Clause 8 — Transfer of other property

Bills Presented — Fixed-term Parliaments Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:45 pm on 22nd July 2010.

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Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships) 6:45 pm, 22nd July 2010

I beg to move amendment 65, page 6, line 38, at end add-

'(11) The Secretary of State before making a property transfer scheme shall consult with-

(a) the local authority;

(b) the current owner, if not the local authority;

(c) such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.'.

An identical amendment was tabled in the other place by the noble Baroness Sharp of Guildford, and the rationale behind the proposal remains sound. The clause allows the Secretary of State to "make" a property transfer scheme, which might involve the transfer of IT equipment and other assets. I mentioned last night the weakness in the Bill regarding consultation, and amendment 65 would improve the consultative process. It seems perfectly reasonable to the Opposition that the local authority and the current owner-if that is not the local authority-are consulted to ascertain what should happen to other property or assets, and whether they could be used elsewhere in the area for alternative educational provision.

In speaking to the identical amendment in the other place, Baroness Sharp also said the clause does not mention consultation with interested parties that might be affected by such a transfer, such as catering contractors. My hon. Friend Mr Anderson and I made a similar point last night about proper consultation with hard-working staff within the estate, such as catering and cleaning staff, as well as consultation on other assets such as IT equipment.

The amendment would mean a much smoother transfer from the existing school when it converts to academy status. The Minister in the other place said that he would reflect on the matter, and I believe that clause 10 arose as a result of that reflection. However, what should happen to other property, because that too should be subject to wider consultation? There should be proper consideration on important assets, of which the most important are the people who will be affected by the transfer. By doing so, we would ensure a much smoother, less painful and more considered transfer.

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Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

Clause 8 gives the Secretary of State the power to make a scheme to transfer the property of a maintained school in respect of which an academy order has been made. Amendment No. 65, ably moved by Mr Wright, would require the Secretary of State to consult the local authority or other owner or any other appropriate persons before making a property transfer scheme that would affect, among other things, desks, computers and the assets of any existing school.

In the case of converting academies, we intend that there should be a seamless transfer between the existing maintained school and the academy, as part of which the school will clearly need to be able to continue to use its property, and to take advantage of contracts into which it may have entered, such as those for cleaning, catering and insurance. It may also need to transfer the benefit of trust funds left in trust for pupils or the school. The trust-say, a bursary for art left to the school many years ago in the will of a benefactor-may well mention the name of the predecessor school, and clause 8 would enable it to be transferred to the new entity of the academy.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

In this consultation, is there a specific undertaking given by the Government that in any transfer they would consult the staff or staff organisations of those employed by contractors in one building, as my hon. Friend Mr Wright pointed out in his contribution?

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Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

In earlier debates we talked about TUPE. If staff are subject to the TUPE regulations, all the relevant consultation processes would apply. But if the hon. Gentleman is talking about a contractor who works neither for the previous maintained school or the local authority, and who will not become an employee of the academy, his or her employment rights continue to lie with the contracting company, not with the predecessor school or the academy.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

My point is that if there is a contract for, say, computer maintenance, with clear employment implications, and it is transferred, the employment requirement also carries on. If it is not transferred, there would be employment implications to which the Secretary of State might be blind because he is looking only at the transfer of property.

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Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

In those circumstances, the contract would transfer under this clause, but the employment rights would be between the company that is the subject of the contract and the employee, who is not employed either by the predecessor school or the successor academy. The employment rights would not change because the contract would continue with the employer, who would not change.

I should say that we anticipate that the making of any scheme under the provisions of this legislation will be rare. We hope that, in most cases, the transfer of property in connection with a school converting to an academy would be, as now, by agreement among the parties. In most circumstances, a transfer of contract would take place by agreement. That would be our starting point for any property transfer, and this would ensure that all those with an interest in the transfer of such property would be involved in negotiations about their potential transfer. Therefore, we would not get to the point of considering making a scheme under this clause until such discussions were exhausted. It is therefore inconceivable that anyone with an interest in the property to be transferred would not be consulted on a possible transfer in advance of any scheme being made. There is no reason why the Secretary of State would go to the trouble or expense of making a scheme if matters could be resolved amicably. There might be some contracts though, where the other party might try to use a transfer to obtain further financial benefit. The possibility of the making of a scheme would remove that incentive. The provision is an attempt to prevent the possibility that someone might be able to leverage financial compensation, knowing that the transfer has to take place. It is to avoid that possibility that this clause is in place, so that the Secretary of State can make a transfer against the wishes of people who are party to the contract.

The amendment is therefore unnecessary and I ask the hon. Member for Hartlepool to withdraw it.

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Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

In the large amount of time I have available, I would like to say that the Minister has explained a lot, and to be fair he has gone some way further than the Minister in the other place-

Debate interrupted (Programme Order, 19 July).

The Chair put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83D), That the amendment be made.

Question negatived.

The Chair then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83D).

Clauses 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 11 to 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clause 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill

The occupant of the Chair left the Chair to report progress and ask leave to sit again (Programme Order, 19 July).

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again on Monday 26 July.

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