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Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: We have discussed this matter at some length so I shall be brief and direct. The argument is that the adjudicator will play very little part because agreements will be reached in the school organisation committee. That raises great alarm in my mind because as many noble Lords who have served as Ministers in the department have said, in the past there has been a large number of appeals to the Secretary of State regarding the closure of schools and other matters.
Therefore one must ask with some suspicion why it is that the school organisation committee is going to succeed where the local authority has conspicuously failed so that the adjudicator will not be used so much. I gain some suspicion from what the right reverend Prelate said. The professionals, who are the men from the diocesan boards, the picked local authority people, the Higher Education Funding Council and the governors--I say "picked", although I gather that the governors may be elected--are more likely, in smoke-filled rooms, as at an American convention, to reach agreement than will be the case in the more democratic forum of a local authority. So I believe that sometimes unanimous decisions might be suspect.
I am more optimistic about human nature than that. Therefore I assume that the school organisation committees will not be as I described, but that there will be disagreement and that the adjudicator will play a part. In other words, I do not accept that only at the most dismal level the school organisation committee, if it
Perhaps I may begin at a very practical level. I believe that the workload will be enormous. I served on the Parole Board and I was also chairman of the Broadcasting Complaints Committee. I realise the workload that falls on anybody who deals with appeals and makes such decisions. It has already emerged in this debate that in some cases, in the documents setting forth their powers, it may be necessary to hold an inquiry in public. Judgments will have to be submitted on paper. That is a time-consuming task and it will demand staff. We do not know how many adjudicators there will be, but one assumes from some of the things that were said in the other place that there will be 20 or so. I cannot say offhand at the moment how many local authorities there will be. I believe that there were 31 when the shire counties were responsible, but now we have the London boroughs and so much more. The number may well be 31 to 40 or possibly more.
Many of the adjudicators will have to deal with two local authorities. I believe that they will find the workload very large. I also have some doubts as to whether £1 million will cover the cost. One is dealing with 20 people and staff. If the sum is insufficient then one is not going to have the right decisions and the scheme is not going to work.
The noble Lord, Lord Peston, pointed out the problem of judicial review. Having served on the Parole Board and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, I can tell the Committee that for these kinds of bodies which hear appeals the judicial review is a hazard of life. It is expensive and also for the Government which will have to defend the case.
I am saying that there is an element of doubt and uncertainty which has emerged in this debate. Unless the school organisation committee is going to be a government poodle, there will be disagreements. I do not believe that any Members of the Committee will want it to be a poodle and therefore the present situation may continue, if not in full, at least in part. The adjudicators will not be sufficient; they will be subject to judicial review; they will not be local; and there will be no appeal from their decisions. It is a flawed scheme and one which the Government will later regret. Therefore I and my friends on this side of the Committee are prepared to give considerable support to the Motion that this clause shall not stand part of the Bill.
Baroness Blatch: Before the Minister replies perhaps I may ask one or two questions. I shall be grateful to have some information as to how this body will work vis-a-vis action zone schools and with what are now called grant-maintained schools and what will be foundation schools. Do they all have the same powers? In that case, are they all subject to this undemocratic body of placemen and women?
The Secretary of State and Ministers are better known to the population of this country than will be an adjudicator. I hope that the noble Baroness will give us some idea or confirm what we believe through rumour and odd comments, that there are likely to be about 20 adjudicators. Plans are now so advanced that there should be some view in the department about the number of adjudicators.
Let us say that there will be about 20. That means that there will be at least two or three local education authorities to each adjudicator. I go back to a point that I made during a previous debate when talking about organisation committees. If there were one adjudicator covering Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire or Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire or Cambridgeshire and Suffolk or Cambridgeshire and Norfolk or Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, with the tremendous powers as set out in this Bill, that adjudicator will not be known. It is quite difficult to find in the market square people who know the local Lord Lieutenant or the local High Sheriff. They are key figures in the area.
