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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, simply as an academic exercise, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has made even an outside estimate of the cost to Islington, which has probably the largest exodus of children to other authorities in the London area.

Lord Tope: My Lords, I am not sure whether, within the rules of the House, I am allowed to respond to that. The answer is no. Until the next by-election, issues to do with Islington are not primarily my concern.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I shall deal with the two amendments in turn. Amendment No. 162

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would give the Secretary of State the power to include guidance on the interpretation of the law in the admission codes of practice. As we have already said in response to similar amendments, although the Secretary of State can give his view about how the law should be interpreted, it is, and can only be, his view. A definitive interpretation of the law can come only from the courts. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, will agree that it is not appropriate for a code to be given an authoritative status on matters of legal interpretation in the way proposed by his amendments. If he is not satisfied with that, he had better talk to some of his lawyer colleagues. Therefore, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw that amendment.

As the noble Lord rightly said, Amendment No. 163 is effectively an amendment to reintroduce mandatory recoupment for all pupils. The existing legislation gives the Secretary of State freedom to make inter-authority recoupment regulations where it is appropriate to do so. At the moment LEAs receive SSA support automatically for all the pupils at their schools. That is the answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, who spoke about Islington, which gets SSA for all the pupils in its schools just as neighbouring boroughs do because that is what it costs them. That is regardless of the pupil's home address. Only for pupils with special educational needs who are expensive to educate and unevenly distributed between authorities do we need a system providing for direct payments between authorities.

As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, recognised, we do not want to go back to the days of mandatory recoupment for all pupils who cross local authority boundaries to attend school. Trying to keep track of hundreds of thousands of pupils who crossed LEA boundaries to attend school created red tape, led to disputes which lasted for years and diverted precious resources which could have been better spent in the classroom to raise standards. The present system combines simplicity with fairness. This amendment would only create needless bureaucracy.

However, as Mr. Stephen Byers said at Report stage in the other place, we are in the middle of a wide-ranging review of education standard spending assessments. If local authorities feel that particular difficulties are being caused by the number of what I call "out-county pupils"--we have to call them "out-of-area pupils"--and have specific proposals for changing the education SSA formula in some way, we shall be happy to consider such suggestions along with other options for change.

The noble Lord will understand that I cannot go further. We are very satisfied with the system as it works at the moment. It is for those who are dissatisfied to make suggestions. We shall listen to them thoroughly and sympathetically and take account of them in any revision of the standard spending assessment. Fundamentally, we do not want council tax payers to finance extra local authority staff to try to run an expanded recoupment scheme. It is better to finance

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schools and pupils through the SSA system. I hope that the noble Lord will not feel it necessary to press his amendment.

Lord Tope: My Lords, on Amendment No. 162 the Minister gave me the option of either withdrawing it or discussing it with my lawyer colleagues. I shall choose the former. As regards Amendment No. 163, I remember the days of recoupment very well. I remember the long delays recovering the money due to my council and the difficulties that went with that. I am not enthusiastic to return to that system. I suspect that that was clear from the way I moved the amendment.

I was trying to tease out--I am not too surprised that I failed completely--how the Government intend to put into effect what Stephen Byers said on Report in the other place about the concerns being taken into account as part of the exercise. Three months later, I do not believe that the Minister has added anything to that other than to say that the Government are extremely happy with the situation as it is. The Minister's own party, in many of the affected areas, is rather less happy, as indeed are all the political parties. That is not surprising. I do not intend to press these amendments tonight whether threatened with my lawyer colleagues or not. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 163 not moved.]

Clause 85 [Parental preferences]:

[Amendment No. 163A not moved.]

10 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 164:

Page 63, leave out lines 41 to 45 and insert (", and
(b) they are approved by the Secretary of State for the purposes of this subsection,
they shall have effect in relation to each of those schools despite anything in subsection (2).").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 165, 167, 168, 176 and 177. Noble Lords will be astonished to hear that these are technical and clarificatory amendments aimed at removing any possible confusion to which the present drafting may give rise.

Amendment No. 164 provides clarification on two points. First, it prevents any implication that there is a general procedure for co-ordinated admission arrangements to be approved by the Secretary of State. He does so only in order to ensure that the duty to meet parental preference under Clause 85(2) does not prevent proper co-ordination. Secondly, it prevents any implication that the Clause 85(2) duty to respect parental preference is displaced completely where the Secretary of State approves co-ordinated arrangements. The duty continues to apply to the admission authorities in question, except where a situation is covered by a specific requirement in the co-ordinated arrangements.

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Amendment No. 176--if I may take the amendment out of numerical order--makes clear that members of the local education authority may be observers at the hearing of an appeal panel considering the appeal by a governing body against an LEA's decision that the school should admit a twice excluded pupil. These observers cannot be present at the stage at which the appeal panel deliberates on the case it has heard and arrives at its decision.

I am sure noble Lords will agree that local education authority members should not be present when an appeal panel makes its decision on a case to which the LEA has been a party. Appeal panels must be seen to be impartial and governing bodies must have confidence that this is the case. In this respect, Amendment No. 176 would bring the procedures under Schedule 25--it is the schedule concerned with children excluded from more than one school--in line with those for admission appeals under Schedule 24, which is the general admission appeals schedule.

Amendment No. 177 is simply a tidying up amendment. It abridges the reference to the ways in which proposals to introduce banding may be given effect under Schedule 6. The phrase "fall to be implemented" replaces the existing reference to approved or otherwise determined.

Amendment No. 165 would bring in a sensible, and very limited, new regulation-making power. The Bill allows for occasions when a major change in circumstances leads an admission authority to vary the arrangements which it has already determined and which have therefore achieved local agreement. Where it wants to make a variation, however, the Bill currently requires that the admission authority must refer the matter to the adjudicator in every case.

Amendment No. 165 would allow for regulations to specify that this reference to the adjudicator would not be necessary for certain types of variation. It has the same purpose as the similar regulation-making power in Clause 89(1)(c) which allows the Secretary of State to specify matters which may not be referred to the adjudicator for determination. This amendment would work to prevent trivial variations coming to the adjudicator or those which are uncontentious, such as where a fire to a school might justify an immediate reduction in the school's published admission number. Amendment No. 167 is a consequential drafting change.

Finally, on Amendment No. 168, adjudication is an important element of the new admissions framework. The Bill gives the adjudicator--or the Secretary of State in certain circumstances--the power to hear objections to an admission authority's arrangements. If he upholds an objection, his decision is then binding on that admission authority.

In the majority of cases, it will not be necessary to spell out exactly what the admission authority must do to change its arrangements. In many cases, the change will be obvious. In many others, it will be sufficient for the authority to implement the adjudicator's or the Secretary of State's decision as it thinks appropriate.

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We have stressed in our draft interim guidance on admissions the need for admission arrangements to be co-ordinated locally. Some objections that are referred to the adjudicator may have implications for the co-ordination of the arrangements of a number of schools. Where objections are made against several schools, allowing each of them to implement the adjudicator's decision in different ways could threaten the desired co-ordination. This amendment will ensure that the adjudicator and the Secretary of State have the power--it may not have to be used often--to specify precisely what the new admission arrangements should be. It clarifies the adjudicator's powers on an objection and ensures that his decisions can result in co-ordinated arrangements where a number of schools are involved. I beg to move.

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