(3) The functions referred to in subsection (2) above are—
(5) The Funding Council shall, notwithstanding that they are exercising functions on behalf of the Secretary of State, be entitled to enforce any rights acquired, and shall be liable in respect of any liabilities incurred (including liability in damages for wrongful or negligent acts or omissions), in the exercise of those functions in all respects as if the Funding Council were acting as a principal; and all proceedings for enforcement of such rights and liabilities shall be brought by or against the Funding Council in their own name.
New clause 5—Funding Council timetable— '—.The Secretary of State shall publish a timetable by which a Funding Council for Further Education shall be established in Scotland to undertake the functions conferred on the Secretary of State in this part which relate to the provision of further education.'
'There shall be established, with effect from 1 April 1993 or any such date thereafter that the Secretary of State may deem appropriate, a body corporate to be known as the Further Education Funding Council for Scotland, which shall
I said during the consideration of the Bill in Committee that I would table amendments on Report to keep the option open to establish a funding council for further education. While I remain of the view that it would be a mistake to establish such a council, especially at 1 April 1993, I have tabled new clause 6, which would give the Secretary of State by order the power to establish a Scottish further education funding council.
The amendments tabled by the Opposition seek a commitment that a council will be set up at 1 April 1994 or that a firm timetable be established for that. Nineteen ninety-four, however, is likely to be too soon after colleges become self-governing for any Secretary of State to consider the case for establishing such a funding council.
The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) acknowledged in Committee the need for stability in further education. The duty to secure adequate and efficient provision of further education in Scotland would remain with the Secretary of State, the council being responsible for the actual exercise of the Secretary of State's functions as prescribed by order. That is the best way of ensuring accountability to Parliament. Those functions that cannot be presented and so exercised on his behalf are listed in the new clauses.
Those exemptions involve functions such as the making of orders and regulations, and the giving of directions. They are necessary to protect the Secretary of State because he would be liable for breach of his statutory duties, and it is he who will be accountable to Parliament.
New clause 7 would require the funding council—
The Minister has been rather helpful on issues involving disabilities and learning difficulties. He will be aware that there are parallel debates on the equivalent English Bill. I am not making a debating point; I am genuinely trying to clarify the issue. Will the Minister explain why new clause 6 does not deal with the responsibility for people with disabilities and learning difficulties?
I know of the hon. Gentleman's interest in such matters, and when we reach new clauses 11 and 18, perhaps he will want to raise them. There will be an opportunity to discuss those helpful debates and the results of the deliberations about people with special needs. New clause 6 fulfils not my undertakings on people with learning difficulties and special needs but my undertaking to give the Secretary of State powers to establish a buffer body—a funding council to carry out on his behalf the functions which were set out in the Bill as it originally came before the House.
New clause 7 would require the funding council to advise and assist the Secretary of State in connection with his functions and to provide him with
such information and advice as he may … require".
The funding council would also be able to give the Secretary of State
such information and advice as they think fit as regards the provision of further education … in Scotland.
New clause 20 is a funding clause, containing provisions similar to the Secretary of State's power to fund boards of management in clause 4.
Amendment No. 84 sets out provisions in a schedule dealing with such matters as the appointment of members of the council by the Secretary of State, their powers to employ staff and own property, and to prepare reports and accounts. Those provisions mirror similar provisions for the higher education funding council in schedule 6.
I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will recognise the significant concession that the amendments represent. They have been introduced because of our wish to ensure that an important option is not closed to further education students and staff. It is in their best interests that the reforms have been brought forward.
I invite the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie to withdraw amendment (a) to new clause 6, which in effect would prevent the Secretary of State from exercising his power to establish by order an FE funding council until 1 April or later. That would limit a future Secretary of State's power to establish such a council earlier, if he so wished, and would therefore be unnecessarily restrictive.
I have mixed feelings at the start of the day's business. First, we have been asked to return to the Bill very quickly. It came out of Committee only last Tuesday. That shows the Government's desire to try to get it through before a general election, but it means that we cannot subject some of the extensive proposals that the Government are making today to the sort of scrutiny that we would wish. That will have to happen in the other place.
On the other hand, I want to express my great appreciation and thanks to the Minister—I say this quite fearlessly—for honouring the commitments that were made in Committee, for which Opposition Members are most grateful. Hon. Members on both sides of the House accept that significant improvements have been made and that the Committee stage was characterised by none of the sterility that is common on such occasions. I also express my appreciation to the Scottish Office civil servants, who must have worked extremely hard to produce the amendments.
It is appropriate to put this debate into the context of the Bill as a whole. We welcome the intentions behind the second half of the Bill—the end of the binary divide and the transfer of control to Scotland. We are pleased with the concessions made in respect of the further education provisions of the Bill, both before it was introduced and during its passage. In the original White Paper, a clear warning was given that the privatisation of the careers service was contemplated, but, before the Bill was introduced, a concession was made and that proposal was withdrawn.
