Learning and Skills Bill [H.L.]

– in the House of Lords at 3:10 pm on 8th February 2000.

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Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment 3:10 pm, 8th February 2000

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Baroness Blackstone.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [The Council]:

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 8, leave out subsection (1) and insert--

("(1) There shall be nine bodies corporate called Regional Learning and Skills Councils.").

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

At Second Reading my noble friend Lady Sharp and I gave a broad welcome to the Bill, which I am happy to repeat. We also said that we had some serious concerns about the Bill. This first amendment, and the other amendments grouped with it, seek to address those concerns and to suggest some improvement.

Our principal concern was that the structure being proposed in the Bill is centralising and unnecessarily complex. Above all, there is a huge democratic deficit at the heart of the Bill. The Bill proposes the establishment of a national learning and skills council, together with 47 local learning and skills councils. The term "local" is something of a misnomer because in reality they are sub-regional rather than what I would understand to be local. It is still far from clear to me how these so-called "local" learning and skills councils will relate to the relatively new regional development agencies; how they will relate to the local education authorities in their areas; and, above all, how they will relate to the lifelong learning partnerships in those areas. I name only a few of the bodies which will continue if and when the Bill is enacted and do not mention any that will be discontinued. There are many others.

Perhaps I may turn to a particular interest of mine, which is the relationship between the local learning and skills councils and the lifelong learning partnerships, which I continue to be unsure about. However, I am sure that when the Minister replies she will have another attempt to help me with this. I have looked at the policy statement from the DfEE on the role of learning partnerships. It states:

"Learning Partnerships and local LSCs will be distinct but complementary. The local LSCs will cover relatively large areas and their work will need to be informed by an understanding of local labour market needs. Learning Partnerships are ideally placed to provide that understanding".

I then look to my own local area in south London. The area of our recently created lifelong learning partnership covers the London boroughs of Richmond upon Thames, Kingston upon Thames, Merton, Croydon, Bromley and my own borough of Sutton. That is exactly the same area as is proposed for our local learning and skills council. Why cannot the role of the two bodies be combined in one? Why are we creating this unnecessarily complex structure? I am all in favour of coterminosity, but this does seem to be rather extreme.

Perhaps I may turn now to the democratic deficit. The Bill creates another 48 quangos. It proposes that approximately 700 people be appointed to those quangos; none of them elected, most of them not even appointed by any elected body. In total the body will be responsible for in the region of £6 billion of public money and will have considerable powers, most of which are yet to be decided by the Secretary of State. Yet there is to be no democratic accountability at all. All that comes from a party which I had always understood to be opposed to quangos; or perhaps, as I sometimes suspected, their concern was more about who was being appointed to quangos under the previous government rather then the existence of those quangos.

I have an anxiety about democratic accountability. I want to be clear that I am not trying to thrust on an anxious public the task of going out each year and electing their local learning and skills councillor. I suspect I know what the turnout would be in any such election. The issue of accountability is important. In saying that, I compare and contrast the local authorities and the health authorities. Local authorities are accountable locally, perhaps imperfectly. We are trying to improve that. As the leader of a local authority, I have to stand up before the local population and be accountable for what my authority says and does.

Health authorities are accountable primarily to the Secretary of State. They look to him for their accountability, their funding and all resources. I have seen so often in a local context that that lack of democratic accountability makes a big difference. I worry that we are setting up a whole new "quangocracy" which will similarly look in the wrong direction. One of the most important roles of further education is its role and purpose in the local community. We should be strengthening that and not weakening it, as I believe the Bill does.

I now turn to the amendments and the proposals from the Liberal Democrat Benches. Perhaps I may say at the start that I recognise that the amendments are not perfect. We have to start from what we have and from where we are, not from what we want and where we would like to be. Ideally, we would like to see elected regional assemblies in England with the learning and skills councils, or whatever names they are given, firmly within that democratic structure. This is very similar to what the Bill proposes for Wales, where the members of the single council in Wales will be appointed by the Welsh Assembly. As I said, we start from where we are rather than from where we would like to be. That is why in these amendments we are proposing a simple structure of nine regional learning and skill councils, based on the government regions, as part of, and working with, each of the regional development agencies. Those regional bodies would have a clear relationship with the lifelong learning partnerships and, crucially, with local education authorities in their area. Instead of around 700 quango members we would have between 100 and 150.

We have thought about the appointment of those members. Ideally we would like them to be appointed by an elected regional assembly. Such bodies do not yet exist. We will have to await the election of a Liberal Democrat government before we can achieve that. In the meantime we have to propose that they are appointed by the Secretary of State, who is at least somewhat democratically accountable, if only at a distance and somewhat imperfectly. Also, we say that before those appointments are made there should be full and close consultation with the RDAs, the local authorities and other interested bodies.

Finally, Amendment No. 101 gives to the local authorities the functions and the guidance which is suggested for the local LSCs, as proposed in Clauses 20 and 21.

In moving this amendment I recognise that our proposals are not perfect, not least because we do not yet live in a perfect world. But they do have the considerable benefit of being clear and straightforward; avoid duplication and they reduce bureaucracy. They also have some element of democratic accountability. I commend them to the Government. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I rise not specifically to support the amendments, but to say to the noble Baroness that many of the arguments employed by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, in moving this amendment have great force. The democratic deficit in the Bill is colossal. There is a big hole. How that is filled will be a matter of debate as we go through the Bill. But I want to support very strongly that this is a top-down arrangement; it is a bureaucratic superstructure, and some of my amendments later will be bringing out those points in more detail.

It will be interesting to hear the response of the noble Baroness to the noble Lord, Lord Tope. I should like her to think of his argument in two parts: first, the amendment tabled by the noble Lord; secondly, the fundamental points he made in moving his amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

First, it would be wrong for me to anticipate later amendments in the Committee stage of this Bill. If I were to do so we would have the same debate many times over so I shall leave those issues until later.

I am a little sorry that we are starting this afternoon with a series of what are in effect wrecking amendments. They go to the heart of the Bill and destroy what the Government are proposing.

The Bill represents the foundation for a framework to help us identify our needs as a nation--I emphasise "as a nation"--for learning and skills development and to create an organisation fit to ensure that those needs are met. Important work in that area is already well in hand. For example, the National Skills Task Force identified crucial areas for improvement in basic and key skills, in intermediate technical and supervisory skills and in IT. The LSC, as a single organisation with a comprehensive remit to plan and fund post-16 learning provision across the board, will take forward that challenge.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, suggested that what has been created is 48 quangos; a top-down approach. But it is extraordinary that neither the noble Lord nor the noble Baroness seems to be aware of the fact that we are abolishing more quangos than we are creating. We are abolishing over 70 TECs in order to create a more coherent and sensible structure for the delivery of learning skills. We are abolishing the Further Education Funding Council and its regional committees to do the same. In doing that, we are saving £50 million and a lot of unnecessary bureaucracy.

It is surprising that the noble Baroness should make such an issue of quangos when it was her government that created the TECs in the first instance, created the Further Education Funding Council and its regional committees; and took further education out of local education authority control. It is surprising, therefore, to hear the noble Baroness, who was a minister in that government, arguing about the democratic deficit.

The amendments would remove the LSC's capacity to tackle those issues on a national basis. In providing for nine separate regional councils they would increase the number of NDPBs significantly, and so require the continuous re-inventing of wheels as the separate regional councils strive independently of each other--or indeed worse, in competition with each other--to identify ways of tackling common problems. That cannot make sense.

We will turn at a later point to amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and others in relation to the co-ordination of the five local LSCs which will serve London. That concern is understandable, though our solution of a non-statutory co-ordinating body is vastly more appropriate. It is surprising here, then, to find that the noble Lord has no such concern about the co-ordination, or lack of it, between the nine regional NDPBs which he proposes should serve England.

The arrangements we are proposing contain a significant regional dimension--I must emphasise that because it is important--with an influential role for RDAs and the regional skills strategies provided for in the Bill. In contrast, the noble Lord's amendments go much too far and would sweep away the significant benefits which will accrue from the more coherent national arrangements that we envisage.

The noble Lord referred to the perfect world of the Liberal Democratic Party with elected regional assemblies which would make the appointments. We do not have elected regional assemblies so I feel that that is a little bit of Liberal Democrat wishful thinking.

Our proposals also provide for local learning and skills councils with wide representation from outstanding local individuals with relevant expertise to ensure that government-supported learning meets the needs of individuals, businesses and their communities at a local level. The noble Lord's alternative to those proposals for local arms of a single integrated organisation appears to be secured in Amendments Nos. 101 and 144. The noble Lord proposes that there should be provision for his nine regional NDPBs to delegate their powers to local authorities and that, if the local authorities then fail to secure the agreed learning provision, they would be open to direction from the Secretary of State.

It is far from clear that local authorities are best placed or would wish to deliver the full range of the LSCs' functions. Quite a lot has happened over the past decade to alter the role of local authorities in this area of education. Nor is it clear which organisation would do so if regional councils decided not to use local authorities. Local authorities already have a dual role in the new arrangements that this Bill will secure as key providers of adult and community learning in particular, and as bodies which have a vital strategic role to play in furthering the social and economic interests of their communities. Our arrangements reflect that dual role. Clauses 22 and 23 provide, as part of preparing their plans, how local LSCs will set out the provision which LEAs will be expected to secure and the resources to be made available for it. We are confident that local authorities will respond positively to those arrangements and prosper in this new learning environment. That is why we are guaranteeing two years of funding levels comparable to LEAs' current level of spend, provided that they maintain this level of spend and that they draw up and implement their lifelong learning plan.

I have already set out the Government's fundamental concerns in relation to the earlier amendments in this group. We must resist the later ones for the same reason. The noble Lord is proposing an inferior model to that being put forward by the Government, and I hope therefore that he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

Before the Minister sits down, the noble Baroness referred yet again quite specifically to £50 million worth of savings. Can she say how that has been arrived at? Can she give some estimate of the cost of putting into place the new ConneXions proposals contained within the new document? Also, can she throw some light on the fact that in the Financial Memorandum the Government say that it is not yet possible to provide details of the resources that could be made available for powers to provide services for use? The Government also say that it is not yet possible to provide an accurate estimate of what may be needed for the extension of Ofsted duties and that the expenditure required for the setting up of the new adult learning inspectorate and the transformation as regards the FEFC will not rise substantially. They have also said that it is too early to provide an accurate estimate of the extent of the transitional costs of putting in place the new arrangements for the Welsh authority. How can the Government be so specific therefore about saving £50 million?

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

At the same time, will the Minister reply on the issue of democratic accountability which was so forcefully raised by the first two speakers?

Photo of Lord McCarthy Lord McCarthy Labour

Perhaps when the noble Lord, Lord Tope, responds, he will tell us what is meant by the "democratic deficit". As far as I can see from looking at the amendments--I may have got it wrong--nobody is proposing direct elections. What sort of democratic influx is there to be? For example, are we to take it from the Opposition that direct elections or elections of some kind are now the Conservative Party's policy? They never were in the past. They were all quangos. They were formed and then abolished, but they were never democratic. Can we be told in what sense they are to be democratic, which ones are to be democratic and how they are to be elected?

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat 3:30 pm, 8th February 2000

Can the noble Baroness also say why it is assumed that it is at the national level that the strategic over-view is required? In Germany and the United States the concept of strategy takes place at a much lower level. In Germany it is at the La nder level. Even here in the United Kingdom, Wales and Scotland have their own models. We had a national model before called the Manpower Services Commission. It was a pretty disastrous model. One reason why it was decentralised down to the TECS was to try to emulate the German model at a more local level. I do not believe that the TECS have been perfect.

One of the problems we now have is that the Government have created a hybrid in the local learning and skills councils. They are neither at the strategic regional level, such as the regional development agencies, nor at the local executive level for local authorities to which we are looking to perform many of the functions of this council. We have here a hybrid stuck between the two. I understand what the Government want to do, but the model has been tried and it failed. I do not understand why the Government reject the regional model which implicitly we are operating in Scotland and Wales. If we tried, we could operate it in England as well.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

Perhaps I may return to the specific question of the democratic deficit. I and our colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches have amendments to key into the process local authority representation. That will go some way towards getting some local input into this matter. The other point which disturbs us concerns the top-down approach. The directions will come from the Secretary of State to the national council and then cascade down to the local councils. Then local education authorities and local authorities will have to produce plans in conformity with the instructions that come from the top. That is not a bottom-up system, but very much a top-down one without any democratic representation at all.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

I indicated at the beginning of Committee stage this afternoon that I believed that we should try to be orderly and not anticipate amendments which have to be dealt with later on, otherwise we shall never reach the end of what is quite an ambitious day's business. I do not want to go into the issues that the noble Baroness has just raised relating to later amendments. I do not believe that it would be right at this stage to go into issues as regards ConneXions because they will be raised on a later date. Also, I do not wish to go into matters concerning the extension of Ofsted's role of inspecting FE colleges and sixth-form colleges and neither do I wish to go into issues concerning Welsh authorities.

I have already explained to the noble Baroness on a previous occasion how the figure of £50 million was reached so I am a little puzzled as to why she is asking the same question again. That figure does not relate to the overall savings from the entire ramification of changes that are brought in as a consequence of the introduction of this Bill. However, it relates to the new structures of a national learning and skills council, along with 47 local learning and skills councils, instead of 72 TECS, the FEFC and its regional committees.

I say once again to the noble Baroness that our assessment is that there will be savings of £50 million. They come from two main sources. First, they come from savings on operating through 47 instead of 72 bodies. Savings will also be made partly through operating more efficient systems and also through some savings on the provision of accommodation. These savings have been fairly carefully put together. I am a little surprised that the noble Baroness has yet again asked for information about them.

I now turn to the issue of the democratic deficit.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. The noble Baroness has explained again how the savings arise. Can she explain to us what will happen to them? Will they be put to the general benefit of further education or will they simply disappear back into the large Treasury pot?

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

An incredible improvement is anticipated over the previous situation as regards the availability of further education and a new ConneXions service for young people. The Government intend to spend more money on making sure that all young people and far more adults gain access to the learning and skills that they need. We shall be able to reinvest the savings so that they reach the learner rather than be soaked up in bureaucracy.

I return to the issue of democratic accountability. Again, I find it very puzzling that the Conservative Opposition is raising questions on this matter when the previous government took local education authorities out of this area completely. The LSC will be accountable nationally to the Secretary of State. The local LSCs will be accountable to LSC councils which will comprise local people. I accept that they will not be elected in the normal democratic fashion as for a local authority. But we have many structures of that kind throughout our system. I believe that this is the right approach to take in this area. It builds on what the previous government did in certain respects.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, referred to the German federal system. We do not have such a system in England or the regional assemblies with which the Liberal Democrat party is so enamoured. I do not believe that it is right to claim that the TECs follow the German model because they are of quite a different construction.

I repeat what I have already said. I believe that the appropriate way is by having a structure with a national body that attempts to identify the needs for national skills and to work out appropriate systems for funding those needs; with local arms that can meet the needs of local communities and which have some degree of flexibility in how they spend and control part of their budgets. Of course, it is absolutely vital that the local LSCs work with both the RDAs that cover their area and with the local authorities. Having said that, I very much hope that once again the noble Lord will be able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

When the Minister first responded she described this set of amendments as going to the heart of the Bill and I entirely agree with that. They are intended to do so. I believe that I said in my opening remarks that they address one of the principal concerns that we and many others have about these proposals. Therefore, we are agreed from that point of view.

She also described them as wrecking amendments. I totally reject that. They are not intended to be and I do not believe that they are wrecking amendments, but a genuine attempt to try to produce a better, simpler and clearer structure which is less complex, bureaucratic and less undemocratically accountable, if I may put it in that strange way.

The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, asked about the democratic deficit. I say straight away that the current policy of the Conservative Party on that subject is as much a mystery to me as it is to him. I am quite certain that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, would no more wish me to answer for the Conservative Party than I would wish to do so.

