Learning and Skills Bill [H.L.]

– in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 10th February 2000.

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House again in Committee on Clause 19.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 104:

Page 8, line 34, at end insert--

("( ) No less than 40 per cent. of the members shall include persons who have current or recent non-public sector business or commercial experience.").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

It will come as no surprise to the Minister that I return to this fray. The Government have talked about two things. One is that there will be a predominance of people with business experience on the councils, both national and local. Forty per cent has been mentioned in a number of places: at meetings with Ministers and when Ministers have talked to people in business and commerce.

I was pleasantly surprised by the number of contacts that I had following our first day in Committee. People said how pleased they were that the subject had been raised but how disappointed they were at the way in which the Government appear to be extremely reluctant in relation to two matters. One concerned a definitive statement by the Secretary of State and other Ministers in the department about the 40 per cent of people with business experience. The other concerned what appeared to be prevarication about the definition of a person with business experience.

Therefore, I believe that it is essential, especially at national level but more especially at local level, that two-thirds of the membership of the training and enterprise councils, as they exist at present, are business people; that is, people with business experience in their local areas. However, it appears that that number may be reduced not only to 40 per cent but possibly even lower. If that does not appear as a commitment in the Bill, it does not necessarily have to be repeated in every single local skills council nor, indeed, at national level. I believe that this issue is terribly important.

One argument that has been made is that one cannot prescribe membership of the committee in advance. The reason given by the noble Baroness was that there are many representative groups out there and they will all want their slice of the action. In responding to two of my amendments on the first day in Committee concerning 25 per cent local government authority nominated membership and the 40 per cent minimum non-sector business membership, the noble Baroness went on to say, "What about all the others?" However, I believe that there is a case for this one group. I say that because there was a very specific commitment on the part of the Government.

The Government's rationale for moving to this form of committee is that it will be business led. "Business led" is a phrase that has been used by the Secretary of State and by Ministers, and it was certainly used in the briefing that I attended--not the noble Baroness's briefing; I was unable to attend that, but I attended the previous one. It can be made a reality and meet the expectations of business, which expects that only if it is on the face of the Bill. One must take into account the Nolan procedures and the way in which appointments are made. After my amendments for the national council had been rejected, the noble Baroness said that the Government would take the best of what came through the Nolan process. Unless it is prescribed through Nolan--that is, using the Nolan procedures but prescribing that a percentage will come with business experience--then it will be an incidental rather than a positive factor.

While I am addressing the subject of the Nolan procedures, which I know will be invoked again by whichever Minister replies to this amendment, I wish to say that I was--as, indeed, were many of my noble friends--quite shocked today at the exchange between the two Benches on one of the Starred Questions at the beginning of the day when we discussed the appointment to the Dome with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. I know that that comes under a different category and that the arrangements may be different. However, one of his answers stated that we could not have advertised the post of chief executive and, certainly, we could not have used the Nolan procedures because they would take at least six months.

In this case, there are many appointments to be made--a huge number of appointments if one takes into account the national and the 47 local councils--and the Secretary of State is responsible for all the working posts, too. Therefore, there are some real concerns about this matter. The business world is listening hard to what the Minister has to say. I beg to move.

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

We have already debated the issue of the composition of the national councils. This amendment, of course, relates to the composition of the local LSCs. I really have little more to add to the discussion that we had when we debated the national council.

The Government oppose the equivalent amendments in respect of the local councils. I am afraid that I must disagree here with the noble Baroness. We are extremely reluctant to put quotas on the face of the Bill, either nationally or locally. Incidentally, the TECs cover a much narrower range of provision than will the local LSCs.

I was not intending to invoke the Nolan procedures, although, of course, they will apply. However, Members of the Committee may recall that during the debate on Amendment No. 2 we made clear that stimulating and supporting workforce development will, of course, be a central part of the LSCs' remit. That is why we gave the assurance that 40 per cent of members on both the national and local LSCs will have recent business or commercial experience. Therefore, we are firmly committed to ensuring that local councils have a business perspective so that we can create a system where skills and innovation are the foundation for the success of this economy.

However, I do not accept that it is either necessary or appropriate to set ratios in legislation. I said that it was not appropriate at the national level, and I am afraid that I do not consider it to be appropriate at the local level either. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that we are committed to what we have stated. I hope that she will accept that it is not necessary to put this on the face of the Bill or, indeed, appropriate, and that, therefore, she will withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

Before I decide how to proceed with the amendment, perhaps I may press the noble Baroness to answer a question. Are the Government still committed to approximately 40 per cent on each local council and on the national council?

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

Yes. We are not distinguishing and suggesting that on only a certain number of councils will the 40 per cent apply. It should apply to all the local councils as well as to the national council.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

Perhaps I may come back again. Are the Government putting on the record that there will be 40 per cent or more, but not less than 40 per cent, on each of the councils, including the national council?

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

Yes. We have said that there will be not less than 40 per cent on each of the councils.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 105:

Page 8, line 34, at end insert--

("( ) No less than 25 per cent. of the members shall be nominated by the local authorities within the local council area.").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 108, 109 and 111. Amendment No. 106 is also in this group. That amendment is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, who will deal with that.

Amendment No. 105 returns to the issue of the nominated posts by local authorities within the local area. I shall return to the issue of business membership at the next stage of the Bill. The Nolan procedures are always invoked as part of the answer to this question. But it would be helpful if the noble Baroness is as committed as was her honourable friend Mr Wicks to local authority representation on the national and local councils. I seek a definitive commitment in relation to that.

I shall be urging--as will, I believe, Members on the Liberal Democrat Benches--that those selections should not be made simply by the Secretary of State through those procedures but that there should be nominations to which the Nolan procedures would apply.

Amendment No. 108 seeks a change of emphasis. This is an important point. We want members of a local council not to be members also of the national council. The national council will comprise only between 12 and 16 people. The idea that it needs to take anybody who is also serving on a local council is extraordinary. The selections will be made through rather complicated procedures. Anybody who becomes a member of the national and/or local council will be fairly important either in the field of business and commerce, with a background in national training organisations, with a background in local government and so on. The idea that such people would have the time in their lives to be dual members of a national committee, which will be relatively small, and a local committee, is absurd. The principle of dual membership should not be supported. That is my rationale for that amendment. Amendment No. 109 goes to the same argument.

Amendment No. 111 seeks to remove paragraph 2(3) of Schedule 2 which states:

"A notice under this paragraph requires the Secretary of State's approval".

Again, the Secretary of State has a handle on absolutely everything to do with any activity whatever in the Bill. He appoints the members, the chairmen, the chief executives. He appoints every single member of the 47 councils. He also appoints all the members of staff to all those councils. It is not possible in practical terms to deliver that level of control and I do not believe it is entirely democratic. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat 8:45 pm, 10th February 2000

I rise to speak to Amendment No. 106 which stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford.

I said earlier in the debate that I have some sympathy with the Government to the extent of not wishing to be prescriptive on the face of the Bill about the exact percentages of various categories of membership. Therefore, I prefer the wording in Amendment No. 106 which states, slightly less prescriptively, that,

"the Council shall ensure that the majority are representative of the different providers of education and training within the area, and of local authorities, and that all members have experience relevant to the Council's functions".

I turn in particular to the local authority question. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has referred to the meeting which we both attended at which the Under-Secretary of State, Malcolm Wicks, said quite specifically that each council would have as members representatives of the local authorities. He was unequivocal about that.

So far in the proceedings in this House, I have not heard such an unequivocal statement from the Minister. I hope that that is about to change. I should have checked and I did not but, if my memory serves me right, on Second Reading she said that the councils would have representatives who were knowledgeable of local government. She is shaking her head. Perhaps I have got it wrong and she will correct that when she replies. But such an expression could embrace a very wide number of people.

Let us leave aside for the moment the proportion. Local government is concerned that it should be represented as of right on each learning and skills council. That is extremely important, not only for local authorities as providers, which is important, but these days even more so because they will soon have a duty, under the Local Government Bill also before this House, to promote the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of the area. Therefore the community leadership role of a local authority is equally important in that regard.

We really need to hear from the Government clearly and unequivocally exactly how local government is to be represented on each learning and skills council. Amendment No. 106 to which I am now speaking will at least confirm that they and other providers should form the majority.

Some would go so far as to say that local government should be nominating a number of members. That is an important point. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has just said, under the proposals in this Bill, the Secretary of State will have power to appoint 600 or 700 people, most of whom he will certainly not know. He will have to be guided by somebody else's say so. It seems to me that if people are to be representatives of local government in any sense, then local government should have the right to choose its own representatives, subject to the Nolan procedures. Nobody argues about that. We understand that. We do not just want place people on those relatively small councils. We want people with the relevant knowledge and experience who will play a full part there.

Local government can provide the required proportion of such people. I hope to hear a clearer response from the Government than I have heard so far.

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

I hope that I have already made it clear that we see a very major role for local government in the new arrangements. Local government will be a central partner, not just in providing and securing learning opportunities through schools and in adult and community education but also as organisations which can provide both vision and leadership for local communities.

Indeed, under the arrangements, local government will have a far more important role to play in post-16 education than was allocated under the previous government. So as I said on Second Reading and earlier this week in Committee, I am rather surprised by the Conservative Opposition's new-found commitment to local government's involvement here.

But the new arrangements will offer local authorities greater influence over the whole range of post-16 provision since local LSCs will be required to consult on their plans and set out in them the LEA contribution. I am happy to confirm also to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that we expect the local LSCs to have someone with current local authority experience. I do not believe that those are quite the words which the noble Lord used.

But it would be wrong to go further and build in 25 per cent of places for local authority representatives. We want members who are appointed on merit because of what they can offer rather than to be delegates of other organisations.

I turn now to Amendment No. 106. It is vital that all members of local councils have experience which is relevant to councils' functions. They will not be much good on those councils if they do not have such experience. We shall publish a specification of the knowledge, understanding and skills for which we are looking among LSC members when we advertise those posts.

We have already set out in the prospectus that we expect local LSC members to understand the needs of employers; employees, through trade union representation; local communities, through local authority experience; people who are disadvantaged or excluded, through voluntary sector experience; young people and adult learners; people with special learning needs, learning difficulties or disabilities; and people who face discrimination. That is quite a long list already.

We have also said that the views of learning providers should be represented on local LSCs, but that the vast majority of those serving on councils should speak for the views of the consumers of the learning system--individuals who may benefit from what the system offers, and employers who will benefit from the greater skills that people have obtained from the system.

That is a vital point. We want a system that is driven by the needs of individuals and communities and of employers and the economy. It would be wrong, given that, to have a majority of places for providers, as this amendment proposes. I must therefore ask the noble Lord and the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

I was a little surprised to see Amendments Nos. 108 and 109 as I can see no reason why a member of a local council should not also serve on the national council if so appointed. Indeed, there may be benefits from some cross-fertilisation of local and national experiences for both councils. At the same time I entirely accept what lies behind the amendment of the noble Baroness, that that will not be a frequent occurrence. Few people could find the time to do both.

Any potential conflicts of interest for a national council member who is also a member of a local council are adequately and comprehensively dealt with in that part of Schedule 1 that is dedicated to "Members interests".

On Amendment No. 111, the power of the national council to remove a local council member from office is a necessary one. The council must be able to remove members, for example, if they have failed to attend local council meetings for a substantial period, or if they have otherwise become unable or unfit to carry out their responsibilities. They may, for example, become mentally ill. But in order that local council members feel secure, for example, to speak out against what they may see as incorrect or unfair policies by the LSC, it is important that that power to remove local council members is balanced by the need to demonstrate to the Secretary of State that such a measure is justified. It is a matter of checks and balances. I believe that this is correct.

In the light of what I have said, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will withdraw this amendment.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

Before the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, decides what she will do, perhaps I can tease out a little more from the Minister as to exactly what she means. My memory of what she has just said is a little better than my memory of what she said at Second Reading. I believe I heard her say that each local council will have someone with current local government experience. Does that mean one person out of the 12 to 16 members? Does it mean at least one, or does the Minister envisage that there will be more than one? Does "current local government experience" mean that that person will be an elected member, or a council officer, or someone who experiences a local government service? What exactly does the phrase mean?

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

Perhaps I can add to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Tope. Having just listened to the Minister I do not believe that she said "each local council" or "each council both local and national". The matter would be made clearer if the Minister were able to use the words that she used for the business representation.

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

I do not believe that we want to be as precise as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, expects us to be. We are looking for the best people. We want to appoint people on merit, people who have something to add to the work of the councils. Some elected members have such qualities and some appointed officials and officers of local authorities may have such qualities. It may be right in some cases that a chief executive or a chief education officer may be appointed to one of the councils. Similarly, in some cases it may be appropriate that an experienced elected member, who has the kind of wisdom and expertise that will be needed, can bring that experience to bear in the context of the work of the council.

I believe it would be quite wrong for the Government to constrain applications to a particular category from people with local government experience. We would like to see applications for membership of the councils from a wide range of people who have--I shall use the phrase again--current local authority experience. I would expect that to be the case on all these councils. I do not believe I can go further than that. I hope that that helps the noble Lord and the noble Baroness.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

The Minister has made clearer what she has in mind. I now want to press her on the number or the proportion of such members. She has been specific in saying that at least 40 per cent of the members will be people with business experience. I do not ask her to give a precise figure, but can she give an indication of the number of people who will have current local government experience? Will it be just one person? This is a matter of considerable concern to people in local government who will want to know to what extent, as well as in what way, they will be represented. One person out of 16 is a fairly minimal representation and four or five out of 16 is a substantial representation. What sort of role does she have in mind for local government?

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

I thought I had made the point clear. We are looking for applications from people with merit in relation to the kind of criteria that we are specifying for membership of the councils. We are not specifying a particular proportion. All we have said is that at least one person should have current local government experience. In some LSCs it may be one person or in others it may be two, three or four, depending on the people who come forward.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I understand that the Minister will not give a percentage or say how many members on each council, local and national, will have current local government experience, but is it right that there will be someone who has that experience?

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

I shall repeat what I have already said. We expect that any local LSC will have on it someone with current local authority experience. I hope that satisfies the noble Baroness.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

No, it does not. The Minister did not preface the 40 per cent business representation by saying "we expect". She was unequivocal and said that there will be 40 per cent of business people, although of course they will be subject to the Nolan procedures. There has been no definitive commitment to there being local authority representatives in the form of one or more people on each council, both local and national. We shall continue to press the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 106 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 107:

Page 8, line 35, leave out subsection (3) and insert--

("( ) The council must elect one of its members as Chief Executive for a period not exceeding 5 years.").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I know that the Clerks do not read in Hansard every word that we say, but on Monday I did ask that the word "Chairman" should be substituted for the words "Chief Executive". I gave the Committee notice that that was what I meant. I have no idea whether I am culpable or what happened between me writing this amendment and it arriving in the Public Bill Office. I accept responsibility for the fact that the amendment, as written, is wrong and that "Chief Executive" should read "Chairman". My arguments are the same as I used in an earlier debate. There is probably a marginal argument for the Secretary of State to say who shall be the chairman of the national council but at local level the council itself should be able, from within its membership, to elect a chairman.

The noble Lord, Lord Bach, said at the previous stage that the Government were minded to consider a period of office not less than three and not more than five years. That is normally put on the statute book or in regulation, and I should like the Government to consider doing that. If not, we shall certainly find a way that uses the words of the Minister; that is, that it would be for a period of three years, not exceeding five. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment 9:00 pm, 10th February 2000

The noble Baroness indicated in the earlier debate that there was a mistake in this amendment and that we should understand it to refer to a chairman and not a chief executive. Although it has not been altered, I am happy to take the amendment in that way.

