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Lord Lucas: I am sure it is my incompetence, but I should be enormously grateful if the noble Lord could point out to me exactly where in this Bill or in other legislation the Secretary of State will have power to appoint anyone to a local education authority or to give instructions to anybody who is not already an established officer or employee of that authority. I do not see anything in the Bill which enables people to come in from outside. I should be enormously grateful if the Minister could point me in the right direction.

Lord Whitty: I will give the noble Lord a fuller answer in writing, if he wishes. But under Clause 8(4) and (5) the Secretary of State can give directions to officers of the authority and can make sure that officers of that authority perform functions other than those previously designated by the authority. That can mean that an officer with the authority is given direct instructions or it can mean that somebody was put in by the Secretary of State to ensure that those functions are carried out. However, as I say, if the noble Lord, wishes to have further details I will gladly provide them in writing.

Lord Lucas: Yes; it is purely the point regarding the power of the Secretary of State to put in somebody else who is not already an officer of the authority to perform these functions. I should be happy for the noble Lord to write to me, but I should like to know exactly where that power comes from.

Lord Tope: I am grateful to the Minister for his reply and I hope that, when he does write to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, he will send me a copy because I too would be interested, although that is not strictly the purpose of my amendment.

Reference was made to Hackney. I do not want to allow myself to be distracted into discussing one particular LEA or one example. But just to make the point, as the Minister said, what happened there was done on a voluntary basis, so that under the changed administration Hackney was, I think, in the top 10 of most improved LEAs. It might well be said, therefore, that Hackney was in a good place to start from in becoming one of the most improved LEAs. But nevertheless it was moving substantially and significantly in the right direction. One lesson to be drawn from that is this: it is always better to try to do

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these things voluntarily rather than by imposition, whether by hit squads or local officers. I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that it puts an officer of an authority in a very invidious position if he has to act on instructions from the Secretary of State but in effect against his own employers, the LEA.

However, the purpose of this amendment was to seek from the Minister some idea of what the Government deemed to be a failure to perform to an adequate standard. I am grateful to the Minister for giving us information on that. Of course I accept what he says. These matters are difficult to put specifically in regulations, and one can rest assured that if regulations were drafted, very likely the first circumstances that arose would not be covered or envisaged by those regulations.

This was a probing amendment. It was an attempt for the first time in the process of this Bill to get the Government to say more clearly what they meant by an adequate standard and failure to perform to it. I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. We shall read it carefully in Hansard and consider whether to seek further elucidation at a later stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 [Education committees to include representatives of parent governors]:

9 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood moved Amendment No. 46:

Page 9, line 3, after ("elected") insert ("without voting rights").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 47 and 48.

My honourable friends in another place are delighted, as we are, that the Government acceded to their suggestion that parent representatives on education committees should be representatives of parent governors. It is an important principle, and has already been established. My amendments build on that.

Amendment No. 46 seeks to oppose the principle of parents having voting rights on education committees. Again, the matter was discussed in the other place. My honourable friends proposed and defended that position. They felt, as we feel, that local education committees should be representative of the democratically expressed wishes of local people, and the only people with voting rights should be those elected for that purpose.

Responding, Mr. Byers thought that they should have voting rights because they are "consumers of the education service". We do not accept that argument. Challenged, he went on to say that elected members are personally liable for the way in which public money is spent, and it would be inappropriate for parents who do not carry that responsibility to vote on matters which have a financial implication. Since the great majority of decisions taken by education committees do have financial implications, it seems unlikely that the voting rights given to parent governors can often be exercised--in which case, what is the point of them?

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I stand on this matter of democratic principle; namely, that no pressure, or lobbying, group, however successful or significant, should unbalance the decisions of those members elected by the voting population.

The purpose of the second amendment is to probe Ministers and make sure that under present legislation the inclusion of teachers as non-voting representatives is still part of their purposes with regard to education committees.

