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Lord Skidelsky: I should like to make a few comments on the amendment. Once again, it exemplifies the Opposition's passion for over-regulation which has run right through all the amendments that they have proposed tonight. We all know that good education can take place in poor premises and that very bad education can take place in excellent premises. What conclusions do we draw from that? Well, governments should not be over-zealous in specifying standards as to space and facilities; and, indeed, not strike down good schools which do not have very good premises. But, no, the Opposition wants to specify standards in minute regulation. Therefore, we are back again to the motto that I suggested earlier: maximum regulation always means minimum choice. That is what the Opposition have been arguing for all evening.
It is no use saying that that is a political remark because this is an intensely political debate. We approach such problems from different positions. We want more choice and light regulation but noble Lords opposite want a great deal of regulation and very little choice. I very much hope my noble friend the Minister will resist the amendment.
Baroness David: All we are asking is that we should go back to the regulations that the Government already have in place; we are not asking for new regulations. Indeed, those regulations have been in place for a considerable time. We do not want relaxation so that much worse conditions will prevail than was the case before.
Lord Dixon-Smith: There is one small point that bears on the matter of regulation. In the good old, bad old days when there was a great deal of regulation, the concomitant effect was equally present; namely, that there was relatively low provision because the regulation inhibited it. Surely provision, even under what some people might
Lord Elton: I would not altogether follow my noble friend because obviously one wants what provision there is to be of a suitable standard. However, I am not at all convinced that this is the way of securing that objective given first of all that there is already a matrix of requirements under health and safety regulations and fire regulations. I hope that my noble friend will be able to tell us what they are because it seems to me absurd to bring in one set of regulations in order merely to double bank another. Of course if they were to be in conflict with each other then confusion would become worse confounded.
To illustrate the point, I turn for a moment to Italy. The cheese makers in Italy are under a requirement to tile their cheesemaking rooms by the health and safety at work people and under an interdict against tiling their cheesemaking rooms by the heritage authorities of that country. That is a good illustration of what I have in mind. I hope my noble friend will be able to tell us what are the requirements at present under these other statutes, and also to bear in mind the general welcome there has been in this Chamber for the deregulating offensive--I think I can call it that--of Her Majesty's Government, which has resulted in the giving of work to the Select Committee on Delegated Powers to invigilate the process. It seems to me that if with one hand we do that and with the other we start laying on more regulations, we are creating a further round of deregulation for our own sub-committee. That would be a great waste of the time of this Chamber, as I suspect is this amendment. I hope my noble friend will resist it, but in the terms which I have described.
Baroness Seear: I must take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, as regards the introduction of a great deal of regulation. Of course we do not want the matter over regulated. We are only suggesting the reintroduction of regulations which were drawn up by this Government. I think back to the child minding arrangements which we entered into years ago. I think it was originally a Labour government who introduced those measures, but I forget which government introduced them. The lack of regulation in that area led to some horrid situations. We want a minimum of regulation which will ensure that we never see the kind of situation which we witnessed in those times--no one denies that--which arose because of the absence of regulation on child minding.
Lord Elton: Have the noble Baroness and her noble friends considered whether legislation by reference to a defunct regulation is a proper procedure, and whether they ought not to be considering reintroducing the regulations which have lapsed? It seems to me that it is difficult to refer to a ghost as it were and say, "Do it like him" because these are now ghostly regulations which are no longer in force.
Baroness Seear: That is a technical point which we can well look into. The whole point is that we do not want over regulation. We must not allow this debate to turn into a discussion of whether this area is regulated or not
Lord Elton: I am attempting to be helpful. Have the noble Baroness and the noble Lord considered whether the Education (Premises) Regulations 1981 were amended at any stage, because if they were, in law it will not be known whether the regulations referred to here are the unamended or the amended version. This is legislation, not a parlour game. It is important that anything we put on the statute book will work. It seems to me that this measure is defective in that respect.
Lord Tope: These regulations provide the space requirements which I certainly feel are adequate and appropriate. I do not wish to lose the point of this debate in an argument about the technicality of legal drafting for which, frankly, I am not qualified. If the Minister is prepared to say that he accepts the intention and the spirit of this amendment, and that at Report stage he will bring forward a better drafted Government amendment to achieve the same effect, I should be content to accept his assurance on that point. If, on the other hand, he does not say that, we shall have to consider the matter further.
Lord Henley: I was waiting for our colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench to intervene. However, they seem to have developed a strange reticence since the earlier stage of the Bill. I was awaiting another dissertation on the decline of the English language--on "quality ball", which noble Lords' colleagues in the Principality use: a form of words which I imagine could be interpreted in a completely different manner in other parts of the world. However, we need not go into that.
Lord Henley: I am not clear why the noble Baroness refers to ten past ten or, for that matter, any other hour. We shall be here for considerably longer discussing the many amendments before us. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, will wish to discuss them at considerable length, as he always does; and I look forward to that. I look forward to discussing the amendments well after the 'witching hour and I look forward to coming back tomorrow on other business bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Whether that is true of noble Lords on the Opposition Front Bench is a matter for them. I do not know whether they have the resilience that we on these Benches have.
I do not believe that it makes sense to require voucher redeeming institutions to meet standards laid down in regulations that have now been superseded. New regulations will come into force later in the year. That issue has been through Parliament. It has been discussed in another place. To be tied to such regulations would be folly.
As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, will know perfectly well, following extensive consultation--the noble Lord knows just how extensive the consultation can be in the Department for Education and Employment--we decided to revoke those regulations. New regulations--the Education (School Premises) Regulations 1996--were laid in another place in February and will come into force on 1st September. That again was discussed in another place.
All maintained schools, including those which offer nursery education, will be required to comply with the new regulations. These retain and even strengthen the health and safety requirements of the 1981 regulations.
But we are deregulating the minimum requirements for teaching accommodation and recreation area because we believe that governors and LEAs are in the best position to decide how to administer their school premises. We shall, however, be publishing guidance later this year to help schools and LEAs make informed decisions.
My noble friend Lord Elton raised a number of questions about other regulations which will protect children. Playgroups and other institutions registered under the Children Act will still have to adhere to the guidance under that Act. As a condition of registration under the Children Act, providers' premises must comply with a range of health and safety requirements, that, like the School Premises Regulations, ensure the safety of children.
In discussing a number of issues including Italian cheeses, my noble friend asked me to give greater detail of the effects of those health and safety regulations--what they do and how they protect the interests of children. I regret that owing to pressure of time I cannot go into quite the detail that my noble friend wishes. However, I can assure him that, while not being burdensome in the way that my noble friend Lord Skidelsky views many amendments--he is right to worry about excessive regulations--they adequately ensure the health and safety of the children attending such institutions.
The revised School Premises Regulations, and the relevant Children Act guidance, both contain important requirements for essential areas of health and safety like washing and toilet facilities and fire safety.
The noble Baroness, Lady David, asked why, when we had had the regulations for so long, we did not keep them. They date from as far back as 1981. A great deal has changed since then. We have seen quite a revolution in the world of education. The many changes were, as always, opposed by the party opposite, none more loud than the noble Baroness herself. But many of them are now warmly welcomed. We heard only today about the Damascene conversion of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, on the subject of the TTA.
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