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Baroness Ashton of Upholland: In reply to my noble friend Lord Smith of Leigh, the information he mentioned has been available to local authorities from late November. He raises his eyebrows. However, I should expect late November to be the position. For what it is worth, that is now on the record.

I shall repeat the specific statement which the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, queried in relation to removing the side effect. As I said, our amendment means that, as now, any rules on top-slicing which the Secretary of State herself wishes to make will need to be set out expressly in the regulations and laid before

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Parliament as at present. I hope that that clarifies the position. If that is not clear, I shall have to write to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Blatch: Does the measure relate only to the aspect of the Bill we are discussing or to any top-slicing which the Secretary of State may undertake?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I understand that the measure relates to this part of the Bill and not to any top-slicing. If that is incorrect, I shall, of course, clarify the position at the earliest opportunity. I hope that that answers the noble Baroness's question.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I thank the Minister for her replies. However, I am still extremely unhappy about the whole situation. As regards Amendment No. 160, schools forums powers will be extremely limited in relation to expenditure. However, regulations are to be introduced. Those powers could easily be extended. There is no particular reason why they should not be. The Minister said that the Government have no intention at the moment to introduce any significant extension in that regard. However, I cannot be confident about the situation at some later stage. We know that there is no love lost between some parts of the Government and local education authorities or local authorities generally. It is conceivable that, just as primary care trusts are seen as being, so to speak, the focus for health at the local level, so at some point will schools forums, which also have unelected members composed of professionals and governor representatives, and local education authorities will be completely bypassed. I am not happy about that. However, I shall not test the opinion of the Committee and I shall withdraw the amendment.

As regards Clauses 39 and 40 standing part of the Bill, the whole issue of passporting or ring-fencing is unsatisfactory as it detracts from what I think are the fundamental democratic powers of the elected local body. There are some responsibilities, of which education has traditionally been one, that are run at a local level. Increasingly, those powers have been taken away and there is prescription after prescription coming from central government. As I say, if we want to rejuvenate local government, it is important that it is given real powers. I note the support we have received from the Official Opposition Benches. We need to get together to talk about these matters. Undoubtedly we shall return to them on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendment No. 161:

    Page 25, line 30, leave out "the Secretary of State or"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 162 to 164 not moved.]

Clause 39, as amended, agreed to.

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Clause 40 [Power of Secretary of State to set minimum schools budget]:

Lord Roberts of Conwy moved Amendment No. 165:

    Page 27, line 3, at end insert "and in Wales unless a draft of the order has been laid and approved by a resolution of the National Assembly for Wales"

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that a similar procedure applies in Wales as applies in England. The amendment proposes an addition to subsection (5) of new Section 45C. The addition seeks to ensure that just as in England a draft order prescribing a minimal schools budget after a local authority has objected to the Secretary of State's original determination must be approved by a resolution in the other place, a similar procedure is followed in Wales. It is surely right that the National Assembly should approve executive action in such circumstances where the will of an elected local authority is overridden by the Minister.

There is, I am bound to say, a glaring contrast in the Bill as it stands between the democratic approach in England and the bludgeoning approach towards local authorities in Wales. It may be argued that this is an internal matter for the Assembly and that it should be left to it to decide whether to institute an approval procedure. But that cannot be right. If by this Bill Parliament provides for a procedure to be followed by the Secretary of State, Parliament is similarly entitled to provide a procedure for the Assembly government to follow. This is, after all, primary legislation for which this Parliament alone is responsible. I beg to move.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said, the amendment requires an order setting a minimum schools budget for a local authority in Wales to be laid before, and approved by, the National Assembly for Wales. The amendment is not necessary. The power for the National Assembly for Wales to make such an order in relation to a local education authority in Wales is already conferred on it by virtue of Clause 204 of the Bill. Any such order will be made in accordance with the procedures for making statutory instruments in the Government of Wales Act 1998 and the National Assembly's own standing orders.

