Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
1: Clause 1, page 2, line 18, at end insert— “(2A) In setting standards in relation to Academies in respect of subsection (2)(k), the Secretary of State must require that each Academy Trust, each Multi Academy Trust, and each Academy within a Multi Academy Trust, prepares and revises a strategic policy on parental and community engagement at least once every three years.”Member's explanatory statementThis is to make mandatory that every Academy must have a policy on parental and community engagement.
I thank the noble Lord. With the leave of the House, I hope it will be helpful to your Lordships if I briefly explain the context for the Government’s position, as set out in my letter of
On the clauses relating to the academy standards, we will develop an approach that is more tightly defined so that we can provide Parliament and the sector with clarity on the scope of our plans to set standards for academy trusts. The Government believe that our approach to the intervention provisions is broadly right, but we intend to address the issues of proportionality and the right to representation raised in this House. Our policy intention behind these clauses is to move to a statutory framework fit for a fully trust-led system, which clearly defines the scope of the academy standards and enables a ladder of proportionate intervention at trust level.
I know your Lordships will rightly expect the opportunity to scrutinise the revised clauses thoroughly. First, a full day will be allowed for the first round of ping-pong when the Bill returns from the Commons. Secondly, the Companion to the Standing Orders has a process in place to allow the House to use Committee-stage rules of debate during ping-pong on the replacements to Clauses 1 to 18, allowing greater freedom of debate and more conversation about the amendments. Following that, the House will revert to normal ping-pong rules for the rest of the Bill.
My Lords, I should like more clarity from the Minister about the procedure that will be adopted as and when the Bill comes back from the Commons. That is according to the current timetable and assumes that the Bill gets a Third Reading, although that may be a false assumption. What we will then have back from the Commons is a substantially different Bill, with heaven knows how many clauses and amendments coming back, which, as I understand it, is to be catered for procedurally just by having a rather extended period for ping-pong. That is really no substitute for what should happen to a Bill—in this case, of course, rather a large section of a Bill—which is that it would have a Committee stage where these ideas could be explored and then a Report stage where the Government could respond, in many cases, to the ideas raised in Committee.
I would like clarity on this matter because we are almost in uncharted waters at the moment. I do not think that an offer to the House of a day for consideration and ping-pong should be a substitute for the proper procedure of a Bill via Committee and Report.
When I come to speak at the end of this group, I will set out a bit more about our plans for engagement over the summer, but the proposal that I just ran through has been agreed with the usual channels.
Following what the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said, as I understand it, the Minister has said that if the Bill goes forward under the new Government, it will come back to us for one day of ping-pong. Is it just one day for ping-pong? It might have 10, 20 or 30 clauses, and that cannot be done in one day. Will we have longer than that to have a look at the clauses? Clearly the clauses are going to be very important.
She has set up a committee composed of basically the managers of multi-academy trusts, which has only one school head on it, which apparently is going to try to establish the relationship that should exist between the Department for Education and multi-academy trusts. I do not object to that because they are very important bodies, but there are lots of other issues affecting multi-academy trusts. For example, how is the voice of the individual school in a multi-academy trust to be heard? What is the role of the independent governing body of individual schools in a multi-academy trust? How will they be listened to? What rights do they have and what position can they hold against the authority of a multi-academy trust? Will these issues be covered by her committee, which will now be working in the remnants of this Government?
Secondly, the Minister has issued a document about regulating schools. Do I take it that some of the amendments likely to be tabled will cover that as well? If the Government are going to change the rules and regulations between schools and the department, that requires a long period of consultation in which schools, local authorities and educational experts must be listened to. Are we going to get that period of consultation on any of these fundamental changes? They must not be smuggled into this Bill on the understanding that “These are just a few clauses that we want”.
I will respond briefly to my noble friend. On his first point, it will be agreed through the usual channels that sufficient time is given to debate the new clauses.
When the Minister said “one day”, did she mean that, when we are dealing with the replacement clauses, we will have this process for all those replacement clauses? It may have been a slip of the tongue, or a hopeful Government Whip’s answer about how long we will take, but if it is for all those clauses then that slightly changes the tone of what is being said. Will the replacements we are getting be under these new arrangements?
My understanding is that we will have one day for the new clauses, which will be handled under what has been described to me as Committee-stage rules, and then the rest of the Bill will follow the normal ping-pong timings and time allocation.
If I may, I would like to respond to my noble friend’s other points. It is extremely important, given that our debate is a matter of public record in Hansard, that assertions that are made in the House are accurate. With the greatest respect to my noble friend, I am very happy to share with him—and it is on GOV. UK—the list of people who are on the expert panel. I am very happy to talk about—and will be in a few moments, I hope—the extremely extensive engagement that we plan for over the summer. I do not think it is helpful to assert things that are not accurate about how the Government are approaching this Bill in continuing to get it to a good place. I will take any time with any Member of the House to make sure that there is no confusion about how we are approaching this.
