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Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): I support new clause 20, tabled in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) and other hon. Friends. It is not a wreckers' amendment but a reformers' amendmentvery much in the spirit of the Bill. In its provisions for Wales, the Bill would allow Wales to follow its own course and to devise an education policy that meets its needs.
In previous debates, I have been generous about the Bill and indeed about education policy in Wales. When I described Wales as a left-wing teachers' utopia, I did not realise how prescient I had been until I read in the Western Mail this morning that the Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning in the Welsh Assembly, Jane Davidson, is to sign a memorandum of understanding
Wales does well from the Bill. We welcomed many of its provisions, especially its sweeping enabling powers. There is one omission, however. The part of the Bill that deals with teachers' pay and conditions introduces a new framework for the determination of teachers' pay. We have tabled the new clause to close the lacuna in the devolution of education policy. All the clauses in that part of the Bill are devolved, but a veto is effectively being placed on the National Assembly for Wales as regards teachers' pay and conditions. I have yet to hear a convincing argument from Ministers as to why powers over pay and conditions should not be devolved.
Ian Lucas: Will the hon. Gentleman accept from me as a Member who represents a border seat within Wales, that different terms and conditions for teachers in Wales and in England would act to the detriment of recruitment that benefits Welsh children?
Adam Price: I would understand the hon. Gentleman's argument if it were not for the fact that it is built into the logic of the Bill that a local, decentralised system of pay agreement is to be allowed. There will certainly be no uniformity within England. We are also well aware that devolution of the power over pay and conditions would
If the Government are not prepared to take that step in one go, they could make arrangements to allow greater consultation with the School Teachers' Review Body. Clause 115 gives the Secretary of State alone the power to appoint members of the STRB. Why is there not a seat for a representative appointed by the National Assembly for Wales? Clause 117 allows the Secretary of State
Clause 117 also lists relevant bodies that must be consulted by the STRB in coming to its conclusions. The list includes local education authorities and school governing bodies, but it does not include the National Assembly for Wales, which is responsible for education policy. It is disgraceful that the Assembly will be connected with the STRB only by virtue of the fact that the Secretary of State must consult the Assembly. There is no requirement on the Secretary of State to pass the views of the Assembly on to the STRB.
In Committee, the Under-Secretary of State for Wales pointed out that the Scottish situation is different because Scotland has a separate education system. In Wales, the curriculum, the inspection system, financing, governance and organisation of schools are all separate. The only thing that remains conjoined is teachers' pay and conditions.
The continued yoking together of pay and conditions in England and Wales does not make sense if we are serious about allowing a genuinely distinctive policy. The Government have said that they are in favour of allowing divergence and distinctiveness in education policy. If we are to have a fully comprehensive education policy in Wales, in both senses of the word, we need devolution of the power over pay and conditions as well.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): As we continue with the pretence of scrutinising the Bill, I am keen that we should have an opportunity to vote on some of the later new clauses, which are of enormous importance to hon. Members on both sides of the House
Amendment. No 90 would limit the Secretary of State's power to interfere in staffing decisions in foundation and voluntary-aided schools. It is a simple amendment that would limit the Secretary of State's powers under the Bill to failing schools or schools where people are concerned about leadership. It would protect the status of foundation and voluntary-aided schools as the employers of their staff and their independence in taking those decisions. I want to hear the Minister's response, although I do not intend to press the new clause to a Division. I hope that we shall make rapid progress so that we can, at least briefly, deal with some of the other important new clauses.
The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Timms): I wish to speak to Government amendment No. 31. Under clause 118, our intention is to define the term "school teacher" to ensure that all those working in schools who are currently legally covered by pay and conditions orders continue to be so covered. Without the amendment, it might be argued that head teachers would not be covered, so there is a need to include them separately, as under the amendment.
I also wish to speak to Government amendment No. 32. The hon. Members for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) and for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) raised this matter in Committee. I undertook then to reflect on whether a specific requirement for consultation on orders made under clause 121(4)(a) should be incorporated into the primary legislation. Amendment No. 32 secures that, and I believe that it meets hon. Members' concerns in full, so I hope that they will welcome it.
New clause 3 contains some technical flaws, but the principle behind it is clear. It is intended to modify the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981, so that they apply to school staff involved in all transfers between maintained schools, whether or not a transfer between different employers is involved. TUPE should certainly cover transfers of undertaking between different employers, but it is unnecessary to go further than that to cover transfers or reorganisations between schools where the employer remains the same.
I wish to say two things to help the House and the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough. First, the current arrangements for dismissals in community, voluntary controlled and community special schools, which are set out in schedule 16 to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, require employing local education authorities to terminate the contracts of employees where their governing bodies have made determinations that they should cease to work at their schools. That requirement ensures that the employing LEA does not have to consider, in line with normal employers' duties, alternative employment options elsewhere in the authority area, including inquiries with other schools or services, in attempting to avoid redundancies. I understand the concern about that arrangement.
Secondly, I will give further thought to the doubt that now surrounds some transfers of staff to and from maintained schools, following the Askew judgment. That judgment was clear, but its terms and explanation raised some questions. The Bill may already clarify the employment position sufficiently to ease the problem, but I am prepared to consider it further.
I must say to the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) that it was a great disappointment to Government members of the Committee that its Conservative members consistently declined to take up the extra time that we were keen to offer. Evening after evening, we offered additional time so that we could scrutinise the Bill further, but our offers were repeatedly declined.
Amendment No. 90 would leave foundation voluntary-aided and foundation special schools to their own devices in deciding their arrangements for staffing. I accept that it is a probing amendment, but it does not provide a sensible way to proceed on such an important issue. The staffing of schools accounts for the greatest cost by far of their funding and it is important that resources are managed and spent wisely in accordance with good practice and appropriate professional advice. The regulations and statutory guidance on staffing provisions, which the amendment seeks to disapply, will ensure consistency, a basic level of good practice and appropriate professional advice. Details of the likely content of the staffing regulations have already been provided to members of the Committee and they are now in the Library of the House.
It is important that all schools are subject to those arrangements to ensure that matters are handled appropriately and consistently. In particular, suddenly applying the arrangements in the way that the amendment envisages when schools fall into failure would not make much difference in the short term, and it is help in the short term that failing schools need most. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that it is better to have arrangements that help schools avoid falling into failure in the first place. That is what we envisage.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) made an important point about new clause 20. It seeks to devolve teachers' pay and conditions to the National Assembly for Wales. We have not had any request for that to be done either from the Assembly or from the trade unions for the reasons that he gave.