Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendments Nos. 182 to 185:

Page 80, line 38, leave out ("and") and insert ("or").
Page 81, line 18, leave out ("and") and insert ("or").
Page 81, line 18, after ("are") insert ("registered").
Page 81, line 44, leave out ("(1)(a) or (b)") and insert ("(1)(b) or (c)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, these amendments were spoken to with Amendment No. 178. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 186:

After Clause 105, insert the following new clause--
(".--(1) An authority or body to whom this section applies shall not incur any expenditure for the purpose of--
(a) publishing any material which, in whole or in part, appears designed to influence--
(i) eligible parents in deciding whether or not to request a ballot under section 104, or
(ii) the outcome of such a ballot; or
(b) assisting any person to publish any such material; or
(c) influencing, or assisting any person to influence, by any other means--
(i) eligible parents in deciding whether or not to request such a ballot, or
(ii) the outcome of such a ballot.
(2) This section applies to--
(a) any local education authority, and
(b) the governing body of any school maintained by a local education authority.
(3) Nothing in subsection (1) shall be taken to prevent an authority or body to whom this section applies from incurring expenditure on publishing or otherwise providing to any person (whether or not in pursuance of any duty to do so)--
(a) any factual information so far as it is presented fairly; or
(b) a fair and reasonable assessment by the authority or body of the likely consequences of the result of a ballot under section 104 being in favour of the schools or school in

7 Jul 1998 : Column 1162

question ceasing to have selective admission arrangements; or
(c) an accurate statement by the authority or body of their intentions or proposals in the event of such a result.
(4) In determining for the purposes of subsection (3) whether--
(a) any information is presented fairly, or
(b) an assessment is fair and reasonable,
regard shall be had to any guidance given from time to time by the Secretary of State.
(5) In this section any reference to expenditure--
(a) in relation to the governing body of a school which has a delegated budget within the meaning of Part II of this Act (or, in relation to any time before the appointed day, Part II of the Education Act 1996), is a reference to expenditure out of the school's budget share; or
(b) in relation to the governing body of a grant-maintained or grant-maintained special school within the meaning of that Act (where this section applies to such a school by virtue of section 104(12)), is a reference to expenditure out of maintenance grants paid under Chapter VI of Part III of that Act.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 106 [Implementation of decision that school should cease to have selective admission arrangements]:

[Amendment No. 186A not moved.]

Clause 107 [Proposals by governing body of grammar school to end selective admission arrangements]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 186B:

Page 82, line 23, at end insert--
("( ) Any revision of the admission arrangements of a school under this section shall be subject to a ballot of parents.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the Government have inserted into the Bill--it was not in the Bill when it was first published--a measure which allows governing bodies of grammar schools, if they so wish, to propose that selective education should cease in those schools. The Government may argue that it is inconceivable that that would happen without parents knowing about it or approving it, but because it is such a formal activity, I think it only fair to make it beyond doubt that where the governing body of a grammar school proposes to cease selection and make a proposal, that proposal should be accompanied by a ballot of parents. In other words, a majority of parents of children in that particular school should endorse the school's proposals so that where such a proposal is put forward--to the Secretary of State or to the organisation committee--the parents have had their say. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, we return to this amendment on which the House divided during Committee stage. I am rather surprised that, since the Division was lost, an identical amendment has been tabled again. It will certainly be no surprise to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, to learn that in the intervening period the Government have not changed their mind that the amendment should be rejected.

The amendment is born out of concern that a grammar school might publish proposals to go comprehensive which do not have the backing of parents at the grammar school. The noble Baroness would require grammar school parents to be balloted before the

7 Jul 1998 : Column 1163

school could go ahead and publish proposals. She might reflect on the fact that the majority of grammar schools already have the power to publish such proposals without having to ballot parents.

