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Mr. James Cran (Beverley) : On the structure of local government, my right hon. Friend will be aware that in an interim report the Boundary Commission has already decided to recommend the abolition of Humberside county council. When the final report is published, can he assure my constituents in east Yorkshire that that will suffice to get rid of the county and that it need not be re-examined?
Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : Given the enormity of his task, may I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on coming forward so quickly on the restructuring and refinancing of local government? If my right hon. Friend listens for a moment, he will probably hear the cheers ringing out from Cleveland at the echo of the fact that that authority is about to go. In the meantime, may I ask my right hon. Friend to watch carefully the activities of that local council? It is currently spending £680,000 on a brainwashing exercise for the people. The council may try to spend similar sums over the next two or three years to save its own rotten neck.
Mr. Heseltine : My hon. Friend, as a former local authority leader, has a great insight into the things which local councils occasionally get up to. I am sure that he would not have played any part in such things himself.
Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham) : May I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on the Government's approach to local government reform? It will compare favourably with some of the more lunatic proposals for regional government and the like being peddled by all the Opposition parties. On local government taxation, does my right hon. Friend understand that many of us still feel that the burden being imposed on local government is too great? Having started the shift from direct local government taxation to indirect, centralised taxation, will he confirm that he will not preclude the possibility of continuing that process in the course of his consultation?
Mr. Heseltine : It would be only realistic of me to tell my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has been more than generous. He has not only made a significant shift, but he has committed himself to preserving broadly the balance that has been struck. It would be unrealistic to imagine that that will be changed.
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay) : Will my right hon. Friend accept my congratulations, especially on the earlier part of his statement in which he rightly identified the cause of the problem to be the uncontrolled appetite of local government for more spending? We now face the problem of how to curb that. Will he assure us that he will pay special attention to the true alternative to the community charge--which, incidentally, will be mourned by my constituents who thought that it was a valiant attempt to do the right thing about local government? The alternative is to consider whether services need to be provided by local government or whether they could be carried out more effectively through a competitive marketplace.
Mr. Heseltine : My hon. Friend raises important issues. I wholly support what she says about the need to control spending and to get value for money. It is possible to marry together the provision of local services by enabling authorities with the fact that they do that by contracting out services.
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East) : Although I readily acknowledge that this afternoon my right hon. Friend has made great progress in the reform of local government finance and structure, may I assure him that in densely populated counties, such as Berkshire, there is a great desire for unitary authorities? Unitary authorities mean boroughs and districts, and not counties.
Mr. Heseltine : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for stressing the popularity that could flow from the concept of unitary authorities. We must now wait until we have a chance to test that in practical terms on the ground.
Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) : On the concept of a property tax based on capital values, will my right hon. Friend explain whether the general principle is that a family of three on average earnings living in a £200,000 house would pay twice as much as a family of three on average earnings living in a £100,000 house? Will he also explain what on earth will happen to water rates if we move from rateable to capital values? Will we now pay for our water on the basis of how much the house is worth?
Mr. Heseltine : My hon. Friend will know that we have in mind over a period to move away from water rates, and the water companies are now considering that matter. It is for the complexity of reasons to which my hon. Friend has drawn our attention that the Government have decided not to adopt a property tax.
Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South) : Does my right hon. Friend accept that there will be a wide welcome in Portsmouth for the opportunity once more to run its own affairs 100 per cent. in Portsmouth rather than having to rely on Hampshire county council--and the sooner the better for Portsmouth?
Column 427judgments such as they wish to see within a short time. We must go through a proper process of local consultation once we have set up the commission, and we must test people's mood of what they want.
Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield) : Will metropolitan authorities be included in the review, given that the unitary principle for local government has been working well in metropolitan authorities, despite Government attempts to sabotage it? Will he give a commitment to the Association of Metropolitan Authorities that the current metropolitan authorities at borough level will continue after the review?
Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement today will be seen as good news by the majority of the British people? They will see his proposal as a far fairer method of funding local government. His statement, which included a reference to the fact that local people will be able to choose the form of local authority that they prefer, will also be widely welcomed. What impact will his statement have on rate-capped authorities such as Warwickshire?
Mr. Heseltine : I have explained our position on rate capping for the current year. I have no changes in mind as a result of anything that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor or I have said during the past two days. I have explained clearly that we shall look for restraint in local authority expenditure next year, especially in view of the considerable additional money which has been put in to reduce the community charge to its lower level. To ensure that, we shall have to anticipate the rigorous use of capping powers.
Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge) : My right hon. Friend deserves great praise for coming forward with a system that should answer many of the points of unfairness that are perceived in the present system. One of the flaws of the present system is the seeming inability to control local authorities that seem hell-bent on levying at a rate greater than they should. Capping has proved an imperfect instrument for achieving that control. There are some councils--regrettably some are even Conservative-- in which the councillors seem to be incapable of resisting the money- spending propensities of the officers who run them. Will it be possible to bear those factors in mind in the review?
Mr. Heseltine : My hon. Friend makes an important point. The awfulness of some of the high levels of expenditure is that they often go hand in hand with some of the least effective deliveries of services. There is no doubt that the capping regime has had its effect and that it will be a necessary part of our controls as we introduce our new system.
Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate) : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his proposals for consultation with local people about the future of their local government. On the local tax, will he tell us whether he is taking fully into account the cost and the whole operation of valuing properties with the consequent disputes, appeals and fluctuating values, which will have to be taken into account? Will he keep his ears open to alternative
Column 428suggestions, such as the measuring of property, which would be a far simpler and more accurate way to deal with the matter?
Mr. Heseltine : My hon. Friend begins already the process that will flow from the publication of the consultative document. We have ideas, and colleagues may feel that some are rather more effective than the necessity to value every house precisely, although that is one option that we must consider. However, I do not wish to be drawn on that today in advance of the consultative document on the options that we are about to put forward.
Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South) : My right hon. Friend will know that the devil is always in the detail. He will not be surprised to know that in a low-spending area such as south Dorset people were pleased when the community charge was sold to them on the basis that they would pay 25 per cent., business would pay 25 per cent. and the Government would pay 50 per cent. They were less pleased when they found out that they were paying 45 per cent., business was paying 45 per cent. and central Government were paying 10 per cent. My right hon. Friend has announced today that the local tax percentage will be about 22 per cent. Will that apply to people in south Dorset, or will they subsidise people in other areas? Can my right hon. Friend, as the Minister responsible for England, assure the House that English local taxpayers will pay the same percentage as Scottish and Welsh local taxpayers?
Mr. Heseltine : My hon. Friend represents a beautiful part of our country. He will realise that other areas have wider and sometimes deeper problems. Therefore, there are equalisation processes and the figures that I have given are average figures from across the country. That will remain the position. There will be a variation within those, depending upon the characteristics of the local areas.
Mr. Michael Irvine (Ipswich) : Will my right hon. Friend take it from me that the poll tax has been intensely unpopular in Ipswich, among most of my constituents, and that there will be widespread rejoicing at the comprehensive and well-merited butchery job that he has done on it this afternoon? However, while the unfairnesses of the poll tax have been resented, there has also been a widespread acknowledgement that the old domestic rating system was unfair. One of the great merits of the proposals that my right hon. Friend has announced this afternoon is that they are directed towards putting right the unfairnesses not just of the poll tax but of the old domestic rates system.
Mr. Heseltine : My hon. Friend is right to remind us of the unfairnesses of the old rating system, to which the Labour party is now committed. However, I would not accept the graphic language that he used in describing me as having been involved in a process of butchery. I feel that I have been curing the joint.
Mr. Tim Janman (Thurrock) : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on seemingly retaining some elements of the community charge and on giving a welcome added impetus to the need to contract out more local government services. When he publishes his consultation document, will my right hon. Friend clarify which of the different criteria that will now have an effect on what a household pays will be more important? In other words, will two
Column 429people living in a house worth £100,000 pay more than four people living in a house worth £50,000, all other things being equal, or vice versa?
Mr. Heseltine : My hon. Friend will immediately recognise that that depends entirely on the weight that we put on the two elements of the new local tax. This will be one of the many matters about which we shall be consulting. I support what my hon. Friend said about contracting out.
Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight) : Did my right hon. Friend hear the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), say on Radio 4 that he expected that the natural drift of the reform of local government would be to the district or borough councils? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that will be good news for our borough councillors as they go into the borough council elections? Does he understand that, with 43 county councillors, 64 borough councillors and 29 parish and town councils on the Isle of Wight, my constituents will be ticking off the days until 1994? Can he confirm that it is no accident that he promised us that the new system will be in place by April 1994, just before the county council elections? County councils have been the pick- pockets of community charge payers throughout this whole transaction.
Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside) : I understand that it is the Secretary of State's birthday. I hope that he has happier birthdays in future. I apologise for blowing out his candles. Does the Secretary of State understand that, in announcing that he has rid us of the poll tax and in telling the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) that he is not adopting a property tax, he has invented a hybrid donkey tax which stands on sand and is kept alive by being fed carrots? The Secretary of State has suggested this
Column 430afternoon a tax that he is not willing to spell out, a tax without a valuation system, and a tax that retains the 20 per cent. contribution, some form of register and the proposals for water metering while not solving the basic problem of ability to pay. Will the Secretary of State concede that any new valuation system will take at least two years to implement from the day that legislation is completed? That means that, if the Conservatives stay in office, apart from those who live in Wandsworth and
Westminster--the only people who have seen their poll tax abolished--the country will have to suffer the poll tax until April 1994. We will suffer the chaos, the cost and the confusion for the simple reason that the Government refuse to accept our fair rates proposal because they are hooked on the idea of numbers rather than on income and fairness and are determined at all costs to get through the general election before announcing what they mean to do.
Mr. Heseltine : The hon. Gentleman has raised matters that have been covered exhaustively in the past two hours. I can only say that, if he thinks that his system will stand scrutiny alongside ours, I am happy to compare them detail by detail. I am happy to put his system to the local authority associations for their views so that it can be compared with ours. The hon. Gentleman and the Labour party talk as though we have caused chaos for local government, but I can think of nothing more likely to do that than to introduce two totally different systems of local government finance in two consecutive years. That Labour party policy is unacceptable. It is unacceptable in its own right, but when its plan means that one of those years will see a return to the discredited rates system, it is doubly unacceptable.
I do not confirm that a valuation should take the time envisaged by the hon. Gentleman. Valuations can be carried out much more expeditiously, and we will discuss ways to do so in the consultation document.
The overwhelming view of the House has been a broad welcome for what I have announced today. It has given local government a new sense of opportunity. We are determined to build on that and to develop it. I commend our proposals to the House.
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the wake of the statement that we have heard, I take this opportunity to give notice to the Government and the House that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I are today tabling a motion of no confidence in Her Majesty's Government. It is :
"That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government in the light of their inability to rectify the great damage done to the British people by the poll tax."
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : That will have been heard by the Leader of the House, who is in his place.
The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Kenneth Clarke) : With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement abouthe Government's plans for the reorganisation of further education in England.
We are determined to achieve better standards throughout the education service. The national curriculum is improving teaching and motivating young people in schools as never before. Parental choice is being exercised in more and more schools. A new and clearer system of vocational qualifications is beginning to open up exciting opportunities for school leavers. The proportion going on to higher education has nearly doubled since this Government took office, but we still lag behind our competitors in the participation of our school leavers in further education and training, and their achievement of useful qualifications.
I believe that the further education colleges have a vital role in providing education and training for both school leavers and adults. They have never in the past been given the attention that their importance in education policy should justify. Through links with business they are well placed to provide the knowledge and skills needed in the workplace. The Education Reform Act 1988 has given them greater managerial autonomy and they are recruiting more students, but they are still subject to bureaucratic controls from local authorities. They lack the full freedom which we gave the polytechnics and higher education colleges in 1989 to respond to the demands of students and of the labour market. The polytechnics are demonstrating quite spectacularly the gains in increased student numbers and increased efficiency without any loss of academic standards that can be achieved with full independence.
The Government therefore propose to introduce legislation at the earliest opportunity to form a new sector of post-16 education from April 1993, by taking all further education colleges offering full-time education and all sixth form colleges out of local authority control. They will be funded directly by the Government, through a council appointed by and responsible to me. The funding regime will consist of a basic annual budget together with an element dependent on the numbers actually enrolled. It will be designed to provide a powerful incentive to recruit additional students and reduce unit costs. The further education colleges will also assume responsibility for some adult continuing education.
Spending by local authorities on further education colleges and sixth form colleges in England currently totals over £2 billion of current spending and £100 million of capital. That will become central Government spending with a corresponding reduction in grant to local authorities.
The colleges will work closely with the training and enterprise councils. The Government attach great importance to the developing partnership between TECs and other local interests in education and training. We have already given TECs specific responsibilities in work-related further education. They and the new independent colleges will have much to gain from close co-operation. The colleges will own their assets and employ their own staff. They will provide for an
Column 433ever-increasing proportion of our young people the preparation they need for their working life in the rest of this decade, and in the 21st century.
