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Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: Yes, the Further Education Funding Council.

Baroness Blackstone: I just wanted to be sure that we were clear about that.

The noble Lord said that he was optimistic. I am glad that he is optimistic because the last time that we had a debate about optimism and pessimism, the noble Lord said that I was over-optimistic and that he was a pessimist. However, my optimism about this leads me to

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different conclusions from him. I believe that the school organisation committees will for the most part be able to reach agreement. I agree with what the right reverend Prelate said earlier. I very much hope that the number of occasions involving adjudicators will be relatively small because there will already have been a great deal of local discussion.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, perhaps I may say that consensus will have been reached at local level. That is exactly what we hope will become commonplace once the new arrangements have been implemented. For those reasons, I hope that adjudicators will not have an enormous workload. The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, is right that they will have to be careful in their judgments and to put them in writing.

I also hope that judicial review will be used only rarely. I hope that once the system is established people will accept the impartiality of the adjudicators and the fact that their procedures are totally above board. That is what is expected.

I cannot remember which noble Lord referred to misbehaviour, but perhaps I may rebut any suggestion that this provision is all about being on-message. It is nothing like that. This is clearly about undertaking a job properly and having a decision-making process which can be seen to be fair and in which the right procedures are used. I hope that instances of dismissals among adjudicators will be extremely rare.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, referred to education action zone schools and foundation schools. Schools in education action zones will be treated in exactly the same way as any other schools where the issue of closure arises. As to foundation schools, they will be subject to exactly the same system, and proposals in respect of foundation schools which are not decided by the school organisation committee will go to the adjudicator if necessary.

The clause also introduces Schedule 5. That gives practical detail as to how the adjudicator will operate. It also gives the Secretary of State power to make regulations about further details of the adjudicator's functions. This clause provides a vital mechanism to resolve school organisation and admission cases while safeguarding the interests of a range of local players. The noble Baroness indicated that she will not press her opposition to Clause 24 standing part of the Bill.

I should like to deal with one other issue raised by more than one speaker, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I was a little confused by the contribution of the noble Baroness. At one point she said that adjudicators would not be local but at another point she suggested that possibly they would have to cover two areas. She spoke about her own part of the country: Cambridgeshire and Norfolk or Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire. The noble Baroness is absolutely right that the adjudicators will not be local; they will be nationally-appointed people. They will be appointed on the basis that they are the best people for the job rather than that they represent a particular area. I believe that it would be wrong for them to represent a particular area because in that event it is very likely that they would be parti pris in some respects. We want to have people

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of experience who will be impartial and independent in arriving at their judgment. I hope that I have answered all the points raised. I hope that the Committee accepts that this is a fundamental part of the new system and that the clause should stand part of the Bill.

7.15 p.m.

Baroness Maddock: I thank the Minister for replying to a number of points. We shall not press the issue any further this evening but we hope to return to it at a later stage in the light of other proposals that may come from the Government on school organisation committees. A good number of questions have been asked today. The role of the adjudicator is very much tied up with what happens on the school organisation committees. The Minister was intent on driving home the independence of the adjudicators. I do not know whether it means that at the moment, when the Secretary of State makes a decision about a school closure, it is less than independent. There have been times in my life when I have believed that to be the case when dealing with school closures. That seems to be one of the main arguments in trying to convince the Committee that adjudicators are the correct way to go.

I was pleased to hear the Minister say that adjudicators would not receive fat cat salaries. We shall see what happens. I am slightly confused. The Minister also said that adjudicators would be paid on a daily basis. In view of the comment of the Minister, Estelle Morris, in another place that it was likely they would be salaried, appointed on a part-time basis and paid a daily rate, is it the case that the decision has now been made that they will be paid only a daily rate? Perhaps the Minister can deal with that before we proceed further with the matter.

We on these Benches believe that as many decisions as possible should be made locally by democratically elected local authorities. We are deeply concerned, knowing the kind of issues that will come forward, that adjudicators will have to make a good number of decisions. I hope that the Minister is right. If not, even more money will come off the education budget. Our main worry is that this bureaucracy will cost money and that the education budget will be top sliced. Some of us fear that given the number of decisions that adjudicators will have to make the amounts that they will be paid and the length of time that committees sit will go up. I do not believe that we have received a satisfactory answer to that.

