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The right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) referred to what will happen after September 1999. That is important, because a new framework will operate under the Bill. Such matters will go to the school organisation committee. If there is no agreement, they will go to the local adjudicator. From September 1999, the Secretary of State will issue guidance about the measures. [Interruption.] If Conservative Members will listen, I will take them through what will happen, and what local parents will be able to do if they are unhappy about the final decision.

The school organisation committee will have to act in a reasonable way. If it fails to do so, and, for example, ignores the advice, guidance and regulations laid down by the Secretary of State, it can be challenged by parents for not acting in a reasonable way. If the matter goes to the adjudicator, he will also have to follow the guidance laid down by the Secretary of State, and that guidance will once again be a presumption against closure. If local parents feel aggrieved that the adjudicator has failed to take into account the guidance provided by the Secretary of State, they will be able to subject him to judicial review, which is exactly the position in respect of the Secretary of State at the moment.

The right hon. Member for Charnwood has not come to terms with the Bill. He needs to be aware that, between now and September 1999, every issue to do with potential closures of village schools will be referred to the

24 Mar 1998 : Column 206

Secretary of State. From September 1999, we move into a new school framework. When that happens, the school organisation committee and the adjudicator will have to act in line with guidance from the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State's guidance will include a presumption against closure. Despite crocodile tears from Conservative Members on behalf of rural village schools, they closed 450 in their period in office. That is the reality.

The Government have put in place safeguards and measures that will protect rural primary schools. We are acting where the previous Government failed to act. Whether under the existing arrangements or under the new framework that takes effect from September next year, we will provide the safeguards and resources to ensure that rural primary schools will provide high-quality education to meet the needs of their local communities.

Mrs. Browning: I once had a go at tapestry. The most frustrating thing was having to unpick the bits that went wrong. I was reminded of that by the Minister. I might take it up again.

What the Minister said on 28 February was short of the full story. We have now had the full story. When he said that an LEA's proposal to close a rural school would be called in by the Secretary of State for decision, the assumption among parents and in rural schools was that the Secretary of State would personally intervene in future, with a presumption against closure to protect rural primary schools. At the same time as the Minister was saying that, he was taking a Bill through Committee. He knew that there was a cut-off date about a year after the Bill would receive Royal Assent, after which the whole system would be changed.

An adjudicator will make a judgment independently, on the merits of a case put before him or her. It is clear that, whatever guidance the Secretary of State gives, there is no comparison between an adjudicator's decision and something being called in by the Secretary of State.

I raise again a point that I made in Committee. When a school is due to be closed, Members of Parliament rightly wish to represent their constituents. They have the power, with the Secretary of State's permission, to take delegations to Ministers in the Department to make sure that their case is raised at the highest levels of Government. They can call Ministers to account--at least, they certainly could under the previous Government--on the Floor of the House for decisions they make. The Government's proposals are a departure from that.

The Minister has revealed tonight that, on 28 February, he had to come to the aid of the party on an issue that was different from anything that his Department normally has to deal with. He had to stitch together some press statement that would make his part in the Government sound user-friendly to the rural communities, at the eleventh hour. He is now having to unpick what he said, so that he can continue to take the Bill through the House without having to amend it to honour that pledge. It is a matter of honour.

If the Minister really believes what he said on 28 February but cannot accept the wording of new clause 13, he could amend the Bill in another place, or he could

24 Mar 1998 : Column 207

have tabled an amendment on Report. The fact that he did not table an amendment in Committee or on Report to back up the pledge he gave on 28 February shows that, for all the rhetoric and going round the houses on money for this and money for that, rural primary schools are no better off with all these new pledges than they were before.

Measures in the Bill that we had already debated by 28 February made that clear. We had already been through that part of the Bill. Liberal Democrat Members know that that is the case. Rural primary schools' fate was already signed and sealed, because we had dealt with the adjudicator by that stage; but that did not figure in the Minister's press release. The press release did not tell the full story, if I may use those words.

