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Mr. Hammond: The Minister says that the guidelines issued to local authorities talk about them adopting a reasonable attitude to the age of consent. That is great. They may adopt a reasonable attitude, but what is their sanction? What do they do with the business that complies with the hygiene byelaws, but does not comply with the local authority's reasonable attitude on age of consent? Can it deny registration or can it not?

Phil Hope: I might be going through a time loop when I return to a point that I have made already. I understand the hon. Gentleman's question. The answer is that the guidelines are not a matter of law. They are guidelines for local authorities to use. They apply them by building a relationship with businesses that come within the registration scheme. In building that relationship, they can make judgments about whether the businesses are operating hygienically with due regard to cleanliness, and conform with other guidelines. By building up good practice in that relationship, it can be ensured that the widest possible take-up of good standards beyond and above hygiene and cleanliness are in place. If a business then fails to conform with hygiene and cleanliness regulations, registration can be withdrawn. A prosecution could be brought if the business were to break any further byelaws that the local authority had put in place. By extending these powers to other local authorities outside London, we are extending protections.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome mentioned toddlers and abuse. If there are any grounds for believing that a child may be suffering or at risk of serious harm from ear piercing, for example, let alone other forms of piercing, the local authorities' social services department could be approached about the matter. The National Society for the Protection of Children also has powers to investigate and intervene in these circumstances. These points go way beyond the focus of the amendment, but I hope that they are responses to some of the key points that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

Matthew Green: In the case of a two or three-year-old child, surely the social services department should not be called in because someone thinks that a child's ear might be infected. Surely the simple approach is to introduce a minimum age below which body piercing should not take place. Perhaps that should be eight, nine or 10 years, something like that.

Phil Hope: Again, I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has been present throughout the debate, but we made the point earlier that we were not minded to introduce an age of consent. The guidelines to local authorities state that they must pay due regard to reasonable age of consent issues, including that which the hon. Gentleman described. Through those guidelines, local authorities build a relationship with their businesses. They have the power to deregister businesses that do not conform to basic standards of

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cleanliness and hygiene. They also have recourse to other measures such as the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974.

Without repeating myself for a third time, I hope that I have made the Government's position clear. Although questions about the extent to which the powers may affect hon. Members' constituents are right, I hope that the consensus in the House is that the provision is important and will provide added protection, help prevent the transmission of infection and raise standards of hygiene and cleanliness for such businesses throughout the country.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments 29 and 30 agreed to.

Clause 127


Lords amendment No. 31.

9.15 pm

Phil Hope: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this, we may discuss Lords amendments Nos. 32, 38, 39 and 53.

Phil Hope: The group consists of miscellaneous commencement and drafting amendments. Lords amendments Nos. 31, 32 and 39 will enable clause 73, entitled "Provision of information" and clause 111, entitled "Financial year" to commence on Royal Assent. Lords amendment No. 53 simply tidies up a reference in schedule 7 to clause 70 and removes the power to prescribe rateable values. Lords amendment No. 38 relates to council tax and removes a reference in schedule 7 to a non-existent repeal.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments 32 to 39 agreed to.

Clause 127


Lords amendment No. 40.

Phil Hope: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

The amendment would solve problems that the London Assembly has experienced with timetabling the 10 mayoral question time meetings that it must hold each year.

Matthew Green: We welcome the amendment because Baroness Hamwee raised the matter in another place through an amendment that she withdrew for technical reasons. However, it clearly brought the matter to the attention of Ministers, who subsequently moved to deal with the matter. We are glad that they have done so.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 41 and 42 agreed to.

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Clause 127


Lords amendment No. 43.

Mr. Raynsford: I beg to move, That the House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this, we may discuss Lords amendment No. 51 and amendments (a) and (b) thereto.

Mr. Raynsford: Lords amendments Nos. 43 and 51 deal with sections 45A and 45B of the Schools Standards and Framework Act 1998, as amended by sections 41 and 42 of the Education Act 2002. Under these provisions, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills and the National Assembly for Wales have a reserve power to set a minimum schools budget for a local education authority when that authority's proposed schools budget is considered inadequate in all circumstances.

Lords amendment No. 43 is concerned with the commencement by the National Assembly for Wales of the amendments made to the Education Act 2002 by Lords amendment No. 51. Lords amendment No. 51 is concerned with two relatively minor changes to these provisions. First, it brings forward by one month to 31 December the schools budget deadline by which local education authorities in England are required to notify the Secretary of State for Education and Skills and their schools of their proposed schools budget for the following financial year.

In his statement to the House on 17 July, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills acknowledged that the changes in school and LEA funding arrangements introduced this year led to real difficulties for many schools. As he said, the difficulties have arisen from the coincidence of a number of significant changes to the local government and schools funding systems, and as a result of decisions made at both national and local levels. The House has, of course, discussed the issues in detail on a number of occasions. Everyone has agreed that the current timetable for setting individual schools' budgets simply does not allow head teachers enough time for sensible planning.

On 17 July, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set out the measures that he proposed to take to ensure greater stability in school funding for 2004–05 and 2005–06. In doing so, he made it clear that one of the key principles underpinning that work is that central and local government should achieve earlier announcements of the financial allocations to schools, so that heads have greater certainty and more time to plan. As part of delivering that undertaking, my right hon. Friend has given a commitment that, well in advance of the announcement of the provisional local government finance settlement, his Department will provide local authorities with key information on the minimum increase in funding per pupil, on the floor increase in resources for local authorities that will underpin that guarantee, and on the distribution of standards fund grants.

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The Government are also firmly committed to bringing forward the date of the provisional local government finance settlement as early as is practicable. We will do everything that we can to ensure that the announcement can be made by the middle of November this year. Such early announcements of key information will make it possible for local authorities to decide by the end of December what schools budget they are going to propose. The effect will be to give schools much greater certainty about their funding earlier in the year, so that they can plan more effectively for the following year. The deadline for authorities in Wales will remain 31 January.

The second effect of amendment No. 51 will be to change the deadline by which the Secretary of State for Education and Skills or the National Assembly for Wales must give notice of their intention to use reserve powers to 14 days from the schools budget deadline, instead of 14 days from the date of each individual authority's notification of its proposed school budget. That will ensure a common timetable for consideration of all authorities' proposed schools budgets, which I am sure Members will accept as a more sensible arrangement.

Although we appreciate the helpful intent behind amendments (a) and (b), we cannot support them. As I said, the Government are committed to bringing forward the date of the provisional local government finance settlement to mid-November. We will do everything possible to fulfil that commitment. It is vital that schools receive information about their budgets in good time, and delaying the determination of proposed schools budgets to 31 January would not be in the interest of schools or local authorities, not least because if it were necessary to decide to use the reserve power to set a minimum schools budget for an authority, that authority's actual schools budget might be determined only after the deadline for the authority to set its council tax for the following financial year. Amendment (b) is unnecessary, and would remove from the provisions helpful clarification about financial years. For those reasons, I urge the House to reject those two amendments.

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