Politics: Blunkett rapped on `Henry VIII' power

SWEEPING "Henry VIII" powers which will allow David Blunkett to change rules on how schools are governed without consultation have gone too far, a House of Lords Committee has ruled. Mr Blunkett has 250 new powers under a Bill now in the Lords, three of them "Henry VIII" measures which will allow him to change the law without further consultation.

Among other things, the School Standards and Framework Bill introduces the Government's pledge to cut infant class sizes and to allow for parental ballots on the future of grammar schools. It abolishes grant-maintained schools as well as making changes to governing bodies, school budgets and school admission policies.

In particular, the committee questions why the Government's class-size limit of 30 does not appear in the Bill itself but in regulations, allowing for it to be changed.

Likewise, controversial rules on how parents will be able to force a ballot on the future of a local grammar school, and who will be able to vote in it, have not been spelt out.

"These clauses of the Bill have already attracted considerable controversy. "These powers cover important matters of substance which cannot be dismissed as mere details," the report from the House of Lords Select Committee on Delegated Powers says.

The trend for ministers to take on additional powers not fully detailed in Bills is a growing one, the committee adds. "It is, however, a trend which the committee views with considerable concern."

Baroness Blatch, Conservative education spokeswoman in the House of Lords, welcomed the report and said that the Conservatives had always adhered to the committee's recommendations when they were in power. The Labour government should now set out precisely what powers it was taking and how it proposed to use them as well as seeking the permission of Parliament before putting them into effect, she said.