This has been a helpful exchange to get to the heart of some of these matters. I listened with interest to the enthusiasm of both the hon. Members for South Holland and The Deepings and for Brent, East for formalised, regional, democratically accountable structures. I do not seem to recall that enthusiasm when we had a debate about elected regional government some time ago. [ Interruption. ] If I have misrepresented them, I apologise. However, there are structures to ensure that there is democratic accountability.
The hon. Member for Brent, East asked me a specific question about the role of both FE and HE colleges within the revised and reformed regional councils. We confirmed in Grand Committee in another place that
“we would expect all LSC regional councils to be business-led, drawing employers from the priority skills sectors in the region concerned.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 23 January 2007; Vol. 688, c. GC329.]
We also stated that membership would include those with backgrounds in the trade unions, local authorities, college providers and higher education. In that way we will ensure that councils have a good understanding of the skills needs of the local communities that they serve.
I shall respond directly to some of the comments by the hon. Member for Daventry. His implied criticism was that the Government do not recognise that any social advance took place before 1997. I refute that: I recall that there were some social advances between 1974 and 1979—there were also social advances between 1945 and 1951 and between 1964 and 1970. More seriously, of course, there have been advances in the past under Governments of all parties.
In response to my statement that this is the first substantive further education legislation since 1992, the hon. Member for Daventry mentioned the Learning and Skills Act 2000. The 2000 Act affected further education, but it did not focus fundamentally and exclusively on further education, as this Bill does.
The hon. Gentleman asked me to recall his intervention seven years ago at 10.30 am, but I cannot exactly recall what I was doing on that occasion. However, I take his point that the Learning and Skills Council has achieved a significant success, but as the learning and skills landscape changes, it can and should evolve. No one seriously says that we do not need an intermediary body to fund learning and skills providers on the ground, but how the Learning and Skills Council undertakes that operation has, rightly, evolved and should continue to evolve further.