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Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, it is refreshing to see a Minister develop a head of steam on an issue such as this. I appreciate the trouble that he has taken to respond passionately to the points that I made in the debate. My conscience is entirely clear, because I genuinely feel
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I apologise.
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, the Minister does not need to apologise. It would have been immensely helpful to have seen the Daily Express this morning, so that I could have developed my own even greater head of steam.
The Minister is quite right: the system is in place and I do not intend to press my prayer to a vote. I was encouraged by many things that the Minister said precisely because he bothered to respond to my points. The whole issue is about whether there has been careful examination of the costs of local authorities, whether the transitional costs and the year one costs
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will go to the independent review, and whether Ministers have really taken the trouble to do their homework on some local clubs. I appreciate the homework that has been done. The Minister and I could trade sports and social club examples all afternoon, but it is extremely helpful that that trouble has been taken.
The consultation outcome came as a considerable shock to many people. The Minister says, "Well, we had indicative figures early on and the process was very stately", but the 50 per cent hike for those sports and social clubs, in particular, came as something of a shock. The Minister asked whether I wanted nightclubs to be treated the same as high-volume vertical drinking establishmentsI love that phrase, it conjures up all sorts of night-long activity, as one who has been round some of the Dublin establishments to look at their smoking bans. I was certainly not engaging in such a comparison. There may well need to be a differential, but I know that amendments were moved to the Licensing Act that would have enabled licensing fees to take that into account. I understand that this is not a tax, this is a fee and should represent the actual costs of licensing, but the Minister has really made a virtue out of necessity. Because of their social impact, nightclubs should pay higher licensing fees.
The Minister then said that nothing was perfect. Of course the estimates of costs are not necessarily perfect. Indeed, it seems that they may be £20 million or £30 million off. I very much look forward to the result of the independent review. The Minister said that 79 per cent of sports and social clubs, to which I referred, would be in bands A and B. That means that 20 per cent will not be. It will be important that, at the same time as the independent review of those transitional costs and year one costs, we specifically consider sports and social clubs.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, of course we will; that is why it will be an independent review. The examples that the noble Lord gave to which I referred are exactly those that will not be in bands A or B. My argument is that those cannot conceivably be described as struggling sports clubs.
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, as I said, I could trade all afternoon with the Minister the number of sports clubs that have high rateable values because of their grants but yet do not fall into bands A or B. However, I am content to see what the review comes up with. Suffice it to say that a great many of those clubs that will be paying much higher feesboth initial and ongoingare clubs that put their money back into sport in the local community. The Minister and I are lucky enough not to have to put ourselves up for election in a few months' time, but I anticipate that that will be an issue on the doorstep, whether or not he can tell me that Heaton squash club falls within the category that I claim.
The key issue for sports and social clubs is that the fees are completely disproportionate to the risk and the cost of licensing. If there was rowdy behaviour in those clubs, of course I could understand that, but to hike up the fees
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in this way is completely disproportionate. That has created the sense of injustice among those clubs. I am sure that discussion between the Government, sporting bodies, the CCPR and the Minister will continue, but that sense continues and there is a head of steam not just here but in local communities about the issue.
However, I am reassured in many ways by the care which the Minister has taken in replying, which was one purpose of the exercise. I very much look forward to the independent review, and in the mean time I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I beg to move that that House do now adjourn during pleasure until 2.45 p.m.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
[The Sitting was suspended from 2.25 to 2.45 p.m.]
Further consideration of amendments on Report resumed.
Schedule 12 [School organisation: further amendments]:
Baroness Walmsley moved Amendment No. 86:
"( ) In Schedule 8 to the Schools Standard and Framework Act 1998 (c. 31) (changes of category of school), in paragraph 2(2) after "modifications" insert "except that in all cases the School Organisation committee must approve the change of category"."
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment was discussed in Committee and we have tabled it again because of the profoundly unsatisfactory response given by the Minister to my noble friend Lady Sharp. Schedule 12 contains a whole series of modifications to three Education Acts: the Education Act 1996, the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 and the Education Act 2002.
The amendment proposes a further modification to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. It deals with a school switching from being a community school to a foundation school. The amendment would require that any such decision by a governing body of a community school has to be endorsed by the local school organisation committee. SOCs were set up by, I believe, the 1996 Act as sub-committees of LEAs, expressly to look at school reorganisation and rationalisation proposals to ensure that such decisions took into account not only local community views, but also broader LEA-wide considerations.
