Clause 215

Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 am on 26th March 2009.

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Consideration of other matters by SSSNB

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Labour, Gateshead East and Washington West

I beg to move amendment 538, in clause 215, page 124, line 6, leave out subsection (3).

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 539, in clause 216, page 124, line 15, leave out from ‘agreement’ to ‘make’ in line 16.

Amendment 541, in clause 216, page 124, line 16, leave out from ‘agreement’ to end of line 19.

Amendment 542, in clause 217, page 124, line 30, leave out ‘(a)’.

Amendment 544, in clause 219, page 125, line 12, leave out ‘section 218(2)(b)’.

Amendment 545, in clause 219, page 125, line 34, leave out subsection (7).

Amendment 546, in clause 220, page 126, line 13, leave out paragraph (c).

Clause 218 stand part.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Labour, Gateshead East and Washington West 2:30 am, 26th March 2009

The support staff trade unions—GMB, Unison and Unite—warmly welcome the establishment of a national negotiating body for school support staff. It is also supported by head teacher and teacher organisations, governor representatives and employer organisations. As we know, support staff have grown in number and role under this Government, and they are the new professionals in schools.

The amendments would enable the SSSNB to function properly. I would have liked to say much more about the amendments, but in the interests of brevity I shall curtail my remarks to those that I have just made. I look forward to hearing from the Minister in due course.

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)

On amendment 538, clause 215 allows the negotiating body to consider and reach agreement on a matter within the remit of the body, regardless of whether the matter has been referred to it by the Secretary of State. Clause 215(3) provides that the body may, however, submit its agreement to the Secretary of State only if it has received the Secretary of State’s prior consent. The amendment would remove that requirement.

I understand the concern that has been raised that in a genuine negotiation, issues sometimes crop up at the last minute that need to be included in order to secure a negotiated agreement. That is why clause 215 is in the Bill. The amendment raises an interesting question, given all the safeguards that I mentioned in speaking to the last amendment, as to whether we need to have subsection (3) in the Bill. I will reflect on that, and if I decide that it is not necessary, I will bring something back on Report.

On amendments 539 to 544, if the negotiating body submits an agreement to the Secretary of State for his consideration, clause 216 requires it to accompany the submission with a recommendation about how the agreement should be implemented in schools. Clause 216 currently requires that the recommendation must set out whether the agreement should be ratified by the Secretary of State, which would require schools to comply with the agreement, or should be one which schools must “have regard to”. That is an important part of the flexibility that I spoke about earlier.

Clauses 217 and 218 set out the Secretary of State’s options if the negotiating body’s agreement is initially submitted to him with a recommendation. They are, therefore, inextricably linked to clause 216. The amendments would deprive the body of the option of recommending that the Secretary of State require schools to have regard to the agreement submitted, thereby, in effect, imposing a duty on the negotiating body to recommend that the Secretary of State make an order ratifying the agreement. As a consequence of the amendments, the Secretary of State would no longer be able to make an order requiring schools to have regard to an agreement submitted by the negotiating body.

At that stage in the proceedings, he would be limited to either making an order ratifying the agreement, or referring the agreement back to the negotiating body for consideration.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

On that specific point, under what circumstances would the Secretary of State be likely to make the order in clause 216(2)(b)—in other words, to

“make an order requiring persons specified in the recommendation to have regard to” rather than ratify the agreement?

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)

The negotiating body will be looking at a range of different issues, from pay and conditions through to training. Currently, such issues are negotiated through local government arrangements. The current arrangements involve a certain number of things that are applied locally; for example, around training matters. The national agreement is something that local determination has regard to. That is why we need flexibility.

The negotiating body itself may have a view on what schools should have regard to as opposed to what they must implement, but it is right to withhold for the Secretary of State the ability also to decide, on the recommendations of the negotiating body, what schools should have regard to and what they should implement. It is that flexibility that we are seeking to achieve.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I am grateful to the Minister for being so patient. Can he clarify the Bill as it stands on that specific point? Does it, in effect, simply maintain the status quo on flexibility, or does it introduce an additional element of flexibility?

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)

As I understand it, the measure implements additional flexibility to allow the Secretary of State to influence things. While I understand the rationale behind my hon. Friend’s amendments and can see arguments both for and against requiring a body to make such a recommendation, the amendments would not achieve the desired result.

