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PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSIONER BILL --

Order for Second Reading read .

Hon. Members : Object.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 11 March.


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House of Commons Members' Fund

2.32 pm

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : I beg to move, That, in pursuance of the provisions of section 3 of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1948 and of section 2 of the House of Commons Members' Fund and Parliamentary Pensions Act 1981, the maximum annual amounts of the periodical payments which may be made out of the House of Commons Members' Fund under the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1939, as amended, and the annual rate of any payments made under section 1 of the said Act of 1981 shall be varied as from 1st April 1994, as follows :

(a) for paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the said Act of 1939, as amended, there shall be substituted the following paragraph : 1. The annual amount of any periodical payment made to any person by virtue of his past membership of the House of Commons shall not exceed £3,554 or such sum as, in the opinion of the Trustees, will bring his income up to £6,561 per annum, whichever is the less : Provided that if, having regard to length of service and need, the Trustees think fit, they may make a larger payment not exceeding £6, 842 or such sum as, in their opinion, will bring his income up to £9, 849 per annum, whichever is the less' :

(b) for paragraph 2 of that Schedule there shall be substituted the following paragraph :

2. The annual amount of any periodical payment to any person by virtue of her being a widow of a past Member of the House of Commons shall not exceed £2,221 or such sum as, in the opinion of the Trustees, will bring her income up to £5,228 per annum, whichever is the less :

Provided that if, having regard to her husband's length of service or to her need, the Trustees think fit, they may make a larger payment not exceeding £4,277 or such sum as, in the opinion of the Trustees, will bring her income up to £7,284 per annum, whichever is the less' :

(c) in paragraph 2A of that Schedule for the words the annual amount of any periodical payment' to the end of the paragraph, there shall be substituted the words :

the annual amount of any periodical payment made to any such widower shall not exceed £2,221 or such sum as, in the opinion of the Trustees, will bring his income up to £5,228 per annum, whichever is the less :

Provided that if, having regard to his wife's length of service or to his need, the Trustees think fit, they may make a larger payment not exceeding £4,277 or such sum as, in the opinion of the Trustees, will bring his income up to £7,284 per annum, whichever is the less' :

(d) in section 2(1) of the said Act of 1981, for the words from the beginning to the end of the paragraph (b) there shall be substituted the words :

the annual rate of any payments under section 1 shall be (a) £2,070 if the payments are made to a past Member ; and (b) £1,294 if the payments are made to the widow or widower of a past Member'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : I understand that with this, it will be convenient to discuss the following motion :

That the whole or any part of the sums deducted or set aside in the current year from the salaries of Members of Parliament under section 1 of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1939, and the whole or any part of the contribution determined by the Treasury for the current year under section 1 of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1957, as amended by the House of Commons Members' Fund and the Parliamentary Pensions Act 1981, be appropriated for the purposes of section 4 of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1948, as amended by section 12 of the Parliamentary Pensions etc. Act 1984, and section 7 of the Ministerial and Other Pensions and Salaries Act 1991.

Mr. Morris : The motions on the Order Paper are tabled in the names of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides


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of the Chamber who share with me the responsibility, as Managing Trustees, of administering the House of Commons Members' Fund. There are two motions to consider. The first provides for an increase in the present levels of all grants and payments which may be made under the Members' Fund legislation. These were last revised by approval of the motions I brought to the House in April 1993. We now propose to increase the grants and payments with effect from 1 April 1994 by 1.8 per cent., which is in line with the increases approved for public service and state retirement pensions. The main beneficiaries of the first motion are elderly former Members or their surviving spouses, the majority of whom, unlike present Members of the House, are not entitled to the benefits available from the Parliamentary Contributory Pension Fund. Many of them are now over 80 years of age and some are in their nineties. The changes for which we seek approval can be briefly stated. Subparagraph (a) deals with the provisions for grants to ex-Members who served in the House for 10 years and whose income is below defined limits. It is proposed to increase the basic annual grant to £3,554, subject to an income limit including the grant of £6,561. In the case of ex-Members with longer service, the grant may be increased to a maximum of £6,842, subject to an income limit of £9, 849 per annum.

The widows and widowers of these ex-Members are covered by subparagraphs (b) and (c) of the motion. It is proposed to increase their basic annual grant to £2,221, subject to an income limit including the grant of £5,228. Similarly in the case of widows and widowers of ex-Members who had longer service, the grant may be increased to a maximum of £4,277, subject to an income limit of £7, 284.