I have a duty to ensure that the interim period before the establishment of the new independent sector is as smooth as possible. We must place the interests of the student first and ensure that the work of colleges continues undisturbed. I intend to give the right of transfer of employment to the staff of the colleges that will form the new sector.
I intend to vest the institutions, which I propose will be free-standing corporate bodies, with the land, buildings and plant which they currently use. I intend to seek Parliament's approval in the legislation that I shall introduce for a measure which requires my specific consent for all disposals by local education authorities of land or interests in land, including buildings used or held or obtained for or in connection with the purposes of the institutions. I am concerned that from now on local authorities should not enter into new contracts which bind the colleges beyond 1 April 1993 when they begin to manage their own affairs. Such contracts should be entered into only with the specific consent of the governing bodies of the institutions affected. Contracts for a consideration having a value in excess of £50,000 will in addition require my consent. The forthcoming legislation will seek Parliament's approval to a measure with this purpose. I shall also seek Parliament's approval for appropriate sanctions where consent has not been obtained in advance.
I shall seek Parliament's approval for these transitional measures to have effect from midnight tonight. In this way, I intend both to put beyond any doubt the long-term future of the colleges and to enable the transition period to be as smooth and trouble-free as possible. I am placing further details of these measures in the Official Report. My Department will write to all LEAs to explain how these measures will be applied.
These developments will still leave much of the education of young people with school sixth forms. I assure the House of my determination to see good sixth forms continue. Whether under local authority control or in the grant -maintained sector, proposals for the opening of new sixth forms and the closure of existing sixth forms already have to come to me for approval. I shall use the powers available to me to ensure that sixth forms thrive, and to encourage choice between schools and colleges wherever possible.
This new sector of education will have a great deal to offer our young people. Indeed, it is the education and training of our 16 to 19-year-olds which will be at the heart of a White Paper which will come jointly from my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and myself in due course. That White Paper will contain further details of the proposals that I have just described. I believe that the proposals will be widely welcomed by all sections of the community, especially those which have always sought to further the interests of further education in Britain. I commend the proposals to the House.
Following are details of the measures :
The Government propose to introduce legislation this autumn to form an independent sector of post-16 education fromApril 1993. All further education colleges, maintained or
Column 434assisted by a local education authority, offering full-time education, including tertiary colleges, and all sixth form colleges, that is maintained schools which normally provide education only for pupils who have attained the age of 16, will be taken out of local authority control. They will be funded directly by the Government through a new council appointed by and responsible to the Secretary of State. New sixth form colleges and further education colleges, including tertiary colleges, which are established after this announcement will also be funded through the new council, including any grant-maintained sixth form colleges.
Institutions in the new sector, apart from volutary sixth form colleges, will be free-standing corporate bodies, and will be vested with the land, buildings and plant which are currently used by them. I intend to seek Parliament's approval to legislation which requires the specific consent of the Secretary of State for all disposals by local education authorities of land or interests in land, including buildings, used or held or obtained for or in connection with the purposes of the institutions. I shall seek similar powers to ensure that the LEA's interest in any land, including buildings, used or held or obtained for or in connection with the purposes of a voluntary sixth form college are not disposed of without the specific consent of the Secretary of State and that the LEA conveys its interest in these to the trustees of the school.
The disposals of land or interests in land requiring the consent of the Secretary of State will include outright sale, granting or otherwise disposing of any leasehold or other interest in land, direct sale and leaseback, any mortgage or other charge designed to raise capital on the security of the land. It will also include any disposal which is made in return for the supply of goods or services. In referring to disposals I include entering into any binding obligation to make a disposal of the kind in question.
To ease the interim period before the establishment of the new sector, I am concerned that local authorities should not enter into contracts which bind the colleges beyond 1 April 1993 when they begin to manage their own affairs. Such contracts should be entered into only with the specific consent of the governing bodies of the institutions affected. Contracts for a consideration having a value in excess of £50,000 will in addition require the consent of the Secretary of State. The forthcoming legislation will seek Parliament's approval to a measure having this purpose.
