Clause 24 – in the House of Commons at 6:45 pm on 24th March 1998.

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Photo of Stephen Dorrell Stephen Dorrell Shadow Secretary of State for Education 6:45 pm, 24th March 1998

I beg to move amendment No. 89, in page 22, line 21, at end insert—

  1. '(1A) Any vacancy for a post of adjudicator shall be advertised publicly;
  2. (1B) Any advertisement issued under the terms of subsection (1A) of this section shall set out the qualifications sought in successful candidates for appointment as adjudicators and shall state the process by which decisions will be made about which applicants are appointed as adjudicators.'.
The amendment seeks to throw open what will otherwise be the almost completely closed world of the adjudicator. The Bill attributes huge power to adjudicators in the schools system; the amendment would increase their accountability.

The amendment is relevant to the previous debate on the role of the school organisation committee in designing an area's schools system. The Bill states that whenever the school organisation committee cannot reach agreement—assuming that the Government's assurances on the unanimity principle are given effect—the decision would fall, in the circumstances envisaged by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), to the adjudicator.

Similarly, terms elsewhere in the Bill provide that adjudicators will decide when there are local disputes about arrangements for admission to schools. Those are huge issues that impact directly on the choices parents make about which school their children will attend. They impact on the performance and development of popular and unpopular schools. They impact directly on the debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning)—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Order. Perhaps we can have less background noise in the Chamber.

Photo of Stephen Dorrell Stephen Dorrell Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I was referring to new clause 13, which sought to give effect to the pledge made by the Minister for School Standards on the day before the countryside march: no rural school would close without a specific decision of the Secretary of State. It became clear in the debate on new clause 13 that the Minister's words meant nothing, because beyond September 1999—

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Order. I will not allow the right hon. Gentleman to go over past business. We are debating amendment No. 89.

Photo of Stephen Dorrell Stephen Dorrell Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Both the new clause and the amendment are relevant to the adjudicator being accorded power. The amendment would increase public accountability of the person who will make the decision that the Minister said on television would be made by the Secretary of State. The Minister made it clear at the Dispatch Box this afternoon that, beyond September 1999, when the principle of unanimity, mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald, on the school organisation committee, which the Government accepted, leads to the decision not being made locally, the decision will be made by a public official—the adjudicator. The adjudicator will make decisions about the structure of school provision in an area when local forces cannot agree.

I agree with the Under-Secretary that it is better that local people agree, but when they cannot, who will decide whether a Catholic school expands or contracts? Who will decide whether a Church of England school expands or contracts? Who will decide whether a rural school closes? The answer to every question is, the adjudicator.

Then we come to the question: who are these adjudicators? To whom will my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald look when her unanimity principle is observed and local people cannot decide? Who will deal with the question that the public believe—the Minister for School Standards has assured them—will be made by the Secretary of State? Who will make such a decision on behalf of the Secretary of State and of the public?

When we raised these issues in Committee, the Under-Secretary gave what can only be described, charitably, as a rather incomplete answer. She suggested that adjudicators would be part time; possibly, she suggested helpfully—at least to the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis)—they would be retired head teachers. We were led to believe that the Government would be going on patrol, looking for retired head teachers who wanted to spend two days a week making decisions on which rural schools should close, and the availability of denominational education on behalf of the constituents of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald and the interest groups about which is concerned—against the background of an assurance that the Secretary of State would make such decisions.

The same story runs through the Government. One of the first announcements after the general election was that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would no longer decide monetary policy and would pass such decisions to Eddie George. Now we hear that key decisions on provision of the schools system will no longer be made by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment. They are to be passed to faceless people called adjudicators.

Under the amendment, there would at the very least be a public, open and accountable appointments system for public officials who will be making sensitive local decisions. We would be able to see who makes decisions that the public think will be made by the Secretary of State. The amendment would require any vacancy for such a powerful post to be advertised, so that we can see what type of official the Government envisage appointing to discharge such important functions. We should be able to see the Government's job description for an adjudicator. There is certainly no hint of that in the Bill. The Bill merely describes in broad terms the powers of the adjudicator; it tells us virtually nothing about the way in which the adjudicator is supposed to work.