Subparagraph (d) refers to the "as of right" payments from the Members' Fund to ex-Members who had 10 years service before October 1964, and to their widows and widowers. Their awards are not subject to any income limits and we propose to increase these annual payments to £2,070 for ex-Members and £1,294 for widows and widowers. Under the terms of the governing legislation, the House of Commons may by resolution direct that, in any year, the whole or any part of the amount contributed by Members from their salaries shall be appropriated, together with the whole or any part of the Treasury contribution, currently £215,000, for the purpose of providing funds for the trustees to make discretionary awards to ex- Members and their dependants, having regard to their individual circumstances. The second motion gives effect to this appropriation and will enable the trustees to continue discretionary awards to ex-Members and their dependants.

I am most appreciative of the help of right hon. and hon. Members who have brought, and continue to bring, to the attention of the Managing Trustees information on the needs of former Members and their dependants. I hope very much that this will continue. The cause of helping elderly former colleagues now living in straitened circumstances is worth while and the help we receive about their needs is invaluable to the Managing Trustees in making best use of the resources available to us.

I am sure the motions will have the support of all right hon. and hon. Members, and commend them to the House.


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Finally, I wish again most warmly to thank Tony Lewis, Alan Marskell, Michael Fletcher, Neil Crawley and their colleagues in the Fees Office for all the skill and humane concern with which they help those whom the fund exists to serve. As Chairman of the Managing Trustees, I see at first hand the commitment with which they work, week by week, in the service of former parliamentarians, their widows and other dependants, who now need the support we can provide. They deserve the gratitude of the whole House.

2.37 pm

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting) : I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) and other parliamentary colleagues whose names are listed on the Order Paper for the hours of work that they put into acting as trustees of the House of Commons Members' fund. I fully agree with my right hon. Friend's comments and I am sure that his proposals will be supported unanimously. I join him in his thanks to and appreciation of members of the Fees Office. I am sure that all of us are aware that when we have problems, the Fees Office is always extremely helpful. It has certainly been helpful for many years in seeking to help ex-Members who, sadly, have run into difficult times. It is only right on an occasion such as this to pay the warmest tribute to those who work in the Fees Office and especially to Mr. Lewis who, I understand, will shortly be retiring. Knowing him, I am sure that it will be an active retirement. He has been most helpful to all of us.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) and I are members of the parliamentary Labour party benevolent fund. We know from the cases with which we deal of ex-Members, many of them very elderly--80 or 90 as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe said--who were Members of Parliament when salaries were very low. Many of them have passed on and their elderly widows receive very little. The small amounts that the parliamentary Labour party pays in grants makes an enormous difference.

Some months ago, I had a meeting with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe who, as always, was extremely helpful and who took the matter up. This is not a party political issue. I pay the warmest tribute to the Leader of the House, who has always been as helpful as any Minister can be and I hope that the Minister will pass my comments on to him.

I should like to put two specific questions to my right hon. Friend and I shall do so because sometimes it is extremely helpful when matters are put on the record. First, how many discretionary awards are made under the House of Commons Members Fund Act 1939 and the House of Commons Members Fund Act 1948 and how many as-of-right payments are being made under the House of Commons Members Fund and Parliamentary Pensions Act 1981 ?

I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe in expressing our warmest and deepest thanks to hon. Members and our friends in the Fees Office for all their time and effort on this important issue.

2.41 pm

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton) : I think it right that a Conservative Member should compliment the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) on


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the way in which he has chaired the Committee, the work of which is conducted on an all-party basis. Conservative Members wish to support the measure as keenly as anybody. We are grateful to the Fees Office, on which much of the work falls. I pay a special tribute to the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe for the work that he does as Chairman, in which he gives the lead.

2.42 pm

Mr. Alfred Morris : I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and to the right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), both of whom take a deep and abiding interest in the welfare of their former colleagues. That was made very clear in their interventions.

The right hon. Member for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern), among other Conservative Members, is one of the Managing Trustees of the House of Commons Members' Fund. He plays, as do his colleagues, a very important part in our work.

