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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, first, I strongly support the importance of this speech and the paper to the debate

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that we are having today. It does not relate just to Clauses 45 to 52 but also to the organisational committees, the work of the adjudicator and the work on standards and improvements in schools. That is all money that will be deducted before the 100 per cent. We are all in favour of 100 per cent. delegation to schools. We should like to see that. It would be helpful if the noble Baroness would explain that the 100 per cent. is 100 per cent. of what is left after the four issues are addressed: access, improvement of schools, strategic management, and all the matters that are listed in the paper.

We are again discussing amendments--it is not the first time--in a vacuum. Nothing in the Bill makes provision for the proposals in the paper that we understand was released on Friday. If 100 per cent. delegation is to be delivered, and schools are to receive that money, there needs to be considerable enabling amendment to Clauses 44 to 52. Have the Government any plans to bring forward amendments; or will they accept amendments from this side of the Committee to ensure that the proposals in the Statement made by the Minister in another place are delivered to schools? Expectations by schools are now very high. However, as one reads the detail of the paper, the scope for withholding money is very considerable indeed.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn: Before the Minister replies, it would be unfair for the noble Lord, Lord Baker, to receive all the credit. The noble Lord may recall that in the 1970s I had the privilege of chairing a committee which recommended more delegation to managers and governors of schools, and 100 per cent. responsibility. Does the noble Lord, Lord Baker, remember that that was during the time of a Labour Government?

Baroness Blackstone: I am grateful for my noble friend's interjection. He reminds the noble Lord, Lord Baker, that during the late 1970s and 1980s many people thought about greater delegation to schools.

The Opposition requested that we delay discussion on local management of schools (LMS) until Thursday. The Government have acceded to that request to give the Opposition a little more time to go through the document published on Thursday on local management of schools. It takes further what we had said earlier; and takes further a document that was put into the Library of both Houses when the issue was discussed in another place.

It would be foolish to start a discussion now on the subject before we have reached the right part of the Bill, which must be the right time to discuss it. I am sure that that is what my noble friends, and noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches, would think was right. It would be wholly in accordance with our procedures to wait until then.

In reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, I shall be happy to consider any amendments that the Government may decide to put down on this part of the Bill. Amendments that we are bringing forward are already tabled for Thursday. I do not believe that we

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should go further on this matter, but should get on with the Committee stage of the Bill and move to the agreed business for this afternoon.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: Before the Minister sits down, perhaps the noble Baroness will accept a word of congratulation on the calm with which she has just spoken, and on her complete detachment, almost failure to recognise, the marvellous conversion that she and her colleagues have undergone.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 23 [School organisation committees]:

3.15 p.m.

Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 97:

Page 22, line 20, at end insert ("to act in an advisory capacity for the local education authority").

The noble Lord said: I forbore to join in the previous exchanges because I agreed with the Minister that this was not the proper time for such discussion. However, I cannot resist saying that I and my colleagues are a little less wholehearted in our congratulations to the Government on their conversion.

The amendment deals with one of the areas about which we are less content: school organisation committees; and, in Clause 24, the issue of adjudicators. It will become clear that we are uneasy about the concept of school organisation committees. They impose another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy with all the cost and administrative complexities of running such a body. The body will be unbelievably cumbersome, comprising of a number of groups. Those groups may comprise of representation of between one and seven. Each group has only one vote. I am unclear--perhaps the Minister will make clear--how that group vote is to be exercised where there is not unanimity in that group, as I fear will be the case on many occasions. The body is cumbersome because even assuming that the group has a unanimously agreed vote, there has to be unanimity within the school organisation committee. The Minister has said elsewhere that he expects that in the majority of cases school organisation committees will be unanimous. I can only think that that Minister has had little to do with education and local education authorities if he believes that all those interested parties in education will be unanimous in the majority of cases. We all hope so, but it may be a triumph of optimism over realism.

The most telling point against the concept of school organisation committees is that it is one further step in undermining the democratic legitimacy of local education authorities. Let me be the first to say that the democratic legitimacy of local government is rightly under question. A few weeks after the turnout at the last local elections, no one can stand here and proclaim that too strongly. The Government are attempting to address that issue in other ways, although we do not believe that they are going far enough.