The post of local chair is a pivotal one in the LSC. Local chairs will exercise a real influence on local council decisions, on resource allocation and priorities, and on the appointment and removal--I hope not too frequently--of key staff such as the local executive director. On average the local LSCs may have budgets in excess of £100 million. In those circumstances it is surely reasonable that the Secretary of State has the final say in appointing local chairs. We will look to appoint people who are widely respected for the contribution that they have made to various interests and who can manage and take forward local views in a positive and constructive way.

The amendment would have the effect of delaying the appointments of the first local chairs since the whole of the local councils would need to be appointed before the chairs could be identified. That would cause serious delays in establishing the local LSCs since the local chairs have a key role in appointing the directors who will set up the local arms. In the light of that, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

Again, it is a disappointing answer. It strikes me that certainly the national council, which is only 12 to 16 members, and the local councils, which are of a relatively modest size, will have members capable of making the contribution described by the noble Baroness. One would want all members of those councils to have the experience which gives them a real understanding of the functions and powers of the council, and that they should be capable of being chairman of it.

Tensions will exist in the councils because they are all given equal status. There will be one chairman who will be totally full-time and one chief executive. The relationship between the two will be interesting. One is a deliverer of the policies and the other a policymaker. But here we have a mixture of the two. I am disappointed but may return to the matter at another stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 108 and 109 not moved.]

Clause 19 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 110 not moved.]

Schedule 2 [Local councils]:

[Amendment No. 111 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

moved Amendment No. 112:

Page 58, line 42, leave out paragraph 4 and insert--

("4.--(1) After seeking the advice of a local council's chairman, the Council must appoint one of its employees as the director of the local council.

(2) The Council may appoint such of its other employees as it thinks fit to act as the staff of a local council.").

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

I move this amendment in the name of my noble friend and invite the Committee to see it in conjunction with Clause 20 of the Bill. We set out in the White Paper and in the LSC prospectus how we would combine the benefits of a single unitary organisation with local delivery and decision-making. The LSC will be one corporate body working through and delegating functions to its local arms; that is to say, the local councils. The employees of the LSC at national and local level will be employees of the one organisation, subject to the same terms and conditions. Of course, in practice local councils will be responsible for selection, recruitment and management of their staff. But it is important for the character and the success of the one unitary organisation that staff should be appointed as LSC staff.

Therefore on reflection the Government do not believe that the current wording of paragraph 4 of Schedule 2 accurately provides for that policy. Its effect would be that staff appointed at the local level would be employees of the local council under separate terms and conditions from other employees of the LSC. The Government's amendment provides that it is the LSC as a single body which appoints employees, though in practice, through the delegation of functions to the local councils, all recruitment decisions will be made at local level.

In the case of the director of the local council, the amendment makes clear that the local chairman will play a crucial role. The director can only be appointed after the LSC has sought the advice of the local chairman. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I am sorry that we are not able to continue dialogue on the whole issue of transferring posts and the TUPE arrangements until we reach Amendment No. 210. This is the second time today that we have come across an issue involving some understanding of the degree to which the local skills councils and the national skills council will have to absorb existing staff, the degree to which their conditions of work will transfer with them, and also some of the financial consequences of that happening. If we are not to hear about that until Amendment No. 210, I rest my comments on the record that it is an area about which we should like more information.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

Of course we hear what the noble Baroness says.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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

moved Amendment No. 113:

Page 59, line 18, at end insert--

:TITLE3:("Committees

8.--(1) A local council must establish a young people's learning committee and an adult learning committee.

(2) Members of a committee may be (but need not be) members of the council.").

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

The amendment proposes that local councils will mirror the national body by establishing two separate committees, one for young people and another for adults, with duties parallel to those of the national committees. The interests of adults and young people frequently diverge. Local councils will be the executive arm of the national body and it is vital that the needs of the two separate communities are effectively represented locally. Replicating the two committees locally will ensure wider representation and a greater range of interests being heard.

We are particularly anxious that there will be adequate representation for adult learners whose needs, with the current emphasis on the social exclusion agenda, may tend to be overlooked locally. The Government must consider the amendment seriously. If they are to live up to their words that the ethos behind the Bill is to encourage bottom-up rather than top-down initiatives, it is important to provide a focus for such initiatives locally.

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

I agree with the noble Baroness that the LSC should focus clearly on adult learning as well as the needs of young people. An approach that will attract adult learners will often be different from that appropriate for 16 to 19 year-olds. To ensure that the needs of both groups are fully reflected in the LSC's decision-making, we have made provision in Schedule 3 for a young people's learning committee, whose role will be appropriate at a national level. Local LSCs will wish to seek the advice of experts and may want to establish committees for that purpose. Nothing in the Bill prevents them doing so.

There are many circumstances in which that would be beneficial and will happen. Our guidance to the council will reflect that view. We want to preserve a local flexibility to allow LSCs to manage their own business, so it would not be appropriate to stipulate that every LSC must establish two committees in the form proposed. The decision to set up an adult or young people's committee should rest with the local councils. I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.

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

I much appreciate the emphasis that the Minister placed on local flexibility. It is valuable to have on record the Government's expectation that there may frequently be local replication of the two committees. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 20 [Functions of local councils]:

[Amendment No. 114 not moved.]

Clause 20 agreed to.

Clause 21 [Guidance to local councils]:

[Amendment No. 115 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 116:

Page 9, line 7, at end insert ("including the need to ensure maximum flexibility in the application of funding formulae at local level, with the aim of ensuring that good sixth-form provision can be sustained, and where possible, strengthened").

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

With this, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 119. It is extremely important to maintain maximum flexibility in the application of funding formulae locally to ensure that good sixth form provision can be sustained and strengthened. It is important also that local LSCs have the flexibility to vary national guidelines and funding tariffs, so that they may respond to local circumstances and needs.

It is crucial that LSCs locally are free to enter into partnership agreements such as regeneration projects. LSCs, using their flexible local budgets, also need to complement national, regional and local priorities on ERDF funding, mainstream funding as it contributes to economic development and regeneration and area-based programmes such as the single regeneration budget and the new deal for communities. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I rise to speak to Amendments Nos. 117 and 118. I am not possessive about the forms of wording because I think that we are all approaching the same issue though in a slightly different way--the importance of flexibility at a local level. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, mentioned some of the complications that arise at local level, like the way in which the single regeneration budget and some of the local initiatives work.

I should like to give a little force to some of the things that have been said by Ministers in the course of our discussions on the Bill; for example, that there will be room for local flexibility. Indeed, in at least one of the briefing meetings that I attended 15 per cent was mentioned and I have also heard 10 per cent mentioned.

In determining allocations it seems to me that a proportion of a local council's budget that is used flexibly at local level ought to be determined and made public. In that way, the local council would not simply receive a sum of money which then moves onwards, with people literally sitting on the edge of their seats wondering just how much will be allowed to deal with very local and parochial issues as they arise. I will either support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, or ask that my amendment be taken into account.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip 9:15 pm, 10th February 2000

I shall deal, first, with Amendment No. 116. The Government have already said on a number of occasions in Committee that we want to ensure that young people have the best possible range and choice of good quality opportunities at this critical 16 to 19 stage. We have also said that effective school sixth forms have a key role to play in our drive to raise standards. I repeat: sixth forms that are providing good quality provision have nothing to fear from these proposals. We promised a real-term safeguard of funding levels where numbers are maintained.

We have gone on to make it clear that LSC funding to LEAs for their school sixth forms must be spent on schools with sixth forms and not diverted into other services. We have also said that LEAs will continue to be able to add, if they wish, to the funds provided by the LSC for the sixth forms in their area. This is important local flexibility. But the Government could not subscribe to a concept of "maximum local flexibility" in legislation. This would inevitably lead to funding decisions that were arbitrary and incoherent--indeed, quite the opposite of what I am sure all of us want. The amendment speaks of sustaining and strengthening good provision, but that is what the Bill is about right across post-16 learning. It is also a fundamental part of our approach to school sixth forms. We argue that the amendment is unnecessary.

I turn now to Amendment No. 117, tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. The budgets set for local LSCs will of course influence how they will achieve their objectives. We would expect there to be a dialogue between the local arms of the LSC and the national arm about resources and what local arms can sensibly be expected to achieve with the resources available. Without in any way being discourteous, we say that this amendment simply states the obvious. Do we really need extra provisions in legislation to underline this obvious practicality? We suggest not.

Finally, I turn to Amendments Nos. 118 and 119. The prospectus published in December made clear our commitment to ensuring that local LSCs have proper discretion over LSC money spent local. In particular, we have made it clear that the local LSCs will make the important decisions about how the LSC's main budgets should be allocated. They will be able to exercise discretion to vary the rate of payment that the LSC's national tariff sets out for different types of provision. A local LSC might want to exercise such discretion where, for example, it thinks that this would help to tackle local shortages of good quality training for skills that are in particular demand.

It may help the Committee to know that the Government envisage that 10 to 15 per cent of LSC budgets will be for provision that is not included in the national tariff and will be made at the discretion of the local LSC, covering, for example, improvements in the quality of local provision and workforce development. We are currently consulting through the Funding and Allocations Consultation Document on how the LSC's funding system should work and what sort of local flexibility will be required. We intend that each local LSC will have a substantial local initiatives fund. However, we do not think that it is appropriate to include on the face of the Bill this level of detail as to what the national LSC's guidance should contain. I hope that the comments that I have made on this series of amendments will persuade the Committee not to pursue their amendments.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

Before the noble Lord, Lord Tope, concludes the debate, perhaps I may say a few words. I am grateful that the Minister referred yet again to 10 to 15 per cent which will be considered for local discretion. There is going to be more than a passing interest in the mechanism for this. I know that there is consultation going on at the moment.

I wonder if I can ask two questions. First, is it likely that that consultation process will be sufficiently advanced for this Chamber to take some account of it during the final stages of the Bill? Will it be available in time and will we have some understanding of the Government's thinking in time for my colleagues in another place to be able to take it into account when considering any amendments to the Bill?

Secondly, in the way in which the noble Lord has spelt it out, what I am not sure about is whether the consultations going on at the moment envisage actually bidding for or negotiating for varying amounts or percentages of discretion, or whether once the amount of money for discretion has been determined at national level that will be applied evenly across all local skills councils. If it is to be a bartering system, then it is going to be very complicated and extremely time consuming. If it is going to be evenly applied, it is going to cause rough justice. I am not sure what is contained within the document so far as the consultations are concerned. It would be helpful if the Minister was able to throw some light on the matter.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

I am afraid that I shall not be able to throw much light on the second question that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asks. As I understand it, this is general consulting through the funding and allocations consultation document. I cannot be more precise than that this evening.

I can be more precise about when the consultation period ends: it will be in April. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will have to work out where that fits into the passage of this Bill, as I will also. We hope, of course, that the Bill will have passed through this House by April. Whether it will have passed through the other place is a much more vexed question.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

I look at the clock now and think it is a moot point whether it will have passed through this House by April. I am grateful to the Minister for some helpful replies. I am bound to say that I was not at all surprised to hear him say--I speak as someone who has served in local government for a long time--that this Government do not favour maximum local flexibility. I think that is probably an unnecessary statement from any government. It was a helpful reply in places. We will study it with interest. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos 117 to 119 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 120:

Page 9, line 10, leave out ("the regional development agencies and").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I shall not be the most popular person in the Chamber on this set of amendments. The Government have an agenda. They have had an agenda since they came to office. It is to see the demise of our county councils and go to regional development councils or regional district councils, whatever they are called.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

I think that the noble Baroness means regional development agencies because that is what they are.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

No. I am not talking about regional development agencies. I am talking about regional development agencies being a forerunner for what the Government really have in mind which is to go for elliptic bodies in the regions, whether they are called councils or anything else. It has been very widely and vocally talked about by Labour councillors and Labour members up and down the land. Certainly, many Labour councillors in county councils believe that this is on the agenda. I have believed it for a very long time. One has not only to look at this piece of legislation, but at local government Acts coming through the system or already on the statute book, the setting up of the development agencies themselves, and the way in which local authorities--whether Ministers are prepared to admit it or not--are being air-brushed out. The rural development agencies are very high profile in this Bill. It is difficult to get either local education authorities or local authorities included in the Bill in this respect.

If the noble Baroness replies to this group of amendments, she will not be able to resist taking yet another jibe at my "conversion" with regard to local government. I say straight away that I have been involved with local government and have a strong commitment to local government. I believe that local government has a strong role to play. However, the scenario we are discussing is different. As I said on Tuesday, when we were in power--the noble Baroness said that we bypassed local government when we were in power--we devolved down to local communities. We sought to devolve power to schools, colleges and institutions at ground level. However, in this Bill the devolution operates upwards to councils that comprise bigger units than local councils and which are more remote from local people. These larger councils are governed by the Secretary of State and the national council. It is very much a "top down" system.

Given the superior position of rural development agencies in this Bill, I want to do my bit of "air brushing" by means of the amendments we are discussing and delete certain references to the agencies. I suspect that I am not wrong in expecting the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Government to stand shoulder to shoulder on this issue of rural development agencies. However, I am committed to the tiers of government that are most local to the people on the ground. I still firmly believe that devolution must take place downwards to institutions at the local level to enable them to respond to needs with regard to skills, education and links with employment. The best way to achieve that is to bypass the raft of areas in this Bill that place rural development agencies in a superior position vis-a-vis local authorities. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Dormand of Easington Lord Dormand of Easington Labour

I hope that I have not misunderstood the noble Baroness. She certainly has not always been opposed to non-elected bodies. She will recall the experience of Teeside Development Corporation, of which I had the privilege to be deputy chairman. The Committee may not be aware that the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, appointed the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, as a supervisor, as it were, in that area. I do not want to make the noble Baroness blush too much--especially as I make these comments--but she was held in the highest possible regard in the north-east. She initiated vast improvements in that area. That legacy remains. There is a role for both attitudes that have been mentioned; I do not want to be too academic about that point. However, I felt that I had to make those remarks.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

The noble Baroness referred throughout her speech to "rural development agencies". I believe that she intended to refer to regional development agencies as that is contained in the amendment. The noble Baroness nods her head. I have every sympathy with her confusion with all the acronyms here as I also have some difficulty with them.

The noble Baroness was half right in her remarks. She is right in that I profoundly disagree with her. I congratulate her on being able to detect in the Government an enthusiasm for elected regional government that I have not been able to detect yet. She appears to believe that the Liberal Democrats stand shoulder to shoulder with the Government on that matter. If we are in that position, it is only because it is the best way for us to give them a hard shove in that direction, and that is what we shall wish to do. If this Government have an agenda, secret or otherwise--I would hope that they would publish it--to move to elected regional government on any time-scale (but preferably a short one) I would certainly greatly welcome that. However, at this time of night and with this Bill I shall resist the temptation to talk about what local government structure might be beneath the regional level. Clearly that is an important debate for another time and another place. The noble Baroness was right to believe that if the occasion arises I shall certainly resist the amendments we are discussing.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip 9:30 pm, 10th February 2000

I have learned a lot from the noble Baroness tonight. I have learnt what government policy is as regards the future of local government. It may be that I am unaware of a press statement on the subject today. I have been taken by surprise and I am unable to answer the noble Baroness. My belief is that she is wrong about our policy, much to the chagrin of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, who will neither push us with one shoulder or another. We shall go on doing what is right.

