Amendment 51

Schools Bill [HL] - Committee (2nd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 13th June 2022.

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The Lord Bishop of Chichester:

Moved by The Lord Bishop of Chichester

51: Clause 20, page 14, line 30, at end insert—“(1A) In the application of this section to the proprietor of a Church of England school, subsection (1) has effect as if the power to make regulations were a requirement to do so.”Member's explanatory statementThis amendment ensures that regulations are made for Church of England schools in minority trusts.

Photo of The Bishop of Chichester The Bishop of Chichester Bishop

My Lords, I speak on behalf my colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, on his Amendment 51 and declare his interest as chair of the National Society. We tabled this amendment because, for Church of England schools, there will be occasions when schools are not in trusts where former voluntary aided schools are in the majority. For us, there needs to be the same consistency of approach in Clause 20, which is of particular importance for Roman Catholic schools, for example, as there is in Clause 19. Clause 19 sets out the requirement that the Secretary of State “must make regulations” concerning multi-academy trusts. However, as things stand, Clause 20 is only a “power” and does not guarantee regulations for trusts that do not meet the baseline voluntary aided numbers outlined in Clause 19.

We must ensure that there are appropriate regulations for all Church of England schools in trusts, so it is crucial that the Secretary of State must, rather than just may, make regulations in the context of the Church of England to provide legislative protection and assurance for any MATs where there are less than 50% voluntary aided schools within the trust. I would further welcome any assurance the Minister can provide that our understanding is correct that Clause 19 describes a baseline over which a trust must have majority articles but does not represent a threshold, and therefore does not prevent MATs that do not have a least 50% voluntary aided schools within the trust operating under majority articles.

Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester for moving this amendment. As he said, the amendment would require the Secretary of State to make regulations under Clause 20, rather than providing the Secretary of State with a power to make regulations.

The Government entirely appreciate that the governance protections in Clause 20 are incredibly important to the Church of England and all other religious denominations. They will provide reassurance to local authority-maintained schools with a religious character that their religious character, which is maintained and developed through their governance arrangements, will continue to be protected once they become academies.

To explain why the current wording in Clause 20 is appropriate, it is useful to compare the clause with Clause 19, as there are some differences. Clause 19 relates to a very specific point regarding members and directors in certain academy trusts. The exact provision that is to be set out in the regulations is stated in the clause. It is therefore appropriate for this clause to provide that the Secretary of State must make these regulations.

In contrast, the regulation-making power in Clause 20 is much wider and the extent to which it is used will be finalised only after consultation. Clause 20 applies to all academy trusts which contain academies with a religious character. It also covers a much wider range of governance matters than the specific point in Clause 19. For example, regulations made under Clause 20 may include who can be appointed into different governance roles and the connection they must have to the relevant religious body. It may also include alterations to the articles of association, the composition of committees and the delegation of responsibilities.

Clause 20 needs to be a power for the Secretary of State to make regulations as the exact scope and content of the regulations will be informed by future consultation. However, to be clear, the Government do not intend to avoid making regulations under Clause 20. Instead, I assure the right reverend Prelate of our absolute commitment that, after consultation, the Government will make regulations under Clause 20 which apply to all academy trusts with an academy school of any religious character.

The regulations made under Clauses 19 and 20 will make clear the circumstances in which certain governance arrangements must be in place. For example, this could be when a trust must ensure that the majority of directors are appointed by the relevant religious body. However, this does not mean that similar arrangements cannot be used in other circumstances. For example, an academy trust in which fewer than half the academies are former voluntary aided Church of England schools can still adopt articles of association in which the majority of directors are appointed by the relevant religious body.

In addition, as stated in the clause, the Secretary of State will consult before the regulations are first made. This consultation will include appropriate stakeholders, including religious bodies. The right reverend Prelate can be reassured that this means we will continue to work constructively with dioceses and other religious bodies to agree the most appropriate governance arrangements for academy trusts comprising different types of academies with a religious character.

I hope this has provided some confidence to the right reverend Prelate that, after appropriate consultation, regulations under Clause 20 will be made. I hope he is therefore able to withdraw the amendment on behalf of his noble friend.

Photo of The Bishop of Chichester The Bishop of Chichester Bishop

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 51 withdrawn.

Clause 20 agreed.

Clauses 21 and 22 agreed.

Clause 23: Religious education: former foundation or voluntary controlled schools

Amendment 52 not moved.

Clause 23 agreed.

Clause 24 agreed.

Clause 25: Special arrangements for worship and religious education