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Lord Peston: My point was not that I had not been elected, but that it would never have occurred to me to stand. I did not throw a six to start, if I may use that particular analogy.

Baroness Maddock: I did not realise that. However, the noble Lord would probably have made a very good job of it.

I should like to touch on one or two points raised by the Minister in replying to the amendment. The debate about the composition of the committees demonstrates the muddle and the problem that the Government face with these proposals. We have spent a long time discussing what should be fairly simple amendments. A good number of interesting and useful contributions have been made by members of the Committee this afternoon. Some phrases have been used that frighten some more than others. For example, the Minister said that the Government's intentions were quite clear. It is

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precisely that which worries noble Lords sitting on these Benches. The intention is to set up a quango that is not democratically accountable. The Minister threw in the remark that of course the Government would take account of what head teachers said. Therefore, the local education authority which is the locally elected and democratically accountable body must defer to a quango but of course head teachers will be involved as well. The Government must have clearer thinking than that on something as important as this.

Lord Whitty: The noble Baroness rose to her feet more quickly than I did. To respond to my noble friend Lord Peston, we do not suggest that head teachers or other experts should be members of the committee but that their expertise should be available to the committee. I hope that is clear to all Members of the Committee.

Baroness Maddock: That was my understanding. The Government's Benches were very confused about how the decision would be made. All noble Lords agree that partnership in educational matters, or any other matter in the community, is vitally important. We agree that a partnership of interested bodies should be consulted on such controversial issues as school closures and other matters to do with organising schools in particular areas. One of the reasons why we on these Benches were not in favour of grant-maintained schools was precisely that we wanted a true partnership that would enable proper strategic decisions to be made.

The Government propose that the partnership should be at a higher level than the democratically accountable body: the local education authority. That is precisely why we have moved amendments to improve what we consider to be an extremely bad set-up; namely school organisation committees.

This matter will run and run. We shall come back to it at a later stage. The Committee will in a moment consider whether this clause should stand part of the Bill. At this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 99 and 100 not moved.]

Lord Archer of Sandwell had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 101:


Page 22, line 31, at end insert ("; and
( ) a person nominated by the Free Church Council for an area any part of which is comprised in the authority's area.").

The noble and learned Lord said: I do not move Amendment No. 101. It may be of assistance to the Committee to know that I do not intend to move Amendment No. 105A.

[Amendment No. 101 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 102 to 105A not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 23 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Tope: The Committee has spent about two hours demonstrating very effectively why this clause should not stand part of the Bill. The more I hear from the

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Government the more alarmed I become about these proposals and the clearer it becomes how unclear the Government are as to how they will work. I shall not take up more valuable time by repeating all that has already been said. Perhaps I may briefly summarise what I said when moving my first amendment in explaining why we are so much opposed to statutory school organisation committees. They are cumbersome and bureaucratic and will prove far more costly than the Government believe. That is an unnecessary cost that brings no added value.

The following flow chart demonstrates just how cumbersome and bureaucratic is the proposal. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said earlier, it begins with the LEA preparing a school organisation plan. As a proper part of that process the LEA will consult widely. It will consult all of the governing bodies and undoubtedly hold public meetings, probably attended primarily by parents. In addition, there will be formal and informal discussions. The authority will produce a draft plan. That will go to the education committee which meets in public. There it will be discussed not only by the elected representatives but by those who are co-opted on to the education committee: teachers, the churches and so on.

Eventually, the LEA and local authority will adopt a school organisation plan. That plan will be sent to the school organisation committee. If consensus rules and unanimity applies--I hope that in most cases it will, because I am a consensus politician (which is an approach that has come back into favour)--it will proceed on that basis. I hope that where there are concerns, even disagreements, there can be reconciliation and agreement. But if consensus rules and unanimity can be achieved it does not matter too much what structure one has. One needs a structure to deal with situations where unanimity is not achievable. It is that which concerns us here.

Therefore, the plan goes to the school organisation committee with its many perceived shortcomings in terms of its membership and rather unclear role. That committee will consider the plan. All the partners represented on the school organisation committee--I must not call them interest groups--must reach unanimity. If just one group dissents that is in effect a veto on the plan. If it is agreed unanimously that is fine and there is no problem, but where a group dissents--that is likely to occur in the more controversial cases, which we are concerned about today--the matter goes to the adjudicator.

