|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I broadly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that it is essential
24 Feb 2005 : Column 1356
that the Secretary of State listens to representations made by the local authority in the circumstances that she described. I sought to indicate as much in Committee and I am happy strongly to reaffirm that commitment now. It is good policy, good practice and, to buttress the point, any Secretary of State who did not behave in that way would be open to a judicial review. Secretaries of State are strongly advised by departmental lawyers not to go there for obvious and good reasons.
In deciding whether to give her consent to promoters to publish proposals, the Secretary of State would take into account a range of factors. Those would include the strength of the case made by the proposers about their capacity to establish a school which would add to the quality and diversity of provision; any representations made to her by third parties, including the local authority where it was not the body seeking consent; and the opinions of the department's own advisers. If she considered that she lacked any evidence on which to base a decision, she would seek such further information as she felt necessary to make a fair and proper decision.
I recognise the strength of feeling in the House about the importance of adequate consultation. We share that and we are bringing forward separate amendments on that subject. With regard to this particular amendment, it may be helpful if I explain again what opportunities stakeholders would have to make their views known if the Secretary of State gave her consent for the proposals to be published under Section 28A.
First, the promoters would be required to consult interested partiesincluding, of course, any local authority likely to be affected. Secondly, once the proposals were published there would be a statutory period during which interested parties could make representations about the proposals. Finally, the proposals would be decided by the local school organisation committee, not the Secretary of State, which would take into account any comments or objections made, including any from the local education authority itself. If there were concerns about the proposals, the committee could either reject them, or ensure that they were sent to the independent schools adjudicator for decision.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that clarification, especially for confirming the procedures available to local authorities and, in particular, the possibility of judicial review challenge. In that case, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"(3A) Before publishing a notice under this section, the local education authority must consult any prescribed persons, and such other persons as appear to the authority to be appropriate, about such of the relevant matters as may be prescribed or (if none are prescribed) about such of the relevant matters as appear to the authority to be appropriate.
(3B) In subsection (3A) "the relevant matters" means the matters to be specified under subsection (3)(a) and (c) in the notice.
(3C) Regulations may prescribe requirements to be met by the local education authority in relation to consultation under subsection (3A)."
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Government are tabling these amendments in the light of discussions in Committee about consultation on proposals for new schools. Both the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, sought reassurances that local people would be consulted about proposals for new schools. I undertook to consider the matter.
I refer the House to the illustrative regulations which have been made available. Schedule 1 to those regulations sets out the matters to be set out in a notice. It includes matters such as the school's size; its age range; the number of pupils to be admitted each year; whether the school will be single-sex or mixed; whether the school will make designated provision for children with special educational needs; and the estimated capital costs of providing the school. A further consideration would be whether the school should have a sixth form.
We expect local authorities to consult on any plans to set up, close or alter schools; and in many cases, a local authority will decide that a new school is required following consultation on a wider reorganisation. But we are satisfiedparticularly in the light of points made in Committeethat there should be an explicit requirement for consultation on the face of the Bill.
Amendment 75 provides for regulations to specify the persons to be consulted, the matters to be consulted on, and other requirements in relation to consultation, which might include the timing of consultation. We shall be seeking views on what provision should be made in regulations for consultation.
Turning to Amendment No. 76, we recognise the importance of raising public awareness of proposals. Amendment No. 76 is in response to points raised in Committee and provides that regulations may prescribe other steps that local authorities should take to promote public awareness of those proposals.
The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, referred in Committee to meetings which local people could attend. I agree that there is value in such meetings as part of the process and we intend to consult widely on what provision it would be appropriate to make in regulations for promoting public awareness of proposals.
With regard to Amendment No. 80, the timing of the publication of a preliminary notice will be a matter for the individual local authority. However, the illustrative regulations which we have already placed envisage that this prescribed interval should be four months, to give promoters sufficient time to develop their proposals. The regulations also envisage that the local authority should publish all proposals received within three weeks of the
24 Feb 2005 : Column 1358
expiry date in the preliminary notice, following which local people would have a period of six weeks to consider and make representations about those proposals.
I am happy to state for the record that the illustrative regulations which have been made available to the House will be amended to make clear that, where consultation is required prior to the publication by a local education authority of a notice inviting proposals, it should be timed to give interested parties a proper opportunity to respond. Similarly, regulations will make clear that any activities to promote public awareness of proposals should be undertaken at such time as to give local people a full opportunity to consider the proposals and make representations about them. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that it would nullify what we all want to happen if, for example, proposals were published close to a major series of public holidays when the public could not engage. I hope that these government amendments are helpful in responding to the important points raised in earlier parts of our proceedings and I beg to move.
Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I thank the Minister and the Government for bringing forward the amendments. It is very rewarding when the Government listen to debates in Committee. It is important that the public are consulted, are aware and have enough time to make their views known.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I also thank the Minister for his response. We put down our Amendment No. 80 as a fall-back position, because we were not clear at that point precisely what proposals were coming forward. I am grateful to the Minister for his reassurance that the guidance will make it clear that these proposals should not be published just before public consultation without making due allowance for an extension to the length of discussions. There should be a reasonable length of time for public consultation on these amendments.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|