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Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, it is argued to the contrary by the Head of the Civil Service, Sir Richard Wilson, that the very existence of special advisers in many ways guarantees the impartiality of the Civil Service and its reputation by making a clear distinction between permanent civil servants and temporary civil servants who come in as special advisers. The latter are subject to the same rules of conduct as other civil servants but they have the ability to represent Ministers on political matters. That is clearly understood and judged by many members of the Civil Service to be to its benefit.

Lord Roper: My Lords, although I accept that there are sufficient former special advisers on various Benches in this House to indicate that they have some value, does the noble Lord accept that some of the proceedings in recent weeks in the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions have caused a good deal of concern? Is he satisfied that the revised code of conduct introduced after the general election is operating satisfactorily? Can he tell the House when we are likely to see the Civil Service Act, which we were promised at the election before last?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I believe that the code of conduct for special advisers brought

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in by the Government after the election on the recommendation of the Neill committee has, indeed, now been fully applied. A large part of that is to the credit of this House and due to the arguments put forward for such a course of action.

As to the events of recent times in the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions, I know that Jo Moore made a statement in the past few minutes in which she said that, no matter how much she would wish to, she cannot take back the terrible error of judgment. However, she hopes that people will accept that her regret is genuine and heartfelt.

In relation to the question of bringing in legislation on the Civil Service, we are committed to such legislation and, as soon as the programme of business allows, we shall take it forward.

Lord Peston: My Lords, speaking as a former special adviser, perhaps I may say that, deplorable although Jo Moore's remarks were, she is not the first person to have got such matters wrong. As a former special adviser, I certainly got many things wrong. However, the advantage that I had in those days compared to now was that such information was not leaked. That difference is not unique to the present Government. Does my noble friend agree that the main point is that special advisers end up doing all the dirty work and speak to Ministers in ways that civil servants cannot? My experience was that special advisers were still working when the rest of the Civil Service had gone home.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I agree with the first of my noble friend's comments. I believe that I speak for Ministers and former Ministers on both sides of the House when I say how valuable special advisers can be, especially in difficult times.

Lord Saatchi: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford has tabled a debate to be held next week on the subject of the ethic of public service? In that context, is he aware that Ms Moore is paid almost as much for a three-day week as the hard-working government Whips in this House are paid for a full-time job? Does he not believe that that is a complete distortion of the ethic of public service? Also in that context, does he share the widespread sense of shame and revulsion at the remarks made by Ms Moore in her memo?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, as I stated in quoting Ms Moore, there is no doubt that she committed a serious error of judgment. She has accepted full responsibility for her action and has given a very full apology. She has been dealt with under the proper disciplinary procedures. It is the view of the Transport Secretary and the Prime Minister that someone should not lose their job for one such mistake and that it is time to move on. As for the relativities of the salaries involved, I believe that noble Lords will appreciate that many disparities exist within the pay scales of government. However, one consolation is that they are not quite as extreme as they are in the world of private business, from which the noble Lord and myself have come.

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Schools: Private Sector Participation

3.7 p.m.

Baroness Blatch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, under the proposed reforms for primary and secondary schools, private companies will be allowed to take over the running of a school with control over all staffing matters.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, we wish to encourage a diverse range of partners and providers. Private companies could propose to establish a new foundation or voluntary school, could work in partnership with schools to raise standards, could assist LEAs in turning round failing schools or could sponsor city academies. Similar opportunities will be available to community or faith groups, LEAs and other public and voluntary bodies. In all cases, staffing matters will be the responsibility of the governing body.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. She is saying that the private sector will not have the power to run a school, which must go hand in hand with having control over staffing. Do I read the noble Baroness correctly in that matter?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, having given considerable thought to the matter, it is our view that a school should be run by the governing body. In terms of the different types of school, which, as the noble Baroness will be fully aware, include voluntary aided, voluntary controlled schools and so on, the composition of the governing body is different. However, the relationship with a private organisation will be that of a consultancy more than that of a contractor. Therefore, such an organisation will not be responsible for the running of the school.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, can the Minister clarify a point which is very obscure? Where a private company takes over a school, what role will the governing body have?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, as I pointed out, there are different ways in which private sector organisations can be involved in schools. We have tried to develop that to allow the private sector to play a full participatory role. Perhaps I may take as an example the Abbeylands School, with which the noble Baroness will be familiar, where Nord Anglia is currently working with the local education authority. The maximum number of governors that Nord Anglia would be able to have on that governing body would be six, assuming that it also took the governance of a foundation school. The difference between that and, for example, a city academy is that, as noble Lords will know, the latter allows for a foundation to be made where the private sector puts in 20 per cent of the

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funding. In such cases, it would have a majority of governors on the governing body. That majority would be a small one in all cases, but it would be a majority. That is the difference.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the shortage of governors and the difficulty of recruiting them for some primary schools in London? What is being done to enable schools to support governors? It is reported that there is a clear lack of support, which is needed to make the system effective.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, there is indeed a shortage of school governors in all categories. We are concerned to ensure that the right number of governors is available. We estimate that on average each year a school gets 1,000 hours from its governing body. That means that being a governor is a huge commitment for people to make on an entirely voluntary basis. I am sure that noble Lords join me in paying tribute to governors all over the country.

We are considering several measures in this regard. One approach is to examine the ways in which we can support schools that find it particularly difficult to recruit governors in certain categories. We should establish whether local authorities would consider ensuring that governors were put into those schools that are in the greatest need, in the local authority's view, and helping parents to consider becoming governors by showing what kind of role they would play. The system might be moved away from the more traditional meeting format that has perhaps not previously inspired everyone. A raft of measures is available and I should be happy to discuss them further on another occasion.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the situation that she has just described in city academies, by which a private company could have a majority on the governing body, would discourage school governors from serving on those bodies, where they could easily be outvoted by vested interests? There is also the matter of the public accountability of such a governing body. How would that be managed?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, city academies have a strong relationship with local education authorities. We should not forget that that develops in areas in which LEAs are closely in touch and we should ensure that academies are put together appropriately. Noble Lords will be pleased to know that we have 13 partnerships currently working to establish city academies.

As for the majority of governors, it has never been my experience--the noble Baroness may have a different view--that people are discouraged from becoming a governor because they would be in a minority. Indeed, most categories are in a minority--I refer to a parent governor and an LEA governor, for example. It is important that the ethos and thrust of a school are maintained. As I said earlier, we must

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ensure that with city academies the majority that is obtained is not substantial but that it enables the running of the school to be carried out appropriately.

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