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Local Government (Amendment)

4.16 pm

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) : I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make further provision as to the functions of local authorities in relation to ethnic minorities ; to amend section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966 to permit grants to be made to local authorities making special provisions in exercising their functions, in consequence of the presence within their areas of substantial numbers of people from ethnic minority communities ; and for connected purposes.

Mr. Gerrard : The purpose of the Bill is simply to make an amendment to section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966. That section enables the Home Secretary to make grants to local authorities to meet the needs of some ethnic minority communities within their areas. The system is that the Home Secretary provides 75 per cent. of the funding through grants, and the local authority matches that with 25 per cent. In the current year, about £129 million is being spent in this way and is funding the equivalent of about 10,000 full-time staff.

The problem with section 11 is the definition within it. At present it reads that the Home Secretary can make the grants to local authorities in consequence of the presence within their areas of substantial numbers of immigrants from the Commonwealth. Although that wording may have been perfectly appropriate in 1966, now that we have significant numbers of refugees and asylum seekers not from the Commonwealth living in many local authority areas, it is not appropriate any more.

There are some other problems with section 11 which my Bill will not address. The problem of resources is one. The Government impose an annual cash limit and have just announced reductions over the next three years. It is somewhat ironic that, in the letter which they wrote to local authorities saying that they were firmly committed to the reduction of racial disadvantage, the Government announced cuts in this provision.

Also section 11 does not address short-term costs. Under my Bill grant could be paid to help local authorities to meet the special needs of refugees, but from time to time local authorities have to cope with sudden arrivals of significant numbers of people. That happened in the past with Kurdish refugees and more recently with refugees from eastern Europe.

It would be inappropriate to suggest that section 11 was the only way to address those problems, but it has been accepted for some time that section 11 needs amendment. The Government carried out their own review in 1988 and came to that conclusion, suggesting that there was need to widen the definition and that there should be changes in the requirement of substantial numbers, and that section 11 grant should be payable to other service providers and to the voluntary sector, although local authorities would continue to have an important role in co-ordination.

Since that review there have been some changes, but most of what was happening in 1988 is still happening. Almost 90 per cent. of section 11 funding goes to education. That reflects historic developments but also to some extent the cash limiting of the past two or three years which has prevented new projects from getting off the ground. So that the bulk of the money is going on projects such as English for speakers of other languages, careers education and adult basic literacy. But there are other services that are supporting projects such as helping

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elderly people through the social services, business development advice, challenging racial harassment, translation and the like. The difficulty is that the changing patterns of need and the need to deal with non-Commonwealth communities cannot be legitimately recognised within those projects. Some London boroughs will give estimates of the cost of providing services. Enfield and Ealing estimate that they have within their areas about 2,500 refugee children who require intensive language teaching. While it may not necessarily be appropriate for all that they need to be met under section 11, and while such need should certainly be recognised in standard spending assessments, section 11 projects should be able to address it.

The present situation is nonsensical in that a class of children, for example, could consist half of Turkish Cypriots and half of Turks. Half the class could be taught through a section 11 project and the other half could not, although clearly the needs would be similar. Over the past 15 years substantial numbers of people have arrived from non-Commonwealth countries- -from Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Latin America and, more recently, from eastern Europe. Many of those people have been granted settlement and have obvious needs. They require assistance but they cannot be helped under section 11. There is no doubt that the present arrangements make for inefficient administrative systems. For example, if an authority provides English classes it makes administrative and educational sense for them to be open to non-English speakers from any community rather than being restricted to people from new Commonwealth communities.

Some issues raised by the Home Office review, such as the use of other agencies and, to some degree, the use of the voluntary sector, have been dealt with through the ethnic minorities grants which were introduced in 1991 and are funded through training and enterprise councils. In setting up that system the Home Office said that it was a means by which grant could be opened up to new areas of ethnic minority need and to the voluntary sector, so that the needs of all ethnic minorities, without regard to origin, could be considered. It is a pity that so far the Home Office has found only £4 million a year to distribute in ethnic minorities grant. In addition, local authorities have been encouraged to base projects in the voluntary sector. Indeed, they are required to identify section 11 projects for grant bids.

