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I shall attempt to respond to some of the broad points that have been made and the specific concerns that have been raised. I am conscious of the expertise that resides with both my noble friends, so I think that the sensible way forward, if they are prepared to spend the time, is for me and officials to sit down with them and go through these points in more detail, taking advantage of their knowledge and trying to address some of the points that have been raised.
Perhaps I may respond in general terms to the main thrust of the points made around Amendment 167, which would remove the provision for academy trusts to be exempt charities. The effect of that, as my noble friend made clear, would be that they would have to continue, as now, to register individually with, and be regulated by, the Charity Commission. As we discussed earlier, hundreds of maintained schools may apply to become academies during the next few years and, as charities, they would, if not exempted under subsection (4), all have to be regulated by the Charity Commission. That would clearly be a huge additional burden. I
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A range of educational bodies are exempt charities. Further education colleges and higher education colleges are exempt charities and not regulated by the Charity Commission. The governing bodies of foundation and voluntary schools are shortly, following discussion and agreement between the Charity Commission and the department, to become exempt charities as well. They will cease to be regulated by the Charity Commission and will be regulated by the department instead. We therefore thought that academies could be treated consistently with these other schools and educational bodies and be made exempt in the same way.
I know well that the Charity Commission is committed to ensuring that proper public accountability for academies is maintained. It is our intention that funding agreements or grant arrangements should place an obligation on academy trusts to publish their governing documents, reports, accounts and the names of trustees. I hope that that offers the noble Lord at least some reassurance that there would not be an unacceptable reduction in accountability and transparency.
The Minister for the Cabinet Office has agreed in principle that the YPLA should be appointed as the principal regulator for academies. That is the government body with day-to-day responsibility for academies. Once opened, it could be the appropriate body to carry out that role. I am told in response to a point raised in the debate that all principal regulators appointed under the 2006 Act have been appointed under secondary legislation.
I hope that my answers have provided at least some factual information. However, having listened to the debate, I repeat my invitation to my noble friends Lord Phillips and Lord Hodgson to spare the time to sit down with me and discuss these matters at greater length. I ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, my noble friend the Minister cannot be fairer than that. I am tempted to make some comments of my own on some of his, but that would be wicked, cruel and unnecessary. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"(b) may apply to be a community interest company (CIC)"
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, I shall be very brief on Amendment 165, because it is an alternative route to heaven for academies. It would permit them, instead of becoming charities, to become
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The Companies (Audit, Investigations and Community Enterprise) Act 2004-inelegantly entitled, I agree-has in it a bit on community enterprise. Part 2 of the Act, which comprises Sections 26 to 63, establishes the concept of community interest companies. If the Minister's officials care to look through those clauses, they may be able to or wish to advise him that it could be a useful structure for the new academies to adopt. I shall not weary the Committee tonight with a recitation of how they would all fit together, except to say that Section 35 sets up a community interest test, rather like the public benefit test, while Section 27 establishes a regulator of CICs, as they are known, with extensive powers, and Section 30 caps dividends and distributions, so they are not profit-making in the normal sense of the word. There are a number of less important aspects, which might have value in this approach.
CICs cannot be charities, so they would be travelling a totally separate road. They come under Companies Act regulations. However, this could be a useful alternative-not compulsory, but a possible alternative-to becoming an exempt charity with some of the issues that we have just been debating in the previous group of amendments. This amendment seeks to explore the possibility. I beg to move.
Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, will probably have something to say on this. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts and I had several happy hours in the Chamber discussing community interest companies and how they should be formed. The noble Lord is correct-it was a matter of some significant discussion at the time that a community interest company could not be a charity. However, a main feature of a community interest company is the asset lock. That is why it is such a valuable company form for social enterprises. I am not sure how that could be applied as an alternative form to a charity. This is a complex issue, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, is about to make it even more complicated, because I know that he has very firm views on this, but I cannot see how the asset lock would work here.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I do not like being known as a man who complicates things, but I shall just say that I, unusually, do not support the noble Lord in his amendment. The fact that a CIC cannot be a charity is a fundamental impediment. It would also mean that it could not have a principal regulator under the Charities Acts 1993 and 2006, which would be a really major drawback. However, the noble Lord has at least drawn the attention of the House, inadvertently perhaps, to the charitable incorporated organisation, which is a new corporate animal created under the Charities Act 2006. The Charity Commission is still struggling to find the regulations appropriate to the birth of this new beast but, by jingo, when it is born, it will be a perfect vehicle for these new academies. As Clause 8 has been drafted by Monty Python, it will not be a permitted corporate carrier of a school, although plainly it should be. So I am grateful to the noble Lord for his amendment, even if I disagree with it.
