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Lord Addington: The amendment deals with a problem which we always have whenever we consider a new board, especially one to do with education, and that is the question of who takes part. We need the relevant people to be concerned with the board itself. In the past, I have sat through many Committee and Report stages and we have had a long list of bodies of those to be included. This is a slightly different approach as it concerns persons who are nominated, or who appear to have connections with the matter. If you are doing this, you are probably saying these are the groups of people who must be consulted because they have the knowledge and they have the funding. Surely this is a body which must be incorporated and, although I was unaware of it, these groups are apparently already involved. Surely that makes a very valid case for them being connected, and I am afraid that the first point made by the noble Lord is also brought home here.
We have a potentially very controversial point here, and it is probably the only really controversial point on the first part of the Bill. The more I have listened and thought about the Bill, the more unhappy I have become with the idea that we cannot actually vote in the Committee stage. This is probably the first example and I should make the point here and now that I had not realised just how potentially constricting this procedure is. I hope that on a matter as important as this the Minister will not take a stance in Committee and come up with something which we regarded as unreasonable because we cannot actually vote on it. It is a very important issue.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: These two amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, are important because they bring before the Committee formally the feelings of a number of groups which want to make sure they are represented on the new Scottish qualifications authority. We know it is natural that they are anxious about the matter but there are snags to it. We had a considerable discussion with a number of people when the Scottish Select Committee took evidence in Glasgow in March and it was interesting to hear what those with experience of the system as it now stands had to say. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, instigated the discussion and he may want to comment on that.
At paragraph 47 in the Select Committee's report, Dr. Hamish Long of the Scottish Examination Board said that he liked the kind of balance that was provided by that board as now set up and he justified that. He was followed by Mr. Miller, who is the chairman of both the Scottish Examination Board and the SCOTVEC. He thought that the way the SCOTVEC works at the moment, which is that none of the members see themselves as representing any particular sector, was better and he explained that. He made a very good case
As regards Amendment No. 2, in which the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, suggests that not less than one-third of the total membership should be individuals appointed by some local authority associations, up to a point that applies. However, I appreciate that the local authority associations are pointing out to us in their briefing that they have a particular interest because 70 per cent. of the costing is met by them in so far as they pay the charges. I am not sure that that is the answer because if the local authority members only were appointed by CoSLA the problem would be that they would be speaking for themselves but others would not. Do we refer to CoSLA? I am not sure whether we can for the sake of our discussions.
I do not believe that there is any way in which they can have a special place but it might be helpful if they could. They certainly have a special role in the whole performance and we appreciate that. Although I cannot actually support either of these amendments I have a certain sympathy with Amendment No. 2 in that it identifies the special role of CoSLA on the authority.
The arrangement whereby the Committee stage of the Bill takes place off the Floor of the House was raised by the noble Lord and mentioned also by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. It seems to me there is a balance to be struck. It is rather nice when not very many people usually participate on purely Scottish Bills to have plenty of time and to sit on days that suit noble Lords who are taking part as opposed to having the business squashed in early on Monday or late on Thursday which so often happens to us on the Floor of the House. I like that; I like the informality. I thought when I took part in the Committee stage of the Deer (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill that it was rather a satisfactory way of doing things, although I appreciate that if one wishes to move a large number of amendments there will be more to vote on probably at Report stage. It cuts both ways. However, I am somewhat in favour of the arrangement so far. We shall see how it goes today and tomorrow.
Lord Sewel: I should declare an interest at this stage as a vice principal of the University of Aberdeen, especially in relation to the matter before us. The difficulty with the clause is that it is undefined. It leaves a totally unstructured agency to take over. It is not a matter of who wishes to be represented on it but of those the authority needs to have on it in order for it to work and to do the job it seeks to do. Most importantly, the work of the authority has to command confidence. Those who have recourse to the examination procedure and who use it either as consumers or employers need to have confidence that the job is being done properly. That can only be done if the authority is constituted in a proper and appropriate way.
It is difficult to see how a Scottish qualifications authority can carry confidence with universities when universities clearly depend upon school examinations as a means of judging entry if the universities as a representative group are not on the authority to begin with. That is the same for all the various bodies to which the amendment draws attention. It is not a matter of who wants to be on it; it is whom the authority needs to have on it for the authority to do the job and carry confidence. A degree of structuring is absolutely essential.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Lindsay): The arrangements that led to the Bill being taken in the Moses Room were agreed through the usual channels. The benefit is partly as described by my noble friend Lady Carnegy. In addition, we can at Report stage go over ground we have probed in Committee and the House can be divided and opinion sought. So noble Lords are not being robbed of the opportunity to test the opinion of other noble Lords.
I am grateful that we shall be able to scrutinise the Bill with the range of experience and expertise that we have. The noble Lord, Lord Ewing, has considerable experience of various parts of Scotland's public life and my noble friend Lady Carnegy is a former convenor of a regional council education committee. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, as he pointed out, is a vice principal of the University of Dundee.
I recognise that there has been some concern that the Bill does not contain provisions specifying how the Secretary of State should choose members of the SQA. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, articulated that. In that regard I found the report of the evidence to the committee most helpful.
The constitution of the board of the SQA was given careful consideration during the drafting of the Bill. The existing SEB system, in which constituent interests are guaranteed a set number of places, was considered to be too inflexible. It was also felt that the board itself was too large. These were key findings of the Policy and Financial Management Review of the SEB, published in 1993. The SCOTVEC structure, which has a smaller board, appears to have worked much better.
It is intended that the individuals whom the Secretary of State appoints to the board of the SQA will bring a breadth of experience covering a broad range of interests. However, specifying that interest groups should be able to nominate members for appointment would limit the scope for the Secretary of State to make appointments covering a wide spectrum of abilities and experience or to cater for other important interests.
I understand, however, that there is genuine concern that the members of the SQA should represent a balance of views and I acknowledge the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, that the funding of the SQA will rely to a large part on the fees that will come from local authorities. I can say that local authorities have an interest that will require to be properly represented on the SQA. I also assure the Committee that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland intends to consult a wide range of interests before making any appointments to the SQA. There is no way that consultations with CoSLA could not represent a large and important part of the consultation process. There will therefore be very substantial opportunities for CoSLA to make its views known in the consultation process.
I hope that this will allay any concerns that your Lordships may have about the representative nature of the SQA membership and, with the assurances that I have given about the certainty with which the local authorities will be represented on the SQA and the certainty with which the consultations will include CoSLA, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
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