To answer my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting, the number of recipients of grants at the present time under the 1939 Act, as amended--I refer to discretionary grants--is nine. Two of those go to ex-Members and seven to widows. Under the 1948 Act, to which my hon. Friend also referred, there are 140 discretionary awards, so that gives a total of 149. He also asked me about the number of recipients of payments as-of-right at the present time under the 1981 Act. The answer is 76.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the whole of any part of the sums deducted or set aside in the current year from the salaries of Members of Parliament under section 1 of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1939, and the whole or any part of the contribution determined by the Treasury for the current year under section 1 of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1957, as amended by the House of Commons Members' Fund and the Parliamentary Pensions Act 1981, be appropriated for the purposes of section 4 of the House of Commons Members' Fund Act 1948, as amended by section 12 of the Parliamentary Pensions etc. Act 1984, and section 7 of the Ministerial and other Pensions and Salaries Act 1991.-- [Mr. Alfred Morris.]

BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE

Ordered,

That, at the sitting on Wednesday 9th March, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business), the Speaker shall--


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(1) put the Question necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of Mr. Secretary Howard relating to Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism not later than three hours after their commencement ; and

(2) put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motions in the name of Mr. Tony Newton relating to Select Committees relating to government departments and Northern Ireland Grand Committee, including the Questions on any amendments thereto which she may have selected, not later than one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the first such Motion ;

and the said proceedings may be entered upon or continued after the expiry of the time for opposed business.-- [Mr. MacKay.]

SITTINGS OF THE HOUSE

Ordered,

That--

(1) this House do meet on Thursday 31st March at half-past Nine o'clock ;

(2) notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 17 (Time for taking questions), no Questions shall be taken, provided that at Eleven o'clock the Speaker may interrupt the proceedings in order to permit questions to be asked which are in her opinion of an urgent character and relate either to matters of public importance or to the arrangement of business, statements to be made by Ministers, or personal explanations to be made by Members ; and

(3) at Three o'clock the Speaker do adjourn the House without putting any Question, provided that this House shall not adjourn until the Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts agreed upon by both Houses.-- [Mr. MacKay.]

BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE

Ordered,

That for the remainder of this Session the Order [24th November] shall have effect as if paragraph (4) was as follows :

"Private Members' Notices of Motions shall have precedence over Government business on 18th March, 29th April, 17th and 24th June and 1st, 8th and 22nd July, and ballots for these Notices shall be held after Questions on 2nd March, 13th April, 18th and 25th May, 15th and 22nd June and 6th July." -- [Mr. MacKay.]

Ordered,

That for the remainder of this Session the Order [24th November] shall have effect as if paragraph (4) was as follows :

"Private Members' Notices of Motions shall have precedence over Government business on 18th March, 29th April, 17th and 24th June and 1st, 8th and 22nd July, and ballots for these Notices shall be held after Questions on 2nd March, 13th April, 18th and 25th May, 15th and 22nd June and 6th July."


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Education (Essex)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. MacKay.].

2.44 pm

Mr. John Whittingdale (Colchester, South and Maldon) : I am most grateful for the opportunity to raise a matter which is of the greatest concern, not only to my constituents, but to many parents and staff of schools throughout Essex. I am delighted to see my hon. Friends the Members for Basildon (Mr. Amess), for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) and for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin), all of whom share my concern, as do all my hon. Friends who represent constituencies in Essex. I especially mention my hon. Friends the Members for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) and for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles), who cannot be here, but have asked to be associated with my remarks. Essex is fortunate to have some of the best schools in the country. The four grammar schools--two at Colchester and two at Chelmsford- - regularly appear in the list of the top 10 best schools in the United Kingdom. There are also many other schools in Essex that regularly produce outstanding results. It is no coincidence that Essex also has more grant- maintained schools than any other county in England. In my constituency, at secondary level, the Plume school in Maldon, the Thurstable school in Tiptree and the Philip Morant school in Colchester have GM status. The Alderman Blaxhill school will shortly become grant maintained on 1 April. At primary level, the Great Totham primary school is grant maintained and the application from the West Mersea county primary school is currently before the Secretary of State. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister will not be able to comment on that today, but I urge him to look most favourably on that application.

In every one of those grant-maintained schools that I have visited I have found that the unanimous view of staff, parents and pupils is that grant- maintained status has given them the freedom to improve facilities, to recruit more teachers and to obtain better results. The headmaster of the Plume school, Alan Bilby, said recently : "What we can now do is act on what parents, teachers and pupils are saying. Before we would listen but know there was little we could do because of how the money was spent. Now we know what is important to the pupils and we can act on that."

