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Learning and Skills Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Clappison: I cannot let this moment pass without briefly welcoming the Government's belated recognition of the need for a bottom-up rather than a top-down approach. In arguing for such an approach, I am fortified by the sight of a giant inflatable figure of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) underneath a balloon on the Thames. It appears to be about to take off. I do not know what that augurs, but there we are.

Amendment agreed to.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Willis: I intervene briefly to ask the Minister a question. I agreed not to speak to amendment No. 99 which was grouped for consideration with amendment No. 118, which has not been moved. Nevertheless, it is important to point out that some of the expertise and experience that exists in the TECs should not be lost when the new organisation is introduced. The amendment sought to make the Government accept that training and skills should be at the heart of any attempt made by the public sector to support development or to plan or help in planning for it, especially in relation to the economy. That was one of the great successes of the TEC movement and we hope that the Minister will have cognisance of it when the new LSC is established.

Mr. Boswell: I would not in any way wish to dissent from those remarks. The purpose of not moving amendment No 118 was not to diminish the importance of the subject. It was more a case of reculer pour mieux sauter. We would like to speak about the matters dealt with by the amendment on a future occasion, in relation to the local learning and skills councils.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 15, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 16

STRATEGY

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Brooke: My contribution will be brief. When my father was an undergraduate, there was a club in his college that lived its day backwards once a term. Its members would rise, drink a glass of whisky and soda, play some bridge and then eat porridge late at night. I apologise for introducing Greek into our deliberations, but it may interest hon. Members to know that the club was known as the Husteron Proteron club. I mention it because I am interested in why clause 16 features after clause 15 and not before it. Will the Minister tell us why that is the case? Some of us might think that the strategy came before the plan.

Mr. Boswell: Before the Minister speaks, I should like to respond to my right hon. Friend's introduction of Greek into the debate. He has made what is in Latin a perfectly praeposterus suggestion.

Mr. Wills: I am afraid that I cannot respond in Greek to the right hon. Gentleman's charming anecdote. I am surprised that the club was able to live its day backwards only once a year. [Interruption.] I have received a note that appears to be in Greek. As I have not received the privileges of the education from which the right hon. Gentleman benefits, I am afraid that the note is just Greek to me. Clause 16 follows clause 15 in accordance with legislative convention.

Mr. Brooke: It is all very well for the Minister to say that the ordering is based on legislative convention and to regard that as solving the problem. There must be a reason for the legislative convention, which is, if I may say so, very odd.

My hon. Friend referred to the word ``praeposterus'', which was once explained to me in essays on Lucretius as representing someone entering a room backwards. The word ``perversus'' represented someone entering a room sideways. It is reasonable for me to say that it would be perverse if clause 16 came before clause 15 by legislative convention, although I might not say that it would be praeposterus.

11.15 am

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 18

Supplementary functions

Mr. Boswell: I beg to move amendment No. 126, in page 8, leave out lines 35 and 36.

We wish to probe the Government on the question of holding shares. Such matters were debated in another place. We are considering not companies held by corporations in the further education sector, but the LSC. Far be it from me to suggest that the public sector should expand itself extensively into the private sector. Ministers have private grief enough coming next week in respect of the National Air Traffic Services, but we will not debate matters in advance.

I intervene briefly to say that the matter seems somewhat contingent. It is possible for the council to acquire or dispose of land and other property almost without limit. It can and will need to secure for itself headquarters—Coventry has been suggested—and regional bases for the local councils and for other activities.

The mere introduction of a suggestion of participation in a shareholding company would require the Secretary of State's intervention. I mention that not least because the possibility is flagged up in subsection (3)(c), which I seek to delete by the amendment. That paragraph includes the reference:

    or otherwise become a member of a company.

Many of us involved in research or education know that many legal companies are limited by guarantee. I am a member of one such company and my obligation extends to a sum not exceeding £1 as may arise if the company is liquidated. The commitment is purely nominal. I wonder why the Government must interfere in a micro way with the holding of shares even though it is content to allow the council, apparently without limit, to discharge other duties in relation to assets.

Mr. Wills: As hon. Members might be aware, there was a full debate on clause 18 in another place. It was also the subject of correspondence between my noble Friend Baroness Blackstone, Lord Tope and Baroness Blatch. A point made by the noble Baroness Blatch was that the LSC's powers would be less flexible than those enjoyed by TECs, which can establish or have a significant stake in other companies without having to seek the Secretary of State's consent. It was suggested that the local councils should be able to operate in the same way as TECs have done.

I should mention in passing that the hon. Gentleman's amendments, if carried, would prevent the LSC becoming involved in companies, whether or not it had the Secretary of State's consent. I am sure that that was not his intention.

As my noble Friends explained, the starting point in framing the provisions in clause 18 was the supplementary powers secured for both the Further Education Funding Council and the Higher Education Funding Council by the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. The LSC, and the local councils in particular, however, will have contributions to make to local partnership working that the funding councils do not. The LSC will need to have powers to carry out some functions currently conducted by TECs. The LSC might, for example, want to take part in local economic development or regeneration initiatives. In those circumstances, a company structure would be helpful in levering in wider resources. Such arrangements should not be the norm. We would not want the LSC to engage in widespread commercial enterprises not associated with post-16 learning. We have, therefore, made the LSC's powers to hold shares in a company dependent on the Secretary of State's approval.

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern that the LSC should have all the flexibility that it needs to respond creatively to local circumstances. In response to an earlier comment of the hon. Member for Hertsmere, I should say that a close and harmonious working relationship has of itself no implications for a top-down or bottom-up approach. It is exactly what it says—a close and harmonious working relationship—and top-down or bottom-up need not enter into it.

I assure the hon. Member for Daventry that that close, working relationship will allow for prompt responses to requests from the council to hold shares in or become a member of a company. That is the flexibility that he seeks, and I hope that my assurances will enable him to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Boswell: I remain somewhat unconvinced. However, like the Minister, I am impatient to participate in parliamentary questions, so I shall indulge him on this occasion. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Betts.]

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-one minutes past Eleven o'clock till Tuesday 9 May at half-past Ten o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Benton, Mr. Joe (Chairman)
Betts, Mr.
Boswell, Mr.
Brooke, Mr.
Chaytor, Mr.
Clappison, Mr.
Davey, Valerie
Hanson, Mr.
Ruane, Mr.
Whitehead, Dr.
Wicks, Mr.
Willis, Mr.
Wills, Mr.

 
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