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Mr. Cameron: I rise to speak to new clauses 5, 6 and 10. I have to tell the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) that I have misgivings about new clauses 5 and 6, for reasons that I shall explain. However, like my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), I see a lot of merit in new clause 10.
New clauses 5 and 6 would basically extend the power to promote innovative projects to two groups other than those envisaged in the BillLEAs and governing bodies. New clauses 5 and 6 suffer from the problem of push me, pull you, which I mentioned earlier. They give extra freedom with one hand and take it away with the other.
We all support allowing schools to be innovative to improve education. However, it is remarkable that the ability to do that will be at the whim of the Secretary of State. I want to make some detailed points about new clauses 5 and 6.
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras): Does the hon. Gentleman believe that someone else would be better qualified than the Secretary of State to make decisions, or more accountable? Is he one of the people who believes that we should keep politics out of politics?
New clauses 5 and 6 and the Bill deal with innovation, but it is difficult to find a definition in the measure or the explanatory notes. What exactly does the Secretary of State hope that the schools will achieve? Earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) said that, in Committee, the Minister had described innovation as simply something new.
Mr. Willis: I have listened to the hon. Gentleman with increasing frustration. Is he saying that the Conservative party would allow schools to do exactly what they wanted, including ordering all students to appear nude or beating them with sticks?
New clause 10 is a much better provision. As my hon. Friends the Members for South Cambridgeshire and for Altrincham and Sale, West suggested, it contains a presumption in favour of the freedom to give all maintained schoolsexcept a very small number of thempower over pay and conditions. In Oxfordshire, there is a serious problem with recruiting and retaining good teachersa problem to which my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) also referredand the average price of a house in west
Mr. Cameron: My hon. Friend is tempting me to say something that I am sure the occupant of the Chair would not allow. That purchase probably fell in a different year, but that may well have been the case.
There is a problem for teachers who need to be able to afford housing in Oxfordshire. New clause 10 would help them, and that is why I shall support my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West when the matter is put to a vote tonight.
Mr. George Osborne: I wish to speak briefly to new clause 10, which has been so ably introduced by my good friend and neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady). I often think that the west of Sale does not get the recognition that it deserves when he is referred to.
There is a welcome recognition in the new clauses and amendments of an important principle, which is that more freedom, more autonomy, and more innovation in our education system is a good thing. The fact that that principle is embodied, albeit inadequately, in an Education Bill introduced by a Labour Government shows just how far the education debate has moved on from the days of Tony Crosland, when Labour Governments wanted to make all schools exactly the same. It also illustrates the progress that Conservative Governments made in establishing the principle that excellence lies in diversity in our education system.
I welcome the principle of freedom and innovation behind the new clauses, and I welcome the fact that that has been accepted by those on the Labour Front Bench; I suspect that such principles do not seep deeply into the Labour Back Benches, but we shall see. My hon. Friends the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West, for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), for Witney (Mr. Cameron) and for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), and the hon. Member for Harrogate
Mr. Osborne: The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), as the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) reminds me. I am sorry that we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman only in interventions today. Many of us were looking forward to a more lengthy contribution from him. [Hon. Members: "Sit down then!"] Labour Members do not want these clauses to get the scrutiny that they deserve. We saw the shenanigans of the Labour Whips earlier today, and it is a good thing that these important parts of the Bill have indeed had the scrutiny that they deserve.
The Government are saying to schools, "We will decide when you can have freedom from central Government, and when you can't." Well, that is no freedom at all. I know that it is new Labour's idea of freedom, but it is not real freedom if the power lies with the Secretary of State. It is, however, completely consistent with the trend that all education legislation introduced by this Government has taken. Everyone involved in education knows exactly what that means; it means more bureaucracy for schools, more form filling and more red tape. Wilmslow high school in my constituency went through a lengthy process of applying for specialist arts status, only to have it refused. That school knows what it is like to go through that process. We can all imagine that a similar range of red tape and form filling will be required for schools applying for innovative status.
Real freedom involves a presumption in favour of autonomy. Real freedom is embodied in new clause 10. Real freedom is the freedom to innovate, set teachers' pay and conditions, decide the structure of the school day and year and opt out of certain prescriptive elements of the curriculum. There are important exceptions, which are embodied in subsection (2) of the new clause and the amendments exempting special educational needs children, but freedom should be the rule, not the exception. That is why I support our new clause.
Mr. Timms: We have had an extensive debate on the changes. Let me pick up some detailed points. I stress that the proposals on the power to innovate, which new clauses 5 and 6 address, are intended to support innovation generated by those who deliver the education service on the front line. We want LEAs and schools to make proposals, drawing on their expertise, that contribute to higher educational standards. That will be the acid test in deciding whether to accept their proposals. We are confident that that power will contribute to supporting schools and LEAs in making far-reaching changes, but we must bear a number of important principles in mind.
First, under the Bill as drafted, an order would have to be made on all decisions to waive primary legislation, which would mean that everybody knew what the law was, and the absence of such a provision is a significant flaw in the new clauses. Secondly, the proposals contain no mechanism to check the actions of any LEA or governing body, no matter what its record. I was interested in the characteristically courteous rebuke offered by the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) to the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) in reminding him of that problem. Thirdly, no parliamentary process is envisaged. Governing bodies and LEAs would have the power to determine the law in their area across a wide range of provisions with no parliamentary process being observed. Our view is that there should be parliamentary accountability. The new clauses would set that aside.