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Session 2001- 02
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Standing Committee Debates

Education Bill

Standing Committee G

Tuesday 11 December 2001

(Morning)

[Mrs. Irene Adams in the Chair]

Education Bill

10.30 am

Motion made, and Question proposed,

    That—

    (1) during proceedings on the Education Bill the Standing Committee do meet when the House is sitting on Tuesdays at half-past Ten o'clock and half-past Four o'clock and on Thursdays at five minutes to Ten o'clock and half-past Two o'clock;

    (2) 18 sittings in all shall be allotted to the consideration of the Bill by the Committee;

    (3) the proceedings to be taken on the sittings shall be as shown in the second column of the Table below and shall be taken in the order so shown;

    (4) the proceedings which under paragraph (3) are to be taken on any sitting shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in the third column of the Table;

    (5) paragraph (3) does not prevent proceedings being taken (in the order shown in the second column of the Table) on any earlier sitting than that provided for under paragraph (3) if all previous proceedings have already been concluded.

    TABLE

SittingProceedingsTime for conclusion of proceedings
1st Clauses 1 to 12
2nd Clauses 1 to 12 (so far as not previously concluded)
3rd Clauses 1 to 12 (so far as not previously concluded) 11.25 a.m.
4th Clauses 13 to 18, Schedule 1, Clauses 19 to 35, Schedule 2, Clauses 36 to 38, Schedule 3, Clauses 39 to 43
5th Clauses 13 to 18, Schedule 1, Clauses 19 to 35, Schedule 2, Clauses 36 to 38, Schedule 3, Clauses 39 to 43 (so far as not previously concluded)
6th Clauses 13 to 18, Schedule 1, Clauses 19 to 35, Schedule 2, Clauses 36 to 38, Schedule 3, Clauses 39 to 43 (so far as not previously concluded) 7 p.m.
7th Clauses 44 to 48, Schedule 4, Clause 49, Clause 50 1 p.m.
8th Clauses 51 to 53, Schedule 5, Clauses 54 to 56, Schedule 6, Clauses 57 to 61
9th Clauses 51 to 53, Schedule 5, Clauses 54 to 56, Schedule 6, Clauses 57 to 61 (so far as not previously concluded) 11.25 a.m.
10th Clauses 62 to 65, Schedule 7, Clause 66, Clause 67, Schedule 8, Clause 68, Schedule 9, Clauses 69 to 71, Schedule 10
11th Clauses 62 to 65, Schedule 7, Clause 66, Clause 67, Schedule 8, Clause 68, Schedule 9, Clauses 69 to 71, Schedule 10 (so far as not previously concluded) 1 p.m.
12th Clause 72, Clause 93, Clause 73, Clause 94, Clauses 74 to 76, Clauses 95 to 97, Clause 77, Clause 79, Clause 98, Clause 100, Clause 85, Clause 106, Clause 78, Clause 99, Clause 80, Clause 101, Clause 81, Clause 82, Clause 102, Clause 103, Clause 83, Clause 84, Clause 104, Clause 105, Clauses 86 to 91, Clauses 107 to 112, Clause 92, Clause 113, Clause 114 7 p.m.
13th Clauses 115 to 126, Schedule 12, Clauses 127 to 144, Schedule 13
14th Clauses 115 to 126, Schedule 12, Clauses 127 to 144, Schedule 13 (so far as not previously concluded) 5 p.m.
15th Clauses 145 to 148, Schedule 14, Clauses 149 to 151, Schedule 15, Clauses 152 to 170
16th Clauses 145 to 148, Schedule 14, Clauses 149 to 151, Schedule 15, Clauses 152 to 170 (so far as not previously concluded) 7 p.m.
17th Clauses 171 to 181, Schedule 16, Clause 182, Schedule 17, Clause 183, Schedule 18, Clauses 184 to 189, Schedule 11, Clauses 190 to 193, Schedule 19, Clauses 194 to 200, Schedule 20, Clauses 201 to 211, Schedule 21, Schedule 22, new Clauses, new Schedules
18th Clauses 171 to 181, Schedule 16, Clause 182, Schedule 17, Clause 183, Schedule 18, Clauses 184 to 189, Schedule 11, Clauses 190 to 193, Schedule 19, Clauses 194 to 200, Schedule 20, Clauses 201 to 211, Schedule 21, Schedule 22, new Clauses, new Schedules (so far as not previously concluded)-[Mr. Timms.] 5 p.m.