On the regulation of schools, these standards are about the regulation of trusts; they are trust standards, not school standards.
I want us to pocket the clauses that the Government are going to give way on. Let us get rid of clauses that are unacceptable.
We are all rushing around trying to find a solution. I draw the Minister’s attention to paragraph 8.132 in the Companion, which I would like everyone sitting here today to consider. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, is right: the present arrangement means that there would be no Report stage on the new clauses, and there would be no Committee stage on the new clauses. There will be a Committee process, which is quite different, and which will culminate in the ping-pong arrangements. The Companion states:
“Other bills may, on motion (which is debatable and of which notice is required) moved at any time between committee and third reading, be recommitted to a Committee of the whole House or Grand Committee in their entirety, or in respect of certain clauses or schedules. This course is adopted when it is desirable to give further detailed consideration to the bill or certain parts of it without the constraints on speaking which apply on report and third reading; for instance: when substantial amendments are tabled too late in the committee stage to enable them to be properly considered; where there is extensive redrafting; or where amendments are tabled at a later stage on subjects which have not been considered in committee.”
That seems to me to cover all the new clauses that may be put into the Bill as and when it gets to the Commons—if it gets to the Commons. We must not get to Third Reading; we must make any application, or move any Motion, before Third Reading. I would love to be an expert in procedure but I am not, but I think that may be an answer to the problem that is obviously vexing a number of Members of the House. There could be a recommitment of the amendments and we would then go to Committee stage.
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. In view of the extraordinary and frankly unprecedented mess we are in with this Bill, would it not be sensible to adjourn the House so that there can be conversations between various key people? It might indeed be far better, neater and tidier—and, in the long run, far speedier—if the Bill were abandoned and a new one brought in when we have a new, effective Government in power.
My Lords, the House did just agree to consider its Report stage. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, made the point, as the Opposition Chief Whip did, that continuing discussions can happen between the usual channels ahead of Third Reading. It is important that the House is clear that we have agreed to consider Report, and that is what we are doing on the first group of amendments.
If that is the case, I must have dozed off at some stage. Does it not say “Report be now received” on the Annunciator? I am sure the noble Baroness is right, but the procedure suggested by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, would have been perfect. During the passage of the Bill I considered several times recommitting sections of it to consider them, and to then go back to Report in the normal way. If we are now proceeding on Report, that opportunity has passed. We will be back to the situation where, if the Bill gets a Third Reading, we will need to do something much better for the way in which we consider a massive number of Commons amendments—unless of course we follow the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, which is to adjourn now and see if there is another way of dealing with it. I am afraid that the suggestion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, will not function now.
My Lords, as I think we are debating my Amendment 1, it might be helpful if we carried on, because in order to withdraw the 18 clauses we need this debate to start and, I hope, come to a speedy conclusion. I want to say three things.
First, I thank the Minister for listening to the House and agreeing to support the withdrawal of the first 18 clauses of the Bill, which are the bulk of Part 1. We appreciate that she has listened. Secondly, it is clear that the usual channels will need to have further discussions between now and Third Reading, and that part of those discussions will be about whether the House lets the Bill have a Third Reading and about the procedure to be followed if the Bill comes back to us. By the way, I think it is going to be many months before it comes back, given that the noble Baroness’s review has to take place. I assume there has to be consultation and that instructions then have to be given to parliamentary counsel, and a whole new set of clauses has to be introduced in the Commons.
Thirdly, having listened to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and my friend the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, my experience is that, whatever the Companion says, the House can do what it wants to if it has been agreed as a sensible way to deal with a situation. At this stage, we should be content to leave it to the usual channels. If they have heard the voices of the House, at this point the Bill is unlikely to go through on Third Reading, unless there are sufficient guarantees that when the new amendments come back there is not just “a day”. Essentially, we should treat it as a Committee, go into Report and then it would go back. That is just my opinion, but it seems that we should now proceed.
I will obviously not press my Amendment 1 and will not speak to Amendments 2 and 3, to use the terminology as I understand it. But we should thank the Delegated Powers Committee and the scrutiny committee, along with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, the noble Lord, Lord Baker, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and my noble friend Lady Chapman. What they have done in the Bill is to identify a real and growing problem of the Executive drafting legislation in such a way that the role of Parliament has been undermined. It is very important that this House has put down a marker to say that we will not accept Bills like this in the future. In many ways, that is even more important than the first 18 clauses.
My Lords, I will speak in a moment to Amendments 4, 7 and 9, but can I go back to the discussion that happened a few moments ago and the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott? I will again read paragraph 8.132 of the Companion: “Other bills”, so one that has not been referred to a Select Committee or Joint Committee,
“may, on motion (which is debatable and of which notice is required)”— that means assuming the usual channels cannot resolve the problem in a way that is satisfactory to the House—be
“moved at any time between committee and third reading”.