We welcome, too, the fact that the Government soon realised that it would be quite impractical to ask the local authorities to perform only a social and recreational function under the Bill, with the result that there is now a duty on the colleges to provide further education, and a power for local authorities to do so.
We welcome the fact that, throughout the Bill, there is movement towards much greater consultation with local authorities, staff and other bodies. That is a significant step.
We thank the Minister for altering the provisions governing the responsibility for English as a foreign language, and for making it quite clear that that is a college responsibility. I am sure that all members of the Committee—in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke)—will want to express their appreciation for the movement that has been made on those with learning needs.
In particular, we welcome the provision for the establishment of a further education funding council, although we must put that matter in context. Even with the funding council, we regard the dual provision of further education by local authorities and colleges as nonsense. It will simply be extremely confusing. Incoherence is bound to result when the Howie committee's proposals—or the responses to them—about highers and other courses in the upper stages of secondary schools appear.
No further education funding council—or any other body—will be able to implement such proposals in a sensible way, given that, on the one hand, we shall have centrally controlled FE colleges under the control of local business men, while, on the other, we shall have the extensive proposals for post-16s, which I am sure will have their impact on vocational education and which will have to be administered by the local authorities.
We remain convinced that the Bill is motivated by the desire for central control. We must not forget that it had its origins in the Government's desire to keep down the poll tax rather than in any educational consideration, and we object to self-selected boards of business men running further education in an area. We are also apprehensive about the service that will be given to remote areas, at some distance from further education colleges.
We cannot agree with the further education provisions in the Bill. As I pointed out in Committee, the further education funding council was a third or fourth best. We have no commitment to implementing that part of the Bill; a Labour Government would regard the centralisation of control as wrong.
When the hon. Gentleman referred to areas that are some distance from colleges of further education, was he talking about the rural areas of Scotland? If so, will he elaborate on that? I should be interested to know his thinking on the rural areas, what he proposes to do and where he will find the money.
I am referring in some cases, but not necessarily, to rural areas. We are talking about more than 40 colleges, and it is certainly not true to say that every town in Scotland has a college of further education. No one would call Dumbarton, for example, rural, but it does not have a further education college of its own. Many other areas are in the same position.
However, I am talking about remote areas. Clydebank college has out-stations in many parts of Argyll, and is currently seeking to set up a multi-site further education college in the rural parts of Argyll. That can be achieved only by intense collaboration with the local authorities and schools in the area, because their premises will be involved. As I said in Committee, we shall run up against the business bureaucracy of people charging for services.
We would not implement the FE part of the Bill. We recognise that there are deficiencies in the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Act 1989 and that we need to consult the FE sector if we are to improve that. However, although the Bill has been improved, we cannot make it acceptable to an incoming Labour Government.
As I have said, as we have only just received the detailed new clauses on the FE funding council, we have not had the time to scrutinise them and, because there has been insufficient time, it has not been physically possible to table amendments to those provisions. That will have to be deferred until the Bill is considered in the other place. I hope that their Lordships can cope with that, because the scale of the change is considerable. On first impression, one is concerned that powers have not been—
Given that the hon. Gentleman argued in Committee that an amendment should be tabled to allow the Secretary of State the power to set up such a funding council, and that I argued against it on the basis that to do so would involve a complicated and lengthy series of amendments, is it not a little disingenuous of him now to argue that it is unfair on the House and him that such amendments have now been tabled? [Interruption.] Well, the hon. Gentleman appears to be complaining. We have tabled an amendment that does precisely what the hon. Gentleman sought in Committee. I understood that, if the Bill were to he amended in that way, the hon. Gentleman would be satisfied, so I am now a little disappointed that he appears to be girning about it.
No, I have expressed my appreciation. The Minister has done the right thing, and has produced proposals for a further education funding council. I was simply pointing out that, although we shall not oppose those provisions today, that must not be taken as evidence that we approve of everything in the new clauses. The establishment of a higher education funding council accounted for half the Bill, and we spent five weeks scrutinising it. We recognise that further work needs to be done in the other place to scrutinise the FE funding council.
I should like to give one example of a power that seems conclusive and all-embracing. On first reading—we can give it only a first reading—new clause 20(2) appears to refer to a pretty gargantuan power:
A grant or other payment paid under this section may be made subject to such conditions as the Secretary of State thinks appropriate and such conditions—(a) may be imposed before, after or at the time such grant or payment is made".
That is an extraordinary proviso. In other words, the conditions under which the funding council gets a grant can be changed after it has received the grant. The new clause continues by saying that such conditions
may relate to any time, whether before or after such time.
There may be a simple explanation. I am simply telling the Minister that we are pleased that he has introduced proposals for a further education funding council, but that a great deal of the detail will have to be scrutinised in the other place. When the Minister replies, perhaps he could say what that provision means.