Perhaps I may answer for my own party. When the noble Lord reads the report of the debate in the Official Report tomorrow, he will see that I tried to cover in my opening speech what I saw as the democratic deficit. I shall not bore the Committee by repeating that. I tried to explain that while I accept that the model we are proposing is not perfect, it is certainly better. It proposes just nine local regional and skills councils. I accept that they are not democratically elected and that they are appointed by the Secretary of State until such time as we have the regional assemblies with which we are so enamoured. However, the work below that level will be carried out by the local authorities and the lifelong learning partnerships in which local authorities play a significant role. That addresses the democratic deficit--not a great deal and not enough, but significantly better than is the case with these proposals.

I have a very real concern that if this is to be successful, as we all hope it will be--I certainly hope so--it needs to be firmly rooted in local communities. I do not believe that the proposals in the Bill will do that, but the proposals that these amendments try to encapsulate will do it very much better. However, I shall not pursue the matter further today, although I suspect we may well return to these issues at later stages of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Boardman Lord Boardman Conservative

moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 1, line 9, at end insert--

("( ) The Council is to make coherent provision for individual learning and workforce development which is responsive to persons receiving or intending to receive post-16 education and training and has regard to the needs of the local areas of England and Wales.").

Photo of Lord Boardman Lord Boardman Conservative

In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 103. Perhaps I may first declare an interest in that I am patron of the Northamptonshire Chamber of Commerce for training and enterprise. With the benefit of its advice and that of the national council, I have tabled certain amendments. Amendment No. 2 is designed to clarify two matters: first, that the Bill is all about the education and training of the post-16s; and, secondly--although this is perhaps less clear in the Bill, it should be clear from previous debates and discussions--that the council is and will be responsive to local needs.

The Long Title to the Bill gives no guidance on these points. That is why I felt it right for us to have the primary objectives of the legislation on the face of the Bill: training and education for the post-16s, as well as giving far greater scope for the learning and teaching to be able to meet the needs of the local community. For that reason, I hope that this provision will be accepted so that the objectives are clear on the face of the Bill. As has been said in previous debates, there is an awful feeling of a top-down approach right through the Bill. It is most important that a commitment to respond to local needs be declared on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

In the absence of any other Members of the Committee speaking to this amendment, I rise to express my support for my noble friend. I suspect that this will be a theme of today's debates because we are constantly dogged by the framework set out in the Bill. The direction comes from the top, goes on to the national council, cascades to the local skills councils and then broadens out into all kinds of other bodies, including the RDAs; in other words, local needs are determined by the top-down approach.

Having come from a central direction, it is then left to the RDAs to be key in determining the nature of local skills needs and training. The only people who can properly define that are those at the local level. That is one of the difficulties. If the Government are not prepared to put these particular words on the face of the Bill, it seems to me that we should have something at the beginning of the legislation to give some assurance to many people who are concerned about the proper reading of "local needs" in terms of education, skills and training. Therefore, I wholeheartedly support my noble friend's attempt to put this provision on the face of the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

In general, we on these Benches are supportive of the two amendments. Not surprisingly, given the first amendment that we proposed, we are very much in favour of the council reflecting the needs of the local community in its working. We have one slight reservation about Amendment No. 2 in the sense that it is important to recognise that education, training and skills do not necessarily start at 16. We are concerned that there should be an integration of the school curriculum into the learning and skills curriculum. However, we are broadly in favour of the spirit of the amendment.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip 3:45 pm, 8th February 2000

As an East-Midlander, like the noble Lord, Lord Boardman, who moved the amendment, perhaps I may say how much he is respected on these issues in our part of the country. However, that does not mean to say that the Government will rush to accept his amendments. I do not think that the noble Lord will be entirely surprised by my response.

Amendment No. 2 would give a new duty to the LSC for individual learning and workforce development, which is responsive to the needs of learners and local areas. In fact, the noble Lord includes Wales, which is perhaps in contravention of Clause 1(5). Amendment No. 103 makes a similar point in respect of the functions of local LSCs, adding the regeneration initiatives as a further responsibility.

The LSC's main duties are already framed in terms of meeting the needs of learners. Local LSCs in England will be responsible for ensuring that provision is managed flexibly to meet the needs of their areas. They will also participate in regeneration activities. I should gently remind the noble Lord that the LSC's functions extend to England only. There will be a separate Assembly-sponsored body for Wales, so it would be inappropriate for the England council to be given responsibilities for Welsh matters.

The Government believe that much of the substance of the noble Lord's amendment--and we openly acknowledge his good faith--would be superfluous. The LSC's main duties are already framed in terms of provision, which is,

"suitable to the requirements of individuals".

One of the key aspects of the overall framework that we are proposing is that local arms of the LSC will ensure that provision is planned, funded and delivered flexibly in order to meet the needs of each locality.

Bearing in mind the contributions of the two noble Baronesses to this debate, perhaps I may point out that at the heart of the design are the 47 local councils--each with its own boards, drawn from local communities and businesses. It will fall to the local councils, working closely with all relevant partners at the local level, to identify the current and the future learning and skills priorities for individual businesses and communities. It does not sound to me very much as though this is a top-heavy arrangement.

I turn now to the issues of workforce development and regeneration activities that the noble Lord has highlighted in his amendment. Clearly--and we can go this far--if we are to flourish and prosper, we must develop a system of support for workforce development that is responsive to the needs of the economy, local areas and particular industries and sectors. Stimulating and supporting workforce development will be an important part of the LSC's remit. That is partly why we have said that 40 per cent of the members of both the national and the local LSCs will have recent business or commercial experience, as will, most importantly, the national chair and most local chairs.

The LSC will support workforce development in working with employers, trade unions and many others, including Investors in People UK, the Small Business Service and the University for Industry. The council's approach must be pro-active and cross-cutting. For example, it will work closely with national training organisations in developing frameworks for sector workforce development plans. In addition, at local level LSCs will prepare local workforce development plans that reflect the national framework and build on the work of local learning partnerships, and of RDAs, in identifying regional skill needs.

As we set out in the prospectus, it is equally important that the LSC's activities are integrated with local economic development and regeneration. Local LSCs will achieve this by consulting about their plans with RDAs, local authorities, the Employment Service and local economic development partnerships. So far, so good. But all that is a different matter from giving either the national council or the local LSCs a legal duty for all workforce development or for regeneration initiatives. Employers have their own responsibilities for, and derive benefits from, workforce development. Indeed we estimate that they may already be investing some £15 billion a year in this area. Of course the noble Lord is not proposing that the Government should impose a levy on employers to fund the LSC for this activity; and that does not form part of our plans. We do not expect to provide public funding for existing private activity. Neither do we envisage the LSC becoming the only "show in town" for funding and supporting regeneration activity. For those reasons we invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment. We shall bear very much in mind the points that he has made.

Photo of Lord Boardman Lord Boardman Conservative

I thank the noble Lord for answering a number of points which had concerned me. I shall wait to see what emerges during the Committee stage. These points will be raised from time to time. I may want to return to the issue at a later stage if I am not satisfied with what emerges. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 1, line 9, at end insert--

("( ) The principal objective of the Learning and Skills Council shall be--

(a) to enhance employability and social inclusion amongst young people in the United Kingdom, and

(b) to increase the proportion of young people in the United Kingdom who have the education and training they require to develop spiritually, morally, culturally, mentally, socially and physically, and to cope with the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life.").

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

In moving Amendment No. 3 I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 61 and 62. I tabled Amendment No. 3 first and foremost because I believe that every business should from the beginning have a mission statement; namely, a statement of what it seeks to achieve. If you do not know where you are going, you are unlikely to get there. In this case the Government have an admirable objective. Why not state that on the face of the Bill? Surely that would help the LSCs to plan for the future; it would help later interpretation of the Bill; and it may even help to avoid challenges in court at some later date. I recognise, of course, that the wording of my amendment may need to be adapted and altered. However, I state the principle; namely, that in my view there ought to be a mission statement.

Amendment No. 3 also has a further function; namely, it seeks to probe what the Government plan for the LSCs. I have read the White Paper, the guidance notes, the Second Reading debate and I have received a helpful letter from the noble Baroness on the Government's vision and grand plan for 16 to 19 year-olds and for lifelong learning. It is a wonderful, bold plan which is right and good. It seeks to maximise the potential of young people in our society and to draw back into the mainstream of our society those who have become alienated and excluded.

That is an admirable vision which all of us ought to support wholeheartedly. However, I ask myself whether the structures which this Bill as drafted sets up will achieve that objective. Is the bold challenge of the Government's vision adequately reflected in the powers and objectives laid down for the LSC in this Bill? I think that it is not. The Government's vision, as I understand it, is that all young people should be sufficiently motivated, educated and trained to be able to lead full and happy lives, to contribute to the communities in which they live and to be eager for lifelong learning. That means a lot of suitably educated, motivated, trained young people.

However, what this Bill requires the LSC to deliver is a lot of education facilities. Facilities are not the same thing as educated young people. To enter education young people--particularly those young people who have withdrawn from education for a variety of reasons--need much more than good facilities. They need a whole range of other things. The Government have set out plans for a ConneXions service. They have set out fully the kind of initiatives that are needed to get young people into education; to sustain and to support them while they are in education; to arouse their enthusiasm for learning and to keep their noses to the grindstone, as it were.

However, I have a dreadful fear that the Government envisage two different organisations; namely, the learning and skills council to provide the facilities and someone else--under the powers granted under Clauses 99 to 108--to provide the engagement, commitment, enthusiasm, support, encouragement and all those other matters. I believe that is a recipe for disaster. It constitutes the perfect formula for "passing the buck" and for avoiding having to deliver results in terms of young people being brought in out of the cold and producing young people who are enthusiastic, properly trained and educated and raring for more. However, if one organisation is responsible for motivating those young people and another is responsible for providing services, what will happen? The organisation providing the services will complain that people are not properly motivated and the organisation providing the motivation will complain that the services are inadequate and that is why it cannot motivate people. We shall end up wasting a lot of money and not achieving the Government's chief objective.

I drafted the three amendments in this group in such a way as to empower the learning and skills council to perform the functions that the Government have set out for the ConneXions service. I suspect that the Minister will say that that is not what the Government want. However, if that is not what the Government want, the Government are probably wrong. Education in the future will concern itself less and less with facilities and with "talk and chalk". It will concern itself with motivating people to take control of their own learning and helping them to access information and skills on the Internet, in the workplace and in the street. The role of education and motivation cannot sensibly be separated into two different organisations. Why not concentrate the main thrust of the Government's vision--including their plans with regard to ConneXions--within the role of the LSC? My Amendments Nos. 3, 61 and 62 are designed to achieve that. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Conservative

As a preview to what I shall say later, I support the amendment. The noble Lord asks in essence for general principles to be established at this early stage of the Bill with regard to the objectives of the LSCs. I accept the Government's goodwill in wanting to improve education for 16 to 19 year-olds, but the danger is that the LSCs could be financially driven and could become purely utilitarian in their emphasis. I accept the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, with regard to general principles. My amendment proposes another general principle: to allow more local participation in this matter. The Government should have regard to the desire to establish ideals in the Bill which can guide the councils and, in case of disputes, provide a point of reference. Not to do so could result in the bodies being governed by the Treasury and by financial considerations. Therefore, as I say, I support the noble Lord's amendment.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

I support the group of amendments to which my noble friend has just spoken. Amendment No. 61 refers to foyers. I am sure that the Minister will be familiar with foyers. She and the Committee will know that in these places not only are young people provided with a roof over their heads but also with access to education and training. These young people have the strong prospect of obtaining a job at the end of the day. We could do with having many more such establishments in this country.

Another important aspect is that, in the nature of things, the young people using them tend to motivate each other in a particular way. Possibly older people and professionals will not be able to achieve the same results. When she replies, I invite the noble Baroness to say how she sees foyers fitting into the overall structure of the Bill.

Photo of The Bishop of Wakefield The Bishop of Wakefield Bishop

I welcome very much the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has drawn our attention to the need for some principled objectives to be included in the Bill, even though I realise that the Government may not wish to pursue his particular line.

I speak from experience of an area of the country in west and south Yorkshire where certainly issues of unemployment and social exclusion--particularly in the wake of the closure of the mines--have brought about a great deal of distress. The learning skills required by people there have been enhanced a little already by what has been done locally and I hope that the situation will be improved by the Bill. However, it would be good to have that highlighted here.

As one might expect of someone speaking from these Benches, I particularly welcome the mention of spiritual, moral and cultural development and so on--although I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, did not go into any further explanation of what he meant by those particular words. I understand that at this particular stage of the Bill it might not be appropriate for these objectives to be spelt out in that way.

If it turns out that that is the line the Minister takes, I, for one, should be grateful for an assurance that the Government agree with the matters detailed in Amendment No. 3, and, in particular, that they accept in principle the words "spiritually" and "morally" and that they see them as being important in the Bill.

Photo of The Bishop of Lichfield The Bishop of Lichfield Bishop

Perhaps I may add to what my noble colleague the Bishop of Wakefield has said. For more than 15 years I have come from--and cared for--a diocese which is not suffering from the closure of the mines but is in huge post-industrial shock after the failure and the closure of the foundries. I am talking of industrial towns in the Black Country.

If children--not only those at the post-19 level but those still at school--have seen two or three generations of parents and grandparents unemployed, the motivation issue which the amendment addresses is absolutely crucial. I wish to add one piece of experience to the issue of motivation. In quite a number of places, including Wolverhampton, we have worked with local authorities and with the Church Urban Fund for what are called "re-entry workers". These people are virtually truancy workers, who have to go and more or less bring the children from school, fishing clubs at the weekend, football clubs, small classes--wooing them back and getting to grips.

I would add the word "personally" to "spiritually" and "morally". There must be a real personal engagement, so big is the gap and, therefore, the task in front of us. I hope that these amendments will not have to be moved and that the Government will hear the message.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

I speak to Amendment No. 3 which stands in the name of my noble friend. I support the amendment because it places particular emphasis on training and education not targeted on employment, the very important point about utilitarianism made by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington.

Young people need to have an enthusiasm for learning and we need to equip them to adapt to an ever-changing working environment and to be keen to do so. We need to build on their enthusiasms and on what they love. Your Lordships may have heard Bill Gates talking on the "Breakfast with Frost" programme at the weekend. He went into the computer business because he was passionate about programming. He returns now, as the richest man in the world, to software development because that is his real passion. There is a lesson to be learnt there. I know that the Government acknowledge that, but it needs to be put at the forefront of the Bill as the mission of the Bill. If I understand the Government, the mission of the Bill is lifelong learning. The amendment is useful because it places particular emphasis on training and education and is not targeted on employment needs.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I should like to add my voice to support the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne--not specifically the words in the amendment but the spirit behind them. The right reverend Prelates, the Bishop of Lichfield and the Bishop of Wakefield, have given practical examples of how such words would set the context of how the practical delivery of education and training and links with employment would happen.

There are of course precedents. As far as I can remember, the Education Reform Act 1988, the Education Acts of 1993 and, I think, of 1996, were all prefaced with what one tends to call "mission statements", which spell out the vision of the Government and set the context in which education shall be delivered.

A worry runs through the Bill. I hope that the noble Baroness will not get tetchy about me referring to it as though it were a negative point. There is a feeling that the Bill is only about skills and vocational education. A large proportion of education delivery is a lifeline to some people--people who have not gained from traditional education; those who come to it late; those who study for recreational purposes; those who study as a respite from caring duties or other kinds of obligations which keep them in their homes or in particular places where they are not able to access education in the normal way--and there is also a large amount of cultural and other education. We will be tabling amendments at a later stage which will seek to persuade the Government to place some formal recognition of those kinds of education delivery on the face of the Bill. The broadening of the aims and objectives of the education delivered within that context is important.

I echo the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield. If one crawls over Hansard one will find that in years past I have used this phrase before: I think that education without a spiritual and moral dimension is no more than a clinical and arid experience. The way in which we can make real changes and have real influence on the lives of people--particularly on the lives of the kinds of people the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has spent a lifetime caring about--is to set education in a moral and spiritual context. We should also not forget the social, mental and cultural context.