As regards the noble Baroness's support for local government, to coin a phrase, "Methinks the Lady doth protest a bit too much". I do not believe that anyone could say that removing further education from local education control into quangos was a pro-local government move. I am delighted to hear support for the Government's policy on devolution. It is not something I have heard before from the Conservative Opposition. However it is too late to join in political argument at this stage. I know clearly what the noble Baroness means by her amendments and she knows equally clearly that we must reject them.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

That was enjoyable. When the unitary authorities were first debated even in embryonic form and a long time ago, it was the policy of our Benches that there should be unitary authorities at local level--I am not talking about parish councils but district councils--and that the county should go and there should be regional, elected bodies. I can remember the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, saying that she supported that not only in this Chamber, but equally in my part of the world which is East Anglia. If it is not a written manifesto-type policy, it has certainly been a philosophy and policy which has been thought about. There was the idea that a move to unitary authority status would be messy and that it would be better to have a uniform approach at local level.

I did not expect a different answer. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, most warmly for what he said. He will know that I became extremely attached to the North-East. I still visit there and see many people in that area. The noble Lord made a good point in saying that I was supportive. I remain supportive of the way that the system worked. What I was particularly supportive of was the way in which all the bodies worked so co-operatively together. I refer, of course, to the non-elected bodies such as the development corporation and the local authorities. Indeed, local authorities served on the board of the development corporation and made an amazingly positive contribution. I was very supportive of that body and the way in which local authorities worked with it and became involved in the economic and social regeneration of the area. The local authority was very strong in that area and it still is. In the area for which I was responsible it has moved almost uniformly to the unitary authority and the county council has gone.

But I would not like to see a regional development agency in that area. As far as I understand it, at the moment there is a very good regional network of co-operation headed by many of the same people with whom I was involved when I was there. I still jealously believe that the North-East turned co-operative partnerships into an art form. They were practical, visionary and very effective. But that does not deter me from trying to persuade Members of the Committee, but very forlornly, that rural development agencies in this context should not be in the Bill with such a high profile. My concern is that this Bill is a stepping stone for regional government and the demise of our county councils.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

Before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may ask her a question. I understand and appreciate her strong views on regional development agencies, but is she speaking for the official Opposition in moving these amendments?

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

Certainly I have discussed the matter with my colleagues in the education team. It is uniformly supported that we do not like the Bill. We feel that if coherence is to be brought to 16-plus education, this is not the way to do it. In tying in all the partnerships--from the Secretary of State, down through the national council, local councils, RDAs and lifelong learning partnerships--the Government have been resistant to bringing in local education authorities. We do not think that the regional development agencies should appear in the context of this Bill. They are a fact of life; they have already been established by the Government and there is no way that one can take them out of existence, but that is not the point of my amendments.

My amendments provide that where regional development agencies are referred to in the Bill, local authorities should be in that position. I have tried hard, as have some noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches, to introduce local authorities specifically into the Bill. We are told that they will be consulted anyway, or they are part of the tapestry, or they will be influential. But why should they be less influential than the regional development agencies?

Photo of Lord Dormand of Easington Lord Dormand of Easington Labour

I do not have to remind the noble Baroness--I am sure she knows--that the reason is that on the regional development agencies there is strong local authority representation. That was the original intention when the Labour Government set them up.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I do not argue with that. But I still think that local authorities in their own right are closest to the people. They should in the Bill have at least equal status--I would argue superior status--to the regional development agencies.

If the Minister does not wish to come back on this issue, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

moved Amendment No. 121:

Page 9, line 10, after ("agencies") insert (", lifelong learning partnerships").

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

The amendments in this group all deal with wider representation procedures within both the guidance drawn up by the national LSC for the local LSCs and in the plans which the local LSCs draw up for themselves.

Amendments Nos. 121 and 122 seek that two sets of people be consulted in the drawing up of guidance--namely, the providers, on the one hand, and the local learning partnerships, on the other. They are groups which currently have no statutory status but there are more than 100 of them in England; they are local in focus and inclusive in membership. They include the LEAs, representatives of the further education colleges, all the courier service providers and often representatives of schools, the voluntary sectors, local businesses and other key stakeholders. Under the guidance there is provision for consulting regional development agencies and local education authorities. We should like to see these two other groups included within the consultation processes.

With regard to the drawing up of plans, which concerns Amendments Nos. 136 to 138, gremlins seem to have got into the system somewhat in that Amendments Nos. 136 and 137 are almost exactly the same. They again seek that local learning partnerships are included within the consultees for the planning process.

In addition, we seek that a number of other local users and providers are included. Existing and potential learners, the voluntary and community organisations with an interest in education and training, the colleges themselves and workplace training providers should all be included at local level in the consultation process in drawing up the plans. Broadly speaking, this fits in with what we have been talking about; that is, the bottom-up nature of the whole process, the need for it to be inclusive and to pull in as many people as possible. We should like to see those people included on the face of the Bill.

We support from these Benches the amendments to be moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and also--perhaps in particular--the amendment to be moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick. We feel strongly that, if we are including these other providers, it is extremely important to include universities within this process. Universities are increasingly being pulled in in terms of non-degree, sub-degree and post-degree level qualifications, and certainly in terms of the adult learning provision, post experience provision and that kind of thing. It is extremely important that where they are there they can provide a key focus. Therefore, we greatly support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick. I beg to move.

Photo of The Bishop of Lichfield The Bishop of Lichfield Bishop

In the West Midlands we are looking forward eagerly to getting the very best out of the arrangements at all the different levels. In large parts of the Birmingham neighbourhood there are great expectations that the regional development agency will focus inward investment and give more direction to industrial development over the entire region. We look eagerly and hopefully at good developments at that level. In Stoke-on-Trent we rejoice in a new unitary authority at a sub-regional level, which is focusing on and diversifying the ceramic industry in that very needy community. That is encouraging.

Because we look forward eagerly to good things at all levels, we want them also--I speak very much for a wide cross-section of the Churches--on behalf of the lifelong learning partnerships at local level.

Recently, there was a report from regional offices to the Department for Education and Employment. It so happens that the Churches emerged as significant players in the work of lifelong learning partnerships. I am therefore right behind the amendments which refer to local learning. We believe that local learning partnerships are excellently placed to take account of the obvious and important differences between one community and another. I am glad and proud to say that the Churches have much experience of listening to people's needs in local communities.

However, we must not forget the regional dimension. The process of listening at local level cannot be rushed and must be tackled with a good deal of sensitivity. It is often seen as unimportant or unnecessarily time-consuming. There are times when speed is of the essence, but if one goes too fast in that area and account is not taken of local needs, speed can be counter-productive. We strongly support the Government in their recognition that the existing structures in many areas, including the local level, are failing to meet individuals' learning needs. We hope that the excellent experience that has developed with lifelong learning partnerships will be taken on board, developed and strengthened. I therefore support the group of amendments introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp.

Photo of Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Labour

The purpose of my amendment, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has indicated, is to ensure that higher education providers--both HE and FE colleges and universities--are fully and properly consulted by a local council preparing its annual plan. Of course, those annual plans include a statement of needs of the population in a local council's area in respect of education and training. I declare an interest as the chief executive of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, but we are certainly not alone in our concern. I can add the voice of the university and college lecturers' union--NATFHE--to the desire to include the amendment on the face of the Bill.

We are concerned about the measures in the White Paper, Learning to Succeed, which the Bill implements, in that there are insufficient linkages between the roles and functions of local and national learning and skills councils and providers of higher education. Currently, the Bill and the Government's prospectus for the learning and skills council make little mention of firm links to higher education institutions and place no obligations whatever on the local LSCs to consult HE providers. The prospectus desires seamless progression into HE, but only specifies that links are to be made by LSCs with the education funding council. These links concern only funding provision and degree targets. In our view the Bill needs to ensure that consultation with higher education providers take place.

In addition, at Second Reading in this House on 17th January my noble friend the Minister stated that the Government would be requiring local LSCs to consult local lifelong learning partnerships on their plans. Higher education institutions are of course involved in the partnerships.

Therefore, I believe that, with the support of the Local Government Association, which shares our view, a ministerial statement concerning the consultation arrangements under Clause 22(5) would be very welcome.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment 9:45 pm, 10th February 2000

As the right reverend Prelate indicated, learning partnerships have a key role to play in the new arrangements, particularly in ensuring that local LSC plans reflect the real needs of learners in local areas. I am grateful to him for his support.

The Learning and Skills Council Prospectus makes clear that LSCs will be required to consult learning partnerships in drawing up LSC plans. That is important, given the influence that they can bring to bear as representatives of all the key players in education, training and guidance in their localities. That is why we intend to use the powers of the Secretary of State under Clause 22(5)(c) to ensure that local LSCs consult learning partnerships on their plans.

However, learning partnerships have no statutory responsibilities for education or training. They have made substantive progress over the past couple of years and are still developing. It would be wrong to try to close off such development with a rigid definition, and we do not think it appropriate to specify them as consultees of the local LSCs' plans on the face of the Bill. Nor do we believe that imposing a requirement on the national LSC to consult all learning partnerships on its draft guidance would be appropriate. That would lead to an unwieldy and rather slow bureaucratic process of the kind that many Members of the Committee have been keen to avoid.

In the light of the assurances that I have given that the Secretary of State will require local LSCs to consult local learning partnerships, I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, will not press her amendments.

Turning to Amendment No. 122, learning providers, from the smallest provider of adult education or work-based training to the largest FE colleges, have a great deal to gain from the new arrangements that we are putting in place: more coherent arrangements for planning, funding, quality improvement and inspection, and stronger encouragement for collaboration to meet the needs of learners and employers.

There is also a significant role in the new arrangements for local learning partnerships which bring together providers and others in a locality. They will influence the plans of the local LSC by bringing their knowledge of learners' and employers' needs to bear. I have already said how we will ensure that learning partnerships are consulted on their local LSC's plans.

Since not all providers will be represented on learning partnerships, I am sure that the local LSCs will in any case want to consult their providers individually on their plans. However, I do not believe that we should specify that level of detail on the face of the Bill. I do not believe that it would be particularly helpful to the many thousands of providers up and down the country to send them draft guidance from the national LSC to the local LSCs and await their detailed comments. As I said, that would be unwieldy, slow and over-bureaucratic.

I now turn to Amendment No. 226. Our intention is that the local planning process for the LSC should be as open and inclusive as possible. Too often in the past the workings of the various funding and planning agencies in the field of post-16 learning have been not only highly complex, even to those intimately engaged in them, but, I am afraid, entirely opaque and hidden from local people and communities. We want to shine a light into what is currently darkness.

The best way to achieve this is to encourage local LSCs to be innovative in seeking ways to engage their communities and to ensure that, through the appointments that we make to senior posts in the LSC, we create a culture of direct and open consultation with providers and stakeholder groups, such as those in the voluntary sector. The Government will ensure that this happens by using, as appropriate, their guidance to the LSC. We do not believe that this is best achieved by a provision in the Bill to place an additional requirement on local LSCs to consult particular categories of people and organisations such as the amendment proposes.

I turn now to the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lady Warwick. My noble friend is right to highlight the importance of the relationship between the LSC and the higher education sector. Clearly, HE plays a major role in the education and training of our workforce and offers an important progression route for those who move on from further education, school sixth-form education and work-based training. I assure the Committee that close working between the LSC and the higher education sector will flow from the new arrangements. The Government stated in the LSC prospectus that the national council of the LSC would invite the Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England to all its meetings. This will ensure that a powerful HE voice is present at the heart of the LSC's decision-making.

The amendment proposes that we include on the face of the Bill a statutory requirement for the local LSCs to consult local institutions on their draft local plans. However, we believe it is right only to specify in the Bill that local LSCs must consult local or regional bodies with relevant statutory strategic responsibilities. Clearly, it is highly desirable for local LSCs also to consult other bodies, including HE institutions, as part of their work to develop strong relationships with the HE sector locally. Indeed, I do not see how the local LSCs could exercise their functions appropriately without such wider consultation. But there is no need for all of this valuable activity to be reflected on the face of the Bill. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend will not press her amendment.

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

I thank the Minister for her reply to this group of amendments. My greatest disappointment is with her response to Amendment No. 122. Given that on the face of the Bill there is a requirement for consultation with regional development agencies and local education authorities, it is reasonable to suggest that consultation should also take place with local providers. We shall read carefully what the Minister has said, but we may return to the matter at Report stage.

As to lifelong learning partnerships, I accept the Minister's observation about their evolutionary state and the fact that at the moment they have no statutory basis, unlike regional development agencies and local education authorities which are defined. Given their evolutionary status, it is difficult to include them in the Bill. Equally, the intention is that they should be very much encouraged to grow and develop in areas where they are not currently present. Therefore, I hope that in drawing up local plans the LSCs will be made aware of the Minister's observations today and that the intention is made plain to them. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 122 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 123:

Page 9, line 11, leave out ("education").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

In moving Amendment No. 123 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 128 to 130 and 143. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, will speak to Amendment No. 132. This group of amendments is concerned with two aspects: first, joined-up government. There are a number of pieces of legislation around, in particular the Local Government Bill. Certainly, when it comes to planning there needs to be some coherence. I notice that two of the amendments are almost identical in that they invoke Clause 4(1) of the Local Government Bill. The way in which the plans will have to be co-ordinated might be difficult: it is hard to know which comes first, the chicken or the egg. Certainly, Amendments Nos. 129 and 132 are important in that context.

My Amendments Nos. 123, 128 and 143, leaving out the word "education", relate back to a point already made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and myself. Local authorities have recently been given a new function--an obligation under the law to be concerned about economic well-being in their area. We know they are involved in economic regeneration and indeed generation. For that reason, where local education authorities are named in the Bill as needing to be consulted or to be part of the process, it seems to me that the wording ought to be "local authorities". If there is an education authority within a local authority then, of course, if it is appropriate to the local education authority, whatever the involvement is, it will be made possible by speaking through the local authority. Some local authorities do not contain education authorities; others do, I think that local authorities, whether or not they have a local education authority, will be interested in aspects of this Bill. Many of its activities will need links with employment and education and training and schools training will be inextricably linked to all issues to do with economic well-being, economic generation and regeneration.

I believe that this set of amendments makes sense. I hope there will be a cross-reference from this Bill to the Local Government Act 2000. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

I shall speak specifically to Amendment No. 132, which stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Sharp. Speaking more generally, I support all that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said. I had the good fortune to be serving on our Front Bench for both the Local Government Bill and this Bill, which have been going concurrently through your Lordships' House, sometimes on the same day. Therefore I have followed both with excitement and interest. It has occurred to me from time to time that the Government, for all their proclamations of "joined up government", have not yet realised the significance of one Bill to the other. If I may say so, this issue is an example of that. I hope the Government will take the intentions of the amendments very seriously.

A local education authority is by definition a local authority. However, many local authorities are not also local education authorities. The Local Government Bill, when it is enacted--we are not quite there yet--will give all local authorities, whether education or non-education, responsibility to promote the economic, social and environmental well-being of their area. It seems to me entirely appropriate that this Bill, which will be enacted at the same time, should refer to local authorities rather than exclusively to education authorities. For instance, when a local authority prepares a strategy under the provisions of the Local Government Bill, it will need to prepare strategies that, arguably, fall outside the remit of an education authority. Similarly, district councils, which are not education authorities, will also have an interest in promoting economic well-being in the learning and skills needs of their local people.

I do not mind, and I suspect that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, does not mind, whether these amendments are technically correct. Their purpose is to urge the Government to join themselves up a little more and to recognise that what they seek to promote in one Bill should match up with the provisions of another Bill. For that reason, this Bill should refer specifically to local authorities as distinct from the narrow definition of education authorities. That is the case in my amendment. Clause 22(4)(b) would then read,

"any strategy prepared by any relevant local authority under section 4(1) of the Local Government Act 2000".

