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Lord Lucas: I most grateful to the Minister for the long letter of clarification which I found to be very clear. It answered all the questions that I had at that stage admirably. However, I have one further question for the noble Lord regarding the question of stamp duty. I quite understand his explanation but, if it is the intention of these amendments to make transfers from foundation schools to local authorities exempt from stamp duty, why are transfers under paragraph l(3)(a) of Schedule 22 not included in the list of exemptions?

Lord Whitty: I have to hand it to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I must confess to the Committee that I am not entirely clear as to whether that paragraph relates to the same form of transfers, although I believe that that is probably the case. Therefore, that is something to which we will have to pay attention. So, once again--and, it is to be hoped in a rather shorter letter--I shall clarify the matter for the noble Lord.

Baroness Blatch: I should like to thank the noble Lord most profusely for the letter; indeed, it has been hugely helpful. I certainly do not have anything like the queries that I had when I heard the partial explanation which was given during the previous stage of the Bill. I understand that the amendments which preceded the amendment moved by the noble Lord tonight will be re-presented on Report. Therefore, it might be helpful if I mentioned one reservation about Amendment No. 90G so that I may perhaps be written to in the meantime, thus saving time as regards discussions at the next stage. I should also like to ask a question on Amendment No. 91C.

As regards Amendment No. 90G, I am concerned about yet more accretion of powers to the organisation committees. I should like to know more about why that power is necessary and why it is that the Secretary of State is off-loading yet another power relating to foundation groups.

Where the governing body will be the charity, as opposed to the school being the charity, I am rather anxious on behalf of governors to know what liabilities they will accept in that transfer of power. School governors will take on the responsibility of being the charity for the purposes of the exemption and it is important that they know the extent of their liabilities. I do not ask for an answer now but I hope the noble Lord will be able to supply it at the next stage.

I am rather pleased that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is in the Chamber. When I was a government Minister and my government produced large batches of technical amendments I found that it was helpful and also saved time if I wrote to the Opposition with copies of the amendments and with an explanatory memorandum in advance of discussing the amendments in the Chamber. The Opposition then had an opportunity to study the technicalities of the amendments. Usually I added an apology to the explanatory memorandum as I was often upbraided by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for submitting large batches of technical amendments at a late

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stage of a Bill. I make no criticism of the Government in this regard, but it would be enormously helpful to have the information as we are about to discuss yet more batches of technical amendments. I have pored over the Bill and the amendments over the past week but I am still at a loss to know exactly what they mean. As I said, it would be hugely helpful at further stages of the Bill to be sent a copy of the amendments with an explanatory memorandum.

Lord Whitty: Of course some of the technical amendments arise out of debate in the Chamber. However, we shall consider the possibility of providing the information in the form the noble Baroness requests. As regards the points she made on Amendment No. 90G and the other amendments that will be resubmitted at the Report stage, I would rather deal with them at that stage.

As regards the charitable status of governing bodies, we shall propose government amendments at Report stage which will make clear that it is the governing body of a foundation, voluntary and foundation special school which is the exempt charity and not the school itself. That point will be clearer at that stage.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Rix moved Amendment No. 115:

Page 29, line 30, at end insert ("and to the education development plan, the school organisation plan and any proposals for the regional coordination of services for children with special educational needs").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 115 stands in my name, that of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and that of my noble friend Lady Darcy de Knayth. I am conscious that this is the last amendment I shall move and no doubt it will receive the same short shrift as the previous four. I can see I shall be busy at Report stage but I would welcome the possibility of a meeting with the department before that stage. Perhaps I should send the amendments to the putative Welsh assembly.

I wish to stress that special schools are part of an increasingly complex network of provision for children with special educational needs. If the Government pursue their intentions as set out in the Green Paper Excellence for all Children, special schools will become a non-integrated part of a unified service. The service will also be more than a local service if Green Paper proposals for more regional planning are implemented. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that any proposals to open, alter or close a community or a foundation special school take account of other local plans and proposals; namely, the education development plan, the school organisation plan and any proposals for the regional co-ordination of services for children with special educational needs. I beg to move.

11.15 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Does the noble Lord want the good news or the bad news first? The bad news is that his amendment would not do what he wants. It relates to the part of the Bill that deals with who should be consulted rather than what regard should be had to the education development plan, the school organisation plan

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and proposals for regional co-ordination of services. I believe the noble Lord's intention is rather wider than the wording of the amendment.

The good news is this. I believe that the noble Lord wants us to say that the Government intend to put the issues referred to in the amendment into guidance. I can give him that assurance. To put it in the proper words of a speaking note, the guidance provided to the adjudicator and the school organisation committee will be reflected in the guidance on good practice that we shall be providing to proposers wishing to bring forward statutory proposals. It is our intention that the guidance to proposers will identify the plans they should consider when developing their schemes. That would include the local school organisation plan and any proposals for the regional co-ordination of provision for pupils with special educational needs.

