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Baroness Blatch: We certainly cannot consider the amendments I have tabled until I have been given more clarification on the points the noble Baroness has just made. As to whether a company can make a profit in this regard, the noble Baroness did not mention or clarify the words of the Prime Minister. I repeat that he said,

The only way they can make a profit in this regard is through being involved in the action zones, which involves the running of schools. Can they or can they not make a profit in this regard? If the noble Baroness is saying that a private sector company will obtain the management contract for a fee, but no more, on what is that fee based? What is that fee for? Will it be the money that is normally allocated for running a school? Will a company be allowed to make a profit out of that sum of money?

I return to the letter that I mentioned. It is not surprising that I did not see the letter because I was already in the Chamber when the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, arrived this afternoon. I was told quite firmly that the letter concerned the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. The letter was not copied to me. Before the noble Lord, Lord Richard, replies to that point, I must say that the noble Baroness has not answered the questions that I asked. I asked why it was considered inappropriate for the Local Government Association to be involved formally when it was agreed that the DfEE, administrators, Ofsted, government officers of the regions, the task force, head

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teachers, directors of education of LEAs and business representatives were all allowed formally to be part of the assessment panel, yet it was inappropriate for the Local Government Association, which represents all of the LEAs--the predominant body that has applied for action zone status comprises local education authorities--to be part of the formal assessment. Why then was it appropriate that it should receive every single detailed application in order for the Department for Education and Employment to make assessments and evaluations? I understand that the DfEE declined to do so.

The noble Baroness has not addressed the other question that I asked her as regards a breach of confidence on the part of an official of the LGA. The noble Baroness regretted that. What is the official of the LGA guilty of? Is the noble Baroness saying that it is possible for information to be imparted to an LGA official under confidential terms so that he cannot communicate it to the very people whom he serves--the local councils? That body exists purely to serve the needs of its councillors, just as the DfEE officials exist to serve the needs of their Ministers. So is the noble Baroness saying that it was even a breach of confidence to tell councillors that those papers existed and therefore it was an even greater breach for me to know that those papers existed with the Local Government Association?

Perhaps I could say to the noble Baroness that whatever comes in the letter tomorrow, I know the locations of the bids, I know who made the bids, I know what the costings of the bids are. I have that information now but sadly, according to the rules to which the noble Baroness is now referring, I received it illicitly. So my question is: what is the LGA official guilty of and what am I, as an official Member of the Opposition, guilty of? Why is it that I, as a Member of the Opposition, cannot have the material information that is provided for a third body under what is now described as "confidential terms"?

Baroness Maddock: I do not wish to delay noble Lords for long but I am rather astonished at this debate and the secrecy surrounding it. I thought that this Government were, like us, in favour of open government. I find it extraordinary that somehow businesses who want to be part of providing government services wish their names kept secret. As far as I am aware, in local authorities when private companies are bidding for local authority business, their names are there. Indeed, they have to be on a tender list. I am absolutely amazed at the tenor of the debate. Clearly we shall not get to the bottom of the matter tonight, but I shall be interested to hear the further replies of the noble Baroness. I feel sure that we shall be returning to it at Report stage.

Lord Skidelsky: Before the Minister replies, I wonder if I can add to those last comments. It seems to me that these are the vaguest and thinnest clauses dealing with major education reform I have ever seen in a Bill. Everything that has been said confirms my view that we have not had the information necessary to debate the quality of this legislation. Not only do we not know

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what has been happening about the bidding; there is actually no mention of bidding anywhere on the face of the Bill. I should like to ask the noble Baroness what is the purpose of education action zones. She talks about innovation. But will those zones have any freedom to innovate? We are told that of the 60 bids the vast majority are LEA led. We are told that the forums will be subject to the education development plans. We believe that the teachers will continue to be employed by the LEAs. LEAs will be the employer of the teachers in the zones. We are told that schools in the zones can vary their national curriculum requirements. But already schools have power to apply to vary these requirements.

It is a mystery what the education action zones are designed to achieve. I agree with the noble Baroness that they should have the freedom to innovate, and that they should have the freedom to vary things and to do exciting things. But the way the scheme has been set up, or at least the amount of information given so far in the Bill, does not suggest any of that. It does not suggest anything at all. It is rather as if we are listening to "Il Trovatore". All the action is taking place off stage and unfortunately the tunes are rather better than in Clause 10 and 11.

Baroness Young: Before the noble Baroness replies, I am bound to say that this is the most extraordinary saga that I have heard in the course of an education Bill, and I have taken part in a great many in the course of my public life. I think it would be very helpful to the Committee, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, is present, if he can perhaps identify what was in this letter that has apparently gone to my noble friend Lord Cranborne, not copied to my noble friend Lady Blatch, which is presumably relevant. It would be helpful if he could explain.

10 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): I am delighted to do so. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, wrote to me on whichever day it was. I do not have the letter with me. A letter was drafted for me to reply to him. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, knew that the letter was on the way. I am told that this morning she inquired on a number of occasions as to whether the letter had arrived, so it came as no great surprise to her. Of course I replied to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, because he wrote to me. After the noble Baroness's intensive inquiries this morning as to whether the letter had arrived, I am staggered that she did not receive it before the debate started this afternoon.

The letter was passed to the Conservative Whips Office in the certain knowledge, so far as we believed, that the noble Baroness would see it. I find it extraordinary. I answered a letter which the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, wrote to me. Quite clearly, it was written to me at the behest of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I responded to the noble Viscount--he was the person who had written to me--and am now very surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, did not

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receive the letter about which she had been inquiring during the course of the morning. That is all I know about the intricacies of this argument.

Baroness Blatch: The noble Lord misses the point. First, there is a courtesy that the person to whom the letter is addressed sees the letter first. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, was not in the House until about four o'clock this afternoon.

Secondly, the letter was meant to have been delivered before the weekend, then Monday, Monday afternoon, and then we were told Tuesday morning. I understand that it did not in fact arrive until lunchtime today.

Thirdly, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has now thrown the letter across the Chamber at us. We can now see it.

Lord Richard: I am sorry to interrupt. My noble friend has not thrown the letter across the Chamber to the noble Baroness. He passed the letter over because she did not have a copy. It is a pejorative way of putting it.

Baroness Blatch: I apologise most profusely for putting it in a pejorative way. I did not mean it pejoratively against the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. It was clear that the noble Lord had a copy of the letter. He brought it over so that we could read it.

I have now read the letter. It throws no more light. It does not answer the questions. The questions are these. Are we creating new rules now? Is the Local Government Association officer a hierarchical animal above the Local Government Association member or an official Member of the Opposition in this House? A Local Government Association officer was deemed not fit enough to be part of the assessment panel and was then told that he could have all the applications in detail so that an assessment could be given to the DfEE. Those people, having been told that they could not be part of the panel, saw the applications. Whether or not they read them I do not know, but they declined to be part of the assessment. They then wrote to their members of all political parties and told them that they had this complete set of applications.

As I have said to the Minister, I know that they are there with the Local Government Association. Is the noble Baroness saying to me that as vice-president of the association I have no rights? Does the noble Baroness say that the local authority members have no rights so far as concerns the LGA? The noble Lord, Lord Richard, stated in his letter that the poor Local Government Association official is being blamed for a breach: that he regrets this breach of confidentiality. Of what is the official guilty? Of what am I guilty now that I have seen the information for which I asked in my Written Questions?

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