In introducing the new clauses, I drew the hon. Gentleman's attention to the provisions in clause 4. If he looks at clause 4 he will find exactly the same wording. There is nothing new in this. We discussed the matter in Committee. If he is arguing that this is new and has been sprung upon him, I must tell him that it has been in the Bill from the beginning.
This relates to the payment of funds to institutions. The wording in clause 4 is the same. Clause 4(3) states:
The terms and conditions on which the Secretary of State may make any grants, loans or other payments under this section may include in particular conditions—
(a) enabling him to require the repayment, in whole or in part, of sums paid by him if any other condition subject to which the sums were paid is not complied with",
and so on. Those provisions applied when the Secretary of State was funding directly. It follows that they must be carried over if a buffer body acts on his behalf. There is nothing new in this. The hon. Gentleman is making a meal of a concession that he requested.
There is a difference between a funding council and a college board of management. A funding council has complete responsibility for the distribution of funding to further education colleges whereas, if I have read the provision correctly—the Minister has not corrected me—the Secretary of State may make a grant to a funding council and change the conditions of that grant at some stage in the future—in other words, after the grant has been made.
We tabled the amendment for a funding council in 1994 because we believed that the Minister accepted the case for a funding council in Committee. The only argument that he advanced against a funding council—he may have others—was that it would be too hurried at present and create confusion. Given the time of year, the fact that no steps have been taken to set up a funding council and the fact that we cannot be as far ahead as I hope we are on the higher education funding council, I fully accept that it would be wrong, disorganising and disorienting for us to set up a funding council in 1993.
We want an assurance from the Minister that he has accepted the case for a funding council and that, having got out of the problem of the rush—the Government have introduced the legislation in that way—he intends at some future date, were his party to remain in office, to introduce one. We want an assurance that this is not simply a sop. Is this a sop, or is it a sign that the Minister has accepted the case for a funding council? The reason for the amendment is to test the Minister and to put a date on the establishment of the funding council, thus demonstrating the Government's commitment.
I echo the words of the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) and welcome the new clause that has been tabled by the Minister. A lot of detailed work has been done in a short time on the various new clauses and amendments. I welcome the fact that the new clause offers an opportunity for a funding council for further education in Scotland to be established.
We are still uncertain, however, whether the Scottish Office and the Minister intend, in the fulness of time, to proceed with the further education funding council. In Committee, the Minister hesitated about tabling such a new clause, because it might create uncertainty. Obviously, he weighed up in his mind whether the inclusion of such a new clause would be healthy in terms of the unsettling effect it might have on the institutions affected.
I urge the Minister to say not only that the Government may set up, at some unspecified date, the funding council, but that he is committed to doing so. Such a commitment would do a great deal to ease the disruption that will obviously be caused in the transition phase, as institutions move from local authority control to control by the Secretary of State. Many changes will have to be made, and they could be made far more effectively and with less disruption if we knew that a further education funding council was to be established.
I am still unclear as to why the Minister left out the option for a funding council in the first draft of the Bill. A higher education funding council is allowed for in the English and Welsh Bill and is also allowed for in this Bill. I am never one to suggest that we should simply follow what is done in England and Wales, but the proposed funding council for further education was one of the better aspects of the English and Welsh Bill.
I still do not understand the resistance that may exist in the Scottish Office to the establishment of such a council in Scotland. I can only conclude that there is still a desire among Scottish Office Ministers to give emphasis to one of the worst aspects of the Scottish Bill—centralisation. Further and higher education institutions are worried that the Bill will allow significant controls to be exercised directly through the Secretary of State, whether they are political or not. They believe that the interference suggested by the Bill and its centralising aspects should be firmly resisted.
If the Minister is unwilling to commit himself to the establishment of a further education funding council, it will be a signal that the idea of a buffer to distance the Secretary of State from his responsibilities towards further and higher education will be lost. There should be such a buffer, so that people who are engaged in further education and who have the expertise to give proper advice to the Secretary of State have the opportunity to exercise their powers. However, it appears that powers will continue to rest squarely with the Secretary of State, his advisers and civil servants. Great concern will be felt by those in higher and further education if their fear is not overcome as a result of today's debate. This is a good opportunity for the Minister to remove that fear.
We should give a clear signal to everyone involved in further education in Scotland that the Government intend to move towards the establishment of a further education funding council. I am not calling for that commitment to be met on a specific date—it could happen in 1992, 1993 or 1994. However, in due course, the Government should publish a timetable showing that they are moving towards that goal. That signal would provide stability and reassurance to those involved in further education in Scotland. They would then believe that there will be a buffer between them and the direct control to be exercised by the Secretary of State.
The Liberal Democrat party and I are still very much opposed to the principle of centralisation. I see the Bill as nothing but a centralising measure. The Minister argued the opposite case in Committee, but I still see the ultimate responsibility being shifted from local authorities to the Secretary of State. It is another attack on local government. The educational rationale for such a move was never made in advance of the Bill, which leads to deep suspicion among hon. Members that it was proposed to solve the Government's poll tax problems rather than for sound educational reasons. The people of Scotland take it ill if they see their education system being meddled with for non-education reasons.
