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Our concern about the amendment is not based on the objective of encouraging schools to consult pupils on important matters affecting the school; rather, it is the fact that it is a statutory requirement. This is yet another statutory burden imposed on schools that are already creaking under the weight of fortnightly initiatives emanating from this Government. For that reason, I hope that all hon. Members will join us in the No Lobby to vote against Lords amendment No. 171.

Rob Marris: I declare a sort of interest in that, as you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, my wife was the head of a primary school for a number of years.

I pay tribute to Dr. Bernard Trafford, who will be well known to the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), who I see in his place. Dr. Trafford is the former head of Wolverhampton grammar school, who has taken a national lead on the issue of democracy in schools and the question of schools councils. In fact, he wrote a very informative booklet on the matter, which I have read and would recommend to right hon. and hon. Members.

I would like a little further clarification from the Minister: although I am not nearly as sceptical as the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb), I am still somewhat sceptical. I appreciate that what would become, under amendment No. 171, section 29A(1) of the Education Act 2002 includes the word “must”, as the hon. Gentleman has just explained. The full provision would read:

That brings us on to what those “prescribed matters” are. That is explained in subsection (4), where we find that they “may be prescribed” by the Secretary of State in England, and Welsh Ministers in Wales. That “may be” is therefore permissive. However, paragraphs (a) and (b) seem to be so widely drawn in respect of the matters that the Secretary of State “may” prescribe that I would like the Minister’s reassurance. Paragraph (a) refers to

and paragraph (b) to

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The function of a governing body of a school—I speak as someone who was a governor of a secondary school in my constituency for four years—is basically to run the school. If the Secretary of State may prescribe what the governors do, my understanding is that anything “may be prescribed” down to the last jot and tittle or the last comma in the running of a school. I hope that that is not the Government’s intention—I would appreciate my right hon. Friend’s reassurance on that, particularly with respect to hiring and firing.

I may be misreading the provision, but it seems to me that under what would become section 29A (2),

which suggests something contrary to what I understood my right hon. Friend to state in his opening remarks. It seems to suggest that the school must, on any number of issues that may be prescribed under subsection (4), consult every pupil in order to find out whether they have a relevant view or not. If the pupil does have a relevant view, the governing body, in exercising its functions pursuant to the regulations, must decide how much weight to give to it. How does it discover whether pupils have a relevant view or not? One assumes that the governing body has to ask them.

As I said, I may be misreading the amendment, but contrary to what I understood the Minister to say, there is a “how” about these matters because they cover everything. If my interpretation is correct, everything in a maintained school is covered—including hiring and firing. I understand the desire to make pupils feel included, particularly if we are going to move to compulsory education or training up to the age of 18—that means we are dealing with near-adults whose views should be taken into account; indeed, it is important to take account even of primary school pupils’ views through school councils—but how much weight we accord those views, particularly when it comes to hiring and firing, can be an immensely delicate matter. I thus seek my right hon. Friend’s reassurance that the Secretary of State, in making regulations under proposed new section 29A(4), will not include issues of hiring and firing in them.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): I promise that I shall not attempt to speak any longer than I did last Wednesday, but I would like to make a couple of brief points. I speak not only as the MP for South Staffordshire—the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) was kind enough to refer to that—but as someone who was a schoolmaster for 10 years before I entered the House. Any good school has to have proud pupils; otherwise, it is not a good school. Proud pupils are those who like to take part, insofar as they can, in discussing with their teachers and others the running of the school. That is fine. However, to make that opportunity prescriptive and statutory is going a step too far.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions and I do not doubt the good intentions of those who moved the amendment in the other place. I am sorry to find myself at odds with, for example, the noble Baroness Howe, for whom I have the highest possible regard, but on this issue, she and those who support her are just plain wrong, because they have gone too far.

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My parliamentary neighbour, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, made an admirable brief speech in which he pointed out some of the problems that will follow if we make this provision statutory—particularly if we allow future Secretaries of State to determine through future regulation what pupils must be consulted on. Nine times out of 10, anyone who goes into any school nowadays and asks what the head wants of Government will be told “To be left to get on with the job and run the school as I would wish to run it with my colleagues and my governors, without interference”.

7.30 pm

Over the last 10 years, the schools of this country have become burdened with excessive legislation. That is not entirely the fault of the present Government; the previous Conservative Government were also guilty of passing too many laws, in relation to health as well as education. We saw the absurdity of that tonight when we were discussing earlier amendments. It became clear that part of an Act that was passed in 2006 was effectively being repealed by this Bill although it had never been brought into force. Other examples, for instance in criminal justice legislation, demonstrate a similar legislative diarrhoea which has led to a rather unpleasant illness.

