Learning and Skills Bill [H.L.]

– in the House of Lords at 3:14 pm on 13th March 2000.

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Clause 1 [The Council]:

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative 3:22 pm, 13th March 2000

moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 12, at end insert ("and one as Chief Executive, a post which shall subsequently be appointed by the Council as set out in Schedule 1 to this Act").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, I rise to move Amendment No. 1 and to speak to Amendments Nos. 2 to 6. I understand that Amendment No. 8, which is grouped with my amendments, is to be spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Tope.

Amendment No. 1, which seeks to include on the face of the Bill a reference to the subsequent appointment of the post of chief executive as set out in Schedule 1 to the Bill, does no more than bring the arrangements into line with those for the chairman. The Minister gave no reason why it had been found necessary in Clause 1 to say that a member of the council should be appointed chairman but not that a member should also be appointed chief executive. Both should appear in either the schedule or in Clause 1, with subsequent detailed arrangements being dealt with in the schedule. Therefore, the amendment is tabled merely as a matter of consistency.

Amendment No. 2 is about the appointment of the chairman and ensures that he is a person with current or recent non-public business experience who commands national respect. The amendment adopts the Minister's own words. The Government intend that the individual should be someone from business who is nationally respected. Given that there is a great deal of minutiae on the face of the Bill, which will increase some of the concerns of business and commerce about the council, it is important that this should also be made explicit.

Amendment No. 3 is about the composition of the Bill, and it, too, is a matter with which the Government should have no difficulty. The Government have made it clear both informally and formally that 40 per cent of the members of the national council and of the local councils should include people from the business community. It is essential that that appears on the face of the Bill. At each stage of the Bill business and commerce have re-emphasised the importance of seeing something like this on the face of the Bill. Both we and business and commerce are conscious that the training and enterprise councils, which will go out of business as a result of the Bill and government policy, are to lose membership of those bodies. At the moment, they comprise two-thirds of the membership, which will reduce as a result of the Bill. In order to steady any nerves about the legislation, it is important that that should be made explicit on the face of the Bill.

Amendment No. 4 provides that,

"Not less than 20 per cent. of the members shall be nominated by the Local Government Association".

I listened to what the Government said at an earlier stage and have read what they have said since. They are concerned about prescribing so much of the composition on the face of the Bill. Therefore, I have reduced the figure from 25 per cent to 20 per cent. I feel strongly that there should be representation on the body and that it should be made explicit in some form on the face of the Bill.

The concern is that the Government say all the right things. I have been present at a number of meetings where Ministers have explained their intentions, but very little in the Bill bears out those intentions; much of it is left to chance. If in addition to some of the comforting statements one accepts what the noble Baroness has said constantly--that it will be a matter for Nolan--if Nolan does not make the recommendations, that will not happen. In order for the Government to make that happen--in other words, to say to Nolan that they mean that there should be 40 per cent representation by business and local government--it is important that, even if that is subject to Nolan procedures, that matter is made explicit on the face of the Bill.

There will be some argument about Amendment No. 4, but I hope that there will be none about Amendment No. 3 which represents the Government's declared intention. The Government have been less explicit about local government representation. The only explicit statement that we have had from the Minister in another place, Mr Wicks, is that there will be one local government representative on each of the councils, both national and local.

Amendment No. 5 proposes that,

"The chairman shall be appointed for a period of not less than three years and not exceeding five years".

We have again taken the Minister's declared intention that there should be a properly recognised term of office. The Minister will notice that the amendment does not say that the person shall be reappointed, but that the appointment should be for a period of not less than three years and not exceeding five years. All of that is subject to the chairman not making an awful gaffe whereby he or she may have to be dismissed in a shorter period of time, but the appointment itself should be made for a specific period, and that should be properly understood by the person who accepts the post.

Amendment No. 6 makes grammatically explicit on the face of the Bill that the reference is not to "a member". I understand that the present wording is counsel-speak. Counsel always knows what he or she means by a word. However, given that business, commerce, local authorities and other interested parties--for example the voluntary sector and so forth--need to understand what these words mean, it is right that each member appointed to a relatively small national council should bring to it skills and experience which are relevant to the work of that body. That should be required not of "a member", or of "any member", but of "each member".

Perhaps I may say in passing that there will be some concern if at the end of the day the Government take the view that the membership should be 12 and not 16 members. If two of the posts are already taken up by the chairman and chief executive, there will be only a very small number of people to represent all the interests. I am aware that today noble Lords will propose that other interests should be represented on the council. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Alloway Lord Campbell of Alloway Conservative 3:30 pm, 13th March 2000

My Lords, perhaps I may ask a question for clarification as regards construction. I speak to all amendments within the grouping. Do the functions and duties under Clause 1, Schedule 1 and Clause 2 apply where the local authority is not a local education authority? Moving Amendments Nos. 150 and 152 in Committee the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn made plain that they applied only where the local authority was a local education authority. I can see the logic of that. This morning I asked half a dozen noble Lords with greater knowledge of education than I possess and no one knew the answer. As a matter of principle, it would be a good idea to see where we are going at the outset. I hope that the Minister will take the matter on board.

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

My Lords, I speak to Amendment No. 8 tabled by my noble friend Lord Tope and myself. We moved a somewhat similar amendment in Committee stressing that it was a minor proposal aimed at preventing the learning and skills council being dominated by a self-perpetuating clique. The amendment seeks to limit the normal term of the chairman's appointment to no more than two terms. It is somewhat similar to Amendment No. 5 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, which seeks to limit the period for which the chairman shall be appointed to not less than three years and not exceeding five years. Our amendment is slightly different. We seek to limit the normal period to two terms. It echoes the reply that we received from the Minister in Committee.

Although recognising that stability and membership build up a team spirit and strengthen bonds between members, they can also lead to conservatism and entrenched attitudes. It is always good for an organisation to be challenged from time to time. We are worried that, as drafted, Schedule 1 allows the chairman to continue indefinitely. We want to ensure that that does not occur. The Minister stressed in Committee that the general rule set out in the code of practice for public appointments was that members and chairs would normally serve for a maximum of two terms but that exceptions were allowed. That is good. However, the very fact that it is normal practice suggests that the provision should be incorporated on the face of the Bill. It is for that reason that we again bring forward an amendment in a slightly altered form.

Perhaps I may comment on the noble Baroness's six amendments. We have some sympathy with Amendment No. 1 in relation to the chief executive serving on the council. However, we accept, as the Minister stated on the last occasion, that chief executives sit on the research councils, the Higher Education Funding Council and the Further Education Funding Council, and that that provides a precedent. It is not essential.

We have less sympathy with Amendments Nos. 2 and 3. We feel that they are too prescriptive. It would be wrong for such a clear proportion of the council to be dominated by one forum or another. We have a great deal of sympathy for Amendment No. 4. It is right that local government should be represented on the learning and skills council. Amendment No. 5 is very close to our own amendment. It seeks the same end.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

My Lords, I set down a marker that I am concerned about the degree of prescription in membership that Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 4 envisage. I am not happy about the Bill moving more and more strongly towards making provision simply about education and training for employment. If we consider the figures, 60 per cent would be predicated to education and business. My calculation is that 60 per cent of 16 is 9.6--that is 10 members, plus the chairman and chief executive. It leaves only four members to be selected from other disciplines and backgrounds.

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

My Lords, I am puzzled by Amendment No. 1 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. It simply replicates provisions already in Schedule 1. In Committee, the noble Baroness seemed to suggest--she repeated the suggestion today--that provisions in a schedule have somehow less force than provisions in a clause. That is not the case. If provisions are in a schedule they are still part of an Act when it is enacted and, therefore, have statutory power. It is simply not the case that they have less force if they are in a schedule. It means that the chief executive will be no less a creature of statute than the chairman.

I do not believe that the chief executives of, for example, the Further Education Funding Council or the Higher Education Funding Council, for which the noble Baroness's own government legislated in 1992, felt slighted because their appointments were contained within schedules to the relevant legislation. Nor, I am sure, do the chief executives of any of the regional development agencies. The Bill does exactly what earlier legislation did--legislation of the government of which the noble Baroness was a member.

As to Amendment No. 2, I fully support the wish of noble Lords that the business sector should play a major role in the LSC's strategic decision-making and planning. That is exactly why I sought to reassure noble Lords during Second Reading and in Committee that the national chair and most local chairs will have significant business or commercial experience.

I set out the reasons for those commitments to business at an earlier stage. However, it does not follow that we should incorporate such commitments on the face of the Bill. As I mentioned before, there is an obvious problem of definition with the terms "business" or "non-public sector"--I am not entirely sure how they would be defined, and what would happen in a court case if there were argument on the definition--and "national respect". I am sure that many Members of this House are the subject of great national respect, but some people might debate that.

We have discussed at great length the issues in Amendment No. 3. I made clear at Second Reading and in Committee that the Government want and are fully committed to ensuring that the business sector should play a major role in the strategic decision-making and planning that the LSC undertakes.

In response to the Committee stage debates, the CBI welcomed,

"the Government's commitment to business involvement; and the fact that the LSC will take account of the sectoral skills needs of industry".

I could repeat the assurances and commitments given in Committee, but since the CBI has noted and warmly welcomed our commitments, I hope that the noble Baroness can do the same. I do not believe that there is any need to put this provision on the face of the Bill. Nor am I aware of pressure from elsewhere that it should be on the face of the Bill.

Turning to Amendment No. 4, I accept that the noble Baroness now seeks to secure a quota of 20 per cent rather than 25 per cent, thereby allowing more representation of other groups. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that if we have too many percentage quotas on the face of the Bill, the situation will become inflexible. It could lead to difficulties when we have to take into account other people and bodies which must be represented on the learning and skills council.

I reassure noble Lords once again that local authorities will have a major role in the new arrangements. As we shall hear later, we are looking to strengthen the framework for consulting local authorities on local LSC plans. They will be central partners not only in securing and providing learning opportunities in schools and through adult and community learning, but also as organisations which can provide vision and leadership for local communities. I believe that they have an important role.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, asked about definitions. I am not sure about the relevance of that to these clauses, but wherever the Bill specifies "local education authority", it refers only to local education authorities. Where it refers to "local authorities", it can include LEAs as well as district councils. I hope that that answers his question.

As I said previously, if a suitable individual with current local government experience were appointed to the council, that would serve to strengthen the links with the LGA. However, it would be wrong to specify the number or to guarantee a quota of places for the LGA and its representatives. In any case, we do not want members of the council to be delegates or nominees of any particular organisation. Members of the council, wherever they come from, should serve the interest of the council as a whole,

I accept the principle behind Amendment No. 5, which is that the period of the term of office of the chairman will be between three and five years. That is in line with guidance from the office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, which we have made a public commitment to follow. But setting that in stone in the legislation would make no allowance for exceptional circumstances in which, for some reason, we may need to appoint a chairman for a different period of time. For instance, the principle would not allow the short-term appointment of a chairman to see through a period of change before a longer-term appointment could be made. We need to retain flexibility in these matters.

As regards Amendment No. 6, I am disappointed that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has felt the need to return to the issue. In Committee, I gave the noble Baroness a full explanation of the reason why Clause 1(3) was so drafted. By way of reply, the noble Baroness launched into what I thought was an unnecessary attack on parliamentary counsel, accusing them of pedantry. The noble Baroness is insisting that Clause 1(3) be amended so that the indefinite article "a" is replaced by the adjective "each". Without wishing to be pedantic myself, I simply repeat that the legal effect of the amendment would be precisely zero. That is because under Section 6 of the Interpretation Act 1978,

"unless the contrary intention appears ... words in the singular include the plural and words in the plural include the singular".

Therefore, the effect of Section 6 of the Interpretation Act is that, when Clause 1(3) sets out to what the Secretary of State must have regard in appointing "a" member, it applies to his appointment of all members. I hope that with that assurance, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will not feel the need to press her amendment.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Alloway Lord Campbell of Alloway Conservative

My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Baroness for giving way. She said that she had answered my question. Perhaps before she leaves the matter I may respectfully say that she did not. The answer to my question is either "yes", "no" or "do not know". I do not want to press the noble Baroness now, but will she be good enough to read Hansard and answer my question, which is specifically related to Clause 1, Schedule 1 and Clause 2? That is all I ask.

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

My Lords, yes, I shall be happy to do that.

Perhaps I may return to the effect of Section 6 of the Interpretation Act. When Clause 1(3) sets out to what the Secretary of State must have regard in appointing "a" member, it applies to his appointment of all members.

Amendment No. 8, which was spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, seeks to limit the number of terms which a member of the LSC may serve. With regard to the tenure of members, the Government have stated that they will adhere to the guidelines set out in the code of practice for public appointments. The last thing that they would want to see is people permanently in such jobs. Of course there must be fresh blood and limits to the length of time that chairmen and others may serve, but the code of practice for public appointments states that chairs and members should normally serve for a maximum of two terms.

However, I am sure that the noble Baroness will appreciate that there may be exceptional circumstances in which a member's final term may need to be extended. That might happen, for example, when a degree of stability is needed due to a large number of members simultaneously reaching the end of their period of office, or a large number of resignations taking place for some reason. The guidance allows for such exceptional circumstances. However, setting the provision in legislation raises difficult questions of interpretation; for instance, what "normally" means and so forth. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baronesses, Lady Blatch and Lady Sharp, will accept our clear and repeatedly expressed intentions on those issues of appointment and that we shall be bound by the relevant guidance. I hope that with those assurances they will feel able to withdraw their amendments.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative 3:45 pm, 13th March 2000

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her response. She totally missed the point as regards the first amendment. It asks why it has been thought necessary to provide in Clause 1 that the council shall include a chairman and not a chief executive and why it has been thought fit to provide in the schedule that it shall include a chief executive and not a chairman? Furthermore, the schedule includes references to subsequent appointments.

One of the weakest defensive arguments ever to be used by a Minister--I am culpable and probably used it myself--is to say, "It has always been done like this and we shall continue with it". I am afraid that that is not an answer.

As regards the noble Baroness's disparaging comments about me using the words "commands national respect", I took them verbatim from col. 539 of Hansard. They were the words of the noble Lord, Lord Bach, on 8th February and I thought that if they were good enough for him, they were good enough for me and for the consideration of this House.

I understand what the noble Baroness said about the term of office not being set out on the face of the Bill. It is helpful to have the Government's explanation on the record. However, will reference be made to the term of office in any job advertisement or job description for the post?

As regards the definite article, yes, we are becoming a little pedantic, but so often lay people must make sense of legalese. I make no apologies for being slightly critical of counsel, who write for counsel readers. The truth is that when the law is interpreted, it must have a practical meaning to those who implement it. However, as the noble Baroness said, although the indefinite article subsumes the plural, what happens when it is meant to mean only the singular? What happens when the indefinite article is meant to include the plural? What, then, does "council" suggest? There are occasions in legislation when "a" is used to mean a specific person, one thing or one aspect of a Bill. Therefore, the indefinite article becomes appropriate. However, to say that it always includes the plural is, frankly, not right.

I am not entirely happy with the answers. As I said, no reason has been given as to why the chairman and chief executive have been treated differently. It is possible that a person who reads Clause 1 will understand that a council will have 12 to 16 members, one of whom will be a chairman, and that that will be the only prescribed post. It is not until one reads almost to the end of the Bill that one finds, hidden away in a schedule, that another post of the council is prescribed to be held by the chief executive. I believe that that is unfortunate. They should either both be on the face of the Bill in Clause 1 or both in the schedule together so that no one is left, as I am, wondering why they should be treated differently, even if that has been the case in the past. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 1, line 12, at end insert--

("( ) Not less than 40 per cent. of the members shall be persons who have current or recent non-public sector business or commercial experience.").