In candour, had it been left to me I would have talked and talked and exhausted the patience of the Government and doubtless of my hon. Friends. I like neither part of the Bill, and I do not think that responsibility for further education should be removed from local authorities, which have, on the whole, managed it well. As I made known to the Committee, I still have reservations about the separation of funding councils.
You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, know what parliamentary life is like and my hon. Friends take a different view.
I thank my hon. Friend for that comment.
Having made that preamble, my hon. Friends will be relieved to know that my contributions to Report stage will be solely in queston form. It is best to be candid also about who one has consulted. My first question is a result of a telephone conversation with Graham Bowie, chief executive of Lothian region. What safeguards will exist for the independence of a funding council? We shall need athletic Parliamentary Private Secretaries to obtain the answers to all my questions.
My second question follows consultation with a number of people. What professional support, and from whom, will the permanent secretariat and permanent advisers have? Thirdly, how does all that lie with new clause 10 and the submissions to the Scottish Office? Is the funding council to be the creature—it is an unpleasant word, but it is not meant unpleasantly—of the Scottish Office? My fourth question concerns an extremely important matter—the practical nature of the tendering requirements, for instance, for computer facilities, estate surveying, legal and architectural services, medical advice and supplies. At present, the further education authorities take as much advantage as possible of the economies of scale through the regional councils. As the Minister raises his eyebrow, I recommend my excellent speech on competitive tendering of 20 January in the House. One example is the Minister's letter of 30 January to me about de minimis exemptions. The Secretary of State smiles, but those are practical matters involving extremely important people within the local authorities.
I thank my hon. Friend; I always like to be fair to Ministers.
The letter stated:
The present de minimis figure of £100,000 reflects our judgment as to the point at which it would not be right to oblige an authority to comply with the accounting and reporting requirements of competitive tendering.
That aspect has to be considered carefully.
My fifth question arises from a conversation that I had yesterday with Tony Godden, the head of the West Lothian college, who has severe reservations about the time scale leading to incorporation and how colleges like his—Bathgate and Livingston—can undertake the services previously carried out by the regional council. At this early stage, will the Minister say how, in practical terms, the changeover is to take place? I hope that the issue will be explained in the other place.
My sixth question arises out of a conversation with Dr. John Watts, the rector of St. Kentigerns, Blackburn. He said that on that day he had 70 pupils at the West Lothian college and Oatridge agricultural college, and the links between the colleges were excellent. But he thought that the links were bound to become more tenuous when the institutions were paid for from different purses and had different bureaucratic structures.
The House will be relieved to hear that I am coming to the end of my list of telephone calls. [HON. MEMBERS: "Next it will be letters."] It is telephone calls on Report and letters in Committee.
My last telephone call was to the head of Oatridge agricultural college, which has been a great help to the agricultural community in Scotland. Chris Nixon said that co-operation could exist, but it would be difficult when co-operation through the normal virement funds ceased. Members who have been on the Public Accounts Committee, as I have, will know all about virement, which is not a recondite issue but a practical one.
Representatives at Oatridge believe that under the proposed set-up the college would have to buy services. At present, the region acts as a clearing house and Lothian region gives the college a great deal of autonomy. But once the new proposals are implemented, school work will be funded and we will face either the impossible position of teachers being paid for doing nothing or the arrangements. will cease to exist. Chris Nixon said that he could not envisage the school buying college time unless the college could buy school time. Theoretically, doubtless the colleges can buy school time, but in practice, as all my colleagues know, it is impractical to do so.
I am sorry, I forgot that I made one more telephone call—to Mr. Sellars, the Lothian region's further education expert. He expressed anxiety about the public accountability of the funding council, and in particular who was to look after the strategic planning. My hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) is chairman of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. There is a view that COSLA should carry out the service. If it is to be implemented by the Scottish Office, we should be told about it.
Before my hon. Friend concludes what some people might describe as the Linlithgow questions, may I point out that there are indeed many in COSLA who would still argue, even at this late stage in our discussions on the Bill—very rushed discussions indeed—that if the Government are determined to take the colleges out of local government, there is still an important role for COSLA. My hon. Friend was right to identify it.
The Minister asked my hon. Friend to withdraw amendment (a) to new clause 6 which commits the Government to setting up a funding council for Scottish further education. If the new clause goes through without amendment (a), it will empower the Secretary of State to set up such a council. He may do so, but he may decide not to do so. If amendment (a) is not carried, the Minister cannot say that he has brought forward the new clause as a concession to the Opposition. He is dressing it up as a concession, hut, without amendment (a), if there is a Conservative Government post election—I do not think that will happen, but we should explore the fantasies in case there is—the Secretary of State could decide not to set up a further education council in Scotland. He could say that he had the power but no obligation to do so.
