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Mr. David Cameron (Witney): I still do not follow the hon. Gentleman's point about subsection (4) of new clause 6. Presumably, it would allow the Secretary of State to designate areas in which innovation is not possible. New clause 6 therefore has a push-me-pull-you element, as subsection (3) says that all schools can innovate, while subsection (4) says that the Secretary of State can decide where that is not possible. If he wants free schools, why is he prepared to give so much power to the Secretary of State?

Mr. Willis: The hon. Gentleman has hit the nail on the head. I do not want free schools. Indeed, I do not want what the Conservative party proposed at the last election, which was simply a free-for-all. He knows what we said about admissions, which were one of the central planks of the Conservative proposals on free schools. I am not proposing free schools, as I accept that there should be parameters in which schools should work. My argument is simple; indeed, it is so reasonable that I cannot understand why the Government would not accept it. After the parameters have been drawn—it is up to the Government to decide them—all schools should be given the same powers, provided that they are not in special measures. Surely, that is an easy concept for the Government to understand.

I have tabled a number of minor amendments that feature in this group. Amendments Nos. 64 and 65 would protect schools so that the guidance from the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales has to be taken into consideration. I think that that is eminently reasonable. Amendment No. 66 takes into consideration special education needs. Again, I do not believe that the Secretary of State should have any problem with that. It is important that, whenever a school is innovating, it thinks very carefully about the effect on children with special education needs. There is a great fear that, in terms of innovation, we will drive out of our schools some of the youngsters who need their school most, so the amendment seeks to ensure some protection.

Amendment No. 68 seeks in respect of the powers to innovate to ensure that schools have a duty to offer a broad and balanced curriculum. It would not be a prescribed curriculum of the sort that we have now, but it would have to be broad and balanced. Amendment No. 67 would establish negotiating structures for schools exempted from the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act 1991. One of the features of the Government's plans in the Bill is a disapplication in respect of teachers' pay and conditions. Although that may be desirable in some cases, it is crucial that teachers have the power to negotiate, and that is what amendment No. 67 seeks to ensure.

This has, I hope, been an interesting presentation. I appreciate the way in which hon. Members have engaged on the new clause and I commend it to the House.

Mr. Brady: I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), especially after enjoying so many interesting exchanges with him in Committee in the past few weeks. His exposition was very much in keeping with what we heard in Committee, where

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we had useful discussions and found an enormous amount of common ground, sometimes in surprising quarters. The hon. Gentleman and I have not always found ourselves in agreement in the past few years, so such common ground is a measure of the depth of some of our concerns. We are anxious not about the Government's objectives in dealing with innovation and autonomy—we all agree that they are laudable—but about their whole approach, and that anxiety is reflected in the extent to which not only Liberal Democrat and Opposition Members, but sometimes Labour Members who are aware of the potential effects of the Bill, have found common cause.

7.45 pm

It is important to consider the provisions in the context of what happened in Committee. It is also important, not least in terms of our exchanges about the change to the order of consideration, that we consider the Minister's own words about the way in which he believes that education legislation should be developed. First, I cite the remarks that he made in the very first sitting of Standing Committee G on the morning of Tuesday 11 December last year:

Thus, the Minister stated in very bald terms the preference of Ministers as to how the legislation should be taken forward, which is that as little detail as possible should be included in the Bill and that as much as possible should be left to ministerial discretion and dealt with through secondary legislation with a lower standard of scrutiny.

Mr. Cameron: My hon. Friend talks about a lack of detail in the Bill. Will he try to tell us where in the Bill the concept of innovation is explained? It appears in the new clauses tabled both by Opposition Members and by the Liberal Democrats, but it does not seem to be defined properly in the Bill.

Mr. Brady: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Even if I cannot refer him to a definition of innovation, I can at least cite a definition of what the Minister believes it to imply, because he gave a most helpful and instructive explanation in the Committee's second sitting on the afternoon of 11 December. When I pressed him on what innovation should be, he replied:

Thus far, all hon. Members would be with him, but many of us would believe that innovation is a continuing concept in which any entity, whether it is a corporate body, school or public body, would want to engage

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continually in order constantly to improve its performance. That is the nub of what Opposition Members would like the term "innovation" to embody.

Chris Grayling rose

Mr. Hoban rose

Mr. Brady: My hon. Friends will have to wait a little longer to hear the rest of the Minister's definition. I shall give way first to my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Grayling), who was on the Committee.

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Does he recognise how disappointing it was in Committee to encounter so many different situations—they are epitomised in the issue of innovation and autonomy—in which Ministers said, "This is what we want to do, but you'll have to take our word for it." We were effectively told that the Secretary of State would provide a definition of innovation through regulations. That does not sound very innovative to me.

Mr. Brady: My hon. Friend is right. It was a cause of anxiety throughout our proceedings in Committee that insufficient flesh was put on the Bill's bones.

Mr. Hoban: Clause 6 is entitled "Exemptions available to qualifying schools". I took it refer to subjects such as the curriculum and pay and conditions, in relation to which innovations could be made. For the benefit of those of us who did not serve on the Committee, may I ask whether the Minister explained any of the draft regulations that the clause covers and suggested the parameters of the scope for innovation that schools could enjoy?

Mr. Brady: The Minister gave a broad idea of the Government's thinking. However, I shall deal with that later, when we consider new clause 10. The Minister's words did not allay our reasonable fears about the use of the provisions. There are two intertwined concepts: innovation and earned autonomy. If my hon. Friend will be a little patient, I am currently trying to deal with the new clauses that the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough tabled on exemptions from education legislation that are relevant to innovation.

I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), who made a point about the definition of innovation, for my delay in reverting to it. Rather than defining innovation, the Minister defined what was not meant by it. Conservative Members would like innovation to be part of schools' culture and thus improve standards and quality in a key public service. However, the Minister said:

What a bizarre approach to education policy! The Minister suggests that the only new ideas are those that are knocking about in Ministers' heads or locked in a filing cabinet that is not available to other hon. Members.

Mr. Lansley: I am doing a little catching up on the terms that are being used. Is my hon. Friend suggesting

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that the Government want a period of innovation but not the diversity that would exist in a normal system with freedom to innovate? They want a period of innovation, no diversity, and the ability to reimpose uniformity.

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