Before May 1993, the attitude of the Conservative-controlled Essex county council was one of neutrality towards grant-maintained status. I suspect that the authority may have been a little sad to see its chicks leave the nest to become grant-maintained schools, but it did nothing to stand in their way. All that changed in May 1993 when a Labour and Liberal Democrat administration took control. Despite the views of parents in successive ballots, the new Labour and Liberal-run education committee passed a motion after a few days of taking control which stated :

"We are opposed to the principle of grant-maintained status believing that the system is not appropriate, fair or democratically accountable."

The new Liberal chairman said :

"we regard GMS as educationally divisive, unjust and unfair and the education committee will do everything in its power within the law to persuade schools to remain with the Essex Local Education Authority".

Since that time, the county council has waged a relentless campaign of hostility towards those schools that have become grant maintained and towards those that are considering doing so. Under a new policy, passed by


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Labour and the Liberal Democrats, schools that consider becoming grant maintained immediately have all future building work stopped. As soon as a school governing body takes a first vote to consult parents through a ballot on whether it should become grant maintained, any capital programme in the pipeline is put on hold and it is reinstated only if the governors decide not to proceed with the ballot or if the parents reject that ballot. The intention is to intimidate governing bodies from even considering grant-maintained status.

If it is decided to hold a ballot, a leaflet is circulated to parents which puts the county's case against GMS. I am not saying that the arguments should not be put, but the leaflet is biased, misleading and threatening. One of my constituents who is a governor of the West Mersea county primary school wrote to me as follows : "In my view, this document is highly selective in its use of the facts. It presents those facts in a manner designed to prevent true comparison and qualifies them with emotive phraseology. The result is a document which fails to inform and has clear political intentions."

I know that that is also the view of the Department for Education which I understand has written formally to the county education officer about this.

Not only parents have been subjected to this propoganda from Essex county council. A brochure has been delivered to every house in the county at a cost of £76,000 to council tax payers. That brochure repeats the same misinformation in an attempt to mislead parents about the true nature of grant-maintained schools. I am glad to say that in most cases parents have not been taken in and have voted in large numbers for grant-maintained status. Even then, the county council has done all in its power to punish those schools and to discriminate against them.

At the Hockerill school in Bishops Stortford the county has always given special funding to support boarders, usually because their parents are handicapped or ill or working abroad. That support represents almost a quarter of the school's income. Two months ago, parents at the school voted to apply for grant-maintained status. At almost the same time, the county council issued proposals to change the system so that a grant is paid to parents of existing boarders rather than to the school and to withdraw the grant altogether for new entrants from September. In a letter to parents, the county council stated :

"the reason for proposing this change is to reflect the changed relationships between the LEA and schools, particularly those that have grant-maintained status."

One of the governors of Hockerill school who lives in my constituency wrote to me :

"The new arrangements have been hastily conceived, are ill thought out, and appear to have been made not from a strict fiscal plan and such heed, but rather as a policy of the new political strategy than the LEA at County seems to be pursuing for their own objectives." This move will not only be financially crippling to Hockerill school but will hit Colchester Royal grammar school which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North and which also has one boarding house. The House will not be surprised to learn that Colchester Royal grammar school is also grant maintained. The county council has also published proposals to withdraw concessionary transport from pupils attending the Anglo-European school in Ingatestone and the Davenant Foundation school in Loughton. Both those schools draw pupils from all over Essex, both produce


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excellent results and both are grant maintained. The chairman of the education committee has said that concessionary transport for the Anglo-European school is a "privilege" which should be removed. In a letter to me, the headmaster of the Anglo- European school stated : "I am shocked to learn that shortly after our having become grant maintained, the new administration at Essex County Council now intends to reverse a policy that it has supported for more than 20 years. In essence the new policy will mean that only the children of people rich enough to afford the travel costs will continue to enjoy the excellent education available from the school."

