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Baroness Blackstone: Perhaps I may deal first with the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. Yes, a parent governor who is elected to serve on an education committee will have the same facilities as any other councillor in terms of being able to communicate with parents, organisations, the local education authority and other parent governors. It is right that that should happen.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, suggested that education committees spend a lot of money--probably more than is spent by most other local authority committees. That is true and I am glad that they have reasonable amounts of money to spend because, like many other Members of this Committee, we believe in the importance of education.

The noble Baroness also suggested that perhaps I should write to her setting out in more detail exactly what would happen in a hung council or a council where there was a very narrow balance of power. I am happy to do that. However, the Government intend to ensure

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that the balance is not disturbed by the small number of parent governors who might become members of an education committee. It is important that we do not exaggerate the number of parent governors who will serve on education committees. The number will be quite small, whereas, in my experience, education committees tend to be quite large compared with many other local authority committees.

Noble Lords opposite have not been as willing to concede as generously as I had hoped just how valuable it will be to have parent governors on education committees. I think that they have a role to play and a contribution to make. If they are to make that contribution, they ought to be able to vote also.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: I must express my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who raised a point that struck me forcefully when I was listening to the Minister's previous reply but to which I had forgotten to attend. I must confess that her thoughts and mine, and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, entirely coincide. I do not believe that it is possible to fiddle around with the representation of political parties on local authority committees. That is laid down in the Local Government Act which followed the Widdicombe Report. It must be proportional or as near proportional as possible. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is absolutely right. When there is no overall political control, or a very small majority--which is the situation now in a large number of education authorities--one cannot tinker with the representation without knocking askew representation in all the other committees. It is the total number of representatives of a political party on the committees as a whole which is at stake. If one begins to fiddle around with representation on the education committee one must alter it on planning, highways, social services and whatever else.

I do not believe that this point has been sufficiently taken into account. I disagree with the Minister on other points. I shall read very carefully what the Minister has said. I do not exclude the possibility of returning to these points at Report stage. I believe that this discussion has exposed a number of lacunae in government thinking on this matter. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 47 and 48 not moved.]

Clause 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 [Establishment of education action zones]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 49:

Page 9, line 40, after ("maintained") insert ("school or group of").

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 49 and speak also to Amendments Nos. 50 and 51. It will assist the Committee if at the outset I ask a number of questions. This is a policy which in terms of implementation is very well advanced and therefore information should now be readily available. I have read a number of times with very close interest in Hansard

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cols. 1146 and 1149 of the debate last Wednesday when the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, responded to my concerns about education action zones.

Based on those columns I should like to ask a number of questions. The background to this debate is important in order for the Committee to view the other amendments in the context of those answers. When did the Local Government Association request to be involved in the assessment of education action zone applications, and on what ground was that refused? Why was it considered inappropriate for the Local Government Association to be involved formally? I was not aware that there was a panel. I understand that there is now an assessment panel involving DfEE administrators, Ofsted, the Government Offices of the Regions, the task force, head teachers, directors of education of local education authorities and business representatives. Given that the predominant bodies applying for action zone status were local education authorities--that has been borne out in practice--why was it thought unnecessary or inappropriate to include them as part of the assessment panel?

Who decided that the Local Government Association should see all the applications in detail in the large box that appeared on its doorstep? Most importantly, since when have officers of the Local Government Association, of which I am a vice-president, been asked to act as confidants to the Department for Education and Employment? What are my rights as a member of the Official Opposition vis-a-vis the rights of an official of the Local Government Association? Officials of the Local Government Association are no different from DfEE officials. DfEE officials are there to serve Ministers, just as local government officials are there to serve councillors.

Is it being said that Local Government Association officials have greater rights than their own councillors, or that local government officials and/or Local Government Association members have greater rights than I do as a member of the Official Opposition? At no time have I asked to see all the applications. I have merely asked who applied in the first place and have been refused that information. It is important that answers are provided to those questions. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, gave that information in the course of the debate on parliamentary process.

There is another piece of information which we need as background to this debate in order to clarify a matter once and for all and to lay to rest the ghost of the rumours which are flying about as a result of press comment following a meeting last week in London. What is meant by profit-making involvement in action zones? The Prime Minister said:

    "Companies will be allowed to participate in the education action zones and to make a profit if they are successful".

That is private companies. He went on to say:

    "Moreover, zones are run under the aegis of the education authority, so although nothing disturbs whether the company is profitable, companies will not make profits out of schools".--[Official Report, Commons, 13/5/98; col. 371.]

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If they are allowed to make a profit if they are successful but not allowed to make a profit out of schools, how will they make their profit if they become involved with an action zone which is part of a management which is running a school?

In the Guardian on 13th May--and I do not always believe what I read in the Guardian, but it did give direct quotes--DfEE officials confirmed that they are in talks with an American entrepreneurial company with a view to helping to improve education in failing schools for profit. The officials went on to say that they thought that the private sector running schools for profit might in fact be legal.