We are still on Report and will be at the end of today, so we will not have reached Third Reading. Although I do not claim to be an expert, I think it is open to the House to consider the remedy available at paragraph 8.132 of the Companion. That is what I would like the House to do and what I expect the usual channels will do. I should assert that, as Convenor of the Cross Benches, I am not a usual channel for these purposes because I do not have a party.
Now to the Bill. Of course, we are grateful to the Minister. I feel very concerned that somehow people may think the anxiety of the House is a reflection on her. I can do nothing except on behalf of myself thank her for the way in which she has listened. I have an awful suspicion—and she cannot confirm or deny this—that, if she had her way when she was in the department, we would not have ended up with the Bill in this absurd situation.
The provision in Clauses 1, 3 and 4 is extraordinary. I will go through what I said again when we were speaking about this last. The two words “Academy standards” are a clear misrepresentation of what Clause 1 is about. It is simply a skeleton provision from which the Secretary of State can pick whichever particular provisions he wishes to invent for himself; he is not bound by any of them, and he or she can write them for himself or herself.
Clause 3 is Henry VIII. The House has listened to me on Henry VIII a number of times so I will not go on about it, but I hope noble Lords have all noticed that the Bill has a particular quality, in that it has two Henry VIII clauses: Clause 3 and Clause 66. Removing Clause 3 simply removes something that is completely unnecessary. Clause 66 will no doubt continue because the departmental computer will just produce one at some stage in the Bill. I have never before come across two Henry VIII clauses in the same legislation—so we have Henry XVI, and the Bill has a particular record apart from all its other flaws.
It also has a provision in Clause 4 which is a shameful, pernicious new way for central government to obtain power: the issuing of guidance. When the Government and department of the day issue guidance, those to whom it is sent answer to it. In the Bill, there is a provision that enables the Secretary of State to issue a compliance direction anyway. So we have a new form of acquisition of central power, ultimately in No. 10 Downing Street, which we have shamed the country with by passing and enacting the Elections Act. It is exactly the same provision.
Any one of those three would be great from the point of view of central government, but we have all three together. It is a rather poisonous cocktail from all our points of view. It is like supping Irn-Bru, only on stilts. It is the most amazing combination of powers. That is why these clauses should fail.
I am concerned, as has been expressed by others, but not about the way in which the Conservative Party is going to sort itself out. I am concerned about that for the sake of the nation, but not for the sake of the Bill, because, as has been arranged so far, when the clauses go back in whatever form they are amended to the Commons—there will be new clauses—there will be no Second Reading or Committee here. We must therefore look at the provision of paragraph 8.132.
Something else worries me even more. The Bill started here, and this Minister was sitting here and able to hear observations from all sides of the House about the absurdity and the rather alarming features that discolour Clauses 1, 3 and 4. We have got where we have got to, and these amendments will pass in due course. But the chilling feature is that, if the Bill had happened to start in the House of Commons, I have no reasonable doubt that those provisions would have come to us as drafted, after peremptory debate. The Minister would then have had no option but to say, “Well, it’s gone through the Commons. What are you doing interfering with its wishes?” Of course, we would have gone on, but there comes a time when the Commons has to win.
It is pure luck that the power grab in these clauses has come before this House and that we have had this Minister here to lead her department to the obvious and sensible conclusion. But our present constitutional arrangements mean that only the coincidence that the Bill happened to start here gives us relief. If it had started in the other place, I have not the slightest doubt that this is the Bill that we would have had to consider. I find that chilling, because we all know that the opportunities for this House to change legislation that passed through the House of Commons are very limited. That is the state that our constitution has got to in 2022, and it is the most alarming feature of these clauses.
My Lords, it is time that we made some progress. The noble Lord, Lord Knight, proposed that the Bill should go forward on Report, and the Labour Chief Whip agreed. But we are getting into doing that without having passed a Motion, so I would like it to be made clear that we will now consider the Bill on Report and deal with whatever difficulties there are as that goes on.
My Lords, for absolute clarity, I say that we have had the Motion on the House considering Report, and we are now considering the first group of amendments on Report. We will proceed on that basis today.
I very much support what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said. As the Convenor of the Cross Benches and one of the most distinguished former Lord Chief Justices in this House, he has had a great impact on its feelings in our debates, and I hope that the usual channels will take notice of what he said. This is such an unusual procedure; it has not happened constitutionally in the history of this House. It is remarkable that we have been given the opportunity to make such a fundamental change to any Bill. It was a bad, bad Bill to begin with, and we managed to show that. Frankly, had it come from the Commons, we would not have got anywhere near as far; we would have just been told, “That is the wish of the Commons, with the Conservative majority of 80”.
I seriously hope that the usual channels will consider my noble friend Lord Cormack’s proposal about Third Reading. It would be very unusual to pass a Bill of this sort to a Third Reading. But the Minister rightly said that some other parts of the Bill are very good—I certainly agree some of them, such as those on home learning—but these could be taken out, put into a separate Bill very quickly and passed in both Houses with no trouble in a few months.