I welcome the fact that Essex has been chosen as one of the pilot areas for the new common funding formula. As the Minister knows, even now that is being resisted by the county council which has sought counsel's opinion as to whether it can challenge that in the courts. The Labour and Liberal Democrat administration of Essex county council has demonstrated its total disregard for the wishes of parents in Essex who have overwhelmingly shown their support for grant-maintained status. The separate measures that I have described, each one petty-minded and spiteful, add up to a politically motivated campaign intended to intimidate schools that are contemplating grant-maintained status and to punish those schools that already have it. The result will be restricted parental choice and diminished opportunity for children in Essex. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to do everything in his power to prevent that from happening. 2.54 pm

Mr. David Amess (Basildon) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Whittingdale) on his powerful and persuasive speech. I agreed with every word, and other hon. Friends listened with disgust at the details he gave of the vicious campaign waged by socialist-controlled Essex county council. No one knows better than I the viciousness of socialists against grant-maintained schools. I was proud to have the first grant-maintained school in Essex established in my constituency. I am prouder still that this week it was declared a city technology college, in the first wave of 12 new schools.

My hon. Friend was generous in his remarks about Essex county council. He omitted to mention that its first batch of leaflets were misspelt. Essex education committee authorised misspelt leaflets. They cost money, and then more rubbish was printed and distributed, further to mislead our constituents.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay) : That committee's members are educationally sub-normal.

Mr. Amess : They certainly are.

My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon mentioned Hockerill school. Sometimes, the chattering classes like to take the mickey out of Basildon, but 40 children in my constituency are boarders at Hockerill school and are much affected by the council's vicious proposals. I had a long conversation with the headmaster, who is right in thinking that the county council proposes to phase out the existing boarding subsidy without providing transitional support--for which there is a precedent--if the school's application for grant-maintained status is successful. That is pure viciousness against a grant-maintained school.

Barstable is another grant-maintained school in my constituency. Essex education committee discovered that


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that excellent school has certain liabilities that are clearly the county council's responsibility. They have been dumped back on the school with the knowledge, presumably, of the Education Assets Board. That is absolutely disgraceful. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will comment.

My children are educated in Basildon. Three of them attend St. Anne Line, which is a wonderful school. Another, Chowdhary, is known as a small school and is an excellent educational establishment. In the past few months, the rumour started that Essex county council would close that school. The chairman of the board of governors protested. He was the Liberal candidate in last year's county council elections, yet he led a campaign against Liberal-controlled Essex county council's education committee. That is the sort of duplicity with which we are having to cope in Essex, and it is a disgraceful example of double standards.

We are told that both Labour and the alliance want to save that school, but when it comes to vote, they do not. We are reliably informed that the leader of Essex county council is against the school being allowed to remain open. Chowdhary is a wonderful school which, to my personal knowledge, provides quality education with a little bit extra. Its track record and the solid support that it receives from parents deserve better than the finality and shame of closure or threat of closure.

In practice, the threat of closure will lead to closure because people will be worried about continuity of education. No wonder parents with infants at Chowdhary school are losing faith in the parents charter and the policies of Essex county council, under the control of the Liberal Democrats and Labour.

One of my children attends the Rupert Bear playgroup at Lee Chapel South school. Recently, the lollipop lady was removed from outside the school, although she had worked there for some years. It is no good Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors joining protest marches. It is a matter for the police and for Essex county council. The road by the school is dangerous for the young children who have to cross it, but, despite endless correspondence between parents, the school and Essex county council, there is no lollipop lady. I congratulate the school and the parents on their campaign and I intend to join them.

Essex county council is an example of Labour and the alliance having an affair. They share the same bed. They say that they are not socialist parties, but they are. They are only too pleased to seize control, when given the opportunity. Essex county council is awash with money--far more than it had under the Conservatives. Last May, the two parties deceived people and got themselves elected by saying that the lights would shine, the pavements would be clear and we would no longer have dog mess on our streets. What has happened? They have let us down badly on every count, but on none more than education. They have misled the public and I totally endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, who is also the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire), will be able to give Essex Members some good news and say how we can cope with that vicious and vindictive campaign.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.


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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris) : If it is a point of order for the Chair, I shall listen attentively.

Mr. Mackinlay : Can you confirm that, under the rules of the House, it is not possible for me, as the only Opposition Member representing Essex, to participate in the debate?

Mr. Deputy Speaker : The hon. Gentleman clearly knows the rules and did not need to ask me the question, did he?

