friend clarify the position on the timing of budgeting, which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, mentioned and is dealt with in subsection (5) of Clause 39? As the noble Baroness said, there are both local authority budgets and school budgets and we should not get the two out of synch. Another important factor is the announcement of central government support for local authorities. Although that usually occurs by the end of the calendar year, it does not always happen by then. The budgeting process itself occurs in the early part of the year. We have to ensure that we do not tie ourselves to a specific date which we cannot practically meet.

Baroness Blatch

I support that point. I know from my experience in local authorities the frustration of awaiting information from national government before being able to make local arrangements. I think that the purpose of Amendment No. 160 itself is to seek more time. There is an argument against establishing any time limits as they make it very difficult for local authorities.

I intervene, however, to ask the Minister to clarify a point she made at the start of her reply. In speaking to government Amendment No. 161, to remove "the Secretary of State" from subsection (4)(c), she seemed to say not only that any intention to top-slice from the education budget would be removed, but that further constraints would be imposed on other attempts to top-slice that budget. Does that apply generally to top-slicing by the Secretary of State in relation to central initiatives, or only to specific matters not mentioned in the Minister's notes?

In referring to the determinations that could be made by the schools forums, the Minister listed various services such as museums, libraries and catering. As that is to be a moveable feast, will we be given the list of services to be covered as currently envisaged by the Government? The provision gives a fairly open-ended power to the schools forums to determine the expenditure limits which will pass to schools.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

In reply to my noble friend Lord Smith of Leigh, the information he mentioned has been available to local authorities from late November. He raises his eyebrows. However, I should expect late November to be the position. For what it is worth, that is now on the record.

I shall repeat the specific statement which the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, queried in relation to removing the side effect. As I said, our amendment means that, as now, any rules on top-slicing which the Secretary of State herself wishes to make will need to be set out expressly in the regulations and laid before Parliament as at present. I hope that that clarifies the position. If that is not clear, I shall have to write to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Blatch

Does the measure relate only to the aspect of the Bill we are discussing or to any top-slicing which the Secretary of State may undertake?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

I understand that the measure relates to this part of the Bill and not to any top-slicing. If that is incorrect, I shall, of course, clarify the position at the earliest opportunity. I hope that that answers the noble Baroness's question.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I thank the Minister for her replies. However, I am still extremely unhappy about the whole situation. As regards Amendment No. 160, schools forums powers will be extremely limited in relation to expenditure. However, regulations are to be introduced. Those powers could easily be extended. There is no particular reason why they should not be. The Minister said that the Government have no intention at the moment to introduce any significant extension in that regard. However, I cannot be confident about the situation at some later stage. We know that there is no love lost between some parts of the Government and local education authorities or local authorities generally. It is conceivable that, just as primary care trusts are seen as being, so to speak, the focus for health at the local level, so at some point will schools forums, which also have unelected members composed of professionals and governor representatives, and local education authorities will be completely bypassed. I am not happy about that. However, I shall not test the opinion of the Committee and I shall withdraw the amendment.

As regards Clauses 39 and 40 standing part of the Bill, the whole issue of passporting or ring-fencing is unsatisfactory as it detracts from what I think are the fundamental democratic powers of the elected local body. There are some responsibilities, of which education has traditionally been one, that are run at a local level. Increasingly, those powers have been taken away and there is prescription after prescription coming from central government. As I say, if we want to rejuvenate local government, it is important that it is given real powers. I note the support we have received from the Official Opposition Benches. We need to get together to talk about these matters. Undoubtedly we shall return to them on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

moved Amendment No. 161: Page 25, line 30, leave out "the Secretary of State or On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 162 to 164 not moved.]

Clause 39, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 40 [Power of Secretary of State to set minimum schools budget]:

Lord Roberts of Conwy

moved Amendment No. 165: Page 27, line 3, at end insert "and in Wales unless a draft of the order has been laid and approved by a resolution of the National Assembly for Wales The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that a similar procedure applies in Wales as applies in England. The amendment proposes an addition to subsection (5) of new Section 45C. The addition seeks to ensure that just as in England a draft order prescribing a minimal schools budget after a local authority has objected to the Secretary of State's original determination must be approved by a resolution in the other place, a similar procedure is followed in Wales. It is surely right that the National Assembly should approve executive action in such circumstances where the will of an elected local authority is overridden by the Minister.

There is, I am bound to say, a glaring contrast in the Bill as it stands between the democratic approach in England and the bludgeoning approach towards local authorities in Wales. It may be argued that this is an internal matter for the Assembly and that it should be left to it to decide whether to institute an approval procedure. But that cannot be right. If by this Bill Parliament provides for a procedure to be followed by the Secretary of State, Parliament is similarly entitled to provide a procedure for the Assembly government to follow. This is, after all, primary legislation for which this Parliament alone is responsible. I beg to move.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said, the amendment requires an order setting a minimum schools budget for a local authority in Wales to be laid before, and approved by, the National Assembly for Wales. The amendment is not necessary. The power for the National Assembly for Wales to make such an order in relation to a local education authority in Wales is already conferred on it by virtue of Clause 204 of the Bill. Any such order will be made in accordance with the procedures for making statutory instruments in the Government of Wales Act 1998 and the National Assembly's own standing orders.

Under those procedures, draft orders are normally laid before the National Assembly and may be considered by the relevant subject committee which can report on them. They will be scrutinised by the Assembly's Legislation Committee. Finally, they must be considered and approved by the Assembly itself before being made. With that explanation I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Jones

My noble friend the Minister has spoken with authority from the Dispatch Box. How frequently does she have contact with those who lead on education in the National Assembly for Wales? Is it from them that she gains the confidence with which she has spoken from the Dispatch Box?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

I spoke with confidence when I replied to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, as I referred to what is in the Bill which will, therefore, be enacted.

The department is in regular contact with our friends in Wales. That is relevant and appropriate. However, of course we recognise that there is a devolved process. Therefore, we ensured that in working together on the Bill we drew it up as the National Assembly would wish.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her lucid explanation. However, I make no apology for my amendment. I tabled it in order to draw attention not only in this Chamber and in this Parliament but also in the National Assembly itself to the need to scrutinise any orders that may be made in the context we are discussing. It is surely right that if Parliament has to approve such an order, so should the National Assembly for Wales.

There is a further point. Although, as the noble Baroness said, the National Assembly has the power to scrutinise all orders made by it, nevertheless I am told that it is not in fact its practice to do so and that there is a tendency not to consider the multiplicity of orders that emanate from the Assembly. However, having drawn its attention to this particular order-making power, I am sure that no order will be made under this new section that is not scrutinised by the Assembly. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 40 agreed to.

Clause 41 [Schools forums]:

6 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

moved Amendment No. 166: Page 27, line 17, after "shall" insert "if requested by a majority of governing bodies of maintained schools in their area The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to the Question whether Clause 41 shall stand part of the Bill. I am not absolutely certain about which other amendments may or may not be discussed in relation to the amendment.

My understanding is that the Government's thinking on Clause 41 is that establishing schools forums will be in the interests of schools and ensure that they receive as fair a share of—and as much—LEA funding as possible. One can only sympathise with the aims that lie behind the setting up of schools forums: we all want as much money as possible to go to where it belongs; that is, to schools, which can use it to benefit the education of children in their care.

Proposed new Section 47A in Clause 41 states: Every local education authority shall in accordance with regulations"— there is no flexibility in that regard— establish for their area before such date as may be prescribed a body, to be known as a schools forum, representing the governing bodies and head teachers of schools maintained by the authority and, if the authority so determine, also representing such bodies as the authority may from time to time in accordance with regulations determine". I believe that the Government wish to do well by schools. I therefore think that it should be for schools to determine whether they want to establish such a body.

