Education and Skills Bill

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Clause 48

Penalty notices: appeal arrangements
Mr. Gibb: I beg to move amendment No. 89, in clause 48, page 26, line 27, leave out ‘Regulations may’ and insert
‘The Secretary of State must by regulations’.
The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that regulations are introduced that direct both the procedures for making appeals and the hearing of such appeals. As drafted, the clause says that the Secretary of State “may” make regulations about the procedures for appeals and the powers of the attendance panel in hearing appeals. The Secretary of State could therefore decide not to publish such regulations or lay them before Parliament for scrutiny and debate. The rules relating to appeals and the procedures of the attendance panels could, de facto, be decided by Executive action. On matters that are clearly judicial or quasi judicial, there should be clear rules that are scrutinised by the House in some form. The amendment replaces the word “may” with “must” and I hope it receives the Minister’s support.
Jim Knight: I shall try to be brief, in the hope that that does not cause me any trouble. In essence, the argument that I would put to the hon. Gentleman is that it is almost without precedent for the Government to put into law a requirement that the Secretary of State “must” use regulations. It is standard practices that regulations “may” be made by the Secretary of State. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that it is absolutely the Government’s policy and intention to issue regulations in this case. Changing the text to make the Secretary of State responsible for the regulations would make no difference to the current situation in which he is clearly responsible and will make the regulations.
Mr. Gibb: Given that explicit and firm assurance that the Secretary of State will make those regulations, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 48 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 49

Alternative ways of working
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Hayes: Given the lateness of the hour, 4 o’clock having come and gone, I can almost hear you wondering, Mr. Bercow, whether there is “honey still for tea”, or whether we have missed tea altogether. Notwithstanding the time, we will not be deflected from our determination to examine the matters with proper diligence.
Clause 49 raises an important issue. The explanatory notes say:
“For the purposes of Part 1, clause 49 enables regulations to state who is to be treated as the employer in relation to ways of working prescribed under clause 5, and to modify provisions in their application to these prescribed ways of working, to reflect different circumstances. One effect of this clause is that persons who are not normally regarded as employers (for example, the person in charge of a young person’s voluntary work)”
would be liable to the same treatment as a more conventional employer, even though they might not be fitted or suited to deal with matters in an equivalent way. My probing series of comments is therefore designed to establish the circumstances in which organisations might be affected in an way that would not be equitable.
Jim Knight: When we come to apply the duties on employers in chapter 3 to ways of working where there is no contract of employment, we might need to make some modifications to suit particular circumstances, so that everyone is clear about what is expected. The clause allows us to make regulations to modify the provisions in that way, and the House will have the opportunity to scrutinise the regulations when they are subjected to the affirmative procedure, which the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings so loves.
Many young people want to start working and earning money at 16, and some of them want to do so full-time. I recognise that they can gain extremely valuable skills, knowledge and experience from the world of work, but we do not believe that it is acceptable for them to leave formal learning altogether and go into casual low-skilled work with no opportunity for learning or progression. Participating in education or training part-time while working will enable them to have their learning accredited. Their achievements will be recognised and it will be easier for them to change direction or to progress in their careers. Volunteering and self-employment are valuable experiences and should count as working for those purposes. Clause 5 enables us to make regulations to allow for that, and young people occupied in those ways for more than 20 hours a week should only be required to participate in learning part-time, in the same way as those employed under a contract of employment. The regulations under the clause would allow us to make that clear. I hope that that helps the hon. Gentleman.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 49 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 50

Crown employment
Mr. Gibb: I beg to move amendment No. 90, in clause 50, page 27, line 10, leave out ‘persons working in either of those ways’ and insert
‘service as a member of the armed forces of the Crown’.
Clause 50 deals with Crown employment and how Crown employees are treated in relation to the duties in the Bill. Amendment No. 90 is a probing amendment, designed to ascertain why there are regulations that institute exceptions and special rules for civil servants that do not apply to 16 and 17-year-olds in other employment. I understand why we need special arrangements for those serving in the armed forces. The amendment has therefore been drafted to keep the regulation-making powers in place as far as service as a member of the armed forces is concerned, but to take out reference to Crown employment. A simple explanation from the Minister would be helpful.
4.30 pm
Mr. Gibb: I was intrigued by the Minister’s praise of civil servants—I wonder who drafted that particular speaking note?
Jim Knight: I would want it to be placed on record that those words were not drafted by anybody else: they came spontaneously to my mind.
Mr. Gibb: I am delighted to hear it. I was interested in what the Minister had to say. He will correct me if I interpreted him incorrectly, but it appears that the purpose of the clause so far as Crown employment is concerned is to ensure that Crown employees are included in the duty, as opposed to finding a way of exempting them from the duty.
Jim Knight indicated assent.
Mr. Gibb: I see the Minister nodding. I am happy with his explanation and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 50 ordered to stand Part of the Bill.