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 3) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 68; Not-Contents, 133.

Division number 1

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

[Amendments Nos. 4 to 6 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat 4:00 pm, 13th March 2000

moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 1, line 15, at end insert--

("( ) In appointing a member the Secretary of State must have regard to the need to reflect the diversity of the population as a whole and to include those with an understanding of or an interest in achieving social inclusion and equality of opportunity in relation to race, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation or religion.").

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 56, which seeks to amend Amendment No. 55, on which it would be appropriate for me to comment. I shall speak also to Amendment No. 66 and Amendment No. 101, which seeks to amend Amendment No. 100, on which I shall comment, and to Amendment No. 116. I shall not speak to Amendment No. 63, which I see now that I have had wrongly grouped with this amendment. That is a different issue. I shall deal with Amendment No. 63 when we reach it in the normal course of business. I apologise to your Lordships if that causes any confusion.

This group of amendments deals with the whole issue of equality of opportunities. I find it a rather surprising omission from the Bill as published. Indeed, it is a surprising omission after we have been through the Committee stage, for which I take my share of responsibility.

I welcome government Amendments Nos. 55 and 100. They are a little late, but better late than never. They are also rather limited, as I shall comment later. But it is a welcome recognition that the issue of equality of opportunity goes wider than the issue of disability, important though that is.

Amendment No. 7 deals with membership of the learning and skills council. It requires the Secretary of State to,

"have regard to the need to reflect the diversity of the population as a whole and to include those with an understanding of or an interest in achieving social inclusion and equality of opportunity", in determining the overall membership of the council.

We have said consistently from these Benches that we feel that it is wrong to be prescriptive about the proportions which should make up the membership. But if the Government are serious--and I believe they are--about tackling social inclusion and promoting equality of opportunity, it is important that the learning and skills council is seen to be representative of the whole population and the whole community; that it cannot be seen or perceived as, at worst, a white male business-dominated body. The membership should reflect all parts of our community and there should be confidence in it.

Amendment No. 56 relates to the welcome amendment from the Government. The government amendment, to which I imagine the Minister will speak in a moment, deals with important areas of race, gender and disability but ignores or omits any reference to the other categories of discrimination as now defined within the European Union--those of sexual orientation, age and religion.

I recognise that to talk about sexual orientation in relation to this Bill or any other is perhaps a sensitive issue but, whatever differing views we take, none of us has been in favour of discrimination on those grounds. Not to deal with discrimination on grounds of age in a Bill which deals with lifelong learning seems to be particularly wrong, as is the case in relation to religion. I can only assume that as those categories are now well recognised and always included together, as they are in the Greater London Authority Act, it was an accidental omission. I hope that the Minister will confirm that it was not the Government's intention to omit them and that either this amendment will be accepted or they will bring forward their own amendment to recognise that omission.

Amendment No. 66 simply applies the provisions of Amendments Nos. 55 and 56 to local councils, which is not the case at present either in the Bill or in the amendments tabled by the Government. Again, I cannot believe that the Government intentionally meant to apply the provisions of the Bill only to the national council and not equally to the local councils. The Government may well say that by applying it to the national council it is implicit that it applies to the local councils. But I believe that it should be explicit.

We are told that local councils will be business dominated. While I know that there are many business people who have the social inclusion agenda uppermost in their minds and are strongly committed to equality of opportunity, that is not always immediately associated with local business-dominated bodies. It is desirable that we should have on the face of the Bill the same requirement for local councils as we shall have for the national council.

Amendments Nos. 100 and 101 simply repeat that for the Welsh council and I need not repeat myself on that.

Amendment No. 116 relates to Clause 52 which requires the adult learning inspectorate to keep the Secretary of State informed about a number of matters listed in the Bill. This amendment adds to those the requirement to keep the Secretary of State informed of whether provision of education and training within its remit accords with the principle of equal opportunities. In other words, it puts a duty on the adult learning inspectorate also to report on that aspect.

I welcome the Government's tentative step in the direction of equality of opportunity within this Bill. But I believe that this group of amendments, as a whole, represents a rather more significant stride towards ensuring that equality of opportunity is available to all members of our community and that achievement of that aim will be a principal objective of the learning and skills council and the adult learning inspectorate at national and local level. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Darcy de Knayth Baroness Darcy de Knayth Crossbench

My Lords, I welcome Amendments Nos. 55 and 100 most enthusiastically. I was extremely pleased when the Minister said in Committee that she hoped to return with an amendment at a later stage. I admit that when it had to fit in with issues of race and sex equality as well, I wondered whether the amendments would appear in time for Third Reading. But the amendments are here and they have encompassed more than my original proposed amendment and it is only Report stage. Therefore, I thank the Minister and her officials and congratulate them on having accomplished that. It is excellent that the amendments address race and sex equality as well as the position of disabled learners and that they require the councils to report on their arrangements to promote that equality.

I have not yet heard what the Minister has to say but I believe that she will stress that although the duty relates to disabled learners as defined by the Disability Discrimination Act, in fact it must be taken in the context of Clause 13, with the wider definition of learning difficulties, which is extremely important. However, I shall wait to see what she says about that.

With regard to the amendment moved so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, I understand absolutely what he is saying. I agree that we should offer equality of opportunity in relation to sexual orientation, religion and age. As the Minister probably cannot accept the amendment, I wonder whether some encouraging words and perhaps some mention in guidance will satisfy him for the moment. I feel a bit of a wimp saying that because I remember in the days before the DDA my irritation at having to be content with a line in Hansard, whereas provisions relating to sex and race discrimination were included in the Bill. However, having done my wimpish bit, I return to Amendments No. 55 and 100, to which I give three hurrays.

Photo of Lord Dormand of Easington Lord Dormand of Easington Labour

My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and my noble friend on the Front Bench come to reply, will they clarify what they mean by "persons of religion"; I believe that that, or something similar, is the term used? I wonder whether they would include people who do not have a religious belief. On the surface, it seems a contradiction to discuss religion and non-religion in the same breath. I believe that it is what has come to be called in modern parlance a "catch-22 situation". In other words, people who do not have a religious view find it impossible to put forward their point of view.

I raise the point because for some time now opinion polls have shown that between 25 and 30 per cent of people do not hold a religious point of view. That percentage is increasing. That is a substantial minority. I believe that I am right in saying--my noble friend on the Front Bench will confirm this--that on the permanent committee on religious education there is at least one person who is either an atheist, humanist, agnostic or does not have any religious belief. It seems to me that in modern times that factor should be considered. These amendments lend themselves greatly to the point I am making. I hope that some assistance and clarification will be provided at the end of the debate.

Photo of Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Conservative

My Lords, I appreciate the attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Dormand. Of course, it is difficult to have a negative idea without a positive idea. The noble Lord's tight religious education in a state school in Durham is what has produced his agnosticism. One cannot teach non-religion without teaching religion. In other words, we all agree that people should be aware of their religious background, even if they reject it. I wonder whether the noble Lord is asking Her Majesty's Government to ask schools to teach non-religion, particularly to the 16 to 18 age group. I am rather puzzled, because one gets into something of a morass there.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

My Lords, I am unhappy about the amendments. The reason is not because I do not believe in equality of opportunity, which I understand to mean fairness to the underdog, but because the amendments limit equality of opportunity only to certain categories of people. I need not go into detail, but the Minister's amendment is limited only to racial groups, women and the disabled. Why should it be that equality of opportunity is limited only to those with the loudest voice? Plenty of other groups in our society are desperately underprivileged and are entitled to the same level of equal opportunity. If Amendment No. 7 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, were to be accepted, I should be minded to table an amendment at Third Reading to remove the words,

"in relation to race, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation or religion", because the provision reads perfectly well without them. It would then state:

"In appointing a member the Secretary of State must have regard to the need to reflect the diversity of the population as a whole and to include those with an understanding of or an interest in achieving social inclusion and equality of opportunity".

I cannot see why other amendments in this group should not be amended in the same way.

Photo of Lord Rix Lord Rix Crossbench

My Lords, I support Amendment No. 55. Naturally, I am delighted that it is set alongside the duty to have regard to the needs of all students with learning difficulties or disabilities, reinforcing the need to pursue actively the equalisation of opportunity between disabled and non-disabled learners. That duty is certainly a cause for optimism; optimism that the council will start off with the right intentions and that the councils will deliver for all learners at risk of exclusion or discrimination. The clause sends a clear message from government of their expectations. It is a message which I fully support.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment 4:15 pm, 13th March 2000

My Lords, I should like to begin with government Amendments Nos. 55 and 100 before I turn to the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tope. I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, and to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, for their support for the amendments.

We want the LSC and the CETW to ensure that learning opportunities of high quality are available to meet the needs of all learners across the whole range of abilities and aptitudes. In addition, it will be critical that the councils are able to combat the disadvantages that some learners and potential learners genuinely face. As new bodies, we want the LSC and the council in Wales to show the way to all public organisations in building equality of opportunity into all their policies, programmes and actions.

In December, we set out in the LSC prospectus what that would mean in practice. We expect the LSC to draw up an equal opportunities strategy including targets and performance indicators to tackle both under-representation and under-achievement. Vital to that strategy will be the principle that policies and funding take account of the different characteristics of learners, such as race, gender and disability. The LSC will benchmark the equal opportunities performance of each of the local councils. It will encourage all providers to take positive steps to widen participation and will promote equal opportunities through marketing its activities. We are already working closely with the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality and the Disability Rights Commission to prepare for what I am sure noble Lords will agree is a challenging agenda. We expect the LSC to continue the close liaison that we are now establishing.

Against the background of that firm commitment to measures to promote equality of opportunity, I was keen to respond quickly and positively to the important amendments debated in Committee on provisions for disabled people. I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said about what was perhaps an unfortunate omission. The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, also proposed that the LSC should have a duty in respect of the promotion of equality for disabled learners. Clause 13 already makes specific provision for the wider group of people defined as those with learning difficulties. We shall also be bringing forward new rights to prevent discrimination against disabled learners in our forthcoming Bill addressing disability in education. However, I said that I would consider further whether an additional duty would be helpful in that area.

As I am sure noble Lords are aware, the Government are committed to ensuring that all public bodies take a lead in promoting equal opportunities. We announced last November that we would place that obligation in legislation as soon as parliamentary time permitted. Our aim is to take a consistent approach across all public bodies. It would have been preferable to wait for a suitable legislative vehicle where the same duty could have been applied to all public bodies. However, as noble Lords know, we shall be introducing a duty in respect of race equality alone in the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill and I appreciate the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Tope. Those arguments, together with the fact that the learning and skills council is a new body, mean that a duty to promote equality is desirable at this stage.

On reflection, therefore, we decided that it would better represent the broad thrust of government policy for equality in public bodies to go further than the noble Baroness's amendment and, through government Amendments Nos. 55 and 100, to place the councils under a duty in respect of race and gender as well as disability. We have also gone further than the noble Baroness's amendment in requiring the LSC and the CETW to provide annual reports giving details not only of what they have done to promote equal opportunities in the past year, but also what effect those measures have had and the steps which the councils intend to take in the following year. That is an important way of monitoring and publicising the work and effectiveness of the LSC and the CETW in this important area.

There is one important point which I should make clear about the work of the LSC and CETW for people with disabilities. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, shares with me the view that, while it is sensible to address equality provisions towards the group of people who are defined as "disabled" under the Disability Discrimination Act, in the sphere of education law we must take account of the needs of the wider group of people who have difficulty in getting access to education. These are defined in the Bill, as they are in the current Further and Higher Education Act, as persons with learning difficulties. The full effect of the duty of the LSC to address the needs of people with disabilities is seen only when Clause 13 and this new Clause 14 are taken together. I hope and believe that the noble Baroness and other noble Lords will welcome this approach.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 56 and 101. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, wishes to extend the provisions of the duty of equality to other groups who might experience barriers in securing learning opportunities. The LSC prospectus already makes clear that the LSC will have a comprehensive approach to the needs of all learners. Perhaps I may give a few more examples. We shall require the LSC to have a wide-ranging equal opportunities strategy and action plan. We will want the LSC to use performance indicators to set targets to tackle under-representation and under achievement by any group; to mainstream equal opportunities in all its policies and programmes; to encourage all providers to take positive steps to widen participation and to engage in learning those groups which are currently under-represented (the kind of groups to which the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, referred); to challenge discrimination and stereotyping; and to monitor and evaluate performance and disseminate examples of good practice.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that an equal opportunities strategy cannot be confined to issues of gender, race and disability. However, the Government's approach to equality in legislation, as set out in the Statement made in November by my right honourable friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office, recognised that extending legal provisions beyond the current areas of race, sex and disability raises a number of questions which need further thought and research. To give one example, while the LSC will certainly be addressing the needs of older learners, it is a clear provision in the Bill that priority must be given to 16 to 19 year-old learners. I hope that the noble Lord will agree that we need to think through these issues and, in the light of the assurances about what we expect the LSC to do in practice, will not press his amendments.

I turn to Amendment No. 66. Once again I recognise the concern of the noble Lord that the duties should apply to local LSCs as much as to the national LSC. I share the view that local councils should be right at the forefront in ensuring that we make a real difference in removing barriers to disadvantaged groups. As I mentioned earlier, the LSC will benchmark the performance of the local councils.

However, I do not believe that the amendment is necessary to achieve the result that both the noble Lord and I want to achieve. Local councils are part of the single unitary body which is the LSC. When the local councils perform functions delegated by the national council, they will be subject to the same duty to have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity. The LSC prospectus makes clear that action plans will be required at local as well as national level. With that reassurance in mind, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, will not feel the need to press the amendment.

As regards Amendment No. 7, I repeat that appointments will be carried out in accordance with the guidance of the office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. What is significant in appointments to the council is a person's ability to do the job and do it well over the period of appointment. We shall strive to achieve a balanced council and one which reflects the diversity of the population, which is, I recognise, the purpose behind the amendment. However, I do not accept that that objective will be further supported by setting it in this legislation.

We have set out unequivocally in the LSC prospectus that we shall expect local and national councils to include people who understand the needs of those who face discrimination, to challenge such discrimination, and to promote equality of opportunity. We are also taking active steps to encourage applications from traditionally under-represented groups, such as ethnic minorities, and are working with the CRE on that. The amendment we are introducing to place duties on the LSC in respect of equal opportunities reinforces our commitment to making progress in these areas on the face of the Bill.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, for raising the issue of equality of opportunity in relation to inspection. I have no difficulty with the principle that inspection should encompass judgments on equal opportunities. As regards, for example, inspecting provision for students with disabilities, I would expect inspectors to form and report a view about whether equality of opportunity was being taken account of properly.

Furthermore, I have no doubt that the adult learning inspectorate, and indeed Ofsted, will evaluate the extent to which equal opportunities are promoted. This is territory which I think the common inspection framework should address. I would expect that in making their judgments, inspectors will consider, for example, whether the provider promotes access for disabled students; whether there are up-to-date equal opportunity and disability policies; whether selection procedures for students guarantee equality of opportunity; and whether there is proper regard for protection against discrimination and harassment, and so forth. All those judgments should be part and parcel of any inspection. In those respects I think that the noble Lord and I are in full agreement.

But I believe that the best place for setting out those issues is not on the face of the Bill but in the common inspection framework. That will encompass many other highly desirable features of a good and comprehensive approach to inspection such as, for example, effective leadership and management or the standards of internal quality assurance and the guidance and support for learners. Once again, however, I repeat that I share the sentiments of the noble Lord, even if I take a different view about how best to give them expression.

