Report (2nd Day) (Continued)
Baroness Sharp of Guildford (Liberal Democrat)
Amendments 56A and 56B are in my name and both are amendments to Amendment 56. I tabled them because we, and I suspect other noble Lords, have received a fair amount of correspondence about this provision. Two issues arise from it. One, which is the subject of my amendments, relates to a very narrow issue-the 10 per cent of turnover to which the fine should be related and the question of whether that is the total turnover of the organisation or just that part of the organisation's turnover that relates to its United Kingdom activities. As the Minister has made clear, the Government have effectively accepted these amendments, and I gather that the turnover will relate only to United Kingdom activities.
The other issue goes somewhat wider and relates to the whole process of consultation that took place. I understand that, as the Minister explained, the Government were anxious to get these powers on to the statute book because Ofqual had the choice of only either a fairly gentle reprimand or the nuclear option of withdrawing recognition of the examining board, and it wanted a further range of sanctions to apply, as is the case with other regulators. However, it is very unfortunate that the period of consultation was reduced to as little as 10 days and that the examination boards did not have a chance to respond to these proposals as fully as they would have liked. It is also unfortunate that a wider consultation with other people affected by the knock-on effects of this provision did not take place. Some of them may also have received a letter from the ASCL pointing out that a fine imposed on the examining boards is quite likely to be passed on to the schools, which pay considerable fees for their pupils to sit these examinations.
I recognise that we do not want our examining boards to make the serious errors in examinations that occurred this summer and that sanctions of some sort are not a bad idea. Nevertheless, the fact remains that an inquiry was set up to examine those errors and it is not going to report until the end of the year. Normally, one would expect to see some action taken after the inquiry reports, and I therefore ask the Minister whether it was really necessary to act as quickly as he did. Furthermore, I hope that full consultation will now take place with the examination boards. As the Government put flesh on the bones of the sanctions in this amendment, I hope that they will have proper discussions and consultations with all those concerned about how the sanctions should be imposed and implemented. This is not good practice and I hope that the coalition Government will not continue with the rapid pursuit of issues in the same way.