No one doubts the good intentions behind the amendment, but I ask the Minister to listen to the teachers—union leaders and others—who, over the weekend, described it as a step too far, and asked for it not to be made statutory. I hope that the thoughtful and sensible words of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West will ensure that we enter the same Lobby—if, that is, the Government persist with the amendments. It would be far better for us to disagree with the Lords and, while encouraging schools to have their councils and other forms of consultation, refrain from putting pupils into the driving seat and introducing the utter absurdity of involving them in what the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West described as issues of hiring and firing. That would be entirely wrong.

I agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb). I will vote accordingly if a vote is necessary, but I hope that it will not be.

Mr. Laws: Although I enjoyed the speech by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb), I noticed that he was somewhat more reticent than usual when it came to allowing interventions. That may have been because the force of his argument against the amendments was somewhat undermined by the fact that they had enjoyed the support of his party in another place and, moreover, by the fact that he did not quote in full Lord Elton’s words from the Third Reading debate on 11 November. He spoke of the noble Lord’s reservations, but omitted the most important part of the quotation. Lord Elton said:

It is clear from those comments that although Lord Elton may have been concerned about the implications of too great a degree of prescriptiveness, he felt that the degree of flexibility in the amendment was quite acceptable.

17 Nov 2008 : Column 92

Because he is assiduous in these matters, the hon. Gentleman will also know that, to some extent, the Liberal Democrat amendment was prompted by Lord Elton’s amendment. He did not take quite enough credit for the role played by the Conservative party in another place in originating these proposals. Lord Elton tabled amendment No. 61, which sought to place a duty on the governing body of a maintained school

Subsection (2) of the amendment stated:

The hon. Gentleman expressed concern about the prescriptive nature of the amendment tabled by my noble Friend Lady Walmsley. What did she actually say when she had to comment on Lord Elton’s amendment? She hesitated to support it, and also, she said,

She continued:

When we look at what actually happened in another place, we discover that—rather contrary to the impression given by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton—there was an extremely prescriptive Tory amendment, followed by Liberal Democrat criticism of the extent of the prescriptiveness and by a Liberal Democrat amendment featuring much more flexibility, which was commended by the Conservatives and which they supported when it became a Government amendment and was accepted by another place as a whole.

There was another interesting aspect of the views of the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton and, perhaps, his reservations about pressing his points too strongly. He quoted from various publications, including The Times Educational Supplement, which had reported some of the things that teachers’ leaders had said over the last week or so. I noted that one quotation was missing. The hon. Gentleman smiles modestly—sheepishly, even. That is because he knows very well which quotation I mean. It is the quotation from his favourite principal of his favourite school, which he mentions frequently. I refer to Mossbourne academy in Hackney, which the hon. Gentleman cited with appropriate reverence earlier. He was referring to an excellent school, but why did he not refer to the quotation from Sir Michael Wilshaw, its head? According to the front page of this week’s TES, he said that

because so many are already, in very appropriate ways, consulting the pupil body, and presumably the academy as well. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the Education Act 2002, which already places obligations on schools to consult.

17 Nov 2008 : Column 93

Mr. Gibb: This is the point, is it not? Schools are probably already doing that, but what burdens heads and other teachers is the introduction of more statutory obligations to read and understand, and the requirement to assess whether their schools are fulfilling those obligations. That is the problem with putting requirements such as this into law.

Mr. Laws: Surely the issue, as Lord Elton put it, is whether there is sufficient flexibility in the amendment. Presumably it was the fact that Lord Elton and his noble Friends were persuaded of the existence of such flexibility that caused the Conservative party in another place to give a fair wind to the proposals. The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) was rightly anxious for the responsibilities to consult with the student body not to become too onerous. I have no doubt that he has read Lords amendment No. 171, which is framed in very modest terms. It suggests that the governing bodies should invite the views of pupils and consider them. It is not prescriptive in relation to how that should be done, or about the acceptance of those views.

Sir Patrick Cormack: The point is that this must be done. It will become a legal obligation. It is yet another legislative burden that we do not need to place on hard-pressed people whose sole aim is to run good schools.

Mr. Laws: We all note the clear divisions in the Conservative party between the views expressed in this place and another place. I simply draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the view of his noble Friends that there is enough flexibility in the amendment to allow for his concerns. He will also know that on 11 November Baroness Morgan put on the record in another place the specific areas in which there would be a requirement on schools to consult in different ways with pupils, and those certainly excluded issues such as staff appointments— [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Mr. David Laws.

