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Mr. William Cash (Stone): The Minister is talking at some length, and I have no doubt that he will develop this point, with regard to the statutory liabilities of a local education authority. In fact, in his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady), he says:


Moreover, he seems to avoid the fact that this provision in clause 2 clearly enables the Secretary of State by order—by statutory instrument—to confer on the applicant "exemption from any requirement", including statutory duties imposed by education legislation, or to relax any such requirement. I am sure that the Minister would appreciate that in fact this provision, in this Bill, is new and novel, and is not dealt with under clause 20, and that therefore there will be a significant difference, once this Bill has passed, in relation to the statutory liabilities of education authorities. The Government have it in their own Bill and there it is in the proposed statutory instrument.

Mr. Miliband: The first thing that I should point out is that I was criticised on the last occasion for not speaking for long enough, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not chiding me for detaining him for too long.

Secondly, the running of a school does remain the responsibility of the governing body—that is an important point—whatever contracts a governing body enters into. That is the situation now and that will be the situation in the future. In relation to the liabilities—

Mr. Cash: The Minister really cannot get away with that. He talked about "in the future", but in the future, under the provisions of clause 2, it is quite explicit that there is the capacity for the Secretary of State to make provision exempting applicants—which includes local education authorities or qualifying schools—


or


and it applies also to statutory instruments and all subordinate legislation. It cannot apply in future because we do not know, unlike the Minister, how the Government are proposing to apply the legislation.

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Mr. Miliband: Unquestionably, now and in the future, governing bodies are the people who will remain responsible for running schools. There is no disagreement about that. As we discussed last week, the issues in relation to clause 2 refer to exemptions that relate to education law. The situation—[Interruption.] Will the hon. Gentleman let me finish my point? The situation in relation to governing bodies remains. The statutes governing the role of the governing bodies are laid out and they will continue to be in force. So I do not think that the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman is unhappy with the detail that I have given him, I would invite him in his speech to develop his point at some length; I will certainly come back in my winding-up speech to any new issue that he raises.

I was explaining about the issue of liability. Any company wishing to borrow money will need the LEA's consent—we discussed that point at some length on a previous occasion—so the prospect of any company getting into debt is minimised by the sensible provisions in the Bill.

Let me deal with the third objection that has been raised by hon. Members. It is argued that these clauses provide new ways for profit to be taken from the education system—a point that has been raised by the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis). In fact, the purpose of these clauses is to do the opposite—to allow any profit that is gained from selling services to remain in the education system, rather than going out of that system into the private sector.

Mr. Willis: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Miliband: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, we have only an hour to debate this and I shall be criticised later for taking too much time if I am not extremely careful. Will the hon. Gentleman let me make my point? I promise him that I shall return to it once he has made his speech.

Mr. Willis: That will be too late.

Mr. Miliband: No; the hon. Gentleman has already had one bite at the cherry. I shall see whether I can answer his point later.

What the clauses do allow for the first time is that where a school has a valuable idea that could benefit other schools, it can get a proper return for its idea. For example, if a school develops some curriculum materials and wants to market them, it can do so. It can go into partnership with others and sell a CD-ROM, and can make a profit. There is nothing new about companies selling CD-ROMs to schools to make a profit. What is new is that the school can share in that profit. These clauses introduce new ways to make a profit.

Finally, it is said that in some way these clauses will increase the work load of governors or head teachers. But I simply say that whether or not to get involved is entirely at the discretion of the schools themselves. We trust them to make the right judgment about whether getting involved in such ventures is an intolerable imposition on them. If a school decides that getting involved will be beneficial, it is taking the decision that any work involved will be worth while given the return on the investment.

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Against all that we have heard no substantive objections in principle. In fact, we have heard protestations of support for those clauses. A number of detailed points have been made to us. They are mainly utterly spurious, but I should just run through them. It has been said that the Government have a hidden agenda to have companies take over the operation of schools—wrong. It has been suggested that those proposals will, in some way, increase the exposure of schools to liability for sports injuries—completely wrong. It has been suggested that these proposals might create liabilities in relation to school trips abroad—wrong.

It has been said that school companies might be able to start trading with the public—wrong. It has been suggested that disreputable persons, in the words of the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), might somehow get their clutches on schools—wrong. I do not know whether he was thinking of some of his Opposition colleagues when he was spoke of disreputable persons, but I promise him that there will be a proscribed list, and he can send a long series of suggestions to add to it.

Mr. Cash: The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the Minister in the other place made it quite clear that, in fact, the Government would respond to the proposals that we made last week, and they have done so by proposing that there will be changes in those persons who can become members of companies. I think that we won that point, does not he agree?

Mr. Miliband: If the hon. Gentleman consults the record, he will see that I answered him very fully, and I look forward to his list of proscribed persons, or that of any hon. Member, when the time comes.

To pick up the hon. Gentleman's last point, we have listened carefully as these debates have gone on over nine and a half hours—nine hours and 31 minutes, in fact—and important changes have been made, as a result of points made in the House and in the other place. We believe that we have met the concerns that have been raised.

I believe that this now boils down to a question of trust. The Opposition may think it a question of trust between them and us; it is actually a question of trust between central Government and schools—whether or not we trust our schools to do sensible things with the freedom that we propose to give them.

It is impossible and undesirable to legislate for every possible eventuality. It is much better to put in place a sensible framework to manage risks and to leave our schools and LEAs to the task of making the proposals work. [Interruption.] I am glad that the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) has now joined us. We have not had the pleasure of his contributions so far during this debate, but he arrives at a very opportune moment.

Although the Opposition talk about free schools, they argue against this perfectly sensible freedom. They talk about enterprise, but they vote to deny opportunity to enterprising schools. They say that they want less bureaucracy, but they oppose a simple option for schools that want to work together. They say they want innovation, but they deny schools the chance to develop and share new ideas.

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When we decide the question of school companies today, we decide also whether schools and the public sector should have the same ability to gain from good ideas as the private sector already has. It cannot be right that, while the private sector can profit from its ideas, schools are not even allowed to compete. These proposals put that right. So the dividing line today is trust. Do we trust our schools? During a Committee sitting that I remember well, the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West described these proposals as "exciting", and he was absolutely right.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): The Minister was not excited; he was signing his letters.


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