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, I am glad to have the opportunity to agree with my noble friend Lord Phillips but, as has already been pointed out by my noble friend Lord Hodgson, the CICs-a word I have learnt tonight-are not charities so, from a practical point of view, I am advised that any academy which became a community interest company would have to pay corporation tax, rates tax and small amounts of additional VAT. It would also lose Gift Aid on direct donations. Therefore, there may be practical reasons why it is a less attractive option apart from any point about the asset lock, which I am sure I will also learn about rapidly. Given that my noble friend Lord Hodgson will, I hope, be able to discuss these issues more generally with me, perhaps we can touch on this as well as part of those broader discussions.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, may I make a point to the Minister? I am concerned about the timing of this Bill because the issues raised tonight are extremely complex. We are due to have Report stage within a week and, knowing that the machinery for getting approval for amendments in government does not move as speedily as one would wish, I am concerned that there will not be enough time to give full consideration to these matters. I hope that he will give some consideration to ways in which this House can really have enough time to deal with these matters appropriately.
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, I have been invited to withdraw my amendment, which I am happy to do. I think that there are ways around the asset lock, which I will not bore the House with at 11.40 pm. To my noble friend Lord Phillips, I had thought about putting down an amendment about a CIO-a charitable incorporated organisation-but since the regulations were not yet drafted, that would be otiose to our discussions on this point. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, the coalition agreement pledges to review the Freedom of Information Act with a view to increasing its scope. This, the first legislative act of the coalition, seeks to reduce its scope. It should not.
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, in Amendment 168 my noble friend proposes inserting a new clause that would amend the Freedom of Information Act 2000
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I am also happy to confirm that this Government, like the last one, accept that academies are public authorities for the purposes of the Act. In principle, then, I am completely with my noble friend on the merits of his amendment. It also helps us to address some of the broader debate that we have had about consultation, where I accept the points that have been made from around the Committee. Making sure that information is available and that there is as much transparency as possible is part of the process of helping to overcome suspicion, so it will help in that respect as well. I undertake to consider the issue further. If my noble friend would be happy enough to withdraw his amendment, I will come back to the issue on Report.
"( ) requiring the appointed person to ensure provision of premises which meet designated minimum design standards, including standards which meet the needs of students with disabilities"
Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, I will try to race through this. I apologise for not signalling the subject at Second Reading, which I could not come to. It was, however, trailed in the Statement on free schools. I was grateful for the insight into government thinking which the Minister provided then.
Amendment 175, in my name, is predicated on one overarching fact-that the design of school buildings is fundamental to their purpose; and that a well designed school building, as well as keeping initial and recurring costs down and being environmentally sustainable, contributes materially and significantly to the educational success of the school. In the new Westminster Academy we can see even wider social achievements, including not only the educational results of a drop in truancy and a big rise in attainment, but also a drop in crime
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Design is not an amateur matter. We may all think we know a good design when we see one, but it is not just a matter of good taste. It is a matter of functionality, and of buildings or other objects which achieve a purpose. As regards school buildings, the standards-the modern ones in the Building Schools for the Future programme of the last Government-are well accepted. I entirely agreed with the Minister when he said in the Statement on free schools, in answer to my question, that the building regulations need a fresh look. I am referring not to this ancient corpus of law but to the up-to-date and innovative standards of our excellent new schools. If academies are to be built or put in refurbished buildings outside this framework, unless the sponsors have access to or understanding of school design skills, the children who study there will be deprived. Money will be wasted. I am sure that the noble Lord opposite does not want academy students to be let down in this way.