In his response, the Minister rightly said that the amendment was designed to frustrate the intention set out in the Government's five-year strategy to allow schools to change category and become foundation schools by a simple vote of their governing body, followed by a short consultationguilty as charged. We are seeking to frustrate those moves because we do not believe that the Government have a popular
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mandate for making them. We regard what they are proposing as profoundly undemocratic and we wish to inject into the process a little more democratic accountability.
Perhaps we should consider what difference it makes whether a school is a foundation school and not a community school. As with former grant-maintained schools, the school is removed from LEA control which gives it a degree of independence in running its own affairs. The school owns its own land and buildings, employs its own staff and most importantly appoints its own governors. No longer does it need to have governors nominated by the elected LEA. Indeed, elected LEA councillors are expressly forbidden from sitting on boards of governors. The foundation may also appoint, rather than elect, the parent governors.
In Committee my noble friend Lady Sharp arguedwe both remain of the same viewthat this shift away from community school status towards foundation school status was a shift away from democratic control towards what might be described as appointee control. The foundation ensures that its friends sit on the board of governors. The word "cronyism" springs to mind.
The noble Baroness also argued that from a community point of view the loss of involvement of the LEA was detrimental to community interests because, as we heard earlier, schools are essentially community institutions. Rather than being encouraged to work individually and to compete with each other, we want schools to work together, to collaborate and to co-operate for the greater good of the whole community. Indeed, so states the Government's five-year strategy for schools, and yet as the Education and Skills Select Committee in another place has pointed out, the policy that they are advocating of encouraging schools to take up foundation status is wholly contradictory to that objective.
In Committee, the Minister made several statements with which I cannot agree. He said that the amendment had nothing to do with the subject of the Bill, although in the Long Title of the Bill it clearly states:
The Minister stated that the change of category regulations had already been made, but they had not been published on the statutory instrument website by 12.30 a.m. on 24 February, a month after he made that statement. The Minister said that our amendment was,
"designed effectively to frustrate the intention set out in the Government's five-year strategy".[Official Report, 18/1/05; col. 715.]
That does not mean that it is incapable of being challenged and debated in Parliament.
The Minister mentioned consultation, but the Government have not published an analysis of responses to the consultation, as is normal practice. The fact that the Minister claims wide consultation does not mean that the consultation supported the Government's proposals, for we have yet to see. I remind the Minister that, of the 21,000 primary and secondary schools in England, nearly 900 are already foundation schools. Another
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4,200 cannot easily become foundation schools because they are voluntary-aided. That means that approximately 16,000 schools can become foundation and are required to make an application to the school organisation committee.
The Government propose that 2,400 of those schools should have a streamlined mechanism for achieving foundation status. That means that 13,500 primary schools will still have to apply to the school organisation committee. It is therefore difficult to understand why, to quote the Minister,
assisting approximately 13,500 primary schools to become foundation schools,
"when it has plenty of other extremely important and challenging business to do, without undertaking that bureaucratic process"".[Official Report, 18/1/05; col. 716.]
I believe that that is its job. Do we take it that the Government will now oppose the 13,500 schools wanting to achieve foundation status, so that the school organisation committee does not have to undertake this bureaucratic process?
I sincerely believe that the Minister went on to offend many excellent community and voluntary controlled schools by claiming that it was easier,
"to develop a distinctive ethos and make them more responsive to changing demands".[Official Report, 18/1/05; col. 716.]
The Government have not substantiated that assertion, and the likelihood is that there are just as many excellent community schools as foundation schools, as shown by HM Chief Inspector's list of outstanding schools over the past decade, published in early January. It is interesting that the proportion of foundation schools in that list is approximately the same as that found in the wider school population.
The trouble is that the proposal has nothing to do with improving education in schools; it is just to satisfy the instincts of specialist advisers who surround the Prime Minister. What makes a good school is the quality of leadership and management and not the legal status of the body managing it. England has been bedevilled for 500 years by the hierarchy of schools arising out of their different legal status, and it is about time that Ministers understood that getting schools to play musical chairs does nothing to improve the learning experiences of youngsters. If anything, it takes away the focus on learning for a couple of years while the school readjusts to its new statutory status.
What is so objectionable about the provision? First, a major change in policythe switch from LEA-controlled community schools to individually controlled foundation schoolshas been introduced by regulation. Secondly, the regulations have been changed before, not after, the results of the consultation exercise. What use then is consultation? The Minister is effectively saying, "We've done it anyway". Finally, Parliament, which
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supposedly in a democratic country like ours is the final arbiter of the public interest, has not played any part in the decisions. The regulations were changed without consultation or debate in either House of Parliament. We regard that as a profoundly unsatisfactory state of affairs. The amendment does no more than make a small attempt to hold back a minor part of the process. I beg to move.
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