The other issues are much more important, because the Government are struggling now that local authorities no longer have any real control over education. In fact, they are debarred from the committee that the Minister has set up. Am I right in saying that, as far as I can see, there is no representative from local authorities on the committee?
When I looked through the list of committee members, I could not see anyone representing local authorities. The Minister might well discuss this with them, but it would be helpful if she could send us all the terms of what they are expected to cover. If it is just about multi-academy trusts and the controls that the Government have held to regulate them, I would go along with her. If it goes further than that, I have reservations. The involvement of local communities and local views has inspired English education since the great Act of 1870. Quite frankly, however, there is none of that in this Bill; nowhere are the views of local people to be found. A school is not just an education institution; it is part of a local and social community. This has always been the tradition, and these views must somehow be reflected in any proposal that the Minister brings to us.
I am very grateful for the support of various Peers, particularly the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, on the question of the Government’s power. This Bill increases the powers of both the Secretary of State and the department in a way that has never been known since 1870. I do not believe that the Minister had any hand in drafting the Bill. When I was Secretary of State, I always found that there was an element in the department which wanted these controls from the word go. Although these people have never run a school, some of them always want to run all the schools—thank heavens we managed to stop that. I do not think this will come back in any of the amendments we get after the new Government take over.
This is really strange procedure but it is utterly unsatisfactory to be offered only one day for debate. The clauses will be important and a way must be found—and a guarantee given by the Government before we pass Third Reading—for us to have plenty more time to discuss it in this House, should we pass Third Reading. This Bill started in this House and can be improved again in this House.
My Lords, I will speak briefly, focusing on this group of amendments and to help the House move on from discussing procedure and process. There are some really strong amendments in this group. It is right that the Minister has listened to us and agreed to take out the clauses that she has—extraordinary as that feels. It gives us the procedural problem that we have been debating. I welcome the contribution of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, on that subject.
I support Amendment 2 in respect of “parents councils”; it is important that the voices of parents are heard in our academies. I especially support Amendment 5 from my noble friends on the Front Bench. Thinking forward to how this Bill will proceed, when we have a substantive new Secretary of State, it will be really helpful for that person to look at this amendment and make some kind of policy statement to both Houses on how they see an all-academy school system working, so that we have clarity around several issues: how we attract and retain sufficient high-quality teachers in the system; the view on qualified teachers working in academies; the view on them abiding by national pay and conditions; and how we hold accountable academies and the regional directors in the system who will be carrying out the Secretary of State’s bidding. What is the role of local governing bodies alongside parents councils? That question is the substance of the next group of amendments, so I will not speak to that. What is the place of a national curriculum when academies do not need to abide by it, and what elements of the curriculum do we want to make compulsory in such a school system?
Finally, of course, there is clarifying which academy freedoms are left once all those other things have been made clear. That is the kind of thing that Amendment 5 is trying to set out; it is trying to put some kind of guide rail around the standards that will come forward in the fullness of time. On that basis, I very strongly support the amendments.
My Lords, this group of amendments is basically a series of stand part debates and “Let’s get rid and start again”. As has been said, this is unprecedented. What comes in its place? Well, there is Amendment 5 from the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman. I am not sure it has my favourite tone and maybe it is too close to what came before, but it is certainly a sensible place to start a discussion. I am not sure I agree with every word of it, but it does not really matter. We are starting a process of discussion about the limits of government involvement in the day-to-day management of schools and the correct process by which to approach Parliament. The two sit together. These are two awfully big issues to be contained within one group. Occasionally, people will be drawn from one to the other—“What looks more exciting or sexier at the moment?”—and going back and down. However, I thank the Minister for listening on this point. It cannot have been easy.
I did ask the Minister whether she had figured out what she did in a previous life to end up getting this Bill. We do not know the answer to that one, but it might be quite entertaining to surmise. The fact is that the process has been unacceptable, as is the idea that a Government would take the power to actually run something. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, tells us that nobody has done it since 1870; I am pretty sure he is right. Nobody has been able to tell a school how to run in itself in minute detail—the framework, maybe, but not in minute detail. Academies were also supposed to be the great exemplar of “Let everything bloom”, or “Do your own thing”, and that is rather killed here. At least, that is my reading of it.
I thank the Government for what they have done; I am appalled that they had to do it. Will the Minister, when she gets back to us, give a little more guidance on what they think will replace it? They must have some idea. If we do not have some idea, and we do not extract it, we shall go round this course again. Indeed, it might be a case of leaving something in so that the Government have to come back to it. The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, would fulfil that purpose quite happily. We need some idea of where we are going; we are in a very odd place. I have not been here before, anyway. We need to know what is going on. Certain parts of the Bill have a degree of support, at least in principle, from around the House, but we need that little bit of structure about where we shall go next time.