The amendment would add to that subsection the phrase, if requested by a majority of governing bodies of maintained schools in their area". If that is requested, a schools forum should be set up. A number of local authorities—I hazard a guess that quite a large number are involved—already have in operation a system that allows for consultation, for parents to play a part, and for the wider community to be involved. In particular, schools, governing bodies and teachers are involved in pre-budget-making discussions with the local authority. To add flexibility, it must be for schools to determine whether they want a forum.

I oppose the Question whether Clause 41 shall stand part of the Bill as a result of a personal view. I do not believe that the clause belongs in the Bill. My view is that the perfectly satisfactory arrangements that LEAs already have in their areas with regard to pre-budget consultative arrangements should be allowed to continue. The proposal would cause duplication unless the Government's intention is that setting up schools forums would be a substitute for what is going on; in other words, the other arrangements would be dropped. It also allows schools much more autonomy in their area. If the Government believe that arrangements should be made in each local authority area for consultative arrangements, leaving schools to do that in their own way is the way to go.

In relation to earlier amendments, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and I argued strongly that schools forums should not be given the power to determine any aspect of budgeting. We shall return to that. They are unaccountable and are not elected in any way; they will be appointed. It would be wrong to give them the power to second-guess local authorities and budgeting arrangements. I do not believe that that is necessary on the grounds that I have described or in view of the consultative arrangements.

If the Minister's only objection is that there has to be some form of pre-budget consultation in every LEA area, I shall bring forward an amendment at the next stage of the Bill that will achieve that, if I am successful in removing Clause 41 from the Bill. If I am not successful in removing Clause 41 from the Bill, I hope that the Minister will at least show some flexibility and agree to Amendment No. 166. I beg to move.

Baroness Walmsley

I rise to speak to Amendments Nos. 167, 168 and 169 and to oppose the Question whether Clause 41 shall stand part of the Bill.

The purpose of those amendments is to limit the power of schools forums to that of giving advice to the relevant local authority. Although the Government have set out the functions of schools forums in draft regulations, if they remain committed to the new unaccountable structures, further clarification of their role in the Bill would be helpful. That is because of the danger that the role of the forums could widen in future, through further regulations, to involve decision-making, despite the reassurance that the Minister gave to my noble friend Lady Sharp in relation to an earlier amendment.

A number of problems would ensue from such an extension of the forums' powers. For example, would their determining whether some school support service budgets should he delegated to schools give them de facto employer capacity without the accountability to which LEAs taking such action are subjected? What if the amount that is given back to the authority to fulfil statutory duties in relation to special educational needs or for excluded children was not sufficient?

The whole issue of schools forums is yet another example of the fact that the Government spend time legislating when doing so is quite unnecessary; there are much more important issues to discuss. Local authorities, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said, are already obliged to consult all schools under the fair-funding arrangements. Most schools are happy with that. A recent report by the Audit Commission showed that more than 80 per cent of the 10,000 schools that were questioned were happy with the level of support from the LEA on the planning of schools budgets and believed that consultation had improved during the past few years. Schools are consulted not only on budgets but also on service level agreements, asset management plans, sixth-form funding, recruitment and retention, SEN reviews, delegation of school meals provision, Ofsted inspections and directorate restructuring; I could go on.

I hope that the Minister is not going to tell us that there has been an outcry demanding this extra bit of bureaucracy for schools. Does she have a file full of letters from head teachers demanding to have their time taken up with more meetings, the cost of which will be deducted from their budget? I am sure that she does not. Head teachers to whom I have spoken believe that they are well consulted by their LEA; they certainly do not have time for any more consultation and do not see the need for it.

Authorities also consult a range of other stakeholders, including teachers' unions, diocesan boards, community groups, residents, Members of another place, local health authorities, the local Racial Equality Council, pupils, elected members and others. There is plenty of evidence from Ofsted inspections that consultation is being done effectively, regularly and widely. The saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", is a good one and should apply in this context.

There is a danger that if the forums are established and do not contain a representative from every school or stakeholder in the authority, the level of satisfaction that I have described will melt away and schools will become dissatisfied with the views that are expressed by their representatives. Only a small number of schools could be involved and they may not be truly representative.

While it is both desirable and possible for LEAs to further refine and improve consultation arrangements so that they take account of local needs and conditions and involve all stakeholders, there is no need to legislate for that. There is no proven need for that, and it would introduce unnecessary complexity into the LEA's budget-setting process.

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn

I rise to speak to Amendment No. 171, which stands in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, and which is grouped with this amendment.

We are concerned about this aspect of the Bill. The creation of schools forums is a debatable matter in itself. It is clear to us, particularly since the Regulatory Reform (Voluntary Aided Schools Liabilities and Funding) (England) Order came into effect in April this year, that particular issues involving voluntary-aided schools have to be addressed. If the forums will give advice to local authorities on funding and school budgets, it is essential that they are at least represented on schools forums. It would be an injustice for a body to be discussing the budgeting and funding arrangements for particular schools if there was no representative of the schools on the forum. That may be an oversight in the way that the Bill has been drafted. However, it seems to me that, of all the stakeholders, this is a particularly important one, although I share many of the reservations of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, concerning the representation of all schools in this area.

I hope that, in replying, the Minister will be sympathetic to the concerns of the voluntary-aided schools. When it comes to forming a budget and the funding of a school, they have particular issues to address which are not applicable to community schools.

Lord Jones

Perhaps I may ask my noble friend the Minister from whence comes the concept of the schools forum which she promulgates today. Have there been any pilots, or is there anything that might remotely equal a pilot in the country at present? Is there, for example, any parallel in an overseas country to what is now proposed? Can she spell out the reasons or the details as to why she makes these proposals? Is it because consultations are now considered to be defective? My noble friend might respond to those questions should she gel to the Dispatch Box in the near future.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

When the Minister comes to reply to the noble Lord, Lord Jones, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, no doubt she will deal with the general question of schools forums. I believe that we all wait with interest to hear what she has to say. However, my purpose in rising is simply to support the remarks made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, who suggested that voluntary-aided schools should certainly be involved in the membership of schools forums where they are established.

It is paradoxical that earlier in our proceedings the complaint was made that Church or faith schools did not always play their part in the wider community. Earlier, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, used the phrase "ghetto schools". Some Members of the Committee disagreed with that and said that it was an unfair caricature of those schools. However, unless we incorporate this amendment, or something like it, into the text of the Bill, there is a danger that voluntary-aided schools will be set aside in precisely the way that was suggested when concerns were expressed earlier in our proceedings. I agree with the right reverend Prelate. I suspect that there may have been an oversight in the drafting of the Bill. I hope that when the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, comes to reply, she will be able to give a helpful response.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

I rise to support my noble friend on the Front Bench. My remarks will be extremely brief. This is the first time that I have intervened on this Bill, but I shall draw on the speeches that have just been made by the noble Lords, Lord Jones and Lord Alton. My speech will be in the nature of the occasional comments made by the chorus in Greek tragedies.

The Minister will be aware that Clause 41, which we are now discussing, and Clauses 42 and 43 were not debated in another place due to the programming Motion. There is a degree of interlocking relationship between the clauses with which we are dealing in this part of the Bill. The logic that would have been revealed in another place if the clauses had been discussed is, of course, lacking to us. Consideration is genuinely assisted if Ministers have the chance to explain the unfolding logic, which Ministers in another place were denied the opportunity to do. However, this is not simply an animadversion on programming Motions, although I dare say that any self-respecting Greek chorus could have risen to a climax of ululation on the subject. But no chorus was confined to a single theme.

My concluding remarks, which flow from everything else that I have said, contain profound sympathy for the Minister for the extra strain that is put upon her in this place for having, as the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Jones, said, to explain issues which, frankly, we would have found easier to discuss if they had already been debated somewhere else.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

That was a very good introduction. It would have been easier for me, too, if these matters had been discussed elsewhere. I shall endeavour to ensure that I cover all the relevant points. I know that Members of the Committee will ensure that I do so before the end of this discussion.

