PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

HOUSE OF COMMONS

OFFICIAL REPORT

Second Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

DRAFT EUROPEAN COMMUNITIES (DEFINITION OF TREATIES) (STATUTE OF THE EUROPEAN SCHOOLS) ORDER 1995

Wednesday 6 December 1995

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The Conunittee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Donald Anderson

Atkins, Mr. Robert (South Ribble)

Butterfill, Mr. John (Bournemouth, West)

Cousins, Mr. Jim (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central)

Fishburn, Mr. Dudley (Kensington)

Forth, Mr. Eric (Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment)

Foster, Mr. Don (Bath)

Gerrard, Mr. Neil (Walthamstow)

Hall, Mr. Mike (Warrington, South)

Keen, Mr. Alan (Feltham and Heston)

Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter (Liverpool, Walton)

King, Mr. Tom (Bridgwater)

Pickthall, Mr. Colin (West Lancashire)

Pope, Mr. Greg (Hyndburn)

Spicer, Mr. Michael (South Worcestershire)

Steen, Mr. Anthony (South Hams)

Streeter, Mr. Gary (Plymouth, Sutton)

Sykes, Mr. John (Scarborough)

Townsend, Mr Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)

Mr. E. P. Silk, Committee Clerk

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3 Second Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation Wednesday 6 December 1995

[MR. DONALD ANDERSON in the Chair]

Draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Statute of the European Schools) Order 1995

4.30 pm

The Chairman: I understand that the Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment is unwell. I shall therefore call upon the Whip to move the motion formally. I shall then call the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment to speak to the motion. As hon. Members may know, under Standing Order No. 101 any hon. Member may attend these Committees and speak but not vote or be counted in the quorum.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Committee has considered the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Statute of the European Schools) Order 1995.—[Mr. Streeter.]

4.31 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mrs. Cheryl Gillan): May I welcome you, Mr. Anderson, to the Chair as I think it is the first time that we have had the pleasure of your presence. May I also welcome the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) and may I thank my hon. friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) for moving the motion so beautifully on the absence of my hon. Friend the Minister of State. I am sure that I can pass on to him the best wishes of the Committee for a speedy recovery. I hope that the formidable team that I am fielding will back me in the same way as they would have backed him. I should like to ask the Committee to approve the draft order designating the new convention defining the statute of the European schools as a "Community Treaty" under section 1(3) of the European Communities Act 1972, and laid before the House on 15 November. I will briefly explain, first, the convention to which the order applies and then the effect of the order itself, although I do not think there will be much disagreement on it. The convention defines a new statute—a set of administrative regulations—for the European schools, as agreed by the European Community member states and the European communities in Luxenbourg in June 1994. It replaces the original statute of 1957, an intergovernmental agreement to which the United Kingdom acceded in 1972. There are nine European schools in six EC member states, including one in Culham in Oxfordshire. They provide education for 4 the children of employees of EC institutions and are jointly financed by the EC member states and the European Commission.

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams): Would my hon. Friend kindly say how much the officials who send their children to that school have to pay out of their taxed income?

Mrs Gillan: As I understand it, Mr. Anderson, we should stick strictly to the order before the Committee today. I will perhaps refer to that when I wind up although it is outside the parameters of the order.

The Chairman: I think that the question from the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) is properly outside the terms of reference of the Committee.

Mrs. Gilan: thank you for that wise ruling, Mr. Anderson. The new statute, as described in the convention, introduces much needed measures to increase the administrative efficiency of the schools. The United Kingdom Government have supported the need for such reform for many years, as a means of easing the decision-making process for routine administrative issues by ending the blanket requirement for unanimity in the governing body. Decisions on policy issues of substance however, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams will be interested in this, will still require unanimous agreement. The new statute will also encourage the decentralisation of power and authority away from the centre by awarding more financial autonomy to individual schools. It is intended that that will further encourage the more efficient use of resources within the schools, based on local decisions. Finally, the new statute will provide teachers and parents with a more active role in the administration of the schools, through representation on the board of governors. Having been signed by member states and the European Commission, the convention defining this new statute must now be ratified by each signatory. The debate today forms part of the final stage in this process of ratification by the United Kingdom. The convention has already undergone the usual scrutiny procedures, having been laid before both Houses in December last year for the requisite period of 21 days. The order before the Standing Committee today will define the convention as a Community treaty and thus enable the United Kingdom to meet its financial obligations under the new statute. The nature and volume of expenditure under the new statute will be similar to existing expenditure under the current statute of the European schools. It is clear therefore that there is nothing in the order or in the convention to which it applies at which one could take offence. Indeed, the new administrative regulations defined by the convention are to be welcomed in the interests of the efficient deployment of United Kingdom resources in Europe. I urge the Committee to support the motion and approve the order.

