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Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham) : Why does the hon. Lady think that contracts which were put out to competitive tender were won by the private sector? Might it not have something to do with the fact that private companies paid half the wages that direct labour organisations paid?
Mrs. Knight : Contracts were won by the private sector because private companies put in better, more competitive bids to provide a good- quality service for the area. If the hon. Gentleman looked at what his constituents wanted rather that what he personally would prefer, he would conclude that any area, any resident and any constituent requires a good quality service at a good quality price. I return to the telling report. It is noticeable that Opposition Members do not like it. It concludes that only four schools which had opted out asked councils to provide the full range of services. Most had a pick-and-mix approach, but the trend was towards schools running their own services. The trend is for grant- maintained schools to look to others to provide services, not back to the LEA from which they have fled.
grant-maintained schools might be happy to buy into consortium arrangements with local education authorities to buy fuel? She may have seen last week announcements in the press that grant-maintained schools were no longer in local authority arrangements. They have to pay £2,000 more a year for their gas than hitherto. Perhaps she would comment on that.
Mrs. Knight : I have no trouble with consortia. I have no worry about trusts. That is the way in which we should proceed. We should move not from one monopolistic supplier to another but to variety and choice. I would say to schools which have joined together in consortia that they have some clout, and they should use it to obtain the best deal from whichever petrol, oil or gas supplier the hon. Gentleman refers to. That is the way forward, and the way in which we want the service to go.
Local government reorganisation is coming to us all--not merely to Wales-- and it will ensure that schools start to think clearly about the services that they require and the way in which they wish to proceed. Rather than merely deciding whether to stay within the local education authority or go grant maintained, they will be able to decide how to ensure that the services that they need can be best provided.
Mr. Jamieson : The hon. Lady missed the point of my intervention. Grant-maintained schools are on their own because they have left the consortia provided by the local education authorities. They have to buy fuel from monopoly private organisations, such as British Gas, which charge them substantially more. The Bill will stop them from being in the consortia provided by the LEAs.
Mrs. Knight : The hon. Gentleman did not listen to my answer. I said that grant-maintained schools should join together into consortia so that they can use their clout as a group of schools to ensure that they get the best price for whatever commodity they need. I undoubtedly urge schools to continue in that direction.
Conservative Members want a flourishing grant-maintained sector, with flourishing private-sector suppliers, which will result in the money going into education being spent on pupils, rather than going into the pockets of an over-manned local education authority. That is the way forward.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North misread and misinterpreted the clause. That also happened in Committee, and it is about time that Opposition Members recognised the intention of the clause--better education for children.
Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen) : I do not believe for one minute that the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North misinterpreted anything, and he has hit the nail on the head when it comes to this clause.
In Committee, we were allowed inadequate time to discuss the clause. This morning I re-read the speech that my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs.
Column 358Campbell) made in Committee on the day that we discussed it, and I pay tribute to her. She highlighted the method in Cambridgeshire, where services have been successfully devolved to grant- maintained schools and to those belonging to the local education authority. I want to concentrate on the situation in Wales because I understand that the Minister of State, Welsh Office is going to reply to the debate.
Although the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North referred to the Welsh language, he did not mention the Urdd Gobaith Cymru--the Welsh youth movement--which has written to all Members of Parliament representing Wales to express its concern about the clause and the difficulties that will result from its enactment. Its letter states :
"the threat posed by the Education Act"--
and the clause in particular--
"could inflict permanent damage to the organisation and that without the Urdd being directly involved."
The Urdd says that it operates
"a unique service for the children and young people of Wales", which could well be jeopardised by the provisions that we are discussing.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North also mentioned the provision of music services in the Principality. The revenue support grant settlement was announced only a few weeks ago. As a result, county after county in Wales has had to reduce music support services for young people. The county music service in South Glamorgan has been operating since 1936-- 2,500 children in the county are in bands and orchestras and 4,000 receive peripatetic music lessons in schools. The county council has been virtually forced to end the free provision of orchestras, bands and music because of the cuts that the Government have imposed. I believe that the clause will also threaten music services.
