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Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My intervention is in the nature of a question regarding article 22. In the absence of an Explanatory Memorandum, it was not clear what constituted "special schools". Subsequently,

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an Explanatory Memorandum has mysteriously arrived, and I have studied it in the short time available. However, I am still not entirely clear on precisely what constitutes a special school.

Until the mid-1980s, there was a comprehensive structure known as the special care boards, of which there were three in Northern Ireland. The Muckamore Abbey board was responsible for special schools and for teacher training for those schools. It was responsible also for very sophisticated training in skills such as carpentry and in many other aspects of building. I had the privilege of being vice-chairman of that board, which covered County Antrim, County Down and all of Belfast. We had somewhere in the region of 9,000 patients/pupils under our care.

My only point is this. As vice-chairman of the board, I was personally responsible for linkage with our counterparts in Dublin. Occasionally they had spare capacity in terms of accommodation; occasionally we had something to spare. There was an informal exchange of pupils and even of teachers. The only friction between us was the hard bargaining over costs and general finance. It could be considered a worthy example of what is possible when party politics, north and south, are excluded. I should like to think that that has not been obliterated entirely by the present order.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I shall be very brief. I am following substantially in the footsteps of my noble friend Lord Glentoran and the two Members of the Committee who spoke on behalf of the Ulster Unionists.

I refer briefly to Article 22. The Select Committee in another place did a report on children with special educational needs and the development of policy in that sphere. I do not recall the particular issue covered in Article 22 as being part of our report or an issue that we considered, but I am delighted to see movement on that front. I do not need any comment on that observation.

On the larger issue, which constitutes the main thrust of the order, I should like to have a brief word about paragraph 6 in the Explanatory Memorandum, which describes the views of the Northern Ireland Assembly Education Committee during the unfinished Committee stage, and the reaction to those views as expressed in the order. This observation is partly borne of personal experience in another and, I freely admit, unrelated condition.

The department argues that it would be impracticable to give a formal approval role to the Assembly in approving whatever arrangements are finally reached. I served for four years on the Budget Committee of the European Union—as it then was not—and on two occasions had to negotiate on behalf of the presidency with the European Parliament in terms of its work on the budget. What the European Parliament did was to take matters absolutely up to the last ecu, so that it had totally filled the amount that could be put in the budget under the rules. There were occasions when the Council of Ministers disagreed with the Parliament, for whatever reason.

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The manner in which those negotiations were conducted was such that there really was no way in which the Parliament could unscramble the arrangements. It had used up every single ecu, and for understandable political reasons it had no organised priorities in terms of the items that it would have to take out if that were required. We therefore found ourselves permanently in a stalemate in the closing stages of the budget negotiations.

That case is not dissimilar to this one. The formula in this case is so complicated that, changing whatever the Northern Ireland equivalent of an ecu is, one basically has to revise the whole system. However, as that cannot be done, it is not right to give the Assembly the final say. I understand that, just as I understood the stalemate which we had with the European Parliament.

This is my question. The last few sentences of paragraph 6 state:

    "The formula will be subject to detailed consultation and will be fully discussed with education partner bodies before implementation as will any proposed changes post operation. It is anticipated that if the Assembly returns, the Department will seek to ensure that the Assembly's views will be considered in the calculation of the Common Formula Funding Scheme".

In so far as we are a pale simulacrum of the Assembly in scrutinising these orders, I should like a slightly clearer idea of how that would actually be done in terms of the Assembly being able not only to give its views, but perhaps also—although it does not have the final say—to give a verdict on the solution that the department has reached.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am grateful for those contributions. Perhaps I may deal with the questions separately. The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, asked for the definition of "special schools". I am happy to give it. They are schools which cater solely for children with special educational needs. They are defined in legislation and are designated by the Education and Library Boards.

The noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Maginnis, both asked pointed questions about the removal of governors. I am able, and happy, to confirm that we expect the power to be used only in exceptional circumstances. If, for example, a school fails to provide an adequate education for the children and the department is of the view that the whole board of governors—either because it has done things or, more often, has failed to do things—is contributing to that failure in whole or in part, it would have to consider the matter very carefully.

