Education Bill

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Mr. Brady: By means of that Division, we have ascertained that the Government did not wish to support amendment No. 193. We have established what we want, and I shall not press amendment No. 269 to a vote.

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Mr. Timms: I beg to move amendment No. 207, in page 25, line 40, leave out from 'year' to 'is' in line 41.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 208 and 209.

Mr. Timms: This group of amendments addresses an embarrassing loophole in the clause, which would mean that if an LEA simply failed to provide notice, the Secretary of State could not proceed with setting the minimum schools budget. That is clearly not how the clause should work, and the amendments ensure that if the LEA does not provide the information, the Secretary of State can proceed in the way that is set out in amendment No. 208.

Chris Grayling: I want to make a point about the principle of the amendment. On several occasions, I have expressed to the Minister my disappointment that when Opposition Members, in good faith, have tabled amendments designed to tidy up the drafting of the Bill, the Government have determinedly resisted listening or making even the smallest modifications to improve the quality of the drafting, and the legislation, and to clear up apparent discrepancies. There is woolly drafting throughout the legislation.

Therefore, it is altogether right that the Government should be unwilling to listen to contributions on drafting matters from Opposition Members but willing to come back and ask the Committee to make amendments to correct errors that they have made during the earlier parts of their work. I hope that, if the Committee accepts the Government's amendments in a spirit of understanding that when legislation is drafted, mistakes are inevitably made, then during the rest of the debate on the legislation the Minister will give sensible credence to, and be willing to support, Opposition amendments designed to improve the quality of the legislation.

Mr. Timms: The hon. Gentleman has, on several occasions, made unwarranted criticisms of the parliamentary draftsman who has worked on the legislation. He thinks that his proposals will improve the quality of the legislation, but I disagree.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 208, in page 25, line 44, at end insert—

    '(1A) If at the end of January in any financial year a local education authority has failed to give the Secretary of State a notice under section 45A(5) in relation to their schools budget for the following financial year, the Secretary of State may, at any time after the end of that January, give the authority a notice under subsection (2) or (3).

    (1B) In this section and section 45C ''the year under consideration'' means the financial year to which the notice under section 45A(5) relates or, in a case falling within subsection (1A), the financial year in relation to which such a notice ought to have been given.'.

No. 209, in page 25, line 45, leave out from 'determining' to end of line 2 on page 26 and insert

    'the minimum amount of the authority's schools budget for the year under consideration'.—[Mr. Timms.]

Mr. Andrew Turner: I beg to move amendment No. 129, in page 26, line 12, after 'notice', insert

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    'and the opinion on the effect of the notice on their services of other Secretaries of State as appropriate.

    ( ) ''the effect of the notice on their services of other Secretaries of State as appropriate'' in this clause means in England

    (a) in respect of the effect on social services provision by the authority, the Secretary of State for Health;

    (b) in respect of the effect on highways, transport, planning, economic development and housing provision by the authority, the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions;

    (c) in respect of the effect on other services, such Secretary of State or Secretaries of State as the local education authority consider appropriate.

    ( ) ''the effect of the notice on their services of other Secretaries of State as appropriate'' in this clause means in Wales in respect of the effect on any service, such persons as the National Assembly for Wales shall specify.'.

This is neither a drafting nor a probing amendment. It is a very serious amendment. It seeks to make clear the consequence of the Government's intervention in the budget-making process of a local education authority. The Government have rightly proposed in new section 45B(4) that a notice must be made of the Secretary of State's reasons for amending the budget of a local education authority. But a local education authority does not operate in isolation, and neither does a local authority when it sets the budget for education.

As the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West implied earlier, the consequence of a change to a local education authority's budget is a change to the budget of the rest of the services provided by that local authority. The two proposed new subsections enable—indeed, require—appropriate Secretaries of State to make statements about the consequences of the inevitable reduction of the budgets that are provided for their services. If the education budget goes up, another budget must go down, and the amendment requires that the appropriate Secretary of State make a statement on the consequences for their budget.