The government amendments are a mark of our firm commitment to equal opportunities and our desire that the LSC and the Welsh council place the principles at the forefront of their work. I understand the reasoning behind the further additions and amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and I am sympathetic to the objectives. However, as I made clear in my opening remarks, I do not believe they are necessary to achieve the action we all want to undertake. I hope that the House will accept the amendments standing in my name and that the noble Lord will not press his amendments.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, does she agree that the admirable principles of equal opportunities of a general nature and the comprehensive approach which she enunciated of challenging discrimination and stereotyping wherever it is found are weakened by Amendment No. 55 which refers specifically to three particular groups which will be protected by this legislation? When a particular group is mentioned in legislation, the rights of and opportunities for all the other groups who may fall into the general class are immediately weakened. I believe it is wrong to do that in connection with only three groups of disadvantaged people.

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

No, my Lords, I am afraid I do not agree with the noble Lord. I believe it is right to state categorically that we should not be discriminating against girls or women, ethnic minorities, disabled people or young people with a learning disability. It is perfectly appropriate to specify that because these groups have suffered from discrimination in many different areas of public life. It is right that we should make clear that we expect the LSC to work hard to ensure that that does not happen.

Photo of Baroness Warnock Baroness Warnock Crossbench

My Lords, I would like the Minister--

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip 4:30 pm, 13th March 2000

My Lords, I ask the noble Baroness to give way for a moment. I am sorry to interrupt but we are on Report. Of course, the noble Baroness is entitled to ask questions to elucidate something the Minister said in her reply, but she cannot make a speech.

Photo of Baroness Warnock Baroness Warnock Crossbench

My Lords, the question I wish to ask the Minister is whether, under the category of people with learning difficulties, she would include those who have emotional and behavioural difficulties and who, in the light of their past careers, might find it very difficult to be taken seriously by the council. If such people are included, then I shall be very happy to have them mentioned in a category in her amendment.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. I begin with the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington. I understand very well the point that he makes. My understanding is that this clause is about discrimination and not about teaching as such. I do not want to be drawn into a debate as to whether it is possible or desirable to teach non-religion. My understanding is that that would cover those who did not profess to have a religion, although if the wording needs to be tightened I would not be worried about that. It is the principle that I am trying to convey. I believe that on this issue the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, and I are at one.

I have no doubt also that the Minister and I are at one over what we want to achieve. I hope that I made that clear, but perhaps I may do so again. I welcome the Minister's two amendments although my feeling is that they do not go far enough. I have some sympathy for the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, who described herself as a wimp. I would not have been so rude in that regard, but she expressed exactly my concern that we are specifying three important areas of discrimination and in doing so drawing attention to European Union definitions that are not mentioned. By referring to three we are drawing attention to the fact that we are not referring to another three.

In reply the Minister made reference to what is a new body, the importance of establishing it as such, and being at the cutting edge. Not so long ago I spent many happy hours here setting up another new body, the Greater London Authority. We eventually included a provision in what is now an Act, specifically giving the new authority a duty in all these areas of discrimination. To have done that for one new body and now quite deliberately leaving it out for another is a form of discrimination itself. It is a mistake.

I do not doubt the Minister's belief that the matter is covered in the prospectus and that there will be a strong duty on the national council. One could argue there is no need to make any reference in the Bill. But we are, and we have welcomed it. I feel quite strongly that if we are to make a reference, it should be a comprehensive one--not a partial reference, as it is now. It is almost a retrograde step which I very much regret.

Similarly, we are not imposing any duty on the local councils because they will be benchmarked by the national council which will require them to deliver and so forth. That argument could be used for not having the government amendments as regards the national council. If it is a priority for the local councils, as the Minister and I believe, then that too should be on the face of the Bill, not least because its omission, having put the onus on the national council, in a sense has a reverse effect.

In many ways the proviso is possibly more important on a local council at local level where in some cases it is business dominated and the matter is not necessarily at the top of the agenda. I have some regret about not pressing the amendment. I hope that the Minister will think further. I welcome the step that has been taken today, but I urge the Government to turn it into a bigger stride and to give a more wholehearted and all-embracing commitment to equality of opportunity before the Bill is finally enacted. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 1 [Learning and Skills Council for England]:

[Amendment No. 8 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 9:

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

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 10 and 11. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, invited me to bring back these three amendments because I confused appointing staff with appointing the chief executive. I agreed; hence Amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 11.

Paragraph 5(1) of the schedule states,

"The Council may appoint such employees as it thinks fit".

Sub-paragraph (2) continues,

"A person is to be appointed as an employee of the Council on such terms (including terms as to remuneration and allowances) as the Council may determine".

Then, incongruously and for no good reason, sub-paragraph (3) states:

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

I simply ask the question: why? It seems to me that if the council is prestigious, carefully chosen and appointed, with a good chairman and chief executive, why cannot it be left to have control over the quality of staff, especially if it is free to appoint and to determine the terms and conditions?

My second amendment gives me the opportunity to ask for some explanation of what I refer to as legalese gobbledegook. Paragraph 8(6) states:

"The Secretary of State may remove a disability under this paragraph subject to such conditions as he considers appropriate".

Sub-paragraph (7) states:

"The power of the Secretary of State under sub-paragraph (6) includes power to remove (either indefinitely or for any period) a disability which would otherwise attach to any member, or members of any description, by reason of such interests, and in respect of such matters, as may be specified or described by the Secretary of State".

That would win no prizes in a plain English competition. I wish to know what the wording means. Indeed, I should have included sub-paragraph (8) because that goes on to say:

"Nothing in this paragraph precludes any member from taking part in the consideration or discussion of, or in voting on, any question whether an application should be made to the Secretary of State for the exercise of the power conferred by sub-paragraph (6)", which is about removing a disability. It would be helpful to know what a "disability" is and what the three extracts I have quoted mean.

My third amendment I admitted to when speaking to these amendments before they were withdrawn at the previous stage of the Bill. I refer to the battle that I lost in the back room and in this Chamber when dealing with a previous Bill. When a body is set up and the Government argue strongly that it is not a top-down arrangement and not everything is emanating from the Secretary of State, why is it that the Secretary of State has an absolute right to attend the meetings?

It seems to me that once the council is set up, as has happened when similar bodies have been established in the past, it should, if it wishes, have representatives of the Secretary of State or the holder of that office present at council meetings. But it should be at the discretion of the council. If we are to dispel any fears that the Bill is a top-down, influential arrangement, then it should be the council which invites the Secretary of State or his or her representatives to attend meetings. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right. We agreed that we should return to these issues today on Report. Paragraph 5(2) of the schedule, as the noble Baroness says, provides that the terms and conditions (including pay) on which the council employs staff are for the council itself to determine but the Secretary of State must approve the council's determination. As the noble Baroness stated in clear terms, her Amendment No. 9 removes this provision.

The LSC will be a large, non-departmental public body within the public sector employing significant numbers of staff. It is a standard provision for such NDPBs that the Secretary of State should be able to approve their proposed terms and conditions to ensure that public sector employment policies are observed. By way of example, perhaps I may refer the noble Baroness to Schedule 1 to the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 and Schedule 2 to the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998, both of which are fairly recent examples under successive governments of how this problem has been approached. We do not believe that we should take a different attitude in this Bill.

Amendment No. 10 refers to the part of Schedule 1 which deals with members' interests. Under this provision, a member of the national LSC cannot take part in discussions or decisions of the national council where that member has disclosed an interest in the outcome. The noble Baroness asked what the word "disability" means in that context. It really means disclosing an interest.

The intention of sub-paragraphs (6) to (8) is to allow the Secretary of State to remove that bar where appropriate. If the amendment were passed, it would no longer be possible for the Secretary of State to intervene. It is of course right that LSC members with an interest should disclose that interest when such matters are discussed and should normally be barred from taking part in relevant deliberations and decisions in which they have an interest. We believe that an unqualified application of these provisions could lead to perverse consequences. I shall give one hypothetical example. If a principal of a further education college who was on the national council was 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, we do not think it would be in the public interest for that principal necessarily not to take part in the discussions on that broad topic. We believe that there should be a provision for the Secretary of State to lift such a bar on an individual member when he judges that it is sensible. This is standard provision in legislation which establishes NDPBs. I refer to Schedule 2 to the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998. We believe that it is right that this power should be with the Secretary of State rather than the council in order to ensure that such decisions are made in a detached and considered way.

The noble Baroness's third amendment would remove the entitlement of the Secretary of State to have a representative present at any meeting of the council and take part in any deliberations at these meetings. It would make the representative's attendance subject to the approval of the council.

The noble Baroness mentioned that she had lost a battle on this matter in the recent past. Perhaps I may say in passing that I do not suppose that she lost many battles of this type when she was in government. However, we cannot agree with her on this occasion. No doubt, that skirmish was lost because it was then, and still is, common practice for the sponsoring department to send a representative to meetings of its sponsored non-departmental public body. The provision within paragraph 9(1) of the schedule--which bars the Secretary of State's representative from taking part in the decisions of the council at these meetings, which is again a standard bar--is an important restriction.

However, I say to the noble Baroness that we believe it right that the representative should be there to inform and observe. I repeat what has been often said: the LSC will be responsible for spending a huge amount of public money--£6 billion. It will be important that the relationship between the council, the department and the Secretary of State is a close one. We believe that an arrangement whereby the Secretary of State's observer attends meetings but does not take part in decisions strikes about the right balance.

I hope I have explained to some extent the thinking behind the way in which the Bill appears, and that the noble Baroness will not press these amendments.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for the way in which he has responded to these amendments. However, I simply do not accept the explanation. I believe that the law is the law. The ways in which the council will have to behave towards its staff are already set out in endless statutes. Therefore, the idea that it could do something quite outside the law seems to me to be extraordinary. It has to live within budgets. It already has a direction. It comes from the Secretary of State to the council. The idea that there should be a determination under this paragraph for each member of staff does seem to me to be excessive. It is also excessive intrusion in the day-to-day work of the council, which will be employing people and managing employees all the time.

I accept the Minister's explanation in respect of disability, but it is such a pity that we cannot use the opportunity to engage in plain English. It seems to me that the noble Lord's explanation was that a disability could be explained by removing a bar to speaking and/or voting on an issue. I think that is what it actually meant--that it is possible for the Secretary of State to lift that bar and, as set out in paragraph 8, nothing would preclude a member from then taking part and voting on an issue where that has happened.

The Minister's response to my Amendment No. 11 only serves to feed our concerns about the incredible influence that the Department for Education and Employment, and the Secretary of State personally, will have on the way in which the council works. I know from experience that there will be an almost permanent presence on these councils, reforming, informing and observing. "Informing" and "observing" were the two words used by the noble Lord. I believe that, once set up with a proper remit, and with all the other statutes that come into play in terms of how they behave, they should be left to get on with it. However, those people, not just inside this Chamber but outside as well, who are very concerned about the superstructure of bureaucracy headed by the Department for Education and Employment will not be helped by the Government's defence of this part of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 10:

Page 57, line 5, leave out sub-paragraphs (6) and (7).

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, I beg to move.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 10) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 75; Not-Contents, 115.

Division number 2

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

[Amendment No. 11 not moved.]

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

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat 4:57 pm, 13th March 2000

moved Amendment No. 12:

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

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

My Lords, I rise to move Amendment No. 12 and to speak to Amendments Nos. 16 to 18, 21, 26 to 29, and 31 to 34. The net effect of all these amendments is to eliminate the need for separate subsections in Clauses 2 and 3 referring separately on each occasion to "education" and "training". I spoke to a similar set of amendments in Committee when I stressed the need to get away from the binary divide that separates education from training and to take a more holistic view of the two. We were much encouraged on that occasion by what the noble Lord, Lord Bach, had to say in response. He said:

"We recognise and accept that our present arrangements for post-16 education and training are too fragmented and incoherent ... Members of the Committee quite rightly make the point ... that the proposed new arrangements should not simply perpetuate the artificial distinctions and separate systems of the past".--[Official Report, 8/2/2000; col. 566.]

The noble Lord went on to say that he appreciated that from the way education and training are separated in the two clauses we might get the impression that things were not going to change, but he nevertheless assured us that that would not be the case.

I return to this issue because it is unsatisfactory that the Bill makes so clear a distinction between education and training when this is not the intention. If the whole purpose of the Bill is to provide a coherent framework for post-16 education and training, providing a seamless service across the whole spectrum of needs and not pigeon-holing them into convenient categorisations that have plagued and divided the service for far too long, it is not only logical, but also important that this distinction is eradicated from the face of the Bill.

As it stands, the wording of the Bill perpetuates precisely what the Minister stated the Government wanted to avoid. Our amendments are not far reaching; indeed, I would go as far as saying that they are largely cosmetic or drafting amendments; but their significance goes well beyond their appearance. Combining education and training, as suggested, on the face of the Bill would indicate that the Government intend to live up to their declared aspirations.

For too long we have had this divide in Britain between the academic and the vocational; between the high status education and the low status training. It has led to an undervaluation of the practical and has plagued our approach towards the applied sciences and engineering. It means that we have never really offered a proper career structure for vocational training. We have never, like the Germans, trained people to be a Meister with all the status and symbolism that that implies.

This Bill makes a real attempt to break with the past and to forge a new integrated and coherent approach--and yet here, on the very first page, in the second and third clauses of the Bill, it reverts to the old style of address. We urge the Minister to have the courage of his convictions and to make sure that the Bill's wording reflects the Government's aspirations on these issues. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Conservative 5:00 pm, 13th March 2000

My Lords, I do not want to bring too much ideology into this debate. I agree with the noble Baroness. However, we quote Germany so easily. What is conveniently forgotten is that in Germany there are separate channels for vocational and academic education, which has been the nature of the success of German education--and the French, the Dutch and the Austrian. I have said this in this House often before: altering words on a Bill will not alter the fundamental structural problem of English education; that is, that the only way we felt we could make vocational training acceptable was to make it parasitic on academic. It has failed; it will fail; and the Germans have it right. I am glad the noble Baroness said that, but she is not prepared to go the whole mile.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, on the skilful way in which these comprehensive amendments to Clauses 2 and 3 have been drafted. She will forgive me saying that practice is clearly making perfect.

We fully accept the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness in relation to the fragmentation of present arrangements for post-16 education and training, and agree that the LSC must view them, to use her expression, in a "holistic" and balanced way. The new arrangements must not simply perpetuate the artificial distinction and separate systems of the past. Her concern that the form in which the duties of the council are expressed may imply a continuation of such divisions is also appreciated. There is nothing between us on the policy; rather on the way in which it is expressed.

The noble Baroness made it clear that she would like to see on the face of the Bill an explicit reference in the duties of the LSC to those aspects of education and training which are concerned with broadening the mind, which Amendment No. 29 addresses. Again, I do not believe that there is anything between us on the policy here, and I share her aspirations. But we believe that this amendment too is unnecessary.

Post-16 education in this Bill encompasses secondary education for persons over the age of 16 and further education. Both secondary and further education are defined in Section 2 of the Education Act 1996. In particular, as has already been mentioned when we previously considered this amendment in Committee, the amendment is unnecessary because the exact words the noble Baroness seeks to apply to the meaning of "education" in this Bill already appear on the statute book in Section 2 of that Act.

I am sorry that this is a rather legalistic response, but the point being made by the noble Baroness essentially involves the legal phrasing of the Bill. In those circumstances, I hope that she will understand that a response which cites legal definitions is appropriate in the circumstances.