Mr. Graham Brady

(Altrincham and Sale, West): I should like to make a few comments on the programme motion. I stress the Opposition's overall support for the broad aims of the Bill to stimulate more innovation and to explore new ways of improving education and skills standards. However, we have great reservations about the Bill's approach to its aims. Foremost among these is the scale of the Henry VIII clause, which appears early in the Bill.

    jf1ŬI am pleased to see you in the Chair, Mrs. Adams. I know that we will have an opportunity to explore matters properly and fully, as Members of the House and the public expect us to. In that context, I welcome you to the Chair.

I am assessing the programme motion with respect to the scope of the Bill, which seeks to accrue enormous powers for the Secretary of State. So much is done through his discretion. I draw the Committee's attention to the power to suspend statutory requirements in clause 2(1)(a):

    ''conferring on the applicant exemption from any requirement imposed by education legislation.''

That is just the start of it. There is a catalogue of centralisation, new discretions for the Secretary of State and vast, sweeping Henry VIII powers.

Consideration of the breadth of the clauses that are scheduled for debate today and until lunch time on Thursday gives rise to real fears that we may not give them adequate attention, given that so much discretion is left in the hands of Ministers. It is vital that the Committee should have an opportunity to draw out from the Minister exactly what he and his colleagues wish to do with the powers that they seek.

According to the programme motion, the Committee is expected to have considered chapter 1, which is about powers to facilitate innovation, by Thursday lunch time this week. As I said, we in the Opposition welcome such powers in principle; however, they are very wide, given that they allow the suspension of all education legislation as defined by the Education Act 1996. Chapter 2 deals with what is termed ''earned autonomy''. We must explore how it is earned and why it should be subject to the discretion and opinion of the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales. We must debate the powers to exempt curriculum legislation, pay and conditions and the potential to reintroduce grant-maintained status, which the Government abolished in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.

Column Number: 6

Chapter 3 details sweeping powers to form companies and privatise swathes of local education authority functions, including school provision. Before Christmas, we will be expected to have dealt with the matter of financial assistance-the right of the Secretary of State to disperse funds for ''any educational purposes''. Under a different Secretary of State, those powers could extend to the introduction of education vouchers or credits. These are matters of great concern to all who are interested in education-the powers, role and make-up of governing bodies, the use of schools to provide community facilities, the creation of federations of schools and the resulting change in the character of those schools. That is not an exhaustive list, but it gives a flavour of the enormous range of matters that we are expected to consider by next Tuesday. Under a tight programme motion that limits our ability to explore matters, we will seek to amend the Bill in order to restrain the unfettered powers of the Secretary of State. We will set out a clear process for how autonomy will be earned, and we will seek to remove unnecessary bureaucracy.

I do not want to prolong debate, but I accept the programme motion with a fairly heavy heart and great concern for the quality of the Bill. The Committee will not be able to debate adequately or consider all relevant matters in the time allowed. In that context, we will make appropriate progress today. I hope that Ministers will reflect on the importance of the matters at stake, and consider whether we might have a proper length of time to debate the powers at the heart of the Bill.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): I do not want to take up any more of the Committee's time. Yesterday evening, we had ample opportunity to discuss the timetable motion. We could have taken three hours if we had wanted to; we chose to spend 20 minutes. We agreed with you, Mrs. Adams, on what the timetable would be for the first three days of the Committee. We feel strongly about the key issues in the Bill, and frankly, would like to get on with debating them.

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Timms): I welcome you to the Chair, Mrs. Adams. Having guided us safely through the Programming Sub-Committee meeting last night, I look forward to your stewardship of our deliberations.

In response to the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady), I should say that the Bill is not a centralising one; it is deregulatory and devolutionary. It is ambitious—he is right about that—and we shall discuss in detail how it will free up regulation and encourage innovation. On the basis of what the hon. Gentleman, I am puzzled about some of his amendments because several propose greater powers than the Government think prudent. I will be interested to hear him argue in favour of those amendments later.

As the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) pointed out, we discussed that in the Programming Sub-Committee last night and made some changes to the programme motion to

Column Number: 7

reflect the concerns of the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West. I understood that he was broadly content, given the constraints of the time scale imposed by the House within which the Committee should conclude. We have also made it clear that if there is a need for further variation in the motion during our deliberations over the coming weeks, we will be willing to accommodate the concerns of all members of the Committee as far as we can.

Question put and agreed to.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that there is a financial resolution in connection with the Bill, copies of which are available in the Room. As a general rule, adequate notice should be given of amendments. I do not intend to call starred amendments, including those that may be reached during the afternoon sitting. I also give members of the Committee advance warning that we will meet in Room 6 on Thursday, as the Northern Ireland Grand Committee, which has a large membership, will be using this Room. We will return to this Room next week.

Clause 1

purpose and interpretation of chapter 1

 
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Prepared 11 December 2001