Listeners to the "Today" programme on 18 June will have heard new sponsors of academies being grilled about how even to get their building up in the first place. Procurement and construction are complex processes, requiring expertise and negotiation. If good design is not part of the process from the beginning, it invariably loses out and so then do the students, not least those with disabilities. My amendment would ensure that the appointed person in the regulations in Schedule 1-usually, no doubt, the sponsor-has a duty to find out what the appropriate design standards are and apply them. As I said, the standards exist. They could of course be adapted to allow for a range of educational models and school ethoi. This would work very well if the Government continued with the client design adviser system, another successful innovation.
I do not think that we should allow our children's education to be vulnerable to the vagaries and variations in expertise of groups of people who may have clear ideas about the teaching culture they want to set up but no acquaintance with design. I beg to move.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, about the importance of design. There is such a thing as a dysfunctional building. Schools are buildings around which large numbers of children have to be moved every day. It is very important that they are well designed for that purpose, as well as for concentration and calm contemplation of the lessons. If the buildings magnify sound, they will not be very good for that purpose.
I am also concerned about the green credentials of schools. Will the Minister say something about the design standards in relation to the use of energy and water, and the disposal of waste and all those issues? I have often suggested that schools are ideal places for ground-source heating. They have large tarmac playgrounds under which you can put the pipes. It
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I recently went to an academy school where in order to switch the lights off at night the caretaker had to go to the top of the building. However, he was forced to leave the lights on all night because health and safety would not allow him to come down the stairs in the dark. That new, purpose-built academy building was ablaze all night. It was a disgrace and I hope that we will avoid that sort of thing.
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Whitaker and I have stood shoulder to shoulder in campaigns for good design in recent years and I am happy to join her in the field tonight. It is too much, no doubt, to ask that the magnificent £50 billion Building Schools for the Future programme should be continued, but it is essential that design standards should not be dropped in the school building that does continue. Presumably that will mainly be the construction of academies. Do the Government intend still to provide some funding to support the creation of fine new academy buildings, as their predecessor did? Will the Government at least maintain minimum design standards?
This matters very much. Children and staff in schools, like everyone else, should work in a good built environment. The benefits of that for their morale, spirit and performance are marked. Good design is practical and works better. Well designed schools, like well designed hospitals, hospices, railway stations and magistrates' courts, are statements about the values we hold as a society, our attachment to civic values and the public realm and our commitment to sustainability, an important point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. There are important symbolisms in good design.
Good design is an expression of national self respect. It is a manifestation of the respect we have for our community. There is a noble tradition of design of school buildings and it is one which we must not lose. Our Victorian and Edwardian forebears took it as axiomatic that a school should be a proud statement on behalf of the community in its design. The school building programme launched after the Second World War by Ellen Wilkinson, as Secretary of State, led to a commitment in a number of local education authorities to good design in a modern idiom. The schools designed in Hertfordshire for the local education authority by Stirrat Johnson-Marshall were celebrated. He was an architect who was described as,
which, I think, means that he sought to find out what people thought, to elicit their best ideas and to develop his designs accordingly, as good architects do. Equally, later in Hampshire, the schools designed by Colin Stansfield Smith were celebrated, and the local education authorities which committed themselves to a programme of high-quality design in school building were strongly and admirably supported by the ministry's architecture and buildings department.
More recently, under the previous Government, we had the Building Schools for the Future programme. I shall mention two schools that were jewels in that
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The Government want to impose the minimum bureaucratic burden on academies, and that is right. Good design cannot be promoted by regulation, but bad design can be averted. I hope that the Government will keep the minimum design standards that the DCSF pioneered in the public sector. I hope also that the Government will keep the engagement of CABE, which is not a quango to cull. It mobilises at negligible cost talented and expert people to illuminate and promote good practice in design. Here the leadership of Ministers is needed and, as elsewhere in education, leadership, aspiration and ambition are the magical ingredients. Only the best should be good enough for our schoolchildren, their teachers and the staff in our schools. We can afford the best. Good design costs no more than bad design. It is simply a matter of doing the job well. Indeed, good design costs less over the lifetime of the building.
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