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment 10:00 pm, 10th February 2000

Of course the Government take the noble Lord's amendment seriously. As regards Amendment No. 123, it is important that local authorities with the key statutory duties and powers in relation to education and training are consulted on the national LSC's draft guidance to its local arms. It is the 150 local education authorities, within the total number of 388 local authorities, which have such statutory functions. For that reason, it would be inappropriate to introduce a requirement on the face of the Bill for the national LSC to consult all 388 local authorities on its draft guidance. That would not make much sense.

However, we recognise the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that all local authorities, including district councils, should be recognised as having a contribution to make to the plans drawn up by local LSCs. I shall have more to say about that in relation to the noble Baroness's Amendment No. 129, and Amendment No. 132, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Tope.

I turn to Amendment No. 128. As drafted, Clauses 22 and 23 require the local LSCs to include in their published plans details of the learning provision which, subject to consultation, they would like local education authorities to offer adults and the financial resources they will make available to local education authorities to enable them to do so. There is also provision for the Secretary of State to issue directions to any LEA which does not secure the education and training provision set out in the plan.

Amendment No. 128 proposes that local LSCs should also include a statement of the education and training they would like a local authority, rather than, as drafted, a local education authority, to secure. This would extend statutory obligations for provision of education and training to the 238 district councils which have none at present. Coupled with Amendment No. 143, it would expose all local authorities, rather than, as at present, only local education authorities, to statutory direction on education and training matters. Amendments Nos. 128 and 143 would therefore extend the scope of the Bill far more widely than we think necessary to achieve the changes in local learning opportunities that we want to see.

As regards Amendments Nos. 129 and 132, as currently drafted the Bill already requires local LSCs to consult with LEAs when preparing their draft plans. This is in recognition of the key role LEAs can have in the provision of accessible, appropriate and attractive learning opportunities. However, we also recognise that some district councils offer learning opportunities for adults in their areas and we want local LSCs to use their influence to encourage and support the wider range of district councils to plan and develop coherently all the learning opportunities they offer, alongside those funded by the LSC. We also recognise that, in deciding the nature and range of local provision and understanding local needs, it is appropriate to consider learning against the background of wider economic and social developments in which local authorities in general are the lead players.

The provisions under Clause 4 in the Local Government Bill are significant and it is important that we act in a way which promotes joined-up government. For that reason, and in response to the arguments that have been put forward, the Government will consider further this proposal and come back with an amendment. In our view, this would provide the basis for strong linkage between local LSC plans and both the interests of local authorities in education and training and their wider responsibility--as enhanced under the proposed Local Government Bill--for the economic and social well-being of their areas.

Amendment No. 130 goes further by proposing that, in preparing their local plans, local LSCs must have regard to,

"the local education authority's education plan".

Noble Lords may be aware that LEAs prepare a number of plans relevant to learning for both statutory and other purposes. They include the education development plan, the schools organisation plan, plans for asset management and, where LEAs want support under my department's standards fund, plans for the development of lifelong learning.

The effect of the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, would be to impose a statutory obligation on local learning and skills councils to have regard to all those and others in preparing its own plan. During the debate at Second Reading, the noble Baroness accused us of having, "plans, plans, plans"; that is, too many. I believe that now she is ignoring her earlier points and imposing additional bureaucracy here.

The Bill already includes obligations on local LSCs both to include in their plans the education and training which they agree LEAs will secure and to consult with them in preparing those plans. In our view, those obligations, together with guidance which the national LSC will give on how local LSCs should pursue them, will be sufficient to ensure that local LSCs take full account of what LEAs are doing. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

Certainly on one of the amendments we have received an offer which we cannot refuse. Therefore, I believe that any further thinking will be helpful. If an amendment is brought forward, we should like early sight of it, if possible.

With regard to my Amendment No. 130, I was not creating another plan. I believe that that is the last thing that we want. However, perhaps I should have referred to the local education authority's development plan. That is the over-arching plan for its area. One of the concerns that local authorities have is that because of the top-down system they will be left having to do the bidding of the Secretary of State/national council/47 local skills councils.

Given that I favour the bottom-up approach, I was hoping that the initiative would be with the local authorities and that they would have freedom, flexibility and autonomy over their own plans. I hoped that they would not be left at the end of the day, as, indeed, the Bill sets out, to develop their plans in conformity with and within the framework of all the other plans that will be developed nationally. Therefore, it was an attempt not to create a new plan but to turn the emphasis round to being bottom-up rather than top-down. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 124 and 125 not moved.]

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

moved Amendment No. 125A:

Page 9, line 15, at end insert--

("( ) The Council shall have power to amend the guidance given to a local council or to alter its budget during the course of a financial year.").

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

In moving Amendment No. 125A, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 142. These two amendments fit together and relate respectively to Clause 21, which is concerned with guidance from the national council to the local learning and skills council, and to Clause 22, which relates to the plan which each local council must draw up each year.

As currently framed, once made, the plans and budgetary allocations of both the national and local LSCs must be implemented as they stand. In reality, the fast-changing pace of learning and skills needs strongly suggests that at both levels LSCs will need to be able to amend their plans and budgetary allocations to take account of developments during the course of the financial year. For example, an unexpected plant closure in a local area might generate hundreds of redundancies and throughout a massive need for retraining not envisaged in the original plan. It would be unreasonable for the council and/or its local arm to be unable to respond to that situation until the next financial year. The proposed amendments would give local and national LSCs an explicit power to vary plans to cope with such situations.

In addition, it is most unlikely that the national LSC will achieve a pattern of resource allocations to the local LSCs in its first few years which entirely matches the needs of each local area. I must say that our experience of manpower planning in the past would indicate that that is the case. It needs to have the power to keep some of its resources in reserve at the beginning of the financial year to allow for variations in the local LSC allocations in the light of emerging needs. It is for that reason that I move this amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

Amendment No. 125A proposes express provision on the face of the Bill for the national council to amend the guidance given to a local LSC or to alter its budget during the course of a financial year. The Government appreciate that the objective behind the amendment is to ensure that the national council has the means by which to respond to an unforeseen change in circumstances for a local LSC during the course of that financial year.

We made it clear in the prospectus that the national LSC would retain the capacity to make in-year adjustments and to reallocate a proportion of local budgets in the event of significant underspends or potential overspends or changing needs. The LSC will retain some capacity to invest in sector-based initiatives through NTOs where that provides specific benefits that cannot be delivered locally. The national LSC will also hold a limited contingency fund to allow it to respond to unexpected in-year changes.

It is only right and proper that a national body, with a strong central leadership and clear national priorities, should oversee expenditure of £6 billion overall, while recognising the authority and decision-making ability of the local LSCs which comes from their local knowledge and regular contact with local authorities, education and training boards, employers, trade unions and individual learners.

Those levers and the approach outlined will help ensure that the national LSC is responsive to local needs and is customer-led not provider-driven. But we do not believe that we need to spell that out on the face of the Bill, particularly as we shall be consulting further in May of this year on the details of the new funding and allocations framework for the LSC covering more fully the issues raised here.

I turn to Amendment No. 142 spoken to by the noble Baroness. Again, the Government appreciate that the objective behind the amendment is to ensure that local LSCs have the ability to respond to changes in local circumstances during the course of a year. I stress that we believe that it is important that local LSCs have that flexibility and I assure the Committee that they will have it. But it is not our intention that the published plans of local LSCs will be continually updated throughout the year. That would lead to a bureaucratic nightmare, as well as possibly a need for three or four plans in one year. We envisage a single local plan for the year as set out in Clause 22(5).

However, that does not mean that local LSCs will not be responsible to changes in local circumstances during the course of the year. We said in the prospectus that the LSC will build into its financial and planning arrangements scope for moving resources into local areas to meet needs which could not have been anticipated on a yearly planning system.

Nothing in the Bill requires a local LSC to stick rigidly to its published plan regardless of changing circumstances. Indeed, it would be the height of folly for a local LSC to stick rigidly to a published plan which had been overtaken by circumstances. I hope that I have given the noble Baroness some real assurances which will lead her to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

The Minister used three words in his reply which should be in very bold type when Hansard is printed; namely, "strong central leadership". That is what we have always suspected. That is what we have said. It is very much strong central leadership and it is very top-heavy.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

It is astonishing to hear that said in this context by the noble Baroness, who played such a prominent part in a government who clearly had strong central leadership at their heart. I was talking about the national LSC with its budget of £6 billion. Perhaps she would rather that it did not lead in the way we intend that it should.

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

I thank the Minister for his reply. I am delighted to hear that we have both strong central leadership and bottom-up initiatives! I am very glad to have the assurance from the Minister that the Government envisage a degree of flexibility both at national and local level. It has been useful to get that on the record. Should there ever be any problems from the point of view of the local LSCs, it will be necessary for them to remember that it is on the record and can be brought to the attention of Ministers. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 21 agreed to.

Clause 22 [Plans of local councils]:

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative 10:15 pm, 10th February 2000

moved Amendment No. 126:

Page 9, line 20, at end insert ("and of the skill needs of the local labour market").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

Amendment No. 126 is another amendment that tries to turn the Bill on its head. It makes an interesting distinction between education and training and the importance of reading the skills needs of the local labour market in the local area. For that reason I believe that there is a strong argument for inserting this at line 20 to ensure that reading the needs of the local skills labour market is considered important. That is not implicit in the words already on the page. I beg to move.

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

Recognising and meeting the skills needs of local labour markets will be a key function of the local LSCs. In the LSC prospectus we made it clear that each local LSC will produce an annual statement of the learning and skills needs of the local area. Subsection (2)(a) of Clause 22, with its reference to,

"the needs regarding education and training of the population of the local council's area", gives effect to that commitment. We are satisfied that that wording covers the learning and skills needs of the local population, including in connection with the needs of the local labour market. I hope with that assurance that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I am not happy with the answer, because it is one-sided. Here we are talking about the individual people in the area rather than the needs of local industry and commerce in the area. It seems to me that if this Bill is about anything, it is about making sure that those matters are matched. The subsection provides for one side of the coin but not both. I believe that the argument is a strong one, to which I shall return at the next stage of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Darcy de Knayth Baroness Darcy de Knayth Crossbench

moved Amendment No. 127:

Page 9, line 20, at end insert ("with specific reference to the needs of persons with learning difficulties (as defined in section 13)").

Photo of Baroness Darcy de Knayth Baroness Darcy de Knayth Crossbench

Amendment No. 127 will ensure that the local LSC's statutory plans make adequate provision for the needs of people with learning difficulties. I shall not repeat the arguments that I made when I moved and spoke to the amendments placing a duty on the councils to promote equality of opportunity for disabled learners. Suffice it to say that we all agree that there are still some who are missing out.

I digress briefly. On Tuesday, I was extremely grateful to the Minister for saying that she will bring forward an amendment on Report in response to my Amendment No. 53 that would place a duty on the LSC to promote equality of opportunity. I was so excited by the Minister saying that she would do something of which I had no foreknowledge that I forgot to check whether her amendment--it may be quite different--will cover the local LSCs and the Welsh councils. If she could indicate that in her reply I would be grateful.

I return to Amendment No. 127. Even if there is a duty to promote equality of opportunity on the local LSCs, when the local councils make their plans it is important that the statement of education and training needs of the population in the area should contain specific reference to people with learning difficulties. In other words, it would be excellent if we had the duty to promote equality of opportunity. Amendment No. 127 could be the mechanism to ensure delivery of that. I hope for an encouraging reply from the Minister. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

I support this amendment, to which I attached my name. If we are going to bring forward a plan which does not take into account those with learning difficulties, we are effectively excluding them from the holistic approach, which is something for which we are campaigning. I suggest that this reference should happen automatically if we are to integrate people into the same education system at every level. I fully support the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I too rise to support the amendment. It is not that persons with learning difficulties are given "specific" focus; but that they are given "a" focus. The amendment is more than just a reassurance. The disability lobby has seen Clauses 13 and 14, which are important, and the amendment dovetails nicely in with them. Focus is given when plans are made and it makes it certain that that aspect cannot be ignored. The needs will be different from the needs of those who do not have learning disabilities.

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

The requirement on local LSCs to produce a statement on the learning needs of its local population must certainly extend to the needs of specific groups and interests, including those of persons with learning difficulties. I point out to the noble Baroness that under Clause 13 the LSC must have regard to the needs of persons with learning difficulties in discharging its main duties to secure post-16 learning provision for the population of England. In practice, it cannot do that at either national or local levels without reflecting this in its plans and strategies. However, we should avoid adding extra words to the Bill to achieve what will happen in any case. I hope the noble Baroness is able to accept that and, in the light of this and earlier statements of our commitment to the needs of people with learning difficulties, she will withdraw the amendment.

Turning to her earlier question, our amendment will cover local LSCs and the Welsh council as well as the national council.

Photo of Baroness Darcy de Knayth Baroness Darcy de Knayth Crossbench

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for their strong support. I thank the Minister for her reply. I am delighted about the local LSCs and Wales being covered in her prospective amendment. That is wonderful.

I do not feel that there would be any harm in having a specific reference in the Bill. I presume that guidance will be given on the drawing up of plans by local LSCs. If in the guidance a little jogging of the memory was given to say that this will be done with specific reference to the needs of people with learning difficulties, I would be happy. Perhaps the Minister could indicate whether that would be possible.

Photo of Baroness Darcy de Knayth Baroness Darcy de Knayth Crossbench

I am grateful to the Minister. I have no hesitation in saying I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 130 to 142 not moved.]

Clause 22 agreed to.

Clause 23 [Duty of local education authorities]:

[Amendments Nos. 143 and 144 not moved.]

Clause 23 agreed to.

Clause 24 agreed to.

Clause 25 [Directions]:

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 145:

Page 11, line 9, at end insert ("or

(b) the reorganisation of education for persons from the age of 16 to 19, where such education is currently the responsibility of the education authority.").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

When we were discussing the School Standards and Framework Bill I took some time to elicit from the Government a promise that the organisational committees that were set up and the adjudicator would not have the power to remove school sixth forms. We eventually received a letter of confirmation. We now have the possibility, by an oblique method, of a direction that would have real impact on the survival of education for 16 to 19-year-olds under local authority control.

Under Clause 25, the Secretary of State may give directions covering objectives, time limits for achieving them and provisions relating to the LSC's management. It states also:

"Directions may not concern the provision of financial resources in respect of activities carried on by a particular person or persons".

I am not certain what that means but I wish to add the words of the amendment for clarification.

Either the Government mean local authorities to have power over people for whom they are responsible for providing education or they do not. On the face of it, Clause 25 is inoffensive but it is part of something inherent in the Bill--a threat to the survival of sixth forms. The amendment would put that out of bounds of strong central leadership. I beg to move.

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

Clause 25 provides for the directions that the Secretary of State will give the LSC. There is nothing novel in such a provision. It has an obvious precedent in the current direction-making powers of the Secretary of State and the National Assembly in respect of FEFCs under Section 56 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. When debating that legislation, it was made clear by the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, that powers of direction were a long-stop protection of the taxpayer's interests as regards considerable sums of public funding. That principle followed through into the Bill.

As a last resort, the Secretary of State should intervene to direct the council. One exception is Clause 25(3), which rightly prohibits directions about the provision of council funds in respect of activities undertaken by any particular person or group. We, like the previous Administration, think it important to make it clear that the LSC is entirely independent of government in funding decisions concerning individual providers.

The noble Baroness is seeking to prevent the Secretary of State from issuing directions as to how the LSC should exercise its functions in LEA 16 to 19 provision.

