HL Deb 19 December 1985 vol 469 cc943-6

2.26 p.m.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Education Support Grants (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 1985 be approved.

These draft regulations amend the Education Support Grants Regulations 1984 so as to add one further item to the purposes for which my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Education and Science and for Wales may pay grant. The additional purpose is: securing the supervision of pupils in schools at midday". My right honourable friends have consulted the Association of County Councils, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Welsh Joint Education Committee about their proposals. Those associations raised no objections to the amendment effected by these draft regulations.

The Education (Grants and Awards) Act 1984 gave my right honourable friends power to pay specific grants, known as education support grants, to local education authorities. Grants may be paid on any class or description of expenditure prescribed in regulations made under the Act, being expenditure for or in connection with educational purposes which it appears to my right honourable friends that local education authorities should be encouraged to incur in the interests of education in England and Wales. The Education Support Grants Regulations 1984 prescribe a variety of purposes for which education support grant may be paid. The draft amendment regulations will empower my right honourable friends to pay education support grant on expenditure incurred by local education authorities on the arrangements for supervising school pupils at midday.

The Government's purpose in seeking this amendment is to be able to use education support grants to assist local education authorities to achieve their longstanding objective of securing reliable and adequate supervision of pupils at midday in the interests of the orderly and efficient conduct of schools. To this end the Government have announced their intention to make available additional resources to local education authorities of up to £10 million this year and £40 million next year.

The payment of education support grants for midday supervision should enable local education authorities to secure more effective arrangements, bringing clarity to a long confused situation for teachers and removing one source of difficulty from our schools. That is in the interests of all concerned with education—teachers, parents and especially pupils. I ask the House to approve these amendment regulations.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 27th November be approved. [4th Report from the Joint Committee.]—(The Earl of Swinton.)

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I should like to express our thanks to the noble Earl the Minister for introducing and explaining these regulations. I assume the House will be aware that these regulations must be seen in the light of the Education (Amendment) Bill which is now going through another place. The Minister's statement raises a number of questions about the relationship between the regulations and the Bill which I think should be made public.

First, the Minister said that there would be additional funding of £10 million this year and £40 million next year for the purposes of securing the supervision of pupils in school at midday. In the context of the fact that the education support grant in general is to go down by £65 million in money terms and, therefore, by 4.5 per cent. in real terms, does the Minister agree that this is merely a drop in the ocean? Are the Government prepared to give a guarantee for the future that expenditure under this heading will be in addition to any other Government support for education expenditure? I ask that question because if that is not to be the case, teachers will feel considerably aggrieved in that the money which is now being set aside will come from funds which could be available for increases in teachers' pay.

I am also somewhat sceptical about the timing of this. Is it really the right time for us to introduce regulations of this kind in the middle of a teachers' dispute? Should not the Government's priority be to resolve the teachers' dispute, on which they have signally failed to take any action, rather than to deal with something which is a symptom rather than the cause of the justified discontent of teachers over remuneration and standards? In accordance with tradition we would not wish to oppose these amendments, but we must be excused for a certain amount of suspicion as to the motives behind them and as to the financial provision for them.

2.30 p.m.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, we on these Benches would also like to thank the noble Earl for explaining these proposed regulations. We have no objection in principle to the provision of extra funds for mealtime supervision; the question really is the source. The noble Earl referred to additional funds. If I understand the situation rightly, there is enough left in the ESG fund this year to provide £10 million during the rest of the financial year—that is before we get the further legislation which is proposed in the New Year—in other words, to look after the rest of this financial year. But is it not the case that this is money which has been withdrawn from local education authorities for the purposes of the Education (Grants and Awards) Act 1984, and that those purposes were originally intended to be pilot schemes of an educational nature, curricula improvement, and so forth? If this method of funding is to continue in the future, would it not seriously dilute the purposes for which the Government brought in the Education (Grants and Awards) Act last year?

I have also seen it suggested that this mealtime funding might be taken from the £1.25 billion so-called "envelope" that the Secretary of State is reserving for teachers' pay. Is it not the case that, whichever course is taken, this money is going to be used at the expense either of teachers' pay or of the sort of scheme for which the Education (Grants and Awards) Act was passed by Parliament?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am grateful to both the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, and the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, for welcoming these regulations, albeit with certain qualifications. Perhaps I cut my original speech a bit short in the best tradition of your Lordships' House on this last day. I can now give both noble Lords the details they want on their worries about the financing of the scheme.

I can assure both noble Lords that this will be new money for local education authorities. In this financial year the Government intend to increase relevant expenditure for local authorities in England and Wales by £10 million. Subject to parliamentary approval of these amendment regulations, my right honourable friends will invite local education authorities to bid for approval of expenditure of up to these amounts in total. Education support grant will then be paid at the rate of 70 per cent. on approved expenditure. The aggregate of grants to local authorities from the Exchequer will be increased by up to £7 million to cover the cost of the 70 per cent. expenditure to be reimbursed through education support grants.

In 1986–87 approval of additional expenditure for midday supervision is subject to the passage of the Education (Amendment) Bill which was introduced in this House earlier this week, and has completed all its stages in another place. That Bill raises the limit on expenditure which my right honourable friends may approve for education support grant purposes in any one year. I think this probably answers the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock. It is going to go up from 0.5 per cent. to 1 per cent.

Subject to that Bill receiving the Royal Assent, my right honourable friends will approve expenditure of up to £40 million on midday supervision for education support grant purposes in 1986–87, and the aggregate of Exchequer grants to local education authorities will be increased by up to £28 million. Therefore, it is new money.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, asked about timing on this Bill. This has been a matter which has been worrying the teachers probably above all for many years. We are seeking swift action because we believe that the problem in our schools has reached the point where something must be done quickly. I think that to wait would have been far worse than to proceed like this. I beg to move.

On Question, Motion agreed to.