Everyone involved with section 11 now recognises that it needs amending. The Home Office recognises that, too. Ideally, the Home Office should have dealt with the matter after its review, with new legislation covering all the aspects. Instead the matter has been addressed in a piecemeal way. That is not ideal, but it is a precedent that the Government have already set. After listening to statements such as that which we heard earlier, and thinking about the pressures on parliamentary time, I think it unlikely that the Government will find time for a Bill on the subject. In the meantime, therefore, my Bill is needed to help local authorities to target resources efficiently and effectively and to help them reflect the changing needs within their areas.

I finish by quoting the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd), whom I am glad to see sitting on the Government Front Bench now. Last year the hon. Gentleman wrote to the Refugee Council in response to its enquiry about the scope for section 11, saying that he recognised its concern

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"that the majority of refugees are not able to benefit from support under this provision because they do not come from the New Commonwealth We accept that there is a need to bring forward legislation and when there is a suitable opportunity we intend to extend the scope of the grant beyond New Commonwealth ethnic minorities to whom, for historical reasons, it is restricted at present."

The Minister now has an opportunity to support my Bill and to do what the Home Office has been saying for some time that it wants to do.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Neil Gerrard, Mrs. Barbara Roche, Mr. David Lidington, Mr. Robert Maclennan, Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, Mr. Max Madden, Mr. Mike Watson, Mr. Harry Cohen, Mr. Stephen Byers and Mr. Bernie Grant.

Local Government (Amendment)

Mr. Neil Gerrard accordingly presented a Bill to make further provision as to the functions of local authorities in relation to ethnic minorities ; to amend section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966 to permit grants to be made to local authorities making special provisions in exercising their functions, in consequence of the presence within their areas of substantial numbers of people from ethnic minority communities ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 26 March, and to be printed. [Bill 149.]

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Education Bill (Allocation of Time)


That the Report [11th February] from the Business Committee be now considered.-- [Mr. Newton.]

Report considered accordingly.

Question, That this House doth agree with the Committee in its resolution, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 80 (Business Committee) and agreed to.

Following is the report of the Business Committee :

(1) The order in which proceedings on consideration are taken shall be new Clauses ; Amendments to Clauses Nos. 1 and 2, Schedule No. 1, Clauses Nos. 3 to 7, Schedule No. 2, Clauses Nos. 8 to 29, Schedule No. 4, Clauses Nos. 30 to 44, Schedule No. 3, Clauses Nos. 45 to 49, Schedules Nos. 5 and 6, Clauses Nos. 50 to 53, Schedule No. 7, Clauses Nos. 54 to 154, Schedule No. 8, Clauses No. 155, Schedule No. 9, Clauses Nos. 156 to 168, Schedule No. 10, Clauses Nos. 169 to 201, Schedule No. 11, Clauses Nos. 202 to 219, Schedule No. 12, Clauses Nos. 220 to 222, Schedule No. 13, Clauses Nos. 223 to 231, Schedule No. 14, Clauses Nos. 232 to 237, Schedule No. 15, Clauses Nos. 238 to 268 and Schedules Nos. 16 to 18 ; and new Schedules ; (2) The allotted days which under the Order of 15th December are given to the proceedings on consideration and Third Reading shall be allotted in the manner shown in the Table set out below and, subject to the provisions of that Order, each part of the proceedings shall be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in the third column of that Table.


