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Baroness Darcy De Knayth had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 26:

Page 4, line 33, after ("prescribed;") insert--
("( ) must in particular include the special educational needs policy of the local education authority;").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, as I missed the general debate on Amendment No. 23, I wish to thank the Minister for these three government amendments and for the most useful meeting that we had with her officials.

[Amendment No. 26 not moved.]

Baroness Blackstone Amendment No. 27:

Page 4, line 35, at end insert--
("( ) In preparing an education development plan the authority shall have regard, in particular, to the education of children (within the meaning of subsection (2)) who have special educational needs.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Maddock moved Amendment No. 28:

Page 5, line 6, after ("guidance") insert ("subject to section (Making and approval of general guidance on education development plans)").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is another amendment in a group of amendments concerning guidance. It relates in particular to draft guidance on education development plans, which is another area where we have concerns. We believe that some parliamentary accountability would improve the quality of guidance. Consultation on this guidance--and here I share some of the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington--closed in early May. Unlike him, however, I cannot tell the House exactly how many people responded. The draft guidance is very complex; it contains seven annexes and six appendices.

Expenditure on education development plans is related to the fair funding proposals in a manner which is not described in the draft guidance. Local education authorities have to choose from three key areas and take into account seven aspects when considering the guidance and in drawing up their plans. Once the plans are approved, the local education authorities will no doubt have to follow their plans and the guidance. The consequences of not doing so are significant. The Secretary of State can withdraw approval of the plan under Clause 7(5). This presumably would have a number of consequences for those who are part of the plan going forward.

The amendment makes Parliament a little more accountable in relation to the very real new powers which the Secretary of State is acquiring. As my noble friend Lord Tope explained earlier, in many ways the group of amendments, of which this is one, seeks assurance and perhaps more detail about how the Government view the development and approval of education development plans. These matters are obviously of concern to both Opposition Benches in the House.

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That is the spirit in which we put forward these amendments and we look forward to hearing the Minister's comments. These matters are complex and the Minister can be in no doubt regarding our concern. I hope that the noble Lord can throw some light on how that complexity will be dealt with, and perhaps convince us that the drawing-up of these plans will go smoothly. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for moving the amendment. First, they are clearly thoughtful and serious amendments and a good deal of work has been put into them. Secondly, by raising the issue of consultation again she enables me to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, which I was not able to do under the rules of debate at Report stage.

The noble Lord complained that there had been a low response to the consultation, in particular from schools. I think he overlooked the fact--and I am sure he will forgive my saying this in his absence--that the formal written responses were only part of the process. All local education authorities came to the consultation conferences--I described them when I responded to his amendment--and their views were taken into account in the Government's responses. The consultation was designed in the first instance for local education authorities, since it is they who have the responsibility for drawing up the plans. Schools could respond if they wished, but there was no particular reason for them to do so, and it is not all that surprising that a small number of schools responded directly. In addition to the local education authorities responding individually, the two local authority associations and the four major teaching unions responded to the consultation process. We do not feel therefore that the response to the consultation, given the time available--it was not particularly short--was unsatisfactory.

The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, asked me to say more clearly how the drawing-up of the education development plans fits in. What we have sought to do with guidance--it is in turn guided by the consultation we have carried out, but in a form where the local education authority has to have regard to the guidance rather than the more specifically dirigiste provisions in Amendments No. 30 and 31, the new clauses--is to give local education authorities the opportunity to reflect their area's needs in their education development plans.

As I said in defending the role of the Secretary of State's duty to review and, if necessary, reject or modify education development plans, the Government as a whole have the responsibility for the raising of school standards. If we do not believe that the result of the local education authority's consideration will do the job, we have the right to do something about it. We do not want education development plans to be formulaic--to be expected responses to specific questions at every stage. We want them to be creative, imaginative, thoughtful and to reflect the needs of their particular areas.

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I am afraid that by putting these new clauses on the face of the Bill, the noble Baroness's proposal would add more unnecessary bureaucracy and cost to the preparation of education development plans. I am afraid that the same argument applies to Amendments Nos. 28 and 30 and to Amendments Nos. 29 and 31. It is desirable to consult on guidance on who should be consulted before the publication of statutory proposals. However, I suggest that it is not a good idea to use parliamentary time to submit that guidance to Parliament for consideration. It has never been the practice in the past and I do not see why it should be so in the future. Guidance is a lower level of the regulatory process than regulations. The very phrase "have regard to" is the appropriate description of the status of guidance.