I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman did not have the pleasure of joining us in Committee. The request which was made to me in Committee was to bring forward amendments to enable the Secretary of State to set up a funding council, on the clear understanding that no commitment was being given that we would wish to do such a thing. When I said in Committee that we had no intention of establishing a funding council in April 1993, I was asked to provide power to enable a future Secretary of State to do so. That is what I have done. I have fulfilled the undertaking to the letter.
The Minister is being slightly disingenuous. What we pressed him to do in Committee was to include in the Bill power to set up a funding council. He said that he was against that. We then asked him, if he could not go so far as to meet us in full, to introduce an empowering provision. He has met that part of the commitment, but our main concern was to have the legislation drafted in such a way as to ensure that a funding council would be set up. Therefore, the Minister has not been as generous as he pretends.
My hon. Friend is right. The Minister is never as generous as he pretends. He seeks consistently to mislead the people of Scotland about the reality of what he and his Government have been about in Scotland in the past 12 to 13 years.
Since the Minister is anxious to avoid giving a commitment to set up a further education council, perhaps he could use the opportunity of replying to the debate to rule out a possibility which was raised in the press last year. In May The Times Higher Education Supplement, in an article entitled
Merging the High and Low Roads",
suggested that further education funding in Scotland could in future be incorporated in the proposed Scottish higher education funding council. If that is not the case, perhaps the Minister will say that it is not the intention of the Government to go down that high road or low road, whatever they wish to call it, and merge further education and higher education in one funding council after the general election. By giving the Secretary of State the power this side of the general election, perhaps he intends to implement such a council after the election.
We have had an interesting discussion. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) raised a number of questions. I hope that I can provide him with the answers in a way that his hon. Friends on the Front Bench were unable to provide answers to questions raised when he was the hon. Member for West Lothian.
The hon. Gentleman's telephone calls raise a number of important questions, the first of which concerns the independence of the funding council. The hon. Gentleman must recognise that we have not given a commitment to establish a funding council: we simply gave a commitment to provide powers for the Secretary of State to do so. Any such council would need to be established and have its functions defined by an order approved by this House. And if there were a proposal to establish a funding council, that would best be done in the context of the further education colleges having acquired self-governing status, having found their feet and having had an opportunity to discuss the respective roles of the funding council and of the Secretary of State.
The new clauses are designed to set out the structure for a funding council skeleton on which such structures would be built. That is a matter for future debate, certainly not for today when there is quite enough to be done in preparing colleges for self-governing status and ensuring that they have the support and expertise required to enable them to make a success of that. That support is available in the Scottish Office and has been tried and tested in the work that has been done supporting the central institutions. The hon. Member for Linlithgow is only too well aware of how successful the central institutions have been in working with the expertise in the Scottish Office.
The Minister is being unusually diffident. In Committee he conceded that there was a case for a funding council "as a buffer". Right from the start, his counterparts in England and Wales have seen the necessity for a funding council. We accept that the Minister has honoured his commitment: he has brought forward powers to establish a funding council. We are just asking for knowledge of the Minister's attitude to a funding council. Does he think it would be a good thing; is he committed to setting one up?
We discussed all this in Committee when I set out our position clearly. In the fifth sitting of the Committee on 19 December I had the following to say:
It would not be helpful to establish such a council on 1 April 1993 when the colleges become self-governing and will require a period of stability. I told the committee that when the colleges were firmly established under a central funding mechanism, I saw no reason why a funding council should not be considered. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) said in Committee that if the Minister is persuaded that it may be possible to establish a funding council at a future date, why does not the Bill allow the Secretary of State to establish one, given that it would require primary legislation. Since then, the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) has made a persuasive case for including such provisions in the Bill.
I have taken advice about what would be involved in amending the Bill to allow for such a further education council to be established at a later date by a future Secretary of State if he so wished. It will require extensive amendment to the Bill, but given the Committee's progress in considering part I, and given the positive way in which Opposition Members have put their case, I am happy to undertake to table amendments on Report to keep the option open to establish a funding council for further education."—[Official Report, First Scottish, Standing Committee, 19 December 1991; c. 156-57.]
That is what I have done. The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) welcomed it. To suggest now that we should commit ourselves to establishing a funding council to carry out certain functions is to change the position that the hon. Gentleman adopted in Committee and my understanding of the Opposition's view—
I did so in Committee. I make the observation that given the Opposition's effort to determine the Government's view two or three years from now, I can only conclude that Opposition Members expect us to be in government after the next general election. If the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) had any confidence that he would be in government, he would know that the Bill would provide him with the power to decide when to establish the council. The Opposition's approach is revealing, although entirely understandable with the way the polls are going.