Wales is rich in outdoor pursuit centres, and the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North also referred to those. To a large extent, Wales subsidises English local education authorities through such centres. It may be of interest to the House to learn that it is estimated that each of the outdoor pursuit centres in Wales brings in £250,000 per year to the local economy, which adds up to about £10 million and the employment of about 1,000 people in Wales. Such centres recently asked the Welsh Office about their future, if services provided by the local education authorities are likely to be jeopardised. A Welsh Office spokesman said that the Government would expect such services to be provided by the private sector if they were in demand from schools, and that the relevant clause in the Bill was simply a proposal : it was not yet law, and was subject to change. I sincerely hope that the spokesman was talking sense, and that there will be a change in the measures.
I have received a great wad of letters from schools in Oxfordshire which use the Woodlands centre for outdoor education in Powys. I do not have time to read them all,
Column 359but they include letters from parents, head teachers and pupils who have made great use of the services provided by our local education authorities.
For Wales, the most important factor is that the Secretary of State for Wales announced on Monday his plans for local government reorganisation in the Principality. He said :
"I am today publishing a White Paper This follows a consultative process lasting more than two years, and I take this opportunity once again to express my gratitude to the Welsh local authority associations for their wholehearted and constructive participation in that process."--[ Official Report, 1 March 1993 ; Vol. 220, c.19.]
Of course he was right, but that does not square with the reported words of the Minister of State when he addressed the Secondary Heads Association in Llandrindod Wells about two weeks ago and made a stinging attack on Welsh local education authorities for a variety of reasons.
Also it does not square with the comments of the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards), who referred a few minutes ago to overweening bureaucracy in Wales. Who are we to believe--the Secretary of State, the Minister of State or the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West? Are local authorities providing good services in Wales or not? The Secretary of State seems to believe that they are not doing a bad job.
In the White Paper, the Secretary of State also said that he wants tremendous flexibility in the provision of services when the new authorities are set up. He said that local authorities are enablers as well as providers, and that they will co-operate with one another, selling one another their services. Where do grant-maintained schools stand in all that? Can they not benefit from the new regime which the Secretary of State proposes for Wales? If there is to be flexibility, and local authorities are to provide services for all 21 unitary authorities in Wales, why can that not be extended to
The Secretary of State also referred to
"specialist residential centres, education/business partnerships and artistic opportunities such as youth orchestras and theatre in schools".
All those will be in jeopardy unless the Government think again about the clause.
Wales will be a poorer place without our orchestras, centres, drama groups and libraries and, most important of all, the services provided by our local education authorities.
Mr. Congdon : In its original incarnation as clause 244, clause 257 generated much heat and not much light. Fortunately, in many ways the debate in Committee managed to clarify many of the misunderstandings about the clause.
What has intrigued me about the debates, both in Committee and today, is why Opposition Members are so concerned about the clause. I think that all of them, on each occasion that we have discussed the Bill, have said that grant-maintained schools will not flourish and that there will not be an avalanche of them. If they do not flourish and there is no avalanche, the impact of the restrictions on local authorities trading with grant- maintained schools will not bite. In that sense, one could argue that the clause was irrelevant and local authorities could continue to be the monopoly provider. I would not support dropping the clause because, unlike Opposition Members, I believe that grant-maintained schools will
Column 360flourish and there will be an avalanche of applications from schools wishing to go grant-maintained. We are seeing that already. The key reason why it is essential to have such a clause is to enable a private sector to flourish--we made no secret of that in Committee. Opposition Members made great play of the fact that there should be a level playing field to allow local authorities to compete. They seemed to suggest that, by some miraculous method, the private sector would win through. So long as there is a monopoly provider, the private sector will not flourish. We saw that clearly when early attempts were made to introduce competition into the provision of other local authority services. It was difficult for firms to set up even to provide refuse collections and cleaning, because we have now seen those services flourish, providing benefits to community charge payers up and down the country.
The clause, as my hon. Friend the Member for Earwash
Mr. Congdon : I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Mrs. Knight)--it was a Freudian slip. As she said, the clause clearly gives local authorities the opportunity, by order of the Secretary of State, to be allowed to trade with grant-maintained schools for a period of two years if that is so designated. That is an important and sensible concession. We want grant-maintained schools to have the opportunity to buy services in a range of sectors, including financial, personnel, training, libraries and music.
Mr. Steinberg : Does the hon. Gentleman not appreciate that a school library service contains literally hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of stock? Is he really expecting the private sector to build up another stock of exactly the same amount of resources? Does he not understand the absolute waste of money and resources in having two providers when one can amply provide for everyone?