I begin by speaking to Amendment No. 170—the government amendment. This amendment has been brought forward as a result of further consideration of the way in which the Bill is drafted. It is not a new policy; it has always been our intention that a schools forum should be consulted by its local education authority on the funding formula and various other matters, including a limited range of items which I have already discussed.

However, the clause is written in terms of the forum's, rather than the authority's, functions. Therefore, it is questionable whether, as it currently stands, it authorises regulations which compel the authority to undertake such consultation. The amendment makes it explicit that the relevant regulations can compel the LEA to consult the forum. That is my formal statement on the matter. I hope that Members of the Committee will agree to the amendment on the basis that, if we are to have forums, they need to be able to do their job well.

I turn to Amendment No. 166 moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, concerning consideration about the majority of governing bodies. The noble Baroness referred to Cambridgeshire—an authority that both she and I are privileged to know something about, although obviously I know it from a different end of the telescope from the noble Baroness. As the noble Baroness said, that authority, and many others, have a good dialogue with schools about funding issues. They have established local consultative groups and those work well.

The noble Lord, Lord Jones, asked me on what basis we brought forward this provision. We did so by looking at examples of where local education authorities and schools have worked well together. We asked what lesson could be learnt that would be applicable across all local education authorities.

Therefore, we are trying to bring forward schools forums for the benefit of schools everywhere. We believe that they have vital functions to fulfil. Those are: improved consultation on funding formulae; decisions on the delegation of funding for certain types of expenditure; advice on a range of financial issues, including the balance of spending on various services; and helping the LEA to fill a client role in letting contracts. Above all, they will be a conduit for the views of schools on the management of the schools budget, which is introduced under Clause 39.

The list of functions shows why the forums are part of our strategy for the new LEA and school funding system which we are working towards. From the representations that we have had from the Secondary Heads Association, the National Association of Head Teachers and the National Governors' Council, I believe that this is something that schools want. The Secondary Heads Association gave me permission to quote this: While it is true that many local education authorities do have reasonably effective ways of consulting their schools, the current process is not consistent or evenly satisfactory". It is precisely that that we seek to address. We want this important initiative to go ahead as soon as possible so that schools can influence decisions which will be taken by authorities in the first stage of the new funding system in 2003–04. We believe that introducing an extra stage, by polling schools as to whether or not to have a forum, would be unnecessary and bureaucratic.

We want to see this provision in every area. We believe that schools forums have an important role to play, and it is a role that we want to see every local education authority take on. The concept is based on the good practice of schools elsewhere and on the good practice of local education authorities. We want to see it universally adopted, and that is why we are putting it forward in this way.

For that reason, I cannot support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, although I agree with many things that she said. Specifically she said that schools forums would be voted in by a majority of governing bodies. But we would not want significant minorities to be unable to have a schools forum, not least because we consider them to be important.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 167 to 169. The forums are essentially advisory and consultative bodies, and the functions that we intend to give them mostly reflect that role. But we believe that there is some scope for a limited decision-making role with regard to the delegation of certain items of expenditure. Those items are the museum service, meals for primary and special school pupils, library services and so on. As I said, we shall consult to ensure that that list is the right one. In doing so, we have been holding discussions at length with the Local Government Association.

Whether or not delegation of those items is better than LEA central funding will depend on local circumstances. We believe that the schools forum can usefully reach the collective view of local schools on this matter. Therefore, we want to entrust such decisions to the forums and, through them, the schools that they represent.

As I said, we do not intend to extend the list in the future. For most items where expenditure is centrally retainable, a decision to delegate will still rest with the local education authority. That must be, and is, especially true in relation to special educational needs because the LEA has responsibility for ensuring that special educational needs requirements are fulfilled. However, the limited scope that we wish to give to forums for decision-making means that it is not right to designate them as purely advisory bodies.

I turn to Amendment No. 171 which stands in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. It requires that schools forums should automatically have head teacher and governing body representation for voluntary-aided schools. I recognise that that reflects concern within the Churches that such schools may not have their particular interests adequately represented on the forums. In response to that concern we propose to insert in the regulations on forum membership a provision that permits LEAs to organise the election of school members so that there is separate representation by school type, if it appears that that is justified by local circumstances and wishes. Those on the schools forums will be elected teachers and governors from the schools within the area.

However, we do not believe that there is justification for an automatic representation for voluntary-aided schools. First, such a right would be disproportionate. In many authorities fewer than 20 per cent of schools are voluntary aided. In fairness, such a right would have to be matched by rights for other school types. Secondly, schools forums are to be concerned only with school funding matters. We believe that the category—community, voluntary or foundation—that a school falls into does not affect its funding from the education authority to any significant degree, especially now that changes have been made to governing body liability for premises of voluntary-aided schools.

That means that the situation is not analogous to school organisation committees which always have diocesan representatives. We understand that the Churches will want to have an involvement. Therefore, I say to the right reverend Prelate that in guidance on the forums, about which we shall be consulting shortly, we intend to encourage LEAs to appoint diocesan representatives as non-schools members. Furthermore, voluntary school heads and governing bodies will no doubt be keen to stand for election as schools members. We think that that is the better way, and I hope that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

On Clause 41 stand part, we want to build on what has been successful. We believe that the consultative process set up in some local education authorities is a model that we can enhance and develop into the schools forums. We believe that the way in which we have increased the proportion of schools' funding delegated to school bodies means that the logical next step is the process that we have set up in Clause 39, which is creating separate schools and LEA budgets.

So local education authorities already have a good relationship with schools on those issues, but others do not. We want schools in those areas to share in best practice. That is what we are seeking. We shall issue a consultative paper on the way in which forums should be constituted and the functions that they will have. Responses will inform the regulations and guidance. We would like the forums to become functional by 31st October, so that they can have a meaningful input into the deliberations on school budgets for 2003–04. A first draft has been placed in the Library of your Lordships' House. We expect to add to that draft a provision requiring LEAs to have regard to the need for school members to be broadly representative of the types of school to be found in an area.

I have found this debate extremely useful. We want the forums to become a valuable tool. We believe that we have received representations from governors and head teachers that that would be welcome. We believe that it will build on the success that noble Lords have described as taking place in education authority areas. Having listened to the debate, I shall want to reflect further. I am not sure that I shall be able to find a way that will satisfy all noble Lords, but I am happy to offer to meet with noble Lords to discuss the matter further before we reach the next stage of the Bill.

Lord Jones

Regarding the consultation with the LEAs and the proposed forums, shall we assume that a substantial body of the local education authorities is deficient in consultation? If that is the case, does my noble friend have any body of research or any information that she may share with the Committee as to why she proposes the forums in the Bill?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

I had hoped that I had given the noble Lord some encouragement when I described how we have been considering good practice that exists within certain local education authorities. We are seeking to set up something that is not just a talking shop but more; something that will enable that dialogue to turn into a solid relationship between schools forums and local education authorities with a respect for the role of each. On the basis of the good experience that exists, I am happy to write to the noble Lord laying out some of the examples, of which the Committee will be fully aware, that we have considered. It is for those reasons that head teachers, governors and their representative bodies have said that they want to explore the situation with us. Having said that I am happy to discuss this further with noble Lords, I hope that it will be taken forward.

Lord Jones

That is sufficient reassurance for me to say that should there be a vote I shall be with my noble friend.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

Perhaps the Minister will clarify her response to the amendment of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. She suggested that in some areas where minority interests were relatively small it would not be appropriate for them to be represented on schools forums. However, in some boroughs, such as the borough of Wigan, close to 50 per cent of schools are run by the Churches. In those circumstances, who is in a majority and who is in a minority?