Mr. Laws: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sure Members would not want to bring the discussion of this amendment to too early a close.

I also invite Members to take reassurance in one other respect. The significance of the amendment will be heavily dependent on the regulations that are brought forward by the Minister on this point, and it will be quite possible for the Minister to make sure that they are drafted in such a way as to ensure the flexibility that all Members would wish for. I hope the Minister will be able to confirm that when the regulations are brought forward, they will embed the flexibility that all Members of this House want, and that ensured there was unanimity on this amendment in another place.

Jim Knight: The hon. Gentleman has made the case very well, and I do not need to detain the House for long. We have yet another U-turn from the Conservative party. It is not quite as rapid a U-turn as that which the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) made on standard assessment tests, but it is extraordinary: Baroness Verma, who led for the Opposition
17 Nov 2008 : Column 94
on this in the Lords, said on 30 October that the amendment responded to the concerns of her noble Friend Lady Morris:

but the Tory Front-Bench team is voting against it now.

I give the reassurance to the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) that we will consult social partners, schools and unions on what should be in the regulations. We have already said we do not intend to be prescriptive on matters such as staff or terms and conditions. This will be at a high level. The amendment will retain the flexibility everyone has been asking for, and it is bizarre and inflexible of the Opposition to want to vote against it.

Question put, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 288, Noes 120.
Division No. 325]
[7.42 pm


Ainger, Nick
Allen, Mr. Graham
Anderson, Mr. David
Anderson, Janet
Armstrong, rh Hilary
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, Mr. Ian
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Baird, Vera
Baker, Norman
Balls, rh Ed
Banks, Gordon
Barlow, Ms Celia
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Battle, rh John
Beckett, rh Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Beith, rh Sir Alan
Benn, rh Hilary
Berry, Roger
Betts, Mr. Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blears, rh Hazel
Blizzard, Mr. Bob
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Bradshaw, Mr. Ben
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Brown, Mr. Russell
Browne, rh Des
Browne, Mr. Jeremy
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burgon, Colin
Burnham, rh Andy
Burstow, Mr. Paul
Butler, Ms Dawn
Byrne, rh Mr. Liam
Caborn, rh Mr. Richard
Cairns, David
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie
Caton, Mr. Martin
Cawsey, Mr. Ian
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben
Chaytor, Mr. David
Clark, Ms Katy
Clark, Paul
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clwyd, rh Ann
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Cohen, Harry
Connarty, Michael
Cooper, Rosie
Cooper, rh Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cousins, Jim
Creagh, Mary
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
David, Mr. Wayne
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Devine, Mr. Jim
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, rh Frank
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Doran, Mr. Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drew, Mr. David
Eagle, Maria
Efford, Clive
Engel, Natascha
Ennis, Jeff
Etherington, Bill
Farrelly, Paul
Farron, Tim
Field, rh Mr. Frank
Fisher, Mark
Flello, Mr. Robert
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gardiner, Barry

George, Andrew
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Gidley, Sandra
Gilroy, Linda
Godsiff, Mr. Roger
Goodman, Helen
Griffith, Nia
Griffiths, Nigel
Grogan, Mr. John
Gwynne, Andrew
Hain, rh Mr. Peter
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hall, Patrick
Hamilton, Mr. David
Hanson, rh Mr. David
Harris, Mr. Tom
Havard, Mr. Dai
Healey, rh John
Heath, Mr. David
Hemming, John
Hendrick, Mr. Mark
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Heppell, Mr. John
Hesford, Stephen
Heyes, David
Hill, rh Keith
Hillier, Meg
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Hoey, Kate
Hoon, rh Mr. Geoffrey
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, David
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Howells, Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Hughes, rh Beverley
Huhne, Chris
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Hutton, rh Mr. John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Mr. Eric
Irranca-Davies, Huw
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, rh Alan
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Alan
Keen, Ann
Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Kennedy, rh Jane
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Kidney, Mr. David
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
Knight, rh Jim
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lamb, Norman
Laws, Mr. David
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony
Love, Mr. Andrew
Lucas, Ian
Mackinlay, Andrew
Mactaggart, Fiona
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John
Marris, Rob
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCafferty, Chris
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McCartney, rh Mr. Ian
McDonagh, Siobhain
McFadden, rh Mr. Pat
McFall, rh John
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
McNulty, rh Mr. Tony
Meale, Mr. Alan
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Miliband, rh Edward
Miller, Andrew
Moffatt, Laura
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Morgan, Julie
Morley, rh Mr. Elliot
Mudie, Mr. George
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Murphy, rh Mr. Jim
Murphy, rh Mr. Paul
Norris, Dan
O'Hara, Mr. Edward
Olner, Mr. Bill
Osborne, Sandra
Owen, Albert
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Pope, Mr. Greg
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Prosser, Gwyn
Pugh, Dr. John
Purchase, Mr. Ken
Purnell, rh James
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Reid, rh John
Rennie, Willie
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Robertson, John
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey
Rogerson, Dan
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Roy, Mr. Frank
Roy, Lindsay
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Christine
Ryan, rh Joan
Salter, Martin
Sanders, Mr. Adrian
Sarwar, Mr. Mohammad
Seabeck, Alison
Sharma, Mr. Virendra
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Mr. Barry