Mr. Congdon : I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has such a limited imagination as to what could happen if the market for the provision of library services is opened up. Schools will have devolved spending responsibility in a variety of sectors. Grant-maintained schools will have that responsibility in all functions and can choose where they purchase books for their library. There is no problem about that. Earlier, great play was made of the issue of choice. It was said that grant-maintained schools would, not have the choice of using an LEA service. But they would, provided that the LEA is trading at the margin. In many areas, they will continue to trade at the margin until there is a sizeable number of grant- maintained schools.
Mr. Congdon : It is difficult to define "at the margin". That is not a weakness of the proposals, but a strength. They rightly and properly leave individual local authorities and, crucially, the auditor to judge whether they are operating in accordance with the law of the land. The provisions are not over-prescriptive, which is important.
In reality, if local authorities were allowed to continue to trade indefinitely with grant-maintained schools, the only choice available for grant-maintained schools would
Column 361be to use the local education authority service. In that scenario, the private sector would not enter the market as there would not be a market for it to use. That is why it is important that such provisions are available.
As my hon. Friend--perhaps I should not try to pronounce the name of her constituency again--the Member for Erewash said, it is important that local authorities are enablers, rather than direct providers of services. If they become enablers, they are given the crucial role of monitoring more carefully and closely the quality of services provided.
There is an irony about the fact that arguments have been voiced about local authorities trading with grant-maintained schools. I believe that it was Derbyshire county council--as we were told in Committee--that refused to provide services or to trade with the grant-maintained schools in its area. Are we witnessing a conversion in the Labour party in that it now recognises that it should trade with grant-maintained schools? It certainly did not in Derbyshire. It is important that we resist the amendments as they would only perpetuate the position in which there is one monopoly provider. If we value the provision of services to grant-maintained schools and enable them to have real choice and value for money, we must ensure that a free, flourishing and successful market has the opportunity to grow. That is why I oppose the amendments.
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge) : The position is unclear. The hon. Member for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Congdon) described that as a strength. I do not see it as a strength and I believe that clarification of what is meant by trading at the margin will eventually lead to some local authorities being involved in expensive court cases. I cannot believe that that is the Minister's intention. Surely it is better to sort the matter out so that we all know where we stand and people do not have to take local authorities to court to obtain a decision as to whether those authorities are trading at the margin.
Mr. Forth : It is much simpler than that. The main responsibility for the determination of trading at the margin will lie jointly with the district auditor and the financial accounting officer of the local authority. I see no need for court cases if local authorities conduct their business responsibly. It should be perfectly straightforward to determine the margin, case by case.
The Conservative philosophy has been made clear from what Conservative Members have said. As in so many other matters, the philosophy is not about co-operation or working together to create communities--which is what the Labour party believes in--but about creating conflict and competition. That is not the best way to educate our children in the next few years and into the next century.
I want local education authorities, schools, teachers, governors and parents to put their efforts into educating and getting the best out of our children, helping them to flourish and giving them the best possible education. I do not want schools and teachers to spend their time worrying
Column 362about where their next contract will come from, who is competing with whom and who is producing what--and giving an inferior service at the end of the day.
I am also concerned that a number of schools which have opted out of local authority control were simply not aware that that was the Government's intention. Yesterday I waved at the Minister a booklet entitled "Education for the Next Century". Unfortunately I have left it in my office today. That clearly says that local education authorities will be able to trade with grant-maintained schools for some school services. Many parents will have been misled by that booklet which is available to all parents in libraries throughout the country.
"It is simply wrong to claim that schools will be deprived of access to local authority support services."
That is not accurate. The Minister is giving wrong information to his hon. Friends and the grant-maintained sector.
Mrs. Campbell : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. There has also been a great deal of confusion in my local authority. There have been different interpretations in the local media. People find it difficult to understand that that could possibly be the Government's intention. There is a sense of disbelief about the clause.
There is also confusion among Conservative Members about what library services involve. For the education of Conservative Members, I will clarify what library services in schools are all about. They can be either part of the local education authority or, in some parts of the country, part of the public library service contracted to work for the local education authority. They provide not only book loans but packs to support topic work in the national curriculum ; they offer advice and help to schools in the creation and maintenance of their own library and resources centres ; they provide in-service training opportunities for teachers and other staff ; they also create links between the children's public library service and school libraries.