In Committee and today the noble Baroness accepted that the Government's intentions are good, but was concerned that a future government may seek to interpret the law differently. I must point out that the meaning of the law does not change at elections. We inherited the previous government's arrangements for post-16 education and found them lacking; but we were bound to work within that framework until we brought forward the present Bill which we consider to be a much better and more coherent approach to post-16 education and training. We are satisfied that the Bill as drafted does not imply the possibility of differential and fragmented approaches to education and training. The LSC's duties must be viewed as a whole. It does not have the discretion to choose to implement some bits and ignore other parts. None of the provisions in Clauses 2 and 3 is an optional extra.

I repeat the assurance already given that the provisions as currently drafted do not imply any such division in the first place. Each phrase carries equal weight in its current form. No fragmentation of approach is implied or required by the way the words are organised on the page. As drafted, the existing provisions achieve what we all want to see, and therefore the proposed amendments are unnecessary. I hope that with those assurances (perhaps repeated more times than they should have been), the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

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

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his congratulations on my drafting skills. He is right that practice helps and I am learning by doing on these occasions.

Nevertheless, I am disappointed that the Government do not see fit to accept my amendments. I am glad that they accept them in spirit; but we knew that from the words spoken in Committee. The Minister is right that we on these Benches welcome the integrated coherent purpose of the reforms incorporated in the Bill. However, I cannot see why, if that is the intention, it cannot be expressed on the face of the Bill. Nevertheless, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 13:

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

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, I understand that Amendment No. 13 is coupled with Amendment No. 14, which will be spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Tope.

In col. 572 of Hansard on 8th February the Minister said that,

"to single out the needs of one group of adults and to give them priority over all adults would be wrong, although of course I [the Minister] have some sympathy with what lies behind the amendments".

I understand what the Minister was saying. But we are talking about those young people who, for one reason or another--perhaps there has been a mismatch between an individual and school teachers; perhaps there has been a high degree of truancy; or perhaps for more acceptable reasons, such as where a young person has had long periods of illness or because of a learning difficulty--have not been capable of attaining up to a level 2 qualification by the age of 19.

On a number of occasions we have discussed the cut-off point of 19. Up to that age, the provision has to be a proper provision made by the council and the local councils, but beyond that age it becomes discretionary and hidebound by resources. If there is to be any priority at all for young people--I include 19 to 25-year olds as "young people"--and if "inclusivity" is to mean anything (I gave some examples of the kind of people I am talking about), there ought to be some flexibility to continue the focus and emphasis on raising skill levels for that young cohort. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment No. 14 tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Tope. Our reasons for tabling the amendment are similar to those cited by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, when she moved her Amendment No. 13. We are conscious of many young people aged over 19 who, for one reason or another, have failed to make the best use of the education system before that age and whose needs justify an entitlement to "proper" facilities after that age.

In her amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, refers to those who have not acquired a level 2 qualification in the year in which they attain the age of 16. We on these Benches live in hope that the Government will implement the recommendations of the Kennedy report and those made in the third report of the National Skills Task Force. That report suggested that there should be an entitlement to education and training up to level 3 rather than level 2, which is currently enjoyed by those under the age of 19, and that this entitlement should be extended up to the age of 25.

When we debated this issue in Committee, the Minister made it clear that, for the present, priority lay with making good the entitlement for the 16 to 19 year-old cohort, in particular taking steps to bring back into the fold those who had dropped out of education and were neither employed nor currently receiving either education or training. We agree with this priority, but we are also of the opinion that many of these--and indeed others in the 16 to 19 year-old cohort--do not know what they want to do with their lives and resist the idea of education or training, only to regret those decisions when they are a little older. By then they may have had to face the responsibilities of parenthood and homemaking. It is vital that provision should be made for those late returners. They should be offered the opportunity to equip themselves with recognised skills and qualifications.

Amendment No. 14 has been drafted flexibly so as to offer two advantages. First, immediately, it allows for discretion so that in deserving cases the Secretary of State can extend the entitlement to those aged over 19. Secondly, later, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer feels perhaps a little more generous than he does at the moment, it would allow that entitlement to be extended to those up to the age of 25.

Photo of Baroness Warnock Baroness Warnock Crossbench

My Lords, it is very important to include a measure of flexibility in this area. The age of 19 is often quite a turning point for people with severe learning difficulties and sometimes it is inappropriate to cut off their educational opportunities at that age. For myself, I would not want to tie such extra provision for education to further qualifications because for people with severe learning difficulties education is good in itself, even if it does not lead to further qualifications. For that reason, I strongly support Amendment No. 14, spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment 5:15 pm, 13th March 2000

My Lords, these amendments would extend to other age groups the entitlement to education and training that Clause 2 provides for young people. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has previously made what I genuinely think is a very good point about the needs of people who may have missed out in their school years and I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, reinforced that point. I do not think that there is much between us here in what we want for such people and I share the concerns of both noble Baronesses.

In discharging its duties for the older age group, the LSC must--I repeat the word "must"--ensure that the education and training provided for them is suitable to their requirements. The flexibility to do that is already in place. The requirements of a person with low levels of previous achievement will, of course, be very different from the requirements of those who are already well qualified. It is precisely with that in mind that the consultation we are conducting at the moment on future funding arrangements suggests moving beyond current systems. These might be broadly characterised as dividing payments for provision into entry, retention and achievement. We have suggested building in a fourth element, payment for disadvantage. This would not be restricted to a particular age group, unlike the effect of either of these amendments. Indeed, I do not believe that it should be. There are people over the age of 25 who also need help in coming back into either full-time or part-time education.

However, I repeat a key point from our previous debate on this issue: to single out the needs of one specified group of adults and to give them priority over other adults in this way would be wrong. I believe that it would constrain the LSC and reduce the element of flexibility for which the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has asked. It would restrict the council's ability to make judgments about what may be the equally and possibly more pressing needs of some other adults.

I am also bound to point out again that some adults with special needs or disabilities could actually be disadvantaged by Amendment No. 13. Let us take the example of a disabled adult of any age who has attained a level 2 qualification. The effect of the amendment would mean that that person would be cut out. The LSC would be required to give greater priority to a person aged under 25 without a disability who had not achieved a level 2 qualification. I am not sure that that is what we want to achieve. I believe that this indicates some of the difficult decisions that will need to be taken. Placing such requirements on the LSC may have some consequences that none of us intended.

Although Amendment No. 14 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, takes a slightly different approach to Amendment No. 13, it would also have the effect of giving priority to one group of adults over another on the basis of age rather than their actual requirements. I believe that what we need here is a less restrictive approach which would allow the LSC to exercise its judgment and its discretion about the allocation of resources--

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

My Lords, I should point out to the Minister that the amendment as drafted does not give priority to any particular group of adults. It has been deliberately left open to be determined by the Secretary of State.

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

My Lords, I accept that Amendment No. 14 has built into it a determination by the Secretary of State. However, I should like to return to the point that placing requirements on the LSC would be an unfortunate move. I believe that we need a rather less restrictive approach which would allow it to exercise its own judgment and discretion. I hope that, in view of this, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will not press her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, before I decide what to do with Amendment No. 13, perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness to answer one question. The amendment that follows these amendments--Amendment No. 15--goes some way to answering the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness. If my amendment were to be accepted, the noble Baroness spoke of a person aged between 19 and 25 without a learning disability then taking precedence over someone with a disability aged over 25. Amendment No. 15 narrows the group of people for whom proper provision should be made, as opposed to reasonable provision. Can the noble Baroness give the House an indication of whether she will be able to accept that amendment? Logic would say that Amendment No. 15 should be more acceptable than my amendment.

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

My Lords, perhaps it would be easier to wait until we reach the next group of amendments. However, although I am sympathetic to what is being proposed in Amendment No. 15, I am afraid that I am going to have to resist it for reasons that I shall give in due course.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for being so straightforward in her answer to my question. In her opening remarks in response to Amendment No. 13, the noble Baroness said--I made a note of her words--that the LSC "must" provide education and training to meet the requirements of those who have not achieved level 2.

However, that is not what it says in the Bill. Clause 2(1) states that,

"The Council must secure the provision of proper facilities", and goes on to refer to young people up to the age of 19. But there is a very different emphasis in Clause 3. Subsection (1) states that the council must provide "reasonable facilities" and subsection (2) says:

"Facilities are reasonable if (taking account of the Council's resources) ... the Council can reasonably be expected to secure their provision".

So there is already a very serious constraint on who will receive "proper facilities" and who will receive "reasonable facilities" in the opinion of the council. There is a wholly legal defence for the council to say, "We simply can't afford it". It is just a matter of trying to find a way to put some focus on those young people, with or without learning disabilities, who, for one reason or another, have not achieved level 2 qualifications.

There are many people who must be considered personally culpable for not achieving--for example, not working hard enough, not attending well and truanting from school--and there is perhaps less sympathy for them. But even now the Government still say that we cannot as a society stand back and let those people become problematic and, of course, more costly to the community. However, there is another group of people involved. I have in mind those who, for many reasons well beyond their control, have not achieved level 2 qualifications. I have already mentioned long periods of illness, dislocation because of moving from one part of the country to another and even moving from one country to another. There are also those people described in Amendment No. 15, which refers to those with genuine disabilities.

It seems to me that the Government should find a way to give some flexibility to enable proper provision to be extended to a group of people who will be determined by a form of words on the face of the Bill, or, using the words of the noble Baroness, determined by the Secretary of State. In light of the fact that the Minister is not prepared to accept my amendment or Amendment No. 15, I wish to test the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 13) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 81; Not-Contents, 128.

Division number 3

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

[Amendment No. 14 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Rix Lord Rix Crossbench 5:32 pm, 13th March 2000

moved Amendment No. 15:

Page 1, line 23, at end insert--

("( ) education (other than higher education) suitable for the requirements of persons with learning difficulties or disabilities (or both) who are above compulsory school age but have not attained the age of 25 and whose progress in education has been delayed by their learning difficulty or disability (or both),").

Photo of Lord Rix Lord Rix Crossbench

My Lords, I asked for my Amendments Nos. 15 and 93 to be separated from Amendments Nos. 13 and 14, as mine deal specifically with people with learning difficulties or learning disabilities, and the latter comprise a group in which I have a particular interest. I am saddened to hear in advance that the Minister will resist Amendment No. 15, even though I have not yet voiced my arguments.

Your Lordships may recall that I moved an amendment in Committee which was not dissimilar to Amendments Nos. 15 and 93 before the House this afternoon. My earlier amendment sought to extend fundamental learning opportunities up to the age of 25 for students with learning difficulties and disabilities. During the course of that debate the Minister was kind enough to commit to remedying a disparity in which students with learning difficulties and disabilities have to be turned down by mainstream providers in order to be deemed eligible for specialist provision. For this I, and I am sure other noble Lords, are most grateful. Important though this is, my amendment also sought to address another substantive issue, one on which I would welcome the Minister's specific attention, although to a certain extent I already have advance notification of that.

The amendments before the House this afternoon seek to make provision in the Bill for an entitlement to access further education provision for a narrow group of young people who are currently at risk of exclusion. The group of concern are young people whose early education has been inhibited or delayed as a direct result of their learning difficulty or their learning disability, with the consequence that they may not reach further education until shortly after the age of 19, but would expect to move on before the age of 25. My amendment endeavours to capture only those students whose progress has been inhibited as a direct result of their learning difficulty or disability. I am therefore confident that it will not have the effect of opening the floodgates in terms of demand.

I believe that the proposed amendments, supported by appropriate guidance, confirm the principle of entitlement for students with learning difficulties or disabilities up to the age of 25, while providing a mechanism for limiting the numbers to whom the entitlement would apply.

The Minister kindly wrote to me this morning. I am aware that she is giving this matter serious consideration in spite of her earlier statement about resisting the amendment. I look forward to hearing her response from the Dispatch Box. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Baker of Dorking Lord Baker of Dorking Conservative

My Lords, I wish to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rix. Those of us who are involved in one way or another with the provision of education for young people from the ages of 16 to 19 who have learning difficulties or disabilities--I think that your Lordships will be aware that I am the president of a charity which maintains a successful college for blind and visually impaired students--will know that students of this age group who have learning difficulties or disabilities travel at their own speed. By the age of 19 some will have acquired skills, or even possibly the level of certificated attainment; others will not, not through any fault of not trying but as a result of their learning difficulties. Yet the axe falls at 19 and they have to go. They may not even be able to acquire a job at that stage. I do not believe that that axe should fall.

I emphasise the point that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, made; namely, that we are not talking about masses and masses of people. This is not a matter over which the Treasury need have nightmares. We are talking about a relatively small number of people who are, nevertheless, important as individuals. They should not be thrust out of colleges and told that it has all come to an end. I believe that the Government should move on this issue. I have had sight of a letter which the noble Baroness has sent to the noble Lord, Lord Rix. Clearly the Government are moving in this area. We shall obviously ask for a little more, but, first, I should thank the Minister for what she has done. When you ask for more, you should begin by giving thanks for what you have already received. That is an error that Oliver Twist made; not that the overseer of the Poor House would have changed his attitude in that particular case. I thank the Minister as she has made significant improvements in recognition of the problems that disabled students face, particularly as regards amendments to Clause 113.

I suspect that the noble Baroness will suggest in her letter of reply--I hope that she does not mind my saying so--that one way forward would be to make an assessment of the 19 to 25 year-old students I am discussing. That is certainly a step forward, but only a modest one. An assessment does not constitute an entitlement. It is halfway there. We wish to push for something more than a halfway measure.

As regards any amendments which the noble Baroness introduces at Third Reading, will she bear in mind some specific points? First, the measure should apply to all students from the ages of 19 to 25, and not to those who may just have been assessed in their final year under Clause 113 at 16. Secondly, I hope that she will make the process simple. The parents of many 19 year-old students find that they are embroiled in an enormous administrative nightmare in discussions with the FEFC to continue their children's education and training beyond the age of 19. It should be a simple and straightforward process.

Thirdly, I echo the point made by the noble Baroness on the Cross Benches on the previous amendment when she said that the provision should not be related to a student's attainment. The very fact that from the ages of 19 to 25 someone who has learning difficulties and disabilities is going through the process of education is in itself an enrichment process which should be continued until the age of 25. To give a little more teeth to the measure, apart from just making an assessment for 19 to 25 year-olds, I hope that there will be a requirement for LEAs to take that assessment into account. That takes the measure a little further. Without that requirement, the assessment will remain on the record book. Some LEAs will respond to such an assessment; others will not.

I support these amendments. I am sure that there will be progress, but we should like to go a little further than the Government have in mind at the moment.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I support the amendments. This is a rather odd debate. We have a rough idea of the Minister's attitude towards the amendment and an idea of what will be her argument. Nevertheless, we should try to remind the Minister why we propose the amendment.

The amendment concerns young people who have not achieved their potential. It seeks to push the arbitrary barrier further back in order to give them another bite at the cherry. If those in a particular group of people have not attained a certain level of education through no fault of their own, surely extra opportunities should be extended for that group. If we take into account certain other groups, those with what are commonly called "hidden" disabilities--I know most about dyslexia, but one could bring in milder forms of autism--which are not diagnosed early enough, suddenly we are faced with a group of people who have not had a realistic chance of a first bite at the cherry. If we want to help them, we have to extend their opportunities.

I know that discretionary awards are allowed, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said, virtually everyone involved in any charity dealing with education or any other kind of care, spends a vast amount of time advising parents or carers how to get through the bureaucratic system. If what the amendment seeks to achieve is contained in the Bill, such people will not waste anywhere near that amount of time. It also means that people with learning disabilities may not spend quite as many years up to the age of 25 in further education because they will have less trouble getting into it in the first place.