In subsection (10), to which I believe she referred in new Section 47A on schools forums, it says that, 'non-school member', in relation to a schools forum, means a member other than a schools member". Does that mean that a representative who may be placed on the schools forums from a voluntary-aided school can, in no circumstances, be someone involved in the school? That was what she implied when saying that they would be representatives of the diocese and so on. Surely that will not put them on the same basis as other representatives who will come from the maintained sector. I am grateful that she has indicated that she is willing to have further consultation on these matters. Will she bear in mind those points as the consultations proceed?

Lord Lucas

As the Minister responded to the amendments I became more and more concerned that the Government are missing the point of what is being carried out so successfully in many local authorities. Local authorities are gathering consent and conducting matters in a way that, from time to time, suits a particular local authority, a particular group of schools and a particular set of problems. It is a structure that is flexible and that can respond to difficulties that may arise; for example, one particular group of schools may feel that it is not properly represented on the forum, but the forum is not charged with any statutory duty. Its object is to produce consent. Its usefulness as far as concerns the local authority is to produce something that is owned by the schools so that when the unpleasant task of cutting £1 million from the budgets to fund extra special educational needs provision arises, the exercise can be conducted with consent and with understanding all round.

The structure in the Bill appears to introduce something that is too rigid. If voluntary-aided schools were unhappy with what was going on and they were not represented, that would leave them feeling that they had not consented to a decision that the schools forum had made; they would not feel part of it. It would seem to me that that would lose the point of the good practice that has been established.

By acclamation, this Chamber is moving towards greater power for elected Members, but in local education authorities we are moving the other way and introducing mini quangos that will have powers that are not responsive to the electorate. I am not sure that that is the way that we should go. I believe that we should work through the democracy and the good practice of local education authorities. By all means let us have the power as a fall-back position for schools, but allow local authorities to produce their own solutions if the fall-back power would compel them to do it in a way that they would not like. I find that a valuable way of encouraging good practice.

I have one technical question. The Minister referred to the admission forums having powers. As far as I can see, that comes under new Section 47A(3)(a) which refers to new Section 45A(3). I cannot see that Clause 45A(3) refers in any explicit way to giving powers to schools forums. Can the Minister explain the technicalities of how something that appears to be a regulation governing what is delegated or what is not, can suddenly give powers to another body to take part in those decisions when that body is not mentioned at all in anything to do with new Section 45A(3)?

That may just be a misunderstanding on my part. But it gives me unease that one can look at the regulations in new Section 45A(3) and assume that they are a matter between the Department for Education and Skills and local education authorities, and suddenly find that they are giving powers to another body. How many other bodies will they be giving power to? I am not clear on that point.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

I rise for a second time, but feel better about doing so because I expressed sympathy to the Minister for the task imposed upon her by the other place. As I followed her logic—and it was about her logic that I was concerned when I first spoke—it is, as my noble friend Lord Lucas said much more articulately than I could, that things are working well on a voluntary basis and in a consultative manner in certain parts of the country and therefore we should standardise them. However, it seems possible, as my noble friend Lord Lucas implied, that it is the very circumstances in which they have hitherto been working which have made them successful. I am perfectly happy to be proved wrong.

I shall also be happy if the noble Lord, Lord Jones, will allow me to be copied with whatever letter the Minister sends to him. I am happy to keep an open mind in regard to what the Minister says. Butt have always been powerfully influenced by the observation of C S Lewis that if you hear about somebody going around doing good to others, you can always tell the others by their hunted look!

Baroness Walmsley

Did I understand the Minister to say that the schools forums would completely replace the current consultation processes? If so, we are in danger of dumbing down rather than improving the quality overall in the interests of the consistency to which the Minister referred.

I am concerned that many schools would not be involved with the schools forums. The primary schools in particular may lose out because the system will undoubtedly be dominated by the secondary schools. Nor am I convinced that there is a demand for this kind of structure. Clearly it comes to some extent from the Secondary Heads Association. But I wonder how many head teachers are behind the statement and how many school governors are demanding a structure of this kind. I am afraid that the Government will be jumping out of what they consider to be a frying pan into what the rest of us consider to be a fire.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

I appear to be the only Member of your Lordships' Chamber who is quite excited by the idea of schools forums, which may say something although I do not know what.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, confused me because he mentioned admissions forums, which are different. The technical answer to his question is that new Section 45A(4)(c) relates to schools forums powers under 45A(3). I can go no further than that at this point, but shall be happy to take that up with him later if it would help.

I am sorry if I gave the illusion that schools forums are meant to replace the consultative mechanisms. They are not. Members of the Committee will know that some local education authorities have extremely sophisticated systems. The Government do not want to interfere with those. This provision says that there needs to be an opportunity for some kind of representation of schools, elected by schools, to come together and discuss with local education authorities what is happening in their area. We believe this to be a good method of doing that.

As Members of the Committee will be aware—particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, because she has stood at this Dispatch Box—different local education authorities have different experiences, as do schools. So sometimes the role of government is to put together a package which is made to look the same across the piece in order to ensure that those schools, those education authorities and ultimately those children, receive the best possible service. That is what we are trying to create in these provisions.

As I said, I am happy to discuss the detail. I recognise the strength of feeling. It is not a question of taking away what has flowered, blossomed and grown in different areas to be something hugely successful. We are providing something to enable a dialogue to develop under a new funding regime and with the new opportunities that arise on a representative basis. It is no more and no less than that. There are some matters the forums could discuss with the LEAs. But of course the main bulk of funding provisions rests where it should; that is, either with the school or with the local education authority.

I confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that I was saying that we would be allowing different categories to cover precisely the point that in some areas many schools are voluntary aided and in other areas very few are, and to recognise that representatives from the diocese could be part of the forums via the group we described as a non-schools member. I hope that that reassures Members of the Committee. I look forward to continuing the debate but hope that the clause will be allowed to stand part.

Lord Lucas

Perhaps I can just come back to the technical answer to my query on new Section 45A(3). I shall be happy for the noble Baroness to write to me. But what concerns me is that new Section 45A(3) refers to expenditure being determined by the authority, in respect of that year as they may determine should be so deducted in accordance with regulations". That giving of power apparently allows powers to be conferred on a schools forum without the schools forum in any way being mentioned in the provision. It implies that the same regulation could be used, for instance, to confer powers on Railtrack; in other words, there is a complete unknown as to on whom those powers are being conferred because it is not mentioned on the face of the Bill. That is what concerns me about the provision. It is a technical matter but I should like it to be covered at some stage.

Baroness Blatch

I begin by saying how much I agree with my noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville. But what I find really depressing is reading the accounts of the debates in another place and on coming to the end of every single sitting, finding a clutch of clauses which have received no discussion whatever. I find that to be a disgrace. I must say in passing that whatever comes out of the debate on the future of this place, if something does not put that right—I refer to the elected Chamber, the elected Members of this country, under all governments, not being allowed to discuss the merits or demerits of all the Bills that pass through their House—we shall be very remiss with regard to our obligation to do something about the democratic deficit in this country; and the democratic deficit is not in this place; it is in another place.

Having said that, the noble Baroness said a moment ago that the arrangements in this clause are not in any way meant to substitute for what local authorities are already doing. But that is not a real world comment. No local authority will keep the arrangements it already has in place, which are working well, are highly satisfactory and which are successful in its own area, if at the same time it has this obligation superimposed on it to duplicate that effort and, worse still, to pass over from the local authority to a wholly unelected body, to be called the "schools forums", powers to determine financial aspects of budget making. That is simply not acceptable.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

Perhaps I may add that the schools are also going to find themselves top-sliced in order to pay for the schools forums, and of course will have to find time for the extra level of bureaucracy—10 meetings and so forth—which is probably the last thing they want.