There may also be instances when local education authorities or foundation special school governors will need to consider the education development plan when making plans to reorganise special provision. It has always been our intention that the issues raised by this amendment should be covered in guidance. We shall of course consult on the detail of both the guidance and the regulations governing special school reorganisation. That will provide a further opportunity for comment before the regulations finally come into force. I hope that gives the noble Lord the reassurance that he needs.

Lord Rix: I am grateful to the noble Lord for those assurances. I shall now consult with my colleagues outside the House and return to the matter on Report if required--

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord. Before he withdraws his amendment, I should have said that my noble friend Lady Blackstone and the department will be very happy to meet him between now and Report stage.

Lord Rix: I go home to bed even happier on hearing that. With that assurance ringing in my ears, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.

Clause 30, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 6 [Statutory proposals: procedure and implementation]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 116:

Page 120, line 15, at end insert--
("(4A) If--
(a) by the end of such period as may be specified in or determined in accordance with regulations, the committee have not voted on the question whether to give any approval under this paragraph, and
(b) the body or promoters by whom the proposals were published request the committee to refer the proposals to the adjudicator,
they shall refer the proposals to the adjudicator.
Regulations made for the purposes of this sub-paragraph (or any other corresponding provision of this Act) may be framed by reference to the opinion of the committee.").

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The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 117 to 122, 127, 128, 130 to 137, 217, 218 and 219.

Let me start by acknowledging that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, was right in saying that when she was in the Home Office she took good care to write to me whenever significant numbers of government amendments were tabled, putting them into their right order and explaining in a letter to me what they meant. I gather that she followed that procedure with a number of other noble Lords as well. I am sure that my noble friend Lady Blackstone will consider that helpful suggestion sympathetically.

All of these amendments are in response to suggestions made by the Opposition in Committee on 10th February in another place. Mr. Dorrell, who I gather has now left his responsibilities for these matters at his own request, criticised (at col. 377) the possibility of delay implicit in the process of consideration by school organisation committees and the need for unanimity in their reaching decisions. He said--I am sure rightly--that there would be great damage to schools, to children and to local education systems if there were excessive delay in the school organisation committees reaching decisions. Estelle Morris, the Under-Secretary, said at col. 377 that she was happy to give the assurance sought; that she agreed with the comments made by Conservatives and Liberal Democrat spokesmen; and that delay was the worst possible scenario. She said:

    "I think that we included in the note that my hon. Friend the Minister circulated yesterday the requirement that school organisation committees must make decisions within two months. If that is not in the note, it will be set out in regulations. Committees will have two months to make a decision, at which point, if they have not reached a unanimous decision, the matter will be referred to the adjudicator, for the reasons that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. Delay and sitting around waiting for unanimous agreement is not in the best interests of children".--[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee A, 10/2/98; col. 377.]

All of these amendments seek to provide that assurance, not in regulations as was originally thought but on the face of the Bill. Unless I am challenged, I shall not go through every one of the amendments, but I wish to say something in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, about Amendment No. 116.

Basically all the amendments say that if the committees have not voted on a matter, or if they have voted on it and have not reached a unanimous decision, then the adjudicator is called in. But Amendment No. 116 has two other, puzzling phrases. The first is:

    "Regulations made for the purpose of this sub-paragraph ... may be framed by reference to the opinion of the committee".

That refers only to the school organisation committee. The committee may, for example, express an opinion that two proposals are linked and need to be considered together. In these circumstances, the regulations will have to provide that the proposals whose time limit expires first do not need to be remitted to the adjudicator until and unless the other proposal also reaches its time limit. That is the purpose of the reference to the opinion of the committee.

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The second reference which I agree could be confusing is:

    "or any other corresponding provision of this Act".

That relates to the fact that in the complexity of drafting we have to insert this into Schedules 6, 7 and 23. There are amendments to all these schedules in this group which will enable regulations to prescribe a time limit for deciding proposals. These are Amendments Nos. 120, 133 and 217. These amendments cover each type of proposal, because there are proposals of this kind discussed in Clauses 27, 28 and 30, with different schedules attached to them. That is the explanation of those particular points which the noble Lord raised.

In general, the purpose of the amendment that I have expressed from the comments in Hansard give the thrust of our arguments. They give the Secretary of State powers to make regulations limiting the length of the school organisation committee's deliberations on proposals for the organisation of schools. These amendments give the proposer discretion to require the school organisation committee to refer a proposal to an adjudicator if the committee has not come to a decision within a specified period. This is preferable to requiring the committee to refer proposals to the adjudicator after a fixed period. It also allows the person who is affected by any delay to decide whether the time taken is excessive and whether referral to the adjudicator would speed things up.

The length of the time limit is something most appropriately dealt with in regulations, although my quotations from Estelle Morris make our intentions clear since we shall need to ensure that, if necessary, the time limit can be amended in the light of experience. Of course, we shall consult on the regulations, but we intend that in most cases the limit will be two months from the end of the objection period. Where several proposals are linked, we intend that the time period for all proposals should be two months from the end of the objection period of the last proposal to be published. I commend the amendments to the House. I beg to move the amendment.

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