|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: Obviously the Government have done some costing, even if it is only speculative costing. Can the Minister say how many new classrooms they expect to get throughout the country for £40 million?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The figure of £40 million is for this financial year only. It is intended to respond to applications from local authorities. As we are talking about a three-year programme of reduction in class sizes, it is not appropriate for me to do other than say that, on the basis of the applications and the way in which the £40 million is spent, we will have a clearer picture in terms of pounds per place or pounds per school. On that basis, capital allocations will be made for future years in order to achieve our objective.
Baroness Young: I am grateful to the noble Lord for his careful explanation of the position in relation to the money. He clearly set out how local authorities, for this financial year, will have to make their bids by the end of this week. That seems to be a rather short period of time, though they have probably been thinking about it for a while.
I am anxious that in a matter as full of variables as this is (as the Minister admitted) with population growth, changing fertility rates, movements of population, with people moving from north to south and so forth, quite apart from the points made in relation to the movement of people for fruit picking and so on--which results in a local problem when numbers of children suddenly move into a school--if the local authority finds itself suddenly with classes of more than 30 it will be breaking the law. It is therefore an extremely serious issue. It is not a simple debating point. No doubt local government accounting officers and their lawyers will be quick to point out the difficulties should local authorities find themselves in that situation.
I make these points because, when the regulations come to be issued--when we shall see how all this works--a degree of flexibility will be required. I do not see how it can work and how we can guarantee that, from Land's End to John o'Groats, there will not be a single class with more than 30 children among the five, six and seven year-olds, desirable though that may be. Though it is extremely helpful to hear that £40 million will be available for building classrooms and for the extra teachers, the fact that it is difficult to predict movements of population by anybody who has ever tried to do it, means that the regulations will need to include some measure of flexibility as a recognition of the reality of the situation.
Lord Dixon-Smith: Before the Minister finally concludes on this matter, perhaps he can answer a concern which I am beginning to develop. This is a difficult area for all the reasons that have been outlined. If we give a school or an LEA a responsibility to meet the target of 30 there is the problem of how to arrange the finance. For various reasons schools and LEAs get caught with sudden movements of population. I come from an area where we are used to having to plan for enormous and rapid changes in school population. We can plan the fluctuations up and we can plan them down again and life is very interesting in those circumstances.
Let us suppose that we have a hypothetical school--I know one should not deal with hypothetical situations--and that school finds itself in breach of the law. We are handing parents the right to take that school, or the LEA, or possibly the Secretary of State, to court for being in breach of the law. I am not sure what happens at that point. Is there a penalty? If so, what is it? If there is no penalty, what is the point?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I did not achieve the seniority in local education of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, or the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, but I have been a councillor in a local education authority and I and the Government are well aware of the valid points about the difficulty of making provision when there are variables in numbers and in location of pupils. That has been the case ever since public education first existed. Nothing has changed and nothing will change.
We are adding to the list of legal obligations which have always existed for local education authorities. They have always had duties to provide education. Many of those duties were taken away or reduced by the previous government who did not much like local education authorities. But we like education authorities, and we intend to give them the responsibilities and the resources to deal with those responsibilities.
We are not going to make exceptions. We are saying that it is educationally desirable--all the experts agree--that those aged five, six and seven should be taught in classes of not more than 30. That has been shown to have an effect right the way through the school career and throughout life. We are imposing this as one extra obligation on local education authorities and we shall provide the resources both of revenue and capital to deal with it. I cannot see what the Committee can object to in that.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I am not objecting at all. When we get to 2001 the law will say that an LEA shall comply with this provision. I have no problems with that. I have no problems with the ambition. I have one or two worries about the provision of resources. What happens to the LEA or the school which, for a particular reason, finds itself in breach of the law at that point? If the Minister will forgive me, that is a point he did not answer.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I know my noble friend Lady Blackstone wishes to come back, but may I respond to that particular point? My noble friend has already answered that point. The Secretary of State could issue a direction to the school or the LEA under Section 497 of the Education Act 1996 and, if necessary, get a court order to enforce it.
Baroness Blatch: I support my noble friend in saying that we are not objecting. We are rather wide-eyed. We welcome the fact that the Government, on this single policy alone, says that it will be imposed. It will be inflexible; it will be met. Any expenditure whatever resulting from the application of the policy will be met pound for pound. The Minister has made that absolutely clear.
It has also been made clear in the guidance that there will be no inhibition of parental preference; no inhibition of denominational choice; and no inhibition of sending a child an unreasonable distance to another school. It shall not have the effect of sending a child to
That is manna from heaven for local authorities. They will welcome the statement. It is so unequivocal that it is my view that it should be on the face of the Bill. We shall bring forward amendments to that effect. The Government have absolutely nothing to fear because the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has been so clear and so unequivocal. There can be no doubt whatever. Local authorities have had the benefit of hearing what the Government have to say today on the matter.
Baroness Byford: I thank the Committee for participating in this debate on Amendment No. 4, with which we have considered Amendments Nos. 19 and 20. I wish to take up a point raised earlier with regard to the movement of children. My noble friend Lady Platt, who is not in her place at the moment, referred to children in villages whose parents have seasonable occupations. The concern arises also in inner cities where even within a term one can see many children moving in and out of schools because their parents, for whatever reason, are moved. When does the figure of 30 apply? Does it apply at the beginning of the term or during the term? I am concerned about the implications.
My noble friend Lady Blatch said that we are not objecting to the suggestions mooted in this part of the Bill. We are, however, pointing out the practical implications. I am grateful to the Minister for so clearly stating that the money will be there and that it will happen.