I support the input behind the amendment. Whether the Government will accept the wording, I do not know, but I hope that something will appear on the face of the Bill.

Photo of Lord Brightman Lord Brightman Crossbench

I had not intended to intervene in the consideration of the Bill. I was reminded by the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, of certain words which I thought might be useful to repeat on this occasion. I refer to the Family Law Bill, which came before your Lordships on 22nd February 1996. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, then the Lord Chancellor, had to consider whether or not the general principles of two portions of the Bill ought to be set out. Reading as best I can from the copy I have--unfortunately, it is not clear because the spine has interfered with the photocopying--the noble and learned Lord said:

"My Lords, Amendment No. 1 follows our consideration in Committee of an amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, to insert a clause setting out the general objectives of the Act. During that debate it was clear that a number of your Lordships supported the inclusion of such a provision. I indicated in general terms that I was anxious to consider the matter and therefore I am happy to bring forward this amendment, which I hope reflects the mood of the House on this important issue.

It is important that the amendment is included ... as it sets the framework for all those who will be concerned to operate it, whether it be persons exercising functions under Parts I and II or whether it be the court making decisions under these provisions".--[Official Report, 22/2/96; col. 1145.]

My noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale then said--I believe that his words have been quoted before:

"The advantage of the statement of principles on the lines tabled by my noble and learned friend is that it gives a guideline to the interpretations of any matter in a measure which might be obscure or ambiguous. Secondly, it is a general guide to the way in which a statute should be interpreted when it comes before the courts".--[Official Report, 22/2/96; col. 1146.]

I hope that the Committee will forgive my intervention, which, I am afraid, occurred rather on the spur of the moment.

Photo of Lord Dormand of Easington Lord Dormand of Easington Labour

I rise to ask the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, a question for clarification. We all know of his great enthusiasm for the whole range of education, but it seems to me that in the two paragraphs of his amendment he seeks to cover the whole range of education. There is nothing wrong with that, but I am wondering how it will be carried out in practical terms. My question is quite simple. Can he give the Committee some indication of what kind of curriculum will deal, not only with employment, which, obviously all schools and colleges must have in mind, but will also,

"develop spiritually, morally, culturally, mentally, socially and physically"?

That is a fair range. I should be interested to hear the noble Lord comment on the curriculum.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

With the Committee's permission I shall answer the noble Lord. The quotation is, of course, taken from the Education Reform Act 1988. I always believe that the House in its entirety is more likely to accept a provision already on the statute book than one invented by me. In Amendment No. 37 I shall come to the question of what will be included alongside vocational education. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has already raised the issue as to whether the Bill is mainly or even wholly about vocational education. I know that it is not because the Minister has kindly written to me about the matter, but I believe that the point should be on the official record. My Amendment No. 37 deals with that issue, so, with the noble Lord's permission, I shall leave the answer until we reach that amendment.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

I shall not detain the Committee for long. I want to join the general welcome given to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for raising those particularly important issues and thereby giving the Minister an opportunity to inform us of the Government's thinking on the matter. We look forward to that with some anticipation.

There is no doubt that the social inclusion agenda--if I may use that term--is an extremely important part of what we are trying to achieve. Members of the Committee have already clearly stated the reasons for that and I do not need to repeat them. I am therefore grateful for the amendments. We have had a useful little debate and I am sure that we shall receive a useful response from the Minister in a moment. However, I have some doubts as to whether, important though the point is, it should be alone the principal objective of the learning and skills council. The principal objective is rather broader than that and relates to the whole area of post-16 education. Having said that, I welcome the amendments and look forward to the Minister's response.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment 4:15 pm, 8th February 2000

I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for his welcome for what lies behind the Government's thinking in bringing forward the Bill. I was extremely grateful to him for his support for what he more or less described as "the boldness of our vision". I am grateful also for all the contributions to the debate, which are in a sense probing, as are the noble Lord's amendments.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, the last thing that the Government want is a Bill that is only utilitarian in its approach. All Members of the Committee will share the view that we do not want simply financially-driven provision or to confine what the Bill eventually delivers when it is enacted to narrow, utilitarian and purely vocational kinds of provision. Indeed, the Government want to develop a much less rigid distinction between vocational and non-vocational education. I shall cover that issue when we debate later amendments. I entirely agree with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, about the importance of all other forms of lifelong learning. I shall not be remotely tetchy in responding to any suggestion that that is what the Bill should be about. It is also about trying to be more socially inclusive and trying to help those young people--and, indeed, adults--who, for one reason or another, have missed out on education in the past.

I am not absolutely sure that it is right to include in Acts of Parliament mission statements in the sense that I believe the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, meant, but it would be absolutely right for the LSC to have its own mission statement. It will need to develop that in consultation with the Government and all the external partners with which it will be working.

I turn now to our intentions. I shall respond more specifically to the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. Young people of course deserve the chance to be better qualified and to have the best possible start to their working lives. Over 160,000 young people between 16 and 18--around one in 11 of the age group--are not in learning or in work. We are already tackling the shortcomings in current arrangements. We have given young people aged 16 to 18 who are in employment the right to time off for study to enable them to achieve the qualifications that many of them failed to achieve at school.

We are trying to tackle financial barriers through increasing access funds for college-based provision and piloting education maintenance allowances to target financial support at young people who might otherwise be excluded from continuing in education after the age of 16. Through a combination of pressure and support we are trying to build on the best work carried out in schools and colleges--and, we must not forget, in work-based training--to drive up both quality and standards across all modes of learning and to retain such young people in learning.

The LSC, including through the work of its young people's committee, will be responsible for developing a high quality system offering all young people post-16 learning opportunities appropriate to their needs. It will be responsible for delivering the national learning targets for participation and attainment by young people over the age of 16. Clause 2 delivers an entitlement to young people by placing a duty on the LSC to secure provision of education and training, broadly defined, to meet the reasonable needs of young people.

However, we know that many young people reach the age of 16 without the proper preparation for productive further learning or without the skills employers will look for as a basis for offering them work with training. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield pointed to some of those problems. We are broadening the options available at 14, including through the new GNVQ Part One. We are opening up opportunities in key stage 4 for 14-16 year olds to study in a range of learning environments, including in FE sector colleges where appropriate. We are strengthening those arrangements further through the Bill by giving the LSC a power to fund them directly. Last week, we set out in more detail our plans for a new ConneXions service to help young people from the age of 13 to stay in education and training and to help tackle the social exclusion which blights the lives of too many of our teenagers in ways that may hold them back throughout their adult lives. We shall have the opportunity to debate those provisions in Part V of the Bill in detail at a later stage.

The objectives set out by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, are shared whole-heartedly by the Government. Perhaps I may also reassure the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield in that regard. However, we do not believe that adding to the Bill the proposed amendment to Clause 1 would enhance the likelihood of our shared objectives being realised. Indeed, I fear it could serve to reduce the focus of the LSC on the important area of adult learning--we must not forget that the Bill is not just about young people but is about people learning throughout their lives--and in particular the task of re-engaging those many adults who did not succeed in learning at the conventional time as young people. I would ask the noble Lord to withdraw that amendment.

I now turn to the two proposed amendments to Clause 5 which follow on from the proposed amendment to Clause 1. Both would empower the learning and skills council to fund specific aspects areas of provision outside formal learning which are of particular help to the most disadvantaged young people. The first would empower the learning and skills council to fund advice and support services of the kind that the new ConneXions service will provide. It would also empower the council to fund supported accommodation for homeless young people. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, mentioned foyers. The Government recognise the valuable work that foyers can do for homeless young people. The learning and skills council will want, particularly at local level, to work with foyers in the provision of support and advice about training and educational opportunities.

The second amendment would empower the learning and skills council to fund the kind of recreational and leisure activities for young people which are currently provided by the statutory and voluntary youth services. We recognise the enormously valuable contribution made by the statutory and voluntary youth services in re-engaging some of the most vulnerable young people in society, and we are keen that that contribution is both supported and strengthened. But we do not intend that the LSC should have responsibility for funding those services which will fall within the remit of the new ConneXions service. The resources for this service will come from pooling existing central government resources and from those currently devoted by local ConneXions partners to youth support and guidance. Of the resources that we expect existing agencies and partners to contribute, around half will come from the existing Careers Service budget.

We must ensure that the ConneXions service is adequately funded to perform its essential task. So we are also considering what additional funding will be required as part of the Government's year 2000 spending review. I hope that that gives the noble Lord the reassurances which he seeks. I believe that there are already sufficient powers in the Bill for the LSC to fund the learning for young people which is provided in hostels, foyers and other supported accommodation. There will be scope for the ConneXions service to fund the advice and support services offered within these organisations, where appropriate. But I do not think it would be appropriate for the LSC--a body set up to fund education and training--to add funding supported housing to its portfolio. The housing elements of foyers will have to be funded from quite different sources.

Furthermore, while the LSC will have responsibility for post-16 learning, it not our intention that it will take on responsibility for the activities provided by the statutory or voluntary youth services. The Bill places a duty on the LSC to provide for vocational, social, physical and recreational activities in connection with post-16 learning. But LEAs retain that duty in respect of secondary education, so a duty remains with LEAs in respect of all 11 to 16s and all over-16s in school sixth forms. Local education authorities also retain all the powers they need to provide for youth service activities right across the spectrum.

Our objective is that LEAs will continue to provide youth services in collaboration with other providers of services for young people. There is no question of the LSC setting up a "youth service" or of the money which currently goes to LEAs in respect of the youth service being diverted to the LSC.

In the light of my explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may say that that was a full and helpful answer. However, the noble Baroness sounded slightly disparaging about having mission statements on the face of a Bill and at the beginning of a Bill. In previous Bills it has been stated clearly that the context for education "shall be" spiritual, cultural, mental, physical and so on. But the noble Baroness seemed to suggest that that should be determined locally and at local discretion. I wish to take issue with that. Given that the Government are setting up the whole remit and are setting up and establishing the framework within which people will be trained and educated, both vocationally and non-vocationally, I believe that setting the context is something the Government could do. If it is left to local discretion,

"spiritually, morally, culturally, mentally, socially and physically", could simply be left out. I am not sure that the Government would want that. All those dimensions are universally accepted as creating a context within which education should be delivered.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

I apologise if I was not clear enough. I did not want to be disparaging about mission statements. What I thought I said was that the LSC will develop a mission statement--by the LSC, I mean the national LSC. I agree with the noble Baroness that we could not have this matter entirely determined locally. There needs to be a coherent framework of commitment to the kind of education and training that we all want to see. That has to be owned by the national LSC. I also said that it would have to be developed in consultation with the Government--with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State--but also with all the external partners that are involved in delivering this important part of the education system.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for her very helpful answer and to those noble Lords who intervened in the debate. As far as concerns the mission statement, I cannot say that I am entirely happy. It seems to me that a mission statement evolved by the learning and skills council, possibly under pressure from the Secretary of State, might not necessarily accord with what Parliament would wish. It seems to me that a mission statement should be passed through Parliament and approved. It also seems to me that a mission statement on the face of the Bill would help to clarify what Parliament has authorised the LSC to do. From my reading of the Bill as it stands, a great many things may be challenged as being ultra vires. However, I shall look at these matters again and, if necessary, discuss them with the noble Baroness.

The noble Baroness made it clear that the ConneXions service is not the business of the LSC but the business of whatever happens under Clauses 99 to 108. Therefore, we shall have time to raise those issues later.

I do not think that I shall shift the Government on the entire structure of the Bill. But I believe that they are making an appalling mistake in putting the motivation element and the provision element under separate hats. I think that there will be conflict, overlap and underlap. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 4 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Serota Baroness Serota Labour

In calling Amendment No. 5, I should point out to the Committee that if it is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 6.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative 4:30 pm, 8th February 2000

moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 1, line 11, leave out from ("members") to end of line 12.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 7.

It is always difficult for government to get the size of a committee right. Therefore, I have not chosen to take issue with that aspect, although there are arguments both ways. Unwieldy committees are not in general very good, and getting the size right to do the job, consistent with efficiency and effectiveness, is often a matter of judgment.

The Minister will see that I am concerned about the "top down" approach and the way in which the Secretary of State has a hand on almost every aspect of the Bill. It is right that he should appoint the members of the council. There is no one else who can do that--certainly not for the initial council. However, I believe that the council should be sufficiently mature to be able to determine who shall, of its number, be chairman.

Although it is the subject of another amendment, I link the point with Clause 1(3), where the Government advocate that in appointing the committee, the Secretary of State,

"must have regard to the desirability of appointing a person"-- just one person--

"who has experience relevant to the Council's functions".

I find that extraordinary. I should have hoped that any person appointed to a national committee that is relatively small should have some skills or experience relevant to the council's functions. It seems to me extraordinary that, if 12 people are to be appointed, technically speaking 11 of those need have no experience at all if the wording of subsection (3) is to be taken literally.

Although he will appoint the council, the Secretary of State should leave it to people who one hopes will be extremely mature at national level to elect their own chairman. If they elect their own chairman, the confidence in that chairman will be all the greater. Also, the authority enjoyed by that chairman will be the greater, because confidence in the appointment will be vested in all the other members of the council. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord McCarthy Lord McCarthy Labour

Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness three questions. I am still trying to find out what she means by "the democratic deficit". This is a kind of self-selected internal promotion system--what used to be called in Fleet Street the "sons and brothers" list. Is that a form of the democratic deficit now advocated by the Conservatives? Secondly, if a person were to be appointed in that way, would one also be allowed to sack that person? I should have thought that that would follow; or would one be allowed to set the terms and conditions? Thirdly, is this general policy in the noble Baroness's party? For example, under a future Conservative government would it apply to the chairman of the Low Pay Unit, the CAC, ACAS, or the monopolies commission, or anyone else; and if not, why not?

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I do not remember referring to "democratic deficit" in the context of this question. I am simply saying that the Secretary of State has a hand on almost every aspect of the Bill and the framework. The Secretary of State will appoint all the members. I thought it might be appropriate, as the council is to act as a corporate body, for it to elect its chairman. I make no greater or lesser case than that.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

If Amendment No. 5 as presently worded were to be accepted, it is difficult to see how the council would come into being at all. But that is a pure matter of detail. What the noble Baroness has made clear is the role of the Secretary of State in appointing the chairman.

We have made clear that all these appointments to national and local councils will be made following Nolan principles. That means that we shall draw up a specification of the skills, experience and background of the individuals we want for these demanding and important posts. We shall ask all our partners and stakeholder organisations with an interest and involvement in developing the LSC to encourage their own people to apply. We shall openly advertise all the posts and we shall ensure that we have an independent assessor who will sit on all the appointment panels. The panels will make recommendations to the Secretary of State on the best candidates for the post. We are delighted that the noble Baroness agrees that the Secretary of State should appoint the council. In these arrangements we shall follow the code of practice for public appointments that has been set out by the Office of the Commissioner of Public Appointments.

We argue that it is vital that in establishing the new learning and skills council we build a close working relationship between Ministers of the DfEE and members of the LSC. That applies in particular to the working relationship between Ministers and the chairman of the LSC. We shall want a direct working relationship on critical issues and a joint approach to the overriding mission of improving standards and participation in learning in this country.

We believe it right in those circumstances that the chairman of the council should be appointed by the Secretary of State. We are encouraged in our belief by the fact that, since 1992, the Secretary of State has appointed not only all members of the Further Education Funding Council but also its chairman. I ask the rhetorical question: why was that all right in 1992 but is not all right now? As I say, in establishing the new LSC, a close working relationship is vital, particularly between Ministers and the chairman of the council.

We are not attracted to the alternative suggested by the noble Baroness in Amendment No. 7 for a further reason. All the appointments to the national council are important and we shall be looking for talented people with the necessary drive, enthusiasm and commitment to fill these posts. That is particularly the case for the chairman. We shall be looking for a business person who commands national respect and who is able to make a substantial time commitment to the council. That is why we shall be advertising that post separately. There may well be people who would relish the challenge of taking on the chairmanship but who would be less attracted by being a member of the council.