I shall also seek Parliament's approval for appropriate sanctions where consent has not been obtained in advance. With the disposal of land or interests in land without the consent of the Secretary of State, there will be a power of compulsory purchase with a right of recovery from the local authority of any compensation payable. In the case of contracts, including contracts for disposal, entered into without the consent of the governing body concerned or, where applicable, the consent of the Secretary of State, there will be a right of repudiation, and such repudiation will be deemed to be a repudiation by the relevant local authority, so that any liability in damages will remain with the relevant local authority.
I shall seek the approval of Parliament for these two measures to have effect from midnight tonight. This statement does not affect enforceable obligations entered into before midnight tonight.
Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn) : As the timing of the statement so exquisitely demonstrates, the Secretary of State's announcement has been motivated by nothing whatever to do with the needs of the education service. Instead, it has simply been dictated by the Government's blind poll tax panic. The right hon. and learned Gentleman comes to the House this afternoon not as Secretary of State for Education but simply as the Environment Secretary's subordinate. The whole House will be delighted that the Secretary of State has at last noticed, after 12 years of Conservative government, that "we still lag behind our competitors in the participation of our school leavers in further education".
Column 435That is a major admission by the Secretary of State of 12 years of Conservative failure--12 years in which the share of Britain's national wealth devoted to education has fallen, while almost all our major competitors have invested more and have had far better results in their education and training services.
Is not it typical of this Government that, faced with the yawning education and training deficit between the United Kingdom and its major competitors, the only solution that Ministers can find is to set up a centralising bureaucracy, establish a new national quango and deny local people both a voice and choice? The Secretary of State could adduce no evidence whatever to back his claims of a lack of responsiveness to the needs of 16 to 19- year-olds among either further education colleges or local education authorities. The problems that colleges and LEAs have faced were imposed on them by central Government and central Government alone.
Does not the Secretary of State realise that the major problems in increasing opportunity and choice at 16-plus are educational, not bureaucratic? Does he realise that there is an urgent need, as Her Majesty's inspectorate said, to end the jungle of qualifications, with over 200 examining boards for those between 16 and 19? Does he realise that instead we must establish a coherent, unified system of 16 to 19 examinations? The statement said not a word about that. Instead, the Secretary of State has blighted all chances of sensible reform of examinations for those between 16 and 19.
Does not the Secretary of State also understand that there is the widest support for setting clear national and local targets for improvement in participation rates for 16 to 19-year-olds, as the Labour party has proposed? That sensible reform, backed by both the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress, has been rejected out of hand by the Secretary of State's friend, the Employment Secretary.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that, despite what he says, his proposals will place school sixth forms at risk and in financial limbo, with less financial support than sixth forms in further education colleges? What will be the position of both church schools with sixth forms and voluntary-aided sixth form and further education colleges? What guarantees does the Secretary of State give about the future of adult and community education, especially where that provision is contained within existing further education colleges? Although one understands--especially in view of his record in the health service--the Secretary of State's profound contempt for those who are locally elected to represent their communities, and his desire to place all institutions under quangos appointed by him, what planning or strategic role will local education authorities have in respect of planning 16 to 19 provision?
Nothing has caused greater resentment or loss of efficiency in the education service or greater unpopularity for the Government than piling one hasty and impulsive change after another on the service. Has anyone told the Secretary of State that the last major changes in further education took effect only 11 months ago and have yet to be established? Those changes were made under the Education Reform Act 1988 and, in commending them to the House, the former Minister of State for Education and Science, the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold), praised the work of local education authorities. Given the ghastly mess that the Government
Column 436have made in education and on the poll tax through impulsive decisions taken without proper consultation and consent, would not it be sensible for the Secretary of State to consult those who run 16 to 19 education, those in colleges and schools and the public, before seeking to ram these ill-considered and hasty proposals through the House?
Mr. Clarke : My hon. Friends and I have been working for some time on these further education proposals and I commend them to the House for education reasons. I have met principals of further education colleges who have pressed me to be allowed to have the independence from local government that we are now giving them. Our proposals will be widely welcomed in the world of education, especially by those in further education colleges, tertiary colleges and sixth form colleges which concentrate on 16 to 19-year-old provision.
The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) comes in as a little Sir Echo from our debate on the previous statement and tries to imitate his colleagues in their exchanges on the poll tax when he should be addressing the education issues that are involved. When he goes outside he will find that my proposals are welcomed by those in education whose advice he should heed.