We shall not press the matter tonight. However, can the Minister clarify how exactly the adjudicators will be paid? Further, in light of the very serious concerns about how the system will operate, can the Minister give a commitment that should all of this go ahead there will be a review of what is happening and if our worst predictions turn out to be true the Government will do something about it? If the worst predictions happen it will not be in the interests of schools. We are all concerned about what happens in schools and want to ensure that the highest standards are achieved. We are not being party political about this; we are genuinely worried about what will happen. I hope that the Minister

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will take that into account and give a commitment that the Government will also be concerned if this turns out to be a huge bureaucracy that does not work properly.

Baroness Young: Before the noble Baroness replies, perhaps I may put two questions. The first, which I should have asked in the earlier debate, is whether the school committee is to meet in public so that all of its discussions can be heard by everyone. Will those discussions be fully recorded? Almost all of the decisions will be difficult and I suspect controversial. That will make a great deal of difference to the number of cases that go to the adjudicator.

Secondly, I should like to deal with the question of cost. Earlier, we were informed that the scheme was expected to cost £1 million. If there are 20 adjudicators that will not leave much per adjudicator. We know from Schedule 5 that inevitably the adjudicator will require some staff if he or she is to consider the papers and write reports. The adjudicator will require an office, a secretary and so on. We are all aware of the add-on costs. I believe that £1 million is a complete under-estimate of the cost of this whole organisation. I hope that before we reach the next stage of the Bill noble Lords can be given a much clearer idea of the cost of the exercise.

Baroness Blatch: I should like to add to the questions. I ask the Minister to whom the adjudicator is accountable. As to cost, I understand that the figure to set up the system is £1.2 million and that revenue costs per annum thereafter will be £1 million. I also understand that the capital costs--the buildings where adjudicators sit, equipment and all the rest of it--will be additional to those figures and therefore will fall on the LEA. This appears to be an open-ended cheque for the LEAs. Allied to that, what is the mechanism for funding this money? Will it be top-sliced from the LEA budget or will it be a precept on the LEA or individual schools? The question was asked earlier but not answered. This is probably one cost that individual schools will not be able to opt out of. They will all be subject to the services of the organisation committee and adjudicator.

Next, will the organisation committee and the adjudicator have a role to play over admissions to foundation schools? I understand that the foundation schools will be their own admissions authority. If that is the case, what is the relationship between admissions policy and admission issues vis-a-vis the organisation committee and adjudicator and foundation schools? That is quite an important point.

On the point about the adjudicators not being local, I was not being inconsistent or trying to have my cake and eat it. I was trying to understand the arguments that were put forward strongly by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. Every time he came to the Dispatch Box he said that the whole rationale of what the Government were doing was to see that decisions were taken locally. The argument that I, the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, and my colleagues on these Benches are putting forward is that the adjudicator will not be local to many people. He will not be known by many people. Confidence in the

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people who take the decisions will be important. I shall be interested to hear the answer to my noble friend Lady Young as to whether the meetings will be in public. Given that there is no other accountability, that would at least be some form of accountability.

I understand that the Minister cannot give us the salary figures at the moment, although it sounds as if there will be a daily rate for the job. The Minister has said that she does not know that at the moment because it is under review. Can we have a promise that when it is known we shall hear it. I hope that it will be before the Bill goes through Parliament, so that we will understand what it will be.

Which body in government will determine the daily rate? Who thereafter will review it? Where will the responsibility for reviewing the salary lie? Will the members of the committee receive a fee per diem or expenses? What will be the form of recompense for disrupting the lives of the people who will serve on those committee? I do not believe it, but the Government say that the adjudicator will not have to do very much work. The organisation committee will have to do quite a deal of work. How will those people be reimbursed? Presumably LEA members will just receive their normal LEA expenses. They are already busy people, especially if they are on the education committee. It would be helpful to know what they will receive.

It seems that the budget total is £50,000. There will be 20 committees covering wide areas. I have already asked about the capital costs. I hope that the Minister can enlighten us on that.

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