It is entirely right that the Secretary of State should make these appointments. I therefore invite the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for pointing out where I have drawn the line; namely, at "members" rather than "Secretary of State". I have been drafting the amendments personally and do not happen to have the skills of an expert counsel. I also have a difficulty. I have tabled amendments under which other bodies would nominate people. I accept that they will be formally appointed by the Secretary of State; however, I shall want to argue strongly that some of the appointments should come through other bodies.

Secondly, I am very disturbed at what the Minister has just said; namely, that the Secretary of State will be minded to appoint, and that there will be an advertisement for, "a businessman". The Government, and the noble Baroness in particular and her colleagues in another place, in my presence and, I believe, on the record, have said endlessly that 40 per cent of the council will be represented by business. Why, therefore, will one business appointment be advertised--quite distinct from the 40 per cent business representation on the committee?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. I obviously did not make myself clear. In regard to the position of chair or chairman, the Secretary of State will be looking for a business person who commands national respect and who is able to make the substantial time commitment to the council. That does not take away at all from the figure of 40 per cent given in relation to the new council.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

Then I am even more critical of the wording of subsection (2). It states that,

"The Council is to consist of not less than 12 and not more than 16 members appointed by the Secretary of State, and he must appoint one of them as chairman", rather than stating, as the noble Lord has just said, that there will be a distinct advertisement for the kind of person whom the Secretary of State would wish to be chairman. In other words, there will be a body of 12 to 16 people, and the Secretary of State will, distinctly, advertise for someone to be the chairman who will have business experience and who will be a member of the board. That is a rather different interpretation from the wording that one sees on the page. There is a difficulty here. The business sector, which takes a close interest in the debate, will be grateful for some clarification of the distinction between the chairman, who is to be a businessman or woman (as the case may be), and the composition of the whole council.

Our confidence has been slightly shaken by the recent appointment of the person in charge of the Dome. As far as one is aware, Nolan procedures were not followed and there was no advertisement of the position. The same Government ask us to trust them that all of these procedures will be put in place. Therefore, it is of assistance to have on record that in this instance the procedures will be followed. I am not happy with the response of the noble Lord. Perhaps I should be flattered that the noble Lord says that because the Tories did it in the past there is no reason why the present Government should not do it now. But this council, which is of a different kind, will be very influential in the policies that cascade down to local councils and local authorities. It is important that each of the 12 to 16 members of the council has confidence in the chairman. I should like the members to have the ability to make appointments. However, I rest my case until the next stage of the Bill in the hope that later this afternoon there is some clarification of the business representation. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Wade of Chorlton Lord Wade of Chorlton Conservative

moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 1, line 12, after ("them") insert ("who has experience of commercial business").

Photo of Lord Wade of Chorlton Lord Wade of Chorlton Conservative

In moving this amendment, I draw to the Committee's attention that the wording I propose is a little different from what appears in the Marshalled List. The Marshalled List states that there be inserted after "them" the words

"who has experience of commercial business", whereas I intend that it should read,

"as chairman who has experience of commercial business".

I am prompted to table this amendment because I am very much aware that the training and enterprise councils, many of which have been enormously successful in serving a good number of the purposes previously debated, have been driven by the business community. We are grateful for the amount of work that many businessmen have done in leading training and enterprise councils and the time that they have given in that regard. I welcome the Minister's recognition, when responding to the previous amendment, of the importance of business leadership. To ensure that we continue to have the support of the business community in the setting up of these new bodies, it must be clear to that sector that they are being led by people who are recognised in the industry as having sound commercial and business experience and who can bring to the councils expertise in achieving efficiency and making things happen.

I have tabled this amendment in order to understand the Government's intentions. The Government have made some very encouraging noises, which we all appreciate, but it would be of enormous help if their exact intentions in this regard were made clear in the Bill. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment 4:45 pm, 8th February 2000

I hesitate because I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, wants to speak to her amendment in this group. If so, I am content to sit down and let the noble Baroness speak.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I had not realised that my amendment was grouped with Amendment No. 6. I support the sentiments behind the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Wade. The Government have made it clear over many weeks--it also appears in some of the documents which accompany the Bill--that at least 40 per cent of the membership of the councils will come from the business and commercial sector. Unless that is on the face of the Bill there will be no guarantee at all. There is absolutely no definition of "commercial and business sector". Members of the Committee will note that my amendment states that,

"Not less than 40 per cent of the members shall be persons who have current or recent non-public sector business or commercial experience"; in other words, they will be truly people from the business or commercial sector.

The Secretary of State, the noble Baroness and her honourable friend in another place have said that they want business to be in the lead and that business people understand the need for the education and training of their workforce. Today, almost everybody goes into work and therefore they must be educated and trained for work. If the Government mean what they say the business sector is fully behind the amendment. All of the responses to consultation in relation to this particular matter have stated the desire to see something firm on the face of the Bill, and I believe that there is a strong case for it. I do not see an argument against it. The Government have made it clear that they expect the figure to be 40 per cent. My amendment proposes that it should be at least 40 per cent so that it does not go below that figure, but it does not necessarily mean that it should go above it. I support the amendment moved by my noble friend, and I shall press my amendment when it comes to be considered.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wade of Chorlton, for tabling this amendment. We all understand the intention behind the amendment rather than what is expressed in the Marshalled List. The noble Lord raises an important point which will enable the Minister to make clear the Government's intention. I believe that their intention is, and should be, that normally the chairman of the council is someone with experience of commercial business. I part company with the noble Lord slightly if he suggests that this should be made clear on the face of the Bill. In response to this amendment, and the amendment to be moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch--I shall say it again later--I have some hesitation about being so prescriptive on the face of the Bill. I entirely support the intention behind the amendment. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, stated, the Government have said many times--in a minute, they may repeat it--that this is their intention. I believe that to have that on record in Hansard is enough, and I do not want to see it encapsulated in the Bill for all time until there is another Act of Parliament to change it. I am wholly sympathetic to the intentions behind both amendments, provided that in due course they are withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

I do not believe that there is much between us in this area. The Government's intentions are absolutely clear. As the noble Baroness and her noble friend have said, we have made the position clear on a number of occasions. The only difference between us--here I entirely accept the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Tope--is whether this matter should be spelt out on the face of the Bill. I fully support the wish of the Committee that the business sector should play a major role in the LSC's strategic decision-making and planning. For that reason, I sought to reassure noble Lords during Second Reading that,

"Forty per cent of LSC board members at both the national and local levels, together with the national chair and most local chairs, will have significant business or commercial experience".--[Official Report, 17/1/00; col. 878.]

The reasons for these commitments are three-fold. First, we want to build on the success of TECs in developing links between the world of learning and work. The noble Lord, Lord Wade of Chorlton, referred to the TECs in this context. Secondly, we want to ensure that the LSC's £6 billion annual budget produces the skills that our economy needs. Thirdly, we want the business perspective to help create a customer-driven system. All of these are vital points and our commitments in this respect have won the support of employers and their representatives, including the CBI. But it does not follow that we should incorporate these clear commitments on the face of the Bill.

Quite aside from the other obvious problems of definition--and here I want to turn the noble Baroness's arguments on their heads--"business", "commercial", "public sector" or "non-public sector" are not terribly easy to define in terms of legislation. We most certainly do not want to find ourselves on the slippery slope, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, was implying, to a system of filling quotas of places. That would take us a very long way from our firm intention of appointing as members people who will serve the interests of the council as a whole. That is why we set out in the prospectus clear guidelines and criteria for filling all positions on the councils. I think that should be a significant reassurance. We want to encourage many people to apply and we want to appoint the best candidates. It will be important to set out in the job specification accompanying the advertising for the post of national chair the qualities that the noble Lord, Lord Wade, wishes to see. We will consult the CBI in drawing up that specification. Again, I hope that what I have said provides some reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Wade, and to the noble Baroness about our intentions.

Most of all, I simply do not believe that it is appropriate to set out in legislation the ratio of the membership of a public body. Appointments then become a matter of legal and arithmetical nicety, rather than of having the more obvious priority of finding the best people for the job in the categories set out. I hope therefore that both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw their amendments.

Photo of Lord Wade of Chorlton Lord Wade of Chorlton Conservative

I am grateful to the Minister for her further explanations and reassurances. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 1, line 12, at end insert--

("( ) The Council shall elect a chairman from among their number for a period not exceeding 5 years.").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I should like, if I may, to speak to just one point on Amendment No. 7. I did not refer to the term of office. Noble Lords will have noticed that in my amendment I refer to a period not exceeding five years. It is normal to have a period of time specified for an appointment to a national body such as this. I should like to ask the Government whether they have any intention of putting a period of time upon this appointment, or will the chairman be appointed for all time until either he or she is disgraced, sent out of office or retires? I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

The noble Baroness has quite justifiably come back to this amendment to ask the question. We are going to be dealing with time-scales for membership of the committee and, as I understand it, for the chairman a little later. I should like to respond to her on this point then, if I may.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I am grateful to the noble Lord. In anticipation, I will ask leave to withdraw the amendment and wait for the explanation.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 1, line 12, at end insert--

("( ) The Council shall appoint a Chief Executive on such terms as it determines who shall not serve as a member of any Learning and Skills Council.").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

There is an anomaly in the Bill. Clause 1 states that the Secretary of State shall appoint the council and appoint a chairman from within the council. There is no reference whatsoever to how that will be done. The schedule contains no reference to that. Then, quite extraordinarily, there is a reference to the chief executive being appointed from the members of the council. This is a job. The board, or council as it is now called, would appoint a chief executive and not the Secretary of State. The chief executive would then answer to the council but not be a member of it.

There may well be precedents. There has been a very interesting debate, which has gone on for a long time. There ought to be a separation between the chief executive and the chairman of the board and the board itself. Certainly that is what happens in the private sector. It is important that the terms and conditions should be laid down by the board or by the council; the chief executive should be answerable to them. He should be the executive arm, in other words, delivering the policies of the council, working with all the other members of staff and being the chief member of staff working for the council.

I find that strange. Secondly, I find it strange that for the chairman there are no arrangements set out in the schedule at all. Yet on page 55 we have some fairly detailed arrangements set out for the chief executive. On the face of the Bill it is said that the chairman shall be a member of the council. There is no reference whatsoever to the chief executive being a member of the council until we turn to the schedule. It is not on the face of the Bill but it appears in the schedule that one of the council members is to be its chief executive.

Referring to the members of the council who are to represent the body that has already been mentioned by the Minister and indeed by others, you need particular skills to be a chief executive and sometimes you need different skills to be a member of the council. I cannot understand why there is a separate schedule with a definite statement saying that one of the council's members shall be its chief executive. No arrangements, on the face of the Bill, appear in Clause 1 or a statement that says that the council shall be appointed by the Secretary of State and that one of its members shall be chairman.

My amendment deals with two main points. First, I should like an explanation as to why they are treated so differently. Secondly, I should like to know whether the Government believe there should be a distinct split between those who make policy and those who have to deliver it. Thirdly, may I ask why it is that a chief executive should be a member of the council? I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

I rise to support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness. We on these Benches agree with her that it is not right that the chief executive of the council should also be a full member of the council. We also agree completely that it should be for the council itself to appoint the chief executive. The chief executive is the servant of the council, as happens, as the noble Baroness said, normally in business.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

Perhaps I could start with Amendment No. 8. We have made provision in Schedule 1 for the first appointment of chief executive to be made by the Secretary of State rather than by the council. The noble Baroness's amendments would change that position and give the responsibility to the council alone. The reason why we intend the appointment of the first chief executive to be made by the Secretary of State is one of practicality. It is very common when setting up a new body of this kind, when there is no existing council membership in place, for a chief executive to be appointed in this way. It is vital that we have an early appointment of a chief executive to take charge of the very wide range of implementation of staff appointments, ensuring that there is an effective funding and information system and that plans for the council's first operational year are drawn up in good time.

If we wait until all the council members are appointed we will inevitably be delaying the process and we may put at risk a smooth transition, which I am sure all Members of your Lordships' Committee would wish to see, to the new arrangements. Your Lordships will perhaps be reassured to hear that we intend to identify the chair of the learning and skills council first, and then involve him or her in the appointment of the chief executive, since it is clearly of paramount importance that there should be a really good working relationship between the chair and the chief executive. The Bill already provides in Schedule 1 for all future appointments of the chief executive to be made by the council. I hope that that clarifies one of the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and indeed by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp.

Turning to Amendment No. 19, this would prevent the chief executive being a member of the council. Contrary to what has been said by both noble Baronesses, I think this would diminish the status and the authority of the chief executive to that of an employee rather than creating a situation where the chief executive is fully part of, and committed to, the strategic direction that the council takes.

I accept that there is a distinction between the role of the chairman and members of the council, who are part time and in that sense have a non-executive role, and that of the chief executive who is a full time paid official. However, that should not suggest that the chief executive is not a member of a council. In the Higher Education Funding Council and the Further Education Funding Council the chief executives are members of those councils. It is an established practice that chief executives of NDPBs may be members of their governing councils. We believe it is right that that should be so in this instance. We must remember that the chief executive will be the accounting officer for some £6 billion of public expenditure. It is only right that he or she should be fully party to the decisions of the national council.

The current draft of the clause and related schedule provides for a good start for the council and the establishment of an effective organisation. I hope that the noble Baroness will not press the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I am extremely disappointed with the answer. The Minister did not answer the question as to why the Secretary of State appoints one of the board as chairman but not as chief executive. As regards the appointment, why should the provision appear only in a schedule? There is no link between the schedule and the main part of the Bill. Normally schedules support clauses in the Bill; this schedule does not.

The noble Baroness has not answered the point about the importance of the chief executive being a servant of the council and the board. He or she is responsible for carrying out the policies of the council. Therefore that seems to be a problem. There is the flimsiest defence. The Government intend to appoint early the first member of the board who shall be the chairman, and to involve the chairman in the appointment of a chief executive.

Has the Secretary of State time on his hands? Is not the Secretary of State an extraordinarily busy person? The Bill provides for the Secretary of State to approve plans and to do this, that and the other. Every appointment to all the bodies will be approved by the Secretary of State. Those of us who watch the Secretary of State on television are impressed by his performance. But the idea that he should be engaged in the minutiae of every single appointment is extraordinary.

The Minister referred to the accounting officer. There are endless examples of bodies--I sit as a volunteer on one--where the accounting officer does not necessarily belong to the policy-making body. It is not uncommon for the accounting officer not to be a member of the policy body. Again, the accounting officer is a servant of the organisation. So that is no argument.

Amendment No. 8 provides that,

"The Council shall appoint a Chief Executive on such terms as it determines who shall not serve as a member of any Learning and Skills Council".

It is an important amendment. I wish to seek the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 8) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 95; Not-Contents, 111.

Division number 1

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative 5:13 pm, 8th February 2000

moved Amendment No. 10:

Page 1, line 12, at end insert--

("( ) Not less than 25 per cent. of the members shall be nominated by the Local Government Association.")

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

In moving Amendment No. 10, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 11, 13 to 15 and 152. Before I turn to the amendments, I should like to point out that there is a typing error in Amendment No. 107. I should have mentioned this earlier, but I have given the Minister notice of the mistake. The amendment should read:

"The Council must elect one of its members as [Chairman] for a period not exceeding 5 years."

The word "Chairman" should replace "Chief Executive" in the amendment. I did not want this to come as a surprise when we reach it later.

I should also like to point out that, because I have written most of these amendments myself, if I am successful in pressing Amendment No. 13, then my noble friends and colleagues in the Chamber will not be able to press their amendments. As I shall be supporting one or two of those amendments, that may prove to be difficult. However, I should like to make again a point that I made in passing on a previous amendment; that is, that Amendment No. 13 refers to a subsection in the Bill that appears on the face of it to be absurd. It states:

"In appointing a member the Secretary of State must have regard to the desirability of appointing a person"-- only one person--

"who has experience relevant to the Council's functions".

If a relatively small council--but nevertheless a national council--is to be appointed and there is in place a commitment to appoint only one person with relevant experience of the functions of the council, that will be very strange indeed. I hope that all those appointed to the council will have some experience and strengths to bring that will be relevant to the council's functions. However, in order to allow the other amendments to be considered, I shall not press the amendment. However, at a future stage I shall seek to alter the wording of the subsection, depending on whether the noble Baroness will accept amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Rix.