The amendment addresses real concerns about such people. It will enable them to get on with their lives as opposed to spending years chasing around trying to bully officials and crying on the doorsteps of local politicians in order to obtain something which should be theirs by right.

Photo of Baroness David Baroness David Labour

My Lords, my name is also attached to the amendment. The case has been ably put by those who have already spoken. I support the amendment. It would not be fair if these young people were left out. They would risk exclusion altogether. It is a terribly important amendment. The number of people affected is not very vast.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative 5:45 pm, 13th March 2000

My Lords, I support the amendment. It has been made even more necessary as a result of information which has reached me since we last debated the Bill in Committee. I should again declare my interest as the father of a 19 year-old Down's syndrome daughter whose future education her mother and I are now in the throes of trying to clarify after she leaves her present school in July.

As this is Report stage, I should perhaps save the detail of what I have to say for the further Bill that the Minister has said the Government are to introduce later in this Session. Nevertheless, two areas are sufficiently worrying to put before your Lordships now in support of the amendment.

First, there appears to be a growing habit among some local education authorities to cut off funding for students as soon as they reach their 19th birthday. My noble friend Lord Baker referred to this. If someone turns 19 in the last year, or even the last term, of a three-year course, funding may stop. This is obviously very disturbing for the student who cannot complete the course or take part in the special events which may take place at the end of it. It seems that such LEAs consider that their responsibility ends abruptly when a student reaches 19 and that they do not have any duty towards continuity. That must be fairly clear discrimination against students with mental handicaps or learning disabilities. I cannot believe that it would happen to ordinary students who are funded for a particular course regardless of when their birthdays fall. This practice must also waste resources because much of the good achieved by the course is wasted if the student cannot complete it.

I do not know yet how widespread is the practice. Apparently it has become more so in the past three years. I can reveal, however, that this problem hit three students when they were leaving my daughter's school. One has had to go onto a social services placement which does not have any educational component at all; another will turn 19 next January and the LEA will commit funding only until then. It is not a convenient month in the educational calendar in which to be cut loose.

The FEFC is not blameless either. The parents of a student in the year ahead of my daughter did not learn that the FEFC had granted funding for the requisite special residential school until last September when the course had already started in August. Apart from anything else, this must be traumatic for such a student. I am quite sure that the parents would have been trying to obtain FEFC approval for at least a year before that. Very late on in the negotiations, the FEFC required the student to look at two unsuitable local colleges, which must also have been very upsetting. These are clear examples of the post-19 gap or trap, to which I referred in Committee, into which fall so many of our young people with mental handicaps.

Together with other noble Lords, I welcome what the Minister said about the Government's intentions. If the Government could accept the amendment, that would go a long way towards meeting some of the problems I have outlined because the LSC would have a clear responsibility for solving them. Without it, I fear the muddle may continue. I support the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Darcy de Knayth Baroness Darcy de Knayth Crossbench

My Lords, I wish to add my name to the long list of supporters of the amendment. The Government have made huge improvements in the Bill. As we have seen, the duties amendment has gone way beyond what we asked for. As the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said, it would seem from the Minister's letter to my noble friend Lord Rix that the Government are moving a little. However, we are rather sticking on the issue and not getting beyond a certain point. As the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, said, if a disabled learner does not complete his or her education, it is wasted. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, in the case of some people the problems have only just been discovered at this stage. They are not even beginning to get to grips with their education. This is a very important issue.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, I rise for two reasons, one of which is to apologise to the noble Baroness because I am responsible for the fact that we elicited from her what her reaction would be to the amendment. That was unfortunate, but I wanted to know for good reason. I believed it important that we have some flexibility between the ages of 19 and 25. The interesting amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, also sought to introduce flexibility.

People with such disabilities must be at the top of the list of the category of those who require proper provision rather than a provision dependent upon the resources and/or the priorities of the day of the provider. I believe that the Government's fears are unjustified. We are talking about the kind of people who, through no fault of their own, do not acquire level 2 or continue to have learning difficulties to the extent that they need proper provision. They should not be subject to the priorities of the day or the vagaries of budgeting. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rix, sufficiently defines a group of people whom the Government could take on board. I should like the provision to be wider. There are still people who do not have learning difficulties but who are sufficiently disadvantaged to require proper provision which is not dependent on the vagaries of budgeting. I wholeheartedly support the noble Lord, Lord Rix.

I admit my culpability for eliciting from the Minister her reaction to this amendment. An extremely powerful case has been put for the amendment. In the light of that, even at this late stage, I hope that the noble Baroness will rethink her response to it.

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

My Lords, we had a helpful debate in Committee about the ways in which the LSC and CETW will need to have regard to the needs of persons with learning difficulties in exercising their duties. I made clear then why the Government could not support an amendment which sought to extend the scope of Clauses 2 and 31 of the Bill so that they covered all students with learning difficulties up to the age of 25. At the same time I emphasised that, in exercising their duties under Clauses 2 and 3 and Clauses 31 and 32, the councils would, by virtue of Clauses 13 and 41, have to have regard to the needs of persons with learning difficulties and, in particular, to any report of an assessment conducted under Clause 113. I also referred to the councils' duties to take account of the abilities and aptitudes of different persons.

Moreover, I should add that given that Amendments Nos. 55 and 100 were accepted earlier today, the LSC and the CETW will also have an additional duty to have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity between persons who are disabled and those who are not. I am grateful for the support for those amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and others.

In Committee, I made clear that the Government and the National Assembly intend to give guidance to the councils about the way in which they must exercise their duties under Clauses 3 and 32. It will address the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and others about the position of individual students who begin a course at a later age than some of their fellow students, or need longer to complete their course. I am extremely sympathetic to what the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, said in regard to young people who reach the age of 19 and are then not able to complete a course. That is clearly unacceptable and action must be taken to ensure that it does not happen.

But the reservations that I expressed in Committee are similar to my concerns about Amendments Nos. 15 and 93. They are largely to do with difficulties of definition. So I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, will understand why I felt able to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch--I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her apology--that I should have to resist the amendments before I had actually heard what the noble Lord had to say. There would be enormous difficulties in drawing a line in individual cases between people who could legitimately claim that their progress in education had been delayed by their learning difficulty and those who could not. The councils would be placed in an extremely invidious position by the lack of a clear distinction. The description in the amendment is simply too general.

I have, none the less, been reflecting carefully on ways in which I might be able to meet the concerns that underlie the amendments while not accepting the amendments themselves. I am considering an alternative approach. In describing what I have in mind, I hope that I may be forgiven for looking forward from the beginning of the Bill almost to its end.

At present, Clause 113 does two things. It requires the Secretary of State to arrange an assessment of the education and training needs, and the provision which is required to meet those needs, of school pupils with SEN statements who are in their last year of compulsory schooling and who intend to move into other forms of education and training. It also empowers him to do so in the cases of other students with learning difficulties who are under the age of 19. I shall want to make clear when we consider Amendment No. 148 tomorrow that this power is one which we intend to put to good effect. I am presently considering, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, has anticipated, whether we should extend it so that the power under Clause 113(3) covers students with learning difficulties up to the age of 25, rather than 19 as now. In other words, we might bring this older age group within the scope of eligibility for an assessment.

I shall bear in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Addington, have said. I shall want to look particularly at the point the noble Lord made about simplicity for parents and, perhaps more importantly, for students themselves--although I cannot guarantee that everything that noble Lords who have spoken in the debate would like will be incorporated into the government amendment.

I hope that by that means we may be able to recognise what the noble Lord, Lord Rix, emphasised in Committee, and again today; namely, that some pupils with learning difficulties might have a slower transition from school into further education or training; that some students take longer to complete further education or training courses; and that some people with learning difficulties return to learning after the age of 19, having left school earlier and stopped taking part in education.

As is the case with younger people, the extent of the needs of this older age group will vary. However, I accept that some will have needs which would be identified in an assessment under the existing Clause 113 duty or power were they under the age of 19. I believe that there is a case for recognising that.

As I have already said, the LSC and the CETW will have a specific duty to have regard to the needs of persons with assessments when exercising their duties to secure reasonable as well as proper facilities. In other words, where people aged between 19 and 25 were in possession of an assessment, the council would need to take that into account in allocating resources for post-19 education and training as a whole. That represents a clear and firm step towards meeting the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and other noble Lords.

I hope that I have explained to the satisfaction of noble Lords the principle of what I am currently considering. The Government will introduce an amendment at a later stage. In the light of that, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Baker of Dorking Lord Baker of Dorking Conservative

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may say that what she has said is very helpful indeed. However, according to her final point, if a student aged between 19 and 25 receives an assessment--it is to be hoped on a simplified basis--the learning and skills council will then have to take that into account in the provision of resources. That is almost an entitlement. There is a wafer-thin decision between that and an entitlement. If in the future an entitlement is not given, what is likely to happen is that the parents of such a student, or the student himself or herself, will take the appropriate LEA or the learning and skills council to court and require that payment to be made. As the Minister is so close to saying "entitlement", at Third Reading she should be encouraged to make it an entitlement.

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

My Lords, I have not said that there will be an entitlement. We must be very careful about the language that we use here. Entitlements are normally universal for a particular group. What I have made clear is that some young people with learning difficulties would benefit from an assessment; but the reference is to "assessment" rather than "entitlement".

Photo of Lord Rix Lord Rix Crossbench

My Lords, first, perhaps I may thank noble Lords on all sides of the House who have supported these amendments. I should like to thank the Minister, not only for her help throughout the passage of the Bill but also for her letter, which I received just before lunchtime today, and for her response to the amendment.

Obviously, I welcome any attempt to recognise the extra support that is needed for people with learning difficulties, and particularly for those with learning disabilities--known once upon a time, as the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, would no doubt say, as those with a mental handicap, which places them in a slightly different category from any others.

As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Baker, the Minister's proposal falls short of the magic word "entitlement". I am delighted that assessments can be made, but assessments can be left on shelves to moulder in the dust. The word "entitlement" would make a great deal of difference. I hope that in the weeks before Third Reading the Minister will reconsider her response in the letter and her response from the Dispatch Box to this amendment, and see whether the amendment that she is to bring forward at Third Reading can possibly include some semantics that embrace the word "entitlement".

I am delighted that we have advanced so far in this debate and only hope that we can take that further step forward. Again, I offer my thanks to all noble Lords concerned with these amendments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 16 to 18 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat 6:00 pm, 13th March 2000

moved Amendment No. 19:

Page 2, line 6, after ("quantity") insert ("and quality").

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 19 standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Sharp I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 20, 30 and 35. We return to the thorny issue of the intentional differences, as the Government told us last time, between Clauses 2 and 3 and the provision required for 16 to 19 year-olds and those over 19. We had a fairly full debate on this matter at Committee stage, and the Minister will be pleased to know that I do not intend to repeat all the arguments that I then made. He was careful to try to explain "proper", which I believe in the end he defined as "entitlement", and "reasonable", which he defined as "something slightly less". I believe that that was a slightly less than adequate definition of "reasonable". However, it was a matter which would not be determined by the needs of the learners but the resources which the LSC felt able to make available.

I have already made clear that we do not regard those differences as acceptable. We understand that inevitably there must be a difference in the quantity of provision but certainly not in its quality. I recognise that every government has priorities. The Government have made it clear that their priority is 16 to 19 year-olds. Be that as it may, priorities change over time and it is not helpful to have them written into law. At present the Bill does not propose differing priorities within a single lifelong learning system but a two-tier system, with adult learners being relegated to a second division and receiving additional resources only after proper facilities for young people have been secured. That is not a statement of government priorities; it is to be in legislation for all time. That will be so until such time as there is a change in legislation, not a change in the Government's priorities. I do not believe that that is a helpful starting point to advance the interests of adult learners in the long term.

The Minister was understandably concerned in Committee to try to provide correct definitions and did not explain as fully as I might have wished the Government's medium-term policies and aspirations for adult learning. I do not expect the Minister today to accept amendments which were so unacceptable to him in Committee. However, rather than spend time carefully defining "proper" and "reasonable" perhaps the noble Lord will explain the Government's priorities and medium-term aspirations for adult learning. It has been made clear to us that 16 to 19 year-olds will have priority. However, do the Government endorse the proposals in the Kennedy report or the more modest ones set out in the third Skills Task Force report as explicit policy goals? If we knew the answer to that it might go some small way to allay the concern that adult education is, by legislation, being relegated to the second division. In moving this amendment--more in hope than expectation--I trust that the Government will take the opportunity to allay some of the fears and express their aspirations for the medium and long-term future of adult education. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

My Lords, as I said previously at Committee stage--I was reminded of some of my comments and I now remind the noble Lord of others--the Government recognise that the country needs a substantial improvement in participation and achievement at every level of attainment. We expect the provision funded by the learning and skills council to build on the improvements now taking place in school quality and standards. The LSC will be required to give priority to the learning of 16 to 19 year-olds which will fulfil our commitment in the White Paper to give all 16 to 19 year-olds an entitlement to education and training, whether full-time or part-time. We expect the additional resources that we devote to post-16 learning to allow access to learning for all those who need it, whether adults or those in the 16 to 19 age group. We are making the biggest ever investment in further education: £3.9 billion in 2001-02 compared with £3.1 billion in 1998-99, which is an extra £800 million.

In discharging its duties, the LSC must take into account the differing aptitudes and abilities of all the people for whom it has responsibility. The local LSCs will have discretion to secure the right balance and mix of post-19 provision in their areas. To single out the needs of one group of adults and give them priority over all adults would be wrong, although the Government have some sympathy with what lies behind Amendments Nos. 30 and 35. We believe that it would restrict the LSC's ability and discretion to make judgments about what may be the equally, and perhaps even more, pressing needs of other adults, including those with special needs or disabilities. The LSC must be able to exercise discretion.

Although we judged it right to make a distinction between provision for the 16 to 19 age group and adults in much the same way as the previous government's legislation, it is certainly not the case that we regard learning for adults as unimportant. But we need to have some clear understanding of what constitutes "young people" for the purposes of this Bill and the work of the LSC as against adults. It is for the Government to give the lead on the policy, and we have done so. We have already announced an enormous increase in the resources available for adult learning in further education. I remind the noble Lord that in 1998-99 expenditure on adults in further education was £1.6 billion; in 2001-02 it will be £2 billion. That does not sound to me much like "relegation". That expenditure will enable the number of further education students to increase by 650,000 by the academic year 2000-01 compared with 1997-98. We need to go further. We expect to widen participation substantially, and the major part of that expansion will be for adults. I do not accept that we are in any way undervaluing the learning needs of adults.

However, we must get things right for younger learners in the first place. The challenge at 16 to 19 cannot be underestimated. Most noble Lords will accept that what I am about to say is accurate. Undoubtedly, noble Lords will be aware of the findings of the report of the Social Exclusion Unit, Bridging the Gap, but I should like to highlight a few key findings. Regrettably, in the 16 to 19 age group we still have some of the lowest rates of participation in Europe. We have a sharper decline in participation from age 16 to age 18 than many countries in Europe. Young people who do not participate are at increased risk of being unemployed, becoming involved in drug abuse and having poor physical health. We are clear that the LSC's priority must be the 16 to 19 age group and nothing must detract from that. Let us get that right and then focus the increasing resources devoted to adults on enhancing and developing higher level skills, not in tackling the results of earlier failure. If we can get it right, obviously we shall save on later expenditure. We shall pick up the pieces from that failure and be able to invest more in developing adult skills.