I said in Committee that I had an open mind on the matter. If we thought that a funding council would be entirely inappropriate, we would never have agreed to include such provisions in the Bill. It is a matter best addressed at a future date in the light of the experience of the self-governing colleges.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) asked me about the independence of the funding council. The council's functions would be established by order. Obviously, the council would exist to carry out functions on behalf of the Secretary of State, but the duty would remain with the Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman asked whether the funding council would be the creature of the Scottish Office and he asked where public accountability would be. Accountability will remain in this place because the Secretary of State will be accountable to the House for the exercise of his duties in the provision of further education. The funding council will have particular functions which will be carried out on his behalf. The new clauses are carefully drafted to ensure that the clear lines of accountability are maintained.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow also asked me about competitive tendering and the tendering process. I am delighted that he sees the benefits of competitive tendering and that he is anxious to ensure that further education colleges should get the best value for money. If colleges want to make arrangements with local authorities about purchasing or about other centrally organised purchasing arrangements, they are free to do so. It is a matter for their boards of management and we should expect them, like all bodies that are publicly funded, to get value for money.
I bring to the Minister's attention the correspondence between West Lothian district council and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), the Under-Secretary of State, on precisely the difficulties that a council, whether district or regional, has on the whole issue of competitive tendering. This is not the occasion on which to go into detail, but I think that the Minister should be aware of the problem.
I should be happy to look into that correspondence and to consider the hon. Gentleman's point. The general point is that the colleges would be free to make whatever arrangements seemed best for the provision of services. Centrally organised arrangements are sometimes not appropriate and that point brings me to the hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Stephen).
The hon. Gentleman argued that the Bill was a centralising measure. For a Liberal Democrat to argue that giving institutions the power to run their own affairs is a centralising measure is extraordinary. It was even more extraordinary that the hon. Gentleman seemed to think that the measure had something to do with the poll tax. I explained in Committee that the poll tax—[HON. MEMBERS: "Poll tax!"] I have called the community charge the "poll tax" on a number of occasions. We used the term "poll tax" in the famous vulture posters which we have put behind us.
The community charge or poll tax has nothing to do with the arrangements for financing local government. It is clear that the money that will now be provided centrally by my right hon. Friend will not be given to the local authorities. This is a transfer from one account to another. The idea that it would somehow reduce the community charge is erroneous. We have explained the point at great length to the hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside, but he keeps making his claim. I do not know whether he does not understand the measure or whether he thinks that he can discredit the idea by associating it with the poll tax. I have no idea how his mind operates in those matters.
The hon. Gentleman also suggested that the measure was an attack on Scottish education. The one point that he left out of his speech was the recognition that the measures have been welcomed by the principals of the colleges concerned. Why does the hon. Gentleman think that he knows better than the people who are responsible for running the colleges who have welcomed the opportunity to be able to take decisions at local level?
The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) criticised me for not giving a clear commitment to setting up a funding council. I have covered that ground in some depth. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was not able to join us in Committee because I have enjoyed his contributions in previous Committees of which he has been a member. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would have helped us—
Unlike the Minister, I am not sorry that I was not on the Committee; I am pleased that I missed it. The Minister must have been asleep or doing something else when I raised my final point about the article in the education press in Scotland about the middle of last year. It suggested that the Government intended to merge further education funding with the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council. Does the Minister discount that possibility?
I am happy to discount that possibility, together with many other stories which appear in the education press and which are represented as the Government's view. It is regrettable that that happens. The view mentioned by the hon. Gentleman has never been put to me and I did not see the article to which he referred. He can rest easy on that matter.
I hope that the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie will feel able to withdraw his amendment and accept that the Government have fulfilled the undertaking that was freely given as a result of our deliberations on this matter.
I cannot withdraw the amendment, which would set a date for the introduction of a further education funding council. The last exchange between my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) and the Minister was interesting. An acceptable reason for not introducing an FE funding council—although I do not say that the reason would be either accurate or right—would be if the Government intended to merge it with the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council. I believe that the Secretary of State was credited with saying that the Government would consider merging the two at some stage. The Minister shakes his head, which shows that that is not in the Government's mind. However, had that been a reason, I could have accepted it.
The possibility of such a merger has now been discounted by the Minister, who has given a solid commitment that no Government of his persuasion would attempt such a merger. What is the Minister's difficulty? Is he or is he not in favour of a further education funding council? It is not a difficult issue. Both the Welsh and the English Ministers have managed to make up their minds on it. We can only reach the conclusion—which will be noted by the further education sector in Scotland—that the reason behind the Government's proposal for a further education funding council is that it might help the Bill's passage. It is quite clear that the Government are not committed to introducing such a council.
There has been no intellectual acceptance of the case for an FE funding council. At the very most, it is an open issue, but, knowing the Minister as I do, I concur with what the hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Stephen) said about the Bill being fundamentally a centralising measure. It seeks to keep control with the Secretary of State. Administration will be done by self-appointed business men on boards of management, but the parameters of further education—the fee level, the overall funding and the policy—will be set by central Government.