In Amendment No. 10 I have argued--and I believe that I have some support in this--that the council should have serving on it representatives of the local authorities. A little earlier I think that I was teased by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, for having argued about the considerable democratic deficit in the Bill and for having asked the Government to explain such a policy. Local education authorities have now lost a number of powers--they have lost powers to the organisational committees, to the educational adjudicators, on decisions on funding for sixth forms and many other local decisions. They will be able to plan only in conformity with directions from the Secretary of State. However, I feel that where local knowledge is relevant, along with maintaining existing relationships with many other local bodies, including the present training and enterprise councils, there should be some representation on this committee.

At Second Reading the point was made that the Bill makes no reference to the national training organisations. Amendment No. 11 provides for some recognition of those organisations which make a huge contribution to education and, in particular, training in this country. The Engineering and Marine Training Authority has already been mentioned. Such organisations have made a huge contribution and have been in the forefront of arguments for proper representation in the Bill. I support those arguments very strongly.

I have already referred to Amendment No. 13. Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 will be spoken to in more detail by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, as will Amendment No. 152, which seeks to provide for representation from those with,

"experience and knowledge of the needs of disabled people".

The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, will gather from that that there is a great deal of concern about who will be appointed to the committee. I know the difficulties of having a totally representative committee. However, there should be a way of saying that those who are referred to--disabled people, training organisations and local authorities--are important in their own right and are essential to the provision of education training and links with employment. I believe that they are important and I should be interested to know what the Minister has to say in response. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Rix Lord Rix Crossbench

Before I speak to Amendments Nos. 14 and 152, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for making clear her intentions on Amendment No. 13. Clearly, my noble friend Lord Northbourne and I would have been left as stateless persons without a clause to which to attach our amendments. Therefore, I am grateful for that clarification.

I should like also to clear up one point. My noble friend Lord Northbourne will speak to Amendment No. 15. I shall confine myself to Amendments Nos. 14 and 152. Also, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said that she believed that she was supporting some of these amendments. She was supposed to be doing that but, somehow, in the printing of the Marshalled List her name appears to have disappeared and in its place is that of my noble friend Lady Darcy de Knayth. Therefore, we have made rather a mess of that. Our intention was that there should be all-party support for these particular amendments.

Today in particular, it has been made abundantly clear that there will be an emphasis on the representation of members of the business community on the learning and skills councils. Amendments Nos. 14 and 152 seek to ensure that the Government will take steps to make certain that the councils' membership reflects the diversity of the community and, in particular, develops expertise to meet the needs of learners with physical and sensory disabilities, as well as those with learning disabilities.

Again, these are not novel amendments. I moved similar ones in relation to the Disability Rights Commission. Now, of course, we have the fortune to look forward to a commissioner for the learning disabled with appropriate support. However, this is a matter of importance not only on the national scale--in this case, on the national learning and skills council--but also on the local scale in respect of the network of local learning and skills councils.

Our regional development agencies have been established with appropriate representation from local business and local government, but there is little or no representation from disabled people. At present, local learning partnerships are also being formed and a similar criticism applies. Furthermore, the Further Education Funding Council regional committees have been unimpressive in securing representation of disabled people.

As president of Mencap, I recognise our obligation as a voluntary organisation to make sure that people with learning disabilities are aware of ways in which they can become involved in the work of public bodies, but more needs to be done in respect of all disabilities. Perhaps the Disability Rights Commission could nominate a member of the national learning and skills council and play an active part in facilitating representation on local councils. I and other Members of the Committee--those billed and those unbilled--are asking for nothing more than a commitment from the Government to convince disabled people that the proposed learning and skills councils will address disability issues with the seriousness which they merit.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

I rise to speak to Amendment No. 15. Before I do so, I mention in relation to Amendment No. 14 that I hope that when we come to discuss disability we shall talk about it in the widest possible context, including the problems of mental disability and emotional disadvantage.

In connection with Amendment No. 15, if the learning and skills councils are to be successful, they need to understand the needs of education and training in a modern society and the needs of local employers. Also, they need to understand the social and emotional problems which beset alienated and excluded young people. The noble Baroness said this afternoon that alienated and excluded young people are among the most important targets of this Bill. Often their problems arise much earlier in their lives, from experiences in the family or in local authority care. Unless one has experience of working with such young people--and I have had the privilege of doing that, as has the noble Earl, Lord Listowel--it is hard to believe that such young people are deeply vulnerable human beings, in spite of the veneer of "street cred", and one cannot begin to understand the problems that they have.

Therefore, I have suggested that on the councils there should be at least one person with experience of youth work in general and one person with experience of vulnerable young people. I do not believe that representatives of local business and of normal education are necessarily capable of envisaging the problems which those young people have and, therefore, of providing the services that they need. My amendment seeks to ensure that there will be at least one voice on each council with experience of very disturbed young people.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment 5:30 pm, 8th February 2000

Perhaps, at the beginning, I may clear up one matter in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. She commented that Clause 1(3) states that only one person is required to have relevant experience of the council's functions. I believe that she has interpreted that rather too literally. I understand that in Acts of Parliament the general rule is that the singular includes the plural unless the context otherwise requires. Therefore, under Clause 1(3) all persons must have experience relevant to the council's functions. I am sorry about that rather technical point, but I believed that I should clear up the matter and explain why there may be a little confusion.

I start with Amendment No. 10 in the name of the noble Baroness. I find it hard to comprehend how a party which in government did its utmost to diminish the power and status of local government should have performed such a spectacular U-turn. Of course, it would be ungracious of me not to welcome its conversion, but I fear that it has not yet found the right balance. Let me make it clear that we see a major role for local government in the new arrangements. It will be a central partner, not only in providing and securing learning opportunities in schools and through adult and community learning, but also as an organisation which can provide vision and leadership for local communities.

The new arrangements will offer greater influence over the whole range of post-16 provision as local LSCs will be required to consult local authorities on their plans and set out in them the post-16 learning provision which LEAs will secure. I am happy to confirm that we expect the national and local LSCs to include members with current local authority experience.

However, it would be wrong to go further than that and to build in 25 per cent of places for local authority representatives. Then it would be difficult to ensure that there were enough places for all the other interests to be represented. In this group of amendments, we have already had requests from Members of the Committee for several other categories. However, we want employees, young people, adult learners, the voluntary sector, and so on, to have their place. It would be wrong to have members nominated by another body. We want members who are appointed on merit because of what they can offer, rather than as delegates of other organisations. I hope, therefore, that the noble Baroness will withdraw this amendment.

An important point in Amendment No. 11 is that national training organisations have a pivotal role to play in these new arrangements. I was encouraged to hear how many noble Lords highlighted the NTO role during the Second Reading debate. The NTOs have to be at the forefront of identifying national school needs in their sector and, working with RDAs and local LSCs, they will help to ensure that local skills needs are not just identified, but also met.

Recognising the importance of NTOs, we said in the prospectus that business members who are appointed to local LSCs will be expected to develop effective links with an appropriate NTO. That goes far further in practice than the amendment before us in ensuring that there is a truly effective role for NTOs.

I believe it would be unhelpful to specify in the Bill a requirement along the lines of this amendment, or indeed to legislate for the more ambitious arrangements that I have described and which we intend. We have clearly said that we do not want members of councils to be delegates of other organisations. There are difficulties of definition. It is not the NTOs which need to be represented, but the interests of different industrial and commercial sectors. We shall discuss how the skills needs of sectors can best be reflected when we consider the amendment of my noble friend Lord Haskel later this evening and when I shall make what I hope will be seen as a positive suggestion in this area. For those reasons, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will withdraw her amendment.

On Amendment No. 13, we want all the appointments to the national and local councils to be made following the so-called "Nolan" principles. That means that we shall draw up a specification of the skills, experience and background of the individuals we want for these demanding and important posts. We shall ask all our partners and stakeholder organisations with an interest and involvement in developing the learning and skills council to encourage their own people to apply. We shall openly advertise all the posts and ensure that we have an independent assessor who will sit on all the appointment panels. The panels will make recommendations to the Secretary of State on the best candidates for the posts.

In all these arrangements, we shall follow the code of practice for public appointments which has been set out by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. It is surely right that the Bill should contain a provision ensuring that the Secretary of State appoints people with relevant experience. That reflects similar provisions made in respect of the FEFC in the 1992 Act or, to take a more recent example, the provisions for the constitution of the RDAs in the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998. It is also vital to the success of an organisation which must understand and seek to meet the learning needs of a wide range of individuals and employers. Once again, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will withdraw the amendment.

Identifying and meeting the learning needs of disabled people will be part of the core business of the LSC and the CETW--not a peripheral concern. That is why the Bill requires the LSC and the CETW to have particular regard to the needs of people with disabilities and to report annually on their progress and plans in meeting the needs of disabled people. That is also why the Government have made a firm commitment in the learning and skills council prospectus that they would expect the national and local LSCs to have members who understand the needs of people with learning difficulties and disabilities.

As the functions of the LSC and the CETW clearly and explicitly include provision for disabled people, the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales must--and I emphasise the word "must"--under Clauses 1 and 30 respectively, have regard to the desirability of appointing members of their respective councils who have experience relevant to disability matters. With that reassurance, I hope that noble Lords will feel able to withdraw Amendments Nos. 14 and 152.

Turning to Amendment No. 15, I want to make it clear that the new framework will support the severely disadvantaged and socially excluded young people. The new arrangements provide for the LSC to work with partners at national and local level in creative ways to stimulate interest in learning and create opportunity and aspiration, especially among those who do not consider themselves to be learners. As we made clear in the prospectus, that will mean ensuring that learning should be accessible to all individuals and sections of the community and above all to the socially disadvantaged. I am happy to confirm that we expect the national and local LSCs to include at least one member with relevant knowledge and understanding of the needs of those severely disadvantaged or socially disadvantaged members.

Furthermore, at national level the head of the National ConneXions Service Unit will be invited to attend all meetings of the national council and of its Young People's Learning Committee. At local level the ConneXions Partnership will be invited to attend each meeting of the local councils of the LSC. So at every meeting of every LSC someone will be present with an understanding of the needs of socially excluded young people and experience of delivering support services to them.

It would be wrong to go further than that and guarantee at least one place for each group as members of the national council. That would make it difficult to resist calls from other groups or bodies and would be counter to the Government's wish that all council members are appointed on merit because of what they can offer rather than as delegates of other organisations. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

As I moved the first amendment in this group, I shall respond first. When I undertook the job now carried out by the Minister I suffered great frustration in relation to counsel's opinion. Almost daily I argued with the pedantic nature of the advice that I received from counsel. On one occasion, having received in the Chamber the most incredibly persuasive and I thought common-sense argument against me, I returned to the department and said, "I will not go into the Chamber once more defending the indefensible". I asked whether I could meet counsel. A great shudder went through the room and there was a great intake of breath. I was told that nobody meets counsel; counsel does not talk to Ministers. I insisted that I met counsel. I decided to hold a meeting in which I would sit as the honest broker and counsel would sit face-to-face with my noble friend Lord Renton, who with Members from other Benches had led the fray in the Chamber, and that they would battle it out. I watched and after about 10 minutes counsel conceded the argument.

I find this matter extraordinary on two counts. First, I believe that the wording is clumsy and that the only intellectually valid argument advanced by counsel--I do not blame the Minister--is that it has been done this way for a century so there is no reason to change it. Secondly, it is extraordinary that it should be necessary for any government to say, in appointing members to a national body which has a specific remit set out in law, that they will appoint the kind of members who will do a good job. I would have thought that that would go without saying.

I do not blame the Minister, but I believe that across this House we should insist that counsel must not be so pedantic and should concentrate energy and efforts on parts of the drafting of legislation that have much more substance about them.

The Minister chided me because of my apparently new-found interest in local government. I come from local government, I have a great affection for it and some experience of it. The removal or reforming of powers was carried out in the interests of devolving power downwards and not upwards, such as devolution to schools and autonomy for further education colleges. Such moves were welcomed by most councils in the end and they were certainly welcomed by the schools and colleges.

Councils are now being second-guessed by organisation committees and second-guessed, sometimes wrongly, by adjudicators. They will lose some of their funding powers under this Bill and they certainly will lose their power to determine matters locally. As set out in this Bill, whatever they do will have to conform with the directions of the Secretary of State as sent down through the national and local schools councils. I defend my right, first, to be a supporter of local government and, secondly, to say that over time its role does change, but I think that it should not change in keeping local the determination for decisions that impact on local people. I shall not be pressing my Amendment No. 10.

I hope the noble Lord, Lord Rix, will accept that Amendment No. 152, which bears his name--and I confirm on the record that I supported his amendments--impacts on Wales. My noble friend Lord Roberts will be dealing with all Welsh aspects of the Bill. When it comes to Amendment No. 152, he will speak to it in the context of it applying to Wales. I believe that he will support it. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 10.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 11 to 18 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

At the beginning of the afternoon the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, was particularly cross with me, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, because we started off on what appeared to be a negative note. Indeed, it was either the noble Lord, Lord Tope, or the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, who was accused of wrecking the Bill. Like them, I can see how that interpretation is technically drawn in relation to the amendments that we are discussing today. The argument is not about whether there needs to be more coherence for 16-plus education. There is no disagreement across the whole of the Chamber about that. The argument is about means to ends. From what the noble Baroness has said and what the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has done, I believe that it could be done better, more effectively and certainly at less cost.

My view is that there seems to be almost a fetish on the part of government that anything invented by the previous government must be changed, even if they agree it in principle, rather as they tried to agree with grant-maintained schools in principle. But grant-maintained schools had to go. They had to be redefined. Some changes had to be made. Sadly, the changes were in terms of losing autonomy. They knew that deep down it had in fact been a good idea to give schools more control and more operational autonomy.

Much the same is happening with training and enterprise councils. At some stage, the noble Baroness said that there were good, bad and indifferent training and enterprise councils. Earlier this afternoon, they were referred to as quangos. They are not quangos. They are incorporated companies, and they are separate. Hence, there is no clause in the Bill to dissolve them. They will not be dissolved; they simply will not receive contracts from the DfEE. They will not wither on the vine, but will go in some haste. It is not clear from the details in the Bill exactly how that transition will occur and what some of the practical manifestations of it will be.

There are two fairly important points when it comes to management of change. One is that it can be difficult. It certainly can be painful for the people who are involved and who are the losers. Certainly many members of staff will not be reappointed. Some people who have given very good service as voluntary members will cease to be used. The other side of management of change--and this has been my experience in local and in national government--is that management of change is expensive. To be done properly, it is costly. It is conventional for government, and indeed local government, never properly to fund management of change. Often, with hindsight, the reason why changes do not happen in quite the way that Ministers want them to happen has more to do with the fact that the changes were implemented on a shoestring.

Clause 1 is a bureaucratic monster. It is far removed from the aim of the Bill, which is to introduce more coherence and a more locally-tailored service to meet the skills and educational needs of communities and of business and commerce. A network is already in place. There is an argument for revisiting TECs--training and enterprise councils--looking at their composition, powers and modus operandi, and for introducing some reform so that they can deliver what the Government want.

The noble Baroness earlier criticised the fact that there are too many TECs and said that they are going to be reduced in number. I shall come back to the financial aspect of that in a moment. If that is the case, looking at their coterminosity with other bodies with which they have to work and at whether or not the areas they cover are right, the relationship between them, local business, local commerce and local authorities could be built upon in a practical and cost-effective way.

I was disturbed when earlier today the noble Baroness appeared to imply that part of the £50 million would in fact be saved by reducing the 72 councils down to 47. It is of course true that they may operate in fewer buildings. Parkinson's law being what it is, I suspect that those buildings will still stay within the public sector. But they will use fewer buildings. Is the intention to use fewer staff? And is the intention to have less money? In other words, is the money that is presently available to training and enterprise councils to be reduced in order to provide for the local skills councils and the national skills council? If so, what is the equation and what is the basis on which that calculation is to be made?