It is not a question of the library service providing a stock of books that any private organisation can supply--provided, of course, that it has the capital. It is a great deal more than that. It is about experience built up over 50 years in some cases. It is a wonderful example of a shared resource and the way in which the maximum benefit can be obtained from public expenditure.
The school library service offers all schools, but particularly small primary schools, a resource that they could not possibly provide themselves, and it gives them access to a much wider range of resources. There are no external competitors for most elements of that provision. Many reports of Her Majesty's inspectorate have criticised libraries in schools, sometimes because they have too little stock, but that is a reflection of the school's inadequate budget for library acquisitions and not a criticism of the school library service itself. School library services are often praised in HMI reports ; on occasion, they are highlighted as the only good thing about a school library. The reports are not praising the stock of books but the services that go with the library service. From comments made yesterday, Conservative Members do not seem to understand what the school library service is all about.
The point that I am making is that school library services are not like cleaning, catering or ground
Column 363maintenance services. They offer a great deal more--something that I find impossible to believe could be provided by a private agency coming in from outside.
We have heard a lot today about the support that local education authorities can offer schools in their areas. When we were talking earlier about education associations a great deal was said about the role that a local education authority can play in supporting not only a failing school but a highly successful school as well.
I want to illustrate that with an example. In December 1991 an arson attack on St. Ivo school in St. Ives destroyed the science block with six teaching laboratories and a unique collection of animals built up over many years. Teaching materials, text books, teachers' personal scientific notes, pupils' project work for A-levels, pupils' GCSE work, work books, mark books, assessments, equipment, computers, visual aids, furnishings and fittings were also lost.
The local education authority was able to mobilise a wide range of practical and specialist help within hours, clearing the ruins, making the area safe, bringing in mobile classrooms, co-ordinating help from other schools, advancing money for replacements required immediately, advising about the loss of pupils' GCSE and A-level work, supporting staff, dealing with insurance claims, and so on. The school was able to keep going and by the beginning of the next term science teaching was back on course.
That was a large school with experienced staff and I have to ask how any grant-maintained school would have coped in similar circumstances without the local education authority's expertise to hand. Make no mistake about it, we are talking about the destruction of the local education authority's support service for something which will be tenuous and difficult to replace. It is just not enough to be insured.
That school is in the Prime Minister's constituency. It has just held a parental ballot and the prospect of leaving the local education authority was overwhelmingly rejected by the parents. I am not at all surprised.
Conservative Members are being naive about the clause. They assume that the private sector will step in and provide a service. It will not be a better service and in many cases there will be no service at all.
Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock and Burntwood) : Such an example could be echoed and repeated throughout the country and through a range of services. That surely reveals that the Government's prime purpose is clearly to destroy local education authorities. The Government are not concerned with the implications of that for the quality of service that the education authorities provide. We have just heard it said that the purpose of this legislation is to let the private sector flourish--nothing to do with education or the quality of the service. Is that not exactly the divide that we are talking about?
Mrs. Campbell : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point--on which I wanted to conclude, so it comes at an opportune moment. The restriction placed on local education authorities to prevent them from trading with grant-maintained schools has nothing to do with raising education standards. It is about encouraging the private sector and perhaps encouraging Conservative party supporters to set up businesses in competition with
Column 364the local education authority, thus making themselves a great deal of money. I hope that the amendment will be accepted.
Sir Wyn Roberts : I am sorry to complain yet again that the Government have been left little time to respond to the debate. I intended to confine my remarks only to the Welsh amendments, which were moved over a period of 25 minutes by the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis), in the hope that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), would deal with the amendment concerning England with his customary verve and dexterity. Clause 257 will allow the Secretary of State to make an order enabling a local education authority to sell services beyond the margins of capacity to grant-maintained schools in its own area, or in the area of a neighbouring LEA, for up to two years.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North explained the reasoning behind his amendment, which was prompted by his concern that some LEAs in Wales would not be in a position to provide such services. Government policy is clear--that local authorities should not be trading organisations. I do not think that community charge or council tax payers would approve either. There can be no justification for a different approach in Wales.
Clause 257 recognises the special circumstances which exist in the case of the developing grant-maintained sector. That is why the clause provides temporary relaxation.
In the context of local government reorganisation, we made it perfectly clear that we expect the new, smaller unitary authorities in Wales to adopt a variety of ways of discharging their statutory responsibility to deliver services, including education. Those methods could include joint working and co-operation or, through an authority, arranging for another authority to discharge functions on its behalf.
