The Chairman: Order.
Caroline Flint: I am coming to my point. People from under-developed communities cannot take part in community partnerships in the same way. We see this problem applying also to governing bodies.
The Chairman: Order. This amendment is about the affirmative resolution procedure. Although the hon. Lady's point is interesting and well made, I am still struggling to see its relevance to the debate.
Caroline Flint: I take note. My point is that we should seek to deal with the issues raised by the Select Committee—how we can make sure that governing bodies are adaptable and flexible to change to ensure recruitment. I therefore support the Government.
The Chairman: The hon. Lady is against the amendment?
Caroline Flint: Yes.
Mrs. Laing: I support the remarks of the hon. Member for Don Valley. Flexibility is to be encouraged. The affirmative resolution procedure would be quicker than the negative resolution procedure, which, as the Minister pointed out, allows a 40-day period during which any Member can pray against the regulations. The negative procedure takes longer, so why will the Government not accept our amendment to make the regulations subject to the affirmative resolution procedure? That would be quicker, more flexible and therefore more desirable, as the hon. Lady said.
Mr. Brady: My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) has blown the Minister out of the water by showing that all his arguments are completely inappropriate and facile. You said that both sides of the argument had been exhausted, Mr. Griffiths, but I am not sure that I have heard any arguments against the affirmative resolution procedure in this respect. The Minister says that everything was outlined in consultation, but that is not the same as outlining matters in a draft regulation. The Government can consult as widely as they wish and are free to draw conclusions that differ from everything that has gone before. He says that stakeholders have been consulted.
The one group that appears not to be a stakeholder in the process is elected Members of Parliament, who represent school governors, parents and children in constituencies throughout the country. The Minister is clearly willing to consult every group except MPs.
If the Minister were prepared to accept the affirmative resolution procedure, we need not have had the debate. He says, ''Of course, we believe in the right of scrutiny'', but he refuses to accept that the regulations should be subject to that procedure. According to the Minister, if any Member prays against a negative resolution, there will almost always be a debate. My experience is that, even if the official Opposition pray against the resolution, there is frequently no debate.
The Minister could resolve the matter simply by assuring us that, if the Opposition prayed against a negative resolution on the matter, we would be granted a debate. I would take his word for that; I do not need the provision to be in the Bill as long as he guarantees a debate. [Interruption.] The representative of the usual channels is chuntering from a sedentary position.
Mr. Heppell: I might like that, as might my hon. Friend the Minister, but I do not think that it is within his gift to grant anyone a debate.
Mr. Brady: I am grateful to the Government Whip, because we are now getting to the nub of the matter. The Minister's defence is that the affirmative resolution procedure is not needed, because even under the negative procedure, any Member can secure a vote, but now the Whip confirms that that is not the case. In all probability, as with vast swathes of the Government's proposals, the regulations, whatever they say, will be waved through. Regardless of what hon. Members think, there will be no opportunity to debate or vote on them.
This matter is extremely important, but the Minister has not given adequate assurances and is not even prepared to give the assurance that I wanted that, under the negative procedure, we would be granted a debate on the regulations if we sought one. In those circumstances, I have no option but to urge my hon. Friends to support the amendment. If Government Members believe in Parliament's scrutiny function, in what the Committee is meant to be doing and that all MPs should earn their living, they will support the amendment, too.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 8.
Division No. 16]
Mr. Willis: I beg to move amendment No. 213, in page 11, leave out line 37 and insert—
The Chairman: With this we may take the following amendments: No. 166, in page 11, line 39, after 'school,', insert
No. 176, in page 11, line 40, at end insert—
No. 138, in page 12, line 2, after 'governors', insert
No. 177, in page 12, line 4, at end insert—
No. 149, in page 12, line 4, at end insert—
No. 221, in page 12, line 4, at end insert—
(a) at least one-third of the membership from persons who are parents of registered pupils at the school at the time of their election or appointment,
(b) no more than one-third of the membership who shall be employees who work at the school,
(c) at least one-fifth of the membership shall be persons appointed by the local education authority, and
(d) the remaining governors shall be appointed as community governors by the existing governors at the time of the appointment.'.