Photo of Lord Haskel Lord Haskel Labour 5:45 pm, 8th February 2000

I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. I wanted to remind her that we are debating whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill. Will she tell us why she thinks that Clause 1 should not stand part of the Bill?

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I have given a few reasons already-- management of change; costly bureaucracy; this is not the way to achieve the ends; that the argument is about means to ends and not about wrecking the Bill. How many other arguments would the noble Lord like me to introduce? I introduced funding and the cost of management of change. I have even been positive and suggested that there is a way of taking the existing network and building upon it. I have talked about the possibility of revisiting the training and enterprise councils and looking at their coterminosity with the bodies with which they work. I could go on.

In the past few minutes I have mentioned all those points. All of them are relevant as to whether Clause 1 is the best way forward or whether there are alternatives which would work in an effective way. This is a bad way to go forward. It is a top-down system. It is going to be expensive. It is going to be remote from the people it serves. It is going to require even more co-ordinating bodies than presently exist. The coterminosity makes some sense in some parts of the country, but not a great deal in others. That has not been addressed.

The Government have a propensity for not accepting any amendments--I say that having watched the television programme on Sunday evening--even minor amendments, when almost everyone's view, both in the back room and in counsel's opinion, is that the Bill could be changed. I am not hopeful that we will get change in this respect. I believe that this clause should not stand part of the Bill in the interests of giving us an opportunity to find a better way to achieve the aim of more coherence of post-16 education.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

We have heard a good deal from the noble Baroness and from the Benches opposite, through their amendments to this clause, about their concerns over the membership and status of the council. But they miss the basic point that there is wide recognition among learners, providers and employers that the current system of post-16 education and training no longer meets the country's needs in the 21st century.

This is nothing to do with a government with a fetish for change. This is a government listening to the criticisms of many people--whether students, employers or providers--of the current system. We would be failing in our duty if we did not listen. Respondents to our Green and White Papers were clear that we have to do away with the incoherence and duplication of different funding, planning and delivery systems. We have to raise standards, increase and widen participation and tackle the skills deficit. That is what the new learning and skills council will achieve.

I was not cross with the noble Lord, Lord Tope--I see he is not in his place--for introducing his amendments; I was just a little disappointed that we began our proceedings today with what I feel were close to being wrecking amendments. However, none of the alternatives proposed by the Benches opposite offers a coherent solution. The regional structures advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, rob us of the opportunity to meet national challenges with national solutions. Large employers, national public and voluntary organisations all welcome the prospect of being able to relate to the LSC at a single national level. They know that they will be able to avoid the duplication and wasted effort which many face now when dealing with 72 separate TECs. The noble Baroness was correct in her definition of them, but they all have different systems and different approaches. We are constantly being told that that makes it difficult when dealing with them.

The proposals from the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, to distance the Secretary of State from appointments and essential links with the LSC serve only to limit the elements of control and scrutiny which Parliament should properly expect government to exert over an NDPB. I say again in relation to the proposals specifying the composition of the council on the face of the legislation that, although the Government are committed to the inclusive nature of the council under the business leadership that we set out in the LSC prospectus, we do not accept that legislation should or needs to specify quotas. That of course applies to local government representation.

I entirely accept what the noble Baroness was saying earlier about her long record in local government. When I was being critical in suggesting that there was a U-turn, I did not mean it personally. It is perhaps the case that she not only fought parliamentary counsel--I wish I had been a fly on the wall at that meeting--but also fought her colleagues in reducing the role of local government in this whole area. That is certainly what her government did.

The learning and skills council represents a new opportunity to tackle more effectively the learning and skills deficits that have for so long blighted economic performance and the development of an inclusive society. Clause 1 is central to the Bill and I urge the Committee to agree that it should stand part of the Bill and I hope the noble Baroness will withdraw her objection.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

That was again an interesting answer. The noble Baroness said that there needs to be more coherence. I admitted that from the outset. There is no argument between our Front Benches in relation to coming together in the interests of having more coherence in post-16 education.

The criticism of the system is interesting. I have spoken to a large number of people in the build up to this Bill. Almost always people said that they did not like the way the Government decided to resolve this issue, but that is a lost argument; that has now gone. People are pragmatic. They realise that they must get on with their lives. They accept, at the end of the day, that they have to live with the government of the day. Business people in particular have to get on. They have neither the time nor the resources to engage in a long war of attrition about these matters.

There is huge support for coherence. Duplication of funding is also an issue. The problem of some people being paid twice can certainly be resolved. We are worried about the duplication of funding because we feel that what is behind it is a kind of averaging downwards. At Second Reading the Minister referred to averaging upwards and, in the interests of Pepper v Hart, we shall be watching that carefully. Indeed, in a letter to me the noble Baroness put on paper that there will be no averaging downwards. But it begs the question that where there is a policy intention that equal funding for equal courses shall be pursued--similar courses are at present being funded differently--will that be levelled upwards or downwards?

We are also concerned about the funding mechanisms which will change; for example, the circuitous method of top-slicing sixth form money at national level; giving it to the national councils who will then give it to the 47 local councils who will then give it to the hundreds of LEAs who will then give it to the schools. First, that will be a costly circuitous route; and, secondly, each individual school wants some guarantee that it will not lose out in real terms. Or will there be an amortising across the schools? So real practical problems arise in relation to the system underpinned by Clause 1.

Finally, the Minister refers to training and enterprise councils as being different; some being effective and some not so effective; some having different systems and some different approaches. The idea that 47 local skills councils will be uniformly good and uniformly effective is a nonsense. Human beings are what they are. Some will be led by good people and have exceptional boards, and some will not. It is a matter of fact that when there are so many councils, there will in the end be the good, the bad and the indifferent.

I feel strongly that there are better ways of doing this. There are ways of building on the strength of what works now and I wish to press for the opinion of the Committee.

On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 118; Not-Contents, 62.

Division number 2

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Resolved in the affirmative, and Clause 1 agreed to accordingly.

Schedule 1 [Learning and Skills Council for England]:

[Amendment No. 19 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat 6:07 pm, 8th February 2000

moved Amendment No. 20:

Page 55, line 23, at end insert ("for one further term only").

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

This is a minor amendment. Paragraph 2(2) of the schedule states that,

"On ceasing to be a member a person is eligible for re-appointment".

The purpose of this amendment is to place a limit on the number of times re-appointment can take place. We believe that in any organisation it is healthy to have some renewal of membership. There is a tendency sometimes for organisations to become self-perpetuating oligarchies. Therefore, we believe it is a good idea to have on the face of the Bill a limitation on the number of times that a person may be eligible for re-appointment. On that basis, we suggest that a person should be eligible for re-appointment only for one term. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for moving her amendment so quickly. But I am confused. As I understand the amendment, it refers to "one further term", which suggests two terms in all. I understand that I am right in saying that.

The Government are fully in agreement with the general rule set out in the code of practice for public appointments and by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, that members and chairs of the LSC should generally serve for a maximum of two terms. In making the appointments, we shall follow those guidelines. But they allow for exceptions in exceptional circumstances. It may be that a member or chairman of the LSC makes such a valuable contribution that it would be right to re-appoint that person for a third term. I stress "exceptional circumstances". Therefore, we do not believe it appropriate to write into the Bill an absolute bar against serving more than two terms in every case. In the light of the assurance I gave that the Government will follow the guidance in these matters, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me if I put a question to the Minister before he sits down. The noble Lord appears to be accepting the thrust behind the amendment; namely, that there should be a defined period of time beyond which someone should not be appointed. I believe it is possible to deal with this in the Bill. The proviso would not apply to the chief executive. I put him in a different bracket, as he will be the number one employee of the council. However, it would apply to the chairman and the members of the council. Would it not be possible to insert the words,

"shall not normally serve more than one further term", so that it is presumed in favour of not serving one more term? I wonder whether the noble Lord is sufficiently open minded to consider not only the points made by the noble Baroness but also my suggestion that some provision should be placed on the face of the Bill to ensure that people do not believe that there is a sort of unwritten rule that they could serve two, three, four or even more terms.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

I hope that I am sufficiently open minded to listen carefully to all the suggestions made by the Committee. However, tempting though that offer is, I must reject it. I repeat: we intend to follow the code of practice for public appointments. It is publicly stated and publicly known. Given the fact that we are likely to do so, it would be wrong to put anything like the provision suggested by the noble Baroness on the face of the Bill. I take this opportunity to return to the point about the chairman's appointment. I should make it clear that we see the first appointment being for a term of between three and five years.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

I have to say that I am most disappointed that the Minister cannot see his way to putting this provision on the face of the Bill. Given that it is in the code of practice for public appointments, it seems most appropriate for it to be on the face of the Bill. However, given the Minister's insistence, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 21:

Page 56, line 7, leave out sub-paragraph (3).

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 22 and 23. This amendment proposes to remove paragraph 1(1) of Schedule 1 which relates to the appointment of the chief executive. I feel most strongly about this matter. The first line in the schedule reads:

"One of the Council's members is to be its chief executive".

If it is good enough for that line to appear on the face of the Bill in Clause 1, as it relates to the chairman, it seems to me that it should also appear in the clause as a definitive statement that a council member is to be chief executive. The Minister will know that I think that that is wrong. I believe that there should be a proper separation between the chief executive and the policy makers. Therefore, I do not accept or support the arrangements set out in Schedule 1(1).

Amendment No. 22, which proposes to leave out subparagraphs (6) to (8), has been tabled for the sake of clarification. I seek some explanation in this respect. These paragraphs are very difficult to read. For example, subparagraph (6) says:

"The Secretary of State may remove a disability", but what is a "disability"? We need a definition of that word. Moreover, the powers referred to in subparagraph (7) include those to,

"remove (either indefinitely or for any period) a disability which would otherwise attach to any member, or members of any description, by reason of such interests, and in respect of such matters, as may be specified or described by the Secretary of State".

Again, what does that mean? What are the "interests" and "matters" referred to? What description can the Minister offer us in that respect?

Finally, in subparagraph (8) we read:

"Nothing in this paragraph precludes any member from taking part in the consideration or discussion of, or in voting on, any question whether an application should be made to the Secretary of State for the exercise of the power conferred by sub-paragraph (6)", which I simply do not understand. As I said, the purpose of this amendment is to seek clarification.

Amendment No. 23 refers to paragraph 9(1) of the schedule and deals with something that I battled for in the past. However, I lost that battle and am now trying to see whether I can win it from this side of the Chamber. I do not believe that we should have interference or intervention by the Secretary of State, or by a person acting in his name, at these meetings. The council should at least have some say in whether it has a representative of the Secretary of State attending and taking part in deliberations at its meetings.

If the Government are really arguing that the Secretary of State will not have a handle on absolutely every aspect of this Bill, this is a very good area to demonstrate that fact. It seems to me that the council has been established to carry out a task for which it has a remit, and it must do that job within the framework of the law. Therefore, if the council would like a representative of the Secretary of State to be present at its meetings and take part in the discussions, that is fine; but it should be a matter for the council. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip 6:15 pm, 8th February 2000

Amendment No. 21 would affect LFC staff, who will be public servants working for a non-departmental public body. While the detailed terms and conditions of their employment will be a matter for the LSC to determine, it is surely right that the Government should be able to ensure that those terms and conditions are in line with public sector policies. This is well established for other NDPBs and replicates provisions made in respect of the Further Education Funding Council's terms and conditions. I give way.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I thank the noble Lord. I should point out that the amendment does not refer to members of staff. Paragraph 1 is headed "Chief Executive" and only refers to him. There is no reference to the appointed members of staff.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

I believe I know what has happened here. Amendment No. 21 refers to line 7 on page 56, which falls under the heading of "Staff". Having heard the noble Baroness's opening remarks, I suspect that she meant to refer to line 7 on page 55. Therefore, although I am properly addressing the amendment on the Marshalled List, it is not the one that the noble Baroness intended to move. Perhaps I may suggest to her that it would be sensible to re-table the amendment on Report so that it could be dealt with at that stage.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I am grateful to the noble Lord. There has either been a typographical glitch, or I am responsible for making a mistake. In fact, there should be two amendments: one should refer to subparagraph (3) on page 56, while the other should refer to removing subparagraph (1) on page 55. I apologise for any confusion that has arisen. I shall return to both amendments.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

With the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, as the amendments deal with the same matter she could withdraw these amendments today and re-table them on Report. That would clarify the situation.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 not moved.]

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Education and training for persons aged 16 to 19]:

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 24:

Page 1, line 21, after first ("education") insert ("and training").

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 28 to 30, 48 and 49. All these amendments relate to the inclusion of the words "education and training" together, rather than separately. Our reason for so doing is to stress the fact that education should be holistic for those who are under 16 as well as for those who are over 16. By separating the two and creating a separate world for both education and training, we are breaking the holistic nature of the two concepts, putting them into separate compartments and treating them as such. We feel that the two need to be considered together.

Earlier in the debate the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said that in the modern world in which we live people need to have largely transferable skills. Our young people need a good, solid base of education and of skills. The latter are often referred to as the training element of education. People need to acquire high levels of capability and competence in skills to enable them to be transferable in the modern world where people cannot expect to hold a job for life but have to move from job to job and retrain. They need to be able to call on the solid base that they have acquired. As I say, this solid base incorporates both education and training. Therefore it is extremely important that both aspects should be considered together. That is the essence of our amendments in this group.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 48 and 49. Clause 3(4)(c) states that,

"training includes vocational, social, physical and recreational training".

Amendments Nos. 48 and 49 seek to amend that phrase to,

"education and training includes vocational, social, physical and recreational education and training".

It is important to recognise that as regards many forms of adult education in particular it is not a question of training or of acquiring vocational skills but rather of broadening the mind. We would like to see that concept included on the face of the Bill.

Amendment No. 33 is in many senses the odd one out in this grouping. It seeks to amend Clause 2(3) which is concerned with the facilities that the council must provide. We believe that the provisions in this subsection are static in nature. In this modern age it is important to recognise that facilities become out of date. Anyone who now has a 486 computer will recognise how difficult it is to run up-to-date software on it. One can get by for a while but one has to be able to interchange information with others and that becomes increasingly difficult. These changes take place quickly. As I say, it is important that the facilities that are provided for our young people should be kept up to date. For that reason we have tabled Amendment No. 33 which states,

"take account of technological development".

I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

I speak to Amendment No. 37 which is grouped with the amendment that we are discussing. This is simply a probing amendment. I hope that the noble Baroness will make clear what meaning the Government attribute to the words "education", "training" and "leisure-time occupation". The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, spoke of broadening the mind. I wonder whether cultural education, for example, would be included in the education that the Government envisage. I should like to see education defined in the same way as in the education Act and defined using the phraseology that I included in my Amendment No. 3--the wording of which is taken from the 1988 Act.

Will the kind of education and training that the learning and skills council will be charged with delivering include that wider kind of personal development which is sometimes described as "life skills education"? For example, does it include personal, social and health education and citizenship education, if those have not been adequately delivered to and absorbed by a 16 year-old who may have been out of school for a number of years? I am particularly concerned about education for relationships and parenthood because young people who have missed school and who have disturbed family backgrounds are not likely to have received any guidance whatever with regard to the responsibilities of parenthood. I believe this issue to be of the utmost importance in our society today. I refer to both the responsibilities and the joys of parenthood.

As regards leisure-time activities, does the learning and skills council have the power to fund personal, social and emotional development through, for example, sport, outdoor leisure and adventure activities and challenges such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme? Would the council have the power to support and fund more ambitious projects under Operation Raleigh or the Sail Training Association which can be so valuable in terms of giving young people more confidence in themselves? Finally, would the council have the power to provide supervised accommodation and support for young people while they are pursuing this kind of education?