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4.34 pm

Mr. Steen: These are important measures and I am sure that colleagues would not want an order such as this to go through the Committee without proper scrutiny. Many Conservative Members are concerned about the way in which European legislation passes through Standing Committees. Colleagues are busy and do not understand the finer points of such measures in Standing Committees because we are dealing with extremely esoteric and specialised matters. It is therefore beholden on us to have at least one member of the Committee who questions and scrutinises the reasons for our getting so many directives from Europe and asks why the Europeans have to have schools especially for themselves and their officials and why this nation has to contribute additional moneys for running them. I am grateful to the Whip for seeing to it that I am on the Committee. I welcome the Minister, who has taken the place of a colleague who is unfortunately indisposed, but I do not think that we should avoid asking a number of questions just because she is new to the subject. There is a flood of Euro-legislation coming through the House and it tends to get gold plated on every occasion. Will the Minister tell us if there has been any add-on by officials in Whitehall to the general directive from Europe and, if so, why? Am I right in saying that the Committe is totally powerless to stop the directive or amend it or to do anything other than speak as I am doing now and then let it carry on through both Houses? Is it in fact inevitable that such directives and guidances from Europe constitute a statutory obligation on the House to pass the obligation on to the Governments of each European state and that each state has to pay whatever the Commission says must be paid? If that is the case, there is virtually no point in attending the Committee or making a speech, because whatever one says will be totally and gloriously irrelevant. One can only ask a few questions, and that can be done by tabling written questions as much as by speaking in a debate. However, there are a number of matters that need to be dealt with. Why do we have the directive? Has it been gold plated? Are we powerless to stop it? What are the financial implications? Why are we being asked to pay for schools for Eurocrats? Why cannot they go to ordinary schools? What is so special about the nine European schools? What is the purpose of giving exclusive education to particular groups of young people? Conservative Members should not want to be party to such a selective, elite process but should be questioning such matters. I also want to ask the Minister about bureaucracy. Why has there been so much of it in the European schools? However they were set up, why were they set up with so much bureaucracy? What is the cost of that bureaucracy? How will the directive creates less bureaucracy? The number of people sitting here suggests that an enormous amount of public money is being spent on making further changes in the schools. 6 The Minister was a litle short in explaining why we have to do whatever it is in the first place. What is it all about? Why are we all here discussing the bureaucracy of European schools that perhaps should not be here in the first place? We need a little more explanation. I thought that it was the Government's intention to send back to Brussels all but essential directives on the basis that under subsidiarity they did not apply to us. Why do we need this directive? What will it do? Will there be powers under the directive for the governors to make further rules and regulations? Are we seeing a cleverly disguised piece of bureaucracy or is the order reducing bureaucracy? I do not want to detain the Committee; that would not be right. It would, however, be equally wrong to let another piece of European legislation creep through just because we all think that we can do nothing about it. I should like, with your leave, Mr Anderson, to speak again after I have had some answers to those questions. I am uneasy about being a member of a Committee that is simply rubber-stamping directives coming from Europe.

4.40 pm

Mr Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton): I expected to say only a few words today and I am mindful that you, Mr Anderson, pointed out that I might be restricted to only an hour, which I was not sure would be sufficient to cover this weighty matter. The hon. Member for South Hams went on at great length about why we are here to discuss bureaucracy—real or imagined—but the only person who wants to discuss it appears to be him. The measure is relatively uncontroversial. Both sides of the House are committed to diversity in education and this is another form of it. I welcome it as another small step in seeking greater co-operation and understanding among young people from many European Community countries. Labour fully supports the order and I hope that the Committee can endorse that view without much further ado.