The LSC's three main functions are participation, as a voting member, on school organisation committees where 16 to 19 matters are involved; making proposals for the incorporation of LEA-maintained 16 to 19 institutions; and making proposals for the closure of 16 to 19 LEA provision that Ofsted has found to be failing or significantly weak and has failed to make necessary improvements. The amendment betrays a mis-understanding of the LSC's powers and those of the Secretary of State. The council will be a statutory independent body. The Secretary of State would only expect to intervene as a last resort, when things have gone seriously wrong. The proposed restriction is unnecessary.

I accept that the powers of direction in Clause 25 could be clearer. Earlier, I mentioned our intention to table amendments to clarify those powers--in particular, those of the Secretary of State to intervene if the LSC acts unreasonably or in breach of duty in respect of its functions.

Similar provisions apply to the FEFCs under Sections 56 and 57 of the 1992 Act. Indeed, in the unlikely event that the council were to act improperly in exercising its functions in respect of LEA-maintained 16 to 19 provision, this amendment would prevent a Secretary of State from intervening to protect those affected. I doubt that that is really the intention of the noble Baroness. Therefore, I hope that she will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative 10:30 pm, 10th February 2000

I am puzzled on one point. If this is about the protection of public funds, why does subsection (3) say:

"Directions may not concern the provision of financial resources in respect of activities carried on by a particular person or persons"?

They are just as much an activity that incurs expenditure, yet they are outside the directions. It seems to me to be slightly puzzling as why that should be the case, bearing in mind the explanation given by the noble Baroness.

The council is not independent in the sense that it is entirely beholden to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State will issue its central directions and it will be for the national council to take those directions and plan in conformity with them. So the idea that it is somehow a free spirit out there, determining everything for itself, is simply not true; it will do it within the framework of the directions set out by the Secretary of State.

The functions outlined by the noble Baroness are certainly right as far as concerns the Bill, but I still think that this poses a very real threat to schools. The difference here is that we are talking about LEAs' territory. These are their schools for which they have been providing all this time. School sixth forms, with 11 to 16 children within them, are single institutions. So there is very real concern here. However, the Minister has hinted that some thought will be given to qualifying the use of these powers. I welcome that move and I wait to see the detail. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 25 agreed to.

Clause 26 [Committees]:

On Question, Whether Clause 26 shall stand part of the Bill?

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

Schedule 3 deals with the establishment of two more committees. I have absolutely no quarrel with the idea that the Government should be very specifically concerned about young people up to and beyond the age of 19. However, I have been reading Schedule 3 very carefully and there are two aspects of it that I find disturbing. First, if this national council wishes to seek advice, have research undertaken to look in depth at a particular aspect of education and training and links with employment for either pre-19 year-olds and post-19 year-olds, the best way of securing that aim would be to leave the council totally free to bring together an ad hoc committee for the purpose of taking advice from a group of people--it will be different groups of people for different things--rather than have a single standing committee.

Secondly, there is nothing in Clause 26, which I wish to remove from the Bill, in this respect: it simply refers to the schedule. However, on reading the schedule, one sees that it would be a full standing committee, which would have the power to establish other committees as it sees fit. So already we have the national council spawning a standing committee, which, in turn, takes upon itself further powers. Indeed, we are now far removed from the democratic process. It would seem that the "young people's learning committee" would have to investigate the provision of education and training for young people and advice the council. Moreover, according to sub-paragraph (3) of the schedule:

"The committee is to have such other functions relating to the education and training of young persons, and such functions relating to their employment, as the Council specifies"-- that is, not Parliament but the council. The council is not accountable to Parliament and yet it will be given powers to set up another statutory committee with power to establish other committees; and they, in turn, will also have the power to incur expenditure without any accountability whatever either to the democratic, elected Parliament or to local authorities.

I really am worried about this provision. But lest the speech note that has already been written for the noble Baroness should in any way denigrate my support for the notion that this council, if it is set up--and the noble Baroness knows that I would not go down this road and do it in this way--will not need expert specialist advice about the client groups for whom it will be responsible, I am not against that. I support it. I am very, very worried about very expensive, bureaucratic, static standing committees that would replace the flexibility of commissioning research and ad hoc groups that could provide advice. The power and the accountability would lie with the council, not with another council or another committee, and would be somewhat removed from what I call the accountability process.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

I have a pair of additional questions for the Minister. First, what is the status of the minutes of these committees and the papers submitted to them, as far as publication and availability to the public is concerned? Are these papers which the Government would intend, under the forthcoming freedom of information Act, should be available to the public? Will they be published regularly? Are they papers that the Government will seek to conceal from the public?

Secondly, it appears to me from the description that has been given of what these committees will do that they have such a limited remit and such subsidiary powers that they are unlikely to attract the kind of people one would want to be involved in these decisions. If one wants good people they should be on the main committee, surely, and not tucked away in sub-committees under special appointments by the Secretary of State. If there is not sufficient status and breadth to an appointment, one will only ever have second-class appointees. I urge the Government to think again and, if they really want good people to take part in these decisions, to find a way of ensuring that the key people with the kind of expertise for which they are looking sit on the main committee and are not tucked away on a sub-committee.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

The noble Baroness worries too much about Schedule 3. The council must establish two committees--a young person's learning committee and an adult learning committee. The council may establish such other committees as it thinks fit. I do not believe that it is the intention that these two sub-committees should be setting up other committees as well.

A fundamental role is to be played in the work of the LSC by the young person's learning committee and the adult learning committee which are set out in Schedule 3. The young person's learning committee, first, will be responsible for advising the national council on the best means of achieving the national learning targets for young people, including strategies for increasing participation and attainment so that as many young people as possible continue learning until the age of 19. Specifically, it will advise the council on the funding and delivery of education and work-based training provision targeted at pre-19 year olds, including modern apprenticeships and national traineeships. It will also advise on the promotion and support of work related learning, including work experience and how best to promote a successful transition for young people from school into the next stage of education, training or work.

We want to ensure that its membership includes people who have special knowledge of the area. I hope that its membership includes people with direct experience of schools with sixth forms and sixth form colleges. The committee will also want to ensure--and here the noble Baroness may be with us--that it has direct access to the professional advice of Ofsted.

I believe that reply goes some way to answering the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, when he suggests that the people who might want to serve on such a committee would not be in the first rank. I do not think that is the case.

I turn to the adult committee, which is no less important. It will have direct responsibility for advising the LSC on achieving the national learning targets for adults and for organisations--specifically the targets for Investors in People. It will concern itself with the funding and delivery of adult education and training in FE colleges, adult learning in the community, workforce development issues, including the promotion of NVQs, and more flexible access to learning. In particular--the Government believe this to be important--there will be close links with the University for Industry as it considers the potential for on-line learning as a central part of the lifelong learning vision. Its membership should have a significant business perspective and be able to have direct access to the world of adult and higher education. It will have the direct benefit of the professional advice of the chief inspector of the new adult learning inspectorate, which we shall discuss next week.

On Tuesday concern was expressed as to whether post-19 education would be the poor relation of the Bill. The Government believe that the setting up of the important adult committee shows our good intentions with regard to post-19 education.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asked where the committees' minutes would be displayed. The noble Lord was, of course, a member of the previous government and I am therefore greatly impressed by his conversion to open government. I noted that when we served on the Select Committee a few months ago. The answer to his question is that that will be a matter for the council. However, he will be glad to hear that the principles of open government will apply. I submit that Clause 26 and Schedule 3 should be accepted.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

Have we any idea of what the financial impact of this measure will be? There is the cost of the national council, the 47 local councils, these two standing committees and the cost of any other committees that the council sees fit to establish. It appears to have a pretty open-ended remit to form any number of standing committees if it wishes to do so. As regards the question that my noble friend asked, I am not sure that it is sufficient merely to say that open government procedures will apply. These will be national committees, not local committees, unless the noble Lord disturbs us even more by saying that the local councils will also have the power to establish adult learning committees and young people's learning committees. If that is the case, that is even more worrying than the provisions in the Bill.

If we are talking about national committees, does that mean that meetings will be open and that the public will be able to attend? Does that mean that minutes will be made public? Does it mean that the minutes will be published and placed in every library in the country, as they will impact on every person in the country? If the open government rules apply, these questions need to be asked. How big will the relevant committee be? Is there any limit on the number of people on it? Could it comprise 30, 40 or 50 people, or will it comprise 12 to 16 like the main council?

The point of dual membership has already been addressed in that members of the council can also be members of the local councils and members of the adult learning committee and of the young people's learning committee. These are important questions as these bodies not only add to bureaucracy and to the network of committees--which are being spawned all over the place--but this process also involves a reduction in the flexibility that I sought to introduce. If the national body--as I suspect it will from time to time--wishes to research in some depth particular aspects of young people's learning and of adults' learning, it should be able to establish the kind of committee that it requires not as a standing committee but as a time-limited committee to carry out a specifically commissioned piece of work, on the completion of which it would be dissolved. However, none of these points is answered in the schedule.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 10:45 pm, 10th February 2000

Perhaps I may add to that. I am grateful to the noble Lord for congratulating me on my conversion. As I was the agriculture spokesman during the BSE crisis, I would need to have a very thick head not to have been converted to the cause of freedom of information.

As regards the duality of committees, one can look at aspects of adult education which are purely adult and aspects of pre-19 education which are purely juvenile. But there is a very great overlap already. Surely, there is going to be a much greater one in future as we try to tackle social deprivation. A great deal of that will involve bringing young people to what we would now call adult education at a much earlier stage. Tackling social deprivation among those who are already past education will involve bringing them much more back into what we would now call pre-19 education.

If one separates the experts in those two areas into separate committees so they cannot spark off each other, we shall lose a great deal. They will always feel subsidiary to some greater committee which is trying to combine their expertise without the benefit of their presence. That is not the best way to create a coherent, unified, well-functioning post-16 provision.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

I am sorry to have to disagree with the noble Lord. There was concern that the over-19s would lose out as a consequence of some of the provisions of the Bill. Therefore, on that ground alone it seems to the Government sensible to have an adult committee. Equally, a young persons' committee is obviously important with a Bill stealing so much from 16 to 19 year-olds.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. The noble Lord will remember that there was genuine concern, as he has just said, about the emphasis and focus given to post-19s. Equally, there were some fairly prolonged debates on the first day of Committee about flexibility to straddle both pre-19s and post-19s. That flexibility is not present in those committees.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

The noble Baroness took the words almost out of my mouth. I was going on to say that the noble Lord is right that there will be straddling between the age of 16 right up to lifelong learning. In some cases 19 years of age may be a time when one period of learning ends and another begins, but in another way it may not. That is why we believe it sensible to have a national council which will see the minutes from both the other committees. The council itself will be able to take a broad view covering all the matters within its remit.

As regards committee members, I understand they are to be unpaid. The expectation is that their meetings will not be in public, but they will be filled with people from outside the council. They are not likely to be secret committees. If the public ask for information provided by the committees, the presumption is that it will be provided to them under the open government principles. That is what I meant by those principles.

There are matters of detail which have to be sorted out. Not every matter of detail is written into a schedule of the Bill. The noble Baroness is right to that extent. No doubt in due course the details of the make-up of the committees will become known.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

That is a wholly unsatisfactory answer. One puts schedules into a Bill to include that detail. Details about membership of the national council are in the schedule, including the number of people on the committee, how they are to be appointed, their tenure and other factors, yet for some reason that detail is missing from the two committees which are not part of the mainstream committees. This is a very serious issue to which we shall certainly return. In the meantime I shall not oppose these measures standing part of the Bill.

Clause 26 agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Committees (England)]:

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

moved Amendment No. 146:

Page 59, line 24, at end insert--

("( ) must establish a quality recognition and improvement committee").

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

The noble Baroness, Lady David, has asked me to apologise to the Committee for not being here. She had to leave to catch a train to return to Cambridge. She has asked me to stand in for her and to move these three amendments.

All three amendments relate to Schedule 3. I shall first speak to Amendment No. 147 and then I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 146 and 148 which are linked together.

Amendment No. 147 proposes that the wording of the schedule be changed slightly in terms of the functions of the committee. It seeks that the committee must investigate the provision not only of "education and training" but of,

"appropriate education and training to meet reasonable needs".

The wording of the amendment reflects the wording in Clause 2(2) in terms of "reasonable needs". It is essential that the underpinning rationale for the LSC's work, particularly in relation to the young people's learning committee, is founded upon the knowledge of the reasonable needs of young people in localities.

In particular, it is very important that they receive good advice and guidance. Often young people in the 16 to 19 age group have very little knowledge of what they want to do and, therefore, in some senses of what are their education and training needs. In this respect it is vital that they have access to proper guidance. This means proper careers guidance from careers advisers who are trained up to NVQ level 4 competence in such guidance.

In proposing appropriate education and training to meet reasonable needs we are saying that we need both to identify the needs and to give the appropriate education, training and guidance to meet those needs.

Turning now to Amendments Nos. 146 and 148, these amendments seek to establish--I am loath to think what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will think--yet another committee. I see that the noble Baroness has walked out in disgust. In addition to the young people's learning committee and the adult learning committee there should be a quality improvement and recognition committee.

The idea here is that there should be a statutory quality recognition and improvement committee, to be set up as a formal committee, in order to make public the local learning and skills council's quality improvement strategy. It would have three main functions: first, to co-ordinate the council's duties in response to the two inspectorates we shall be discussing on Tuesday; and, secondly, to operate a quality threshold, to include good advice and guidance, progression opportunities, a contribution to widening participation and value for money. This will prevent cherry picking by private training providers who might otherwise provide high-volume, short-term, easy-to-fill courses, leaving other providers funded at the same rate with a harder-to-fill, costlier-to-make provision aimed at securing wider participation. There has to be a legitimate concern to balance competitiveness of offer and quality.

Thirdly, we should like the committee also to secure arrangements for the funding of programmes without qualifications. We shall be looking at Clauses 85 to 89 of the Bill next week, but these clauses concern only external qualifications. The prospectus which lies behind the Bill very helpfully makes it clear that quality assurance in other provision--provision that does not necessarily lead to external qualifications--will be publicly supported by the LSC. We should like to have that incorporated in the schedule if possible. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My noble friend Lady Blatch has asked me to express her disagreement with these amendments--a disagreement which I share. I have just spent some time arguing for a greater flexibility for the council to be able to choose how its own committees are structured and to deal with these problems in its own way. This is an excellent example of why the Government were wrong in wording Schedule 3 as they did. They should not go further down that road. It would tie up the council in a way that is entirely inappropriate. I am sure that the council will take care of those matters in its own way and will be the better for it.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

I believe that I am grateful for the opposition to the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, but I am not absolutely sure.

I turn to the amendments in the order in which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, spoke to them. The amendments all propose changes to the committee structure for the national learning and skills council set out in Schedule 3 to the Bill. Amendment No. 147 seeks to alter the remit of the young people's learning committee. We are not clear as to how that change would improve matters. The noble Baroness will recall that the LSC's main duties as set out in Clauses 2 and 3--it seems a long time ago since we debated those clauses--already describe the learning provision which the LSC must provide in terms of that which is "suitable to the requirements" of individuals. We therefore believe that the main thrust of the noble Baroness's amendment is already contained in the Bill.

It would not be right to have an apparently more qualified remit for the young people's learning committee than for the adult learning committee, if that was either the intention behind or the result of the noble Baroness's amendment. It is important that the two committees--which we have discussed already at some length--have an influential role and equal status within the LSC framework. I repeat that we want to attract to both committees outstanding individuals with expert knowledge to contribute to the LSC's key strategic discussions and decision-making. We believe that the Bill will help us to attract such individuals as committee members by specifying a role which is wide-ranging and focused. Essentially, the task will be three-fold: to identify needs; to assess how well those needs are being met in terms of both quality and quantity; and to make recommendations as to how they may be better met and how the LSC's available resources may best be used. I hope that that answer gives the noble Baroness some reassurance.