Will the Minister take back to her honourable and noble friends the fact that this House has said that this is not the way forward, on any occasion? If the Bill had been a Commons starter, yes, we would have done it, but we would have been up all night fighting this tooth and nail. We might have had to give in in the end, but if the Government want to give up a month or two of legislative time, that we can give them. The debate about sitting hours and sitting up late would have become utterly irrelevant in that case, because we would have had to do it; as we might have to, indeed, when it comes to that one day of discussion on the Bill—if it is just one day. I do not particularly like staying up all night, but I am prepared to do it if I have to.
My Lords, I say very briefly that amid the myriad arguments on this group and, indeed, throughout the Bill, there is, if it does not sound too pompous, a philosophical difference, to put it mildly, about academies and their role. I have to say I particularly like my noble friend Lord Hunt’s Amendment 1, with its
“strategic policy on parental and community engagement”, and I very much like the proposed new clause in Amendment 5 from my noble friends on the Front Bench, particularly proposed new subsection (2)(b)(iii) and (iv), which refers to
“the duty to cooperate with the local authority in school admissions; the duty to cooperate with the local authority in school place planning”.
That seems to be where the divide is: whether you see these academies as part of the community and to a degree answerable to the community, with community involvement, or as islands, looking after their own interests and without any requirement to be part of the whole. We will no doubt have that debate in whatever time is allowed when the Bill comes back to us from the Commons—if it gets that far.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of a multi-academy trust, Future Academies, and a trustee of the Education Policy Institute. I am no expert on parliamentary procedure and will not comment on the discussions on it so far, but I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on listening to the concerns expressed across your Lordships’ House and by the sector, and on her approach. I will reserve judgment on any clauses that come back in whatever way until I see them, but I am delighted that my noble friend and her department will now engage widely with the sector and others. I also endorse her and my noble friend Lord Baker’s point that there are other very important parts of this Bill; for instance, on children missing from education, home education and illegal settings, which are long overdue for legislation.
My Lords, having listened to everything that has been said, it is very tempting to rub salt in the wound, but I will resist.
We are of course pleased that the Government have agreed to withdraw Clauses 1 to 18, but note that they had no other option. At first, we wondered how this had happened. I now do not think that this was just poor drafting; I think that the Government did not know what they intended to do with this Bill. I think there was a legislative slot marked “Schools Bill” and this Bill was tabled. It should never have been tabled as it was.
Things have been said about what might have happened had this Bill been presented in the Commons. Obviously, none of us knows. I like to think that that would not have happened, because someone would have seen its deficiencies and intercepted it. All the problems we have managed to surface through our deliberations—the lack of plan, the lack of vision and there being none of the pre-legislative scrutiny that ought to have taken place and which will now take place half way through the Bill’s progress, over the summer—would have been exposed.
It is very sad that we have come to this because, as the Minister rightly reminds us, there are parts of the Bill—those looking at children not in school and illegal schools—whose implementation may be delayed, as it is not clear that we will get this Bill back as quickly as we might have done had it not been presented in the way it was. Quite a lot of work will now have to take place. It has obviously been an appalling process. It is heartening to know that noble Lords are not used to being treated this way and that we should not expect this from the Government in future.
Some colleagues have referred to Amendment 5 tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Wilcox. To be clear, we did not table this imagining that it would be a favourite of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, or anyone else. The point was to demonstrate that the Government could have proceeded in another way. We will not push it to a vote, but it was tabled to show that you can go about these things in a much better way. There could and should have been much more clarity on what the Government wanted to do.
It is worth taking this opportunity to speak a little about this amendment—I will not go on—to make it clear where these Benches stand on some of the issues of substance that have come before us. It is important that we do that because, although the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and I have found common cause through the passage of this Bill so far, we have done so for very different reasons. It is important that we are upfront and clear about that—he would expect nothing different from me.
The first and most important line in the amendment is:
“Following the completion of the Academies Regulatory and Commissioning Review”.
Nothing should have been tabled along these lines until that review was complete. I welcome the fact that the Government now share that view; it is a shame that we have had to do it in the way that we have.
I want to highlight six points that we on these Benches feel are quite important and that we need clarity on so that we know where we stand. The first is the way that academies handle complaints. Then there are the minimum qualifications required by teaching staff; you will see that this amendment complements other amendments that we have tabled around complaints, admissions and qualified teacher status. We have included adherence to national agreements achieved thorough negotiating bodies for minimum standards of pay, terms and conditions of employment, trade union recognition, adherence to the national curriculum, and, importantly, a duty to co-operate with the local authority on school admissions.
That is where these Benches are coming from on this issue. We understand that that will be very different from where other noble Lords might be coming from, but we are not having a big row among ourselves on these issues. It pleases me no end to say that that is going to be the problem of the Minister when she devises her new clauses for us to consider, perhaps later in the year.
It is clearly not satisfactory that the Government intend to come back to us with these new clauses without us having had the opportunity to debate and vote on them in the way that we would have done had this process been a more normal one. Let us see what the usual channels come up with when they consider that point; it is a point that has been very well made, and one that everyone understands. It is very unfortunate that we have got to the situation that we have, but we are interested to hear about what the Minister wants to do over the summer, using the time that she has, to consult and engage with the relevant stakeholders.