Secondly, I am not taking anything under central control, but I am taking colleges out of local government control. The body that we are setting up is a funding council which will distribute the funds and will bear in mind quality that is assessed as I have described. It will otherwise leave the management of the colleges to themselves. Colleges will be free to spend the money and the funding regime will ensure that they increase the participation of students and improve their efficiency at the same time, exactly as the polytechnics have done.
That is modelled on the freedom that we gave to polytechnics in 1989. Polytechnics are not controlled centrally by me, although funds are distributed to them by a funding council. Polytechnics are brilliantly successful in increasing the participation of students in higher education, and we have seen 36,000 more students this year alone. They are at the same time increasing efficiency and maintaining excellent academic standards. Therefore, removing from local government control those responsible for higher and further education institutions which want to be entrepreneurial and to expand opportunities for young people is a good education policy which the hon. Gentleman should not oppose.
The hon. Member for Blackburn made rather strange remarks about funding having more to do with this. He knows that we spend a higher percentage of our GNP on education than do most of our competitors, and that spending per pupil in this country has gone up by 40 per cent. He was right in what he said about the jungle of qualifications for 16 to 19-year-olds. We are already addressing that with the help of the National Council for Vocational Qualifications which we have set up. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and I are closely addressing that matter and some of the others that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. We shall shortly produce a White Paper setting out better opportunities for young people which will include further clarification of qualifications.
I have already said that I shall use my powers to protect sixth forms and certainly good sixth forms which are of benefit to the schools to which they are attached. Parents
Column 437would also like to have local choice of sixth forms.
Voluntary-aided sixth form colleges will be affected by my proposals. They will acquire the new status and join the new sector and I have today written to people in the churches involved to set up a way to have discussions about the mechanics.
Adult education presently carried out and delivered by colleges will also be covered by the proposals and the funding arrangements that I have described. Details on that will be contained in the White Paper. My statement should be addressed by the hon. Member for Blackburn in his capacity as spokesman for the Opposition on education matters. If he addresses it objectively and uses educational judgments, he will welcome and commend my proposals.
A written statement was issued to hon. Members when the Secretary of State started to give details of his proposals. The Secretary of State said that from midnight tonight he would take certain action to prevent local education authorities from entering into arrangements with further education colleges. In the written statement issued to hon. Members, the Secretary of State says that he will not seek legislative powers to do that until the autumn. That seems to pre-empt a decision of the House in relation to the Secretary of State taking powers. Is it in order for a Secretary of State to implement proposals from midnight when he has no statutory right to do so and will not have such a right until the legislation is passed by the House in the autumn?
Mr. McCartney : This is serious, Mr. Speaker. I am speaking about what is contained in the written statement that accompanied the oral statement by the Secretary of State. He has said that from midnight he is implementing proposals which will be contained in legislation in the autumn. As I have said, that pre-empts a decision of the House and I seek a judgment from you, Mr. Speaker, on the powers under which the Secretary of State proposes to do that. Is what he is doing ultra vires, because the House has not given him the necessary power?
Mr. Clarke : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. What I have announced is well precedented. My statement had to contain details towards the end about what I proposed because I was announcing to the House that certain measures would take effect from midnight tonight and that I would later seek parliamentary approval for those steps. That was done when polytechnics were given independence and it is frequently done for changes in taxation and for changes in regimes of this kind. It is to make sure that from midnight tonight local authorities will not be tempted to strip assets, sell land or enter into contracts.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) raises an important issue. The Secretary of State tried to wriggle out of it by saying that his action is well precedented. It is precedented only by actions of this Government when they introduced retrospective legislation.
Mr. Straw : This is not about taxation. The suggestion that local authorities will asset-strip further education colleges to which they are committed and have expanded and are up and running is absolutely preposterous. The right hon. and learned Gentleman should withdraw that. It shows his hostility to local education. Will you confirm, Mr. Speaker, that no parliamentary approval exists for the Secretary of State's proposal?
Mr. McCartney : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am not trying to delay matters but this issue is vital to the good running of the House and to you, Mr. Speaker, as the defender of the House. The Secretary of State has had two opportunities to indicate what powers under what Education Act he is taking upon himself to carry out certain actions after midnight. Clearly, he has no precedent in law. I do not want to see the Secretary of State before the courts next week arguing with education authorities about their proper and rightful duties in respect of colleges. Perhaps we need an adjournment and some discussion behind the Chair about how to proceed in this matter or we will find ourselves--