Amendment 546 is not inextricably linked to those that I have just discussed. Where the Secretary of State refers back to the negotiating body for reconsideration of an agreement that it has previously submitted, clause 220 provides the Secretary of State with a comprehensive and appropriate range of options for taking forward those agreements, once the negotiating body has resubmitted them. Where the negotiating body submits an agreement to the Secretary of State following reconsideration, the Secretary of State can make an order ratifying it or requiring schools to have regard to it. However, if the Secretary of State does not feel that it would be appropriate to do either of those things, he can either refer the agreement back to the negotiating body for further consideration, or, where there is an urgent need and further conditions are met as laid down in clause 220(5), he can make his own determination by order.

The amendment would remove the Secretary of State’s power to do that. It is not possible to say in advance what matters the negotiating body may be asked to consider or under what circumstances schools may be required to have regard to or to implement an agreement. It will be for the Secretary of State to consider such matters very carefully at the time, taking into account the nature and content of the agreement. To take away that option from the Secretary of State would be unwise and detrimental to schools, and it would severely limit flexibility, which is more important than ever in the constantly changing working environment in our schools. We are looking for the negotiating body agreements to achieve national consistency alongside appropriate local flexibility. I am aware that trade unions and employer representatives expect that some of the agreements that they reach will be appropriate for a “have regard to” order, and the amendment would remove that flexibility.

In summary, I know that trade unions are concerned that unless agreements are presented as “required to implement” orders, schools could ignore them, but there is no evidence that that will be the case. If the Secretary of State makes an order requiring employers to “have regard to” an agreement, all maintained schools and local authorities would be expected to implement the agreement, unless they can demonstrate a very good reason not to do so. With those reassurances, I hope that my hon. Friend will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

The hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West has received a detailed response from the Minister on the important points that she has raised about a group of employees who do a valuable job within our school and college system. Will the Minister ensure that he informs the Committee if his judgment about the significance of clause 216(2)(b) is incorrect in any way? He said that he thought that it was the case that that provision, which the hon. Lady is effectively seeking to delete, is introducing new flexibility into the circumstances in relation to these staff.

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)

What I am referring to is the generality of the system and the powers that the Secretary of State has in respect of these clauses. The issue of “have regard to” has been the subject of much discussion. My understanding is that the entirety of these arrangements gives the Secretary of State a bit more power to ensure that there is flexibility under the National Joint Council arrangements.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

Clearly, that is an important issue. It is understandable that the employees and trade unions concerned will want to scrutinise the Bill to understand whether it gives additional flexibility that some people may welcome and think is sensible, or additional flexibility that undercuts what may be considered to be important employee rights. The perception of the significance of the debate would be affected if it were the case that additional flexibility was being introduced, as opposed to the Bill simply maintaining, even in a different form, the existing degree of flexibility. I am assuming that the Minister, who is normally extremely well briefed on these matters, is correct. I know that, having made that point, if anything that he said is not perfectly accurate, he will draw it to the attention of the Committee so that we can take it up at a later stage.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Labour, Gateshead East and Washington West

I am grateful to the Minister for his substantial and detailed response, especially at this hour of the morning. I listened carefully to what he said and I will read it even more carefully when it is published in Hansard, as will the trade unions that are supporting these fabulous support staff. Following his assurances, I am more than happy to withdraw the amendment. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 215 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Before we move on to clause 216, I am going to suspend the Committee for 15 minutes so that we can get an update on what the plans are. I will suspend the Committee so that I am in a position to be able to inform the House authorities what the intentions are—it seems that the intentions are different from those that were expressed to me by the hon. Member for Brent, South this evening.

I just put it on the record that I have now been in the Chair for some eight hours and that the Committee has been sitting for 12 and a half hours already. I hope that, by 3 am, the Government Whip, who I am sorry to see is not in the Committee, will be able to report on what the intentions of the Government are in relation to this matter. I hope that the usual channels will be involved.

Sitting suspended.

On resuming—

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I give the hon. Member for Brent, South an opportunity to bring us up to date on what has happened in the last quarter of an hour.

Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler Assistant Whip, Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

Thank you, Mr. Chope. First, I should like to put on record my thanks to the staff of the House for all their help today. There has been no formal agreement on how far we are going to get today. In fact, the provisional planning for the Committee, annexe 4, suggests that we should be way ahead of where we are at the moment. We have spent a lot of time discussing the Bill today and yesterday and we would like to continue with the progress we are making.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I hear what the hon. Lady says, but that is not sufficient for me in the Chair. I have to make a judgment as to the length of time for which I am going to suspend the Committee. Obviously, as the hon. Lady may know, it would be theoretically possible for this sitting to continue right through until all the business that was scheduled under the programme motion to take place on Tuesday has been completed. At the moment, under the programme motion, five and a half hours are available on Tuesday, and earlier a proposal was canvassed that the Committee would be able to sit until midnight on Tuesday, thereby extending the period by another three and a half or four hours or so.