In opposition, Labour Members made huge play of the need for open government. The amendment would ensure that the Government have to advertise adjudicator vacancies and state what qualifications they require. They would have to state how people will be appointed, to whom they will be accountable, how they will be called to account if a series of decisions lead to criticism of an adjudicator's role, and how, ultimately, they will be fired if they make decisions for which there is no basis of public support. The Bill answers none of those questions.

The Government are taking away powers to make key decisions on a locality's schools system from the Secretary of State, who is accountable to the House, and from junior Ministers, who respond to local concerns expressed by hon. Members, and according them to an appointed official. The amendment would begin a path to open up what will otherwise be a completely closed system.

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Parliamentary Under-Secretary (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Employment)

That was the most amazing eight minutes of hot air that I have heard in Committee or on Report. The answers are simple. The right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) has received in writing the assurances for which he has just asked. He asked for the vacancy of the post of adjudicator to be advertised publicly. In a letter of 18 February, I wrote to him saying: We shall advertise the posts widely". What more does he want?

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Parliamentary Under-Secretary (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Employment)

Ah, it is different now; it is not that he does not know what it entails, but that it should be in the Bill. The argument changes as the minutes go by. The right hon. Gentleman is trying to make a big issue of something on which he knows he has received assurances. Proposed subsections (1A) and (1B) describe proper procedures when appointing a person to fulfil the role of adjudicator. I again give the right hon. Gentleman the assurances that I gave him in Committee—at column 380 of the 11th sitting—and that I wrote to him about on 18 February. Both the things he asks for in the amendment have already been given.

Photo of Mr Allan Rogers Mr Allan Rogers Labour, Rhondda

Does my hon. Friend agree that the right hon. Gentleman's remarks are a bit rich, given that the Conservatives set up next steps agencies and appointed bodies that took responsibility from Ministers? I could probably give him a thick sheaf of replies to parliamentary questions in which he said that he was not responsible for a particular issue because it was the responsibility of a next steps agency. His argument smacks of hypocrisy.

7 pm

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Parliamentary Under-Secretary (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Employment)

My hon. Friend is right. The right hon. Gentleman is a late convert to accountability.

The amendment should be withdrawn. I do not disagree with anything that the right hon. Gentleman has said, but he has already had the assurances that he seeks. I am prepared to give them again on the Floor of the House. The posts will be advertised, and the advertisements will make it clear that the successful candidates will have to have a range of qualities that we shall decide on when we draw up the advertisements. We have wasted 10 minutes that could have been better spent. There are other issues on which we disagree, but we agree on this.

Photo of Ms Estelle Morris Ms Estelle Morris Parliamentary Under-Secretary (School Standards), Department for Education and Employment, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Employment)

No, I shall not give way again.

We disagree only on whether the provision should be included in the Bill. I have given the right hon. Gentleman verbal and written assurances. There is no need to press the amendment. If he does so, I urge hon. Members to vote against it.

Photo of Stephen Dorrell Stephen Dorrell Shadow Secretary of State for Education

I had not intended to push the amendment to a vote, not because the issue is unimportant but because I want to get on to other issues, but not only did the Minister not answer my questions: she resisted my attempt to intervene to remind her of them. The Bill accords substantial powers to the new adjudicators. The Minister has given us an assurance that the posts will be advertised; she has not told us to whom the adjudicators will be responsible or what checks and balances there will be on their work.

I do not intend to push my amendment to a vote, but I give notice that I expect my noble Friends in another place to return to this important issue of accountability. If the school system is to be accountable to local people, it must be clear who makes the decisions, how those people are appointed and how they are held to account. The Minister did not explain that. We shall continue in another place to pursue the accountability of adjudicators. Against that background, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 162, in page 23, line 9, at end insert— '(bb) requiring that agreement of the draft plan by the school organisation committee in respect of denominational school provision shall be by unanimity.'—[Miss Widdecombe.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 118, Noes 308.

