Education Bill

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Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East): Further to that point of order, Mr. Griffiths. We are not against stopping for the Programming Sub-Committee, but we would probably resist reprogramming to give more time up to clause 12. We changed the original programme by adding an extra sitting for debate up to clause 12, which meant that the rest of the programme was truncated. Although the Opposition had not requested more time, we had an extra sitting on Tuesday night, which seemed to slow down progress rather than speed it up.

We are anxious not to delay progress but, if we were to reconvene the Programming Sub-Committee, it would be to discuss extra time for later clauses rather than for these ones.

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Mr. Brady: Further to that point of order, Mr. Griffiths. The Government have repeatedly said that they wish to be helpful. We—I think I speak also for the Liberal Democrats—have said at every stage that many of the Bill's most controversial and important elements are at the beginning. It is therefore hardly surprising that the Committee has felt it necessary to devote a certain amount of time to discussing the early clauses. It would be deeply unfortunate if the Committee did not do its duty in scrutinising the legislation by not looking at a number of important clauses at all. I remind Labour Members that the Minister has frequently remarked how constructive and helpful our debates have been. We have made every effort to make progress. I ask those on the Government Benches to reconsider. If they do not, we shall fail in our duty as a Committee.

The Chairman: We are in danger of having a prolonged debate on this issue. Does the Committee intend to debate the remaining clauses in this group within the programme motion, so that there is less time to deal with later clauses?

Mr. Brady: My concern is that the Committee will have paid no attention to six new clauses and 37 amendments tabled by the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats. The substance of my request is that we should be given the flexibility to debate those amendments, rather than having a guillotine imposed in 20 minutes' time, which will prevent any discussion.

Mr. Heppell: May I try to be helpful? We tried to design a flexible programme that would give the Opposition the chance to choose what they wanted to spend most of the time debating and, obviously, to spend less time debating matters they considered less important. What we do not want is more time for everything. In trying to be flexible—we have the Programming Sub-Committee now—we shall seek to reach a compromise to everyone's satisfaction.

The Chairman: As a result of that kind offer from the Government, I have to suspend the Committee, which means that I must request that the Gallery be cleared. Sub-Committee members can participate in the debate. Other Members can stay here, but they cannot participate.

11.7 am

Sitting suspended.

11.19 am

On resuming—

The Chairman: I am pleased to say that an agreement has been reached.


That the Order of the Committee [11 December] relating to programming be amended as follows—

(1) in the third column for the 3rd sitting, ''11.25 am'' is omitted;

(2) the entries for the 4th, 5th and 6th sittings are omitted and the following words inserted:

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4thClauses 1 to 12 (so far as not previously concluded)--
5thClauses 1 to 12 (so far as not previously concluded)1 pm
6thClauses 13 to 18, Schedule 1,
Clauses 19 to 35, Schedule 2,
Clauses 36 to 38, Schedule 3,
Clauses 39 to 43
10 pm

Mr. Brady: I beg to move amendment No. 10, in page 5, line 9, at end insert—

    '(2A) Regulations containing the prescribed criteria relating to the performance of, or the quality of leadership in, the school must be approved by resolution of each House of Parliament in England or by agreement of the National Assembly in Wales'.

I thank Committee members for a reasonable discussion and a reasonable conclusion. I hope that we now have an adequate opportunity to examine the important issues that the Bill raises.

In the spirit of co-operation that I mentioned, I do not intend to speak to the amendment for long, as the arguments are well known by both sides of the Committee. The question is whether we believe that all discretion and decision-making powers should be in the hands of the Secretary of State or divested elsewhere. The Government anticipate that the performance and quality of leadership criteria will be among the measures for approval of autonomy for schools. My amendment would take those criteria out of the hands of the Secretary of State, preventing a Minister from taking an arbitrary decision, and would instead ensure that the House of Commons and the National Assembly for Wales had to approve them.

Earlier in our proceedings, the Minister openly said that the Government's policy was, to a large extent, to move away from primary legislation and towards secondary legislation in decision making. However,

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the Bill contains many powers that are simply taken by Ministers without even the approval of secondary legislation.

I am proposing a worthwhile improvement, which would ensure that democratically elected Members of Parliament and Assembly Members in Wales agreed the criteria to decide on earned autonomy for schools. Those criteria would be open to debate and scrutiny; the Secretary of State would not take the decision behind closed doors.

Mr. Timms: The negative procedure is right in these circumstances. The criteria used to judge schools' autonomy will be clear and consistent, and will be set out in regulations. They will include measures of the improvements that schools make and the value that they add, using the new value-added data that are becoming available. Thus schools that are succeeding in difficult circumstances, as well as those that are doing well in absolute terms, will be able to qualify.

Any Member who disapproves of the criteria that we propose in regulations under the negative procedure can trigger a debate on them. The criteria are not so significant as to warrant the time of the House that would be required under the affirmative procedure, with a debate on every occasion.

There will be wide consultation on the regulations. As I said, I shall bring them before the House before the Bill leaves it, which is a satisfactory way to proceed.

Mr. Brady: The Minister suggested that the negative procedure allows any Member to trigger a debate. That may be so, but we do not always automatically get a debate. Surely, the House and the National Assembly for Wales should be able to debate orders.

Mr. Timms: What I am suggesting is that the normal processes by which such matters are managed are appropriate.

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

        Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:

Griffiths, Mr. Win ( Chairman )
Bailey, Mr.
Brady, Mr.
Flint, Caroline
Francis, Dr.
Grayling, Chris
Heppell, Mr.
Kumar, Dr.
Laing, Mrs
Laws, Mr.
Lewis, Mr. Ivan
Miliband, Mr.
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen
Purnell, James
Timms, Mr.
Touhig, Mr.
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Willis, Mr.

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Prepared 13 December 2001