|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My understanding was that we were also to debate Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 in this group. So far only Amendments Nos. 4 and 21 have been spoken to. All these amendments are about funding. I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, would like to say a word about those two amendments before I respond to the whole group.
Baroness Byford: I apologise and thank the noble Lord the Minister for allowing me to come back. With regard to Amendments Nos. 19 and 20, my noble friend Lord Lucas would like to ask the Minister what kind of conditions he has in mind. With regard to Amendment No. 20, he would like to know what the Minister intends should be the scope of these powers.
Perhaps I may first respond to Amendment No. 4 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I hope to persuade the noble Baroness that the amendment is unnecessary. It would give the Secretary of State the power to reimburse capital costs which schools may incur in complying with limits on class sizes, but it would not place a duty on him to do so. Clause 1(3) above the new paragraph (c), which is introduced, says "may" rather than "shall".
I am pleased to be able to confirm to the noble Baroness that the Secretary of State already has such a power. Indeed, as I shall say to the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, with regard to Amendment No. 21, he has already announced that we are making available £40 million in this financial year for the cost of the extra classrooms needed to accommodate more, smaller infant classes. This refers to the issue of space. I shall be able to give the noble Baroness an assurance on that point. Local education authorities have to submit applications by the end of this week, and the allocations will be announced in due course.
I can understand that some noble Lords may feel that schools require reassurance that the Government will provide enough capital funding to cover the costs they may incur. Clause 1(4) places a duty upon governing bodies, and also upon LEAs, to exercise their functions with a view to ensuring that limits on class sizes are met. Governors would not wish to be faced with such a duty if they did not have the financial support to exercise their functions as required.
I can give this reassurance. We shall provide the legislation and the funding and we shall expect them to exercise their functions so as to comply with class-size limits. Let me be absolutely precise to the noble Baroness, Lady Young. We shall provide the necessary capital resources to enable all LEAs to accommodate infants in classes of 30 or fewer. I hope that Members of the Committee will agree that we could not be more precise than that. We are confident that LEAs will do so, as they know that this policy has the support of parents. Infant classes in all schools will contain no more than 30 pupils from September 2001 at the latest.
Amendment No. 4 would not require the Secretary of State to do any more than he is already able to do. I hope that that reassurance will persuade the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that we have no intention of placing duties upon governing bodies and then denying them the resources to fulfil those duties.
I should like to cover Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 together as they relate to the same issue. Again, I hope that I can reassure the noble Baroness that we have no intention to place anything other than the relevant conditions upon the payment of grant. Under Clause 3(1), as presently drafted, the Secretary of State would not have the power to impose unreasonable conditions--he could be subject to judicial review if he did so--or conditions which bore no relation to the implementation of class-size limits.
Perhaps I may illustrate this point by reference to the draft regulations, which are in the Library of the House. We propose four conditions. First, the approval of the LEA's statement by the Secretary of State; secondly, the provision of such information as may be requested annually by the Secretary of State; thirdly, the provision of evidence of how funds have been spent in line with the arrangements set out in the statement; and, fourthly, compliance with arrangements set out in the approved statements to limit class sizes.
The Secretary of State also needs a power to impose requirements of an administrative nature such as, for example, requiring the repayment of grant if it is not used for the proper purpose. I am sure that the noble Baroness would not wish to prevent the Secretary of State imposing requirements designed to ensure that grants paid were properly accounted for and were used for the intended purpose.
If Members of the Committee have suggestions about the conditions I have read out, we shall, of course, be happy to consider them; but questions of detail of that kind can perhaps best be dealt with when we consider the regulations that we shall be making under Clause 3.
I turn to Amendment No. 21 which concerns how we will supply funds to local authorities to enable them to reduce infant class sizes. The amendment calls for us to move away from specific grant and to use the revenue support grant mechanism by September 2001 at the latest. I understand the motivation behind the amendment and the arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. But there are two reasons why we do not want to do it in that way.
The first reason involves ring-fencing and the effective targeting of resources. We want to make sure that the extra funds that we provide to reduce infant class sizes are used for that purpose only. Specific grants make it clear that the Government are using all the savings from phasing out the assisted places scheme for that purpose. That was an undertaking we made last year in the assisted places Act.
The second reason involves a flexibility in funding levels. The needs of each LEA will differ. They start from different points. They have different class sizes at the present time and will need to take into account different factors when reducing their infant class sizes. The formula used in education standard spending assessments--that is what would be used if the amendment were accepted--may not allow us to provide sufficient funding in the transitional years to LEAs with specific difficulties. It is precisely in those authorities where class sizes have risen most that we must make a difference if we are to achieve our pledge.
However, we keep an open mind on the longer-term approach to funding. We will have to continue to use specific grants at least until our target has been met and the three-year group of pupils are in classes of 30 or under. That will be the case in September 2001. After that, it will be a question of maintenance rather than change. It may possibly be more appropriate then to move to the revenue support grant mechanism. We do not need to decide that now and may in fact decide it in the next Parliament.
I hope on that basis that the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, will feel able to withdraw Amendment No. 4 and that other Members of the Committee will not feel it necessary to move subsequent amendments in the group.
Baroness Blatch: Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may make one further point. The noble Lord referred to a period of time when we will be dealing with maintenance rather than new build. But that does not happen automatically when one makes a pledge to have class numbers below 30, or any number. It does not work like that.
In some local authority areas demographic changes mean that rolls rise and fall considerably. Families move in and out of the area. In 60 per cent. of the country, the difference can be critical when a family moves in or out of an area. I know that over half a century in my village one or two families moving in or out of the village has made the difference between class numbers being above or below 30.
I do not believe that we will ever reach the stage of pure maintenance, though we may get to the stage of over-provision in some areas and serious under-provision in others. Once that situation is made permanent, the local authority faces a serious problem. It is left with the cost of maintaining a situation in the face of pressures in other parts of the authority area. That is why I say again that it is a decision best taken at local level, where the local authority can make real
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I believe that we have an entirely benign misunderstanding. I did not say maintenance as opposed to new build. I was saying that the extra effort which will be required to bring down all class sizes to 30 will be at an end.
The noble Baroness is right to say that in both local areas and nationally there will be demographic changes which will affect the demand for places in infant schools. As she said, that has always been the case. There are movements of population; there are demographic changes in fertility, childbirth and so forth, all of which mean that local authorities will have to plan for changes after the initial push, so to speak, has been completed.
The noble Baroness is right also to say that local education authorities have the responsibility of planning for change. The difference will be that they will have to plan for it in future on the basis that they cannot allow class sizes to rise above 30. In all the rest of what the noble Baroness says in relation to future changes, she is entirely right.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page