To extend the entitlement has substantial resource implications. Although it is attractive in many ways, that point must be taken into account. For young people alone, the council will be spending the best part of £4 billion on an age group that covers a two-year cohort. We have increased the resources for adults and will continue to do so. I hope noble Lords agree that that demonstrates the importance that we place on adult education. But with the best will in the world, no government--I venture to suggest not even a Liberal Democrat government--would put a commitment of this kind on the face of the Bill. It would be misleading and deceptive to make a provision that we could not deliver. Equally, it would have been misleading for us not to have made clear in the Bill our policy priorities. I hope that the noble Lord will understand why, as he suspected, I resist Amendments Nos. 30 and 35, and ask him to withdraw them.

I have not spoken directly to Amendments Nos. 19 and 20. The comments made with regard to Amendment No. 12 and grouped amendments are relevant. I do not wish to repeat myself. The basic point is that, as with the earlier group, the amendments are worthy but unnecessary. The Bill already achieves what the noble Lord would wish.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am used to being told that my amendments are unnecessary. I suppose that it is a mark of progress that they are now worthy but unnecessary! I must take what small consolation I can from that.

The Minister's reply was not entirely unexpected. I do not want to take issue with too much of what the noble Lord said. I did not entirely understand his reference to the different categories of adults; I do not think that my amendment refers to that. Nor do I want to use this opportunity to argue with him about figures. However, while he talks about the welcome increase in total expenditure on adult education, I think I am right in saying that because of increased access the unit expenditure per adult is decreasing rather than increasing. But we can argue these figures in another place at another time.

Nor do I question the Government's honesty in setting out clearly their priority for 16 to 19 year-olds. They have been quite straightforward about that. There is a sense and logic to that. My concern is not that the Government are setting out their priorities. Of course, they must do so. It is that we are embodying those in legislation until such time as legislative opportunity arises to amend it. I have considerable doubts about that. It sends a message to adult learners and to the adult education world that they are in the second division. That is the distinction between Clauses 2 and 3. It is not simply a matter of the Government stating their priorities. They have ample means and opportunity to do so without enshrining them this boldly in legislation.

However, I do not intend today to press the amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 not moved.]

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

moved Amendment No. 22:

Page 2, line 14, at end insert--

("(bb) take account of the education and training required in different sectors of employment for employees and potential employees;").

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

My Lords, a number of Peers raised the importance of workforce development for the LSC and the role of national training organisations in the new arrangements. I wholeheartedly agreed that the need for an adaptable workforce which has the capacity and opportunity to learn new skills must influence the way in which the council exercises its main duties.

In response to an amendment from my noble friend Lord Haskel I undertook to bring forward an amendment which would take account of the needs of different sectors of employment, recognising, of course, that national training organisations provide the leading expertise on sectoral issues.

The Government have already made clear in the LSC prospectus how we expect the LSC and NTOs to work closely together. I would also expect NTOs to play the leading role in advising the LSC so that it can properly take account of sectoral interests as this amendment requires.

The amendments also make the equivalent changes to the duties exercised by the CETW. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Haskel Lord Haskel Labour 6:15 pm, 13th March 2000

My Lords, I welcome Amendment No. 22. I thank the Minister for incorporating the provision into the Bill. The national training organisations play an important role in training in different sectors of business and industry and the learning and skills councils will derive great benefit from working with them. It is important to remember that national training organisations deal with sectors of industry and business. The learning and skills councils deal with regions. It is important that they co-operate together. The amendment ensures that that will happen.

I have a letter from Mr Garry Hawkes, CBE, chairman of the National Training Organisations National Council, expressing his satisfaction with the Bill and thanking the Minister for dealing with the issue. He assures the Government that the NTO will give every support possible to the learning and skills council.

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

My Lords, as one who expressed concern in Committee about the failure of the Bill to take account of national training organisations, I join with the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, in welcoming the amendment. I thank the Minister for listening to what we said. I am delighted to see that the provisions are incorporated not only in this part of the Bill but also later. I should like to record our pleasure.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I, too, welcome the amendment. I hope that such a measure will lead eventually to students aged 16-plus who are considering entering a course of education being provided with information on the employability factor that it will add to their portfolio. As with some of the better FE colleges at present, they will know what jobs will welcome their qualifications and the employment records of students who have been through the course. That kind of quality "pull" is a great incentive to ensuring that the courses offered, in particular in FE, are those that industry wants. That information should be provided to a student who is being asked to commit two years to a specific course at an important stage of his or her life. If the Government are moving in that direction, I greatly welcome it.

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

My Lords, perhaps I may respond to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. Yes, employability is an important concept these days. We are concerned to provide more information to students at all levels about their likely employability as a result of a course they have undertaken.

I express my thanks to all noble Lords who welcomed the amendment, which I commend.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

moved Amendment No. 23:

Page 2, line 14, at end insert--

("( ) take account of the education and training required to prepare young persons of different abilities and aptitudes for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life outside the workplace;").

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

My Lords, in Committee I probed the Government's intentions about the kind of education and training that the learning and skills councils would offer. The Minister indicated that the education and training offered would not be limited to a vocational or work-oriented education and training. However, the noble Baroness did not accept that any positive definition of education and training should be on the face of the Bill.

I have read carefully the Official Report and the prospectus for the learning and skills council published by the Government. I am now concerned more than ever that, whatever the Government intend, on the basis of what is stated in the Bill and the prospectus the reality will be that learning and skills councils will quickly become bodies devoted to preparing people for employment, and little more. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, referred to the issue. It is assumed that those councils are concerned only with employment. About 75 per cent of the prospectus is devoted to employment. I have read the whole prospectus, but perhaps I may quote from the introduction. It states:

"The key objectives underlying our proposals in Learning to Succeed are to create a new system which will: be responsive to the needs of individuals and employers; promote employability for individuals ...; help employers".

It continues with another four or five objectives, but the first three objectives are clearly and solely employment related. After all, 40 per cent of the learning and skills council members, plus the chairman, will be employment or business related. Indeed, Amendment No. 22 adds fuel to the fire. It adds to the impression that the main function of the LSCs will be to prepare people for work. I fully recognise the nation's need for a fully trained and educated workforce. I also recognise the importance for each individual of being able to obtain well-paid and fulfilling employment. However, if the learning and skills council does not also genuinely address other social and personal needs, a great opportunity will have been lost.

Apart from skills for employment, the main emphasis in the prospectus is on exclusion and disadvantage and I cannot find fault with that. Indeed, I am enthusiastic about it. However, it does not make sense to fight to reduce social disadvantage today while failing to address potential social disadvantage for the next generation. Surely the knowledge and skills required to live together as a community, to be good citizens and, above all, to be good parents are also tremendously important.

In Committee, the Government rejected my proposal for a mission statement, which I believed would cover the issue, and for a definition of "education" to appear on the face of the Bill. I now bring forward a more modest proposal which would place on the face of the Bill a counterbalance to the repeated references to, and emphasis on, preparation for employment which appear in the Bill and prospectus. I hope that the amendment will commend itself to the Committee.

I shall now speak to two other amendments in the group. They are Amendments Nos. 38 and 72 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, to which I and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, also have our names. My noble friend Lord Sandwich cannot be in his place tonight and he has asked me to speak to his amendments.

These amendments address one of the dimensions of the wider aspects of education. I refer to global and international understanding, and the ability to communicate and be involved in the globalisation with which we are confronted. Global issues are part of our lives, be it via the food we eat, our jobs, the clothes we wear, television, sports, the Internet or increased opportunities for travel, to mention but a few examples.

The national curriculum document refers to learning in a global society. It states:

"education must enable us to respond positively to the opportunities and challenges of the rapidly changing world in which we live and work. In particular, we need to be prepared to engage as individuals, parents, workers and citizens with economic, social and cultural change, including the continued globalisation of the economy and society".

I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to give the House strong assurances that the wider cultural and international context of the national, international and global dimensions of education will not be omitted from the objectives of the LSC.

I beg to move Amendment No. 23.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I, too, put my name to the amendments of the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and I am sorry that he cannot be here to move them. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for speaking to them so well in his absence. It may be that when the noble Earl reads what has been said, he may want to speak on these important issues at Third Reading.

I put my name to the amendments because they raise important issues. We find ourselves concentrating on preparing people for work without having a wider vision of global issues. I thought that we could have a useful debate on that subject and remind ourselves that learning for life involves learning about the world, global issues, international development and so forth.

I offer brief but heartfelt support to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I understand and share his concerns. It is right and probably inevitable that the Bill concentrates on preparing young people for the workplace. But we are not talking about learning for work; we are talking about learning for life. Work is part of life, but in this place it seems that work is not all of life. Therefore, if we are talking about learning for life, we must pay proper and full regard to the issues which are described extremely well in the noble Lord's amendment. I congratulate him on redrafting it.

I am pleased that the noble Lord has raised his concerns because I share them. In terms of the Bill, I am not sure how best to approach them, but we are being given an opportunity to register them and to hear the Minister's response.

Photo of Baroness Warnock Baroness Warnock Crossbench

My Lords, I support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and the others in the group. The danger is that the proper and admirable concentration on getting young people into work may give a wrong impression in particular to teachers and pupils in schools in which the new council will be responsible for pupils of 16 plus. It might seem to them to overemphasise the vocational aspects of education and to forget an equally important aspect; that is, to give young people interest, excitement, creativity and opportunities for pleasure and involvement in issues in which they would not otherwise have been involved or understood sufficiently if they had not been in further education.

I believe that in particular as regards this age group and those who may have been disaffected during adolescence, it is important to emphasise the pleasure and possible excitement of education as well as the monetary reward and the possibility of contributing to society. Therefore, I believe that in our discussions on education we should not completely omit the concept of life outside the workplace. That is why the noble Lord's formula is particularly important and I support his amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, the best schools and colleges in this country get this aspect right and therefore the amendment is not necessary for them. A large proportion of children have the joy of support at home and in school and receive a good education. There is no concern about them, but the noble Lord has spent a good deal of his life concerned about other children who do not have support at home. For them, school and college are often their only anchor.

The point that is being made is therefore most important. The best schools and colleges deepen intellect, raise understanding, and widen young people's knowledge and experience. They are encouraged not only to read the textbook relating to a particular course, but to read around and wider than the subject and to gain enjoyment from that.

When I pressed for business representation on the council, the noble Lord expressed his anxiety that the Bill appears to be concerned only with getting young people into work. I want to support the Government in the sense that getting young people into work is a real mission. Nowadays, very few people can go through life without having to earn a living. We know that the quality of life for a large number of people and their families would be much enhanced if they could partake in the world of work. Therefore, I have no difficulty in supporting the Bill's main thrust of getting young people sufficiently equipped to take their place in the world of work.

However, I do not want to see one aspect pursued exclusively, at the expense of the other. I believe that the widening and broadening of education go hand in hand and that the wording of Amendment No. 23 particularly brings that together. I have no difficulty in supporting the amendment. I believe that it would help all of us to understand that the Bill does not only focus narrowly on equipping someone to take their place in the world of work; it concerns improving the quality of life of the individual. I believe that that then spills out to the quality of life of everyone. There is a powerful argument for supporting the amendment. I do not believe that it at all inhibits the main policy aim of the Government to get as many of our young people as possible into the world of work.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 6:30 pm, 13th March 2000

My Lords, I, too, support everything that has been said in support of Amendment No. 23. It is enormously important that we do not focus only on the skills required for work, although the range of those skills is fairly broad. Other things that lie immediately alongside them, such as parenting and citizenship, are equally important for a child of that age. There is also a need to offer to someone who is just growing wings--someone who is gaining the ability to act independently and to be independent--the opportunity to catch a glimpse of what is out there in the world and what else is available to them beyond the confines of home, school and the town in which they have been brought up. It is enormously important that those things should be on offer to children of that age.

If she was involved in further education at the time when the FEFC came into being, the noble Baroness will remember the difficulties that sixth-form colleges had in preserving their extra-curricular curriculum, as it were, against the pressures of the funding formula, which were designed merely to fund units of work on A-levels. Sixth-form colleges were to be funded at exactly the same rate as FE colleges, but FE colleges provided none of the extra-curricular provisions available in sixth-form colleges. Finally, the problem was solved through various fudges and by allowing sixth-form colleges to be funded for courses outside the immediate A-level provision. In fact, that extra-curricular provision has survived well in sixth forms.

However, when faced with a new piece of legislation and a new body, it is difficult to settle the argument between those who provide extra-curricular provisions and those who do not as to what the rate of funding for a particular course should be. I believe that the Government should make it quite clear that there will be separate funding for courses outside the main A-level or, indeed, the main vocational tramlines. To my mind, it would be much better if the opportunities available in sixth-form colleges were extended to those training in FE colleges, rather than, as almost happened at the time of the creation of the FEFC, a narrowing of opportunities for those in sixth-form colleges and, with this Bill, those in sixth-forms in schools.

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

My Lords, I am extremely sympathetic to a great deal of what has been said in this short debate on these amendments. The Government's vision of the learning age is to build a new culture of learning which should not only underpin national competitiveness and personal prosperity but also encourage creativity and innovation and help to build a more cohesive society. We want everyone to benefit from the opportunities that learning brings in terms of personal growth and the enrichment of communities. Certainly, I entirely accept that the issue of employability should not in any way preclude people from learning for its own sake.

Again, I agree entirely with the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, about the pleasures and excitements of learning. We want all our young people to realise that it is there if they would only reach out and take it. I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that there should not be an exclusive emphasis on getting young people into work, important as that is. I do not believe that any of those things are mutually exclusive. Our aim is to equip people with the right skills for the global world in which we all now live. We agree wholeheartedly that the values and purposes which underpin education include enabling individuals to respond positively to the opportunities and challenges of our rapidly changing world.

However, both the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Northbourne, are quite right that education should engage on all levels with economic, social and cultural change, including changes that arise from being part of a global world. Those principles are already reflected in the national curriculum, and we should reflect them in post-16 learning as well. However, if noble Lords care to look again at the introduction to the Learning and Skills Prospectus, they will see clearly that our objectives embrace all the issues mentioned in this debate.

That is why the LSC will, for example, continue to support the various EU training projects and programmes, such as Socrates and Leonardo, which offer young people an opportunity to benefit from a different learning experience, not only within the EU but also in eastern Europe, Africa, Latin America and elsewhere. Since 1995, over 80,000 young people from the UK have undertaken education, training, youth placements or exchanges abroad. I believe that that is greatly to be welcomed. In the future, those and similar ventures will be one route by which the LSC can encourage a sharing of experiences and effect a mutual understanding of the challenges to be faced in the context of the global world.

I very much welcome the valuable work of the Development Education Association in raising awareness of the need for people to have the skills for a global society. I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, who, unfortunately, is not able to be here today, has close contacts with the Development Education Association. However, I do not believe that the amendments in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and others are necessary to achieve the objectives that we all share. As I said, the LSC prospectus sets out the values which we intend the LSC to pursue. They will continue to be reinforced by guidance which the Secretary of State gives to the council.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, will recognise that much of what I have said already is relevant to his concerns. We do not view education in a narrow way, and the duties of the LSC and CETW are not framed in a narrow way either. The education which they are required to provide for young people must be suitable to their requirements and needs in a very broad sense. Those needs will vary greatly and, in many cases, provision will not be directed towards entering the workplace but rather to higher levels of education, whether at college or at university.