Allotted day                                |Proceedings                                |Time for conclusion of proceedings                                                                                                 

First day                                   |Government new Clauses                     |6 p.m.                                                                                                                             

                                            |Remaining new Clauses                      |8 p.m.                                                                                                                             

                                            |Amendments up to the end of Clause No. 143 |10 p.m.                                                                                                                            

                                            |Amendments up to the end of Clause No. 195 |midnight                                                                                                                           


Second day                                  |Amendments up to the end of Schedule No. 12|5 p.m.                                                                                                                             

                                            |Amendments up to the end of Clause No. 256 |6.30 p.m.                                                                                                                          

                                            |Amendments to Clause No. 257               |8 p.m.                                                                                                                             

                                            |Remaining proceedings on consideration     |9 p.m.                                                                                                                             

                                            |Third Reading                              |10 p.m.                                                                                                                            

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Orders of the Day Education Bill

[1 st Allotted Day]

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It concerns the selection of amendments for today's debate. Under the selection on clause 156, amendment No. 97 has been selected. That amendment directs that the subsection of the clause should be left out and that subsections (2) and (3) should be inserted. Those subsections include the provisions in amendment No. 98, but amendment No. 98 has not been selected, so amendment No. 97 does not make any sense in its present form.

Madam Speaker : If the hon. Gentleman had given me a little notice, I might have been able to turn all the pages more rapidly. As all the amendment and page numbers were thrown at me, may I examine the matter and report back to him?

New clause 22

General duty of Secretary of State

.--(1) The Secretary of State shall promote the education of the people of England and Wales.

(2) In particular he shall exercise for that purpose his powers in respect of those bodies in receipt of public funds which-- (a) carry responsibility for securing that the required provision for education is made in, or in any area of, England or Wales, or (b) conduct educational institutions in England and Wales. (3) He shall, in the case of his powers to regulate the provision made in educational institutions in England and Wales, exercise his powers with a view, among other things, to improving standards, encouraging diversity and increasing opportunities for choice.'-- [Mr. Patten.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.28 pm

The Secretary of State for Education (Mr. John Patten) : I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Madam Speaker : With this, it might be convenient to take the following : amendment (b) to the new clause, at end insert-- (4) He shall exercise his powers in respect of the distribution of public funds to ensure that they are distributed equitably.'. Government amendments Nos. 81 and 82.

Mr. Patten : I am glad to put to the House something which I think will be historically important in educational terms. I am all the more pleased because I presume that it will have the enthusiastic support of Opposition Members. I say that because my hon. Friend the Member for Mid- Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) assures me that the clause responds to the general concerns of both sides of the Standing Committee.

I believe that one of the first people to press for me to move such a new clause was the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright). That is exactly what one might

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expect from such an erudite and far-seeing Member of the House. I hope that I am damaging enough with his general management committee in what I am saying. Of course, his views were--

Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth) : Will my right hon. Friend give way on that point?

Mr. Patten : I was just coming to my hon. Friend. I know that he felt exactly the same way. That does not surprise me, because his wisdom and judgment in such matters are unparalleled throughout the House.

Mr. Pawsey : I am not quite sure whether I should have asked my right hon. Friend to give way at that specific time. I was merely going to say that the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) spoke at some length on the matter in Standing Committee. Clearly, there is a general flow of good will across the Chamber on this important clause. I feel it only right that my right hon. Friend should be aware of that current of good will.

Mr. Patten : I wish that there would always be a current of good will from both sides of the House whenever I get to the Dispatch Box.

I know that both sides of the Chamber are realistic about the way in which the educational world has changed beyond the vision set out at the beginning of the 1944 Education Act. I welcome the fact that, even though we may differ on many other points, everyone seems to recognise that the world has moved on in the last half-century. That is not surprising.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth) : In the current constructive mood of good will, would the Secretary of State care to take on board the 99 positive proposals which we have made but which he has overlooked or the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) is loth to tell him about? The right hon. Gentleman will have overlooked it. I understand that because he did not appear once to listen to the deliberations of the Standing Committee.

Mr. Patten : All those constructive views were listened to carefully, and, with his usual charm, rejected, by my hon. Friend the Under -Secretary.

I am indebted to both Conservative and Opposition members of the Committee for their support in the Standing Committee for the move that we are making. The debates, which are there in the Standing Committee Hansard for all to see, highlighted the fact that section 1 of the Education Act 1944 refers exclusively to the responsibility of local education authorities alone for the delivery of education services. It is no longer the case that LEAs alone have responsibility for the delivery of education. Things have moved on a great deal in the past half-century.

