Clause 18

Education and Skills Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:00 pm on 19th February 2008.

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Guidance

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I beg to move amendment No. 29, in clause 18, page 10, line 20, at end insert

‘and such guidance shall be placed in the Library of the House of Commons and notice given of the publication of the guidance by written Ministerial statement.’.

Clause 18 requires local authorities to have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State in relation to part 1. The Bill is full of delegated powers. In its 150 clauses, we find 65 regulation-making powers. It is no wonder, therefore, that, on page 3, the memorandum on delegated powers published by the Government at the same time as the Bill refers to a

“framework Bill containing a range of powers to make delegated legislation.”

Delegated or secondary legislation has been used increasingly often over the past 20 years, with more and more primary legislation comprising merely a skeleton on which scores of new secondary legislative powers are hung. Every year, thousands of statutory instruments pass through the House, the overwhelming majority of which go through on the nod, unnoticed and undebated. Even if the statutory instrument is debated—perhaps a Member has prayed against it because it is subject to the negative resolution procedure or it is one of the rarer orders or regulations that are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure—debate is usually confined to 90 minutes in a Committee Room. Given that we spent more than 90 minutes debating clause 16, that period is probably not enough time for us to deal with the powers proposed in the Bill.

On page 5, the delegated powers memorandum states:

“In the majority of cases, powers to make Statutory Instruments are to be subject to negative resolution procedures except clause 3(5)...clause 5(1)...clause 49...clause 70...and clause 117...and clause 146 to the extent that the power is used to amend primary legislation”.

There are also five delegated powers to amend primary legislation—a practice that has grown during the 10 years in which I have been a Member. Over that period we have also seen the growth of tertiary legislation or guidance. It is legislation—it is known as statutory guidance—but it is rarely debated in the House. We debated the contents of the admission code because it was incorporated into law by a statutory instrument, but the vast majority of guidance is issued by the relevant Department, sometimes accompanied by a press release, some of which may, or may not, be reported in the newspapers. There is no parliamentary procedure to pray against guidance or to trigger a debate, and there is certainly no mechanism to vote against such guidance. The detail of policy contained  in guidance is often fundamental to the policy, as we heard today from the Minister. He said that guidance will overrule a major part of the Bill in relation to what information can be shared.

The purpose of the amendment is to require the Government to place in the Library any guidance issued under clause 18. In order to alert Members to the fact that guidance has been issued, the amendment also requires the Minister to make a written statement announcing the issuing of the guidance. Given the importance of guidance, and the volume of statutory instruments and guidance, I believe that the amendment is fundamental in enabling Members to carry out their primary role of holding the Government to account and scrutinising legislation.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I entirely agree with the intentions behind the amendment, and I shall ensure that all statutory guidance relating to part 1 is placed in the Library and that notice will be given that that has been done. It will also be published on the Department’s website. That is routine practice, and there is no need for it to be stated in primary legislation. I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Given that explicit assurance, I am happy to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 18 and 19 ordered to stand part of the Bill.