Such provision should certainly include the enrichment activities to which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, referred. They are a very important supplement to formal education which leads to qualifications. In addition to vocational education, social, physical and recreational education will be included, as will organised leisure time occupations connected with such education. Therefore, the noble Lord should be in no doubt that our shared intentions and aspirations are already reflected in the Bill, taken together with the related legislation already on the statute book, and that "education" has the broader meaning that he seeks. I hope that, with that assurance, the noble Lord will not feel that he needs to press his amendment.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

My Lords, I am tremendously grateful to the noble Baroness for those very helpful and encouraging remarks. I wish also to express my gratitude to the number of noble Lords who contributed most effectively and who added to the thoughts that I have had on this subject. I believe we are all agreed that we need a balance between life skills for work and those for non-work. I am delighted that the noble Baroness shares that view.

Of course, I shall read what the Minister said. However, my view is that that is fine but it does not say so in the Bill. Therefore, I may very well bring back this amendment and press it at a later stage. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 24:

Page 2, line 17, leave out paragraph (d) and insert--

("(d) make the most cost-effective use of resources consistent with the effective provision of services.").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 38A and 95 in my name. My noble friend Lord Pilkington will speak to Amendment No. 25.

The Minister will know that I have very real reservations about the phrase,

"make the best use of the Council's resources and in particular avoid provision which might give rise to disproportionate expenditure".

One may be making provision for young people with learning disabilities. In sixth forms, one may be making provision for the teaching of minority subjects. A school may positively choose to have very small groups for a particular subject, perhaps due to fluctuations in numbers or it may be that only a small number of pupils want to take the subject but the school determines that that subject shall be taught. In those cases, disproportionate expenditure will be incurred. It seems to me that the test should be not whether the expenditure is disproportionate but whether it makes the best and most cost-effective use of resources consistent with the effective delivery of services.

If one has that test where expenditure is considered by those making the judgment to be disproportionate, it may be that there is a very good reason for that, and that should be a proper defence.

The wording in Clauses 2 and 3 and in the Welsh clause, Clause 31, merely refer to making the best use of resources. The meaning of the term "best use" is an extremely subjective issue. Therefore, I prefer the wording in the amendment which refers to,

"make the most cost-effective use of resources consistent with the effective provision of services".

That is a more objective test than trying to determine what is "best use". It certainly allows expenditure to be consistent with good service delivery; but it also allows the providers of education and training to be disproportionate in their expenditure if they have good reason for doing so. That good reason will be fully accountable through the inspection process, the budgeting allocations, and the inspectorate which will make value-for-money judgments.

I support my noble friend Lord Pilkington who will speak to his Amendment No. 25. In a way, that also touches on the issue of schools and colleges determining for themselves how they will spend their money as long as they are fully accountable for those decisions. As I say, the test should be more objective than that which is set out in the Bill. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Conservative 6:45 pm, 13th March 2000

My Lords, as noble Lords know, my great concern is school sixth forms. Like my noble friend, I am worried about the narrowness of Clause 2(3)(d) which refers to,

"making the best use of the Council's resources and in particular avoid provision which might give rise to disproportionate expenditure".

The danger is that purely utilitarian judgments will be made. In view of the universal support for the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, of broader education, I believe that this business of finance governing everything should be looked at very carefully.

School sixth forms fulfil many of the hopes of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. They are more than just practical instruments for teaching. They have a wider agenda of orchestras, sports teams and religious and moral education. In sparsely populated areas in particular, they are often rather small and certainly, because of the extensive services which they provide, are somewhat more expensive.

The Minister assured us in Committee that her intentions were not to follow pure economy and not to let the chequebook govern education. Therefore, Clause 2(3)(d) seems to me a contradiction of what she said so clearly in Committee.

My amendment would put into a very short phrase the noble intentions of the noble Baroness. In fact--dare I suggest?--I have done her a service in that I have placed her morality, of which she assured us in Committee, in a sentence and met all her noble hopes for the ideals of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. It would certainly help school sixth forms in rural areas, which are inevitably small but often excellent, to resist closure if the learning and skills council followed Clause 2(3)(d) to the letter. Therefore, I suggest that without loss of face and in this season of Lent, fulfilling a noble hope, the noble Baroness could accept my amendment and go to confession with a clear heart. I commend Amendment No. 25 to the House.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I do not think I want to follow that too closely, but I wish the Minister well in rather more secular terms.

I have much sympathy with the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. I hope that the Minister will offer him the reassurance that he seeks. I certainly believe that school sixth forms should not be closed down solely because of their size. There are important issues here about the quality of provision. The virtue of being small does not necessarily mean that the quality is not good. Indeed, often, the reverse is the case. But it will almost always mean that such sixth forms have higher unit costs, which gives rise to the concerns to which other noble Lords have referred in relation to making the best use of the council's resources.

Perhaps I may return to the point which caused the noble Lord, Lord Bach, so much difficulty in Committee. I cannot see that it is necessary to add to the phrase,

"make the best use of the Council's resources", the words,

"and in particular avoid provision which might give rise to disproportionate expenditure".

If you are making best use of the council's resources, you cannot make provision which gives rise to disproportionate expenditure. However, I shall not make more of that. We got excited about it last time. I still think that it is unnecessary.

I turn now to the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. Perhaps this is about understanding the use of words and expressions. The words,

"the most cost-effective use of resources", suggest to me, perhaps because I lived for so many years under a Conservative government--I use the expression of the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington--a "purely utilitarian" judgment. I much prefer the expression "best value". I did not invent either expression; neither did my party. The Bill refers to "best use" but perhaps the two are synonymous. However, "best value" implies a judgment which determines value as distinct from cost. It seems to me that my interpretation of the noble Baroness's amendment--I accept fully that it is not her interpretation or intention--would mean that a small sixth form will not often be the most cost-effective way of using resources, but it might be providing the best value under those circumstances. That is an important difference.

Therefore, although the two noble friends on the Conservative Benches believe themselves to be allied in their grouped amendments, were I ever to be a Minister responsible for this my view would be that they are contradictory and that the small sixth form of the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, is not the noble Baroness's most cost-effective use of resources. Therefore, if there are any more surprises tonight--if the noble Baroness intends to press her amendment to a Division, we shall on this occasion be with the Government.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

My Lords, having heard the comments--I nearly said "strictures"--of the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, to my noble friend, I wonder whether they are addressed to me also, as I have the pleasure of replying to these amendments. From our previous exchanges on a similar point, which went to a Division--the words are slightly different and although I should expect nothing less of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, we really have divided already on the issue--the noble Baroness will be aware that we consider formulations based around cost effectiveness to be lacking and too one-dimensional.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tope, about the expression which the noble Baroness seeks to add to the Bill. It does not seem to support in the best possible way the case of the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. Value for money is achieved though balancing economy, efficiency and effectiveness. I cannot resist the temptation to use "the three Es" yet again. In our view that is expressed most succinctly in the Bill as it stands.

However, the noble Baroness raised concerns about the meaning of "disproportionate expenditure". The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, expressed concern about the impact of the new arrangements upon sixth forms, particularly small rural sixth forms. The words we are discussing have already received--may I say it?--disproportionate attention in earlier debates on the duties of the LSC. It is evident that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord wish to be clearer about the meaning of those words. If they and the House will indulge me, I shall try to provide greater elucidation of them. It may take a little time, but I shall be as brief as possible. It is obviously an issue which is causing genuine concern.

First, let us consider the subsection in each clause where the words appear. In each case, we find that the LSC in England and the CETW in Wales must apply four considerations as to how they perform the relevant duty referred to in the opening words of the subsection. There are three matters of which the councils must take account: first, in relation to facilities; secondly, in relation to the ability and aptitude of different persons; and, thirdly, the facilities that might be secured by others. The fourth matter on which we are focusing attention follows. The exact words are,

"make the best use of the Council's resources and in particular avoid provision which might give rise to disproportionate expenditure".

The key words are the first seven,

"make the best use of the Council's resources".

We remain satisfied that those words are the best formulation. For the reasons explained previously, we believe that that formulation is superior to terms such as "cost-effective" which would require perhaps a less balanced approach to the use of public funds, particularly in respect of quality.

Immediately following those first seven words there appear the words, "and in particular". Those three words carry a particular weight. The words that follow them do not introduce an entirely new and separate test which the council must meet. If that were the case, there would be five distinct and separated considerations which the councils would have to take into account. Rather, they refine the meaning of the first seven words. The qualification that they introduce is concerned with the reverse of achieving the best use of council resources. If the councils are contemplating expenditure which, in proportion to normal use of resources, would not be good value for money, then clearly such expenditure would be disproportionate to the norm and the councils must avoid it.

A debate over eight years ago covered similar ground. On 9th December 1991, at columns 569 to 572 of Hansard, the then government spokesman, the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish of Furness, who, I am sure, was a colleague of the noble Baroness and other Members opposite in that government, pointed to precedents for that type of formulation going back to the Education Act 1944. He gave a practical example of what was meant. His words are perhaps worth quoting:

"What the Bill requires is that a council should not build an expensive engineering laboratory for a handful of students when there is another laboratory just down the road. But if the provision is proportionate to the need, even if it be expensive, this clause would not rule it out".--[Official Report, 9/12/91; col. 571.]

That is good sense with which we agree. Those words would apply equally to a small rural school for which there is a need, or expensive provision for a disabled student. I say once and for the record, in view of concerns raised previously, that none of the Bill's provisions restricts either the LSC or CETW from spending money on expensive provision of whatever sort. We all know that sometimes we must pay more for something that is of the quality we want in comparison to a similar entity of shoddy quality. We all know that sometimes something is expensive by its very nature. I repeat: neither council is prevented from paying for expensive provision. But surely it is right that the council should be required to take such matters into account when spending taxpayers' money to ensure that it is not spending money unnecessarily. That made good sense then, and it makes good sense now.

I hope that I have explained our thinking. It is on that basis that we invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, I suppose that I should be flattered. This is about the fourth time today I have heard that what the previous government did was so good that we must repeat it. I must tell the Minister that my frustrations over many of these issues are well known in the department. I dislike intensely the argument produced for Ministers--it was produced for me--that because something has always been done a certain way, it should always be done that way and that because a form of wording has been the same since Adam was a boy, we should continue to use it. I do not accept that as an intellectually valid defence.

The Minister painstakingly explained the use of the word "particular". However, that word does not refer to the first seven words, but to what follows,

"make the best use of the Council's resources and in particular avoid provision which might give rise to disproportionate expenditure".

That is all that is stated. There is no other qualification whatever. It is true, as the Minister accepts, that there will be occasions when disproportionate expenditure must legitimately be made. The Minister gave my noble friend's example of an expensive engineering workshop being set up when there is another one close by. By anyone's judgment that would be deemed unacceptable, disproportionate expenditure. However, there are many examples where provision for young people with learning disabilities must be a great deal more expensive than that for young people without learning disabilities. There will be instances in rural areas where provision is disproportionately expensive compared to that provided for areas where schools are much closer together in towns and cities which have more facilities.

I do not believe that, on the face of the Bill, disproportionate expenditure can be avoided. I accept the criticism made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, about value for money. I had hoped that through the wording of Amendment No. 24 I was introducing the notion of value for money. I did not use the term "cost-effective use of resources" on its own because that stipulation is linked with a second point relating to consistency with effective services; in other words, if a provision is not consistent with effective services then it is not cost effective. Putting the two together, I qualified the first part of my amendment by saying that it had to be consistent with the use of resources.

I am tempted by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, to find a way to introduce the words "value for money" as opposed to,

"cost-effective use of resources consistent with the effective provision of services".

It is important to make it clear beyond doubt that local authorities, councils when making funding provision, and even employers under the voluntary sector making provision should be allowed to do so quite legitimately, and on the basis of making good judgment on educational grounds. I believe that should be acceptable. The Bill states:

"in particular avoid provision which might give rise to disproportionate expenditure".

For that reason, despite the fact that it has been used historically and by my government, I still do not believe that it is an answer to my concern. However, I shall go away and try to "Topefy" my amendment and bring it back at Third Reading. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Conservative 7:00 pm, 13th March 2000

had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 25:

Page 2, line 18, at end insert--

("( ) Nothing in subsection (3) shall prevent the Council from providing facilities that only, by nature of their size, have higher unit costs than other facilities.").

Photo of Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Conservative

My Lords, there will be much discussion on the amendments and much work in smoke-filled rooms. Although I am not happy that my amendment is not to be on the face of the Bill, I share the concerns of my noble friend, and do not intend to move this amendment.

[Amendment No. 25 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 26 to 29 not moved.]

Clause 3 [Education and training for persons over 19]:

[Amendments Nos. 30 to 35 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 36:

Page 2, line 41, at end insert--

("( ) in relation to subsection (1)(c) above, take account of any undue burden falling on small and medium-sized businesses, or voluntary sector providers;").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, Amendment No. 36 deals with a concern which sounds like a small concern, but is important. Clause 3(1) states:

"The Council must secure the provision of reasonable facilities for".

The facilities are then listed. Clause 3(1)(c) refers to,

"organised leisure-time occupation connected with such education".

My particular concern is that some of the provision will be made by small and medium-sized businesses. Indeed, some parts of the voluntary sector will also be involved. I should like to think that there is flexibility here. My amendment provides that in securing such reasonable facilities connected with education, the burden of cost should not be a disadvantage to small and medium-sized businesses. Therefore, the council should take that into account when approving courses by other providers.

That is important. The Government cannot achieve their aims and objectives without the full involvement of the business sector. We all know that by far the largest proportion of companies in this country, over 90 per cent, have fewer than 100 employees. An even higher proportion, between 94 to 95 per cent, have fewer than 10 employees. Although the remaining few per cent employ almost half the workforce, we are referring to a large number of companies without which many local areas will not be able to achieve the Government's objectives.

We should not in any way downgrade the importance of the wider provision of facilities for young people in education. This refers back to the concern raised by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, about widening education and not being too narrowly focused on education and skills training. However, we should be mindful of the difficulty of providing in a workplace sports or leisure facilities, for example, which can be expensive. That is not to say that imagination cannot be used. Councils should take into account that if they need to hire a local football ground or local schools facilities, and so forth, there will be a cost. Such costs should be considered and taken into account in making such provision. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

My Lords, I hope that I can make the noble Baroness happy by explaining briefly how we see this clause.

Clause 3(1)(c) constitutes a duty placed on the LSC, not on providers. The LSC would be able to fund organised leisure-time occupation provided in connection with education if it was made by a small or medium-sized business or voluntary sector provider. However, it is important to note that no requirement is placed on such providers to make such provision.

Nothing is mandatory for them as a result of this clause. We are not placing any new burdens on them. It is the responsibility of the learning and skills council to ensure that reasonable facilities of this sort are available. Business and voluntary providers may want to make such provision, but that remains a matter for them. I appreciate that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, sought reassurance on this precise point in Committee. I am pleased to confirm, using her own words, that:

"there will not be a requirement on employers to provide leisure and recreational facilities which are entirely beyond their means".--[Official Report, 8/2/2000; col. 568.]

We shall certainly keep a close eye on the arrangements. I hope that goes some way towards reassuring the noble Baroness.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his hugely helpful reply. Perhaps I may state my understanding so that there is no doubt. I understand that the council will have to secure the provision but that the council securing the provision will not be the provider. The council will use local authorities, workplaces, the voluntary sector, other educational outlets, colleges and so forth, to make such provision. However, I understand that the council must ensure that all young people receive reasonable leisure facilities in addition to proper education and training.