It is important that we understand at the outset the position in relation to the Local Government Association. We need to have clarification, for once and for all, as to whether we are talking about private sector involvement, which I know is part of the Government's planning; whether the companies are allowed to make a profit; and if they are, what are the criteria by which they would be allowed to make that profit.

Finally, will the noble Baroness confirm that action zones will be subject to EDPs? From the answers which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, gave earlier, I believe that they will be subject to EDPs. Is it right that LEAs have powers of intervention? In order to negotiate targets and to make them part of the plans, will the LEAs have monitoring powers and interventionist powers, with however light a touch? How will this Bill interrelate with action zones?

I understand that the employers of staff will always be the LEAs, except for those staff who are appointed directly by an education action zone. Therefore, any private company or consortium, a public/private company, or an exclusively private sector company and/or consortium, would not have employment rights over those staff who had been taken on from the LEA. Am I right in that understanding?

I have set out those questions at the beginning of the debate because this policy is so far down the road of implementation that it cannot be possible for the Minister to say that the information is not available. It is important that we have that information before I speak in detail to this series of amendments to Clause 10.

9.45 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone: The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has expressed her concern about the role of the Local Government Association in participating in consideration of the applications for education action zones.

A letter was sent today by my noble friend Lord Richard to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, describing its involvement in the selection of EAZs and I am sorry that the Leader of the Opposition has not been able to provide the noble Baroness with a copy of that letter. However, I shall refer to extracts from that letter.

The LGA was provided with details of the applications received. That was at officer level and was intended to be in confidence. I regret that that confidence was broken when an officer at the LGA

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wrote to leading elected members of all parties on 23rd April informing them that he had obtained a complete set of applications from the department. As a result, an official from the Conservative group office at the LGA was allowed to see the applications.

The letter says that the Government will today write to the promoters of each individual application asking whether they can seek the agreement of the parties associated with their application to make their involvement public. We welcome the opportunity to do so, but I am sure that noble Lords will understand that we do not want to be in the position of breaching the trust of those private companies which have indicated their support for this initiative.

As I mentioned earlier and, indeed, on a number of occasions when education action zones have been discussed, this is a developing area and the Government want to keep Parliament fully informed. Although the 60 applications have not yet been fully assessed, we would want to see full use made of the scope provided by Clause 10 to raise standards by introducing flexibility and innovation in schools, by tackling school exclusions and levels of truancy following the recent reports on these issues by the Social Exclusion Unit involving private partners in education and by linking with other government initiatives like the health action zones and employment zones.

The DfEE is in the process of considering the 60 applications, and, as my noble friend Lord Richard said in his letter to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, today, I will write to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and will ensure that she receives the letter tomorrow. It will give her details of the locations covered by the applications. At the same time, my honourable friend Stephen Byers will provide the same information in a PNQ in the other place, which will be repeated in this Chamber, and he will be writing to Stephen Dorrell. That will enable us to set out and list all the areas from which applications for EAZs have come.

As I said, we shall also ask the individual applicants if they are happy for their application, and information regarding those involved in it, to be made public. As I am sure the Committee will understand, we do not want to be in the position of breaching the trust of those private companies which have indicated their support for the initiative. I am sure that the noble Baroness will accept that it is important for us not to do so.

I cannot give the noble Baroness the precise date on which the LGA requested that it should be involved in considering the applications. However, in the letter that I shall send her tomorrow, I shall be happy to indicate when that was. I can tell the Committee that the Government did not think that it was appropriate for the LGA to be involved in going through every application and giving advice in that respect. As I have already made clear, the department will look at the applications seeking suitable advice from wherever appropriate on their quality. We did not consider it appropriate for the LGA to be involved in that kind of process. I do not believe that that would normally be the case.

I should like to make it absolutely clear that we, or officials in the department, thought that it was perfectly reasonable in terms of the good relationship that we try

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to maintain with the LGA to give its officers access to the applications on an "in confidence" basis. I very much regret that that confidence was broken by officials at the LGA. Indeed, that was most unfortunate. I would not want a situation to arise in which the noble Baroness, or indeed any Opposition spokesman, would be at a disadvantage in relation to elected members in local authorities who are officers or who have positions, if I may put it that way, on the LGA.

I apologise for what has happened. As I say, I wish to do my very best to rectify this by giving the noble Baroness tomorrow a list of the areas from where applications have come. As soon as we can obtain the agreement of those who have made applications to making that public, we shall, of course, also provide a list. All schools will be part of an EDP. An LEA could therefore intervene in a failing school which is part of an EAZ. I believe the noble Baroness also made reference to that.

The noble Baroness mentioned profit-making. I can confirm that a private sector company might get a management contract for a fee, but for absolutely no more than that. I hope that I have answered the questions the noble Baroness asked and that we can now consider the amendments that she has tabled.

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