I worry that, again, this is going to be rushed. The idea that some sort of consensus will emerge at the end of it is probably unrealistic. With a likely change of Secretary of State, we just do not know, from what the Minister has said in the past, where we are going to be led with this. It would be helpful if she could talk to us about the people who are going to be involved, the finer points of that process and what she expects. If we are right, and the Government did not know what they intended when they tabled this Bill and need to go through that process now, it is unlikely that the Minister at this point knows what the outcome is going to be, otherwise that is what would have been tabled in the first place. The more she could say about that at this stage, the better.
We will not be pressing our Amendment 5 to a vote, but it is really important that the House is clear where these Benches are coming from and how we would have approached this issue.
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend the Minister for listening, I think she has had a torrid time over the last six weeks, and has done it with great courtesy and patience. I am delighted that she is leading on the removal of these first 18 clauses. I am anxious for the Minister to reassure us, as many other Peers have said, that we will see properly the outcome of the regulatory review that has just been kicked off, because that always was putting the cart before the horse. We need to understand exactly what the Government have in mind, and to make sure that it is proportional and specific.
I was given one explanation by officials: that I could rely on the principle that government will always act in a proportional way. I am afraid that I have very little faith in that, and the only defence we have in public law is a judicial review. Very few academy trusts would have the resources or the courage to bring that against the Government, knowing that if they lost, they would have the costs from the Government as well. So I ask that, maybe not today but in the course of this process over the next few weeks, the Minister gives us reassurance. For example, on the slightly pernicious reference to “interim trustees”, who essentially arrive as completely powerful and able to kill off everybody in the trust and take full control, there needs to be a very specific set of reasons why something so drastic could ever happen.
I also ask that the Minister reassure us that the academy freedoms will be carefully spelt out, because that is an important principle which brings people such as me into this movement. If I am just going to be put into a bureaucratic straitjacket and told from Whitehall how to educate children, why would I bother to do it? Whitehall and DfE need to understand that the inputs needed in different communities are radically different. As I have said to the Minister before, we have two primary schools in Norwich that are two miles apart, and we use a completely different form of education in each to reflect the very different types of children we are dealing with. This is really important. I ask the Government: please do not dictate inputs to us. We have a primary school in Great Yarmouth which has finally got a good rating for the first time in the history of Ofsted’s existence. Is that some 40 years? I do not know. I think my noble friend set up Ofsted; it was a long time ago. The school has been through every permutation of educational pedagogy, and we have finally found the formula. Nobody in Whitehall came up with those answers.
Lastly, on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, over the last few weeks we have seen demonstrated what I would call the overweening will of the Executive. Frankly, they have just ploughed forward against the interests of my noble friend the Minister—and of the Secretary of State, as far as I was aware, because I had direct conversations with him about this Bill as soon as I understood the full extent of it. So, on the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, it is very important that the Executive not be able to just bulldoze their own agendas through. However, I thank my noble friend the Minister again, and I am delighted that these clauses are being withdrawn.
My Lords, I thank the Minister. She has been to one of our conferences with 200 people, and I am proud to say that she is coming to our conference in October, where we will have 4,500 teachers, and seeing some of our children. I am really passionate about academies. My noble friend Lord Baker got me involved in the first one at Crystal Palace 30 years ago. That was a very bad school, where 60 children a year were expelled. Over the last 30 years, it has been one of the best schools in the country. Last year, it had 5,000 applicants for 180 places. It is a world-class school for the second time, and 35% of its children are on free school meals.
The Harris Federation runs 51 schools, 52 this year. We have only taken over free schools from start-ups or failing schools. Some 90% of our schools are now outstanding, and we have five world-class secondary schools and one world-class primary school. I have to thank Michael Gove, Secretary of State at the time, for giving us that school seven years ago under a lot of opposition. It was in the worst 2% of schools in the country but now, seven years later, it is not just outstanding: it is world class. From the start, with my noble friend Lord Baker, and through to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, Tony Blair and Michael Gove, academies have made a great difference to many children in this country, as we have given them a better education. One of my ambitions is to see every child in this country getting a great education, because they only ever get one chance at it. They might have five or six jobs throughout their lives, but only one education.
Five years ago, everyone was against Michael Gove getting the school over the road to be a sixth form—Harris Westminster. I am so proud of that school. It was the eighth best in the country last year, with more than 50% of the children there on free meals. The seven that beat us cost anything from £50,000 to £100,000 a year to go to. It is all down to having great teachers, giving good service, making sure that children enjoy going to school, motivating them and making sure they do the best they can. That is what we should try to do with every child in this country. If we could do that, we would have a much better country.
