Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:22 pm on 26th October 1993.

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Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office) 8:22 pm, 26th October 1993

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for nodding his assent.

The hon. Gentleman also asked whether provision would be made for any concerned parties to make known their concerns before amalgamations of colleges take place. Article 26 requires the Department to carry out wide consultation before making a determination that two or more colleges should be amalgamated. The bodies to be consulted include the governing bodies of the colleges, the education and library board that manages the colleges and the staff and students of the colleges. The hon. Gentleman will accept that most of the bodies to which he referred are covered. But if any other bodies or individuals wished to express any views about any proposed amalgamation of colleges, I should be happy to take them on board before any decisions were made. As I said in my opening remarks, however, we have extended consultation to the staff and students of the colleges and I hope that that will be welcomed.

The hon. Member for Wigan asked about the low pay of staff involved in contracts. The interests of the education service are being assisted by the savings that are being generated by the boards in the competitive tendering of the four defined services. Savings of £1·2 million a year are retained by the boards for use in enhancing education services. The boards are satisfied about the financial benefits and other advantages that CCT will bring, especially where there are real pressures on available sources. Moneys saved by the boards will be used in improving the funding of schools, colleges, libraries and youth clubs. The hon. Gentleman spoke of value for money, which I hope he will accept is one of the major purposes of the order.

The hon. Gentleman also asked whether, during the tendering process, boards will be allowed to ask about the terms and conditions of employers' staff. The answer is no. Article 20 deals specifically with non-commercial issues that cannot be raised by boards in considering contracts for defined services. It is specifically designed to prevent discrimination against employers and to ensure a level playing field for all those who are interested in competing for this work. Efficiency, effectiveness and quality of service demand that this provision be applied on grounds of equity.

The hon. Gentleman asked a number of other questions, not least about the political affiliation of potential employers who might contract. I refer him to article 20(5) (6), which deals with the political, industrial or sectarian affiliations of contractors or their employees.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North made a number of significant and important points and asked a number of specific questions. He asked about maintained schools that might opt for voluntary status. No maintained schools have opted back to voluntary status and it is not likely that any will. The provision may be otiose, but it is appropriate to make it available until consultation has taken place with interested parties.

The hon. Gentleman asked how many schools might opt for 100 per cent. grant. Some 600 voluntary schools are potentially eligible for the new 100 per cent. arrangements. Of course, not all will necessarily decide to opt in this way. Existing schools can retain existing management arrangements, and if they do so they will still be entitled to only the capital grant rate of 85 per cent.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North asked about the new provision on appeals against expulsion applying to pupils in all schools. I can tell him that it does, including maintained schools, and I hope that that will reassure him.