I should like a specific assurance that the council will not use its funding arrangements to pressurise providers to make such leisure facility arrangements. In other words, not only must the council secure the provision of reasonable facilities, as the noble Lord stated, but in doing so, it will be the responsibility of the council to see that the provisions are funded and not that the funding will be required from the providers.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

My Lords, I am happy to give that reassurance to the noble Baroness.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

moved Amendment No. 37:

Page 2, line 43, at end insert--

("(bb) take account of the education and training required in different sectors of employment for employees and potential employees;").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment Nos. 38 and 38A not moved.]

Clause 4 [Encouragement of education and training]:

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 39:

Page 3, line 19, at end insert ("appropriate to their needs").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 39, I return to a debate we had at previous stages of the Bill. I am still concerned about the words "appropriate to their needs", which are important.

Much has been said about young people who are not finding their way into the world of work. A great deal of effort is being made by the Government, through their policies for inclusion, to persuade people back into the workplace. I gave examples of people whom I met in the north-east where I was involved as a Minister. Too often I met young people who were constantly being shunted into courses which were not relevant to their needs, which were wholly inappropriate, or which they had already done and were therefore repetitious.

Education and training should not only be appropriate to the needs of an individual, which will be subject to other amendments; it should fit in with the individual's work pattern and the work available in the area. Clause 4 states that the council must encourage individuals to undergo post-16 education and training. I do not want it to be taken as read that that will be appropriate to their needs. We know that in practice that is not always so. I believe there should be an obligation on the providers and on the councils, both national and local, to ensure as far as possible that education and training should be appropriate to the needs of young people. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, mentioned, we debated this issue at some length at Committee stage. The point made at that stage still remains valid. There is much waste of resources involved in inappropriate education and training for those over 16 years of age. Young people often do not know what they want and receive little or no help in making choices. That is why they need information, advice and guidance about the choices available to them and which might best suit them as individuals, given their talents and preferences and the local situation, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, made clear.

What worries us is that the new Connexion service aimed at making sure that those who at the moment drop out of mainstream education and training are brought back in and helped to make those choices, does not necessarily provide for the 90 per cent who remain in mainstream education, but who still need guidance. At the universities we count the cost of poor decisions in the growing drop-out rate among first year undergraduates. It is a waste of time for these young people, who then have to start again on another course. It is a waste of public resources in terms of the costs of provision and support which are frequently borne by the state.

But there is a less obvious waste. I was talking last week to people from the ABPI. They have recently drawn attention to the unsuitable courses which many of their recruits take in modular degrees, pointing out that proper guidance at the appropriate stage is vital in making choices. Careers teachers in schools are not enough. They can provide information and advice, but they are not necessarily fully conversant with the guidance issues. We have trained professionals to provide guidance at postgraduate level, the so-called NVQ4, to provide precisely that sort of guidance. If we are going to make the best use of the potential of our young people, it is extremely important that the education and training that they receive is guided towards what is appropriate to their needs. I therefore support the amendment.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

My Lords, the noble Baroness will receive reiteration of the assurances that I made in Committee on this point. The clause places a specific duty on the LSC to promote lifelong learning by encouraging people to undertake education and training. As I said last time, it would be unreasonable for the LSC to promote learning which was anything but appropriate to the needs of the individual receiving it.

The education and training to which this clause refers must be, under the terms of Clauses 2 and 3, suitable to the requirements of those who receive it. In Committee the noble Baroness made the excellent point that people, especially young people, need someone to guide them--the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has said the same thing today--about the appropriate kind of education and training to guide them into the workforce. We would agree. The principle of effective support and guidance for young people lies at the heart of our strategy for the Connexion service. I am not going to be drawn into a discussion on that service now, tempting though it may be. I believe that we shall have time for that when debating some of tomorrow's amendments.

Where the Government part company with this amendment is that we do not believe that adding a qualification to the duty on the LSC to encourage individuals to undergo education and training will have any effect in addressing the needs of young people for guidance. We see the position very much as the noble Baroness does, but we do not believe that we need to add this provision to the Bill itself.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, that is helpful because it reinforces a point that the Government have made. There is a flavour of naivety about the idea that all education and training from now on will be matched absolutely to the individual needs of a young person. But I accept what is intended. The matter is now on the face of the Bill at least twice and probably at Second Reading as well. That is important. I believe that it is something that will be returned to, perhaps, sadly, through tribunals, which is the only recourse that anyone would have to prove disproportionate provision.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, the kind of examples I have in mind are not sufficiently powerful--though they may be a total mismatch for the individual--to take to a court or a tribunal. Who would be in a position to do so anyway? At the end of the day there would always be the defence that the procedure was followed and the course provider or the council responsible for making the provision had deemed it appropriate at the time to the needs of the young person and they were simply wrong. The Minister used encouraging words. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 [Financial resources: conditions]:

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat 7:15 pm, 13th March 2000

moved Amendment No. 40:

Page 4, line 12, after ("may") insert ("after consulting providers or their representatives and such other persons as it sees fit").

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

My Lords, we move now to Clause 6 of the Bill, which gives the Learning and Skills Council quite sweeping powers to impose conditions on any funding which it provides. No one questions the right of a funder to impose reasonable conditions--I hesitate to define the word "reasonable"--or to ensure that they are met. That is quite right, normal and entirely proper. But there is widespread concern among providers over the extent of the powers suggested in this clause. There seems to be considerable erosion of the autonomy of the further education sector. There is particular concern about the specific reference to the imposition of fees and so on.

We know that the Government consider all this to be necessary and appropriate. The purpose of this amendment is to require the funder--the council in this case--before imposing such conditions, to consult with the provider or provider's appropriate representation. I do not believe that that is in any way an extension to bureaucracy; indeed, I would hope that it was normal good practice and could reduce possible bureaucracy caused by the imposition of unreasonable or unworkable conditions.

I hope that this amendment encapsulates what should be normal good practice and what should happen anyway. I urge the Government to accept it because it would go some way towards allaying the fears that have been aroused, rightly or wrongly, in the FE sector by the fairly wide-ranging provisions of this clause. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

My Lords, we believe that this amendment would impose constraints on the ability of the Learning and Skills Council to exercise flexible judgment about the financial agreements that it will need to reach with providers. The FEFC has a financial relationship with the relatively homogeneous group of providers, principally colleges of further education and some institutions in the higher education sector. The LSC, through local branches, will have direct financial relationships with several thousand providers, including employers, colleges, LEAs and voluntary organisations. It must have the ability to tailor its arrangements and should be able to do that flexibly. We believe that it would be inappropriate to impose a superstructure of statutory bureaucracy--if the noble Lord, Lord Tope, will forgive me for using that word--around these arrangements.

Having said that, we expect the LSC to consult providers about funding arrangements. In the same way the department is currently undertaking extensive consultation about future funding arrangements, not least because the Secretary of State will need to consider carefully what conditions he may wish to attach to the funds that he will make available to the LSC. It did not take an Act of Parliament for such consultation to take place; it is the accepted thing to do. There is nothing unusual here. With that explanation I hope that the noble Lord will consider withdrawing the amendment.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I did not follow that explanation at all. I do not understand how a requirement to consult, which the noble Lord said would be the norm anyway and certainly should be the norm under good practice, "imposes constraints", to use his words. The Bill still gives the council the power to impose conditions. All I am suggesting is that before imposing the conditions it should discuss them with the provider. That is not in the least consistent with imposing constraints.

I understand the need to tailor arrangements, the need for flexibility and so forth. Again, discussing conditions with providers before they are imposed does not seem to inhibit that in any way; on the contrary, it is a co-operative approach which I thought this Government endorsed. It involves discussing with providers whether or not conditions are right and appropriate. If agreement is reached, so much the better; the situation will work well. If at the end of the day agreement cannot be reached, the council still has the power to impose such conditions as it wishes. It will be under no constraints that prevent it from doing so. I do not accept the explanation. I do not understand it. It is entirely unreasonable. But I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 41:

Page 4, line 15, leave out paragraph (a) and insert--

("(a) require the Council to be allowed access to relevant accounts and documents and to be given rights in relation to computers, associated apparatus and materials which have been used in association with Council-funded provision;").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, when we last spoke on this matter the noble Lord, Lord Bach, accused both myself and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, of becoming somewhat overwrought on the issue.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

My Lords, overexcited.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, overwrought or overexcited; I do not recall which. However, I plead guilty. I am concerned about this issue, mostly because in Committee the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said,

"We argue that ... the effect of Amendment No. 64 would be to deny the council the ability to inspect relevant providers' records, whether written or held on computers so as to establish whether taxpayers' money had been used properly".--[Official Report, 8/2/00; col. 634.]

I refer to "relevant providers"; the Bill does not. The Bill simply says, in imposing conditions, that,

"The conditions may ... require the Council or a person designated by it to be allowed access to a person's accounts and documents and to be given rights in relation to a person's computers and associated apparatus and material".

It is for that reason that I press my amendment. I want to remove the council's right to have access to,

"a person's accounts and documents", and substitute for it rights to access documents and technology used in association with councils so that there is a relevance in relation to both the equipment being inspected and audited, and the specific person. We knew that there would always be a relevance to the institution, but the idea, for example, that if I were a lecturer in an FE college, someone could come to my home and inspect something which had no relevance whatever to the fact that all that I was doing in relation to the course was housed and located in the college and/or college-related buildings, is unacceptable.

I am concerned about the fact that the provision is not qualified in relation to relevance. It is because of the words the noble Lord himself used and his misunderstanding of what my amendment related to that I wish to press Amendment No. 41. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I shall try to avoid becoming overwrought again. I share the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness. As drafted, the provisions of Clause 2(a) are wide-ranging and far-reaching and I am not happy with them. Nor am I sure that the noble Baroness's amendment has it quite right. I am wholly with her in what she is seeking to achieve; I am not certain that the amendment achieves it.

I realise that I cannot now introduce an amendment, but I would be a little reassured if we took the last words from subsection (b) and included them within subsection (a); that is,

"for the purpose of carrying out its functions".

That may provide some reassurance. I drop that into the debate now though it is possible that we shall come back to this at another stage. As I say, I cannot support the provision as it stands in the Bill; nor am I convinced that the noble Baroness's noble attempt to make it better--and it does make it better--is the right substitute. I hope we can consider this problem a bit further.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

My Lords, Amendment No. 41 involves two points. First, the noble Baroness is seeking to restrict the rights of access the learning and skills council would enjoy in connection with ensuring the proper use of public funds. We appreciate the points she makes. She expressed concerns, as she did in Committee, among other things that the clause, as drafted, might extend to the home premises of, for example, a tutor at an FE college. I should like to reassure her that her anxiety is unfounded.

Clause 6 is underpinned by subsection (1), which secures that the conditions the council may set attach to its provision of financial resources. Under Clause 6(2)(a), the LSC will be able to ensure it could have access to the accounts and premises of those bodies it funds. But it will have a funding relationship with the governing bodies of FE colleges, not with the teaching or other staff that the governing body chooses to employ. Clause 6(2)(a) simply allows the LSC to have access to information and materials held by the bodies it funds--access it will need if it is to secure the proper use of those public funds.

The noble Baroness also expressed anxiety that the power would allow access to documents and other information that are quite unrelated to the education and training provision funded by the LSC. That concern is quite unfounded. The LSC is a statutory body and can only exercise the powers granted to it by Parliament as a result of this Bill. It may not act outside its power; that is ultra vires. Hence it may not examine materials that are unrelated to its functions. That goes without saying and applies to all statutory corporations like the LSC, and makes the amendment fundamentally unnecessary.

However, I remind the noble Baroness that we will later be debating government amendments to ensure that the Secretary of State can intervene if the LSC acts unreasonably. That will apply to this provision as it does to other LSC powers. It would be open to any LSC-funded provider to approach the Secretary of State if it considered that access rights were being misused. That is an important safeguard. Moreover, if the LSC acted ultra vires, that would also be grounds for an approach to the Secretary of State or the courts. That is yet a further safeguard.

Our second point is that we believe the amendment would have a serious impact which the noble Baroness may not intend. The LSC should of course exercise its ability to delegate access rights prudently and carefully. But the amendment would remove entirely the LSC's ability to involve third parties to act as its agents in this respect. In most circumstances, the LSC would be the body to use access rights to those it funds. Unfortunately, however, it is the case that, when things go seriously wrong, specialist resources and expertise are sometimes required and those may not be readily available within the council.

Although I cannot go into details of specific cases because of the risk of endangering current investigations, an example might be the specialist resources which the department has for investigating cases of suspected fraud. Those may be, and have been, purchased as needed by a body such as the FEFC, and in future the LSC. On occasion it is necessary to purchase specialist audit resources. A restriction such as this would have a real effect and might prevent current investigations from reaching a conclusion.

Obviously, the noble Baroness would not wish to hinder or prevent action that could lead to the recovery of misused public funds or the prosecution of those who have misused them. The £6 billion of public funds for which the chief executive must account to Parliament personally is a very large sum of money. The LSC must be able to investigate a case properly. On occasions it may need to deploy resources that are not available in-house. This is not a theoretical matter that we are discussing, nor is it simply a debating point. These are matters of actual practice and, of course, of genuine public concern.

To summarise, the provision that the noble Baroness seeks to amend in Clause 6 is well precedented and entirely standard. I wrote to the noble Baroness on 28th February to give details of the current use of comparable powers by the further and the higher education funding councils, the TECs and the access rights enjoyed by the National Audit Office, not to mention the European Commission and the European Court of Auditors. I assure the noble Baroness that there is nothing unusual here. I hope that this explanation may reassure her to some extent.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative 7:30 pm, 13th March 2000

My Lords, I repeat again that I have no wish to see people acting fraudulently or abusing or misusing resources provided by the taxpayer. Therefore, it is precisely for that reason that I want any inquiry to be focused where I believe the suspicion lies.

The noble Lord said that my amendment would deny the council the possibility of using a third body. All the way through this Bill, and all the way through most statutes, there are references to the Secretary of State using a power to do this, that or the other. In almost all cases we know that it is not the Secretary of State who, in person, will do it. It will be someone appointed by him, someone who will do it in his name. It will, in effect, be a third person.

The same applies to the council. Dotted throughout the Bill are references to the council being given powers to secure facilities, to provide this, that and the other. Again, it will not necessarily be the council that secures that provision. It will be someone delegated by the council. In some cases it will be someone at third and fourth remove from the council. If it was the wish of the council to call in the police, there is nothing in my amendment to prevent it doing that. If the council wished to bring in the auditors, there is nothing to prevent it doing that. I am not so sure that I accept that defensive argument from the Minister.

The Minister is absolutely right to say that the council will only be able to exercise powers given to it by Parliament. My amendment is precisely about that. In Clause 6 power is being given to,

"require the Council or a person designated by it to be allowed access"-- with no word or aspect of relevance about it at all--

"to a person's accounts and documents and to be given rights in relation to a person's computers and associated apparatus and material".

One would expect, in practice, for there to be access to the college, college facilities, college-related premises and facilities that may be housed in them. But there needs to be some protection of the individual against the council or its appointee going to the personal belongings of a tutor. That is what is stated in Clause 6(2)(a).

I am decidedly unhappy with the provision. I am decidedly unhappy with the Minister's response to me. If I have the wording wrong, then I believe it is incumbent upon the Government to do something about the wording of Clause 6(2)(a). Perhaps they should even pick up the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, who linked it with Clause 6(2)(b). One way or another, this is wrong. For that reason I wish to press my amendment, in the hope that the noble Lord will either come back with something or accept my amendment, and then leave it to counsel to put it right.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 41) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 41; Not-Contents, 100.

Division number 4

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

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

My Lords, in moving that consideration of amendments on Report be now adjourned, perhaps I may suggest that the Report stage begin again not before 8.45 p.m.

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