The procedures for statutory proposals--the consultation arrangements, the facility for submitting objections--are widely understood. These provisions will carry forward under the new arrangements provided elsewhere in the Bill for deciding statutory proposals. Given these safeguards and the ability of parents to submit objections, I cannot see why grammar schools which want to become comprehensive schools should be faced with the added hurdle of undergoing a ballot before they can publish proposals. I therefore ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, not only will parents with children at grammar schools be disenfranchised from voting on the future of their schools, but the parents of such children will not even be allowed to endorse formally the proposals of the governing body to cease selection at the school. I cannot think of a more mean-spirited proposition. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 109 [Supplementary provisions about home-school agreements]:

Baroness Maddock moved Amendment No. 187:

Page 84, line 20, after ("guidance") insert ("subject to section (Making and approval of general guidance on home-school agreements)").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this group of amendments is concerned with the scrutiny of statutory guidance. It is some time since we went through the first set of amendments. Perhaps I may give noble Lords a little of the flavour, indicate why we are trying to do that and see whether we can tease out one or two more answers from the Government as to how they see statutory guidance.

We have moved the amendments in relation to statutory guidance because there has been such an increase in such guidance in the Bill. Some of it is subject to parliamentary scrutiny and some is not. We are a little concerned as to what precisely the Government wish to achieve by making much of the guidance statutory.

The School Standards and Framework Bill introduces at least 10--there may be more--new powers for the Secretary of State to make guidance to which most education authorities, schools and other bodies must have regard. Of the amendments we are considering tonight, Amendments Nos. 187 and 188 deal with home-school agreements, Amendments Nos. 192, 193 and 194 are concerned with early years development plans and Amendments Nos. 220 and 221 refer to behaviour support plans. All the amendments relate to the status of guidance.

We on these Benches accept that the importance of these 10 areas of guidance varies. For example, there is some guidance on the sale of non-school premises, which is fairly minor. The importance of guidance in

7 Jul 1998 : Column 1164

other areas is enormous, particularly as regards educational development plans and the exclusion of pupils.

Ministers have twice tried to explain how they see statutory guidance and what requires scrutiny and what does not. There are implications in making the guidance statutory. Until now Department for Education and Employment circulars have always contained the statement that the guidance does not contain authoritative legal interpretations of the provision of education Acts or other enactments or regulations. That is exclusively a matter for the courts.

Guidance is given by statute and that raises its status. Presumably, it can be used by the Secretary of State to direct an authority to take a particular course of action on grounds of unreasonableness when an authority or a school governing body has not taken the course of action that the Secretary of State might want in view of the guidance he is required to give by Parliament.

It seems to us on these Benches that there is some confusion as to how the Government see the status of statutory guidance. It changes some of the practices of the past although we have had explanations that the Government do not see it in quite the same way as we do. There is some concern, particularly in local education authorities. Each piece of new statutory guidance takes away from local government and the schools their ability to act independently in the joint task of raising standards. The local authority has to deal with any gaps. Because of the way these measures are being enacted, the local education authorities have to look at a large number of separate documents provided by central government. In many cases they are to enable them to understand what is the role of the local education authorities.

It is the view of some local education authorities that that contrasts strongly with the positive approach being developed by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions on best value, which tends to take a more holistic view of local government. One of the problems is that once new arrangements are in force there may not be much local discretion left because so much will be controlled by secondary legislation or guidance. That is what very much concerns local education authorities. The implication for free-standing local education authorities and schools which have to work around this increasingly large number of codes of practice and guidance, all having statutory force, and to which regard has to be had, seems to us on these Benches and, I believe, to local education authorities, to be to reduce those bodies to mere cyphers. In many ways that will work against what the Government propose, which is creativity and innovation as part of the process of raising standards. In many areas, the Government seem keen to make guidance statutory, but we believe that there might be a better balance of power between the Government and the local education authorities if there were some parliamentary scrutiny.

I finish by repeating what my noble friend Lord Tope said when this was first discussed: we are seeking to find out from the Government what they are hoping to achieve by making so much guidance statutory. After

7 Jul 1998 : Column 1165

the first answer from the Government, my noble friend felt that he was even less clear than when we started. We have had a second go and I hope that the Government can clarify the position a little further. We want an answer on the principle.