As I have the attention of the two Liberal Democrat Members, may I say that this is the first time that I have ever heard a Liberal Democrate--Liberal Democrat--[Laughter.] "Crate" was perhaps the right word. This is the first time that I have heard a Liberal Democrat make the case for not taking into account the problems of rural areas. They are normally the first on their feet to say that there are special circumstances when rural issues are debated. I have to say to the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) that I feel an "In Touch" coming on.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath): I remind the hon. Lady that "In Touch" is the newsletter put out, rarely, by the Conservatives. The Liberal Democrat one, which goes out more frequently, is called "Focus".

Does the hon. Lady agree that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough did not make the comments that she has just said he made? Does she accept that, when closure of any school is considered, three criteria should be taken into account? The first is the educational impact that the closure may have. The second is the financial implications. The third should be the impact that the closure may have on the local community. All three should be taken into account on every closure, whether of a small rural primary school or of any other school.

Mrs. Browning: I did mean "In Touch". I do feel a Conservative "In Touch" coming forward. The record will show exactly what the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough said in putting his case.

I support what the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) says, except that, as he knows--I shall not waste the time of the House in rehearsing this too long--the effect of closure of a school on a rural community is different from the effect on an urban community. There is often no nearby school in a rural community, and transport problems are exacerbated by the closure of rural primary schools.

I am disappointed--but, perhaps cynically, not surprised--that the Minister says that he will not support the new clause tonight. I am saddened by that. It will make many people, especially in rural areas, question the statement that he made on television on 28 February. I ask the House to support rural primary schools, and to vote for the new clause.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:--

The House divided: Ayes 138, Noes 319.

24 Mar 1998 : Column 208

Division No. 220
[5.24 pm


Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael
Arbuthnot, James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baldry, Tony
Beggs, Roy
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Blunt, Crispin
Body, Sir Richard
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Brady, Graham
Brazier, Julian
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Browning, Mrs Angela
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Burns, Simon
Butterfill, John
Chapman, Sir Sydney
(Chipping Barnet)
Chope, Christopher
Clappison, James
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Colvin, Michael
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Curry, Rt Hon David
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Day, Stephen
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Duncan, Alan
Duncan Smith, Iain
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Evans, Nigel
Faber, David
Flight, Howard
Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Fox, Dr Liam
Gibb, Nick
Gill, Christopher
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair
Gray, James
Green, Damian
Greenway, John
Grieve, Dominic
Gummer, Rt Hon John
Hague, Rt Hon William
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Hammond, Philip
Hawkins, Nick
Heald, Oliver
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Hunter, Andrew
Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Jenkin, Bernard
Johnson Smith,
Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lansley, Andrew
Leigh, Edward
Letwin, Oliver
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Lidington, David
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
MacGregor, Rt Hon John
MacKay, Andrew
Maclean, Rt Hon David
McLoughlin, Patrick
Malins, Humfrey
Maples, John
Mates, Michael
Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
May, Mrs Theresa
Moss, Malcolm
Nicholls, Patrick
Norman, Archie
Ottaway, Richard
Page, Richard
Paice, James
Paterson, Owen
Pickles, Eric
Prior, David
Randall, John
Redwood, Rt Hon John
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Ruffley, David
St Aubyn, Nick
Sayeed, Jonathan
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Soames, Nicholas
Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spring, Richard
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Steen, Anthony
Streeter, Gary
Swayne, Desmond
Syms, Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Townend, John
Tredinnick, David
Trend, Michael
Tyrie, Andrew
Walter, Robert
Wardle, Charles
Waterson, Nigel
Wells, Bowen
Whitney, Sir Raymond
Whittingdale, John
Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Wilkinson, John
Willetts, David
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Yeo, Tim
Young, Rt Hon Sir George

Tellers for the Ayes:

Sir David Madel and
Mr. James Cran.


Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Allan, Richard
Allen, Graham
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)
Armstrong, Ms Hilary
Ashton, Joe
Baker, Norman
Ballard, Mrs Jackie
Barnes, Harry
Barron, Kevin
Battle, John
Bayley, Hugh
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, Andrew F
Benton, Joe
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Betts, Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blizzard, Bob
Blunkett, Rt Hon David
Borrow, David
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brake, Tom
Brand, Dr Peter
Breed, Colin
Brinton, Mrs Helen
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Browne, Desmond
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Byers, Stephen
Cable, Dr Vincent
Caborn, Richard
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell-Savours, Dale
Canavan, Dennis
Caplin, Ivor
Casale, Roger
Caton, Martin
Chaytor, David
Chidgey, David
Chisholm, Malcolm
Clark, Dr Lynda
(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clwyd, Ann
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cohen, Harry
Coleman, Iain
Colman, Tony
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Corbett, Robin
Corston, Ms Jean
Cousins, Jim
Cox, Tom
Crausby, David
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cummings, John
Cunliffe, Lawrence
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Dalyell, Tam
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Darvill, Keith
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davidson, Ian
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, John
Dewar, Rt Hon Donald
Dobbin, Jim
Donohoe, Brian H
Doran, Frank
Drown, Ms Julia
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Ennis, Jeff
Fatchett, Derek
Field, Rt Hon Frank
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Fitzsimons, Lorna
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Foster, Don (Bath)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Fyfe, Maria
Galloway, George
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, Andrew (St Ives)
Gibson, Dr Ian
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Grant, Bernie
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Grocott, Bruce
Grogan, John
Gunnell, John
Hain, Peter
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hancock, Mike
Hanson, David
Harris, Dr Evan
Harvey, Nick
Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Healey, John
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Hill, Keith
Hinchliffe, David
Hodge, Ms Margaret
Hoey, Kate
Home Robertson, John
Hoon, Geoffrey
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howells, Dr Kim
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hurst, Alan
Hutton, John
Iddon, Dr Brian
Illsley, Eric
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Johnson, Miss Melanie
(Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Mon)
Jones, Ms Jenny
(Wolverh'ton SW)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Keeble, Ms Sally
Kemp, Fraser
Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Kidney, David
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Kirkwood, Archy
Kumar, Dr Ashok
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Laxton, Bob
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Livingstone, Ken
Lock, David
Love, Andrew
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
McDonagh, Siobhain
Macdonald, Calum
McDonnell, John
McFall, John
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
McLeish, Henry
McNulty, Tony
MacShane, Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Mandelson, Peter
Marek, Dr John
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Meale, Alan
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Milburn, Alan
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Austin
Moffatt, Laura
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Mountford, Kali
Mudie, George
Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Oaten, Mark
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
O'Hara, Eddie
Olner, Bill
O'Neill, Martin
Öpik, Lembit
Palmer, Dr Nick
Pearson, Ian
Pendry, Tom
Perham, Ms Linda
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter L
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry
Pope, Greg
Powell, Sir Raymond
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Quin, Ms Joyce
Quinn, Lawrie
Radice, Giles
Rammell, Bill
Rapson, Syd
Raynsford, Nick
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N)
Rendel, David
Robertson, Rt Hon George
(Hamilton S)
Rogers, Allan
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Rowlands, Ted
Roy, Frank
Ruddock, Ms Joan
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Ryan, Ms Joan
Sanders, Adrian
Sarwar, Mohammad
Savidge, Malcolm
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Miss Geraldine
(Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Soley, Clive
Spellar, John
Squire, Ms Rachel
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr Howard
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stunell, Andrew
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark
Tonge, Dr Jenny
Touhig, Don
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Tyler, Paul
Wallace, James
Walley, Ms Joan
Wareing, Robert N
Watts, David
Webb, Steve
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd
Williams, Rt Hon Alan
(Swansea W)
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Willis, Phil
Wills, Michael
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wise, Audrey
Woolas, Phil
Wray, James
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. David Clelland and
Mr. Jim Dowd.

Question accordingly negatived.