The Local Government Act 1972 already allows an authority to arrange for another to discharge many of its functions. Clause 258 provides that local authorities will no longer be required to establish education committees. One consequence of that will be to bring education into line with other services and to allow that function, or certain elements of it, to be discharged by another authority--which may employ staff specifically for that purpose--rather than having, as the law currently stands, to go through the process of establishing joint education committees.
In terms of the delivery of service by the new unitary authorities, I do not envisage difficulties. Let us not forget that many of the day-to-day operational responsibilities of managing the education system have already been delegated to schools.
To return to the provision of services to grant-maintained schools by the new unitary authorities, and the relevance of clause 257, at present each LEA in Wales is bounded by at least two other education authorities. In some cases the other authorities may be in England. Under the Local Government (Goods and Services) Act 1970, any LEA can provide services to any grant-maintained school anywhere in Wales and England so long as it does not exceed the margins of capacity. Clause 257 would allow LEAs to operate for up to two years in their own and in a neighbouring LEA's area
Column 365beyond the margins of capacity. If any orders were made under clause 257 before local government reorganisation, they would effectively expire with the abolition of the existing LEAs on 31 March 1995.
After reorganisation, each proposed unitary authority in Wales would be bounded by two or more education authorities--except Anglesey. This next point is important. As now, under the 1970 Act, any unitary authority in Wales or LEA in England could provide services to any grant-maintained school anywhere in Wales and England so long as it did so within the margins of capacity. As my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools pointed out in an early intervention, clause 257 will come into play only if an authority wants to provide services to grant- maintained schools in its own or a neighbouring authority's area beyond the margins of capacity. Because the unitary authorities in Wales would be entirely new, the fact that there might have been an order under clause 257 relating to the education authority for the same area prior to reorganisation would not be relevant. The unitary authority's power conferred by an order under clause 257 could run for two years from the making of the order.
Even in the case of grant-maintained schools in Anglesey--which, as everybody knows, is very much an island--the picture is not so bleak as some would paint. It would be open to the unitary authorities for the island and for neighbouring Caernarfonshire and Merionethshire to provide services to them beyond the margins of capacity by way of an order under clause 257, but it would also be open to those schools in Anglesey to purchase the services from any education authority in Wales and England if they could be provided by that authority within the margins of capacity.
We are confident that the move to unitary authorities will not adversely affect the provision of services to LEA or grant-maintained schools. The amendments are well meaning, but the special treatment that they seek to give Wales is not necessary and cannot be justified.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North made mention of facilities that are special to Wales, such as language centres and peripatetic teachers of Welsh. I am sure that existing LEAs will be anxious to sell the services of such centres and teachers to grant-maintained schools which need them and that grant-maintained schools, which are obliged to follow the national curriculum--there is no difference between them and LEA-maintained schools in that respect--will be anxious to purchase.
I am sure also that as the grant-maintained sector grows it will want to develop independent sources. That has been the history of development in Wales. A parallel can be found in broadcasting. At one time, there were no independent producers of programmes in Wales, but we provided in legislation for their existence ; as a result, they came into being and today they represent a flourishing sector. Grant-maintained schools will have special purpose grants which cover the development of the national curriculum and associated developments--school management and appraisal, and staff training and development.
Column 366My hon. Friend the Minister mentioned the use of the Local Government Act 1972 in respect of choirs, orchestras and bands. They can be organised by LEAs under section 145 of that legislation without falling within the ambit of clause 257. I remind the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) that many youth establishments of the kind to which he referred are privately funded.
We do not see any special circumstances in Wales which warrant treatment different from that given in England. In regard to England, we reaffirm our current position : we are certainly not in the business of enabling local authorities to trade in competition with the private sector which we are certain will develop in the supply of services to the grant-maintained sector.
I repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Torfaen and, indeed, say it to the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North. They represent--
It being Eight o'clock, Madam Deputy Speaker-- put the Question already proposed from the Chair, That the amendment be made :-- The House divided : Ayes 246, Noes 274.
Division No. 170] [8 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane
Adams, Mrs Irene
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, Andrew F.
Berry, Dr. Roger
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Donohoe, Brian H.
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Ms Angela
Evans, John (St Helens N)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Foster, Don (Bath)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Godman, Dr Norman A.
Golding, Mrs Llin
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)