4.41 pm

Mrs Gillan: I think that my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams has the wrong end of the stick. The statute is intended to increase the efficiency of the schools.

Mr Steen: How?

Mrs. Gillan: By providing, as I have said, for parents and teachers on the board of governers, among other things. There is no add-on, as my hon. Friend described it. There are nine European schools in six member countries which educate 15,300 pupils, of which 2,000 are British. The European school at Culham has more than 900 pupils and serves those people attached to the JET/Torus project, whom we are privileged to have in this country. The school educates to a high level and success rates are in the high 90s. Education is provided in European languages since many of the children who attend do not necessarily speak English as a first language. They sit the European baccalauréat. 7 The cost of the schools is around £120 million, of which more than two thirds is met by the Commission. About a quarter of the cost is paid directly by member states in national salaries for seconded teachers and premises costs. The total United Kingdom budget for European schools in the current financial year is £5.7 million. My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams felt that European schools might be too expensive. Withdrawal from the intergovernmental arena could be achieved only by denouncing the existing convention. That would have serious diplomatic consequences and incur considerable financial costs for redundancy payments to 200 United Kingdom teachers employed in the schools. I will write to my hon. Friend after the Committee if he feels that any questions have not been answered. I hope that I have set his mind at rest on the serious matters that he has raised.

4.44 pm

Mr. Steen: I have raised points which I know that my hon. Friends have not endorsed but they clearly share my concerns. The £5.7 million for those schools seems rather high. Are we contributing to other European schools or just our own? Are the pupils at our school all from the United Kingdom or from other countries in Europe? I believe that some children who attend the schools are from other countries; why cannot diplomats' children from other European countries go to ordinary schools? Why must a special school be set up for them? Perhaps the Minister will explain what is so special about the children of European diplomats. Should there be a special school for the children of Members of Parliament? What is so special about European civil servants? I should be most grateful if the Minister would explain why we have to give a privileged schooling to European diplomats' children.

Mrs. Gillian: I am afraid that I may be straying into matters that you, Mr. Anderson, may feel are out of order in the context of the order. I reiterate for my hon. Friend that of the 15,300 pupils in the European schools, 2,000 are British. I would hesitate to call some of the scientists working on the JET/Torus project diplomats, as they would probably object to the term. Direct comparison between the cost of education in the two systems is difficult; however, the costs in the European schools are higher than in our maintained 8 sector. As I am sure that my hon. Friend will understand, the difference is due to the unique curriculum in the European schools which provide mother-tongue teaching in all European Union languages. I hope that that explanation will satisfy my hon. Friend.

Mr. Steen: I have raised the matters that worry me but I am still concerned about any directive that comes out of Europe, and about any special provision that is offered for the exclusive use of diplomats or scientists. I am not in favour of such exclusive provisions. Why is there so much bureaucracy governing the schools that they require further legislation? What bureaucracy are we getting rid of, and why was there so much of it? Were there crises in these schools or was it something that we did not think about in the first place? I shall not pursue the matter further as I am testing the patience of my hon. Friends.

Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton): You certainly are.

Mr. Steen: Well, certainly some of my hon. Friends. What I am asking, without much success, is what went wrong in the original directive which needs a second directive to put it right?

Mrs. Gillan: Let me try to explain it to my hon. Friend: this is not an EC directive. It is part of the process of ratifying an intergovernmental convention. I hope that he will be satisfied, now that I have said that clearly, to set his mind at rest.

Question put:

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 1.

Division No.1]
AYES
Atkins, Mr. Robert Pope, Mr. Greg
Butterfill, Mr. John Streeter, Mr. Gary
Fishburn, Mr. Dudley Sykes, Mr. John
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter Townsend, Mr. Cyril D.
King, Mr. Tom
NOES
Steen, Mr. Anthony

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Statute of the European Schools) Order 1995.

Committee rose at eleven minutes to Five o'clock.

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THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

Anderson, Mr. Donald (Chairman)

Atkins, Mr.

Butterfill, Mr.

Fishburn, Mr.

Kilfoyle, Mr.

King, Mr.

Pope, Mr.

Steen, Mr.

Streeter, Mr.

Sykes, Mr.

Townsend, Mr. Cyril D.

The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 87(2)

Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment)

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