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I believe that the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, could have been satisfied if the relevant wording had been taken from the 1988 Act and included in the Bill. That would constitute a statement to the effect that education is multi-dimensional and involves spiritual, moral, mental, social and cultural dimensions. The inclusion of that wording would have reassured all those people who consider that the Bill is narrowly drawn and ignores those other aspects of education that have been mentioned. I support the thrust of what has been said in this regard. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, presented the Government with a simple solution to this problem.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

We recognise and accept that our present arrangements for post-16 education and training are too fragmented and incoherent, and for far too many people are not working as well as they should. The most vulnerable and disadvantaged sections of our community are too often excluded from participation in education and training, a cycle that all too often is perpetuated from generation to generation.

Members of the Committee quite rightly make the point, in Amendments Nos. 24, 28, 29 and 30, that the proposed new arrangements should not simply perpetuate the artificial distinctions and separate systems of the past. The Government appreciate the concern that the form in which the duties of the council are expressed may imply a continuation of such divisions. However, I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and the Committee that this is not so. Indeed, we would be concerned if there were any implication that the needs of individual learners had to be pigeonholed into convenient categories of education or training, rather than provision that responded to what learners actually require across the whole spectrum of needs. Nor is this the intention of the clause, which sets out in a comprehensive fashion the duties of the council in respect of the 16 to 19 age group. It ensures that, whatever their education or training needs, they will have an entitlement to receive provision that meets their needs. I give the noble Baroness that assurance. I hope that in the light of that assurance she will feel able to withdraw her amendments.

Turning to Amendment No. 33--the amendment relating to technological development--I should point out that the Government have been paying great attention to ensuring that the rapid pace of technological development has not been leaving our schools and colleges behind. Of particular relevance to post-16 education and training has been the initiative to establish the national learning network, the planned IT infrastructure supported by £74 million of new government funding resulting from our Comprehensive Spending Review. This will be centrally procured on behalf of the further education sector through the Joint Information Systems Committee by UKERNA, the United Kingdom Education and Research Networking Association. The network is to be established by March 2001 and will connect all FE colleges and higher education institutions with links to the national grid for learning.

This will provide the essential infrastructure so that our major providers will have a national learning network linking further with higher education, improved access to IT facilities for both students and staff, including access to modern learning materials. This will also support the sector's capacity to play a leading role in the University for Industry.

All this has been achieved within the existing framework. We expect this work to continue and to develop under the LSC without the need for an express legal duty. The key factor is that the LSC must be led by the needs of the learners who access the provision the council supports. This will encompass a wide range of facilities, not least including those required for agricultural, artistic, scientific and cultural needs. We believe that it would be wrong to single out for special attention and give priority to one set of facilities, important though such facilities may be, and give them priority over others. On that basis, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw that amendment.

Turning next to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, I hope that he will forgive me if I first make what may seem to him to be a technical point more than anything else. Much of the Education Reform Act 1988 has been replaced and its main provisions are now concerned with further and higher education. As of course he knows, matters relating to secondary education are now found in a consolidated form in the Education Act 1996. We are therefore slightly wary that his amendment could be a wrecking amendment--although it is not intended to be--because it would impact upon the learning and skills council's ability to support secondary educational provision made by schools, particularly in sixth forms.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench 6:30 pm, 8th February 2000

I thank the noble Lord. I did make clear that these are only probing amendments.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

I understand that. I am grateful to the noble Lord for reminding me.

Turning to the other components of the amendment, as the noble Lord knows, Clause 2(4)(c) already ensures that "training" includes social, physical and recreational training. But in addition it includes vocational training, which we think is an important element. We believe that our formulation is good.

"Leisure time" occupation is a recognised definition found in Section 2(6) of the Education Act 1996. Although it is phrased in different terms, I can assure the noble Lord that the kind of activities described by him are encompassed within the meaning of post-16 education and training. I should also make clear that although the scope of the council's responsibilities extend to England only, if a course required related activities such as a field trip outside England, the Bill does not prevent that.

I shall use a fairly broad approach to try to answer the noble Lord's more detailed questions. He mentioned various kinds of education--cultural education--and he then referred to what he quite rightly said are known as "life skills". In a broad sense, the Bill and the LSCs are intended to cover those kinds of education as well.

I turn now to Amendment No. 40. The concerns creating artificial distinctions--

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I am grateful to the Minister. I did not refer to Amendment No. 40. It is by way of a probing amendment. My specific concern--and, looking again at the amendment, it perhaps refers more to paragraph (d) than to paragraph (c)--relates to small companies. Given that education and training will be delivered by many providers, including the workplace, and given that some very small companies take on trainees, I am anxious for confirmation from the Minister that there will not be a requirement on employers to provide leisure and recreational facilities which are entirely beyond their means. Perhaps he can confirm that there will be a way of, not circumventing what is set out in the clause, but of circumventing the practicalities so that what is set out can be met by other means. I have included colleges of education in the amendment so that if they are provided with football facilities, games facilities or whatever, a way is found to ensure that the burden does not fall on a very small employer.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for explaining the purpose of her amendment. The amendment is about creating artificial distinctions. On the face of it, there is no good reason why those who are educated in a college should be able to take part in broad educational activities while those who are educated in other places cannot. We recognise the importance of the further education sector. It will be receiving a large amount of money from public funding each year and it will have the major responsibility for the delivery of post-16 education and training.

I am sure that the noble Baroness did not intend by her amendment--which she said is a probing amendment--not to take into account the adult education work carried out by local education authorities and the voluntary sector. That is essential work which complements the work of the further education colleges. I cannot think it is the intention of the noble Baroness that they should be excluded from the council's remit. As for the assurance that she requires, I can give her that assurance. Perhaps on that basis she will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

I turn now to deal with Amendments Nos. 48 and 49. We understand the concerns of the noble Baroness about the wording. The education and training to be secured by the council should not be construed in a narrow way. Vocational, social, physical and recreational education are all encompassed within the meaning of "education". I appreciate why the noble Baroness, upon reading subsection (4) of Clause 3, might come to the conclusion that they are not. What appears on the page is an express provision for vocational, social, physical and recreational training, but no equivalent in respect of education. That is her point. It is a reflection of the way in which education and training legislation has developed over the years, and which this Bill, thankfully, at last brings together. As the noble Baroness knows, education law fills four weighty volumes, no doubt at enormous expense. The statutory provisions which enable training arrangements are very much less detailed.

The meaning of "education" in this subsection should be interpreted to include both secondary education made in sixth forms and further education, definitions of which are contained in Section 2 of the Education Act 1996. These have the broad meanings sought by noble Lords and include vocational, social, physical and recreational aspects. But there is no equivalent definition of "training". To ensure that there is no doubt that the council must secure training in its broadest meaning, subsection (4) includes the reference to vocational, social, physical and recreational training. The noble Baroness has raised a good point. I hope that she will accept that her amendment is unnecessary for the reasons given.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

I thank the Minister for his full replies on the various points I raised. The Minister says that the spirit of our proceedings is to be holistic, to include education and training; and that we do not want to return to the bad old days of fragmentation. I find it somewhat disappointing, therefore, that it is not on the face of the Bill. If the Government want to turn over a new leaf and move forward in those new ways, it is disappointing that they cannot find the ability to write that into the Bill and to get away from the twofold definition. I accept the Government's good intentions on the matter, but there may in future be governments who are perhaps not so well-intentioned. It is therefore good to have such provisions on the face of the Bill and that is why we are asking for them.

I shall for the moment withdraw my amendment, but we shall consider the issue again and perhaps return to it at Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 25:

Page 1, line 23, at end insert ("or of persons who are above the compulsory school age but have not attained the age of 25 and who did not acquire a level 2 qualification in the year in which they attained the age of 16").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

In moving the amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 26, which is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tope. There is a difficulty here. I should like to flag up the amendment at this stage, but I shall certainly not be pressing it. There is a basic concern that there is a split in the Bill between those up to the age of 19 and those beyond the age of 19. For those up to the age of 19, "proper" facilities must be provided; for those over the age of 19, "reasonable" facilities need to be provided.

The distinctions are subtle and important. However, education and training are not like that. There are young people studying for A-levels who may become 19 or 20 while they are doing so. Many young people are in the middle of a course at the age of 19. They may have completed one, two or more years of a course. They may be in one establishment straddling the age groups of up to 19 and 19-plus. There is a real difficulty in the way in which the Bill has an absolutely definitive cut-off at 19. Some would ask why the line is there at all. We could argue about the difference between the words "proper" and "reasonable" unless the Government have a specific reason for the distinction.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, is more flexible in his suggestion. His amendment specifies, "or older", giving the Secretary of State a discretion which may be flexible. I am saying more definitively that the cut-off age should be 25. Young people may be mid-stream in their courses when they pass the age of 19. There will be others who, for one reason or another--which may be health reasons--simply have not got out of basic statutory education what they should have done and for some reason leave school without qualifications. We all know that there is a disturbing number of young people still leaving school without basic qualifications. Their needs continue to be of concern.

The Government have laid great stress on the importance of finding a way to encourage such people back into education. That policy is supported by Members on all sides of the Committee. Too many young people are simply wasted to society, to themselves and to their families. If ways can be found to bring them into the fold, that is to be supported.

If there is to be some difference between the emphasis given to whether "proper" or "reasonable" provision is made for students of a certain age, I believe that the stipulation of 25 covers school-leavers who are lost to the system and are found perhaps at the age of 20 or 21 and those who, perhaps for health reasons, find themselves grappling with basic education and training post-19. It is an improvement for all sorts of other practical reasons. We are concerned on two grounds. First, the artificiality of making a definitive split in the Bill at 19; secondly, to find a more practical way of giving a more firm guarantee of proper provision for people who leave education without having acquired a level two qualification. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat 6:45 pm, 8th February 2000

I rise to endorse the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. We on these Benches are extremely concerned that there is a cut-off at 19 when it is clear that, as the Minister herself mentioned earlier, quite a large of number of people who missed out on the education process during the normal school years are now returning to it. Many are doing so after a period in and out of work or of unemployment, having come to the conclusion at a somewhat older age that they wish to return to education and training. The Government are extremely anxious to encourage such people back in. The distinction drawn implies that there is a right for those under 19 to those facilities but for those over that age it could be more difficult if the implication of the distinction between Clause 2 and Clause 3 is, "If there's enough money in the kitty we'll do it; if there isn't, we won't".

We should like to see that entitlement extended to those aged up to 24. The National Skills Task Force recommended in its third report that the entitlement up to level three education should be met by the Government up to the age of 24. We should like the Government to accept that proposal. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, mentioned, our amendment is somewhat looser than hers. It gives greater discretion to the Government and in that sense it is something of a probing amendment. We are looking for a commitment or statement from the Government as to how they view the proposals from the National Skills Task Force.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

We recognise that the country needs a substantial improvement in participation and achievement at every level of attainment, not only at level two. We are only too aware of the legacy left, I am afraid to say, by a failure to invest in our education. The amendments highlight that part of that legacy, indicating that nearly 900,000 people in the 19 to 25 age group in England do not have a level two qualification. There are well over 1 million such people in the United Kingdom as a whole.

We have already acted to improve performance towards all the national learning targets, supported by an unprecedented investment of public funding. Our target is for 85 per cent of 19 year-olds to attain level two. The attainment of that target is not only a task of the post-school world; schools also have a vital, if not a predominant, role to play in ensuring that pupils leave with the skills they need for the future. We expect the provision funded by the learning and skills council to build on the improvements now taking place in school standards.

The LSC will be required to give priority to the learning of 16 to 19 year-olds, fulfilling our commitment in the White Paper to give all 16 to 19 year-olds an entitlement to education and training, whether full-time or part-time, if they want it. In response to the concerns expressed by the Committee, we expect the additional resources that we are devoting to post-16 learning to allow access to learning for all those who need it. We are making the biggest ever investment in further education: £3.9 billion in 2001-02, compared with £3.1 billion in 1998-99--an extra £800 million.

In discharging its duties, the council must of course take into account the differing aptitudes and abilities of all the people for whom it has responsibility. The local LSCs will have discretion to secure the right balance and mix of post-19 provision in their area. Delivering progress towards the national targets will be an important part of their responsibilities. But to single out the needs of one group of adults and to give them priority over all adults would be wrong, although of course I have some sympathy with what lies behind the amendments. It would restrict the council's ability and discretion to make judgments about what may be the equally, and perhaps even more pressing, needs of other adults, including those with special needs or disabilities. The LSC must be able to exercise discretion.

Although we judged it right to make a distinction between provision for the 16 to 19 age group and adults in much the same way as the previous government's legislation, it is certainly not the case that we regard learning for adults as unimportant. I accept what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said about 19 not being a complete cut-off age. Of course it is not; of course there are young people half-way through courses; and of course there are young people who for one reason or another need to catch up. However, for the sake of convenience, we need to have some clear understanding of what constitutes "young people" for the purposes of this Bill, and indeed for the purposes of the work of the LSC, as against adults.

We have already announced an enormous increase in resources available for adult learning in further education. In 1998-99 expenditure on adults in further education was £1.6 billion pounds. In 2001-02 it will be £2 billion. This will enable the number of further education students to increase by 650,000 by the academic year 2000-01, compared with 1997-98. We need to go further. We expect to widen participation substantially, and the major part of that expansion will be for adults. I do not accept that we are in any way undervaluing the learning needs of adults.

The UFI, which is to be launched in the autumn, will provide adult learners with, we hope, even greater choice and flexibility. It will offer innovative ways of accessing and delivering provision and will be responsive to the needs and circumstances of many hundreds of thousands of learners. The LSC will work closely with the UFI to ensure a coherent approach to education and training for adults. No one should be in any doubt that the Government wish to embed lifelong learning into people's lives.

However, we must get things right for younger learners in the first place. The challenge at 16 to 19 cannot be underestimated. Noble Lords will no doubt be aware of the findings of the Social Exclusion Unit's report Bridging the Gap, but I want to highlight a few key findings. In the 16 to 19 age group we have still, regrettably, some of the lowest rates of participation in Europe. We have a sharper decline in participation from age 16 to age 18 than many countries in Europe. Young people who are not participating are at increased risk of being unemployed, becoming involved in drug abuse and having poor physical health. We are clear that the LSC's priority must be the 16 to 19 age group, and nothing must detract from that. Let us get this right and then we can focus the increasing resources we are devoting to adults into enhancing and developing higher level skills, not in tackling the results of earlier failure. If we can get it right, we will save on later expenditure. We will pick up the pieces from that failure and be able to invest more in developing adult skills.

I must also point out that extending the entitlement has substantial resource implications. Although it is attractive in many ways, that point must be taken into account. For young people alone the council will be spending the best part of £4 billion pounds on an age group that covers a two-year cohort. As I said, we have increased the resources for adults and will continue to do so. But with the best will in the world, no government could put on the face of the Bill a commitment of the type that is sought. It would be misleading and deceptive to make a provision that we could not deliver; and equally it would have been misleading for us not to have made clear in the Bill our policy priorities.

In the light of what I have said, I hope that the noble Baroness will understand why I must resist her amendment and ask for it to be withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

The noble Baroness said that it is important to have a definition of "young adult"--someone up to the age of 19 as set out in the Bill. But there is no rationale for that other than the use of the word "proper" in subsection (1) and the word "reasonable" in the first line of Clause 3. Otherwise it would not be necessary to define that at all. The noble Baroness has not referred to those two words and has not referred to the distinction which I asked to be made when I moved Amendment No. 25.

As far as I can see, there is not an open cheque for proper provision as set out in Clause 2, unless the Government say that proper provision means that proper provision will be made as long as the resources are used cost-effectively--but will be made whatever it costs. In Clause 3, which uses the word "reasonable", subsection (2) is very restrictive. It refers to,

"taking account of the Council's resources".

Is the argument that for making proper provision the council does not have to take into account its resources and that in making reasonable provision the council does have to have regard to its resources?

In the real world any local authority or any local skills council trying to perform its duties under the Bill, even in the proper provision set out in Clause 2, will inevitably have to have regard to the resources allocated to it through the funding system. I am fascinated by the distinction between provision for under-19s and provision for post-19s and the distinction between "proper" and "reasonable".