Existing guidance is included in circulars; for example, on consultation on proposed changes. Circular 23 of 1994 provides all that is necessary to inform local authorities about what they have to do for consultation purposes. Existing guidance includes any LEA which is likely to be affected, the relevant diocese, the FEFC where 16 to 19 year-old provision is affected, any school which is subject to the proposals, other schools in the area, parents and teachers and any other interested party. I give that as an example of the way in which guidance and circulars provide a natural way for communication between government and local education authorities. I hope that on reflection the noble Baroness will agree that it is not appropriate to change them as her amendments propose.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that long explanation. It points out why we were right to be a little concerned about the issue and to explore it. So much of the Bill involves guidance being drawn up after consultation and while we are still examining it during its various stages.

I recognise the Minister's explanation of how guidance works and I understand that. A great deal of legislation and the interaction between central and local government is dealt with in guidance. However, we on these Benches are concerned about the fact that so much of the Bill provides for guidance and codes of practice. We consult more than we used to do. We on these Benches approve of that and we do so as regards local government. In drawing up guidance, we are involving ourselves more in consultation with a wide range of people and therefore perhaps this House and another place should examine that. The purpose of our amendments is to explore the changing way in which we consult people, draw up guidance and keep legislation flexible, thus enabling us to change.

I thank the Minister for his reply. We made it clear that we would not press amendments to the vote and therefore I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 28.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 29 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 30 and 31 not moved.]

Clause 7 [Approval, modification and review of statement of proposals]:

[Amendment No. 32 not moved.]

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Clause 9 [Education committees to include representatives of parent governors]:

Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 33:

Page 9, line 3, after ("elected") insert ("without voting rights").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we had a full debate on the subject in Committee and therefore I do not intend to dwell on the matter for long. However, for us it is a matter of principle that people who serve and have a vote on local authority committees, including the education committees, should be democratically elected to the local authority and thus accountable to the democratic process. That is the first reason for tabling the amendment. It would accept parent governor representatives on education committees, but they would have no voting rights. Indeed, a number of other people, teachers included, serve on education committees without voting rights.

The first and most important reason for tabling the amendment is one of principle and democratic accountability. As one who has served on and has been associated with education committees for more than 20 years, I wonder about the practice of the proposal. In rejecting a similar amendment in Committee, the Minister said:

    "We want to ensure not only that parents have a strong influence in discussions about education matters but that they can also play a full part in decisions taken by the relevant committees or sub-committees. Only by having a vote can they do so".--[Official Report, 19/5/98; col. 1541.]
None of us would question parents' opportunity and right to play a full and effective part in the decision-making process. However, I would certainly question whether the best way to achieve that is by having two parent governor representatives on an education committee and I would question most strongly the assertion that that can be done only by having a vote on the committee. The Minister is saying that non-voting members on education committees, social services committees and other local authority committees do not play an effective part. The opposite is true; they play a most useful and effective part and sometimes more so for not having a vote.

There is a supposition that most things which are decided by an education committee are decided by vote. In reality, the opposite is the case. Generally, there are few votes. Often a vote takes place because of a party political difference. In my experience, non-voting members--for instance, those representing the Churches--will not normally take part in the vote because they do not wish to be seen to be associated with party politics. It is right that they are not seen to be associated with one or other political party in a vote. Therefore, I doubt whether in practice the proposal will have the effect that the Minister suggests. To use words that are so often quoted to us, I do not believe that the proposal is necessary. I certainly do not believe that it is desirable and as a matter of important democratic principle if we are to have parent governor representatives on education committees they should not have voting rights. I beg to move.

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6.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, this is a matter of principle. In addition, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, pointed out, numerous practical problems arise. I received a letter from the Minister giving an explanation of how the measure would work. I do not know about the noble Lord, Lord Tope, but I believe that it would not take a prize for plain English. It was the most convoluted letter I had ever read. The measure is incredibly impractical and ours is an issue of principle. I support the noble Lord, Lord Tope, most strongly.

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