I am conscious that the Minister who is to reply is not really listening. I am trying to save noble Lords some time here, but the Minister is still not listening to me. I was hoping that whoever is to reply would listen to me because, although we do not need a detailed answer on this amendment, we are interested in the principle behind the provisions and in whether the Government appreciate that some people are concerned that too much statutory guidance will limit innovation in local authorities and schools. It would be helpful if the Government--the Minister--could expand on that point rather than give me a long, detailed answer, especially as we are now approaching the dinner hour. I beg to move.

7.30 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am disappointed. Here is my long, detailed answer but the noble Baroness does not want it. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for grouping these amendments. It seems that I have two tasks in responding to them. The first is to respond to the noble Baroness on the whole issue of statutory guidance although we have covered this subject on several earlier occasions on Report. My second task is to say something about home-school agreements, early years development plans and behaviour support plans.

The three critical amendments on statutory guidance are Amendments Nos. 188, 194 and 221. I should like to draw attention to three aspects of the amendments. The first is the requirement in all of them for consultation. I assure the noble Baroness that we shall consult as a matter of course--indeed, as a matter of principle--on all statutory guidance, including on the three statutory guidance procedures which are set out in this part of the Bill. Therefore, there is no need for a provision on consultation.

I refer secondly to the interpretation of the law. I am afraid that I disagree with the noble Baroness here. The amendments provide that the guidance can include interpretation of the law. It is, of course, important to establish a clear understanding of the intention behind legislation, particularly in new areas, to ensure that it is implemented in a way which achieves the Government's objectives. Setting out our intentions in a code of practice will help us to ensure that we achieve the right balance between effective support, challenge for schools, and protecting them from unnecessary interference. Naturally, the Secretary of State (often in circulars or by correspondence) gives his view of how the law should be interpreted, but it is only his view. A definitive view of the interpretation of the law can come only from the courts. The amendments would give the Secretary of State a power to include interpretation of the law. That would break new ground. We must resist the suggestion that there should be confusion between the role of the Secretary of State and the ultimate role of the courts.

7 Jul 1998 : Column 1166

The third and most important element of the proposals put forward by the noble Baroness is the provision for parliamentary scrutiny by the negative procedure. The noble Baroness referred to having less statutory guidance and less interference from central government in schools and local education authorities. I sympathise with that, but the amendments would make the statutory guidance more rigid and more difficult to change. They would introduce a level of parliamentary scrutiny which the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation did not suggest would be appropriate.

In response to the general question about the appropriateness of statutory guidance, I must advise the noble Baroness that the Government think that statutory guidance is more flexible, more appropriate and more in accordance with precedent than the method which she proposes. Indeed, if the amendments were carried, it could hardly seriously be said that those provisions were guidance. They would have to be given the authority of regulations.

I turn now briefly, as the noble Baroness wishes, to the three subjects of these amendments. On home-school agreements, I have assured the noble Baroness that we would not issue guidance without consulting on it first. We propose to cover in guidance such topics as the requirements of the law; how schools can set about drawing up home-school agreements, including good practice tips on involving parents and pupils; what agreements should cover and what they should not contain; and the factors which will help to ensure that home-school agreements promote partnerships between home and school. We are consulting on that at the moment and we propose to issue final guidance to schools in October.

Amendment No. 188 is fundamentally defective in that it refers to a duty on local education authorities. The guidance is for schools, not for LEAs.

On early years development plans, the guidance was issued last October. It is not prescriptive. There is no suggestion that governments will tell partnerships what should be in their plans. The duty to secure early education places in Clause 116(1), combined with our Requirements of Grant document, set out the framework for the operation of early years development plans. That is all entirely flexible. Again, the amendments are hopelessly defective, in that they refer to the governing bodies carrying out functions under Clause 118; governing bodies do not have any functions under that clause.

The amendments on local authority support plans are, again, perfectly well meaning, but hopelessly defective. The noble Baroness must now see why I could not resist this bit! Amendment No. 221 refers to Clause 109(1), which is about home-school agreements, not about behaviour support plans. The amendment would therefore fail to achieve its objectives. Of course, we accept that the intention behind all the amendments is thoroughly admirable. It is just that we do not want to accept them.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page