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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, when my right honourable friend makes a decision, which he is specifically obliged to do under the law, he will have all the information made available to him by the Parole Board. He will also have official advice from the department and he can take further legal advice. All the information that he receives in order to come to a decision is made available to Mr. Rundle. If the noble Lord is asking me specifically, I am fairly certain that there was not a word, a dot or a comma that my right honourable friend had before him which was not available to the Parole Board and which would have been material to that body had it had that information.

Lord Richard: My Lords, is that the case?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, if the noble Lord doubts my word I shall find out. However, I can say that no information which was material to the Parole Board making its decision was withheld from it.

Lord Richard: My Lords, I am not questioning whether the noble Baroness is telling us other than that

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which she believes to be true. All I want to establish is what she is telling us. If I understand her correctly, she is now telling us that she is fairly certain that the Home Secretary did not have any additional information other than that which had previously been available to the Parole Board. If that is the situation, can she check it and perhaps write to us?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, of course I shall. I shall check what I said. My right honourable friend quite specifically considers the public interest, and that is not a specific obligation of the Parole Board. In considering the public interest, it may well be that my right honourable friend took other advice.

Baroness Faithfull: My Lords, I am not quite clear as to the position. If the decision of the Parole Board is overturned by the Home Secretary for very good reasons, has the man a right of appeal?

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone: No.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, no, the man does not have a right of appeal when such a decision is made. The prisoner has the right to present his or her case to the Parole Board, and the full opportunity was taken as regards Mr. Rundle.

Local Education Authorities: Finances

2.58 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any proposals to recompense local education authorities which have suffered a loss in grant due to the new financing arrangements for pupils outside a local education authority's own area.

Lord Lucas: No, my Lords.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, perhaps I may explore the matter a little further. Do not the Government regard it as anomalous to consider a pupil to have different socio-economic characteristics—that is the basis of SSA and grants—just because he is educated in a neighbouring borough rather than in his home borough? Does the Minister agree that he is the same child with the same needs? Does she further agree that the new financing arrangements represent a penalty for an LEA running a successful education service and attracting pupils from other LEAs into its own service? How do the Government square that with their advocacy of market forces?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, it is a question of debate and there has been a great deal of it between the Government and local authorities as to how the standard spending assessment should be made up. There have been a number of authorities in the same camp as the noble Baroness saying that pupils who move from one local authority to another should bring with them the average characteristics of that authority. There have been many others who say that pupils who move tend not to carry with them the special educational needs other than the statemented typifications of the authority the child

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comes from—in other words, pupils who move tend not to have special needs. However, the Government have sided against the noble Baroness and decided that local education authorities, which have the responsibility for special educational needs in their area, should retain the funds to deal with such children in their area in the expectation that, in the main, those pupils will stay with them.

Earl Russell: My Lords, the noble Lord may not be aware that that decision caused considerable misgivings in this House when it was taken. However, is he aware that the problem that we are discussing centres not on special educational needs, but on additional educational needs—notably, the need for free school meals? Is the noble Lord further aware that since they are such a vital part of the income of families on benefit he risks being accused of exporting his problems to the Department of Social Security?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I do not think that we take any position of principle on standard spending assessments; it is merely a matter of practicality and what arrangements suit the facts best. If the noble Earl or the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, can produce evidence that the current arrangements are not in accordance with the way things are, I am sure that that will be taken into account next year.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that whenever the standard spending assessments are changed some authorities gain—and they are, of course, very pleased—but some authorities lose and they, quite naturally, feel aggrieved? I hope that my noble friend will agree that there would be considerable merit in stability, but, since the SSA is patently perceived to be a fallible formula, there is a constant need to adjust and improve it; hence the constant feelings of either glee or pain depending on which side of the adjustment an authority happens to fall.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend who puts the matter very well. The world changes and SSAs have to change. We do not pretend that they are perfect, but we do think that they are the best that we can achieve.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, does not the noble Lord agree that the SSA is a formula for the allocation of grant? Does he not also agree that because it varies, because it is unpredictable and because it is inevitably and ultimately a crude mechanism which cannot reflect the needs of each locality, it is therefore totally wrong for the Government to cap local authority expenditure and refuse to allow local authorities to adjust their spending to meet the real needs of their localities and the children in them? Does the noble Lord further agree that children should not have to suffer simply because the Government and Whitehall have a fixed formula approach to the needs of children and their education?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, whether a local authority runs up against its cap is a matter that relates to all of its expenditure, not just to education. It is to the totality

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of their expenditure that local authorities must look if they want to see how they can best serve the needs of their populace.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it ill behoves local education authorities—and, I have to say, their allies on the Labour Benches opposite—to complain about any loss of grant when they were largely responsible throughout the 1980s for so conducting and mismanaging our state system of education that there came to be 1.5 million empty places in our schools, with all the colossal waste that that involves?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am sure that I would not wish to put it as strongly as that, but there is certainly considerable opportunity for savings to be generated by removing surplus school places. A number of local authorities are achieving savings in just that way.

Baroness David: My Lords, reverting to an earlier answer from the noble Lord, will the department be willing to review the arrangements for pupils with special educational needs if the new arrangements appear to penalise LEAs which have more than an average number of those pupils?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, yes.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, it is a fact—is it not?—that LEAs will not be encouraged to provide nursery education near the border with another LEA as parents from the other LEA will have the right to send their pupils across the border to the providing LEA, but the home LEA can refuse to pay. Will Her Majesty's Government therefore introduce recoupment for children under five and, if not, why not?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am sure that all those matters will be taken into account in our general proposals on nursery education, for which I hope the noble Lord can wait.

Lord Renton: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that it sometimes causes great inconvenience and family hardship if mentally handicapped people needing special education are sent long distances out of their own area in order to receive it elsewhere? Is it not therefore quite proper that the Government should be encouraging local education authorities to have their own arrangements, which pretty well all of them are capable of establishing?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, that is the sort of consideration which has weighed heavily with us and which, as I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has won the day with us. However, I recognise that there are other sides to the question.


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