I turn to the other two amendments in the group, Amendments Nos. 146 and 148, the purpose of which is to require the learning and skills council to establish a third committee--a quality recognition and improvement committee. Those amendments reflect the current statutory requirements on the Further Education Funding Council. I want to take this opportunity to say how much the Government appreciate the contribution which members of the Quality Assessment Committee have made to the work of the Further Education and Funding Council.

However--and we shall of course be debating the matter next week--our proposal is to separate the work of inspection from the funding body and to give it to OFSTED and the new Adult Learning Inspectorate. Our intention is that action on quality should be fully incorporated within the mainstream of LSC business. The specific functions listed under Amendment No. 148 will be the responsibility of the entire council, not a separate part of it. The council will, of course, be supported by the advice of the two committees in its work. The business of quality improvement will be an important part of that work.

In those circumstances, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw Amendment No. 146 and not to move Amendment No. 148.

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

I thank the Minister for his reply. It is useful that he has set out at some length his understanding of the wording in the schedule. I believe that it is appropriate not to press Amendment No. 147 in the light of what he has said. With regard to the other two amendments, it is unfortunate that the Government are dropping the Quality Assessment Committee from the Further Education Funding Council. However, I accept what the Minister said--that its remit is now going to be taken over by the inspection procedures. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 147 and 148 not moved.]

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Clauses 27 to 29 agreed to.

Clause 30 [The Council]:

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative 11:00 pm, 10th February 2000

moved Amendment No. 149:

Page 12, line 16, leave out ("10") and insert ("12").

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

We now come to the Welsh part of the Bill--regrettably late in the day, but better late than never. I hope that we can do justice to this part of the Bill despite the lateness of the hour. I need hardly remind the Government after the events of the past few days in the National Assembly in Cardiff Bay that Wales still matters a great deal.

The changes proposed in Amendments Nos. 149 and 150 would bring the national council for education and training in Wales into line with the learning and skills council for England with regard to size; and there is a strong case for that.

The first point is that the main duties of both councils are much the same. As the Bill stands, the Welsh council is, if anything, more centralist in character than its English counterpart, for reasons that I shall explain. The Welsh council "may" form regional bodies on the lines of the 47 local councils proposed for England--"may" being the operative word. I hope to change that "may" into a "must". We shall return to the matter in due course. The point is that the regional committees are an option in Wales.

For the moment, I am content to point out that the English local councils, which vary considerably in terms of the size of population covered, will also, like their parent body, have between 12 and 16 members. That makes sense to me, especially when one takes into account a great diversity of bodies with a close interest in the education and training of young people post-16.

Here, I come to my second point, which is that the Welsh council, with between 10 and 12 members, is far too small to reflect that diversity adequately, even if some members represent more than one interest.

Perhaps I may run through the most obvious interests. There are 26,000 sixth formers in Wales in 167 schools. Their head teachers will have a claim to a place on the council, along with the local education authorities. There are 171,000 students in our 23 further education colleges and five designated colleges. The claims of that sector are more complex than would first appear. Two of the designated colleges are Workers Educational Association (WEA) bodies; another two are St David's Roman Catholic College, Cardiff, and Coleg Harlech, the "college of second chance", much supported by the late Lady White. The last of the designated colleges is a Welsh WMCA establishment.

Then there are 31,000 young people in employer supported training, and of course employers are keenly interested because of their skill requirements and their past experience of the training and enterprise councils, which had a good record in Wales but which are now to disappear.

There is a lengthy list of other bodies which would regard themselves as key contributors to the council: the Welsh Development Agency; the CBI and the TUC in Wales; the Wales Tourist Board; the Welsh Language Board; the Sports Council; as well as the local education authorities, the training providers and the careers advisers, and their eight companies, to be brought together under an umbrella organisation to be known as "Careers Wales". Finally, the Higher Education Funding Council is to have a joint secretariat with the new council, as it had with the Further Education Funding Council (now to be dissolved). I can claim some paternity for the joint operation between the two councils because it fell to me to put the relevant Act into operation.

I do not believe that a council membership of 10 or 12 can possibly meet all of the requirements and high expectations envisaged in the Bill. If the four regional committees come into being, each chairman will be entitled under paragraph 2(2) of Schedule 5 to the Bill to a place on the main council. Therefore, we are talking about six to eight remaining places to cover all the diverse interests, not forgetting the Skills Wales Task Force set up by the present Government whose role is, to me, somewhat unclear.

Having read the report of the National Assembly's plenary debate on its Education and Training Action Plan for Wales, which took place on 1st February--some days after the Second Reading debate on this Bill--it does not appear to me that the Assembly and its Post-16 Education, Schools and Early Learning Committee has given much thought to the crucial issue of the size of the council. Its debate was mainly about policy, and the Bill before the Committee today was referred to only once by Jonathan Morgan, a Conservative Assembly Member, I am glad to say.

As I am on my feet, this is perhaps an appropriate moment to say that when primary legislation is in the offing the Assembly will be well advised to complete its deliberations before either House in the Westminster Parliament embarks on the legislative process so that we may at least take account of the views of the Assembly. If it does not complete its deliberations, as in this case, it cannot blame us if we fail to legislate to meet its needs and aspirations. The Assembly's Economic Development Committee has yet to consider such matters as the enterprise function of the TECs and where other functions are best located in future.

I turn briefly to Amendment No. 151. My noble friend Lady Blatch and others spoke with more eloquence than I can ever muster in favour of the amendment which proposes that 40 per cent of the membership of the English council should have business or commercial experience. That has been promised verbally by the Government, although it does not appear as yet anywhere on the face of the Bill. The same arguments apply to Wales, if anything with even greater force. We need the thrust and drive of business people to raise our GDP, which is now so low in the valleys and West Wales that we meet the Objective 1 criteria. We hope that in the next few years we can look forward to substantial investment of funds from the European Union with matching funds from the Treasury.

The Council for the Welsh Training and Enterprise Councils describes the situation with what I believe to be cruel clarity:

"Wales has the lowest rates of economic activity in Great Britain. This is because Wales has the lowest rates of A-level and higher education graduates of any region of the United Kingdom. For those in work, the position is not much better: low pay, a lack of skills provision, and a culture which does not recognise the need for lifelong learning. The net effect of this is obvious; we see it everywhere. The Welsh economy is under-performing. Only a new, coherent approach to economic development will put it right. This must entail a radical approach to education and training provision, both in the immediate post-16 area, and the world of lifelong learning".

So everyone agrees with this analysis of our needs, although I have not checked these figures personally. What is not agreed is that the people whose self-interest and self-preservation will motivate them to improve the position are the business people. Of course the participants in education and training--students, teachers and providers generally--all have a powerful vested interest in success, but the hard drive comes from those who need trained, skilled people to survive themselves. Those are the business people and employers.

It is recognised that the voice of business must be strong in the training theatre, and much effort has been expended in recent years in ensuring that that voice is heard and responded to. But with the demise of the TECs in Wales there is a real fear that the voice of business will be silenced, and there is despair, I can tell the Minister, among many employers.

There are some commitments to business in this Bill, but they are general. What is required is a specific commitment, a guaranteed place among the partners, and that could be secured by my amendment to the effect that no fewer than four members of the Welsh council shall have had business or commercial experience. The Government would be rewarded with a return of business confidence in the scheme proposed in the Bill. I can assure them that such confidence is not present in Wales now, and it must be restored. If Members of the Committee opposite will not accept my word for it, perhaps they will accept the view expressed by Professor Kenneth Morgan in the Western Mail on 26th January. Professor Morgan, of Cardiff University, was a prominent figure in the "yes" campaign for the National Assembly. He made it absolutely clear in that article that the business community in Wales has become increasingly concerned that a body that would play a pivotal role in developing a highly skilled workforce in Wales will be dominated by public sector interests in the form of local authorities and further education colleges.

The Government would be very wise to heed my call for assured representation for business and employer interests in Wales on the new Wales council. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Liberal Democrat

I recall, when a Scottish crime Bill was passing through this House under the previous administration, there were, at about one o'clock in the morning, some seven of your Lordships present: two on each of the party Benches and one Cross-Bencher. They included three Scottish lawyers. There we were, laying down the criminal law and making massive alterations at that hour and with so few people present. Now here we are, beginning the Welsh section of this vital Bill at 11 o'clock at night. I find it disgraceful that there are no Welsh Peers on the Government Benches. Surely there must be some Labour Peers hiding nearby in case the Committee is counted out again who could give a view on this aspect of the Bill. I appreciate that the noble Baroness is here and will be speaking for the Government, but in her support I feel it would be right to have a Welsh Labour Peer present.

I hear some Welsh being spoken by a noble Lord, whose connection with Wales I did not know at all. I shall investigate further. I seem to recall he comes from north London, but I may be wrong.

A great deal has been said this week about devolution, but let me just say something about the way this Bill has come to pass and to point out the enormous advantages there are. It so happened that the Education and Training Action Group for Wales published a paper in March 1999 making recommendations on the implementation of the proposals for the provision and administration of education and training in Wales. The committee of the National Assembly, the Post-16 Education, Schools and Early Learning Committee, then took the decision that it needed to hear the views of the action group at first hand and took oral representations on the subject from ETAG and from 20 other organisations. It also considered submissions from many other individuals and organisations. Under the chairmanship of Mr Cynog Dafis, the former Member of Parliament for Ceredigion and now the Assembly Member for the Mid and West Wales region, it produced a report. I should like to quote from the conclusion:

"The committee perceived the overall aim of relating education and training to wealth creation, social inclusion, community development and personal fulfilment as one of the greatest challenges facing Wales over the next decade. The committee strongly endorsed the proposition that the economic and social prosperity of Wales is crucially dependent upon the skills of its population and that lifetime learning is vital if those skills are to be attuned to the demands of a fast moving, highly competitive world economy. The committee therefore saw an urgent need to remove any structural impediments to lifetime learning and viewed the integration of all post-16 education and training in Wales into a seamless continuum as being fundamental to this aim".

That committee, which is of course cross-party and contains members from all parties represented in the assembly, discussed the proposals in depth. Following that and the production of its report, the contents of this Bill were then presented to those responsible for it. The committee considered its provisions before it was published and came to certain conclusions. What has been produced for consideration by noble Lords is quite unlike the generality of material addressing legislation that comes before this House. It has been produced after the deepest consultation with all the interested bodies in Wales by a cross-party committee and after a presentation to the Welsh Assembly which gave its approval to the wording of the Bill. It is in that context that I believe the amendments put forward so persuasively by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, should be considered.

Finally, I shall speak to the amendments put forward by the noble Lord. If the Welsh Assembly committee has had the opportunity of considering these matters not simply in committee but also in full plenary session and has come to the conclusion that it is happy with a membership of between 10 and 12 people, this Committee ought not to interfere with that decision. In Amendment No. 151 the noble Lord referred to the proposal to insert,

"not less than four of whom shall have business or commercial experience".

He should bear in mind that an amendment to the resolution proposed on 1st February in the plenary session of the National Assembly for Wales was moved by a Tory Member, Mr Alun Cairns of South Wales West. It read:

"The Assembly should endorse the Secretary of State for Education and Employment's commitment to include a minimum 40 per cent business membership of the Learning and Skills Council in England".

It makes the same commitment for the national council for education and training in Wales in its regional tier. That amendment was lost by 40 votes to five, a substantial and significant majority. That is the view of the Welsh Assembly. For that reason, it should not be for this Committee or for another place to make any addition or amendment to such a decided view of the National Assembly.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative 11:15 pm, 10th February 2000

Perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord. Is he fully aware of the commitment that has been given by the Government in England to 40 per cent membership of the English council? I can assure him that I have heard that said by officials.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Liberal Democrat

I am fully aware of that but, of course, the method of appointment of the council differs. In England it is an appointment by the Secretary of State and it is right that there should be statutory guidelines for that. Here, the National Assembly itself will appoint the council and will do so in accordance with the policy. It will have the freedom of action to choose whom it considers to be appropriate to sit on that council. It will have the personal knowledge of the people who are appointed, and it should be given the maximum amount of prescription and freedom to choose those who will do the best job for Wales in this vital area. With this and with other amendments which are to be moved to the Welsh section, I respectfully urge the Committee to accept that the Welsh Assembly really does know best and that it is best informed to take those decisions. I oppose the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

I begin by saying that, as a resident of the country, I find it difficult to be constantly challenged as to what percentage of me is Welsh and what percentage is English. One day perhaps someone will ask me what part of the country my great-great-great-grandparents came from! I can assure the noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Roberts of Conwy, that I speak for the Government on Wales and that I am totally committed to doing the best that I can on Welsh issues and on issues relating to the people of Wales that come before us.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Liberal Democrat

I apologise to the noble Baroness if she should take anything that I have said as a criticism of her. I have heard her speak for the Government on Welsh issues. I know that her heart is fully in it and I apologise if I suggested anything to the contrary.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

I thank the noble Lord. Perhaps I may be forgiven for saying this, but I believe that those of us who have spoken for the interests of Wales have had to repeat some things many times. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, quite rightly referred to levels of pay and comparative levels of pay in Wales. I am very proud of the fact that, in introducing a national minimum wage and, ultimately, even convincing the noble Lord's party that that was the right thing to do, this Government have given greater help to regions and parts of Wales than perhaps they have done to many other parts of the country. Therefore, I am pleased to recognise that.

I believe that it is useful to begin by placing on record that, while I can well understand why the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, is seeking Amendments Nos. 149 and 150 to bring the permitted number of council members for Wales in line with that for England and the arguments that he has put forward, the LSC in England will need to have more members than, indeed, there are at present on the FEFC, not least to achieve geographical balance in terms of having many more regions than the regions of Wales. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, that, in saying that, I do not minimise the importance of the diversity that exists within Wales.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, outlined clearly the position with regard to this legislation and the provisions for Wales and the difference in England. Perhaps I may correct the figures that the noble Lord gave in his reference to the decision taken by the full Assembly. The figures were 45 to five. The amendment obviously did not carry the support of the Assembly members.

Our proposals will enable the National Assembly to provide the CETW with wide representation from outstanding individuals with relevant expertise to ensure that the high quality education and training needs of Wales are met. We are confident that with a membership of between 10 and 12 we are striking the right balance. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

I turn now to Amendment No. 151. There must be a reasonable balance between educational, business and other interests on the new council for Wales. Its members will be appointed by the national assembly on the basis of Nolan principles and guidance and following the Assembly's own procedures. The National Assembly is firmly committed to the principle of selection based on merit and to the well-informed choice of individuals who have a broad range of experience and expertise with no single interest dominating.

That is a very important principle which the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, perhaps did not recognise. It surprises me that he did not do so. It is not that one chooses someone who has this experience or that experience. I know from the skills that are available that there will be many who can offer a range of different backgrounds and experience, bringing together the needs which must be met.

The Assembly Cabinet considered this matter in concert with the Secretary of State and the Assembly approved it after very careful scrutiny and consideration.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, referred also to the importance of raising the provision for and expectations, and standards of people in Wales. That is exactly why the provisions of the Bill will enable greater coherence in secondary and FE provision by removing barriers to collaboration between schools and further and higher education colleges and by enabling the creation of new centres.

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

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

I am somewhat disappointed by the noble Baroness's reply. I had hoped for a more sympathetic hearing, particularly to the argument about the size of the council proposed for Wales.

I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, that those figures for membership of between 10 and 12 are written into this Bill, which is a piece of primary legislation. I am all for giving the Assembly as much scope as possible. But, here in Westminster, we are the people who are concerned with primary legislation. The powers of the Assembly relate only to secondary legislation, as we know. The membership figures appear on the face of this Bill.