Finally, Amendment No. 48 seeks an assertion that parent governors who have been elected or appointed by other parent governors should stay in dialogue with those who have elected them, and not, for example, with the political parties of which they may or may not be members.

It is interesting that among the papers arriving from lobbying groups is one from CASE, which very much supports this amendment. It states that parents should be both enabled and expected to consult parents in the area, and that that principle should be established on the face of the Bill. It would make clear that those representatives are expected to consult parents. It would help give the parent representatives the confidence that they speak for parents in the area. It would establish the right of parents to practical support from the LEA in carrying out their role of consulting with and reporting to parents. It would prevent cynicism eroding the initiative of having parent governors in the first place as representatives become remote from local parents.

As a member selected because of my community connections to serve on a hospital board, I have found myself in a position where I did not know whom I represented, to whom I should go or how I should consult the people I was supposed to represent. I feel strongly that this amendment addresses the difficult position of those who are not elected as representatives to a local authority or other body but who nevertheless are there as the result of a process of choice. They should be enabled, indeed required, to go back and consult with those who have put them into that position. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch: Perhaps I may address the final matter raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood; namely, that of the parent governor who is selected to sit on an education committee communicating with parents. It is simply not possible. I cannot think of a mechanism that would allow a single parent governor, or possibly two, since there are unlikely to be more, to do so. To take a county such as Kent, with nearly 2 million people and many hundreds of schools, what are the fora? How can those parent governors go back and consult with all the schools and parent bodies? In some very large counties we are talking about millions of parents. I cannot think of a mechanism. Are they to produce a newsletter? Are they delegates; or representatives?

My understanding is that they are voted as representatives for the time that they serve, and if parents find that their contribution on an authority is not what they want it to be, then it must be in the hands of

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parent governors within the authority to do something about it. Even if the consultation is only through the governors of schools, it is still a pretty tall order. They will be more concerned with taking notes and making sure that they take down all the information in an appropriate format than with making a contribution on a committee.

However, there is an important point on which I agree with the noble Baroness. I have grave reservations about parent governors being on education committees at all. There are serious problems in relation to that. There is almost a sovereign right of councillors who go out and talk to people on the doorstep and who are elected by their local communities to represent people on the education committees. I have found it difficult to remember a time during my experience on education committees when there were not parents. There were councillors who were parents, members of the education committee who were parents and officials who were parents.

As for the idea that somehow a parent is another person, when I was elected as councillor it was to represent the whole committee. When I served on education committees, one of my primary functions and concerns was how parents and their children were served by my local authority and in particular by my education committee. There is the suggestion that they should have voting rights and those rights should be confined to non-financial aspects. However, I find it difficult, going back in my memory, just as the noble Baroness did, to find any decision made by a committee that did not have financial consequences. It might have been the use of teachers' time or an aspect of the curriculum. Whatever the issue, there is a cost implication to the authority and/or the school.

It seems to me impossible to make fine judgments as to whether the people representing parent governors or parents could take part in the debate and vote. There would be constant calls on the county solicitor or some such body to make a determination as to whether it was appropriate for the person to vote. So there are huge difficulties. But there is something sovereign about a county councillor, district or parish councillor being voted in by the local community and being given the responsibility for the services of that council to the people they serve.

I hope the noble Baroness will agree with the only caveat I wish to add. There is a real role for county councils, and, within county councils, the education authorities, in meeting parents in fora and in meeting teachers. There are consultation groups in the authority I know best, Cambridgeshire, with the primary heads fora, secondary heads fora and parent groupings as well as all kinds of bodies. Public meetings are held all over the authority, some of them with statutory requirements and some being voluntary when a new issue arises. Therefore, local authorities find many ways of keeping in touch with their parent bodies. As long as they can be monitored from time to time to ensure that they are effective, that is the way to do it. The suggestion in the Bill is gimmicky.