Division No. 222][7.3 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Grieve, Dominic
Ancram, Rt Hon MichaelHague, Rt Hon William
Arbuthnot, JamesHamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Hammond, Philip
Baldry, TonyHawkins, Nick
Bercow, JohnHeald, Oliver
Beresford, Sir PaulHeathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Blunt, CrispinHunter, Andrew
Body, Sir RichardJack, Rt Hon Michael
Boswell, TimJenkin, Bernard
Brady, GrahamJohnson Smith,
Brazier, JulianRt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterKey, Robert
Browning, Mrs AngelaKing, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Burns, SimonLaing, Mrs Eleanor
Butterfill, JohnLait, Mrs Jacqui
Chapman, Sir SydneyLansley, Andrew
(Chipping Barnet)Leigh, Edward
Chope, ChristopherLetwin, Oliver
Clappison, JamesLewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)Lidington, David
Clarke, Rt Hon KennethLilley, Rt Hon Peter
(Rushcliffe)Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyLoughton, Tim
Colvin, MichaelLuff, Peter
Cormack, Sir PatrickLyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Curry, Rt Hon DavidMacGregor, Rt Hon John
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)MacKay, Andrew
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)McLoughlin, Patrick
Day, StephenMalins, Humfrey
Dorrell, Rt Hon StephenMaples, John
Duncan Smith, IainMates, Michael
Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterMaude, Rt Hon Francis
Evans, NigelMawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Flight, HowardMay, Mrs Theresa
Forth, Rt Hon EricMoss, Malcolm
Fox, Dr LiamNicholls, Patrick
Gibb, NickNorman, Archie
Gill, ChristopherOttaway, Richard
Gillan, Mrs CherylPage, Richard
Gorman, Mrs TeresaPaice, James
Gray, JamesPaterson, Owen
Green, DamianPickles, Eric
Greenway, JohnPrior, David
Randall, JohnTaylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Robathan, AndrewTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)Taylor, Sir Teddy
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)Townend, John
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)Tredinnick, David
Ruffley, DavidTyrie, Andrew
St Aubyn, NickWalter, Robert
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs GillianWardle, Charles
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)Waterson, Nigel
Spelman, Mrs CarolineWells, Bowen
Spicer, Sir MichaelWhitney, Sir Raymond
Spring, RichardWhittingdale, John
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir JohnWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Streeter, GaryYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Swayne, DesmondTellers for the Ayes:
Syms, RobertSir David Madel and Mr. James Cran.
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Abbott, Ms DianeColman, Tony
Ainger, NickConnarty, Michael
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Allan, RichardCorbett, Robin
Allen, GrahamCorston, Ms Jean
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Cousins, Jim
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Cox, Tom
Armstrong, Ms HilaryCrausby, David
Ashton, JoeCryer, John (Hornchurch)
Baker, NormanCummings, John
Barnes, HarryCunliffe, Lawrence
Barron, KevinCunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Battle, JohnDafis, Cynog
Bayley, HughDalyell, Tam
Bell, Martin (Tatton)Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Bennett, Andrew FDarvill, Keith
Benton, JoeDavey, Edward (Kingston)
Bermingham, GeraldDavey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Berry, RogerDavidson, Ian
Best, HaroldDavies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Betts, CliveDawson, Hilton
Blackman, LizDean, Mrs Janet
Blears, Ms HazelDenham, John
Blizzard, BobDobbin, Jim
Blunkett, Rt Hon DavidDonohoe, Brian H
Borrow, DavidDoran, Frank
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Drown, Ms Julia
Brake, TomDunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Brand, Dr PeterEagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Brinton, Mrs HelenEagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)Edwards, Huw
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)Efford, Clive
Browne, DesmondEllman, Mrs Louise
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Ennis, Jeff
Buck, Ms KarenField, Rt Hon Frank
Burden, RichardFitzpatrick, Jim
Burgon, ColinFitzsimons, Lorna
Burnett, JohnFlint, Caroline
Byers, StephenFlynn, Paul
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Foster, Don (Bath)
Campbell-Savours, DaleFoster, Michael J (Worcester)
Canavan, DennisFoulkes, George
Cann, JamieFyfe, Maria
Caplin, IvorGalloway, George
Casale, RogerGapes, Mike
Caton, MartinGardiner, Barry
Chaytor, DavidGibson, Dr Ian
Chisholm, MalcolmGilroy, Mrs Linda
Clapham, MichaelGodman, Norman A
Clark, Dr LyndaGrant, Bernie