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Nevertheless, the local education authority and its members are the democratically elected representatives of the local communities. They have that responsibility. The appointment of a school organisation committee, composed as it will be, can only be a further nail in the coffin of the local education authority. If that is the Government's ultimate intention, as many of us are coming to believe, I wish that they would now clearly and openly say so.

The Government are missing an opportunity to deal with the many important aspects of school organisation and administration arrangements within the context of a light touch LEA framework. I shall return to that point more strongly in a later amendment. I accept that bringing together partners which will form a school organisation committee can perform a useful role. It is important that it is an advisory role for the LEA, does not supersede the LEA, and is not a statutory role which overrides the LEA.

The amendment suggests that school organisation committees--it is a concept about which I am not keen--should act in an advisory role. In many good local education authorities--dare I include my own?--such bodies exist. They are not usually given the title of school organisation committee; they exist as consultative forums. In many cases they work extremely well, as in my own LEA. The views and representations made are valued. They are listened to and debated, but the accountability is clear. It rests with the democratically elected local education authority which is, and should be, properly accountable for the decisions so reached.

We move the amendment, not out of great enthusiasm for school organisation committees, but recognising that if they are to exist they can have a valuable role. However, that role should be advisory. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch: I preface my strong support for the amendment with a question in order to make sense of the funding paper. Will the money for this aspect of activity for LEAs, school organisation committees and the adjudicators be deducted from the budget for local education authorities before the 100 per cent. figure is delegated to schools? Is it a matter for deduction? From my brief reading of the paper, I believe that it is.

While I strongly support the amendment, I would rather not have organisation committees or adjudicators. Local authorities are made up of members served by officers. Those members are elected democratically by the local community. If the local community loses its confidence in the work done by those local authority members it can exercise its choice about that at the ballot box.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, speaks of more recent experience than I do, having been a member of a local authority. Before coming here, I spent my formative years as a member of a local authority and as a member of its education authority. I have knowledge of the pain and the anguish that councillors experience when dealing with difficult issues, for example, closing schools. I cannot recall more anxious moments than

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when we were trying to do our best by the local community, looking that community in the eye, talking with the parents and the grandparents, the friends, the staff and the governors of schools when we were going through the process of closure. It would have been quite wrong for me to pass on responsibility for taking that decision to someone else--the unelected placemen of any government in the future. I believe that having initiated the process and having consulted all the relevant people, it is absolutely incumbent on the elected members to face the responsibility of taking the decision.

I have always thought it right and a good test of whether or not we have done the job properly that there should be a long-stop. In my view, that should be the Secretary of State. At the end of this process with the local communities, after all the work and consultation required by statute, you come to a conclusion. But that conclusion is further tested by an appeal to the Secretary of State. Parents and their supporters can put their case to the Secretary of State who takes into account the objectors' case, the case put by the local authority and the work done by the elected council of that authority. The Secretary of State comes to a view whether the case should be upheld or overruled. I believe that that procedure has worked very well in the past.

To superimpose on the system another body of placemen, the organisation committee, with the absolutist powers given in this Bill to the adjudicator, frankly, I believe, is wholly abhorrent. There is nothing democratic about it at all. It sidelines the responsibility that councillors should have and it passes the buck from the Secretary of State who simply says, "It's not me guv, go through your organisational committee or correspond with your adjudicator." There is not even an appeal on the adjudicator's position.

My preferred position would be not to have an organisation committee at all but as a halfway-house I support very strongly, on democratic grounds alone, that if there has to be this body it should be advisory only. My preferred position is that advisory bodies are different in different circumstances and there are occasions where local authorities should discuss with head teachers, local communities, other minor local authorities and other interest groups, and those will be different on different occasions.

Once this organisation committee is set in tablets of stone, as of course it will be, it is a single body with set representation which may or may not be appropriate. It seems to me wholly inappropriate. I support very strongly what I regard as a halfway-house amendment, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Tope. This proposal flies in the face of democratic accountability. It will emasculate local government which, as we know, is the hidden agenda behind much of the Bill. Certainly, more overt statements are being made almost daily by Ministers about the sidelining of local government in these matters. At the end of the day, I believe that the

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Secretary of State, in addition to local elected councillors, should stand up and be counted. I strongly support the amendment.

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