To reassure both noble Lords, I believe it is helpful if I say that the order provides for regulations to prescribe the general and foreseeable circumstances in which the power may be used. Consultation on the regulations will take place with schools and school authorities. I believe that that should meet the concerns expressed by both noble Lords. It is intended that the provision will be used only in limited and extreme circumstances.

I am grateful for the courtesy shown by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, in giving me notice of certain matters so that I can serve the Committee more

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usefully. Over the next few months, officials will hold meetings with Education and Library Boards and other representative bodies to finalise the common funding scheme. There will then be a round of consultation with schools, as required under the present legislation—the Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989—and this proposed legislation. We hope to complete that as soon as practicable. Officials have taken on board that May, June and July need to be either avoided or approached with discretion.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, also made the valid point that one needs to keep these schemes under continuing review. Continuing review will take place. We would expect the schemes to be refined over the next few years in the light of practical experience. I can assure your Lordships that each year any changes will be discussed fully with the representative bodies. Irish-medium schools require a different approach because significant additional costs are attached to their running.

The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, raised the subject, which certainly chimed with me, of why some children under-achieve. Oddly, that was a curious feature of a discussion that I had yesterday in the context of large cities in England. For example, children from different parts of the sub-continent of India can have completely different achievement patterns. Therefore, it is a difficult subject. When considering the matter of free school meals, one of the key indicators is that those from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to under-achieve. They often lack the motivation to learn and have attendance and behavioural problems. Therefore, that is an indicator, although it should not be the only determinative one. These are subtle and difficult areas of research. I agree with the noble Lord that the more research carried out on the matter, the better.

I was very pleased to hear the robust views of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, on corporal punishment. I was caned only once and it annoyed me even more because the caner was my father, who was the head teacher. I still believe that he was wrong.

The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, also made the point, which certainly chimes with my experience, that one needs to consider the age and type of the school building. We shall develop a database relating to the school's estate. When that has been developed, we shall have further consultation on the lines that he indicated. I am grateful for the very helpful observations that have been made.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Planning (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 2003

12.4 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I beg to move that the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the draft Planning (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 2003.

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This order will introduce provisions broadly in line with those already in force in Great Britain by virtue of the Planning and Compensation Act 1991. The draft order combines proposals previously before the Assembly in the Planning (Amendment) Bill and the Strategic Planning Bill. It includes an amendment to the Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1991, which the Department for Social Development requested following the suspension of the Assembly. The Planning (Amendment) Bill and the Strategic Planning Bill were both at Committee stage when the Assembly was suspended.

In respect of the Planning (Amendment) Bill, the Assembly Committee had published an interim report and had recommended some changes. Those were accepted in principle by the former administration. The Government have decided to include three of the six recommendations: first, provision for a stop notice to come into effect immediately unless the Department of the Environment specifies a later date; secondly, provision for district councils to have a statutory consultative role when the Department of the Environment is drawing up, modifying, varying or discharging a planning agreement; and, thirdly, a further increase in the maximum level of fine from the 20,000 proposed to 30,000. There were other recommendations of which the Government were not convinced.

Articles 3 to 17 introduce new enforcement powers and make other changes relating to the existing enforcement powers. Article 18 is an amendment to make clear that all demolition should come within the meaning of "development" in the planning context. Articles 19 to 23 make some minor changes to controls over development. Article 24 introduces building preservation notices for the temporary listing of buildings, commonly referred to as "spot-listing". From my reading of newspapers in Northern Ireland, I know that that is particularly controversial at present.

Articles 26 and 16 provide a major overhaul of the Department of the Environment's powers in respect of the protection of trees and tree preservation orders (TP0s). Articles 27 to 29 amend the Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1991 and assist the Department of the Environment and the Department for Social Development in carrying out their statutory functions in the context of regional development strategy. Articles 30 to 37 make some miscellaneous amendments to the Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1991. They also amend the Home Loss Payments (Northern Ireland) Order 1992. They enable the Department for Social Development to enter into development agreements where it intends to acquire land and has initiated the requisite statutory process.

Finally, I did not reply to a question put by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. The quality of my handwriting is so poor that I did him an inadvertent discourtesy. If I may, I shall write to him. I did not want to let that pass. I apologise to the noble Lord. I commend the order to the Committee.

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Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the draft Planning (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 2003.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

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