The thrust of Government policy in recent years has been to change the picture, especially since the landmark Education Reform Act 1988, which will be a monument to the service rendered in this place by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker). That Act has helped to transfer power and responsibility to the

institutions--the schools and colleges.

The 1988 Act created the initial framework for the transfer of power by requiring schemes of local management for all state schools and colleges of further education, and by giving schools the right to opt out of

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local education authority control. One of the results of that bears repeating, because Opposition Members continue to talk the success story down.

There has been a startlingly successful move towards

self-government in both further education and grant-maintained schools. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I attended a reception last night to mark the creation of the new further education sector, which will have complete freedom from local authority control after 1 April 1993. We have seen the effects and benefits of increased freedom.

As of today, more than 650 schools have applied for full self-governing, grant-maintained status. As projected in last summer's White Paper, by April 1994 the number of grant-maintained schools could be about 1,500. Of course, by then all LEA schools in Britain will have delegated budgets under the local management of schools scheme. LMS was bitterly fought a few years ago by the Opposition but, curiously enough, it is often used now as a weapon to persuade schools not to become self-governing. Local authorities say, "We will give you 85, 90 or 95 per cent. of the control over your budget."

As Mr. Enoch Powell might have said, it is paradoxical that that which the Labour party used to oppose five years ago it now uses as a weapon to try to stand in the way of Government policy. That attempt will fail, in the same way as opposition to delegated school management failed only five years ago.

Mr. Win Griffiths : A similar statement was made in Committee that we opposed the principle of local management of schools. We did not. We opposed the formula which the then Secretary of State proposed to introduce --especially the running sore of basing the budget on average school salary costs rather than real school salary costs.

Mr. Patten : No one who was in the House in 1987 and 1988, who sat through the many hours of the Committee stage of the Education Reform Bill or who took part in and listened with care and attention to the debates on the Floor of the House could have come away with anything other than the opinion that the Labour party did not wish to see the end of local bureaucratic control.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's belated conversion. I suppose that it is the beginning of the modernisation of the Labour party's education policy, albeit five years behind the times. After the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) has left her position on the Front Bench to go somewhere else, the next Front-Bench spokesman will be thoroughly in favour of grant- maintained schools, just you wait and see.

The belief in self-government lay at the heart of the White Paper introduced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and myself, and of the Bill, which has now almost completed its passage through this House. The Bill consolidates the framework laid down in the 1988 Act. That framework provides for more and more schools to achieve self-governing status. But the laws which govern the provision of education must recognise what is happening and the fact that there have been other transfers of powers in the education world. The then R. A. Butler's 1944 Education Act marked a great leap forward in the development of the education

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system in this country. I often think that, had the then R. A. Butler, in his scheme in the 1944 Act, had the benefit of the national curriculum and regular testing, the tripartite division of schools that he introduced in that Act might still endure today, because the national curriculum provides equality of opportunity and a minimum entitlement for all our children.

That did not happen, as he did not have a national curriculum or testing, but the Act itself has been on the statute book for half a century, and times have changed. The model of a centrally planned system, from Whitehall to town halls and county halls, is no longer appropriate, with a hierarchy of control from the Secretary of State to the local education authority, and through the local education authority to the school or college. It is certainly not appropriate for the 21st century, as was obvious to some well before the Education Act 1988.

My noted constituent Professor Halsey, fellow of Nuffield College Oxford, was much mentioned during Prime Minister's Question Time, and I have followed his sayings over the years. In a speech as long ago as January 1981, he doubted the wisdom of leaving education in the hands of--I quote directly from The Guardian, so it must be true--"professional education officers". He recommended a system whereby every school would receive a direct grant from Whitehall. As Professor Halsey said, "Why not try something revolutionary--local democracy?" That is exactly what we are doing. The Labour party is just 12 or 13 years behind Professor Halsey.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North) : During the process of the Bill through Committee, Opposition Members were continually talking about our measures being centralising. My right hon. Friend is making it perfectly clear that they do not even begin to understand the purpose of the Bill and Government policy. Will he confirm that our proposals and the Bill move towards local democracy and to the control of education being in the hands of schools, teachers and parents, and are the opposite of centralisation?