Baroness Blatch

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, pre-empted my next point, which was to ask who is going to meet the cost of the forums. We all know the answer. It will have to come from the overall education budget. The same applies to the time that will be involved, the logistics of meetings and the number of meetings that will have to be held; and if we are empowering these bodies to determine aspects of budget making, the meetings will have to be extremely formal.

I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Alton, or the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn was satisfied with the answer given to their comments. But perhaps I may make another point. I am grateful that the Minister intends to reflect on the points made about voluntary-aided schools in various LEAs. Sadly, some areas have voluntary-aided and faith schools which are not looked upon kindly by the local education authority. It is important that those schools are protected in some way. Schools in those authorities—this is a point made by the right reverend Prelate—have different obligations under funding arrangements. If we pass down powers to determine to local schools forums, it is important that they should have some form of representation. I ask the Minister to bear that point in mind.

If the Government are worried about the amount of money that goes into schools and if they believe that there is a big issue of LEAs not passing down the money, there is a remedy: they could fund schools directly. I return to the point which I have made on previous amendments. The guilty party is the Government. There is the money held back by central government and the additional burdens put on local government which erode the money that would normally go into schools. A schools forum would not put that matter right. The Government have the powers to put it right.

I conclude by saying that there are two objections to the clause. First, local authorities, which have perfectly good arrangements in place, will have to substitute those with the arrangements set out in the clauses in the Bill. I think that that is absolute bunkum. If the noble Baroness is saying that the rationale for this clause is that the Government are trying to emulate what local authorities do well and pass that good practice around, I say that there needs to be a simple clause in the Bill requiring each LEA area to have good, meaningful and effective pre-budgetary consultation processes in place, and which allows the inspectorate to judge whether that provision is working properly.

The other objection to the clause is the unacceptable passing on of decision-making powers to a wholly unelected body. Perhaps I may give advance notice that I shall not be opposing that the clause stand part because we shall need to return to the matter. There is concern about it on all Benches of the House, including the Government's. If this clause remains on the face of the Bill, governing bodies should at least have the flexibility to decide whether or not they have a schools forum. That would get over the whole issue of the noble Baroness's case. Therefore, where LEAs' arrangements are working well their governing bodies could vote not to change them. In those where they are not, governing bodies could say that they need a schools forum.

6.46 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 166) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 78; Not-Contents, 120.

Division No. 2
Alton of Liverpool, L. Flather, B.
Astor of Hever, L. Forsyth of Drumlean, L.
Attlee, E. Freeman, L.
Baker of Dorking, L. Geddes, L.
Barker, B. Glentoran, L.
Biffen, L. Goodhart, L.
Blackwell, L. Gray of Contin, L.
Blatch, B. Griffiths of Fforestfach, L
Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L. Harris of High Cross, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Harris of Richmond, B.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Haslam, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L. [Teller] Higgins, L.
Craigavon, V. Holderness, L.
Dahrendorf, L. Home, E.
Dean of Harptree, L. Howe, E.
Dholakia, L. Howell of Guildford, L.
Dixon-Smith, L. Hunt of Wirral, L.
Hurd of Westwell, L. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Jopling, L. Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Kimball, L. Rennard, L.
Kingsland, L. Renton, L.
Kirkham, L. Roberts of Conwy, L.
Lamont of Lerwick, L. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Livsey of Talgarth, L. Rotherwick, L. [Teller]
Lucas, L. Russell, E.
MacLaurin of Knebworth, L. Scott of Needham Market, B
McNally, L. Seccombe, B.
Maddock, B. Sharp of Guildford, B.
Mancroft, L. Shutt of Greetland, L.
Marlesford, L. Strathclyde, L.
Masham of Ilton, B. Swinfen, L.
Monson, L. Taylor of Warwick, L.
Montrose, D. Tebbit, L.
Moynihan, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Newby, L. Vivian, L.
Northbrook, L. Wakeham, L.
Northesk, E. Walmsley, B.
Oxfuird, V. Wilcox, B.
Park of Monmouth, B. Williams of Crosby, B.
Acton, L. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Alli, L. Grenfell, L.
Ampthill, L. Grocott, L.
Andrews, B. Hardy of Wath, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Harrison, L.
Ashton of Upholland, B. Haskel, L.
Bach, L. Hayman, B.
Barnett, L. Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.
Berkeley, L. Hollis of Heigham, B.
Bernstein of Craigweil, L. Howie of Troon, L.
Billingham, B. Hoyle, L.
Blackstone, B. Hughes of Woodside, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Bragg, L. Irvine of Lairg, L. (Lord Chancellor)
Brennan, L.
Brookman, L. Janner of Braunstone, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Jay of Paddington, B.
Burlison, L. Jones, L.
Campbell-Savours, L. King of West Bromwich, L.
Carter, L. [Teller] Lea of Crondall, L.
Chandos, V. Lipsey, L.
Christopher, L. Lockwood, B.
Clark of Windermere, L. Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. McCarthy, L.
Cohen of Pimlico, B. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L. [Teller]
Craig of Radley, L. McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
Crawley, B. MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
David, B. Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L
Davies of Coity, L. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Davies of Oldham, L. Massey of Darwen, B.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B. Milner of Leeds, L.
Desai, L. Mitchell, L.
Dixon, L. Morris of Aberavon, L.
Dubs, L. Nicol, B.
Elder, L. Palmer, L.
Evans of Parkside, L. Parekh, L.
Evans of Temple Guiting, L. Patel, L.
Evans of Watford, L. Pendry, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Pitkeathley, B.
Faulkner of Worcester, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Filkin, L. Puttnam, L.
Fyfe of Fairfield, L. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B, Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Gladwin of Clee, L. Rea, L.
Goldsmith, L. Rendell of Babergh, B.
Gordon of Strathblane, L. Richard, L.
Goudie, B. Rix, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Rogers of Riverside, L.
Grabiner, L. Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Serota, B. Tomlinson, L.
Sheldon, L. Turnberg, L.
Simon, V. Turner of Camden, B.
Smith of Gilmorehill, B. Varley, L.
Smith of Leigh, L. Walker of Doncaster, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L. Whitaker, B.
Strabolgi, L. Whitty, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B. Wilkins, B.
Taylor of Blackburn, L. Williams of Mostyn, L. (Lord Privy Seal)
Temple-Morris, L. Woolmer of Leeds, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

6.53 p.m.

[Amendments Nos. 167 to 169 not moved.]

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

moved Amendment No. 170: Page 27, line 29, at end insert— (3A) Regulations made under section 45A(3) or by virtue of subsection (3)(b) may include provision requiring relevant authorities to consult schools forums in relation 10 prescribed matters or before taking prescribed decisions. On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn

moved Amendment No. 171: Page 27, line 31, at end insert— () Regulations shall secure that the membership of a schools forum includes representatives of the governing bodies and head teachers of any voluntary aided schools maintained by the authority. The right reverend Prelate said: I must say that I am disappointed by the Minister's response, because I was one of the Members of the Committee who she might have converted to her enthusiasm. I am deeply troubled, because in the name of the introduction of good practice, we risk removing existing good practice and we underestimate a tension that may arise if voluntary-aided schools are not properly represented in the forums, if we are to have them.

However, I take some comfort—because I was given half a loaf rather than a whole one—from the promise of guidance and of the appointment of a non-schools member, which I take to be someone from a diocese or other parent body of a group of faith schools. I shall study carefully what the Minister had to say—in particular, her offer to meet those of us who are deeply concerned about the matter for further discussion to find a way forward. With those brief words, I beg to move.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

I rise to support the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. I, too, am happy to be moved between now and Report by any arguments that the Minister may advance to convince me to join her in the Lobby next time. I supported the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, because I did not feel that the arguments so far advanced went far enough. I strongly believe that we should treat voluntary-aided schools in precisely the same way as we treat the maintained sector. The arguments made today as to why we should not do so were unconvincing.