6.45 pm

Mr. Bailey: The hon. Gentleman's statement about the increase in the education budget having the inevitable consequence of other budgets going down is not necessarily correct. If capping were abolished, it would be possible to sustain other budgets.

Mr. Turner: I shall have to think about that intervention. Judging by the impression on the Minister's face, he will have to think about it too. Whether or not the consequences will be as I have described, the fact is that such action will have consequences. I accept that the Minister has a particular interest in the education budgets of a local authority, but I am concerned about all its budgets. As for the example of the social services budget, many local authorities face considerable pressure on their social services budgets this year. Indeed, the party to which the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough is affiliated complained just the other day that local authorities were setting their social services budgets so low that voluntary organisations were having to subsidise the cost of elderly people in residential homes. My local authority, which is run in the main by the Liberal Democrats, is one of those authorities, but I shall pass quickly over that matter as

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I can see that it embarrasses him. [Interruption.] It will certainly be in another leaflet.

I want the Secretary of State for Health to be required to go on the record and say that he is satisfied that the consequences of the Secretary of State for Education and Skill's intervention will not be to make the provision of social services significantly worse. In many cases, that is the hard choice that county councils face when it comes to decisions about budget setting. It would be unfair for one Secretary of State to set out reasons why matters will be wonderful for schools, without other Secretaries of State being required to say—if they think it true—that such matters will be wonderful for elderly people in residential homes.

I have also defined the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions as being responsible for other services and I have left a catch-all provision under proposed paragraph (c) because I cannot think of them all. Another important area concerns the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs being the coastal protection authority. In some local authorities, a large amount must be spent—suddenly, in some years—on coastal protection. In the early part of this financial year, two significant cliff falls in my area had significant consequences for the local authority's revenue expenditure. In one case, it required the diversion of an A-class road.

I have explained why I tabled the amendment and I hope that the Minister will consider it sensible and in accordance with transparency and joined-up government. I hope that he will support it.

Mr. Willis: As an affiliated member of the Liberal Democrats—I do not know whether that is a promotion or a demotion—I look forward to the latest out-of-touch leaflet from the hon. Member for Isle of Wight. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, however, because the kernel of his argument showed that he has spotted a genuine issue that the Minister has not recognised. I referred to it on Second Reading and it concerns the comments that I have made, perhaps too flippantly, about the bypassing of local authorities under the Bill.

The hon. Gentleman's amendment did not include reference to the Home Secretary's role in the police. Although Mr. Campbell has not briefed me fully, I understand that one major stumbling block in Cabinet was that when the former Secretary of State wanted a ring-fenced budget for education—to take it out of what was the Deputy Prime Minister's Department and run it all from Sanctuary house—the then Home Secretary said that he wanted to do the same for the police. Indeed, other Department heads would be able to say that they needed a ring-fenced budget for their Departments too.

Mr. Brady: Can the hon. Gentleman enlighten us on whether the current Home Secretary shares his predecessor's view on the subject?

Mr. Willis: I must confess that the current Home Secretary and I do not speak to each other regularly, as our paths have gone different ways, although we

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meet occasionally on the train coming down to London.

It would be an important change if education budgets were ring-fenced and the Secretary of State had statutory powers to say that if a local authority did not spend what the Government said it should spend, they would determine the budget for it. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, West noted that about 55 to 60 per cent. of a local authority's budget is spent on education. To remove that would leave a huge hole in local authority responsibilities and, if that were then applied to the police, fire and other services, we would have to question the point of having a local authority at all.

One Government objective in coming into power was to have joined-up thinking. There was the wonderful recognition by the now Home Secretary that education cannot be treated in isolation from other services. When the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) and I visited the United States, we saw the wonderful work that was going on in North Carolina with the equivalent of sure start. There was wonderful joined-up thinking which recognised that education depends on quality housing, employment and other infrastructures. Once that is stripped apart and Departments compete for ring-fenced budgets, those opportunities are lost. Although I am sure that the amendment is probing—

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