Under those procedures, draft orders are normally laid before the National Assembly and may be considered by the relevant subject committee which can report on them. They will be scrutinised by the Assembly's Legislation Committee. Finally, they must be considered and approved by the Assembly itself before being made. With that explanation I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Jones: My noble friend the Minister has spoken with authority from the Dispatch Box. How frequently does she have contact with those who lead

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on education in the National Assembly for Wales? Is it from them that she gains the confidence with which she has spoken from the Dispatch Box?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I spoke with confidence when I replied to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, as I referred to what is in the Bill which will, therefore, be enacted.

The department is in regular contact with our friends in Wales. That is relevant and appropriate. However, of course we recognise that there is a devolved process. Therefore, we ensured that in working together on the Bill we drew it up as the National Assembly would wish.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her lucid explanation. However, I make no apology for my amendment. I tabled it in order to draw attention not only in this Chamber and in this Parliament but also in the National Assembly itself to the need to scrutinise any orders that may be made in the context we are discussing. It is surely right that if Parliament has to approve such an order, so should the National Assembly for Wales.

There is a further point. Although, as the noble Baroness said, the National Assembly has the power to scrutinise all orders made by it, nevertheless I am told that it is not in fact its practice to do so and that there is a tendency not to consider the multiplicity of orders that emanate from the Assembly. However, having drawn its attention to this particular order-making power, I am sure that no order will be made under this new section that is not scrutinised by the Assembly. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 40 agreed to.

Clause 41 [Schools forums]:

6 p.m.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 166:

    Page 27, line 17, after "shall" insert "if requested by a majority of governing bodies of maintained schools in their area"

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to the Question whether Clause 41 shall stand part of the Bill. I am not absolutely certain about which other amendments may or may not be discussed in relation to the amendment.

My understanding is that the Government's thinking on Clause 41 is that establishing schools forums will be in the interests of schools and ensure that they receive as fair a share of—and as much—LEA funding as possible. One can only sympathise with the aims that lie behind the setting up of schools forums: we all want as much money as possible to go to where it belongs; that is, to schools, which can use it to benefit the education of children in their care.

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Proposed new Section 47A in Clause 41 states:

    "Every local education authority shall in accordance with regulations"—

there is no flexibility in that regard—

    "establish for their area before such date as may be prescribed a body, to be known as a schools forum, representing the governing bodies and head teachers of schools maintained by the authority and, if the authority so determine, also representing such bodies as the authority may from time to time in accordance with regulations determine".

I believe that the Government wish to do well by schools. I therefore think that it should be for schools to determine whether they want to establish such a body.

The amendment would add to that subsection the phrase,

    "if requested by a majority of governing bodies of maintained schools in their area".

If that is requested, a schools forum should be set up. A number of local authorities—I hazard a guess that quite a large number are involved—already have in operation a system that allows for consultation, for parents to play a part, and for the wider community to be involved. In particular, schools, governing bodies and teachers are involved in pre-budget-making discussions with the local authority. To add flexibility, it must be for schools to determine whether they want a forum.

I oppose the Question whether Clause 41 shall stand part of the Bill as a result of a personal view. I do not believe that the clause belongs in the Bill. My view is that the perfectly satisfactory arrangements that LEAs already have in their areas with regard to pre-budget consultative arrangements should be allowed to continue. The proposal would cause duplication unless the Government's intention is that setting up schools forums would be a substitute for what is going on; in other words, the other arrangements would be dropped. It also allows schools much more autonomy in their area. If the Government believe that arrangements should be made in each local authority area for consultative arrangements, leaving schools to do that in their own way is the way to go.

In relation to earlier amendments, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and I argued strongly that schools forums should not be given the power to determine any aspect of budgeting. We shall return to that. They are unaccountable and are not elected in any way; they will be appointed. It would be wrong to give them the power to second-guess local authorities and budgeting arrangements. I do not believe that that is necessary on the grounds that I have described or in view of the consultative arrangements.

If the Minister's only objection is that there has to be some form of pre-budget consultation in every LEA area, I shall bring forward an amendment at the next stage of the Bill that will achieve that, if I am successful in removing Clause 41 from the Bill. If I am not

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successful in removing Clause 41 from the Bill, I hope that the Minister will at least show some flexibility and agree to Amendment No. 166. I beg to move.

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