Education and Inspections Bill
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment proposed: No. 67, in clause 9, page 7, line 34, leave out
with the consent of the Secretary of State'[Sarah Teather.]
Question put, That the amendment be made:
The Committee divided: Ayes 3, Noes 18.
Division No. 11]
Question accordingly negatived.
Amendment proposed: No. 28, in clause 9, page 7, leave out line 37.[Mr. Gibb.]
The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 16.
Division No. 12]
Question accordingly negatived.
Sarah Teather: I beg to move amendment No. 30, in clause 9, page 7, line 43, after 7)', insert an academy,'.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 153, in clause 9, page 7, line 41, leave out Secretary of State' and insert local education authority'.
Sarah Teather: The reason for tabling the amendment is based on arguments similar to those that I advanced earlier and in a previous sitting: even in the special circumstances in which an external body may come forward to publish proposals outside the remit of a competition, the body whose agreement must be sought should be the local authority, not the Secretary of State. The local authority is best placed to decide about the circumstances in an area, what criteria should be used to set up a school, and what kind of school it should be. The local authority should take that strategic role, as the Minister argued elsewhere.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): Before I speak to amendment No. 30, I welcome you again to the Chair, Mr. Cook, as ever. Indeed, why not do so on a regular basis?
As the hon. Member for Brent, East rightly said, the amendment tabled by the Liberal Democrats reprises the argument that has run throughout the Committee between the different parties about the nature of the role of LEAs and the balance between that and the role of local communities and the Secretary of State.
Different views on the matter have emerged and I want to make it clear that we perceive a role for LEAs in education, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton said at our last sitting. Had we not believed that, we could not reasonably have supported the Bill, because it perceives an ongoing role for LEAs. However, the Bill makes important changes to that role, and the hon. Ladys amendment and her comments on it reflect earlier comments that show a difference between the Liberal Democrats perspective on the subject and that of the Opposition and the Government. Our views on education are not identical to those of the Government, but we are close to their position on the corresponding roles of LEAs and the Secretary of State because we appreciate that although local government is more than an agency of central Government, it is the creation of Parliament.
We do not have a federal system; we have a unitary constitution in which the power of local government is defined both by its legitimacy drawn from the people whom it represents and by the statutory powers vested in it by Parliament. The nature of central and local relations reflects that; there is always a balance to be
Amendment No. 30 would insert the words an academy into the clause. The omission of the phrase is surprising, given that the White Paper states that the Government will
continue to promote Academies as a key part of our system...tackling the acute challenges in areas of real and historical underperformance.
We had a short debate about academies last week and the Minister waxed lyrical about their virtues. Of course it is true that the performance of academies has been patchy. Some have done well and some less well, but it would be wrong to exclude academies from this part of the Bill, as though they were no longer the pivotal element of the policy the Minister reaffirmed a few days ago in Committee.
Our amendment is consistent with the Governments intention and our perspective. We do not, of course, make a blind judgment that all academies are working as well as they might, but we are anxious to give them a fair wind and to support the good work that is being done. They are founded on a proper consideration of the need to engage in educational renewal in areas of disadvantage. That deserves supportand, by the way, we should not let the other current debate, about the way they are resourced, colour our views on the relevant aspect of the Bill.
I resist the overtures that are being made once again by the Liberal Democrats to frustrate the intention of the Bill, by undermining the balance that I have described. It should not be for local authorities to grant consent for proposals to establish new schools. The best local authorities work for the people they serve, rather than dictating what is to be provided. The White Paper states:
The best local authorities are strategic leaders of their communities, listening to, and then speaking for their citizens, demanding the very best for those who elected them and building cultural and civic identity. They work with neighbourhoods and local communities to help them articulate their needs, and ensure that the pattern of local services matches up to their vision and aspirations. They act as the commissioners of services and the champions of users.
That is not a role to be underestimated. It is notan understatement of the significance of local government, but a reaffirmation of our belief in local government of a kind that can deliver the best by understanding when it should step forward and when it should step back so that others can step forward.
Jacqui Smith: With these amendments we are considering the circumstances set out in clause 9 in which promoters other than local authorities can make proposals for schools outside the competition provisions. In discussing the previous group of amendments we focused, on the whole, on the circumstances in which local authorities could make proposals outside those provisions. In that context, the impact of amendment No. 153 would be to enable
I appreciate the point made by the hon. Member for Brent, East, that our proposals would ensure that the Government could take powers to control the publication of proposals outside competitions. As I have said, that is precisely to ensure that competitions will be effective and will remain the default mechanism for presenting new proposals. I do not think that the hon. Ladys motive in tabling the amendment is to help to promote competitions and diversity in the system.
Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): Will the Minister comment on the duty on a local authority, which arose in an earlier clause, to provide diversity and choice? Does not that set a framework in which local decision making can take place?
Jacqui Smith: It certainly does, and I hope and expect that local authorities will take that duty seriously. However, it is also appropriate for us to reinforce the structure that was put in place by the 2005 Actthat is effectively what the provisions doto ensure, through competition proposals, that there is a process and a statutory framework that enables new providers to come forward.
Groups other than local authorities have always been able to make proposals for new schools; the large number of voluntary schools bears witness to that. Such providers have made a valuable contribution to education and will continue to do so. That is why we are introducing the trust school model and encouraging foundation schools of all kinds.
As we have made clear, we support competitions because they will encourage openness to innovation. A range of providers will be able to consider how they might make a contribution to education, and that will potentially increase the number of proposers. The danger in amendment No. 153 is that if proposals could be made without the consent of the Secretary of State, a local authority could avoid a competition by entering into a private arrangement to support the proposals of a particular provider, denying others the opportunity to have their proposals considered. That would not be in line with the intention behind the proposed programme: to open up and diversify the education system and give new providers opportunities to make a contribution. On that basis, we oppose amendment No. 153.
Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): As I understand it, no competitions to find alternative providers have been held by local authorities since the 2002 Act. What does the Minister think will change after this Bill to encourage new providers to come forward and local authorities to hold competitions?
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