Mr. Patten : Some people in the Labour party are now beginning to believe that, in democracies throughout the western world, the move towards giving individuals and communities greater control over their own affairs, be it in schools or the health service, is a model. Words such as "empowerment" and "distribution of power" have been falling from the lips of some of the modernisers in the Labour party.

However, none of those modernisers is represented on the Opposition Front Bench today. The Opposition education team is in the hands of the producer lobbies and one or two trade unions. They should listen to what Professor Halsey said in 1981. I repeat, for the second and last time, my prediction that, by the end of the Parliament, we might well see the Labour party having turned on its head on

grant-maintained schools, in the same way as it has done over trust hospitals and the local management of schools. That has been the history of the Labour party since 1979.

Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West) : I am extremely concerned that the Secretary of State is not up to date. Perhaps he has not read Professor Halsey's letter in The Guardian this morning, in which he fully reaffirms his commitment to comprehensive schools, and states :

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"My preferred educational policy is also that of the Labour Party which deplores Conservative privatisation, underfunding and centralised bureaucracy, and which favours comprehensive schools. In short I remain an unrepentant ethical socialist."

Mr. Patten : For some reason, I have not read The Guardian this morning. I will do so, but I was reading from what Professor Halsey said 12 years ago. He may well have turned on his head, having been used so much by the Conservative party and the press. I regret the fact that he is now flicking backwards and forwards between one position and another.

Historians and academics, like Professor Halsey, would think ill of Members of Parliament if we failed in our duty to bring the lapsing provisions of the Education Act 1944 up to date, and it is in that spirit that I tabled the new clause. I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members will admire its straightforward simplicity. It is deliberately framed in a general form. Without the tedium of a long list, it covers all the relevant institutions and bodies. It also covers the colleges of further education, the Further Education Funding Council, the Higher Education Funding Council and the universities.

This is a radically different picture from that of half a century ago, when local education authorities ruled all the education waves--not only schools but further education colleges, and subsequently those institutions that became polytechnics, which a few years ago we set free of local authority control and enfranchised as independent universities. One has only to go to an independent grant-maintained school, an independent further education college or an independent university within the state system to see the benefits of independence. Those benefits need to be reflected in this vital clause.

The new clause also emphasises the Government's key educational objectives, which, unfortunately, do not seem to be shared by many Opposition Members. These objectives include improved

standards--improved mainly through the encouragement of diversity--and increased choice for pupils and parents.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is this very independence that stimulates vitality and new ideas in heads and teaching staffs, as well as in parents? Responsibility for implementation is what really brings ideas to fruition. In teaching, that is what provides ultimate satisfaction.

Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend was in education for many years before coming to the House. Because of that experience, I respect what he says and always give way to him.

What my hon. Friend has said does not apply just to

grant-maintained schools. One now finds 90 per cent. delegation in LEA schools. Many such schools are on the edge of the nest, ready to fly off as fully independent institutions. There is a terrific feeling of zip and vim, and there is much experimentation. I pay tribute to those schools. The modernising tendency that is sweeping the Labour party has yet to reach education.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North) : I approve entirely of the right hon. Gentleman's concern for diversity and choice. In that context, will he look again at what I said in Committee about the possibility of providing state funding for schools whose curricula are

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different from, but none the less at a deep level compatible with, the national curriculum in terms of both scope and standards? Does he recognise that such schools have an enormous contribution to make? So long as it can be proved that they have been successful and have reached the same destination by a different route, consideration ought to be given to some means, other than those that I have proposed, of providing state support for them.

