Orders of the Day — EDUCATION BILL [Money]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:15 pm on 10th November 1992.

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Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Bradford South 10:15 pm, 10th November 1992

The money resolution provides for any sums of money required by the Secretary of State. In other words, when the House has passed the resolution, it will not have given authority for money to be spent through the new funding authorities, that money being offset by money that was spent by previous authorities. It will have given authority to the Department to provide for any sums of money that the Secretary of State may require.

Paragraph 3 states: Local education authorities are currently paying for the upkeep of up to 1·5 million more school places than are required … Clause 14 places a duty on local education authorities and funding authorities to provide the Secretary of State with information". Clause 14 places a number of not qualified but absolute duties on local authorities. Those duties will cost money. As the House knows, LEAs, and local authorities in general, are extremely short of money. Will the money being authorised be made available to LEAs to cover the duties that clause 14 places on them?

It is interesting to note that the money resolution provides for any increase attibutable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act". If the Minister does not intend to pay money directly to the Department, what will happen if local authorities can show that the total expenditure that they are undertaking by virtue of the additional duties will result in a reduction in some other area of local authority expenditure? Does the money resolution require the Department to provide an increase in the amount to be paid? That places yet another obligation on the backs of local authorities without, so far, clear provision having been made by central Government to employ people to do the work in providing information about the alleged 1·5 million places that are needed.

By the way, the money resolution is couched in general terms, as are the "Financial effects of the Bill". I hope that the Minister is aware that local authorities such as Bradford, part of which I represent, do not have an excessive number of school places. Bradford has a shortage of school places because it has an expanding roll of pupils. More money is needed, not for the administrative requirements with which the Bill is riddled but for new schools and extensions to existing schools.

The Minister is probably aware that some 600 temporary classrooms are in use in Bradford to sustain the education system. I hope that he will bear it in mind that the powers contained under "Financial effects of the Bill" and the authority that he will gain from the money resolution cannot be used only for the grant-dispersing bodies—funding authorities—referred to in the Bill. As the money resolution provides for any sums required by the Secretary of State", he could conceivably use the authority in the Bill and the resolution to provide additional educational facilities for local authorities like Bradford, which are very short of money and urgently need extra money for proper educational purposes, such as more classrooms and permanent school extensions.

I draw the Minister's attention to the provision for payment of local public inquiries when schools are to be closed. What calculation has been made for the cost of those local inquiries? The money resolution provides for the Secretary of State to pay for them. The Government have a lot of experience in financing local public inquiries, particularly in controversial areas such as changing existing roads and introducing new roads. As it happens, the closure of schools is highly controversial and emotive, and local public inquiries could be heated, lengthy, and costly. Based on the Department for Education's experience in undertaking school closures, has the Minister made a rough calculation of how much will be allocated to financing local inquiries?

Paragraph 5 of the "Financial effects of the Bill" covers the balloting of parents and makes it clear that, under clause 28, the Secretary of State is given a new power to pay grant to local education authority maintained schools in support of the costs associated with their ballots of parents". What powers does the Secretary of State have in mind to pay those sums of money? The payment terms are determined by the Secretary of State but nothing is laid down in the Bill. The House is authorising the Secretary of State to spend money, having been given no idea of the extent of that expenditure. For example, it is one thing to provide postage for a single document explaining the parents' case, but it is another thing if the Secretary of State has in mind money to finance a propaganda campaign to support the move towards grant-maintained status. That would be entirely different and a great deal more expensive.

Before we give authority to the Secretary of State to spend money on terms determined entirely by himself, the House should know something about the sums that the Secretary of State has in mind to spend. It would be very unfair if he intended to hand out to parents who want to undertake balloting large sums of cash, simply on a propaganda exercise, without both sides of the argument being presented to those who wish to vote. It seems fair and reasonable to ask the Secretary of State what is to be provided. [Interruption.]