The hon. Gentleman was the Minister responsible at the time for aspects of the system. I presume that that is why he supports what we now have in place, which allows the Government to invest such huge amounts of capital and revenue in the system. I take his comments as support for our spending plans, and I will put that on the record as something that the Front-Bench spokesmen for his party might like to note when they come to producing their thoughts for the future.
I am also pleased that success rates are better and that more young people and adults are learning than in the halcyon days that the hon. Gentleman remembers. There is more innovation and greater self-regulation. In fact, the hon. Gentleman might regret his description of those days in introducing the amendment, giventhat FE colleges are now the engine driving skills attainment in this country. They have capital and revenue resources that they simply did not have before. Indeed, their funds were cut by some 14 per cent. in the five years in the run-up to 1997, as opposed to a 48 per cent. increase under this Government. When we see the record numbers of learners with level 2 and level 3 qualifications today, we can be very proud—on this side of the House, at least—of the record and achievements of the FE sector and the support that this Government have given to it.
Clause 16 sets out the arrangements for publishing proposals to establish and dissolve further education corporations. Amendment No. 29, which was tabled by the hon. Gentleman, proposes to leave out clause 16 (2), which is linked to clauses 14 and 15, and our plans to transfer powers to establish and dissolve FE corporations from the Secretary of State to the Learning and Skills Council. I set out our reasons for taking those steps when we debated clause 14.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman recognises the difficulty with the amendment. It would introducean inconsistency within the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, such that legislation relating to the publication of proposals would simply become inoperable. The amendment would not work in practice, even were we to agree with it in principle, which we do not. Therefore, I hope that he will withdraw it simply because it will not work.
On amendments Nos. 19, 35 and 20, we are all rightly concerned about ensuring that the wider community, including the local authority, is consulted on proposals to establish or dissolve further education corporations. I want to reassure members of the Committee that consultation of that kind is already a key part of the process for establishing and dissolving further education corporations.
Regulations are in place—they have been circulated in advance to Committee members—that set out the process for publishing proposals to establish and dissolve corporations. Some minor amendments might have to be made to reflect the transfer of powers from the Secretary of State to the LSC. However, in effect, we intend to keep the current processes in place, so the hon. Member for Brent, East can be assured thatthe current system for publishing and consulting on proposals will continue.
The regulations set out the type of information that must be included in a proposal and the manner of publication. The regulations, which will be updated, require all proposals for mergers or new colleges to be sent to the local authority of the area in whichthe further education corporation is situated. That requirement will continue. Nothing will change and those safeguards will remain. Under clause 16, the LSC is required to take account of all representations made to it within a prescribed period—the very wording that the hon. Lady was seeking.
Local authorities will have information on the rationale behind the proposed action as well as the ability to make comments, which must be considered before a decision is made.