The Government cannot have it both ways. If the Government say that the adjudicators will hardly be used because we shall have great harmony at the level of the local education authority and in the school organisation committee, that means that they will be even less known. The adjudicator will be brought into play when there is disagreement and that is the whole point of having an adjudicator. The argument that has been deployed so far in this debate that the rationale for what the Government are doing in setting up school organisation committees and adjudicators, is that they want to devolve decision-making to a local level, but in the case of an adjudicator that simply will not work.
The adjudicators will not be local. I referred earlier to Cambridgeshire and Norfolk. In that area, we shall not only be closer geographically to the Secretary of State and his Ministers in London than to the adjudicator--if he or she is based in Norfolk, he or she
Much has been made of the argument that there will not be too much work for the committees to do. Using round figures, there are about 25,000 schools in the country, half a million teachers and goodness knows how many million pupils. Decisions are taken daily in local education authorities on reorganisation, on matters relating to demographic change, such as the establishment of new schools, changing the category of schools, enlarging, closing or merging schools. All of those are bread-and-butter decisions for most local authorities. They happen all the time. In my local authority we had what we called a "medium-term plan". Each year, we rolled it forward, constantly trying to match provision to the number of children in the area and their needs. It is wrong to say that the committees will not be working hard.
As I understand it, an organisation committee will receive every single local organisation plan. When that plan is developed, all of the smaller decisions flowing from it will go before the committee. Whenever there is a disagreement among the members of the committee--however small, whether involving one group or more--the matter will be passed to the adjudicator. Matters as painful as school closures, school mergers, the loss of a sixth form or the closing of a Church school will be passed without objection only very seldom--that is, unless the Government have it in mind to approve the sort of committee which will reach consensus decisions. That would mean that the will of those at the end of the decision--I refer to the parents of children attending small schools or city schools which may be merged and to parents whose children are being sent to a distant school not of their choice--would be overruled by the harmonious organisation committee of which we have heard so much.
The adjudicator argument is as strong as that on organisation committees. The adjudicators will have absolutely unprecedented powers. They will be unaccountable placemen or women. They will be appointed by the Secretary of State and can be removed or replaced by the Secretary of State. However, they will have more powers than any elected councillors. Indeed, in this instance they will have more powers than the Secretary of State. This is a real buck-passing measure as far as the Secretary of State and the Department for Education and Employment are concerned.
For that reason I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, will not seek to press this Motion this evening. However, she has our fullest support. If we return to this matter on another occasion, we shall certainly support such a Motion.
Clause 24 provides that the Secretary of State shall appoint a number of adjudicators for England. I can confirm that the intention is to appoint about 20. Their job will be to take decisions where the school organisation committee has been unable to reach agreement on school organisation proposals and the school organisation plan to be established within each LEA, and to resolve certain admissions disputes.
We have placed in the Library a statement on the adjudicators which describes in a little more detail our view on the functions, operation and appointment of adjudicators. That statement will provide a basis for consultation.
I believe that it is understood that the adjudicators will be called into play only where it has not been possible to reach agreement at local level, either on school organisation or on admissions cases. The adjudicators will look again at the issues and concerns raised, taking account of proposals, comments and objections. The adjudicators will consider all cases in the light of principles set out in guidance from the Secretary of State and, as appropriate, in a school organisation plan and the code of practice on school admissions. The adjudicators will make an independent judgment on the relative merits of each case, based on the facts and against those principles.
It is important that the adjudicators should be demonstrably independent, both from the Secretary of State and from the local authorities and other bodies. Their credibility will derive from their experience, independence and impartiality. I can confirm to the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, that we shall advertise the posts widely. We shall do so in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
Adjudicators will be part time. They will be called upon as cases are referred, and they will be paid on a daily basis. Perhaps I may advise the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, not to believe what she reads in the newspapers about salaries of £90,000 a year. So much in the newspapers is absolute nonsense and that is just another example. The exact amount of their daily rate is currently under review, so I cannot give a precise answer to that question yet.
The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, referred to the Higher Education Funding Council. Perhaps that was a slip of the tongue. It is, of course, the Further Education Funding Council--
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