I look forward to hearing why it is impossible to achieve that objective by the more simple route of putting all schools on the same footing, which would be much better and easier, and which the right reverend Prelate seeks to achieve by the amendment. Between now and Report, I look forward to the discussions that the Minister has offered us today.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

I, too, look forward to those discussions. We are searching for what is the right footing—we agree on that. I am sorry to have given the right reverend Prelate only half a loaf. I failed him on Ascension Day; I have failed him yet again; but I live in hope. I look forward to those discussions and continuing our debate.

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 41, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 42 [Accounts of maintained schools]:

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

moved Amendment No. 172: Page 28, line 22, at end insert ", and () to provide information to the local education authority and the parents of pupils on roll at the school, reasons for holding reserves, if at the end of the financial year the statement of account indicates that such reserves are in excess of 1 per cent of the school's budget The noble Baroness said: I shall not detain the Committee long on this amendment. The clause is about how school accounts should be drawn up. The amendment provides that where schools are holding substantial reserves, not only should account be given of the reserves but information should be provided to both the local education authority and the parents on why they are holding such large reserves.

One or two schools hold reserves of well over £1 million; at least one school has reserves of more than £2 million. There appears to be no particular reason for those schools to hold those reserves, and the amendment would require them to account for why they are doing so. If there is a particular reason, they should provide it to both the local education authority and the parents. It is clear that money being held in reserves is money that is not being spent for the purposes for which it was allocated: supporting the education of the pupils at the school.

Some schools may well be holding reserves to support a particular long-term project. However, whatever their rationale, it is evident that both LEAs and parents are entitled to an explanation of why such large reserves are being kept—why the money is being retained. That is why I tabled the amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

The noble Baroness referred to at least two schools that she knew to be holding considerable reserves, and said that some schools—although not those schools in particular—have no particular good reason for holding on to reserves. I have sympathy with what the noble Baroness seeks through the amendment in that any reserves held by a school should be a matter of public information. The governing body should certainly make that information available to parents. Parents should know what reserves are held.

I also have no objection in principle to that information being available to the local education authority, but I was unnerved when the noble Baroness mentioned there being no particular good reason for holding reserves. Some schools may just be concerned to save a rainy day—for that terrible teaching crisis that may loom without notice; or for a dearth of something fairly expensive that needs to be replaced, such as technical equipment or books and other equipment. They may have no particular reason but have reason to believe that holding a reserve is a good thing.

Other schools are saving for a non-revenue recurring expenditure that they can meet only by accumulating money year on year until they can purchase what they want. Or they may be using the money on an instalment basis to pay for something rather larger than could be met from normal annual funding.

We should leave schools free to accumulate reserves, if they wish to do so. I have no objection to making that a matter of public information, available to parents and covered in the annual report. I have no objection, in principle, to making it a matter of information—no more—for the local education authority, but I hope that it will not lead local education authorities to take a view about whether it is right or wrong for a school to do it and seek powers to limit the amount held or interfere, in some way, with a school's priorities. I do not know whether it is the noble Baroness's intention that the amendment should extend to giving local authorities such powers.

I am strongly in favour of schools being master in their own house in this area, but I have no objection to making it a matter of public information.

7 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My wording was too loose. There may be good reasons why a school would wish to hold reserves, but it is important that there should be transparency about the matter. The LEA and the parents, through the governing body, should know how big the reserves are and why they are held.

Lord Lucas

On the second time around, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford. She was agreeing with my noble friend Lady Blatch on what the amendment is about.

For some schools, 1 per cent is nothing. A little primary school with 80 pupils will want reserves of 5 per cent. Such a school has no flexibility with regard to its teaching staff. What happens if a family moves out of the area? Such schools need a high percentage reserve. However, it should be public, it should be explained to parents, and it should be treated in an upfront manner by the governors.

Lord Davies of Oldham

Amity has broken out all around. The Government share the general views expressed in the debate on the amendment. We have some reservations about the amendment itself, however, and that is why I shall ask the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, to withdraw it.

The noble Baroness spoke about substantial reserves. It would not be right to say that a school operating on just 1 per cent of surplus had substantial reserves. We would consider a figure closer to 5 per cent, the figure that we expect local authorities to use when they check out such matters. We do not quarrel with the thinking behind the debate or with what noble Lords have said. We are carrying out a pilot project relating to information for parents, and we will consider the situation positively and constructively.

We recognise the virtue of the arguments presented so well in the debate, and we shall consider the matter further. However, we disagree about the detail and would, therefore, like the amendment to be withdrawn.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I thank the Minister for his encouraging reply. I am delighted that the Government intend to think further about the matter. I agree that 1 per cent is too low a level; it would be more sensible for it to be about 5 per cent. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 42 agreed to.

Clause 43 agreed to.

Baroness Blatch

moved Amendment No. 173: Before Clause 44, insert the following new clause— "RESTRICTIONS RELATING TO PETITIONS AND BALLOTS After section 106 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (c. 31) (ballot regulations: eligibility of parents to request or vote in ballot) there is inserted— "106A RESTRICTIONS RELATING TO PETITIONS AND BALLOTS Where a petition of parents has been initiated, or a ballot held and no change to admissions arrangements has been agreed, no further ballot may take place within a period of six years from the initiation of the petition." The noble Baroness said: This amendment will dispel any amity between these Benches and the Government Benches. It is an important amendment, and it gives the Government the opportunity to end the vendetta against grammar schools. A sword of Damocles has hung—and continues to hang—over grammar schools. There has been a war of attrition against some schools, taking the form either of threatening a petition or of actually gaining one. In the case of one school, there was indeed a ballot.

The Government do not believe that there should be petitions and ballots to determine the fate of city technology colleges, academies or specialist schools, all of which, in one way or another, select their pupils. Why single out grammar schools? There is no logic in that. Although no grammar school has, to date, been closed as a result of the Government's policy, there has been disruption, there is anxiety, and precious time and energy has been spent on dealing with challenges and potential challenges. Once a group—however small—of people who object philosophically to the existence of grammar schools becomes active in an area, there is uncertainty and disquiet.

Why are grammar schools singled out for such treatment? Is it because they select? So do city technology colleges, academies and specialist schools. Is it because they select academically able pupils? If so, why should bright children be discriminated against, when those who are talented in sport, science, technology, the arts, music and other subjects do not receive such treatment? Why do the Government support specialist schools for music, art, dance? The department supports some very élitist schools of ballet and music. I approve of all of that, but there seems to be some inconsistency. We allow an élite in some of the subjects that I mentioned, but, somehow, there is discrimination against academically able children.

One argument that one hears is that there are only about 166 grammar schools. There is debate over whether it is 166 or 164, but I shall not argue about that. Some ask why, as there are only 166 schools, there should be so much fuss. That is what Mr Blunkett said, when he was Secretary of State. However, there are far fewer city technology colleges—about 15—and there are even fewer academies. So the argument that is based on the fact that there are only 166 grammar schools is no argument at all. It is pure politics—the politics of envy.

There has always been an aversion to allowing bright children—particularly those from less advantaged homes—to get their feet on the ladder into schools that provide for them. The other day, I read, out of interest, the CVs of noble Lords—on the Government Benches as well as the other Benches. Many noble Lords have enjoyed a grammar school education. There is nothing more wicked than for someone to enjoy a facility and then close the door behind him and deny it to others.

We are also told that the Government are concerned about increasing access to university for bright young people from poorer backgrounds. Grammar schools are especially successful at preparing such young people for entry into higher education. They have traditionally been successful at doing that, and they are still successful at it. I reject the idea that we should, in any way, disrupt the existence of such schools.

