Education Bill

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Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend said that it was not.

Mr. Willis: The hon. Gentleman is intelligent enough to know that the amendment is incomplete as it stands. However, he has raised an important issue, and it will be interesting to see how the Minister responds.

Mr. Timms: Local authorities will have the opportunity to object to a minimum budget, if one is set. That is set out in new section 45C(1). If they object, the Bill will also allow them to set out the impact on other services that they run as part of the process, so the amendment would not be necessary to gather information on the impact on other services.

The hon. Member for Isle of Wight may be concerned about consultation with other Ministers. I can reassure him completely that the Secretary of State for Education and Skills would certainly consult colleagues with an interest in other local services before setting a minimum budget for an authority's schools. The Committee will know that the current Home Secretary is a strong supporter of the measure and worked hard to achieve it.

I accept that the topic is a matter for debate and that different people can take different views. The fact that the measure is in the Bill reflects this Government's view that raising standards in education is right at the top of our list of priorities. We need to ensure that the substantial increases in education spending that we will make this year, next year and the year after reach their target and are delivered to schools. Many people will feel that other things are more important and that that priority should not be assigned to education, but it is our clear

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view that education should be at the top of our list of priorities.

Mr. Brady: The Minister says that this shows the priorities that the Government attach to education, which is welcome, although the fact that he has also said that this is a power that he would envisage using extremely infrequently casts some doubt on his claim. Can he give an absolute assurance that there is no possibility that similar powers will be taken in future legislation, during this Parliament by other departmental Ministers, and that there will be no comparable ring fencing for police budgets, transport budgets or other local authority matters?

Mr. Timms: There are no proposals to introduce powers along these lines in any other areas. We would not want to restrict local decision-making abilities further. That reflects the Prime Minister's clear statement before he become Prime Minister that our top three priorities were ''education, education, education''. That is reflected in the clause. The Bill already provides that the Secretary of State must take account of all relevant circumstances before deciding to exercise the power to set a minimum level for the schools budget. There is no doubt that the effect on other services is a relevant consideration. That will certainly need to be taken into account. If there is any doubt about that, I am happy to place that assurance on the record. That may be helpful to the hon. Member for Isle of Wight.

Mr. Turner: The Minister said the Secretary of State would consult other Ministers. He amplified the fact that the views of other Ministers will be relevant in determining the decision that the Secretary of State eventually reaches. He did not say, however, that the Secretary of State would ensure that the views of other Ministers were reported and made clear to the local authority at that time. Is that the case?

Mr. Timms: No, I would not introduce a system whereby the views of many different Ministers would be published. That would be an unusual arrangement. Those concerns would certainly be taken into account, as would the local authority's concerns about the impact on its other services. I hope that the Committee will take the view that the amendment does not help and that the way that the clause currently sets out the proposal is right.

Mr. Turner: I am afraid that the Minister has made it clear that he is not willing for there to be transparency. There may be joined-up government, but it would be under a veil. Frankly joined-up government under a veil is of no help to local authorities going through the difficult process of setting their budgets. Time after time, local authorities are told that there is enough money because the revenue support grant, or whatever, ensures that enough money comes through. That is not widely believed by local authorities.

If the Secretary of State believes that he is setting a reasonable budget, that is one thing, but convincing the members of the local authority of that is a different matter. Effectively, local authority members escape responsibility. I emphasise that because it is something with which I am terribly familiar in my local authority.

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The tendency to blame the Government for everything that goes wrong is widespread, but occurs particularly in local authorities led by the party that is not in the habit of being in government.

I do not want my local authority or others to be able to say, ''We know that your elderly grandparents are suffering a total lack of domiciliary care and that your elderly parents are being thrown out of residential homes, but it is the fault of the wicked Government. It is not our fault, but theirs.''

We want the Secretary of State for Health to be able to say in public, hand on heart, that there is enough money—

It being Seven o'clock, The Chairman proceeded, pursuant to Sessional Order D [28 June 2001] and the Order of the Committee [11, 13 and 18 December 2001], to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Amendment negatived.

The Chairman then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that time.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): On a point of order, Mr. Griffiths. We had the opportunity to discuss clause 40, although we have not concluded our discussions. We have not had the opportunity to discuss clauses 41 and 42, to which amendments have been tabled. It would be logical to be able to vote

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against clauses 41, 42 and even 43, as we have not even considered them. We would like to take those clauses separately, if that is convenient for you.

The Chairman: Unfortunately, under the programme resolution, hon. Members cannot vote separately on the clauses that are left. They must be considered under one Question.

Question put, That clause 40, as amended, and clauses 41 to 43 stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 6.

Division No. 23]

AYES
Bailey, Mr. Adrian Coaker, Mr. Vernon Flint, Caroline Francis, Dr. Hywel Heppell, Mr. John
Kumar, Dr. Ashok Lewis, Mr. Ivan Purnell, James Timms, Mr. Stephen Touhig, Mr. Don

NOES
Brady, Mr. Graham Grayling, Chris Laing, Mrs. Eleanor
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen Turner, Mr. Andrew Willis, Mr. Phil

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 40, as amended, and clauses 41 to 43 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Adjourned accordingly at four minutes past Seven o'clock till Thursday 10 January at half-past Nine o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Griffiths, Mr. Win (Chairman)
Bailey, Mr.
Brady, Mr.
Coaker, Mr.
Flint, Caroline
Francis, Dr.
Grayling, Chris
Heppell, Mr.
Kumar, Dr.
Laing, Mrs.
Lewis, Mr. Ivan
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen
Purnell, James
Timms, Mr.
Touhig, Mr.
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Willis, Mr.

 
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