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

I thank the Minister for her reply. I, too, am somewhat disappointed by it. I had hoped that we would receive a clearer statement as to where we might be on the learning entitlement for 19 to 24 year-olds, although I understand the argument that at the moment the Government's priority lies with the younger age group. I also take in fully the points which the noble Baroness made in relation to the need to give priority to that age group and how badly we perform in international terms at that level. I very much hope that before long the Government will be able to say something more positive on this issue.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I asked the Minister a question. I am waiting for a reply.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

There is an issue here about entitlement. Clearly, once we have written on the face of the Bill an entitlement, there are major resource implications. In relation to "proper" and "reasonable" and the use of resources, later amendments refer to this issue. Perhaps I may deal with the matter when we reach them.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I find that extraordinary because this is absolutely material and key to these amendments. The whole point of looking at the distinction between up to 19 and beyond 19 relates to these two words in the first lines of Clauses 2 and 3. That is entirely pertinent. I do not know to which amendments the noble Baroness refers. I am talking about Clauses 2 and 3, where two distinctive approaches are taken to providing education for pre-19 and post-19 year-olds. Clause 3 refers to the council being mindful of resources. I am arguing that, in the real world, even in making provision under Clause 2, any council will have to have regard to its resources. It is not a blank cheque policy.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

In the interests of making progress, as the issue is raised directly in Amendments Nos. 34 and 35, I should be grateful if we could return to it when we debate those amendments.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I am disappointed; however, I shall wait in anticipation for the explanation in response to Amendment No. 34. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 26 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Rix Lord Rix Crossbench 7:00 pm, 8th February 2000

moved Amendment No. 27:

Page 1, line 23, at end insert--

("( ) education (other than higher education) suitable for the requirements of persons with learning difficulties or disabilities (or both) who are above compulsory school age but have not attained the age of 25,").

Photo of Lord Rix Lord Rix Crossbench

In moving this amendment, I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will speak to Amendments Nos. 38, 47, 159 and 160 dealing with vocational and non-vocational learning for people with learning difficulties and disabilities. I shall speak to those amendments at the appropriate time. For the present, I shall confine myself to Amendments Nos. 27 and 156, which seek to remedy a well-known inadequacy in the Further and Higher Education Act 1992; namely, the Act does not fully recognise the importance of learning opportunities for students with learning difficulties up to the age of 25.

The amendments are not designed to be dogmatic in awarding disabled students a stronger entitlement to further education than other students (who are of course entitled up to the age of 19). Rather, they seek to embrace in law the power to remedy a system which in practice fails a significant number of disabled young people.

At Second Reading, I spoke of the impact of learning difficulties on the learning process, recognising that disabled learners often take longer than their peers in terms of speed of learning. I spoke specifically of the impact on students with learning disabilities, but it is also true of students with other impairments, particularly progressive conditions. Young people with physical disabilities or health problems may lose study time while undergoing treatment, with a cumulative effect on their learning. Deaf or visually impaired students, like students with learning disabilities, may have problems accessing or processing information.

The law as it stands has had a direct adverse effect on students, often mid-way through their course as they have reached the critical age of 19. LEAs operating blanket policies of support have been known to withdraw critical support services once the age of 19 has been reached on the grounds that the students no longer fit the standard eligibility criteria. And of course, once such provisions as transport funding are withdrawn, courses are often untenable for students with disabilities.

It is something of an irony that the substantive point has been partially recognised. The DfEE extended entitlement to special training needs up to the age of 25, and in the residential further education sector there is also an entitlement up to the age of 25.

That creates anomalies of another kind, about which I spoke in some detail at Second Reading. Under the current dispensation, individuals have to be rejected by a number of mainstream colleges before being offered funding for residential provision. That is a substantial barrier to accessing education appropriate to the individual, which the new Learning and Skills Council Prospectus heralds as the ideal. I shall be delighted if the Minister will assure me that that barrier will be removed under new arrangements so that all students with disabilities will have the opportunity to extend their education to the age of 25 if that is necessary on account of their disability. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My name appears on almost all the amendments in this group. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, has slightly understated the case. People have problems going through the educational process if they have disabilities because they "do not fit", or--probably the worst scenario--if their disabilities are not recognised in time. Anyone who has had contact in the field of education with those with disabilities must have heard the great mantra: the disability was not recognised on time or the person did not "fit the form" or the way matters were arranged. Such people may suddenly find themselves running into the problem of being too old to go through the education process that they have begun.

Different examples can be offered but they all come back to one thing: if the student has a parent or teacher who is on the ball and gets on to the right path quickly enough, most of the problems disappear. Certain groups need continued support, and these amendments cover them. But for many--I refer principally to dyslexics or those with mild autism, Asperger's syndrome--unless they get onto the treadmill of the right form of education and into the right set quickly enough, they will bump against the age limit of 19. For people from lower income backgrounds, especially those whose parents are not, for instance, good at paperwork, it becomes a major problem.

During a discussion on this issue at my party conference last year, someone said to me that he had a disabled child "who had chosen its parents terribly well". I think it was a case of a lawyer and a doctor. They knew how to fill out the forms and how to batter civil servants, minor officials and local education authorities into providing the right help at the right time. That is important. If--and it is a very big "if"--the age of 25 can be added to the provisions, suddenly the situation will start to fit people better. They will have a better chance of getting through their chosen educational process, and of obtaining training and support afterwards.

I know that many local authorities make provision afterwards, if possible; but it is a lottery. The outcome is dependent on where a person lives, the type of support that he or she has and on an organisation picking up the problems early enough. The amendment would prevent the difficulties in many cases. I hope that the Government will listen solidly to the proposal. I have made far too many speeches on this subject over the years and should like to stop!

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I support the amendments. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, that I thought, when we discussed groupings this morning with the officer dealing with the matter, that we were taking out the Welsh amendments, Amendments Nos. 156, 159 and 160--not because they are not important but because my noble friend Lord Roberts would like to deal with them. I know that he will deal with them supportively. Therefore, I wonder whether the noble Lord will agree that they will be dealt with under the Welsh clauses in the Bill.

The other amendments standing on my name repeat the theme that has been set out, and in my view understated, by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, with some passion.

The fundamental points are these. For many, non-vocational education is recreational. They can take it or leave it. Therefore, it can sometimes be seen as less important than vocational education. But for those with learning difficulties, non-vocational education is often important to them and to their lifestyles for developing self-confidence, independent living skills and the like. Therefore, to such people the importance is all the greater. The amendments would place on the face of the Bill a recognition of the importance of non-vocational education.

I know that people with learning disabilities would not wish to be singled out specifically in this way. For many others, non-vocational education is important. But there is a general feel about the Bill that non-vocational education does not receive a great deal of emphasis and will somehow end up subservient to narrowly focused education and training, mostly leading to vocational qualifications.

I make this appeal to the Minister. For a number of people, particularly those with learning difficulties, non-vocational education is special to their lives--and in a practical way, not simply a recreational way. I support the noble Lord, Lord Rix.

Photo of Baroness Darcy de Knayth Baroness Darcy de Knayth Crossbench

My name is not attached to any of the amendments in these groups--I exclude the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, for the moment. However, perhaps I may say briefly how strongly I support them. I very much hope that the divide between those up to 25 years old in the residential and non-residential sectors will go. What one needs is to follow the appropriate course. Obviously, if one is capable of going to a local non-residential college that is a further development in one's ability to manage. It is depressing that there are still instances in which support is withdrawn at the age of 19. We do not appear to have moved very far since the passing of the 1992 Act. I very much support the observations of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, about non-vocational courses, particularly for those with learning difficulties but also for the aged, the lonely and those who do not get out much. Such courses help their lives enormously.

Photo of Baroness David Baroness David Labour

My name is also added to these amendments, which I strongly support. I believe that the case for these amendments has been well made. Non-vocational courses provide a way in for a great many people. The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, has referred to the old. I believe that these courses provide people with the means to get started again. They may enjoy non-vocational courses that encourage them to move on to vocational courses. I very much hope that, if my noble friend cannot give way entirely, she will give some hope--I am sure that she will express understanding--that something will be done at some stage.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative

Perhaps I may intervene briefly to support these amendments. In doing so, I should declare an interest as the father of a 19 year-old daughter with Down's syndrome who, therefore, has learning disabilities, or mental handicap (as some of us still prefer to call it). At the moment, very often there is a gap, or trap, into which children like my daughter fall when they leave school and should go on to educational provision provided by the FEFC. It is not surprising that there is no tremendous enthusiasm on the part of the FEFC or social services to take over this function completely. Therefore, such young people fall into this very unfortunate gap.

I am glad that Amendment No. 27 spells out the fact that we are dealing also with young people with learning disabilities as opposed to learning difficulties, the former being very much more severe (in the jargon). Can the Minister say whether I am right in assuming that the social services content of the provision for these young people will continue under the new system in the same way as it should do--although it does not always--under the present system? In other words, what happens to the social provision in a young person's life when he or she leaves a course at, say, three o'clock in the afternoon, perhaps being in accommodation nearby, and all the rest of it? At the moment, this is a difficult area that is not working well. I hasten to add that my daughter aged 19 has not yet encountered the difficulties to which I refer, but I have heard of very many such cases over the past dozen years or so. I support the amendments and ask the Government to do what they can to meet them.

Photo of Lord Rix Lord Rix Crossbench 7:15 pm, 8th February 2000

I am grateful to all Members of the Committee for the support that they have given. I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 38, 47 and so on; in other words, I wish to speak to the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, which are separate from mine.

Photo of Lord Strabolgi Lord Strabolgi Labour

The noble Lord is perfectly entitled to speak to other amendments, although he cannot move them. Although it is not my business, I suggest that it would be tidier if at this stage the Minister replied to the first amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, for allowing me to reply to this group of amendments. I am perfectly content if, following my reply, the noble Lord wishes to raise issues related to other amendments in the group. A good deal of support for these amendments has been voiced in all parts of Chamber. I hope that what I am about to say is not misconstrued. Once again, it is not that we do not sympathise with and support a great deal of the thinking that underlies the amendments. However, there is a more specific difficulty with the amendments.

Clauses 2, 3, 31 and 32 place the councils under clear duties in respect of persons aged 16 and over. They include persons with learning difficulties or disabilities for whom the councils must have particular regard because of Clauses 13 and 40 respectively. Further, as part of the councils' duties they must take account of the varying abilities and aptitudes of different persons. The Government recognise that those needs, abilities and aptitudes do not suddenly change overnight on a person's 19th birthday. No one would expect a young person who is part-way through a GNVQ not to be allowed to complete his or her course. Likewise, nothing in these provisions prevents learners from continuing their education, whether it is secured under Clauses 2 or 3 or Clauses 31 or 32.

Where a person over the age of 19 has learning difficulties which have delayed his progress or ability to complete a course we do not want his or her opportunities for learning to be diminished; far from it. We want that person's opportunities to continue to learn to be enhanced and supported. We want to build on existing good practice. In further education, many adult students with learning difficulties already successfully undertake courses in a range of areas. Currently, arrangements enable effective support to be provided to students, including carers of various kinds and signers, material in alternative formats and so on. Students are also supported to attend specialist institutions where their needs can best be met in that environment. That will continue and will provide the basis for the LSC's work in this area.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, the LSC is to be set up to meet the needs of those with learning difficulties as a priority, and so it should be. Unlike existing arrangements under the FE Acts, this Bill does not require consideration to be given to mainstream provision before a specialist place can be sought. It is not the intention that young people should be required to take provision that does not meet their needs. We shall consult on the arrangements that the LSC will develop in this area. That said, where possible we wish young people with learning difficulties to learn with their peers. I am sure the noble Lord agrees that, where possible, that should be encouraged.

I accept that Members of the Committee can cite instances where individual learners such as I have described have not had the opportunity either to complete or to undertake the course of their choice. However, the arrangements that we propose in the Bill enable the LSC to provide effective support for them. I am in no doubt about the importance of the LSC exercising its duties under Clauses 2 and 3 in a way which reflects the need for students with learning difficulties to be able to complete their courses, perhaps having started at a later age than some of their fellow students or needing a little longer to complete them. I intend to issue guidance to the LSC to underline and reinforce that point.

We do not, however, believe that Amendments Nos. 27 and 156 are required to ensure that the needs of such learners are met. Their effect would be to give everybody up to the age of 25 who has learning difficulties an entitlement to post-16 education and training. As many Members of the Committee will be aware, some people have relatively minor learning difficulties and their ability to learn is not significantly impaired. The consequence of the amendments would be to give them priority at the expense of other learners, some of whom may have much more significant problems due to terrible past experiences in their lives. These people come from extremely disadvantaged backgrounds of one kind or another.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 38, 47, 159 and 160. I recognise the concern of noble Lords that persons with learning difficulties should have access to the full range of educational opportunities that is available to other students.

One of the changes introduced by this Bill is an end to the unfortunate and artificial divide created by Schedule 2 to the FHE Act 1992. The duties of the LSC and the CETW are not hindered by this divide. Indeed Schedule 2 will be abolished: it is going. The duties extend to all forms of post-16 education and indeed throughout this Bill we have sought to define education so as to have the widest possible meaning.

To qualify the definition in this way may possibly call into question that wideness of interpretation elsewhere. Clauses 2, 3, 31 and 32 place the councils under clear duties in respect of all persons aged 16 and over. I want to reinforce what I said earlier. That will include persons with learning difficulties, for whom the councils must have particular regard because of Clauses 13 and 40 respectively. There really should be no doubt that the education to be procured by the councils include both vocational and non- vocational education, not just for those with learning difficulties but for everyone.

Of course I accept what has been said by the noble Baronesses, Lady Blatch and Lady Darcy de Knayth, that vocational education can be especially important for those with learning difficulties and indeed also with other disabilities. But while sympathising, as I said earlier, with what lies behind these amendments, I do not actually think they are necessary. I hope that, in the light of the reassurances that I have been able to give, those with their names to these amendments will feel able to withdraw them.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I thank the noble Baroness, but may I just remind her that my noble friend Lord Roberts reserved the right to speak quite independently to the Welsh amendments. The noble Baroness has not referred to them in responding to this group of amendments but my noble friend will in fact come to them fresh, and of course given that the Welsh system is different anyway it will give him an opportunity to deal with these matters in the context of the Welsh Assembly.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

I am sorry that I did not pick up that point, but there will be absolutely no problem about that.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative

May I ask the noble Baroness the Minister to confirm the point that I put to her--that social services will be encouraged to deal with the social part of the costs of a child or a young person at least as enthusiastically as they do at the moment: perhaps even more so? Secondly, will the LSC be able to fund young people with severe learning difficulties in special schools that may be suitable to their needs and in accordance with their parents' wishes?

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

On the first point, this Bill is not really about social service provision and so perhaps it would be inappropriate for me to give any commitment in the context of the Committee stage of this Bill, other than to say that of course we are trying to do everything possible to improve social services provision in this particular area. As to specialist provision, I believe I referred to that earlier in responding to the noble Lord, Lord Rix. Yes, we wish to make it possible for young people with severe learning difficulties to have the specialist provision that will be more appropriate to their needs.

Photo of Lord Rix Lord Rix Crossbench

I am very grateful to the Minister for her full response. I must apologise if I appeared to be interrupting before she actually responded to me and to others. In fact I had just been handed a paper outside the Chamber which illustrated the problems between vocational and non-vocational opportunities. There is a college of further education that has cut its part-time pre-vocational programmes for students with severe learning disabilities by half--that is 13 programmes--because it is difficult to prove that all the students would move on to vocational courses. I must stress that many in the MENCAP constituency are people with profound multiple disabilities who will never actually be able to take part in what are considered to be normal educational or indeed vocational activities. However, they should still be given an opportunity to progress. That is what I was hoping to add before the noble Baroness replied.

As regards Amendment No. 27, obviously I am disappointed that we cannot get a commitment to continue the education of people with learning disabilities up to the age of 25, but I must take away the Minister's response. I will consult with my colleagues on the disability consortium on post-16 education and training, and with others in your Lordships' House, before possibly returning to this at Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 28, 29 and 30 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

Before Amendment No. 31 is called, perhaps I may beg to move that the House be now resumed. In so moving, may I suggest that the Committee does not begin again before 8.26 p.m.?

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.