Thus far, we have reached stage six in the 10 or 11-stage process. The role of the adjudicator is to be discussed next. That is an integral part of the process. However, this afternoon we must consider this matter in two separate parts. For the Minister to say that this is part of taking decision-making down to local level is a nonsense. The adjudicator is appointed by the Secretary of State and is not locally accountable; and he is not even subject to appeal, although the Committee shall debate that matter later on.

Coming as I do from a local authority background, inevitably I draw an analogy with the planning inspector. A planning applicant has the right to appeal to the Secretary of State against a planning decision. Normally, the Secretary of State will appoint an inspector to hear that appeal. But the analogy is not as close as I first thought it

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was. In that case the inspector is acting in the name of the Secretary of State. The inspector is acting and judging in accordance with planning guidance issued by the Secretary of State, and ultimately the Secretary of State is accountable to Parliament. However inadequate that may be, none of that applies to the adjudicator.

I do not understand the argument that this proposal is democratic or seeks to move decision-making down to local level. It is the decisions where there is dissent that matter. If there is consensus and unanimity no one will worry; everyone agrees. But the important decision must be taken where consensus cannot be achieved. What is important is how and where those decisions are taken. The Government's proposals are not that decisions should be taken locally by a democratically elected LEA or even by a local school organisation committee, however inadequate we believe that to be, but that they should be taken by an adjudicator appointed by the Secretary of State.

As I said earlier this afternoon, my principal concern over this is that it further weakens democratic accountability and the role of the LEA. A point on accountability that has not been mentioned this afternoon is the chart which the Audit Commission produced during the time of the previous government about the confused accountability of decision-making in schools now. I cannot remember it precisely, but it was a simple circular chart: the school, the teacher or the head blames the governors; the governors blame the LEA; the LEA blames the Government; the Government blame the LEA; and the LEA says that it is down to the governors. It goes around in a circle. All of that can be right. If we already have confused accountability, that accountability will be even more confused under the proposed system.

We have all these stages to go through. They will all require the production of more paper. They would all require, I hope, good professional advice. I fear that before too long we might be into the use of lawyers as well when we go to the adjudicator. The Government's estimate that the whole process nationwide will cost only £1 million is as optimistic as believing that unanimity in this process will reign. For all those reasons, and all the reasons that have been so well enunciated during the debates this afternoon, I oppose the Motion that the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: It is rare that I find myself speaking in opposition to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, or to his colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches. It is an even rarer occasion when I find myself speaking on the opposite side to the noble Lord, Lord Rix. I believe that there is some misunderstanding about the intention of the school organisation committees. There was a little exchange a moment ago between myself and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in which she talked about heads as being providers of education. We are using words in different ways here. By "providers of education", I am referring to providers of schools; that is, those who provide the money which enables schools to operate. Others might be described as deliverers of education--teachers, head teachers, and so on.

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School organisation committees are a way of enabling those who are providers of education to meet to reach agreed decisions. There has been a great deal of talk this afternoon about quangos and unelected bodies. I think that there are four bodies concerned here: the LEA; the Diocesan Board of Education; those appointed by Roman Catholic bishops; and the FEFC. Diocesan boards of education are not quangos. They are elected bodies. They are elected by a system different from that which will elect an LEA. Each of those bodies is accountable for the way in which it uses the funds to provide schools for education.

The point of the school organisation committee is to enable those providers to meet to reach an agreed decision where there is any possibility of any disagreement. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peston: I do not see that happening too often with those bodies. They will not be open to all and sundry to be influenced by this or that consideration. They are accountable, as I have said, to their particular constituencies which provide the money for education.

A great deal of this afternoon's talk has been a little wide of the mark. I have been confused by it. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, has it right: we have here those who are responsible for providing finances; and we have a structure enabling them to meet to reach decisions in cases where there might be some disagreement. As each of those providers is significant, a unanimous vote is required. If one of them votes against a scheme, that will be regarded as a veto. I have no difficulty with that. Some of the difficulties have been due merely to a misunderstanding of the nature of this committee.

I think that I heard the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, talk about schools groups. By that I took him to mean groups of people with educational interests which would be advisors to the school organisation committee. That is entirely right. At the end of the day, those decisions lie with those bodies, all of which are accountable, many of which are elected, although not necessarily by the same process. It is a perfectly proper structure.


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