No. 236, in page 12, line 22, after 'bodies,' insert—
(a) is a member or employee of the maintaining local education authority having executive responsibility for education, or
(b) is a member of the maintaining local education authority having responsibility for scrutinising delivery of education including by that school.'.
Mr. Willis: I am grateful to you, Mr. Griffiths, for allowing me this brief opportunity to speak. Given your ruling, I feel chastened, especially after some of the later contributions to the previous debate.
One purpose of legislative scrutiny is to explore the worst, not the best, scenario of a measure. Like other members of the Committee, I have a high regard for the integrity of the Minister for School Standards and his colleagues. We take them on, not to dispute what they say or because we disbelieve them, but to show that the Bill may be used in different ways.
My question is highly pertinent to the affirmative resolution procedure. Let us suppose that a school is given, and uses, the earned autonomy and freedoms in clause 1, and decides to invite a private sector company—or a public school, because that is also an available option—to run the school. Should the company be able to appoint the majority of governors, according to its particular persuasion? The Minister said that the answer was no, but he is being more economical with the truth than he should be. For example, in the case of King's Manor in Guildford, Surrey, when the 3Es company was invited to take over the school—whatever we think of it, it was Surrey county council's decision—the company made it clear that unless it had a majority on the governing body, it would not do it. Is it the desired objective that decisions of such magnitude on a school's freedoms are taken by governing bodies? Do we have to wait for regulations to stop it? If it is the desired objective, it needs an affirmative resolution in the House, but we are not going to get that.
Mr. Miliband: Is that different from the situation of a foundation school, which has a majority of governors from the foundation?
Mr. Willis: When I explain the purpose of my amendment it will answer the hon. Gentleman's question.
On foundation governing bodies there is a balance of all the interested parties. I am concerned about what happens when there is no such a balance. Hon. Members should not get me wrong; there is a legitimate argument for what is being proposed, but my point is that there should be a way of scrutinising and challenging it in the House.
The Minister's next disingenuous comment—I was going to say lie, but that would be unfair—was that consultation is the answer to all these matters. But there was consultation in 1998 following the School Standards and Framework Act, then there was the report of the exceedingly good Select Committee, on which the hon. Member for Don Valley and I served, when we considered the issue of governors and governance. There was a belated response from the Secretary of State to the Select Committee's report, but nothing happened as a result of that consultation. There was another consultation, ''The Way Forward—A Modernised Framework For School Governors''.
What is being proposed for governors in the legislation bears no relation to the responses from governors in the consultation. The National Association of Governors and Managers—a principal organisation that represents governors—is a consultee on governance. It is interesting to note what it says about the current state of affairs:
Those changes came into operation only last September. The last thing that the governors are asking for is more change. They simply want stability. The purpose of the amendments, which my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) and I tabled, is to try to impose some order on the Bill. There should be no need for regulation on governors or the make-up of the governing bodies, as long as there is enough flexibility in the Bill to be able to achieve the Government's purpose.
Why do the Government need to prescribe that the head teacher shall be a member of the governing body in clause 18(2)(f), but do not need to prescribe anyone else? We cannot have it both ways. The purpose of amendment No. 213 is to try to ensure that the categories of membership of the governing body are included in the Bill. We do not want regulations. The amendments would insert into the Bill the composition of the governing bodies, and would ensure that key groups do not lose their right to positions on those bodies. That is not too revolutionary, and it is reasonable.
Amendment No. 221 applies only to community schools and proposes a simple mechanism, although the Minister and his advisers may have a simpler one. The consultation document set out the proportion of governors of the various categories of school. That is not revolutionary, but has come from the responses to the Government's consultation. The key components were that a third of the members should be parents, which is reasonable, no more than a third should be school employees, at least a fifth should be appointed by the LEA, and the remaining members should be appointed as community governors by the existing governors at the time of appointment.
That system has worked well until now. It is a simple way of inserting into the Bill the composition of the governing bodies, and everything works within it. We do not need regulations or affirmative procedures, if all that is already in the Bill. I defy the Minister to show me where that system was rejected in the consultation. He knows that the National Association of Governors and Managers, other associations that represent governors, and every professional association supported that approach.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2001||Prepared 18 December 2001|