Schedule 3

– in a Public Bill Committee at 6:45 pm on 17th March 2009.

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The Young People’s Learning Agency for England

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I beg to move amendment 319, in schedule 3, page 155, leave out lines 3 to 12 and insert—

‘(a) between 6 and 16 members appointed by the Secretary of State (the “ordinary members”), and

(b) the chief executive of the YPLA.

(2) The Secretary of State must appoint one of the ordinary members to chair the YPLA.’.

This amendment changes the requirements for the appointment of members of the YPLA other than the chief executive. The effect of the amendment is that these members will always be appointed by the Secretary of State.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 121, in schedule 3, page 155, line 5, at end insert—

‘(d) at least one principal or governor of a further education college, and

(e) at least one principal or governor of a sixth form college.’.

Government amendments 320, 321, 330, 331 and 333.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Amendment 319 changes the requirements for the appointment of members of the YPLA, other than the chief executive, with the effect that such members will always be appointed by the Secretary of State, and amendments 320 and 321 are consequential to that change. Amendments 330 and 331 provide that the chief executive will be an employee of the YPLA, and amendment 332 provides for the YPLA to determine the conditions of service of members of staff, other than the chief executive, with the Secretary of State’s approval. Those changes are largely technical in nature, will ensure a strong line of accountability for the role, tenure and responsibility of the board members and the chief executive, and will achieve greater consistency with similar provisions in the Bill relating to the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

Did the Minister say that the amendments were just technical? Surely, some of them will have quite a serious impact.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I said that they are largely technical in nature, but also that they ensure a strong line of accountability. They are important, otherwise we would not make them, but they are sufficiently technical to allow me to be brief.

Having said that, I shall say a little more about amendment 121, tabled by the hon. Gentleman. I think that I understand the intention behind the amendment, but provision has been made for the matter that it deals with elsewhere in the Bill. In the White Paper, we made the commitment that the YPLA will be a sector-led body, the governance of which will include representatives of key delivery partners. Paragraph 2(5) of schedule 3 states:

“In appointing a person as a member, the Secretary of State or the YPLA must have regard to the desirability of appointing a person who has experience relevant to any of the YPLA’s functions.”

That would include representations from further education and sixth-form colleges, and other relevant organisations, such as local authorities and academies, in respect of the various functions that the YPLA will perform. As the board will have between five and 15 members, there is ample flexibility to ensure that key partners have a place at the table. However, our priority must be to ensure that we have the right calibre of board members, not to set quotas from particular sectors.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

Hopefully my question will enable me to shorten my speech later. Will the Minister clarify his comments in which he appeared to indicate that there would be a place on the board for individuals representing the different sectors, academies, colleges and so forth? How much of an undertaking was that? Towards the end of his comments, he appeared to veer away from that, towards an indication that it would simply be based on an assessment of ability, and that therefore there might not necessarily be representatives of each sector on the board.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

As ever, with board appointments, it is important to ensure that the board has the skills necessary to do its job. First and foremost, it is responsible for making appointments. Above and beyond the skills and competences required to be a board member, we have  signalled, through paragraph 2(5), that we want to ensure that the board is broadly representative of the bodies relevant to the organisation’s functions. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman’s speech will be short and that he will not press his amendment to a Division.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I am grateful to the Minister for his comments on amendment 121. I shall not labour my point too heavily, because I hope that he and those involved in selecting the YPLA board will think it obvious that somebody from the sector highlighted in the amendment should be represented. However, I hope that, in his final comments, he will be a little warmer, cheerier and more positive about ensuring that further education and sixth-form colleges are represented on the board. Although I appreciate that it is important that individuals selected for the board have the ability to “do the job”, as the Minister put it, it is difficult to believe that it would not be possible to select somebody from those sectors with exactly those skills and abilities.

The Minister will know that the colleges sector is concerned to ensure that it is represented properly on this body, and that its interests and legitimate concerns are taken into account as the machinery of Government changes takes place. Although the Minister commented on the current drafting of the schedule regarding the composition of the board, the undertakings were rather general and did not offer the type of assurance that I am looking for. [Interruption.] I wonder whether that noise comes from the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings.

I turn from amendment 121 and the background bleeping to make some comments on Government amendment 319, if that is in order. I thought that the Minister said that the amendments in this group were somewhat technical. Perhaps he could confirm that. In my vocabulary, “technical” normally refers to fairly minor provisions that Opposition Members do not need to pay much attention to. However, the amendments in this group seem slightly more fundamental.

