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Education Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 24th January 2005.

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Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Work and Pensions) 6:45 pm, 24th January 2005

I broadly support the thrust of the noble Baroness's agenda. However, I will explain why I think that the amendment is not necessary and would perhaps frustrate what she seeks to achieve, although I recognise it is a probing amendment.

The purpose of the amendments that we are proposing to Schedule 22 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 is to ensure proper protection for local authority land transferred to the trustees of foundation schools. The amendments reinforce existing protection for such land so as to enable the Secretary of State to ensure that, in the event that it is no longer required for the purposes of the school which it was originally transferred to, any proceeds of sale may be retained for public benefit.

The Bill gives the Secretary of State the flexibility to determine to what use such proceeds of sale might be put. He might direct, for example, that they be paid to the local authority, retained by the school for other purposes, or made available to the governors or trustees of a different school.

The powers we are proposing for the Secretary of State in this sub-paragraph are identical to the Secretary of State's existing powers under Schedule 22(1)(3).

Where the trustees of a foundation school sought the Secretary of State's consent to dispose of land, they would submit details of the proposed disposal and how they intended to use any sale proceeds. The Secretary of State will consider each on its merits. It would first need to be considered by the independent School Playing Fields Advisory Panel, which would recommend to the Secretary of State whether consent should be given. When consenting to the disposal, the Secretary of State generally insists that any proceeds are used for capital purposes.

The amendment seeks to ensure that any proceeds of sale would be retained for educational purposes. I understand the objective, and while I do not object to the spirit of the amendment, I point out that the purposes of a school may extend beyond purely educational ones. The Government are committed to promoting and developing schools which provide a comprehensive range of services for pupils, their families and the wider community. These services might include childcare and health services, which go beyond what may be defined as "educational purposes" in statute.

I am delighted that schools and local authorities are embracing the extended schools agenda enthusiastically. Against that background, we would not want to prevent schools reinvesting the proceeds of sale from surplus land in other, non-educational activities benefiting pupils, their families and the wider community. But of course, they would have to meet the test on this amendment and the previous one.

I hope that that explanation is helpful, and that the noble Baroness feels comforted and not minded to press the amendment.