(Edinburgh Pentlands)Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)Grocott, Bruce
Clwyd, AnnGrogan, John
Coaker, VernonGunnell, John
Coffey, Ms AnnHain, Peter
Coleman, IainHall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Hancock, MikeMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hanson, DavidMarshall-Andrews, Robert
Harris, Dr EvanMartlew, Eric
Heal, Mrs SylviaMeacher, Rt Hon Michael
Healey, JohnMichie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)Milburn, Alan
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)Miller, Andrew
Hepburn, StephenMitchell, Austin
Heppell, JohnMoffatt, Laura
Hewitt, Ms PatriciaMoonie, Dr Lewis
Hill, KeithMorgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Hinchliffe, DavidMorgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Hodge, Ms MargaretMorris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hoey, KateMountford, Kali
Home Robertson, JohnMudie, George
Hoon, GeoffreyMullin, Chris
Hope, PhilMurphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hopkins, KelvinMurphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Howells, Dr KimNaysmith, Dr Doug
Hoyle, LindsayOaten, Mark
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)O'Hara, Eddie
Hughes, Simon (Southward N)Olner, Bill
Humble, Mrs JoanO'Neill, Martin
Hurst, AlanÖpik, Lembit
Hutton, JohnPalmer, Dr Nick
Iddon, Dr BrianPearson, Ian
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)Pendry, Tom
Jamieson, DavidPerham, Ms Linda
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)Pickthall, Colin
Johnson, Miss MelaniePike, Peter L
(Welwyn Hatfield)Plaskitt, James
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Pollard, Kerry
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)Pope, Greg
Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Mon)Powell, Sir Raymond
Jones, Ms JennyPrentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
(Wolverh'ton SW)Primarolo, Dawn
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)Prosser, Gwyn
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)Purchase, Ken
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)Quin, Ms Joyce
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)Quinn, Lawrie
Keeble, Ms SallyRadice, Giles
Kemp, FraserRammell, Bill
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)Rapson, Syd
Kidney, DavidRaynsford, Nick
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N)
Kirkwood, ArchyRendel, David
Kumar, Dr AshokRobinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Ladyman, Dr StephenRogers, Allan
Lawrence, Ms JackieRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
Laxton, BobRowlands, Ted
Lepper, DavidRoy, Frank
Levitt, TomRuddock, Ms Joan
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Livsey, RichardRyan, Ms Joan
Lock, DavidSanders, Adrian
McAvoy, ThomasSarwar, Mohammad
McCabe, SteveSavidge, Malcolm
McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)Sedgemore, Brian
McDonagh, SiobhainShaw, Jonathan
Macdonald, CalumSheerman, Barry
McDonnell, JohnSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McFall, JohnShipley, Ms Debra
McGuire, Mrs AnneShort, Rt Hon Clare
McIsaac, ShonaSimpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
McKenna, Mrs RosemarySkinner, Dennis
McLeish, HenrySmith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
McNulty, TonySmith, Angela (Basildon)
MacShane, DenisSmith, Miss Geraldine
Mactaggart, Fiona(Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Mahon, Mrs AliceSmith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Mandelson, PeterSmith, John (Glamorgan)
Marek, Dr JohnSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Soley, CliveTwigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Spellar, JohnVaz, Keith
Squire, Ms RachelWallace, James
Starkey, Dr PhyllisWalley, Ms Joan
Steinberg, GerryWareing, Robert N
Stevenson, GeorgeWatts, David
Stinchcombe, PaulWebb, Steve
Stoate, Dr HowardWhite, Brian
Strang, Rt Hon Dr GavinWhitehead, Dr Alan
Straw, Rt Hon JackWicks, Malcolm
Stringer, GrahamWilliams, Rt Hon Alan
Stunell, Andrew(Swansea W)
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs AnnWilliams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
(Dewsbury)Willis, Phil
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)Wills, Michael
Taylor, David (NW Leics)Winnick, David
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)Wise, Audrey
Timms, StephenWoolas, Phil
Tipping, PaddyWray, James
Todd, MarkWright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Touhig, DonWright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, PaulTellers for the Noes:
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)Mr. David Clelland and Mr. Jim Dowd.
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)

Question accordingly negatived.