Mr. Patten : I recognise the hon. Gentleman's great interest in these issues. I was about to say that he and I have crossed swords, but it would be more correct to say that we have almost crossed the Floor towards each other during Question Time exchanges about special educational needs. I respect his views and am aware of his deep interest in Steiner schools. I respect what that movement does. However, state funds should be provided for schools that undertake the national curriculum. That is a minimum entitlement of all children in all schools of any sort within the state sector. The grant-maintained schools, county schools and schools in metropolitan areas deliver it. That is the right way forward.

We are always willing to consider applications from schools of all sorts for admission to the state sector, provided there is no surplus of school places in the areas concerned, and provided that the schools teach the national curriculum. Having been made aware of the hon. Gentleman's position, I shall keep an open mind on these issues. However, in the context of this Bill, we cannot go any further down the route that I know the hon. Gentleman wishes us to take. I have referred to the way in which the system has changed since 1944. This new clause certainly does not sound the death knell for council control of primary and secondary schools. In effect, schemes of delegated management and self-government have almost done that already.

The new clause makes it clear that the role of local education authorities is changing rapidly. So far as some schools stay within the LEAs, these authorities will continue to plan provision in them and service them. The LEAs will also retain certain key strategic responsibilities--most notably in the field of special educational needs. But LEAs will no longer be the sole, and in some cases no longer a substantial, provider of education.

Education authorities are increasingly becoming enablers. They are enabling schools to provide education and are providing some services. The new clause reflects that existing and dynamic state of affairs. It encapsulates the Government's vision of our future education system. It recognises the fact that the system is changing very rapidly, as well as the extent of change since 1944, and I commend it to the House.

4.45 pm

Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury) : I ought to start by welcoming the Secretary of State to the debate on the Bill. Since November we have been discussing it in great detail in Committee. The fact that the Secretary of State never even put his head round the door of the Committee room proves that his interest in the Bill is not exactly commendable.

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The Secretary of State did not make any reference to amendment (b), in my name and the names of several of my hon. Friends. That amendment would provide that

"He shall exercise his powers in respect of the distribution of public funds to ensure that they are distributed equitably." It is surprising that the Secretary of State did not say whether he was prepared to accept our amendment. Obviously, this is an issue with which he does not feel comfortable. Perhaps his remarks a few moments ago explain his problem. He said that schools should receive public money for delivering the national curriculum, yet the Government support the assisted places scheme, by which public money is used to subsidise independent schools that do not provide the national curriculum. Perhaps that is why the Secretary of State was not willing to address the basic principle of equity, which is the foundation of our amendment.

In some respects, the new clause could be seen as harmless. It is a declaratory provision full of rhetoric but without much meaning. It is strange in that it gives the Secretary of State powers, whereas the Act of 1944 imposed duties. If the Secretary of State's role is so critical, he should be seen as undertaking duties rather than exercising powers. One can choose whether to exercise powers. In any case, I am not happy with the new clause. It is not true that there was Opposition pressure for it. Opposition Members drew attention to the anomaly in the Government's legislation, but that is hardly the equivalent of calling for such a provision. Before the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends came on the scene, there was a consensus that the Government were responsible for providing the framework of education, while the local authorities administered its delivery in accordance with local circumstances and local decisions, democratically arrived at. That is local accountability--a concept with which the Secretary of State seems to have difficulty in grappling. The Secretary of State's grabbing of specific powers has proceeded apace in recent years.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Act of 1988, which was introduced by his right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker). Once that power was given to Secretaries of State, they became addicted to acquiring even more power and holding it in their own hands. Even before this Bill was introduced, the Secretary of State had power to appoint to quangos whomever he liked and to seek advice from those agreeing with him, and from no one else. The Secretary of State can decide the content of the curriculum. Indeed, he can announce changes such as the one about which we heard today--that the chairman of the National Curriculum Council and the chairman of the School Examinations and Assessment Council have resigned and a new appointment has been made. It is interesting to note that, when talking about his powers and role, the Secretary of State does not refer to the changes relevant to the Bill that have been made during the discussions on the measure.