Unless I have misunderstood it, amendment 319 appears to represent a significant change from what is currently in schedule 3, lines 10 to 12 on page 155. It seems to give enhanced powers to the Secretary of State regarding the appointment of future members and chief executives of the board. There must be a reason why the Government have made that type of proposal, which appears to tighten the grip of the Secretary of State on the board of the YPLA. I am willing to hear the arguments for that tighter grip before making a judgment about whether it is justified, but it would be useful to hear something about why the Government have changed their mind since the original drafting of the Bill, and why they have decided to give themselves increased powers in respect of amendment 319 and the others in the group.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his assiduous scrutiny. On his last point about the powers of the Secretary of State, the Government amendment will ensure that all members of the YPLA board, not just the first chief executive, are appointed by the Secretary of State. It is a necessary amendment required as a result of advice from the Cabinet Office  that appointments should be made by the Secretary of State. That is so that the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments can regulate it. It also ensures consistency with the membership provisions for the QCDA elsewhere in the Bill, and essentially ensures proper regulation of the appointments through that route.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

Is the Minister saying that it would not be possible for the Government to implement what was originally in the schedule because of the rules and regulations? Without labouring the point, although this is described as technical, it is an important change. Under the original provisions in the Bill, future chief executives and ordinary members could potentially be selected by the YPLA on terms determined by it with the approval of the Secretary of State. Now that will not be possible. I seek clarification on that point.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Order. There is a Division in the House. It is obvious that the Committee wishes to carry on its deliberations. I propose that we suspend the sitting until 8 pm.

Sitting suspended.

On resuming—

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I think I was bringing my comments on the amendment to a close and inviting the Minister to give further reassurance on the representation of further education colleges and sixth-form colleges on the YPLA board. I invited him to acknowledge that there will be more than enough people in that sector who have what he described as the ability to do the job. I also invited him to say more about why amendment 319 and the related amendments had to be tabled by the Government. Was it a requirement that the Bill team and the Minister stumbled upon or does it represent a more fundamental reassessment of how much of a vice-like grip the Minister and the Secretary of State want to exercise on the independence of the YPLA?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I am grateful for that reminder of the invitations the hon. Gentleman issued prior to dinner. On membership, I cannot conceive that it would be possible for the board to do its job properly if it did not have proper representation from the FE sector, academies and the other sectors that it is concerned with. I hope that that is sufficient reassurance.

I have reminded myself of the reasons we decided to make the board members Secretary of State appointments in amendment 319 over the tort and bolognaise I enjoyed for dinner. This is the South-Holland-and-The-Deepings moment when I inform the Committee of my consumption. We made the change to get the right balance of autonomy and accountability. We want to ensure that the Secretary of State has confidence in the figures who will be accountable for £7 billion of public money. Crucially, only Secretary of State appointments are regulated by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments.  It is important that that regulation is in place to assure the public that the appointments are above board and beyond suspicion.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

Is the Minister saying that we cannot trust members of the YPLA board to appoint members and chief executives? That appears to be the implication. As it stands, is the Bill consistent with the way in which any other bodies that are overseen by his Department appoint their ordinary members and senior officers?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I would trust the board in the same way that I would trust Ministers to make the right appointments in a way that is beyond suspicion. However, we established the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments to ensure that the process is beyond doubt for the public. It is right that the appointments to a body that is responsible for £7 billion of public money have that level of public scrutiny. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press amendment 121.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I am grateful to the Minister for both replies. I am very pleased with his response on amendment 121. I will chalk that up as a triumph and an important concession that I hope will be reflected in future boards.

I am not as convinced by the explanation of the Government amendments. Rather than being technical amendments, it seems that they would put back into the hands of Ministers the power to determine all the board members for the Young People’s Learning Agency rather than allowing the YPLA itself to select those individuals in the future. There seems to have been something of a change of heart and mind by Ministers on the matter, which as far as I can establish goes beyond what is absolutely necessary.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Does the hon. Gentleman not consider that there comes a point at which Ministers who are accountable to the public for delivering a quality of service need to have the powers to deliver what they promised in their manifesto?

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but there is no reason why there could not be provision under schedule 3 for there to be intervention when the individuals were acting in an improper way or were not consistent with the Government’s policy. Indeed, under schedule 3 the terms of the appointments have to meet with the approval of the Secretary of State. I regret that the Government have gone back on the issue, but I have registered the Minister’s arguments and we will mull over the matter and consider whether we want to return to it.

Amendment 319 agreed to.

Amendments made: 320, in schedule 3, page 155, line 13, leave out second ‘a’ and insert ‘an ordinary’.

