12 Dec 1994 : Column 1079

House of Lords

Monday, 12th December 1994.

The House met at half-past two of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Worcester): The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

School Inspections

Baroness David asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they expect to meet their targets for the inspection of primary and special schools.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, the legislation provides for the independent external inspection of all maintained schools over a four-year cycle. In this, the first term of the primary and special school inspection cycle, the number of contracts let has fallen some way below expectations. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector announced on 8th December a package of measures designed to remedy that shortfall. The Government attach importance to achieving the four-year inspection cycle and are keeping the situation under close review.

Baroness David: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very informative Answer. It is quite clear that my Question was well targeted. Apparently, inspections for 1995 were going to be about 1,800 below target and the cycle would have been seven and half years rather than four years had not some plans been hastily made. Will the Minister say who will be doing the inspections? Am I correct in my understanding that a good many of the inspectors were trained to inspect just secondary schools and not primary schools? Will that affect the quality of the inspection that is provided?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, the quality of the inspection remains of prime importance. The Government will do nothing which will put that in jeopardy. By and large the inspections will be provided by those who are already trained as inspectors. Ofsted has set out a number of measures to encourage those who have been trained and who have not yet come forward to undertake inspections, to do so. To a certain extent some temporary help will be provided by Her Majesty's inspectors themselves. But under no circumstances do we envisage half-trained or untrained people undertaking inspections.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is rather bizarre to hear implied criticisms of this nature coming from the Benches opposite, bearing in mind the colossal damage that socialist ideology has done to the British education system since the last war? Does he further agree that, whatever teething problems our new inspection system may have, it is a huge improvement on the previous situation, whereby only 100 primary schools were inspected annually, and that therefore the average primary school was inspected just once in every 190 years?

Lord Lucas: Yes, my Lords, we believe that it is a great improvement on what went before. In general, we are very pleased with the results that the system is producing. We are disappointed that the number of

12 Dec 1994 : Column 1080

inspections to date is falling below target. But we are determined to make sure that we catch up again over the next few years.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, does the Minister appreciate the fact that the Government removed from local education authorities at 1990-91 prices approximately £75 million to fund the new inspection service? Given that quite clearly Ofsted is unable to implement successfully an inspection policy, should not at least a proportion of that money be returned to local government so that it can be properly funded for inspecting schools, which it does remarkably well?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, that is complete nonsense. The money is in Ofsted to undertake the inspections and the inspections will be undertaken. I quite agree that the local education authorities are now beginning to do an excellent job in helping primary schools. One of the reasons why Ofsted is finding that inspectors are not coming forward to do its inspections is because local authorities at last are devoting more of their resources to helping their own primary schools. We feel that is an excellent development.

Baroness David: My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether there is to be a cut in the money available for inspections? According to the Budget Statement on DfE expenditure plans, there was a £13 million cut in expenditure for Ofsted, which is a 12½ per cent. cut. Can he explain that?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I do not have that particular figure in front of me. I can tell the noble Baroness that the Budget allows for an increase in total Ofsted expenditure from £98 million in 1995-96 to £121 million in 1997-98. That does not represent a cut. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector is quite satisfied that he has the resources necessary to complete the inspection cycle and all the other work that he undertakes.

Baroness David: My Lords, will the noble Lord accept that I obtained those figures from a reliable source? Will he write to me and explain why those figures appeared in the Budget statement if they are not correct?

Lord Lucas: Certainly, my Lords.

County Hall

2.36 p.m.

Lord Plummer of St. Marylebone asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will ensure that the work currently being done within the County Hall on London's south bank to turn the building into a high quality hotel is carried out in accordance with the planning consent which has been given.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, Parliament has determined that it is the responsibility of the appropriate local planning authority to ensure that the work is done in accordance with the relevant planning and listed building

12 Dec 1994 : Column 1081

consents. English Heritage is satisfied that the work being carried out to the Riverside building is in accordance with listed building consent.

Lord Plummer of St. Marylebone: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Does he appreciate that County Hall occupies a prime location in the heart of the capital and should not be allowed to lapse into an eastern bazaar? Is he further aware that the Secretary of State for the Environment has published a consultation paper, Quality in Town and Country, and intends to issue guidance to planners requiring them to consider the quality of architecture and buildings, especially in prime locations? In an interview, he added:

    "What might be acceptable in a run of the mill area might not be acceptable in a fine location".

Is he aware too that the London Borough of Lambeth is the planning authority and cannot even manage its own affairs? Does he agree that special attention ought to be given to that building of special importance?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, as my noble friend will be aware, the comments which he attributed to the Secretary of State referred to planning policy. It is indeed the case that the Riverside House part of the County Hall complex is an important building. It is in a conservation area and is grade 2 star listed. In order for any change to be carried out to that building which is not in accordance with existing planning permissions and listed building consents, further planning permission and listed building consent would be required. So far as I know, no such application has been made. Were that to happen on such an important site, as my noble friend pointed out, the Secretary of State would have to consider whether he would call it in.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the building was originally built for the purpose of housing London government? Is he further aware that it would be very good if that building could be recovered for the purpose for which it was originally designed? Is he still further aware that an administration which will follow the present one—perhaps a wider administration—will seek to recover the building for its original purpose?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I am indeed aware that County Hall was built as the seat of a pan-London authority. I myself do not claim to have any great connection with it, but my mother was a member of the old LCC for four years between 1949 and 1952. I was born in 1951. So I dare say that I could be said to have played a part in it myself. Parliament determined that the GLC should be abolished and therefore it was. Obviously, it is open to any future parliament to take whatever decision in the future that it thinks best. But the House can rest assured that so long as we on these Benches remain in power the eventuality of that happening is both far distant and unlikely.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that when he was only a twinkle in his father's eye I was actually a member of the London County Council?

Lord Beloff: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the story of the relationships between the London

12 Dec 1994 : Column 1082

Residuary Body and the Japanese entrepreneurs has been a total disaster? Is it not possible to go back to the far more appropriate scheme of turning this building over to the London School of Economics to give us a major educational edifice on this prime site which would be a credit to the entire country and a magnet for London?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, as I am sure my noble friend is aware, the terms of reference under which the London Residuary Body operates are determined by statute. It was made quite clear that it was the function of the LRB to dispose of any land held by it which was not required by it for carrying out its functions at the best consideration that could be obtained unless the Secretary of State directed otherwise. The best consideration that could be obtained for the County Hall site included the sale of Riverside House to Shirayama. In those circumstances, bearing in mind the previous planning history which included an action in the High Court, I really do not think it would have been proper for the London Residuary Body to have done anything other than it did.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page