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Non-Domestic Rating (Chargeable Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 1996

7.15 p.m.

Lord Lucas rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 1st March be approved [13th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving these regulations, I shall speak also to the Electricity Supply Industry and Water Undertakers (Rateable Values) Amendment Order 1996.

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I deal first with the electricity and water order. Rateable values of large public utilities are set by order by the Secretary of State. Nuclear Electric plc is to split on 31st March. The order before the House today takes the rateable value in England of Nuclear Electric plc and splits it. Only the value in England is being split by this order. That is because property occupied by Nuclear Electric plc in Wales is to remain with that company under its new name of Magnox Electric plc. The new values and the changes to the order have been fully discussed with the companies concerned, which agree with the changes that we are proposing.

The order also changes the rateable value of Bournemouth and West Hampshire Water. The change is the result of the company convincing us that we did not give it equity of treatment with other water companies in 1994. We failed to take full account of property that it had vacated. Again, the change has been agreed with the company.

I turn now to the second order. The chargeable amounts regulations do not make provision for splits of property which appear in the central rating lists and have values prescribed by the Secretary of State. The split of Nuclear Electric means that these regulations also need to be amended. The regulations before the House today make such provision. They also make further changes to the transitional arrangements applying to local list property; that is, property which is valued by the valuation officer rather than by the Secretary of State. Those changes rectify anomalies in the original regulations which, if uncorrected, would unfairly increase the future rates bills of some ratepayers.

These anomalies have yet to affect any ratepayer. The changes that we propose are entirely and unambiguously in ratepayers' favour. If pressed, I have with me a long and involved explanation of them all that I still find hard to understand having read it slowly several times over. I am of course prepared to read this explanation into the record, but I hope that any noble Lord whose curiosity is purely personal will have mercy on other noble Lords and on the servants of this House and will content himself with asking me to write him a letter. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 1st March be approved [13th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Lucas.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Electricity Supply Industry and Water Undertakers (Rateable Values) Amendment Order 1996

7.18 p.m.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 1st March be approved [13th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Lucas.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

18 Mar 1996 : Column 1142

Deregulation (Length of the School Day) Order 1996

7.19 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Lord Henley) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 15th January be approved [8th Report from the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the draft order is designed to help schools change the length of the school day far more quickly than the statutory arrangements allow. The Government's proposals for change have already been scrutinised closely by the Deregulation Scrutiny Committee of this House and by the corresponding committee in another place. Both committees have given the proposals their approval without requiring any amendment. The Government's proposal has also been widely welcomed by schools and local education authorities.

This is a clear example of the Government's commitment to cut bureaucracy and red tape wherever they can. It is a modest but practical measure which will help schools to respond to requests for changes to the length of the school day. By using the provisions in the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, we are able to amend the primary legislation--that is, Section 21 of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986--which has proved most cumbersome for schools when changing school session times. In some cases schools have been taking 18 months to make even a small change to a school day.

The effect of the department's proposal will be to allow governing bodies to call a meeting with parents at any time in order to discuss changes to the school day. That will be subject to at least two weeks' notice. No longer will they have to wait for the annual parents' meeting to raise the subject. It is our intention that the new procedures should be available to help those schools which wish to change their school day in time from this September; for example, those schools which wish to provide more lesson time in response to an Ofsted inspection report or which feel that they are out of line with the practice of neighbouring schools.

I wish to assure the House that all other statutory protection associated with the legislation will remain in force. That includes consulting with parents and the LEA, giving three months' notice prior to any change and changing school times only at the start of an academic year. The order does not affect voluntary aided or grant-maintained schools. Those schools are not bound by the same statutory requirements but normally observe the principle of consultation and the giving of adequate notice before making changes.

Our proposed change to the current procedures of changing school session times is simple and will, I believe, be welcomed by schools. Once the order is made, my department will arrange for the decision to be widely publicised. That will include all those involved in the original consultation. The order has been agreed by another place. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 15th January be approved [8th Report from the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee].--(Lord Henley.)

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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for introducing the order and for explaining it in such a clear and admirably concise way. I can say from these Benches that we have no objection in principle to what he said. Nevertheless, I should be grateful if the Minister would respond to just two points of possible concern. First, are the Government satisfied that due regard will be given by governors to the interests of parents regarding any large scale changes which could affect them if, for example, they have other children to collect, or if they have other responsibilities through work or, indeed, through caring for other relatives? Secondly, is the Minister satisfied that proper consideration will be given to the problems of co- ordinating school transport? That is particularly important in rural areas where such co-ordination is necessary.

Lord Henley: My Lords, perhaps I may say, first, how grateful I am to the noble Baroness for what I take to be her welcome for the order. I can assure her that, as this is merely a matter of changing procedures, I very much hope that governors will, as they have to at present, take due regard of parents' views. That applies especially, in view of what the noble Baroness said, to the views of parents in relation to any potential difficulties which may arise over the collection of children where parents may have a number of children of different ages who therefore attend different schools.

As regards the question concerning the co-ordination of school transport, that is something which I believe is close to the heart of the noble Baroness and myself. Both of us come from rural parts of the world--from the north west, which is probably the best part of the world to come from--

Lord Graham of Edmonton: What about the north east?

18 Mar 1996 : Column 1144

Lord Henley: My Lords, I pause here because I know that some people have views about the north east. But the noble Baroness and myself have much stronger views about the north west.

However, returning to the question, I can assure the noble Baroness that co-ordination of transport would be a matter that governors would take on board when considering the requirements of such orders. The point behind the order is that appropriate notice should be given to parents. The parents can then attend the meeting and thereby express their views. Because governors represent parents, I am sure that they will be more than happy to take into account parents' views when considering such matters and making decisions. After all, parents are involved in the school. Having said that and having dealt with the questions put by the noble Baroness, I commend the order to the House.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, before the Minister sits down I should like to thank him for that reply. Of course we support the order from these Benches. I commend the noble Lord for not entering into the argument about the north east and the north west. He may have noticed that even pipistrelles are unable to communicate between the Lancashire and Yorkshire versions.

Lord Henley: My Lords, as a fellow northerner I recognise, like the noble Baroness, that there are sometimes tensions between different sides of the north. However, I believe that the noble Baroness and I are probably for once at one as to which side of the Pennines is the better side to come from.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

        House adjourned at twenty-six minutes past seven o'clock.

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