24 Mar 1998 : Column 211

New clause 24

Reinstitution of standards for educational premises

'.--Section 542 (Prescribed standards for school premises) of the Education Act 1996 shall be amended as follows--
(a) before "regulations" in subsection (1), there shall be inserted "Subject to subsection (1A)".
(b) after subsection (1), there shall be inserted--
"(1A) the minimum standard that regulations will prescribe are those as set out in the Education (School Premises) Regulations 1981".'.--[Mr. Don Foster.]
Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Don Foster: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I am conscious of the fact that, later today, we shall have an opportunity to debate the issue of Office for Standards in Education inspections and the chief inspector's annual report. Although there may be many hon. Members who find some aspects of the chief inspector's comments controversial, I doubt that any would disagree with one of his comments in his 1996 annual report:

The chief inspector was talking not only about the quality of the buildings in terms of their fabric, but about the availability of appropriate space in which pupils can learn and teachers teach. Many of us are well aware of the serious detrimental impact that classroom overcrowding can have on the education of children.

The effect of the new clause is to reinstate into legislation requirements for minimum space standards. Those standards existed for a number of years, but were removed by the previous Administration in September 1996. When they were removed, there was an outcry from the Opposition parties--from the Liberal Democrats and from the then official Opposition, the Labour party. The minimum space standards which we are debating were laid out in the Education (School Premises) Regulations 1981, which established space standards in respect of recreation areas, playing fields, teaching accommodation, school land, school accommodation and even provision for boarders, and the individual regulations included a minimum net area of 2.3 sq m for each pupil in a nursery school.

The House will be well aware that very many of our schools, especially our primary schools, are bursting at the seams, not least because the schools standard

24 Mar 1998 : Column 212

number--the number of pupils that a school must admit--was based on the bulge years of the 1980s, when every bit of space in schools was used. As a result, very popular schools, and those in population growth areas, are too full. The situation is made even worse when, as sometimes happens, the admission limit set by a local education authority is higher than the standard number, creating real difficulty for many schools.

The capacity needs of our schools have changed since the introduction of the concept of the standard number. There have been huge changes in the requirement, not least because of changes in relation to the national curriculum and changes in our approach to providing support for children with special educational needs. Rightly, there has also been much greater concern about health and safety issues.

In those circumstances, it seems appropriate that, instead of the current general guidance, clear regulations are laid down on the space standards that should apply in our schools. One would assume that to be the view of the present Government, because, when in opposition, they were vociferous about that issue.

I draw the attention of the House to comments by the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), now Secretary of State for Education and Employment, in a speech when in opposition:

Referring to the former Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard), he said that she was

    "bowing and capitulating to right-wing pressures on her, rather than meeting the needs of the service and making the provision required to improve our children's educational standards and to ensure the proper teaching that classroom staff want to deliver to the children in their charge."--[Official Report, 18 March 1996; Vol. 274, c. 124-27.]

Those comments by the present Secretary of State were backed up by several Labour Members. I especially draw the attention of the House to the words of the present Co-Chairman of the Select Committee on Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge), in that debate. She said:

    "The new proposals"--

to remove the space standards--

    "will lower standards, not improve them. They will prepare the ground for further cuts in capital investment in our schools, not lead to the much-needed physical improvement in our schools".

She said that the regulations that removed those space standards were

    "short-sighted and wrong. They should not be introduced, and they cannot stand the test of time. They are wrong for our schools, they are wrong for our teachers, and, most importantly, they are wrong for our children."

I entirely agree with everything that the hon. Member for Barking said on that occasion. It was wrong to remove those minimum space standards, and the new clause gives an opportunity to reinstate them, which is obviously the wish of many members of the Labour party.

24 Mar 1998 : Column 213

The idea of pupil entitlement to a reasonable learning environment was lost when the previous Government abandoned school premises regulations, but, as the hon. Member for Barking said in that debate, reinstating space standards is about

I entirely agree with the hon. Lady, so I hope that hon. Members will support new clause 24.

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