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Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the United Kingdom has been able to reduce its contribution because of the other nations that have joined the Council?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as far as I am aware the contribution of the United Kingdom is holding steady. I am not aware of any reductions, but if what I have said is incorrect I shall write to the noble Lord to put the matter right. I believe that our contributions as a grand payeur hold steady at 12.84 per cent. per annum.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, I would not disagree with my noble friend on pursuing priorities. It would be highly desirable if the Council of Ministers were to take a firmer line in providing a higher priority for the public awareness, public relationship and education role which is now urgently needed and which would be especially appropriate as the 50th anniversary approaches.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, it is important that the Council of Europe is advertised properly within member countries. With the 50th anniversary, we shall have an opportunity to do that. That is a point to which I am now coming. My noble friends Lord Ponsonby, Lord Kirkhill and Lord Hardy of Wath reminded us that next year is the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Council's statute. It is fitting that this event should be celebrated in the United Kingdom to mark the Council's work and the United Kingdom's contribution to it. Plans are already under way. There will be a reception on 5th May at St. James's Palace, where the statute was signed. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has agreed to give a speech that afternoon in London on the role and contribution of the Council of Europe. My noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, said that there must be suitable arrangements for marking the anniversary. He was right. The Government hope that a UK national committee will soon be formed to help co-ordinate the 50th anniversary and take forward various ideas that have been suggested. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, for his interesting suggestions. I undertake that we shall look at them.

Lord Tordoff: My Lords, perhaps the Minister will forgive me for intervening once more. I had a discussion with the Government Chief Whip today and pointed out to him that the 5th May next year is a Wednesday, and

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that it might be appropriate for your Lordships' House to have a debate on the Council of Europe on that day. He pencilled that into his diary.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as always, the noble Lord's suggestions will be given careful consideration. I cannot give any undertakings now. I am sure that the matter will be looked at through the usual channels, as we would expect.

I have very little time left. Specific matters were raised by noble Lords with which I shall try to deal. If I cannot refer to them all, I shall write to those concerned. My noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede and the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, mentioned the second Council of Europe Summit. The Government subscribe fully to the final declaration and the action plan adopted at the second summit of the Council of Europe in October last year.

The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, mentioned member states' action plans. They define four main areas: democracy and human rights; social cohesion; security of citizens; and democratic values and diversity. Member states stress also the need for structural reforms to adapt the organisation to its new tasks. The Government fully support such reforms. We shall continue to assist the Council in prioritising its activities in line with the summit action plan.

My noble friends Lord Kirkhill and Lord Grenfell mentioned also the Committee of Wise Persons. The Government strongly support that committee in drawing up proposals for the structural reform of the Council of Europe. The European Union presidency representative on the council is Mrs. Audrey Glover, formerly director of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. The committee is drawing up proposals for adapting the Council of Europe to its new tasks and helping to streamline its activities. I assure my noble friend Lord Kirkhill that the Government look forward to receiving the committee's proposals. They are expected to be finalised in November.

I regret that I am coming to the end of my time. My noble friend Lord Ponsonby referred to the ratification of the protocols on human rights, biomedicine and cloning. For specific reasons it has not been possible to ratify those protocols. I shall write to my noble friend to explain why. The clock is against me. I cannot explain in sufficient detail now. I shall put a copy of that letter in the Library of the House so that other noble Lords are kept up to speed on that.

We can all thank my noble friend Lord Ponsonby for his timely introduction of the debate. We must also thank my noble friend's grizzled, old, and somewhat tired journalistic friend. In my experience grizzled, old and somewhat tired journalistic friends can sometimes be good friends, and on this occasion I rather think that he was.

The Council of Europe remains as vital today as it was when established in 1949. I believe that the Government are at one with my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede in his concern to promote the Council's work further. We can achieve this by

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continuing to play a leading role in developing its legal and political machinery for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms and by helping the new democracies of Europe to meet the commitments they have accepted on joining the organisation. In its first 50 years the Council has met the challenges of a changing Europe. Together we should take every opportunity to ensure the effectiveness of the Council in meeting the further challenges it will face in the years to come.

School Standards and Framework Bill

8.35 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed on Clause 10.

[Amendments Nos. 35 to 37 not moved.]

Clause 11 [Establishment of Education Action Forum for zone]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 38:

Page 10, line 27, at end insert--
("( ) An Education Action Forum shall be the employer of all teaching and non-teaching staff at all schools within the education action zone.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 39. Amendment No. 38 relates to a management issue. It has always been my view, as borne out by successful management, that responsibility should be as close to the unit of operation as possible. Therefore, if there is such a thing as an action forum, it should have some of the levers of the control. One of the levers of control of course is control over staffing.

I am aware from the previous debate that some of the control over staffing will be those members of staff who are appointed on contract for the period of the action zone, presumably for three or five years. If they do not have control over staffing then they do not have control over one of the key factors in improving education. A factor in improving education is often sorting out the quality of the staff and ensuring that only staff of the highest quality are available to teach in an area that is especially challenging. That is the whole idea of action zones. They are to tackle failing education, failing LEAs and often failing schools. It is important that that should be the case.

Amendment No. 39 is tabled because the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, made a generous response to my noble friend Lord Skidelsky when he brought up this point in Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, appeared to be worried about the terminology. He explained that he was sympathetic and said:

    "It may be that that is something which will be covered by the regulations and I shall think about that proposition. However, I am not sure that we want to start hares running by suggesting a new approach which would mean that an individual school could be treated separately from the whole action zone".

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The noble Lord, Lord Whitty said that in relation to a school:

    "Although it will remain accountable in that it must fulfil its contract, it will be separate from the overall structure of the education action zone. Perhaps there is some terminology that is half-way between us, but the concept of leasing out gives the impression of not simply an arm's length relationship of the kind to which the noble Baroness referred but one in which the school is treated completely outside the education action zone where we want to see a mutually supportive system between all the schools in the zone".
My noble friend asked:

    "If there is some terminology that is half-way between us, why do the Government believe that it is not appropriate to put it on the face of the Bill?".--[Official Report, 19/5/98; col. 1599.]
The impression given by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was that he would reflect on that matter. My noble friend ended by welcoming the Minister's assurance that he would reflect on the matter and possibly go half-way somewhere in the Bill to meet the arguments which my noble friends and I have been putting forward. With that assurance he begged leave to withdraw the amendment. This amendment is therefore in the vein of what appeared to be a very accommodating answer and a genuine willingness on the part of the Government to address the problem.

Referring to a point I made earlier, it is now common knowledge outside the Department for Education and Employment that Mr. Byers wants to see a tackling of individual schools where the challenges have eluded many well-intentioned educationalists in the past. There are some innovative, exciting and interesting ideas around and he has expressed a wish to be free to pursue some of them.

Amendment No. 39--it was Amendment No. 64 at Committee stage--suggests that a way should be found to facilitate such an eventuality. It might be through leasing from the action zone, where the forum believes there is a school with specifically defined problems which could be contracted out to a body which could address those problems effectively, fully accountable to the action forum. It seems to me that we are all talking about means to ends. If that improves education in a school which has hitherto failed, then it is worth trying.

We understand that the Minister in another place is receptive to these ideas; and we want to make it possible for him to pursue them over the coming years. I beg to move.

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