Let us not forget that the right hon. Gentleman had, and used, many powers prior to the introduction of the Bill. He had powers over the curriculum, assessment and testing and powers to determine methods and levels of funding, in so far as the Treasury would allow, and over methods of teaching and teacher training. But even that array of powers was not enough for the present Secretary

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of State, which is why new clauses were introduced at a late stage, well after the guillotine had fallen, without proper time for consultations. Ministers have been panicked into using the measure to prop up some of their failing policies.

For example, the Secretary of State is taking new powers under clause 25 to enable him to declare void a ballot on grant-maintained status, if he thinks that somebody has played a part in influencing the ballot through the provision of information to parents. He will personally make that judgment. He has already introduced a new clause to force the issue of grant-maintained status on to the agenda of every governing body each year. So much for Government claims about trusting the judgment of governors.

Now we have the new clause, the so-called zero clause, which emphasises the role of the individual who holds the Secretary of State's office. But the right hon. Gentleman spent little time on the way in which he wants to repeal section 1 of the Education Act 1944, which he called the bedrock of education for the last 40 years. That fundamental change to the 1944 Act was introduced last Friday, although it was trailed in The Daily Mail a day earlier. The change, fundamental to the balance of power in education, has not been arrived at through consultation or consensus. The Government have simply determined to use their majority to achieve the change, without canvassing opinion inside or outside Parliament. Ministers are making policy on the hoof. Their policies will not stand the test of time, and the present Secretary of State is not well known for his willingness to consult on any issue.

Mr. Pawsey : Does the hon. Lady agree that only two weeks ago the Secretary of State met representatives of five of the six main teacher unions--a clear sign that he is prepared to listen to what others have to say?

Mrs. Taylor : I fancy that the Secretary of State would rather not receive that type of assistance from the Benches behind him, not least because he has been personally responsible for digging the very hole out of which the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) was trying to rescue him. It was clear from what was said at Question Time earlier that the Secretary of State has still not taken on board many of the fundamental points that the teachers put to him.

I wonder whether the Secretary of State even discussed the issues involved with the Prime Minister. After all, on Friday we had the publication of the new clause, which The Daily Mail described as the death knell of local authorities--we have been told that the Secretary of State does not believe in local authorities and thinks they should be abolished--and on the following day the Prime Minister told the Conservative local government conference--many people must have been surprised to learn that there was such a body--that there should be a new partnership between central and local government. If there is to be such a partnership, why is the Secretary of State trying to abolish the responsibility and accountability in education that local authorities have had under the Education Act 1944? In Committee, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools--who, unlike the Secretary of State, was present for all our sessions ; I suppose that the Government had to be represented by someone--made it clear that he regarded any Conservatiive councillor as having a vested interest. When we asked him about his attitude towards

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Conservative education leaders who had reservations about the Bill, he dismissed them as vested interests. I wonder whether he discussed the matter with the Prime Minister or took on board his right hon. Friend's claimed new spirit of co-operation with local authorities. The new clause confirms that the Secretary of State wants a national system of education under his personal political control. He is making it clearer than ever that schools that become grant-maintained will not be opting out of local authority control but will be opting into centralised control under the right hon. Gentleman's direction. He will, as now, determine the curriculum, the level of funding and the number of teachers and, as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary said, the Government do not believe that the class size issue is relevant to the quality of education.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) : The hon. Lady has spoken at length about the powers of the Secretary of State. Will she comment on the objectives of the new clause which those powers will be used to achieve? In other words, will she speak about my right hon. Friend's powers to improve standards and to increase diversity and opportunity for choice? What has she to say to parents about those issues? What is her philosophy towards, and her policies on, education and standards?

Mrs. Taylor : I remind the hon. Gentleman that his right hon. Friend said at Question Time this afternoon that during 14 years of Conservative rule the problems of illiteracy in Britain had increased. I accept that we need improved standards, but there is no sign of such standards being achieved for all children in Britain under the Conservatives.

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