3.2 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr. Robin Squire) : With such a trial of Essex strength around me, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Whittingdale) on a powerful and excellent speech. He found a good echo in the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess)

As my hon. Friends know, I am not quite an Essex man in the context in which they represent the county, but the postal address of my constituency is also Essex, and I am well aware of the issues that have rightly and properly been brought to the House and of the serious concern that they share.

The tremendous gains that grant-maintained status has brought to schools throughout the country and the determination of the Conservative Government and Conservative Members that those gains should be enjoyed by as many schools as possible underpin my hon. Friends' argument. Attempts to downgrade, criticise unfairly and spread false rumours about grant- maintained schools should be condemned and resisted whenever they occur.

I fully share the enthusiasm for grant-maintained schools that my hon. Friends expressed so well. Yesterday, I visited two self-governing schools in Wolverhampton and found precisely the same enthusiasm, drive, improved results and improved teacher morale. As my hon. Friends know, those are a feature of such schools. The centrepieces of the debate are local education authority leaflets and the spreading of misleading information about grant- maintained schools. It is of the utmost importance for parents to have access to factual and objective information about grant-maintained status, that they can make informed decisions about the future of their childrens' schools and education. That is why we view very seriously the circulation of material that may mislead parents and cause anxiety.

My Department has, therefore, adopted a policy of challenging local education authorities whose literature may do just that. Regrettably, Essex local education authority has produced a leaflet about GM status which my Department considers could mislead parents on a number of issues, especially accountability, GM autonomy and LEA trading powers. There have been various exchanges of correspondence between officials of the department and the chief education officer, Mr. Sharp, since the leaflet was brought to the Department's attention by a number of complainants in October last year. Our correspondence with Mr. Sharp also reminded him of the code of practice that the Department recently negotiated with the Society of Education Officers to govern the provision of information about GM status. The code states that information produced by LEA officials, civil servants and employees of the Grant Maintained


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Schools Centre should be objective, factual, explanatory and non-political. Those are most important provisions and, as I have made clear, they are provisions which the Government themselves abide by. We are, I judge, therefore fully entitled to expect local education authorities to behave in a similar manner.

Moreover, I shall take the opportunity to highlight the extended powers that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State now enjoys as a result of the Education Act 1993. Where ballots are initiated under the 1993 Act, the Secretary of State's powers have been widened to bite on interference by third parties. He can now consider voiding ballots whose outcome is likely to have been influenced to a significant extent by false or misleading information. Any complaints will be considered carefully and I assure my hon. Friends who are present this afternoon, and others who may read this in weeks to come, that we take the matter seriously and that those powers will be exercised as and when opportunities arise.

My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon went on to speak about Hockerill school. He and my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon mentioned Hockerill school's application for self-governing status and its natural anxiety to know how it might be funded if its application is approved. Of course, I cannot comment on the proposal at this stage, but future funding, if the application is successful, is very much part of its consideration. One factor that bears on funding is the fact that although Hockerill school is situated in Hertfordshire, it is maintained by Essex.

Against the background of a proposal still under consideration, I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon will appreciate that it is hard for me to give any definitive assurances about the level of budget that the school could expect if it were grant maintained. Officials are exploring a range of options and are consulting the local authorities affected. Probably the most that I can say at this stage is that the aim of the GM funding regime is to provide additional resources to GM schools to reflect their additional responsibilities as self-governing schools. We are also concerned to avoid undue turbulence as schools switch from one funding basis to another. With that in mind, I am confident that the Funding Agency for Schools will seek, if Hockerill becomes grant maintained, to ensure that the school is not disadvantaged. Quite apart from the questions about the future status of Hockerill, there is the issue of boarding subsidy, which is payable under the authority's scheme for the local management of schools. Once again, I regret that I am unable to comment substantively, since my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has a quasi-judicial role in the consideration of such proposals. The subsidy is intended to meet the additional costs that arise in trying to provide boarding places-- residential buildings, care staff, and so on--and is receivable by two schools. Those schools are Hockerill, which is maintained by the LEA, and-- by replication through the annual maintenance grant paid to GM schools--the Royal grammar school in Colchester, which has a small boarding house.

After carrying out a consultation process, the authority recently submitted to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State a proposal to make a variation to that part of its LMS scheme. The proposal is to cease paying subsidy through the delegated school budget shares from the financial year 1994-95, and instead pay the subsidy direct to parents from


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