The Minister did not accept our argument that there is great virtue in having a forum, a central organisation, where the further education world could concentrate its arguments, debate policy and move forward. If the Government are returned to power, because of the inadequacies of this place there will be no scope for public debate on further education.
My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) raised some extremely interesting issues which we do not have time to debate today but which I hope will be debated in the other place, such as the relationship between the putative funding council and the Scottish Office. At first glance, it would appear to be very much the creature of the Scottish Office, when in fact it should be a buffer acting at arm's length from the Scottish Office.
Another inadequacy about the way that we have to deal with the matter today is that there is not time to debate the issue, which we debated in Committee, about the role of a funding council in strategy and planning. It has a strategic planning function. That debate will have to take place in another place. The issue of academic freedom has been raised both in this place and in the other place—the notorious clauses 36 and 64, which have similar elements in the further education sector, cannot be debated today.
Anyone listening to or reading about the debate will know that the nub of the Government's thinking is that they want the Bill to be passed. Their proposal for a further education funding council does not really have any commitment. Nothing that the Minister has said today convinces me that his heart and his mind have been won over to the case for a funding council. All the Government are doing is providing the power to establish one. People will note that fact with interest. I hope that hon. Members will support our amendment.
With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wish once again to refer to the St. Kentigern-Oatridge problem, which is repeated in all our constituencies in one form or another, and which I recommend to some diligent Peer in the other place. If institutions are funded from the same general purse, on the whole they mesh together and work easily together. When there is a different purse and a different bureaucratic structure, it is much less easy to have the sort of fruitful relationship that exists between, for example, St. Kentigern's school at Blackburn and the Oatridge agricultural college.
A general problem that might be explored in the other place is how, if there is to be such a separation, we can ensure that fruitful, easy relationships continue to exist. I leave that matter to the other place.
|Division No. 69]||[4.47 pm|
|Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.)||Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth|
|Allen, Graham||Eadie, Alexander|
|Alton, David||Eastham, Ken|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Edwards, Huw|
|Ashton, Joe||Enright, Derek|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Evans, John (St Helens N)|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)|
|Barron, Kevin||Fatchett, Derek|
|Beggs, Roy||Fearn, Ronald|
|Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)||Field, Frank (Birkenhead)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Flannery, Martin|
|Blair, Tony||Flynn, Paul|
|Blunkett, David||Foster, Derek|
|Boateng, Paul||Fraser, John|
|Boyes, Roland||Fyfe, Maria|
|Bradley, Keith||Galloway, George|
|Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)||Garrett, John (Norwich South)|
|Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)||Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Godman, Dr Norman A.|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||Gordon, Mildred|
|Canavan, Dennis||Gould, Bryan|
|Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)||Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)|
|Carr, Michael||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Cartwright, John||Grocott, Bruce|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Hain, Peter|
|Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)||Haynes, Frank|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Heal, Mrs Sylvia|
|Cohen, Harry||Hinchliffe, David|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton N)||Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Home Robertson, John|
|Cousins, Jim||Hood, Jimmy|
|Crowther, Stan||Howarth, George (Knowsley N)|
|Cryer, Bob||Howells, Geraint|
|Cummings, John||Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Hoyle, Doug|
|Dalyell, Tam||Hughes, John (Coventry NE)|
|Darling, Alistair||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)||Ingram, Adam|
|Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)||Janner, Greville|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'L)||Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)|
|Dixon, Don||Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)|
|Dobson, Frank||Kilfoyle, Peter|
|Doran, Frank||Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil|
|Douglas, Dick||Kumar, Dr. Ashok|
|Duffy, Sir A. E. P.||Lamond, James|
|Dunnachie, Jimmy||Leighton, Ron|
|Lestor, Joan (Eccles)||Robertson, George|
|Lewis, Terry||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Litherland, Robert||Rooker, Jeff|
|Livingstone, Ken||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Livsey, Richard||Ross, William (Londonderry E)|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Rowlands, Ted|
|Loyden, Eddie||Salmond, Alex|
|McAllion, John||Sedgemore, Brian|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Sheerman, Barry|
|McCartney, Ian||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Macdonald, Calum A.||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|McLeish, Henry||Short, Clare|
|McMaster, Gordon||Sillars, Jim|
|Madden, Max||Skinner, Dennis|
|Mahon, Mrs Alice||Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)|
|Marek, Dr John||Smith, J.P. (Vale of Glam)|
|Martlew, Eric||Snape, Peter|
|Maxton, John||Soley, Clive|
|Meacher, Michael||Spearing, Nigel|
|Meale, Alan||Steel, Rt Hon Sir David|
|Michael, Alun||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)||Stephen, Nicol|
|Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)||Stott, Roger|
|Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)||Strang, Gavin|
|Moonie, Dr Lewis||Straw, Jack|
|Morgan, Rhodri||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Morley, Elliot||Turner, Dennis|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)||Vaz, Keith|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Wallace, James|
|Mowlam, Marjorie||Walley, Joan|
|Mullin, Chris||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon||Wareing, Robert N.|
|O'Hara, Edward||Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)|
|Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)|
|Patchett, Terry||Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)|
|Pendry, Tom||Williams, Rt Hon Alan|
|Powell, Ray (Ogmore)||Wilson, Brian|
|Prescott, John||Winnick, David|
|Primarolo, Dawn||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Quin, Ms Joyce||Worthington, Tony|
|Randall, Stuart||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn||Mr. Allen McKay and|
|Reid, Dr John||Mr. Eric Illsley.|
|Adley, Robert||Burt, Alistair|
|Alexander, Richard||Butcher, John|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Butler, Chris|
|Allason, Rupert||Butterfill, John|
|Amess, David||Carlisle, John, (Luton N)|
|Amos, Alan||Carrington, Matthew|
|Arbuthnot, James||Carttiss, Michael|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Cash, William|
|Ashby, David||Channon, Rt Hon Paul|
|Atkins, Robert||Chapman, Sydney|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)||Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Plymouth)|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Clark, Rt Hon Sir William|
|Batiste, Spencer||Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Colvin, Michael|
|Bellingham, Henry||Cope, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Bendall, Vivian||Couchman, James|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Benyon, W.||Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Davis, David (Boothferry)|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Day, Stephen|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Devlin, Tim|
|Body, Sir Richard||Dickens, Geoffrey|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Dover, Den|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Dunn, Bob|
|Bowis, John||Dykes, Hugh|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes||Eggar, Tim|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Evennett, David|
|Brazier, Julian||Fallon, Michael|
|Bright, Graham||Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)||Fookes, Dame Janet|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Budgen, Nicholas||Forth, Eric|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman||Marlow, Tony|
|Fox, Sir Marcus||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Franks, Cecil||Mates, Michael|
|Freeman, Roger||Maude, Hon Francis|
|French, Douglas||Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick|
|Gardiner, Sir George||Mellor, Rt Hon David|
|Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Gill, Christopher||Mills, Iain|
|Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Glyn, Dr Sir Alan||Mitchell, Sir David|
|Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair||Moate, Roger|
|Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Gorst, John||Morris, M (N'hampton S)|
|Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)||Morrison, Sir Charles|
|Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)||Moss, Malcolm|
|Greenway, John (Ryedale)||Moynihan, Hon Colin|
|Gregory, Conal||Neale, Sir Gerrard|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Needham, Richard|
|Grist, Ian||Nelson, Anthony|
|Hague, William||Neubert, Sir Michael|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Hannam, Sir John||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)||Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)|
|Harris, David||Norris, Steve|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley|
|Hawkins, Christopher||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Hayes, Jerry||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David|
|Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney||Page, Richard|
|Hayward, Robert||Paice, James|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Patnick, Irvine|
|Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)||Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Patten, Rt Hon John|
|Hill, James||Pawsey, James|
|Hind, Kenneth||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Howard, Rt Hon Michael||Porter, Barry (Wirral S)|
|Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Portillo, Michael|
|Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)||Price, Sir David|
|Hunter, Andrew||Raffan, Keith|
|Irvine, Michael||Raison, Rt Hon Sir Timothy|
|Irving, Sir Charles||Rhodes James, Sir Robert|
|Jack, Michael||Riddick, Graham|
|Jackson, Robert||Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Janman, Tim||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Rossi, Sir Hugh|
|Jones, Robert B (Herts W)||Rost, Peter|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Rumbold, Rt Hon Mrs Angela|
|Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Kilfedder, James||Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Knapman, Roger||Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Knight, Greg (Derby North)||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)||Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Knowles, Michael||Shelton, Sir William|
|Knox, David||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Lang, Rt Hon Ian||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Latham, Michael||Sims, Roger|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Lee, John (Pendle)||Speller, Tony|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Lightbown, David||Squire, Robin|
|Lilley, Rt Hon Peter||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)||Steen, Anthony|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Stern, Michael|
|Lord, Michael||Stevens, Lewis|
|Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard||Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)|
|Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas||Stewart, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|MacGregor, Rt Hon John||Sumberg, David|
|MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)||Summerson, Hugo|
|Maclean, David||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Madel, David||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Malins, Humfrey||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Maples, John||Thorne, Neil|
|Thornton, Malcolm||Whitney, Ray|
|Thurnham, Peter||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Townend, John (Bridlington)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)||Wilkinson, John|
|Tracey, Richard||Wilshire, David|
|Tredinnick, David||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Vaughan, Sir Gerard||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Viggers, Peter||Wolfson, Mark|
|Waldegrave, Rt Hon William||Woodcock, Dr. Mike|
|Walker, Bill (T'side North)||Yeo, Tim|
|Walters, Sir Dennis||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Watts, John||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Wells, Bowen||Mr. Tim Wood and|
|Wheeler, Sir John||Mr. Timothy Kirkhope.|