Mr. Brady: My hon. Friend may have hit on the truth. I am delighted that he is catching up with the terms, because he has made an important contribution. Ministers do not regard innovation as continual, but as happening for a defined period. The Bill defines a period for which innovation would be deemed appropriate, but allows for the possibility of extending it for a further finite period. However, Ministers reject the suggestion of continuing innovation. That is especially important when we consider the scope of the powers to innovate.
Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): Does my hon. Friend agree that reducing bureaucracy in schools would be a genuine innovation? Will he enlighten hon. Members who did not serve on the Committee about whether a discussion took place on the sort of bureaucratic procedures that a school would have to undergo to apply to the Secretary of State for permission to innovate?
Mr. Brady: Such a discussion did, indeed, take place. It is worrying that although schools are drowning in a sea of red tape and regulation, the Bill provides for even more. Commercial entities face specific circumstances when they tender for a lucrative project. They can place a major burden on such an organisation. Ministers are trying to replicate those circumstances for schools that apply to innovate. They do not know the circumstances under which Ministers may be prepared to deem that innovation can take place.
The Bill includes a definition of the breadth of the exemptions from education legislation. That lies at the heart of new clauses 5 and 6, which were tabled by the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough. I almost called him my hon. Friend, but that proves that we have been in too close proximity for the past few weeks. We shall shortly return to a more natural state.
The exemptions from education legislation that are relevant to innovation include the ability to make an exemption from any provision of the Education Act 1967, the Education Act 1967, the Education Act 1973, the Education Act 1980, the Education (Fees and Awards) Act 1983, the Further Education Act 1985, the Education Act 1986, the Education (No. 2) Act 1986, the Education Reform Act 1988, the Education (Student Loans) Act 1990, and the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act 1991. The list goes on.
It may not apply to other hon. Members, but in my five years in Parliament, I have never come across a Government Bill that allows not only exemption from any provision of any existing measure but from the Bill that we are considering. That is the most remarkable attempt
Mr. Brady: We must beware. Earlier in our proceedings, we had an example of the Government tabling amendments without giving notice to the House. We must be careful that other Departments do not take such practice as a model. The exemptions that are relevant to innovation mean that the measure is not simply an Education Bill, but the last Education Bill. It marks the last occasion that any Government have to come to the House to obtain powers.
Given exemptions in other clauses that we shall examine later, the powers will be sufficient to allow Ministers to do whatever they want. I say that without qualification. The new clauses tabled by the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives try to constrain the powers a little. In Committee, I suggested that although we had heard a great deal about Henry VIII powers, the Bill was a Charles I measure. It tries to dispense altogether with the need to consult Parliament.
I have given some details of the powers to make exemptions from education legislation. I also took the trouble to obtain a note from the Library on the length of time it had taken the House of Commons to consider all the education measures that clause 2, a small provision, can suspend.
In 1962, the Second Reading, Standing Committee, Report stage and Third Reading of the Education Act took the House of Commons 47 hours to consider. The House took only five hours to consider the relatively minor matters in the Education Act 1967, but spent a rather more serious 129.25 hours considering the Education Act 1980. I wonder whether any current Labour Members were here at that timeI am not sure whether any of those present have clocked up that length of servicebut no doubt they were doing their jobs, as they were permitted to do in those days, by scrutinising the legislation properly.
I shall not go through all the figures, but 206 hours were spent on debating the Education Reform Act 1988. All the education legislation which under clause 2 could be suspended by ministerial fiat took the House of Commons alone 786 hours to consider. In Committee, we were able to give the current Bill 44.25 hours, and we had just six hours on Second Reading.
Mr. Brady: I take issue with the latter part of my hon. Friend's point, because even in the later stages of the Committee when we were debating less controversial matters, although we were moving as quickly as humanly possibleI think that the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough will bear me outwe were barely able to deal with all the amendments that had been grouped together for those later sittings. The effect was even more damaging when the so-called knife was applied in the earlier sittings. It is a matter of record that huge swathes of the Bill could not be debated in Committee.
Mr. George Osborne: I want to make an historical point. My hon. Friend said that we spent more than 40 hours discussing the Bill in Committee. I believe that the House spent more than 40 days in Committee debating Balfour's Education Act. Such things have changed under this Government.
Mr. Brady: That is a perfect illustration of why I am so pleased to have my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) in the neighbouring constituency to my own, and of how much things have improved in that regard since last June.
The effect of the knives in Committee was that we did not conclude our deliberations on clause 11 and we had no debate whatever on clauses 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, or 17. We were allowed a brief discussion on governing bodies under clause 18, but there was no discussion on clauses 19, 20, 21, 22 or 23, which covers federations of schools, all of which are key provisions in the Bill.
Mr. Turner: Does my hon. Friend agree that the problem is perhaps that the Government see the House and its Committees as a legislation machine rather than a scrutiny machine? They regard the most efficient kind of legislation machine as one that pumps through the maximum number of clausesand, doubtless, regulationsin the minimum amount of time. Those of us who see the role of the House as that of a scrutinising machine view it in terms of how it protects the subject against an over-mighty Executive, ensures that those who work in the public sector are protected
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): While my hon. Friend is making this point about time, may I ask whether he is aware that 15 or 16 further groups of amendments to this part of the Bill are still on the Order Paper to be considered? What confidence does he have that the House can possibly do justice to that amount of materialsome of which is very substantive and controversialin only one further sitting?