Having started somewhat slowly, we are moving ahead with great speed. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster, with her typical efficiency, has passed me the details of the amendment. It would delete the provision that states:
“An order under this section made by the Learning and Skills Council for England in respect of a further education corporation in England may provide for the transfer to the council of property, rights and liabilities of the corporation”,
and that the
“council must obtain the consent of the Secretary of State before making provision of a kind mentioned in subsection (3A).”
The gist of my argument is similar to that on the previous group of amendments: the subsection seems to transfer power to the Learning and Skills Council. We are concerned throughout our consideration of the Bill that the necessary accountability for decisions, which rests quite properly with Ministers through this place, should be maintained. Official Opposition Members have some reservations about the power of the Learning and Skills Council and the way in which it is exercised.
Let me lay my cards on the table in that respect because it is important that we are not seen to be dogmatic about this subject. Of course, we recognise that much of the work of the council is necessary and that much of the money that it spends would be spent under whichever structure were to ensue from changed considerations of policy in this area.
We do not believe that we will save all that the council spends simply by changing the structure. Heaven knows that the vast bulk of that money is spent for good purpose, but that does not mean that there is neither room for greater efficiency, nor scope for reducing bureaucracy, given that we are talking about a budget that is considerably bigger than that of the Royal Navy. The Government have acknowledged that in what they have said today and previously. The structural changes that they believe will make the body more lean and efficient have been advertised to the Committee and have been set out previously. Ministers say that they are determined to ensure that there is the kind of value for money that is bread and butter to Conservative Members because efficiency and effectiveness are our second names in the official Opposition.
We recognise that there has to be a management and funding structure and expenditure on such matters, but we want to test Ministers throughout the Committee to ensure that all the money that is expended is best spent for the best purpose. With this amendment, as with the last one, we want to be absolutely sure that, in transferring authority to the Learning and Skills Council, we do not embed a system that could be improved. I await with interest the Minister’s comments on those matters.