With regard to the diversity of interests that will clearly be represented on the Welsh council, what we have heard about the composition of the Welsh council does not, as regards the business world and employers, compare favourably with what we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. She talked about the importance of the business/employer interest and, if I remember correctly, she said that the chairman of the English council would certainly have business experience. It is important for the National Assembly, and for us, to engage the support of the employers and the business people in Wales who, after all, will lose the training and enterprise councils to which they have looked in the past. However, it may well be that I shall return at a later stage to either or both of these issues.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip 11:30 pm, 10th February 2000

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. It is extremely important that one recognises exactly what the Assembly considered and the conclusion it reached. It considered that to set a percentage for any particular group or interest would be too narrow and would constrain the ability to make judgments. This is not primary legislation decided in London against the wishes of the Assembly; it is primary legislation that goes with the grain of the wishes of the people in Wales.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

I am grateful to the noble Baroness. Of course, I respect the consideration that the National Assembly gave to the issue, but I was careful not to include the 40 per cent in my amendment. However, I left scope in the amendment that I tabled, namely that there should be no fewer than four representatives drawn from the business and commercial world. Of course, that can be translated into a percentage of 10 or 12, or the larger figure that I also recommended. I intended to stress the importance of the employer/business element if we are to ensure the success of the council. With those remarks I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 150 and 151 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

moved Amendment No. 152:

Page 12, line 22, at end insert ("including experience and knowledge of the needs of disabled people").

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

I rise to move Amendment No. 152 in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Rix. Many noble Lords who were present during earlier stages of our discussions will be aware that certain noble Lords referred to a Welsh amendment that had somehow crept into the English groupings. I certainly promised--I know their Lordships expect me to do so--to refer to those amendments. During an earlier debate the noble Lord, Lord Rix, argued in favour of an amendment--Amendment No. 152--to the effect that the Welsh council as well as the English council should include members with experience and knowledge of disabled people. I support that, especially as the Further Education Funding Council for Wales made considerable progress in encouraging institutions to adopt inclusive strategies for students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities. By 1998-99 the council provided some £2.2 million to support 2,400 such students on mainstream FE courses. I am sure that we would all agree that that valuable work should be built upon.

Amendment No. 156 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and others, falls within this group of amendments, and deals with persons with learning difficulties or disabilities above school age but below the age of 25. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said that the Government,

"shall consult on the arrangements that the LSC will develop in this area".--[Official Report, 8/2/00; col. 579.]

Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, cannot commit the National Assembly and the Welsh Council to such consultation, but I would encourage them to consult on the issue. Perhaps the noble Baroness may be able to endorse my encouragement.

Amendment No. 159 dealt with vocational and non-vocational learning for people with learning difficulties. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, made it clear that there should be no doubt that the education to be procured by the councils should include both vocational and non-vocational courses, not just for those with learning difficulties but for everyone. In that reply the noble Baroness covered the Welsh situation as well.

My noble friend Lord Pilkington spoke concisely to amendments which are of particular interest to us in Wales and other predominantly rural areas where sixth forms are often small and in competition for pupils with FE colleges. The Government's assurance on sixth form funding is conditional upon the maintenance of numbers, as we heard in the phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, when he said, "as long as numbers do not fall". That begs a number of questions which may arise when we discuss Clause 36. What does a fall in numbers mean, and at what point in time?

I have sought to do justice to noble Lords who said I would refer to these amendments when we came to the Welsh part of the Bill. The final amendment to which I shall speak is Amendment No. 161, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, who asked me to move it formally. That I shall do at the appropriate time. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

The noble Lord quite rightly identified a group of amendments spoken to earlier which have a specific interest in Wales. Identifying and meeting the learning needs of disabled people will be part of the core business of not only LSCs but of the CETW. It is not a peripheral concern. That is why the Bill requires councils to have both specific regard to the needs of people with disabilities and to report annually on their progress and plans in meeting those needs.

That is also why the Government made a firm commitment in the learning and skills council prospectus and said that they will expect the national and local LSCs to have members who understand the needs of people with learning difficulties and disabilities.

In terms of the particular structure within Wales, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, will be aware that many of the matters of detail as to the implementation of this policy will be a matter for the Assembly to consider. Since the functions clearly and explicitly include provision for disabled people, the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales 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 the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. We have covered the ground as promised to noble Lords who spoke either earlier today or on the first day in Committee. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 30 agreed to.

Schedule 4 [National Council for Education and Training for Wales]:

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

moved Amendment No. 153:

Page 62, line 4, leave out ("salaries and").

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

This probing amendment is designed to elicit which council members are to be salaried. It appears that they are all to be paid. If my reading of Schedule 4 is correct, the Assembly can only determine amount. I would be grateful for clarification and some information about the current situation in respect of the payment of quango members. Are all the members of the Welsh Development Agency, for example, currently paid salaries or fees?

I would like to know the total bill for salaries and fees but suspect that the easy answer is that that matter is for the National Assembly and figures have not yet been calculated. That begs the question of why it is necessary for the council to be under such close supervision by the Assembly--a recurring theme in my questioning. Would it not be wiser to give the council a measure of independence and responsibility, rather than have the Assembly involved in its detailed operations and second guessing at every turn?

Amendment No. 154 relates to paragraph 5(3) of Schedule 4--which requires the Assembly's approval of any council determination of a staff appointment. Presumably that provision extends to all council staff, from a doorman to a senior executive at the central or regional office. Is it seriously suggested that every appointment must be approved by the Assembly? A similar provision applies to council appointments in England but I wonder whether the Assembly can fulfil that function properly. Surely the council should bear responsibility for its own appointments.

Paragraph 8 of Schedule 4 details the requirements in respect of members' interests and their disclosure in particular circumstances. All the good seems to be undone in sub-paragraph (6), which allows the Assembly to remove a disability arising from any such disclosure--that disability being a prohibition on taking part in any deliberation or decision of the council or any committee of the council with respect to the matter. Laymen would not see much sense in that. The Secretary of State has a similar power in regard to the English council, but that does not justify giving the same power to the Assembly. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

I am relieved to see my noble friend Lord Stone of Blackheath return to his place, in case I need his linguistic skill from his many years living in the Principality.

Amendment No. 153 is unduly restrictive and at odds with the existing arrangements for members of the FEFC for Wales and Higher Education Funding Council for Wales. It is right and fair that members of the CETW receive salaries for their important task. They have an important job and we expect them to devote considerable energy and time to their responsibilities. An inability to pay salaries may limit the range of talented people from all parts of the community that we want to attract to those posts. Determination by the National Assembly provides a proper safeguard against inappropriate terms being set.

Amendment No. 154 would affect CETW staff, who will be public servants working for an Assembly-sponsored public body. I hope that my words will reassure the noble Lord, Lord Roberts. While detailed terms and conditions of its staff will be for the CETW to determine, it is surely right that the National Assembly should be able to ensure that these terms and conditions are in line with public sector policies. This is a well-established principle for other Assembly-sponsored public bodies and replicates provisions made in respect of the FEFC for Wales by the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, which I am sure the noble Lord will remember.

As regards Amendment No. 155, it is right that a CETW member with an interest should disclose it when such matters are discussed, and should normally be barred from taking part in relevant deliberations and decisions in which he or she may have an interest. But an unqualified application of the provisions could lead to perverse consequences; for example, an FE college principal on the CETW being unable to take part in general debates on priorities for resource allocation because the outcome would inevitably have some impact on his or her college.

Therefore, there should be a provision for the National Assembly to lift such a bar on an individual member where it judges this to be sensible. This is standard provision in legislation relating to non-departmental and Assembly-sponsored bodies. The noble Lord may wish to look, for example, at Schedule 2 to the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998. It is right that this power should be with the National Assembly, rather than with the CETW in order to ensure that such decisions are made in a detached and considered way. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment and not move the others grouped with it.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative 11:45 pm, 10th February 2000

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her reply. I said at the outset of my remarks that Amendment No. 153 was a probing amendment. I am at least wiser to the extent that I now know that members of the council will be salaried or in receipt of fees. I am equally glad to have her assurance that it is the terms and conditions of appointments and employment which will be supervised by the Assembly. I also fully appreciate the Minister's explanation of the qualification in the subparagraph referred to in Amendment No. 155 and the example that she gave of the FE college principal being inhibited in discussion, for example, of overall budgeting for FE colleges in Wales. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 154 and 155 not moved.]

Schedule 4 agreed to.

Clause 31 [Education and training for persons aged 16 to 19]:

[Amendments Nos. 156 to 159 not moved.]

Clause 31 agreed to.

Clause 32 [Education and training for persons over 19]:

[Amendment No. 160 not moved.]

Clause 32 agreed to.

Clause 33 [Encouragement of education and training]:

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

moved Amendment No. 161:

Page 14, line 11, at end insert--

("( ) promote equality of opportunity between disabled and non-disabled people in education and training and all support services covering transition").

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

I move the amendment formally on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth. I believe that it was included in an earlier group of amendments which we discussed. It was debated as part of the group of amendments headed by Amendment No. 152. That grouping included Amendments Nos. 156 to 164.

Photo of Lord Brougham and Vaux Lord Brougham and Vaux Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

Amendments Nos. 156 to 164 were debated much earlier on in the proceedings. Does the noble Lord wish to move this amendment formally?

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

My understanding is that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, has spoken to this amendment but has accepted that the first amendment grouped with it was not moved. My understanding was that this amendment was not to be moved.

Clause 33 agreed to.

Clause 34 [Provision of financial resources]:

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

moved Amendment No. 162:

Page 14, line 32, leave out ("or advice") and insert (", advice or guidance").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

moved Amendment No. 163:

Page 14, line 33, at end insert ("(including employment)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 34, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 35 to 38 agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

moved Amendment No. 164:

After Clause 38, insert the following new clause--

:TITLE3:FURTHER EDUCATION: GOVERNORS

(" .--(1) The Council may appoint a person to be a member of the governing body of an institution which--

(a) falls within the further education sector (within the meaning given by section 91(3) of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992), and

(b) mainly serves the population of Wales.

(2) But no more than two members of the governing body of a given institution may at any given time have been appointed under this section.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

moved Amendment No. 165:

After Clause 38, insert the following new clause--

:TITLE3:LINKS BETWEEN EDUCATION AND TRAINING AND EMPLOYMENT: WALES

(" .--(1) The Council may secure the provision of facilities for the gaining of work experience by young persons receiving education.

(2) The Council may secure the provision of facilities designed to form links between (on the one hand) employers and (on the other) persons falling within subsection (3).

(3) The persons falling within this subsection are--

(a) persons who provide education or training, and

(b) persons who receive it and who have not attained the age of 19.

(4) A person is a young person in the period which--

(a) starts with the beginning of the year in which he attains the age of 15, and

(b) ends with the end of the year in which he attains the age of 19.

(5) A year is a year beginning with 1 September.").

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

The Committee will not have failed to notice that certain clauses relating to the English council have been left out of Part II which establishes the council for Wales. This particular Amendment No. 165 refers to a new clause which is entitled,

"Links between education and training and employment: Wales".

It is clearly an adaptation of Clause 8 in the English part of the Bill. I have adapted it to Welsh circumstances. I understand that the Government are considering whether to insert this clause or a similar measure at a later stage in our proceedings. If they believe that the clause needs adaptation, so be it. For my part, I would be content with it as it stands. I believe that the contents of the clause should apply to Wales as well as to England. I am bound to say that this clause led to an earlier debate and there was some concern expressed by my noble friend Lady Blatch about the open-ended nature of the power contained within the clause relating to further education governors. I think we will leave that to one side for the moment. I shall concentrate on the Government's response to this replica of Clause 8 which is entitled, as I have said,

"Links between education and training and employment: Wales".

I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

I ought to declare an interest before speaking to this amendment. I have members of my family who currently benefit from work experience placement schemes in Wales.

Work experience placements in Wales will be the responsibility of the careers service companies under contract to the National Assembly. We have already made provision in Clause 34 for the CETW to provide funding support to foster links between employers and those who provide or receive post-16 education and training. I hope therefore that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Liberal Democrat

I support the Government in their opposition to this amendment. Again it is a matter that has already been covered by the National Assembly in Wales. It has considered the matter and it is satisfied with the provisions made in Clause 34 with regard to financial provision and its view should prevail.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

I am grateful for the explanation that the noble Baroness has given. I understand the provision that is made in Clause 34 but I wanted to ascertain the reasoning behind the application of this clause to England but not to Wales. However, having been given the explanation, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

moved Amendment No. 166:

After Clause 38, insert the following new clause--

:TITLE3:FURTHER EDUCATION: GOVERNORS: WALES

(" .--(1) This section applies if there is at any time a vacancy in the membership of the governing body of an institution within the further education sector (within the meaning given by section 91(3) of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992).

(2) The Council may appoint a person to fill the vacancy.

(3) But no more than two members of the governing body of a given institution may at any given time have been appointed under this section.").

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

This is another example of a proposed new clause which relates to further education governors. It is a replica of Clause 11 of the Bill. However, I believe that that has been overtaken by a new clause tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, in Amendment No. 164. The power that the measure gives to the Assembly to appoint governors has caused concern in England. I dare say that many in Wales will be concerned about its open-ended nature when they realise fully what it means. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, gave us an assurance earlier that certain safeguards will be provided as regards the use of the power. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

I can add nothing to what my noble friend Lady Blackstone said when speaking to this subject earlier. I am grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, has expressed his awareness that this amendment has been overtaken by the Government's Amendment No. 164. I thank him for the time and trouble he has taken in raising this issue. I hope that, in view of the Government's amendment, he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

moved Amendment No. 167:

After Clause 38, insert the following new clause--

:TITLE3:PLANS: WALES

(" .--(1) The Council--

(a) must make and publish a plan for each of its financial years;

(b) may make and publish such other plans as it thinks fit.

(2) A plan for the Council's first financial year must be published as soon as is reasonably practicable after the year starts.

(3) A plan for any subsequent financial year of the Council must be published before the year starts.

(4) A plan for a financial year must include--

(a) proposals as to how the Council intends to achieve in the financial year any objectives which should be achieved in the year in conformity with directions of the National Assembly or with conditions imposed under section 46;

(b) the Council's financial proposals for the year, and in particular proposals as to how it plans to keep to its budget for the year.").

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

The proposed new clause replicates Clause 15 in the English part of the Bill. Clause 15 states that the LSC,

"must make and publish a plan for each of its financial years".

It goes on to specify the detailed requirement. I believe that this is a sound clause and that it should apply also to the Welsh council. It may be argued that the substance of the clause can be included in the remit given by the National Assembly to the council, but we have no certainty that it will be so included. We have an opportunity here and now to put the requirement for an annual plan on the face of the Bill. I believe that that is where it belongs. It is so fundamental a requirement that it seems to me to belong to the sphere of primary legislation rather than a remit which, of course, can enlarge on the contents of the clause. Needless to say, careful planning is all important in the sphere of education and training and I am sure that we should highlight the need for it. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip 12:00 am, 10th February 2000

As regards the planning and strategic regime of the CETW, the National Assembly has made it clear that it will set out its requirements on these matters in the remit letter to the new council for Wales. We are aware of the significant interest of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, in the devolution settlement and of the impact that the Government of Wales Act has made on Wales.

We should all welcome the opportunity that devolution has given to Wales to choose its own direction to a considerable extent in post-16 education and training. The intention of the National Assembly to deal with the planning and strategic functions of the CETW through its remit letter is a very good example of that. I hope that the noble Lord will agree and will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. It is a moot point whether this is a matter which should be put on the face of the Bill as a requirement or included, as I have suggested, in the remit to be given to the council. I do not feel disposed to argue strongly one way or the other.