My Lords, I start with an apology. Many of your Lordships started by saying that your remarks would be brief, but I apologise that mine may be rather longer. I know your Lordships will understand why, and I also say how much I appreciate the kind and generous comments that so many of your Lordships have made about my work on the Bill.
Starting with whether Clauses 1 to 18 and Schedules 1 and 2 should stand part of the Bill, I said in my letter of
Before I speak about the policy behind the clauses, I confirm and shall elaborate on, as a number of your Lordships have asked me to do, our plan to develop new clauses. We will work closely with the sector and parliamentarians over the summer with the intention of developing a revised approach to the academy trust standards. I have had a brief conversation with the noble Baroness opposite about how the Opposition Front Benches want to be involved in this, but I extend my earlier invitation. We will take whatever time is needed to engage with your Lordships and those whom you believe it is important for us to talk to, but I ask your Lordships first to look at the information we have already posted on GOV.UK, and I shall set out in a letter a little more about our intended engagement plans, so that we use everyone’s time as intelligently as possible.
I am pleased to inform the House that we held the first meeting of the external advisory group, which I chair, last week and we began discussing these important matters. On my noble friend’s question about the terms of reference for the group, they are on GOV.UK, as is its membership. Its purpose is set out and the inbox for anyone wishing to contribute to the review is also there. I shall make sure that all those details and the links are included in my letter to your Lordships following this debate. We are planning an intensive programme of engagement with the unions and leaders of schools of all types, both multi-academy trusts and maintained schools. We have already started talking to a number of key system thinkers in the field and, importantly, a number of representative bodies, including, of course, the Churches. The interim findings of the review will inform a revised legislative approach to the academy standards.
I turn specifically to the amendments tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, my noble friend Lord Baker, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, which seek to remove Clauses 1, 3 and 4; and to the amendments in my name, which remove Clause 2 and Schedule 1 and make consequential changes to the Bill. I acknowledge that they are the correct response to concerns about both the drafting of the clauses on academy standards provisions as they stood on the introduction of this Bill and the breadth of the delegated powers that were proposed. The Government are supporting these amendments at this stage to secure time to engage with the sector and relevant stakeholders, and to reconsider how best to implement the policy intent behind these measures in legislation ahead of Committee in the other place.
Furthermore, in response to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s recommendation, we are determined to use this summer’s review to find a way that meets our policy objectives without the need for the Henry VIII power originally sought through Clause 3. The Government remain firmly committed to a fully trust-led school system; to enable this, we are still clear that changes are needed to the way the school system is managed. My noble friend Lord Lexden referred to the Government’s manifesto, but I would also refer him to the schools White Paper, where we set out clearly our plans in relation to this.
We need to establish a statutory framework that enables effective, risk-based regulation and ensures that the same minimum standards are applied consistently across all trusts. By defining the scope within which the Government can set standards, we will be able to protect the core academy freedoms from being amended by the regulations. We want to provide clarity for the academy sector about the limits of the Secretary of State’s powers to make decisions on its behalf, as well as sending a strong signal to the wider school sector about the Government’s commitment to moving to a fully trust-led school system in which all schools can benefit from being part of strong multi-academy trusts. The examples given by my noble friend Lord Harris were wonderful; I look forward to the next conference.
The intention behind the drafting of these clauses was to take an important step towards securing the permanence of that system and to bring clarity to the limits of the Secretary of State’s powers. Although Clause 1 was intended to reduce the complexity of the regulatory landscape by bringing existing requirements into one set of standards, I recognise the concern that, as drafted, the clause would allow a Government to go beyond these intentions. The Government’s aim is not and has never been to centralise power over academies or undermine their freedoms.
As my noble friend Lord Agnew elaborated on, we know that the best academy trusts use their freedoms to transform outcomes for pupils, particularly the most disadvantaged, and deliver improvement in schools and areas where poor performance has become entrenched. We do not believe that great trusts are made through lists of standards and regulations, and we do not intend to micro-manage or further centralise power over them. Rather, we want to simplify the regulatory framework for academy trusts, seeking opportunities for deregulation where it is appropriate to do so. Our intention is to bring back a revised power that makes the limits on the Government’s powers crystal clear. I wish to provide certainty that we will protect the fundamental freedoms to which my noble friend Lord Agnew referred.
Through our work to develop revised clauses, we will seek to establish the principles on which the academy standards will be based and ensure that any delegated powers sought provide a more clearly defined and constrained regulatory approach. Through these reforms, we are committed to creating a regulatory environment that enables the best academy trusts to drive system-wide improvement through innovation and best practice while ensuring that all academy trusts meet the same minimum standards, providing fairness and consistency for all. I will now turn to the remaining amendments relating to Clause 1.
Amendment 1, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Blunkett, and Amendment 2, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, are intended to ensure that every academy has a parent council and a policy on parental and community engagement. I assure the noble Lords that we recognise the important role of parental and community engagement. Each academy trust, through its funding agreement, has an existing duty to ensure that each of its academies is at the heart of its community, promoting community cohesion and sharing facilities with other schools, educational institutions, and the wider community. The Governance Handbook contains guidance on parental and community engagement. Academy trusts are best placed to decide what engagement methods work best in their local context.