We know that the policy is a sop. Although there is a dichotomy between what the Liberals do locally and what they do nationally, those on the Liberal Benches made it clear that, had they been the parents of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, they would have put in a clause that would have abolished grammar schools altogether. They made no secret of that, and I accept that, although there is a tension between that and what individual Liberals do locally.

Even so, why is there such a vendetta against people who follow their abilities and aptitudes into appropriate education? It is inexplicable.

My amendment is cost-free. It would allow grammar schools to continue to exist without the constant annual threat of disruption. It would also allow the continuance of one sector of education that has served this country well for hundreds of years. I beg to move.

Baroness David

I do not believe that at this time of night and at this stage of the Bill it is the moment to start a debate about selection and the success of comprehensive schools. However, I agree with the noble Baroness on one point: the present system is not working at all well and there is a possibility of making it work a little better.

I should like to see the end of grammar schools. I do not believe that they have all the benefits the noble Baroness describes and I believe that the systems of petitions and so forth should be stopped. I suggest that the threshold for calling a ballot as distinct from starting a petition should be lowered so that parents can have a say on local grammar school admissions. At present they appear to be denied a choice. The amendment would stop for six years a further attempt to start a parent petition.

Do the Government believe that they can change the present arrangements so that they are fairer and parents can have a better say? The present system does not work.

Baroness Blatch

Was the noble Baroness agreeing that there should be a six-year moratorium, which my amendment calls for?

Baroness David

Six years will stop parents having any say for a long time. I should like the system to be changed.

Lord Lucas

There appears to be scope for a midway between the noble Baroness, Lady David, and my noble friend. If it were made easier to hold a ballot and then afterwards there were a long moratorium, that would be sensible from all points of view. We have a system in place and I do not see the Government changing it, but having a continual guerrilla war is not good for the parents who are complaining or for the schools which are being "got at". We need to have the matter decided, as in Ripon, get it out of the way and get everyone existing together in a happier frame of mind. If progress could be made in that direction, I should be delighted.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

I recall the Minister saying at Second Reading that she had not had the privilege of meeting the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley. I have had the great privilege of knowing the noble Lord for 47 years and have debated with him on and off throughout that period. When I saw him in the Chamber earlier today, I immediately asked myself why he was here and I am sorry that he left before we reached this debate. He and I even got so far as to contest a place on the executive of the National Union of Students.

Politicians enjoy bust-ups and therefore I understand why people want to have the kind of contest that is involved in this matter. Furthermore, I realise that there are strong feelings on both sides. However, my experience of the British people is that they are less enthusiastic about having permanent bust-ups and would rather that politicians did not have them so often. My proof of that is the astonishing boredom which develops during general elections. In their third week people are longing for them to end so that there will not be another for five years. Most importantly, in the human condition uncertainty is a profound source of demoralisation and it seems to me to be a very bad thing to produce such a degree of uncertainty on a constant basis.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

I share with the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, a sadness that my noble friend Lord Hattersley is not with us in the Chamber—he may suddenly reappear—because I know that he would want to engage in this debate.

I intend to reflect far more on the essence of the amendment, but I do so because this Chamber has had the opportunity to debate these issues at great length and I do not wish to reopen that debate on this Bill and this particular clause.

All of us in this Chamber are striving to provide the best education system we can for every child in the country. That unites us. What divides us is the means by which we seek to achieve that. I had the benefit of a grammar school education. I am the first and only woman in my family to have gone to university and I hope that my daughter will be the second. I watched so many of my friends fail their 11-plus and fail to enjoy the benefits. They were men and women I considered to be as bright as I was. We had a system which said, "If you go to grammar school you are this and if you go somewhere else you are that and the 'that' is not as good as the 'this'". That is why I, as an individual as well as a Minister, philosophically do not support selection by ability at 11.

That does not mean that I do not value diversity. I believe that all Members of the Committee will agree with diversity of ability within our society: that people who can dance should go to the Royal Ballet School and that people who can play instruments or sing like angels should go to music schools. Many people can do things which I cannot do, whether that is fixing the plumbing—which I certainly cannot do—or creating a building, because we are all different. We are striving for an education system which values that difference and which values and enables us all to grow and develop. For me, that is the comprehensive system, but for other Members of the Committee it may be a different system. That is where I stand and from where I cannot move.

The clause makes two changes. First, it makes a change to the moratorium period of five years from the date on which the ballot result is announced to six years from the date on which the petition is initiated. We have considered that matter carefully and believe that in practice it will take the better part of a year for campaigners to gather names for a petition, for a ballot company to check validity, and for a ballot to be held. Therefore, we believe that in that respect the clause would have no practical effect.

Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, the new clause would introduce a new moratorium in the event of an unsuccessful petition when a ballot had not been held. We have said that we want parents to he in the driving seat on this issue and it is right that when a ballot clearly demonstrates local support for the existing admission arrangements, as in Rippon, for example, the school concerned should enjoy a period of stability. That is why our procedures allow a five-year moratorium on further campaigns.

However, where there has been no ballot and therefore no expression of local feeling, we do not believe it can be right to deny parents the opportunity to reconsider the issue. It is possible for the new clause to leave the system open to abuse. Someone would only have to register a petition with a ballot company and then without collecting a single signature during the year, that person would be able to prevent any attempt in the next five years to gauge support among local parents. We believe that introducing a provision which would open the door to such potential abuse cannot be right.

Grammar school ballot arrangement were debated in great detail during the passage of the School Standards and Framework Act and I believe that all sides of your Lordships' House had great opportunity to put their arguments forward. We continue to believe that the arrangements currently in place strike a sensible balance between the stability that schools need and the parent's right to express a view. We believe that it represents the best way forward. I am grateful to the noble Baroness because the amendment has given us time to reflect on that further, but we are still firmly of that view. I hope that she will feel persuaded to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Blatch

I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady David, does not believe that this is a good time to start an argument. We will probably be starting arguments at 11 o'clock tonight on some issues and I regard 7.20 p.m. as almost morning in terms of how we conduct business in this place.

I am also disappointed in the Minister's comment that as the matter has been debated at length in this House, she has no intention of debating it again. We return to some issues again and again. The fact that a matter has been debated once does not mean that it is done and dusted and should never be debated again. The merits—or demerits, as I see them—of an issue should he revisited because no government have the wisdom of getting things right all the time.

The Minister argued that although she has been to a grammar school, many people have not. I have certainly heard that argument before and have argued that one of the problems was that there was not enough of them. There could have been more. The Minister might like me to bore her at the next stage of the Bill—I may—with some of the evidence, by citing cases in Northern Ireland, for instance, where there are grammar, secondary modern and other types of school, as there are in Kent and other counties. In those areas, the secondary modern schools do better by their pupils, just as the grammar schools do better by theirs. That is because each school deals with a limited range of ability and is therefore able to focus on the particular needs of its pupils.

I turn to the issue of making decisions at the age of 11 years. I agree that that is a debatable point; I have always thought so. There is a debate to be had about whether decisions should be made at the age of 11, 12 or 13. We know that in the independent sector decisions are made at 13, which those schools regard as a better stage for children to move from what are essentially junior into senior schools.

But the fact that there is a constant, almost political and philosophical objection to bright young people being taught appropriately in a grammar school setting seems to me to be absurd. I really must ask the noble Baroness to tell me why it should be that in an area with a city technology college, which creams off many children, and where three, four and sometimes five applications are received for each place—and parents whose children are unlucky and do not receive a place in those schools probably feel as disappointed as those whose children did not pass the 11-plus —there is no system in place for local parents to take a view on whether such a school should continue to cream off the 20 per cent of successful applicants who are fortunate enough to get a place.