I should have spoken also to Amendment No. 168. What I said about planning applied equally to strategy. Again, I have adapted Clause 16--some might say that I cribbed unashamedly--so that it is applicable to Welsh circumstances. It seems to me that the formulation by the council of a strategy for the exercise of its functions and to achieve its objectives is fundamental and belongs, as I have said, to primary legislation. I am not against giving latitude, as I have stressed, to the National Assembly, but there is ample scope for flexibility after the basic principles have been laid down.

I noticed in reading the debate of the plenary session of the National Assembly on 1st February that some Assembly Members for Wales wanted something different. Vive la difference seemed to be the call of the day. I say yes to different treatment when that is clearly beneficial to Wales, but not difference for its own sake.

I cannot see the Welsh council being effective in attaining its objectives without a strategy. Indeed, it will be lost without one and the education and training of young people will suffer. I reiterate that the requirement should be written into the Bill. I believe that as legislators we would be failing in our duty if we did not include it as a requirement.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

I apologise to the noble Lord. I understood that he was speaking to both amendments together. My earlier reply still holds.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Liberal Democrat

I draw attention to one matter contained in the report of the post-16 education and training committee of the National Assembly for Wales. It states that,

"The primary legislation establishing the National Council should be drafted in such a way as to allow the National Assembly to retain discretion and flexibility".

Surely it is in the fields of finance and strategy that that flexibility will be exercised.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

I have no doubt that a great deal of flexibility will be exercised, but what we are talking about and seeking to insert into the Bill are fundamental requirements that a strategy be produced and annual plans. I can only reiterate that I believe that that belongs to the area of primary legislation. The Government clearly do not share my view.

I may return to this point at a later stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 168 and 168A not moved.]

Clause 39 [Research and information]:

[Amendments Nos. 169 and 170 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

moved Amendments Nos. 171 and 172:

Page 16, line 37, leave out ("or advice") and insert (", advice or guidance").

Page 16, line 37, at end insert ("(including employment)").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 39, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 40 [Persons with learning difficulties]:

[Amendment No. 173 not moved.]

Clause 40 agreed to.

Clauses 41 to 45 agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Committees (Wales)]:

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

moved Amendment No. 174:

Page 64, line 35, leave out ("may") and insert ("must").

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

This is an important amendment, small as it may seem. It seeks to make the establishment of regional committees obligatory. Those of your Lordships who know Wales well know of its diversity within, and how different west Wales is from the south-east, which in turn is a world apart from north Wales. Powys and mid-Wales, too, as an area, is unique in character.

Fixing the boundaries of these regions is always a vexatious problem, but some progress has been made. Since the passing of the Government of Wales Act 1998, and as a result of the efforts of the Welsh Development Agency, the regions are reasonably well defined.

I understand that it may well be the intention of the National Assembly to establish four committees, coterminous with the regions of the Welsh Development Agency. That decision will be heavily debated--the sub-division of Wales is always controversial--and I should like to spare the Assembly some of that discussion by making regional committees, at least, obligatory. There are other important matters to consider and we and the Assembly must move on.

The committees that may be set up--which I believe must be established if the whole of Wales is to participate in this scheme--will be purely advisory and very different from the English local councils, which will have executive functions. There are those in Wales--especially those who have had experience of the TECs--who argue that the Welsh regional committees should be similarly constituted. As advisory bodies, they say, the Welsh committees will simply be talking shops. Employers and business people, whose support is vital, will be reluctant to participate in such committees.

This, of course, begs the question of how the national council will operate at regional and local level. I understand that there will be some 15 of what are described as community consortia for education and training--almost one for every local authority; we have 22 local authorities--but they will not have any real power either. That will be retained by the national council, which will operate through its regional offices and which will fund training providers direct.

Is this the real scheme of things? If that is the case, it is not reflected in the Bill except by its absence. In other words, there is no description in the Bill of how the scheme will work in practice or the mechanism by which the council's functions will be exercised on the ground. That contrasts with the position as regards England, which is at least much clearer.

I must confess to a fear that Wales and its council will fall between two stools: the advisory regional committees on the one hand and the equally powerless community consortia on the other. As a first step towards clarification and establishing a firm structure, I propose that the duty to establish the regional committees be written into the Bill. In that event, the rest of the schedule will apply. It will save the Assembly a great deal of time and enable it to get on with its business.

I am glad to say that the CBI at least is supportive. Its latest parliamentary brief states that:

"Meeting skill needs in the regions of Wales will require a similar or greater level of local flexibility as in England. Wales will lose out if there is not a level playing field in this regard. To this end Welsh business and CBI Wales are keen to see strong regional committees in Wales which can take the lead in identifying and meeting labour market needs. Schedule 5 para 1 states only that these 'may' be created, not that they should be. The CBI would welcome a change to this point from 'may' to 'shall'"--

I cannot go with it all the way; I have put in "must"--

"together with clarification about the powers and flexibility which these committees will have".

Amendment No. 175 seeks that a young people's learning committee and an adult learning committee should be established. The requirement to form such committees is written into Schedule 3 in the section of the Bill relating to England, where it is stated that the council must establish a young people's learning committee and an adult learning committee. Why is it thought that such committees are a must in England but do not merit even a mention in Wales? I am sure that the Welsh council could form such committees under its general powers, but that is not a complete answer.

Furthermore, the functions of the two committees are investigative and advisory in the main. The areas of youth and adult learning both require--as we heard in earlier debates--persistent investigation with a view to smooth and effective delivery and development. We do not have all the answers. I speak from my personal experience as a Minister in the Welsh Office deeply interested in those fields and the difficult problems that they posed in my time. I am sure many of those problems are still extant. I should like those committees, which are the keys to future development, to be written into the Bill.

Amendment No. 176 relates again to the issue of the size of regional committees. Local councils in England will have between 12 and 16 members, compared with the Welsh regional committee's eight, including the chairman. I am not sure what the justification is for that disparity. Of course, they are not strictly comparable; the Welsh committees are advisory rather than executive. Nevertheless, it may be argued that, being advisory, they should be drawn from a wide range of interested bodies to ensure that their advice is soundly based.

The four TECs that they replace have an average of 15 members each, which I gather from Annex A to the "Public Bodies 1999" document. Although again they are not strictly comparable, all the TECs being locally based companies with employer led boards, there are similarities.

The bodies that will have a claim to membership are those I listed when we were discussing the composition of the main council--employers, sixth form heads, teachers, local authorities, FE colleges and higher education institutions, the CBI, the TUC, the Welsh Development Agency, and so on. Those bodies do not easily lend themselves to duplicate membership to the extent that they can be limited to a totality of eight. It is unwise to attempt that limitation. It will only result in criticism of the exclusion of some obvious claimants to membership. So I think the Government would be well advised to accept the amendment.

Amendment No. 177 again requires that:

"not fewer than four ... shall have business or commercial experience".

It has to be said that there is a great deal of disaffection in Wales in the business community. I think it has been underestimated by the Government. It arises in part from the abolition of the TECs, but also business does not agree with the educational-institutional public sector bias implicit in the Bill.

One businessman told me that the National Assembly was distinctly "business unfriendly". I do not think that the Assembly should enjoy that reputation. I suspect that it can be attributed to some extent to the fact that few Assembly members have business experience and a high percentage come from the public sector.

To be fair, many of the Assembly's documents, including the report by the Assembly's Post-16 Education and Training Committee, stress the importance of,

"The participation of business at all levels in the new arrangements to give a national, regional and local perspective on the skills needed to generate substantial improvements in wealth creation in Wales".

That is an excellent statement. I could not have expressed it better myself. It is the first of the committee's key principles. But for some reason it is not reflected in the Welsh parts of the Bill. We should put that right. Amendment No. 177 gives us the opportunity to do so.

The CBI would like the requirement for 40 per cent business and commercial representation to apply to the regional committees as well as the Welsh national council. However, I think that a share of four out of a total complement of 12 would go some way towards meeting the wishes of employers in Wales. I strongly recommend that the Government listen to these pleas and give them some consideration. Otherwise, I fear that they will not secure business and employer support for the Bill's contents. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Liberal Democrat 12:15 am, 10th February 2000

I recognise and defer to the enormous experience that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, has had in the Welsh Office. He was indeed the anchor-man of the Welsh Office for so many years. I am sure that no Minister of State has ever had greater experience of the workings of the Welsh Office during his time. However, there is a danger that some of his proposals run along the lines that, "if England's got it, Wales should have it as well in primary legislation". I really do not think that that is necessary.

The particular issue of regional tiers of the national council was described by the Post-16 Education and Training Committee as one of the key issues upon which it had to decide, and it deliberated long and hard before reaching its final conclusions on the subject. The Assembly Secretary had himself proposed four regional boards with boundaries coterminous with the Assembly's regional committees, the regional economic fora and the existing TECs. The views that the committee received from the CBI, the Council for the Welsh TECs and so on favoured business-led regional arms of CETW with boundaries coterminous with those of the economic development fora.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, is right to point out that there is a business view. On the other hand, the view of public servants in the education sector was that, although they supported a regional tier with an advisory role, it would dilute the model and considerably increase the administrative burden. Consequently, after considerable discussion--of the kind that has not taken place over the proposals for England--the committee came down in favour of a model which approached that proposed by the Government in this Bill. No greater cross-party consideration and reception of submissions could be envisaged than has happened with the principles that lie behind the drafting of this Bill. I support the Bill as it is and oppose these amendments.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

I believe that the fundamental principle which needs to be tackled here is that devolution leads to a process, well described by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, in which there is a joint approach and co-operation in a democratic family partnership. It cannot be paternalistic. There is a danger that the detail of the amendments to which the noble Lord draws attention tonight will move away from partnership and towards imposition. That would be resented by the Assembly, in our view quite rightly.

There has been considerable debate in Wales about the arrangements for the CETW's regional committees. Following the account by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, in the plenary debate on 1st February the National Assembly made clear its expectation of the new council to establish a committee for each of the four regions within Wales. The National Assembly, with the support of the cross-party Post-16 Education and Training Committee, made it equally clear that its strong preference was that the new council should have a permissive power rather than a duty with regard to the setting up of committees. That is what we have provided should happen.

Amendment No. 175 seeks to place a further duty on the CETW to establish two further committees, one for young people and the other for adults. As the noble Lord recognises, that would impose the same sub-structure in Wales as in England, but the issues, policies and needs of Wales are distinct from England's. It would be preferable to give discretion to CETW on this matter, as we have provided in the Bill.

As to the minimum number of members required for a regional committee of the CETW and its composition, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, seeks to raise the number from eight to 12, at least four of whom should come from the business or commercial sector. The National Assembly considered that and believed that a minimum of eight members would be sufficient to ensure efficient operation. Members will be appointed on the basis of having the right experience, knowledge and skills for the job, rather than whether they come from the education, business or commercial sector. In saying this, the National Assembly recognises the key input of the business sector and has pledged that each regional committee will have a chairman with a solid business background.

Forgive me, at this late hour, a small anecdote. During the late Lord Joseph's time as Secretary of State, he visited a tertiary college in Lancashire. He greeted the person who chaired that body with the words, "Who do you represent?" The Conservative county councillor replied, "I'm an employer; I am a trainer; I am a local authority member; I am a member of a voluntary organisation; I come from your Party; I am the parent of two daughters at the college; my wife is a student and I am a student at night. Which hat would you like me to say I am wearing?"

Amendments Nos. 178 and 179 would remove the National Assembly's control over the locus of the CETW's regional committees. Since the regional committees will ultimately be accountable to the National Assembly, it is essential that the National Assembly has a clear and real say in what they do. I hope, in the light of this reply, and the experience I have recounted, that the noble Lord will feel confident to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

Perhaps I may begin by simply saying to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, that my approach to these issues is not to say that if England has some of these clauses Wales must have them too. It is rather that I wish to know quite clearly why they do not apply to Wales.

I have to be quite clear in my understanding of how this Bill is going to work in practice in Wales. We are familiar with the English situation--the national council and the power of the local councils--but quite clearly in Wales all the real power is going to be concentrated in the national council. The regional committees, if they come into existence, will be purely advisory. So this justifies my earlier remark that there is even more centralisation of power in Wales under the system proposed in this Bill than there is in England. We do not have the regional equivalents of the English local councils.

Therefore, I would be grateful, before I beg leave to withdraw this amendment, if the Minister could confirm my belief that that is the way the national council will work--through local offices and taking advice only from regional committees.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

I think the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, is again describing a different process. The framework of accountability and responsibility for making this system work will be determined by the Assembly. That is the result of devolution, and we believe it to be right.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 175 to 179 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

moved Amendment No. 180:

Page 65, line 12, at end insert ("including community consortia for education and training").

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

This amendment contains the first reference to community consortia for education and training. These are the local bodies which have featured prominently in the Education and Training Action Group's report in Wales. It pre-dates the Assembly, and of course the proposal is also featured in the Assembly's Post-16 Education and Training Committee deliberations.

The report of that committee, itself welcomed and approved by the full Assembly on 1st February--as we have heard--endorses the concept of local consortia and urges the Assembly Secretary to produce a framework for their establishment. It is common knowledge that around 15 will be established in Wales. They will comprise local providers, including further education colleges, local authority school sixth forms, private training providers, Welsh medium secondary schools, voluntary organisations engaged in post-16 learning and other partners in adult and higher education.

The report goes on to say that,

"The community consortia should be non statutory".

Yet they can be "charged by the CETW"--the Council for Education and Training in Wales--to prepare proposals for the delivery of quality post-16 education and training provision relevant to the needs of its area in return for public moneys.

I am somewhat mystified as to why such bodies should be non-statutory when they will be in receipt of public funds and will be charged with specific duties by the council. Clearly they will be important bodies and I believe that at least they deserve a mention somewhere in the Bill. If the amendment is carried, it will not in any way inhibit the National Assembly or the council. The council will specify functions and appoint members and, if the community consortia are to receive public moneys, they will of course be subject to the usual constraints.

As I said earlier, perhaps the whole structure of community consortia, regional committees and the national council is something of a facade and the real work will be done under the auspices of the Skills Wales Task Force, another body which does not appear in the Bill. I should be grateful for a little clarification on these points and a statement of how the framework will deliver its objectives. I realise that the amendment itself is imperfect and that the new words might be better placed after "Council" in the preceding line. However, I think that the thrust of the amendment is clear enough. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip 12:30 am, 10th February 2000

As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, has said, Amendment No. 180 would bring local community consortia for education and training within the scope of the CETW's powers in relation to its committees other than regional committees. However, local consortia will not be part of the CETW. They will be voluntary partnerships of education and training providers, employers and others, which will help plan the delivery of post-16 learning in their areas. The distinct components of the consortia will have equal status and will be funded directly by the CETW.

The CETW will be tasked by the National Assembly with deciding the actual size, boundaries and composition of community consortia, but it is the National Assembly's intention that no single interest will dominate. Community consortia partners, including employers and voluntary sector representatives, will together plan the provision for their local areas.

The task force will advise on the practical measures which can be taken to ease skills shortages, to improve the extent and quality of learning in the workplace and to ensure that providers of education and training are responsive to the skills needs of employers and individuals. I hope that, with these reassurances, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

I am grateful to the Minister for her explanation. I am beginning to see rather more clearly how this Bill will work in Wales. We know that the community consortia are already in existence in certain areas, and it is clearly intended that they should multiply. However, as the Minister has explained on more than one occasion, the real responsibility for the implementation of the Bill will rest with the Assembly. I certainly wish it well in that task. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 5 agreed to.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before one o'clock.