Clause 51

Parliamentary staff
Mr. Hayes: I beg to move amendment No. 91, in clause 51, page 27, line 33, leave out subsection (2).
Clause 51 sets out the way in which parliamentary staff are to be treated in relation to part 1 of the Bill. Clause 51 (2) states:
“Regulations may provide for Chapter 1 to have effect subject to modifications in relation to persons working in that way.”
Amendment No. 91 is essentially a probing amendment, intended to give the Government the opportunity to explain why parliamentary staff may be treated differently, and to outline how the provisions set out in chapter 1 may be modified by regulation in respect of parliamentary staff.
Jim Knight: Much as I am hugely grateful for the work of Crown employees, we are all equally grateful for the job that the House of Commons staff do for us. The Committee may be interested to learn, however, that the House of Commons staff, and indeed, those employed in the other place, do not, as a matter of law, work under a contract of employment and are not therefore automatically included in references to working in that way, bizarre as that may sound.
I am sure that the Committee will agree that we want working in the House to count as employment for the purpose of the duty to participate, and the clause makes that clear. Furthermore, the definition of normal weekly working hours in clause 5 needs to be modified in relation to the staff of this House, as they do not work under a contract of employment. Regulations under subsection (2) will enable us to do so, and it is appropriate that such technical detail is dealt with in secondary legislation, which will be laid before the House. I therefore ask the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings to withdraw his amendment.
Mr. Hayes: Given the Minister’s immensely persuasive comments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 51 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 52

Financial penalties
Mr. Gibb: I beg to move amendment No. 92, in clause 52, page 28, line 18, leave out from beginning to ‘must’ in line 19.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 100, in clause 52, page 28, line 20, leave out ‘to’ and insert ‘made by’.
Mr. Gibb: Given that this is likely to be my last contribution to the debate under your chairmanship, Mr. Bercow, may I say how fair, objective and precise you have been in chairing our proceedings and how grateful we are for the time that you have devoted to them? We wish you all the best in your future endeavours in the days ahead.
The Chairman: Oh dear.
Mr. Gibb: Indeed—the weeks, months and years ahead. I meant your remaining time in Committee, Mr. Bercow.
The purpose of the amendments is to remove a conflict of interest that would be created if the local authority received the proceeds of any financial penalties rather than the Treasury direct. The old adage of administrative law is that he who levies the fine should not benefit from the proceeds of that fine. Alas, it is an adage that has been honoured more in the breach than in observance in recent decades. If a body benefits from the proceeds of its own fines and penalties, there is an inbuilt incentive and pressure to impose those penalties that removes impartiality from the process. It makes it less objective and opens up the authority to accusations that it is simply revenue- raising.
The classic example is parking fines. When the power to levy parking fines was transferred to local authorities, together with the proceeds, we started to see parking attendants patrolling quiet residential streets at 8.31 am waiting to catch residents who had not moved cars that had been left overnight on parking meters. Westminster council raised £38 million through parking fines that way last year. I do not contend that penalty notices under the Bill will be issued solely for revenue-raising purposes or that they will raise hundreds of thousands of pounds—or even millions—for local authorities. I am just arguing that, as a matter of principle, all fines should be remitted directly to the Treasury with no re-remittance back to the body that levied them in the first place. It is an important principle that Governments of both parties have ignored during the past 20 years to the chagrin of the hard-pressed public.
The Chairman: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his generous remarks.
Mr. Heald: I support my hon. Friend’s amendment. Those of us on the Back Benches, too, are grateful for the way in which you have allowed us to intervene, Mr. Bercow, and to take part in the proceedings even when we were a bit lengthy. It might be of interest to you that the subtitle of William Morris’s book, “News from Nowhere”, to which my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings referred is what you are about to enjoy—“An Epoch of Rest”.
Jim Knight: It would be wrong of me not to take this opportunity to thank you for your stewardship of the Committee over the past few weeks, Mr. Bercow. I, too, hope that you have a restful time next week while we wrestle with the rest of the Bill. However, if you miss our musings on Proust, liberalism and William Morris, your presence in the Public Gallery to observe our proceedings would be more than welcome.
Amendment No. 92 would require all money received by local authorities as a result of penalty notices to be paid directly to the Secretary of State and could risk funding being diverted from other local authority services to cover the cost of penalty notices. The effect of amendment No. 100 would be to leave it unclear to whom any money received by a local authority and not used for the purpose of administering the penalty notice should be paid, but I accept that it is a probing amendment that sets out a few things and asks a few questions.
Should the financial penalties that we have provided for under the Bill ever be used, it is important that the money received from them can be used to cover the costs of administering the notices, so that funding is not diverted from other services to cover those costs. It is usual practice for money received by the Government from the payment of fines to be used in that way. It is also important that money received from financial penalties can be used only for the purposes of administering the process, and not used by local authorities in the way in which the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton described. That is why we will specify in regulations that the only function for which the money can be used is the administering of penalty notices themselves. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome and celebrate those regulations when they are published, perhaps through an early-day motion. The clause, as drafted, therefore requires any money not used for that purpose to be paid directly to the Secretary of State in accordance with regulations. That is entirely consistent with the way in which unused funds from penalty notices issued in respect of unauthorised absence from school have been handled since 2004. I therefore urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.
Mr. Gibb: On the basis of those assurances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 52 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 53 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Michael Foster.]
Adjour ned accordingly at twenty minute s to Five o’clock till Tuesday 26 February at half-past Ten o’clock .
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Prepared 22 February 2008