I certainly do not argue that there should be a system in place to do that, but I wish to put a straight question to the noble Baroness: why should grammar schools be on the receiving end of this rather pernicious system of petitioning and balloting while, for example, city technology colleges are not?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

We shall not allow any more city technology colleges to be created under the Bill. The noble Baroness has raised an important point which I shall take back to the department.

However, I am concerned about the need to ensure that all our children receive the high-quality education they deserve, appropriate to their needs. On that we are agreed. Where we disagree is that there should be one system which declares that, at the age of 11, a decision is made that certain children are able to move forward, while children who may not have developed fully at that age are left disappointed. I think that "disappointment" is an underestimate of the feeling of some children who fail the 11-plus examination and their families. In a sense, it felt as though the system had written them off. I cannot support a system that is designed to do that.

The noble Baroness raised an issue with regard to the age at which children develop. We can discuss that matter and I shall be happy to return to it on Report. But it is important that I make our position absolutely clear. We think that ballots provide the right and appropriate way for parents to express their views and, in so doing, ensure continued stability for the schools concerned. That is a reasonable position for the Government to take.

Baroness Blatch

That response was interesting and extremely revealing, on two counts. First, I turn to the matter of city technology colleges. Ministers have gone on the record lauding them. Ministers have gone on the record congratulating my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking for initiating the city technology colleges. They have remained a part of the patchwork offering variety in educational provision. Indeed, the Minister's colleagues in another place have quite rightly built on the model of the city technology colleges in their plans for specialist schools. They are looking at ways of conferring greater economic freedom and autonomy at the school level. However, the noble Baroness says, "We have had enough of them and there will not be any more".

Secondly, I turn to grammar schools. Ministers on the Government Benches both here and in another place have said: "We are neutral on grammar schools and we take no view on whether they stay or they go". Indeed, the right honourable Mr Blunkett has commented that, "there are only 166 of them and I have other things to worry about in education". However, the noble Baroness has revealed her petticoat on this matter in that she has argued against them philosophically. She has argued against their existence and why we should have them. She has argued that they are wrong.

The noble Baroness made a comment with which I absolutely agree: all children should have the best possible quality of education appropriate to their needs. That is what I am arguing for here. A very bright child living in a part of the country where the schools are not able to offer the kind of highly academic, fast-stream education appropriate to that child's needs has nowhere to go. If there are some grammar schools, or if such a child could take advantage of something like the assisted places scheme to take it to an independent school, at least those provided an avenue. The latter scheme has already been denied to such children. Furthermore, over time, however painful it might be under the pernicious system supported by the noble Baroness and her colleagues, they would like to see the demise of our grammar schools. That is lamentable.

Perhaps the noble Baroness wishes to intervene.

Lord Baker of Dorking

Before the Minister rises to reply, perhaps I may commiserate with her in her moral dilemma. She has made it clear that she loathes—perhaps that is too strong a word—grammar schools. She said that she attended such a school, and that she does not want to see a system of selection at the age of 11. I think she used words along the lines of, "very harmful to our education system".

The noble Baroness is speaking as a Minister of the Government rather than as a Whip who is shared around the departments. The Minister is a representative of the Department for Education and Skills. She is therefore able to bring forward an amendment to fulfil her principles; namely, to abolish grammar schools. If she is so strongly opposed to grammar schools, then surely she should bring forward an amendment to the Bill to abolish them. She spoke most movingly about how she—if not loathed—disliked grammar schools and how they are harmful to the system.

If the Minister really believes what she has said and really believes that this is how she wants to improve the education system, then it is up to her to move an amendment. But of course she will not do so. The Government introduced a proposal to hold ballots because they wanted to shift the moral dilemma from the Government to some other body. They did not themselves want to be responsible for making the decision. They did not want to stand by their principles. Instead they declared that, "We must find some other body that can make the decision for us". Hence the introduction of what in my view is a rigged system of parental ballots.

However, that system has failed. It has failed not marginally, but totally and completely. In one ballot held in Ripon, those who, like the noble Baroness, Lady David, wanted grammar schools to be abolished, campaigned vigorously in that vein. That campaign was decisively rejected. In many other places they have not even been able to get sufficient numbers of people interested in the matter. Do not the Government realise that when something has failed, then they should perhaps recognise that? When they are in a hole, they should stop digging.

The ballot system has failed and it would be better for it to be forgotten and much better for the legislation to be repealed. Then there would be no moral dilemma for the Minister. Although she may believe it, it would no longer be government policy.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

It is very kind of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, to worry about my moral dilemma, but I do not feel that I have one. The reason I say that is because I made it clear that what I do not agree with is the 11-plus examination. The Government too have made their position clear on that. We believe that, as far as we possibly can, we should put parents in the driving seat when it comes to education. We know that parents want to do what is best for their children.

On the question of the grammar school system, we do not want to spend our time dismantling a system because we believe that parents in the relevant areas should have a right to say what kind of system they wish to see in place. That is a straightforward attitude.

The noble Lord may say that the ballot system has failed, but when considering the Ripon experience, surely those who support the grammar school system should be pleased with that result. We think that we have in place a system that represents the best way forward. We shall leave it there. It is for parents to use. Those who wish to do so can take advantage of it. The system creates stability.

I recognise the comments made by the noble Baroness with regard to city technology colleges. Of course they are independent schools. We have built on their experience in terms of our academies; namely, looking at the different ways in which schools can be funded. However, academies will be bound by the admission arrangements in place in the local education authority.

We believe that we have a consistent view in this area and so I have no moral dilemma. However, what I am not prepared to do is to start ripping apart structures and thus preventing parents from taking the opportunity to have their say. We believe that we have the balance right.

Baroness Blatch

That is a wholly illogical argument. Parents have the right to say whether they want the future of bright children to be secure in a grammar school, but they have no right to determine whether city technology colleges should continue to exist.

The primary objection of the noble Baroness appears to be the 11-plus examination. As I have said, I think that that is a matter for debate. If the noble Baroness felt able to bring forward suggestions that such an examination should be changed to the age of 12 or 13 years, that would be more honest. My noble friend has even suggested bringing forward a policy to abolish those tests altogether.

What I find extraordinary and illogical in this argument is that, while taking an examination and attending an interview to go to a grammar school smacks of winners and losers—some pass and gain a place while others do not—exactly the same thing happens in higher education. Young people apply through an examination system to get into a university. Some will succeed; others will not. Entry into what I may call the "Ivy League" universities is even more difficult. There will also be changes there. I understand that the Government are about to dumb down the higher education sector until it resembles the comprehensive system. We have debated the issue already; we shall do so again.

The noble Baroness rightly said that the gaining of a petition can take up to a year. Beyond a year the matter has to be dropped and begun all over again. Therefore, the matter would take the best part of a year. If my amendment were taken at face value, the process would simply have to be initiated—a signature may not have been collected—and the moratorium would apply. I shall consider that point.

The noble Baroness said that the process would take the best part of a year and, therefore, there would be no practical effect. I do not understand that. Even if the process took the best part of a year and I were to modify the provision so that it took effect at the end of the collection of signatures rather than at the initiating of them—in effect, that would be five years—it would have an effect. Those schools would be left alone for five years. I chose six years because that is the period for a child at a grammar school. At present, the life of a child in a grammar school is disrupted—this has occurred in the north-west—in his first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth years. My amendment seeks to avoid that. Once there has been a major disruption in the school, with signatures collected by a petition which has failed, the school should then be left alone for another five to six years.

The argument is that parents must have a say. If parents have a say with regard to bright children, why do they not have a say with regard to all the other talented people for whom specialist provision is made by the education system through city technology colleges, specialist schools and dance, music and drama schools? The policy seems to be borne out of politics only. I shall not press the amendment but we shall return to the issue.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving the Motion, perhaps I may suggest that the Committee stage begin again not before 8.33 p.m.

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

House resumed.