The effect of this amendment is that the requirement in paragraph 2(5) of Schedule 3 will apply only to the members of the YPLA other than the chief executive.

321, in schedule 3, page 155, line 13, leave out ‘or the YPLA’.—(Jim Knight.)

This amendment is consequential on amendment 319.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I beg to move amendment 322, in schedule 3, page 155, line 17, leave out ‘members of the YPLA’ and insert ‘chair and other ordinary members’.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments 323, 324, 325, 326.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

The amendments make changes to the governance of the YPLA. Amendments 322 to 325 restrict the application of paragraph 3 of schedule 3, which is concerned with tenure, to members of the YPLA other than the chief executive. Amendment 326 has the effect that the chief executive will be an ex officio member of the YPLA board.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Will the Minister explain what the tenure would be of ordinary members?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

That is a pertinent question. Obviously, the measures do not apply to the chief executive who will be an ex officio member of the board, but for all other board members the tenure will normally be three years.

Amendment 322 agreed to.

Amendments made: 323, in schedule 3, page 155, line 20, leave out ‘A member of the YPLA’ and insert ‘The chair and other ordinary members’.

See Member’s explanatory statement for amendment 322.

324, in schedule 3, page 155, line 22, leave out ‘a member of the YPLA’ and insert ‘an ordinary member’.

See Member’s explanatory statement for amendment 322.

325, in schedule 3, page 155, line 27, leave out ‘a member of the YPLA’ and insert ‘the chair or another ordinary member’.

See Member’s explanatory statement for amendment 322.

326, in schedule 3, page 155, line 28, at end insert—

‘(5) If the chair ceases to be an ordinary member, the person also ceases to be the chair.’.—(Jim Knight.)

This amendment provides for a member of the YPLA who is also its chair to cease to be the chair on ceasing to be a member.

This amendment, with amendments 328 and 329, restricts the application of paragraph 4 of Schedule 3 to members of the YPLA other than the chief executive. The chief executive’s pay and pension will be determined in accordance with conditions of service set under paragraph 5(A1): see amendment 30.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments 328, 329, 332

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

The amendments make changes to the governance of the YPLA. Amendments 327 to 329 restrict the application of paragraph 4 of schedule 3, which is concerned with remuneration, to members of the YPLA other than the chief executive. Amendment 332 provides for the YPLA to determine the conditions of service of members of staff, other than the chief executive, with the Secretary of State’s approval.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Will the Minister put on the record whether he will disclose in the annual report the remuneration details of the chief executive and the key members of the board of the YPLA, so that we have complete transparency in such matters for the public?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

That degree of transparency is certainly in the public interest. The normal accountancy rules, which have that sort of disclosure in them, will apply. The chief executive’s pay and pensions will be determined in accordance with conditions of service set out in proposed new paragraph 5(A1), as shown in amendment 330.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Will those details be available for the public to scrutinise?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

As a public body, I would expect there to be that level of scrutiny. If different, I shall write to the Committee and let it know.

Amendment 327 agreed to.

Amendments made: 328, in schedule 3, page 155, line 34, leave out ‘member of the YPLA’ and insert ‘ordinary member’.

See Member’s explanatory statement for amendment 327.

329, in schedule 3, page 155, line 35, leave out ‘a member of the YPLA’ and insert ‘an ordinary member’.

See Member’s explanatory statement for amendment 327.

330, in schedule 3, page 155, line 40, at end insert—

‘(A1) The chief executive is to be appointed by the Secretary of State, on conditions of service determined by the Secretary of State.’.

The effect of this amendment is that the chief executive of the YPLA will be a member of its staff and will always be appointed by the Secretary of State, on conditions of service determined by the Secretary of State.

331, in schedule 3, page 155, line 41, after ‘appoint’ insert ‘other members of’.

This amendment is consequent on amendment 330.

332, in schedule 3, page 156, line 1, leave out sub-paragraph (2) and insert—

‘(2) The conditions of service of the other members of the YPLA’s staff are to be determined by the YPLA with the approval of the Secretary of State.’.

This amendment provides for the YPLA to determine the conditions of service of members of staff other than the chief executive, with the Secretary of State’s approval.

333, in schedule 3, page 157, line 37, leave out ‘the chief executive or any of the ordinary members’ and insert

‘any of the other ordinary members or the chief executive’.—(Jim Knight.)

This amendment is consequent on amendment 319.

See Member’s explanatory statement for amendment 291.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendments 291, 306, 292, 307.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

The amendments are minor, technical drafting changes, which ensure consistency in all references to the Bill in conjunction with other Acts.

Amendment 305 agreed to.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.