Amendment 3, also tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, would require the Secretary of State to make regulations requiring each multi-academy trust to set out the responsibilities to be devolved to the local governing body. We will discuss with the sector how to implement local governance arrangements for schools in all trusts, as we set out in the schools White Paper. I am sure that your Lordships understand that we do not want to pre-empt the outcome of those discussions.
Amendment 5, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox, presents a revised version of the academy standards clauses. While the noble Baronesses have included a list of the areas for which the regulations can make provision, I am sure that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, reflected, they will understand that the Government think it right to await the outcome of the first part of the regulatory and commissioning review so that the revised clauses can be informed by its findings and our engagement with the sector.
Turning to subsections (3) to (5) of the new clause proposed by the amendment, the Government have no intention of increasing the regulatory burden on the academy sector. We will work closely with sector representatives over the summer on this point. We expect that the first set of academy standards will largely reflect existing standards and requirements placed on academy trusts. It is the responsibility of the academy trust to ensure that the standards are met in full within the trust. Finally, I can confirm that every iteration of the regulations will be subject to the affirmative procedure in Parliament.
Responding to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, and the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, in relation to the role of the local authority in admissions, we have tried to set out our plans but perhaps we need to repeat and reinforce what we said in the White Paper. Local authorities will remain responsible for delivering the right number of school places in their area and will continue to play a central role in fair admissions, particularly for the most vulnerable children. We will consult on local authorities co-ordinating all applications in year as well as for the main round of admissions, which was a point raised by the noble Lord. We will also consult on strengthening the processes by which vulnerable children are found and secured a school place quickly, whether that is in mainstream or alternative provision, which will include a new, limited local authority power to direct academies to admit a child on those rare occasions where the normal collaborative routes have been exhausted. I hope that gives some context. I mention it to underline the point that the Government and my very able officials in the department are really prepared to go through all these important points of detail with your Lordships to ensure that we are debating the points where we really disagree, rather than the ones where, hopefully, we are on the same page.
The Government acknowledge the concerns that have been raised on the academy trust termination and intervention powers in Clauses 5 to 18 and Schedule 2. Those clauses are intended to provide a proportionate and transparent framework for intervention in under- performing academy trusts. However, I recognise that there are concerns in the House that the powers could be used disproportionately, particularly to enforce the new standards. These concerns are reflected in amendments which have been tabled by my noble friends Lord Baker, Lord Nash and Lord Agnew to oppose these clauses standing part of the Bill.
We are supportive of these amendments, and I have tabled an amendment to remove Schedule 2 to complete their effect. The overarching aim of these provisions is to put in place a ladder of intervention, enabling the department to address issues at the earliest opportunity in a proportionate way, rather than having to rely on termination powers. We are committed to putting in place a regulatory framework which enables the department to act where necessary to ensure academies meet the minimum standards that the Government and parents expect of them.
I believe the concerns about Clauses 5 to 18 are different in their nature and extent to those about Clauses 1 to 4, and I want to be clear that our approach to the intervention and termination provisions will, in general, be maintained. I am grateful to your Lordships for the thoughtful scrutiny of these provisions and I look forward to engaging with members across the House as we bring forward revised measures.
My Lords, it has been a very interesting debate, and I am very grateful to the Minister because I think she very carefully set out the context for the work that the Government are now going to take forward in her wind-up speech.
I was very struck by the tension at the heart of what she said. She was seeking to reassure her noble friends behind her that academy freedoms were not under threat in the work that was being undertaken, but at the same time she used the words “fairness” and “consistency”. We need to say that the importance of these 18 clauses, particular Clauses 1 to 4, is that the Government in their White Paper signalled that all schools are to become academies. They will then move into multi-academy trusts. What we are talking about is the essential governance and accountability of all schools in England. That is why these clauses are so important.
I am not sure how long the work is going to take. I think it is going to take quite some time, and I think it is going to be quite some time before we see the Bill coming back to your Lordships’ House. The one thing I do know is that it will not be satisfactory for us to spend a day on this. We must enable ourselves to go through a procedure whereby we have a proper committee report and then we can send whatever we like, if we wish to, back to the Commons. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, very helpfully referred to the Companion and a particular reference point—I think it was paragraph 8.132. A clear message has been given to the usual channels to go away and discuss this so that, before Third Reading, there is clear understanding about how the House is to scrutinise the changes that are likely to be made in the House of Commons. I think the Front Benches on all sides of the House have taken that to heart.
I do not think we can take this any further today. We should allow the removal of these clauses. I think, once again, we should reflect that we are essentially talking about the future governance of all schools in England. That deserves thorough scrutiny. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendments 2 and 3 not moved.
I think Amendment 4 is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington.
I am so sorry. I have the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, here, but it is not against an amendment.