We are talking about the possibility of eight hours’ business and the hon. Lady has said that we have not made as much progress as she would have liked. It  seems implicit in what she is saying that she is fearful that eight hours will not be sufficient on Tuesday to cover all the ground, in which case she is inferring that there is more than eight hours’ business ahead of the Committee.

My co-Chairman, to whom I spoke before I volunteered to take over this afternoon, said to me that she had never, as a Member of the Chairmen’s Panel, experienced a Committee where there was so little co-operation with the Chairman. I expressed exactly the same opinion to her and I now put it on record openly, because the conventions of the House are that the Chairman is involved. If my co-Chairman and I had known that the intention was that we should sit until three o’clock, I am sure that she would not have returned to her constituency, as she has. Therefore, I am left in the situation that I may be expected to do another 12 hours in the Chair, and I have already been up since early this morning. I have been in the Chair for eight hours—we have had a few breaks, but they are in addition to those hours. I feel—maybe the hon. Lady does not wish to inform me—that I am entitled to know how long the Committee intends to sit.

That means the hon. Lady either giving a time when she will be minded to move that the Committee do adjourn, or an indication as to how far down the amendment paper she wishes to go before she moves the adjournment motion. I invite her to give me some more information because it is not just me in this position. There are a lot of other people in the House, as I have already pointed out. I would welcome her intervention so that she can help a bit more.

Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler Assistant Whip, Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

I am not quite sure what you meant by your reference to the Chairman’s involvement, Mr. Chope, but as I said, quite clearly, we would like to continue making progress with the Bill. I thank you for your time in the Chair—I think you are doing an excellent job—but I would like to continue the Bill’s progress.

Further to that, I am also not sure whether there is a formula for the times that we break and the times that we sit, so you might want to clarify it, Mr. Chope.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Perhaps I can explain to the hon. Lady. As I said before, it is open to the Committee to carry on sitting until the whole Bill is completed and that might mean anything between eight and 12 hours more of sitting. If it is her wish to complete the Committee’s consideration of the Bill all in one sitting, it means that she will be expecting me to stay in the Chair for another eight or 12 hours. If that is her intention, or if that is in doubt, I have to take that into account in making a judgment as to what is a reasonable period for the Committee to be suspended. I invite the hon. Lady to give a bit more information, otherwise, having regard to what has happened up to now, I shall have to interpret what she is saying as an indication that it may be the Government’s intention to go right through to the end of the business on the amendment paper.

Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler Assistant Whip, Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

Thank you for that clarification, Mr. Chope. I apologise for not being able to say what time we will finish, but at the beginning of the Committee the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings spoke for very long periods of time and not always to the Bill. I was unable to say when he would stop talking, so I could not say what time we would finish or even get to  the clauses that we hoped to get to earlier on. We are ready to spend the number of hours that we would have spent if we sat on Tuesday deliberating the Bill. I do not think that there is a further eight hours ahead, so we should be able to complete the Bill in less time than that. Therefore, I should like us to continue making progress with the Bill.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

On a point of order, Mr. Chope. We all know why the sitting has been prolonged to this extent. It is to cover up the Government’s embarrassment for losing a series of their own amendments through incompetence. What we are now experiencing is Labour Members being put in detention. I am happy to continue scrutinising the Bill, although the way in which the Government intend to do that, given that we have a full day on Tuesday, is not very rational, sensible or fair to you, Mr. Chope, or to all the staff who have to stay here in order for the usual channels on the Government side to make their political point. It would be more sensible to continue with deliberations on Tuesday. However, if it is the wish of the Government to continue to press this, we will be very happy to go on scrutinising the Bill for as long as is necessary. We are certainly not willing in any way to compromise on the scrutiny of the Bill.

If it is the Government’s intention to continue, it would be sensible, Mr. Chope, for you to suspend this particular sitting for a few hours to give you an opportunity to have a break and to ensure that you are chairing the proceedings as they deserve to be chaired. Moreover, it would ensure that those who speak from the Front Bench on both sides are up to scratch with the matters they are having to debate. Those outside this place who look at the proceedings will not want to feel that we are scrutinising the Bill inadequately for political reasons associated with the Government’s embarrassment yesterday morning. They will want to ensure that you, Mr. Chope, and Committee members are able to do their job properly. We will be better able to do that if we suspend the sitting for a period of hours and then, if necessary, continue throughout tomorrow.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I do not know if anyone else wants to contribute, but it seems from what the hon. Member for Brent, South has just said that it is the intention of the Government to carry on this sitting until we conclude the Bill. I will stand corrected if that is not the correct interpretation. If that is the right interpretation, I will consider for what length of period we should suspend the sitting. I will sit down briefly to enable her to confirm or deny that that is the intention of the Government.

Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Labour, Wakefield

From the point of view of Back Benchers, Mr. Chope, I should like to say that many of us have constituency engagements—as I am sure is probably the case for all hon. Members. If the Government intend to continue, as appears to be the case, it might be a better use of our time to see how far we can get during the next hour or two, and to review the situation then, with the agreement of the usual channels. To go now, and then return at 6, 7 or 8 o’clock, would cause more disruption for me, given that I have child care responsibilities, than if I just got on the Wakefield train at 6 o’clock this morning. That hour is rapidly approaching.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Chope. If Government Members are so keen to ensure that they are back in their constituencies tomorrow, for child care and other responsibilities, surely we should continue this sitting properly on Tuesday. That would give us an entire day’s sitting in which to finish what little remains to be done. However, if the Government intend to pursue their course, we are more than happy to remain, but it would be sensible to have a suspension for a few hours, for the reasons that I gave earlier.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

The hon. Member for Brent, South said that we have not yet reached the point in the Bill at which the Government want to begin on Tuesday. I am not privy to what that point is, but perhaps it is where she wants to get to during the next hour or so. However, unless I get some more information, I cannot identify that point nor make a judgment about it. I take to heart the hon. Gentleman’s point about the need for people to address properly and with a clear head the very important issues in the Bill. I do not know whether the Minister wishes to comment on that. He needs to take into account the fact that he and his ministerial team have been changing places during the course of the day. We have now been sitting for well over 12 and a half hours. We have made very good progress and have completed much of the Bill. As far as I can tell, we have disposed of some 48 groups of amendments, and a further 17 remain on the order paper. We have dealt with 90 clauses, six schedules and about 85 Government amendments. I would have thought it reasonable to say at some stage, “Well, the rest of the business can be dealt with on Tuesday, in accordance with the programme motion.” However, I am in the Committee’s hands, and unless I can get some more information, I shall take it that the Committee’s intention is that I should sit in the Chair until the whole of our proceedings are completed.

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)

Mr. Chope, as I said earlier, I fully appreciate the strain on you and the staff—both parliamentary and departmental—who have been serving us so well. I am very grateful to them for that. However, it would seem that only at this time of day and night can we make good progress in our consideration of the Bill. I certainly suggest that we finish this and the next part, and then consider whether we have achieved good progress.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am sorry, but I missed the Minister’s peroration.

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 am suggesting that it might help the Committee to complete parts 10 and 11 and then consider whether that progress is sufficient. We will make a decision at that point.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

On a point of order, Mr. Chope. I am not really satisfied with the Minister’s proposal, especially given that those parts of the Bill are incredibly important. They were very controversial when we took evidence from outside bodies. We shall want to give considerable scrutiny to those parts of the Bill, spending some time on them. I am not convinced that we can do that in a short period. I am happy to do it later this morning, but I suggest that a short suspension would be helpful if the usual channels and the Government insist on taking the matter further today.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Labour, Islington South and Finsbury 3:15 am, 26th March 2009

On a point of order, Mr. Chope. One of the most helpful contributions that the hon. Member for Yeovil has made was the one before last—it was the most helpful comment that he has made for several hours. He said that there is little in reality to fill an entire day. That is helpful in terms of estimating how long this is likely to take. I was interested to hear you, Mr. Chope, suggest that it might take between eight and 12 hours. We seem largely to be in the hands of the hon. Member for Yeovil as to how long the matter will take. If he estimates that it will not take an entire day to finish, I suggest that we press on.

Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

Further to that point of order, Mr. Chope. I want to echo and slightly develop my hon. Friend’s point. While we turn to my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South for guidance, it is not entirely surprising that she cannot give us a time by which we can expect to have made real progress, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury has said, our time is controlled not by the usual channels but by the Opposition, particularly the hon. Member for Yeovil. Reading out the Bill has not expedited our business this evening.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I have asked for a specific point in the Bill or a time, but I have not received either, so we do not seem to have made much progress through the usual channels.

Clauses 216 to 228 ordered to stand part of the Bill.