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The Lord Bishop of Ripon: Before the noble Lord sits down, he returned briefly to the subject of transport. Perhaps I may make a point that I should have made earlier. I speak here on behalf of my Roman Catholic colleagues. Many Roman Catholic schools have a considerable number of pupils requiring transport. Were there any thought of transferring that aspect of the budget from LEAs to schools, it would raise huge problems for some of those schools. If there is the slightest thought that that might be a possibility, the Catholic Education Service should be consulted.
Baroness Blatch: I am deeply depressed by the noble Lord's answer on that. I say to the right reverend Prelate that I do not wish to cut across that issue, because my understanding is that at the moment the Government presume in favour of schools' transport money remaining with the local authority. I am talking about those funds that the Government themselves envisage transferring to the budgets of schools. They are then giving schools the option to purchase from wherever, including local authorities.
The noble Lord gave some examples. I have read the words on the page. There will be some services about which the local authority will say, "If we are only left with a rump of schools to provide for, we regard it as uneconomic to provide the service". Therefore they may take a vote in the primary and/or secondary sector to get an economically viable unit. If they achieve their 80 per cent., they will have an opportunity to take back that service. The answer I received to my first question from the noble Baroness was that that would mean that 100 per cent. of the schools would have to do it.
The noble Lord has not said that the subjects for delegation will be limited to prescribed areas. That is new. It is not in the paper. The paragraph preceding the paragraph that mentions the 80 per cent. merely says
I did not mean by my amendment that schools which fail in self-management should continue to have full control over their budgets. There are measures in the Bill which override that anyway. There are provisions in the Bill which allow special measures to be taken where a school fails in its self-management duties. I wish that to remain because, whether or not they have delegation, that is important.
The Minister is now saying--this is important for the schools which are listening to the debate or which will be reading it--that a grant-maintained school and/or a foundation school, or even a community school, in the future, may opt for self-management. In other words, it opts to keep all its central funds to purchase services. If there is a vote on any particular service--the noble Lord mentioned two, but, as I say, there is no definition--in a primary and/or a secondary sector and 80 per cent., or whatever the required percentage is, votes to have the service provided by the LEA, those schools will lose that degree of delegation. If that is what he is saying, there will be deep consternation about that outside this Chamber. I ask the noble Lord to answer me on that point.
Lord Whitty: I thought that I had said earlier that the areas to which the 80 per cent. suggestion would apply would be limited and not indiscriminate. It would not be down to individual local authorities to decide which areas could be subject to that. The Government could prescribe which areas would be subject to the voting procedure. The LEA would not be able to decide for itself.
There is some misunderstanding here. When we started, the presumption seemed to be that we were talking about buying back into all centrally-provided local authority services, and that the 80 per cent. provision would relate to that. In fact, we do not envisage a large number of services being subject to that provision. We are still consulting as to whether we need the provision at all. It does not affect the vast bulk of the new financing arrangements.
The noble Baroness is starting fears in former GM schools, and possibly elsewhere, that they will be overridden in areas to which it would be extremely unlikely that this would apply. If the noble Baroness wishes to consider the amendment as it stands--it is a broader amendment--she will no doubt come back to it. There will be other parts of the Bill to which the voting procedure would be more appropriately applied. It is not our intention to override the minority of schools in the
Baroness Blatch: The noble Lord totally misinterprets me. He has done it every time he has returned to the Dispatch Box on this point. I am not talking about the whole package of delegation. There will be services within delegation for which the local authority may take a view that it needs 80 per cent. of the schools or it cannot cope. I give another example. The schools in a local authority, especially a relatively small local authority, may decide that they want to have payroll services from the local authority. The local authority may say, "Of course we will provide payroll services, but unless we get a certain percentage of schools in this area to agree it, we cannot provide them".
That then becomes an issue for this majority voting. The noble Lord is making policy on the hoof. He is now suggesting that it applies to one or two subjects only. Is it one or two? Which are they? These are only down here as examples. I have given another example. There may be many more examples of where a percentage of schools wants a service from the local authority. There may be some schools--I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, is right--that will want the local authority to continue to provide all their services. They do now, and they may want that to continue in the future.
In future, local authorities will have to turn round and say to them, "We need an economically viable number of schools". That will trigger a ballot in the primary or the secondary sector. If the noble Lord is saying that we are going to discount certain elements of delegation, fine, let us have what they are. They are not in the consultation document. The noble Lord has not given me a straight answer. Is the noble Lord saying that if a school enjoys a level of delegation, and a vote takes place on any aspect of delegation, and the vote reaches the required percentage--whatever that may be--all schools will lose their right to have control over that particular service?
Lord Whitty: The noble Baroness referred earlier to paragraph 59 of the consultation paper, where all this is set out. It describes that the Government would welcome views on that issue, in particular the 80 per cent.--as we are calling it--formula in relation to particular services. We do not prescribe the services there. The noble Baroness is correct. We do not prescribe them for the very good reason that we are consulting as to whether schools and LEAs think that this provision should apply to certain services.
However, at the end of that consultation, such services will become subject to majority voting only if the Government prescribe them. We will not prescribe them unless the result of the consultation is that there is widespread support for some services to be treated in that manner. I cannot go further than that in describing the services to which it would apply, except by example.
Baroness Blatch: I know that it is a consultation paper. I have said it endlessly over the course of the afternoon. I know that the consultation does not finish until towards the end of July. If the Bill is passed, it will have had Royal Assent by then. Under the proposals, I wish to encode on the face of the Bill the right of a school which has enjoyed self government not to have that right of self government taken away from it. I do not know what the Government have to fear. The local authority may require 60 per cent., 70 per cent. or 80 per cent., and receives that percentage. The local authority has its viable number. What is the problem in allowing the other 40 per cent., 30 per cent. or 20 per cent. to be self governing?
The Government have nothing to lose. Those schools which opt for self control have it; and those schools which opt for self government have it. Those self governing schools which have enjoyed their freedom for so long will come into a sector where all the promises made to them in the back room will seem empty.
The noble Lord puts much store on the "light touch authorities". "Light touch authorities" is an exhortation. There is no breach for being medium or heavy touch other than promising legislation in the future. I know that the Government, rightly, have an antipathy to local authorities' packaging; I agree with them. If a local authority genuinely believes it needs an economically viable number, and puts to the vote any one single service, or a selection of services, the schools lose their autonomy. I am fighting for the right of the schools to keep their autonomy.
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