Education Bill

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Mr. Andrew Turner: This has been an interesting debate, not least because it has extracted from the Under-Secretary the admission, by omission of the fact, that the Bill provides for the Government to do exactly what my hon. Friend and I are suggesting they will do. I congratulate the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough on having extracted that admission by omission.

I accept that the amendments do not meet the needs of the vast majority, including the amendments to do with special educational needs. That is not to say that the concerns of minorities should not be considered and met. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Don Valley murmurs ''in the maintained sector''. I am not sure that the difference between the independent and the maintained sector is significant as far as parents who are looking for a decent education for their child are concerned.

The constituents of the hon. Member for Don Valley may be fortunate enough to get into their first choice of school, although from her description it sounded as if they are so careless that they do not care which school they go to. I apologise if that is not what she meant, but that is exactly how it came across.

Caroline Flint: To confirm again what I was trying to say, I believe that our responsibility as politicians elected by constituents is to ensure that we put our heart and soul into the maintained sector. I do not see our job as providing an opportunity—if that is the right word—for a few to go into private education. My responsibility is to the children and families who are, overwhelmingly, in the maintained sector.

Even if the hon. Gentleman's proposals were to help a few to go into private education, the knock-on effect would be to destabilise the maintained sector and further degrade it.

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Mr. Turner: I thank the hon. Lady for that helpful intervention. She has set out her responsibility. Mine is to the electors in my constituency and to the wider benefit of the electorate in the country—to the people, not to a sector, structure or a particular type of school whether it be maintained or independent. My responsibility is to ensure that they get a decent education. To the Ministers' credit, that is also their objective, and I am sorry that the hon. Member for Don Valley is not so progressive. I share their objectives; I want to ensure the best possible education and to meet the needs of those to whom it is not being provided.

Mr. Brady: Has my hon. Friend considered the close analogy between what he proposes in the educational world and what Ministers are doing in the Department of Health? His explanation is precisely the justification that the Secretary of State for Health advanced for purchasing hospital places from BUPA in Surrey, for progressing pilot schemes for the purchase of treatment in private hospitals or overseas and for generally providing treatment that people need regardless of means of provision.

Mr. Turner: Indeed, it is. I congratulate the Secretary of State for Health on doing that. My constituents will benefit because the scheme for purchasing places overseas—overseas rather than the mainland of Great Britain—will apply to the Isle of Wight health authority. The purpose of the amendment is to deal with a problem, and one that is not under the ownership of a small minority in the Conservative party.

A moment ago, I congratulated the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey on trying and succeeding to establish an independent school for the benefit of children in Bermondsey who could not get into their school of choice and whose parents refused to send them elsewhere. To their credit, Ministers assisted the creation of that school, as did the London borough of Southwark, for which I was privileged to work at the time. It created an opportunity for poor parents who do not have the benefits that we may have—I cannot speak for everyone in this place, but I was fortunate enough to have them. I apologise if that is a distraction, but I do not believe it to be a distraction to try to provide for those for whom the maintained sector does not yet provide effectively. My concern to improve the maintained sector is not diminished, and I believe we could do a great deal more.

My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West referred to a catalogue of things that the Government are doing in an unexpected way. I mentioned that they have reversed their position on tuition fees. They are also reintroducing city technology colleges under the name of city academies, and reintroducing grant-maintained schools, with one or two problems, through the Bill. I congratulate them on being adventurous, and I wish that they would be so with the amendment. It does not set out to create a saving, or to subsidise the independent sector. I happen to believe that it might create a saving, but that

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is not its point or purpose. It is meant to provide where there is a need. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West does not intend to press his amendment to a vote, and as the Secretary of State already has the power to do the things set out in my amendments, I shall not press them because they are otiose.

Mr. Brady: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Turner: I beg to move amendment No. 141, in page 9, line 15, leave out ', in the United Kingdom or elsewhere,'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 142, in page 9, line 17, leave out

    ', in the United Kingdom or elsewhere,'.

Mr. Turner: The explanatory notes are curiously vague, if not entirely silent, on the purpose of the words:

    ''in the United Kingdom or otherwise.''

I understand what the words mean, but I am unclear as to their purpose. It might have been helpful if the Minister had been able to publish the contents of his elaborately tabulated folder. He may provide a sensible and intelligent response to the amendment. Had he done so before the Committee sat, this discussion might not have been necessary. I shall leave him to say why he proposes that the National Assembly for Wales should be able to make a scheme to purchase places in independent schools in Argentina for the residents of Uruguay.

Mr. Timms: I thought that this might arise from the hon. Gentleman's concern that we should be able to fund education in the Isle of Wight, but I am reassured that that is not the case. I shall draw his attention to the first couple of lines of subsection (1):

    ''The Secretary of State (in relation to England) or the National Assembly for Wales (in relation to Wales)''.

That form of words—I accept that it is not obvious—ensures that this power cannot be used for the benefit of the residents of Uruguay. However, we want to extend the power beyond the UK in order to support exchange visits or collaborative work between the UK and abroad. If the power were restricted simply to the UK, we might not be able to provide teaching, support or child care to children on overseas visits, and it would certainly be likely to make arrangements for providing that support more burdensome and bureaucratic. We shall not be making extensive use of the power to support educational provision outside the UK, but the hon. Gentleman will recognise that we shall sometimes do so in relation to overseas trips.

Subsection (1) ensures that the support provided by this power will benefit education in England or Wales, but we do not want to restrict the power because that would make international collaboration more difficult to support.

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Mr. Brady: I do not want to detain the Committee on this point, but I do not accept the Minister's remarks.

    ''The Secretary of State (in relation to England) or the National Assembly for Wales (in relation to Wales)''

does not, in any sensible reading of the clause, limit the expenditure to those places. He has already accepted that the wording is not entirely clear. Would it be possible for the Government to come up with wording that is entirely clear at a later stage in the Bill?

Mr. Timms: My advice is that that wording has the effect that I described in ensuring that the powers are used for the benefit of education in England or Wales. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend would accept that we will use this power to extend our ability to support teaching on trips overseas. We will not want it to be possible for these payments to be applied only in respect of activities actually within the UK. Nevertheless, subsection (1) ensures that the power is used for the benefit of education in England or Wales.

Mr. Turner: Mr. Griffiths, you are looking at me expectantly, and I do not blame you.

The Chairman: I want to know whether you want to withdraw the amendment or press it to a vote.

Mr. Turner: I am undecided because like my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West I do not accept that subsection (1) is clear and means what the Minister says it does. I should like to know to whom or what the words ''in relation to England'' or ''in relation to Wales'' apply. I had assumed that they applied to the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales respectively, and that the Secretary of State makes rules in England and the National Assembly makes rules in Wales. If the Minister means that the Secretary of State or the National Assembly ''may give in relation to England'' or ''may give in relation to Wales'' respectively, he is saying something entirely different from the construction that might otherwise be put on the clause. Alternatively, it might be ''any person in England'' or ''any person in Wales'' or ''any of the purposes in England'' or ''any of the purposes in Wales''. I can think of at least three interpretations, and I am not being paid for that. Imagine how many a lawyer could come up with.

6.45 pm

Mr. Timms: It is apparent from the beginning of subsection (1) that giving, or making arrangements for giving, financial assistance needs to be in relation either to England or Wales. I accept that that is not the meaning that comes to mind on first reading the subsection, but on reflection the hon. Gentleman will see that that is the import of the words.

 
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