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I agree with the points made by the noble Baroness. We have the Bill but the idea that such people should have voting rights would devalue the role of the councillor. I would not wish to do that.

9.15 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone: The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, seeks to remove the voting rights of parent governor representatives. She is supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. However, the Government believe that this would considerably weaken their impact on decisions taken by the LEA. We want to ensure not only that parents have a strong influence in discussions about education matters but that they can also play a full part in decisions taken by the relevant committees or sub-committees. Only by having a vote can they do so.

Parent governor representatives will be elected by their fellow parent governors from schools in the local area. They, in turn, have a mandate to represent the views of parents with pupils at their school.

We accept that parent governor representatives will make a difference to the vote on some issues. That is what we want to achieve. There would be little point giving them the vote otherwise. But we also accept that voting by parent governor representatives should not disrupt the committee's business and should not undermine local government democracy. There is little chance of this happening in practice.

Diocesan representatives already have a vote on the same committees to which parent governor representatives will be appointed. Local authorities have not complained about how they use their votes and, to the best of my knowledge, their contributions are welcomed. There will also be a number of safeguards to prevent any difficulties arising. On critical issues it is always open to a council to withdraw delegation to a committee and take the final decision itself. Also, as my honourable friend, Stephen Byers, the Minister for School Standards, pointed out when this was discussed in another place, the appointment of parent governor representatives with voting rights could not overturn the political majority on the education committee. If the size of the political majority on the committee were smaller than the number of parent governor representatives to be appointed, the council would be required to appoint more members from the majority party in order to tip the balance back again. We also propose to issue guidance at a later date which, among other things, will advise parent governor representatives on how to use their votes responsibly. I am sure that they will do so.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, proposes in Amendment No. 47 a requirement for teacher representation on local authority committees which deal with education business. I have some sympathy with that suggestion because teachers play such a vital part in determining the quality of education provided by schools. But parents are consumers of the service, and as such have the main interest in the range and form of provision as well as the quality of that provision. It is only right that they should therefore have a bigger say in the way the education service is run. Teachers are in

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a different category. Many teachers are also, of course, employees of the local education authority. They have interests to protect, but those will not necessarily always coincide with the interests of the pupils, whose needs must always come first.

Many councils have already co-opted teacher representatives on to their education committees. The Government hope that that practice will continue. Indeed, in the consultation paper issued last month, we gave a very clear signal to all authorities that we highly value the contribution made by co-opted members and that we see no reason why the introduction of parent governor representatives should result in any changes to the present composition of their committees. However, we do not propose to pursue that through regulations because of the varying range of interests which are relevant to different authorities. For example, other groups such as local business or community concerns, or further or higher education institutions could all make a legitimate case for representation on education committees. We believe that, apart from parent governor representatives and the existing diocesan representatives, co-option should remain a matter for local discretion rather than central direction.

Amendment No. 48 raises the issue of how those parent governor representatives will consult with other parent governors. It seeks a provision that would enable the Secretary of State to determine how such consultation should take place. Again, I have some sympathy with the intention behind this amendment. The Government certainly believe that parent governor representatives should not act in isolation. We believe that they should keep in touch, where they can, with those whom they represent. But we do not want to be prescriptive about who they consult or how they consult. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, about the practicalities of the amendment.

There are various methods of obtaining the views of local parents, for example through local parent forums or parent-teacher associations, or schools' annual parents meetings. Many options are available, and none is clearly the best. No other type of school governor or local councillor is under a statutory duty as to the way in which they are obliged to keep in touch with those they represent. It would be a mistake to introduce such a principle. We want parent governor representatives to adopt consultation methods which are most appropriate to local circumstances--in just the same way as other members of education committees are allowed to. My department proposes in due course to issue guidance on the conduct of parent governor representatives and will want to offer some suggestions about consultation, based on responses to the current consultation exercise. We believe that that should be sufficient to achieve appropriate consultation without introducing a requirement through regulations. I hope therefore that the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw her amendments.

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