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Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, does he not agree with me that acting on advice is different as a concept from acting in accordance with advice? I understood the first part of what the noble Lord said as stating that a Minister would have to act in accordance with advice. If he is saying that, will he, on reflection, not accept that that is a serious mistake? Does he not accept that Ministers in this particular jurisdiction and in many others listen to what is said to them by, among other people, Members of Parliament? Is the noble Lord suggesting that it would be wrong for a Minister to act in accordance with what a Member of Parliament has suggested, notwithstanding that the official advice might be otherwise? Will it be open to an adjudicator to receive representations from a Member of Parliament when a case has gone to the adjudicator in the event of a disagreement from a school organisation committee?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, as regards the noble Lord's first point, I would be the last person

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to cross swords with him in view of his distinguished career in government. The point I was making was a much more simple one; namely, that a Minister in making a decision whether on advice or in accordance with it is not acting as an elected politician but as someone who has the responsibility of taking into account the facts of the case. In answer to his second question, of course it will be open to an adjudicator to receive representations from a Member of Parliament or from anyone else.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down and with the leave of the House, may I say that no Minister below Secretary of State actually took those decisions. There was a great deal of activity. One listened to delegations from parents and delegations from Members of Parliament. One culled all the information and one was advised by officials. After taking all that advice and coming to a view about the recommendation, it was put to the Secretary of State, who took the decision on the basis of all that information, including ministerial advice. At the end of the day the decision was taken by an elected Member. A great deal of activity is cut out in this process. If someone has an army of people around him, it will become even more expensive. As I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said, it is a quango post and unelected. It is a placemen post and not accountable to anybody.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, if I am being asked a question before I sit down for a second time, my answer is that I am in no position to question the noble Baroness's description of the way in which government operated when she was part of it.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, after all those interventions, which I am not sure were entirely apposite, perhaps I may reply to my amendment. I found some of the Minister's remarks somewhat surprising. If carried to logical conclusions, he was saying that in many cases we might as well have a dictatorship and that at any level of government elected members should not be relied on to make decisions. I found that disturbing, but it highlights why we are so concerned about what is happening here. I am concerned that those who are democratically elected should be making the decisions. Politics does come into this--quite often--and I regret that in some cases that happens when perhaps it should not. Many decisions are not particularly political, but come down to common sense and to the question of what is the best value or what is best for everybody in any area. In terms of school closures, it tends to be money that makes things political.

I have not been convinced by the Minister. In fact, his comments about the way he thinks decisions are made and the right of those who have been elected to make those decisions worry me no end. I am sure that we shall return to this again, but at this exciting stage--I am not sure whether we have the latest news of the match--I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 77:


After Clause 24, insert the following new clause--

Right of appeal against decision of adjudicator

(" . The governing body of any school or the parents of pupils at any school affected by decisions of the adjudicator with respect to matters referred to him concerning or in connection with--
(a) school organisation plans under section 25 below;
(b) directions given under Schedule 7 concerning rationalisation of school places; or
(c) admission arrangements under sections 88 and 89 below,
shall, in all cases, have a right of appeal to the Secretary of State.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I have the opportunity to discuss this amendment only because the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, withdrew the previous amendment. If the House had taken a view on the previous amendment, this amendment may have fallen.

If the role of the adjudicator is to survive after the Bill has passed through both Houses and Parliament has given its assent, it is fundamental that there should be a right of appeal to the adjudicator. It is conceivable that a local authority, having done all its work, may make a recommendation about a school; that that recommendation may go to the organisation committee, on which there is one dissenting voice; then that decision moves on to the adjudicator. As I understand the paper on the adjudicator, the adjudicator is free to accept the majority view; he is free to accept the minority view or he is free to reject both those views and to propose an alternative decision which will be the final word. That is the most undemocratic proposal to have come from this Government. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am afraid that this is one of those cases where nothing will bring us together. We have a profound disagreement about the role of the Secretary of State and about local decision-making. I shall not go into the nature of decision-making in departments. I have already got into enough trouble by venturing amateur opinions on that subject, so I shall steer clear of it.

The issue before us is straightforward. Where we have gone to great lengths to secure that as far as possible decisions shall be taken at local level by those who are responsible--I refer not just the LEAs but to the schools, the diocesan and Church authorities and to all others who are necessarily involved in the issues considered by a school organisation committee--and where we have provided only for those, we hope, rare cases where there is no agreement (despite all attempts at mediation) for the provision of an adjudicator, the last thing that we want is for the matter to be returned to the Secretary of State for a final decision on appeal, as is provided for in the amendment.

The whole thrust of the Bill has been against central control of school organisation and other educational matters. We are profoundly opposed to this amendment.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble Lord will not be surprised that I am disappointed by his reply. The thrust of the Bill is that, where the Government do not want to take difficult decisions, they pass them on to third parties--in this case, to the adjudicator and, in the

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case of grammar schools, to the people, in a rigged ballot system. I believe that that is a wholly unsatisfactory answer. The organisation committee with responsibility for determining a decision following a proposal from the LEA is made up of the Further Education Funding Council which may have nothing whatever to do with, say, the primary school. Church authorities may have nothing to do with the proposal because there is no Church interest whatever. Governors of schools may have nothing to do with the proposal, in particular as the noble Baroness and noble Lords have rejected the idea of having all categories of schools represented on this body; and the LEA is involved only as a small part of the whole. That is the so-called local democratic body. It is unelected and is placed there by the Secretary of State.

The noble Lord makes much of harmony and co-operation at local level. Where there is no dissension at local level these decisions do not even go to the Secretary of State. But where one is talking of a merger, a closure, the removal of a sixth form, the ending of selection--whatever it may be--almost always there is dissension. What is particularly distasteful about the proposals is that if the dissension is on the part of the governors of the school affected by the proposal, or if the dissension is on the part of the LEA that is outnumbered on the organisation committee, and it goes to the adjudicator that dissension counts for absolutely nothing because it is not part of the decision-making process. I do not believe that that is democratic. If they are to proceed with this undemocratic process the least the Government can put in place is a right of appeal to the Secretary of State against the decision of an adjudicator, in particular if an adjudicator arrives at an alternative solution that is no part of the proposals of the LEA or the organisation committee but which has been dreamt up because it is one way of solving the problem. I do not believe that the Government can defend such an indefensible position. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 78 not moved.]

10.45 p.m.

Clause 25 [School organisation plans]:


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