Simon, Mr. Siôn
Singh, Mr. Marsha
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Smith, Angela E. (Basildon)
Smith, Geraldine
Smith, rh Jacqui
Smith, John
Smith, Sir Robert
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stewart, Ian
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Stunell, Andrew
Tami, Mark
Taylor, David
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Timms, rh Mr. Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mr. Mark
Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Mr. Paul
Turner, Mr. Neil
Twigg, Derek
Vaz, rh Keith
Walley, Joan
Waltho, Lynda
Ward, Claire
Watts, Mr. Dave
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, rh Malcolm
Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Williams, Hywel
Williams, Mr. Roger
Williams, Stephen
Willis, Mr. Phil
Willott, Jenny
Wilson, Phil
Winnick, Mr. David
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Wood, Mike
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Wright, Mr. Anthony
Wright, David
Wright, Mr. Iain
Wright, Dr. Tony
Wyatt, Derek
Tellers for the Ayes:

Helen Jones and
Chris Mole

Afriyie, Adam
Amess, Mr. David
Arbuthnot, rh Mr. James
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Bacon, Mr. Richard
Baron, Mr. John
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Binley, Mr. Brian
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Bone, Mr. Peter
Boswell, Mr. Tim
Bottomley, Peter
Brady, Mr. Graham
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Brokenshire, James
Burns, Mr. Simon
Burrowes, Mr. David
Butterfill, Sir John
Carswell, Mr. Douglas
Cash, Mr. William
Clappison, Mr. James
Clark, Greg
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cox, Mr. Geoffrey
Crabb, Mr. Stephen
Davies, Mr. Dai
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth)
Davies, Philip
Duddridge, James
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias
Evans, Mr. Nigel
Evennett, Mr. David
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Field, Mr. Mark
Gale, Mr. Roger
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Gauke, Mr. David
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gove, Michael
Gray, Mr. James
Greening, Justine
Greenway, Mr. John
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Hague, rh Mr. William
Hammond, Mr. Philip
Hammond, Stephen
Harper, Mr. Mark
Hayes, Mr. John
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Heathcoat-Amory, rh Mr. David
Herbert, Nick
Hoban, Mr. Mark
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Horam, Mr. John
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Jack, rh Mr. Michael
Jackson, Mr. Stewart
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Jones, Mr. David
Kawczynski, Daniel
Key, Robert
Laing, Mrs. Eleanor
Lait, Mrs. Jacqui
Leigh, Mr. Edward
Liddell-Grainger, Mr. Ian
Lidington, Mr. David
Lilley, rh Mr. Peter
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Maclean, rh David
Main, Anne
Malins, Mr. Humfrey
Maples, Mr. John
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick

Miller, Mrs. Maria
Milton, Anne
Moss, Mr. Malcolm
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen
Ottaway, Richard
Paice, Mr. James
Paterson, Mr. Owen
Pelling, Mr. Andrew
Penning, Mike
Penrose, John
Randall, Mr. John
Redwood, rh Mr. John
Robertson, Hugh
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Rosindell, Andrew
Ruffley, Mr. David
Scott, Mr. Lee
Selous, Andrew
Shapps, Grant
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob
Spring, Mr. Richard
Steen, Mr. Anthony
Streeter, Mr. Gary
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Syms, Mr. Robert
Timpson, Mr. Edward
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Walker, Mr. Charles
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Waterson, Mr. Nigel
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Wiggin, Bill
Winterton, Ann
Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Wright, Jeremy
Young, rh Sir George
Tellers for the Noes:

Angela Watkinson and
Alistair Burt
Question accordingly agreed to.
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