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Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: I did not realise that there were flaws in the amendment in that the width of consultation could be endless and the protests of those who were not consulted could cause a great deal of trouble. On this occasion, I have to take the point of view that the Minister's best wishes will be the ones that will be put forward and will be acceptable to all the bodies. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

23 Apr 1996 : Column CWH21

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clauses 8 to 17 agreed to.

Clause 18 [Transfer of staff to SQA]:

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendment No. 13:

Page 8, line 14, leave out ("Subject to subsection (3) below,").

The noble Earl said: This is a drafting point. The words to be deleted are redundant. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 18, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 19 [Dissolution of the Scottish Examination Board and of the Scottish Vocational Education Council]:

Lord Ewing of Kirkford moved Amendment No. 14:

Page 9, line 9, leave out subsection (3).

The noble Lord said: This amendment seeks to introduce a termination date for the Scottish Examination Board and SCOTVEC in order that the local authorities will have a clear indication at an early stage and in order also to co-ordinate the introduction of the Government's own Higher Still proposals.

The Bill proposes that the termination date will be indicated by Parliamentary Order. It seems to me that the Bill is destined for the overspill period in October and November of this year. It has not yet been to another place. It will take some considerable time. I certainly do not anticipate the return of the Bill to your Lordships' House before the Summer Recess. We shall be into October of this year and local authorities will still have no indication of when the termination date will be. Once the Parliamentary Order has been laid it will have to lie for 40 days. We are running up against a very tight timetable.

To be helpful to the Government and to break the habit of a lifetime, I would suggest that it would be in the Government's best interests, if they are not happy with our amendment, to introduce an amendment themselves that would include in the legislation the termination date for the Scottish Examination Board and SCOTVEC; otherwise the Government could, in terms of timetable, be in very serious trouble indeed.

Breaking the habits of a lifetime, I move this amendment in order to be helpful to the Government on the one hand and to the Scottish local authorities on the other. I beg to move.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: There is a considerable point here. The Bill itself provides that various parts of it will come into force on such a date as the Secretary of State may by order appoint, and different dates may be so appointed to different provisions for different purposes. Probably Members of the Committee understand that when they look at the Bill as a whole. It also provides that there may be transitional arrangements. At the same time, a great many people are involved in the implementation of power and in the various qualifications which are catered for by the new body. I refer not only to the local authorities, although it is natural that they are particularly concerned and have told us that.

23 Apr 1996 : Column CWH22

If the Minister does not accept the amendment, can he tell us how he will give notice to all those concerned when this particular part of the Bill comes into action in order that they can make the proper arrangements? If they have only short notice it will be very difficult indeed.

The Earl of Lindsay: I am grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, is trying to be helpful to the Government and I shall be helpful to the Committee in responding to this point. I will describe the process by which the SQA will be established and will take on its functions. The SQA will be established by order of the Secretary of State; it will then enter a transitional period during which it will get itself ready to take over the staff and property of the SEB and the SCOTVEC and to take on its substantive functions. During the transitional period the SEB and the SCOTVEC will continue to exercise their current functions.

When it is considered that the SQA is ready to take on its functions the Secretary of State will set the transfer date. On that date the staff, property and all other rights and obligations of the SEB and the SCOTVEC will be transferred to the SQA. Substantive functions will then be assumed from legislation. After the transfer date the two bodies will have more limited functions, winding themselves down ready for dissolution. That is the period for which Clause 19 provides. During that time the SEB and the SCOTVEC will prepare final accounts and reports. They may also be required to assist the SQA in the transfer of their property or rights to the new body.

The proposed Amendment No. 15 would require the SEB and the SCOTVEC to be dissolved on 1st April 1997. I understand that some users of the SEB and the SCOTVEC have indicated that it would assist their preparations if a date were specified in the Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, has suggested. It is difficult to estimate at present how much time will be needed for the preparatory stages and for the completion of the winding-down stage. If the SQA were not in a position to take on its functions by the specified date of dissolution of the SEB and the SCOTVEC there would be no other body to carry out their duties. Even when the transfer date has arrived and the SQA is fully operational, the SEB and the SCOTVEC may not have carried out their final functions.

As the Bill stands, only once the Secretary of State is satisfied that nothing further remains to be done will a date be set for the dissolution of SEBs and SCOTVEC. The Bill gives the Secretary of State discretion as to the timing of the various stages that I have described. Such discretion is necessary to ensure that the transfer is as smooth as possible.

I should like to reassure my noble friend Lady Carnegy that there is no intention that anyone involved in such a process shall be caught by surprise through short notice being given. Due notice will be given so that a smooth transition can be achieved.

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I assure your Lordships that as much notice as possible of all these stages will be given to Parliament and to the public. On the basis of the background and assurances I have been able to give, I hope that the noble Lord will be able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: On the basis of that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 15 not moved.]

Clause 19 agreed to.

Clause 20 agreed to.

Clause 21 [Interpretation of Part I]:

[Amendment No. 16 not moved.]

Clause 21 agreed to.

Clause 22 agreed to.

Clause 23 [Grants for education of children under school age]:

Lord Sewel moved Amendment No. 17:

Page 11, line 16, at beginning insert--
("(A1) This section is subject to section 36(2A) below.").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 17, perhaps I may speak also to Amendments Nos. 42 and 44. Amendment No. 44 is the key amendment. It is the anti-fraud amendment and as such will receive the support of the entire Committee.

The difficulty arises because this will be the first occasion on which a major universal service will be provided by means of a voucher scheme. I cannot think of a comparable major service that has been provided in this way. As such, we are in unchartered waters and one of the most dangerous unchartered waters relates to the financial provisions and particularly fraud. It is not difficult to imagine circumstances where unscrupulous providers could tempt or offer arrangements with people bearing the voucher (a voucher with a face value of £1,100, but not cashable for cash) which would be fraudulent. That is clearly unacceptable and undesirable.

When we were in Glasgow, I raised this point with Mr. Robertson and he quite genuinely took the point and indicated that the Government were in consultation with the National Audit Office. But even his words indicated that perhaps the National Audit Office was in consultation with the department. At the end of the discussion I asked Mr. Robertson, at paragraph 33 of the Select Committee report, whether we could,

    "look forward to some statement perhaps from the National Audit Office to show that they are satisfied with the audit?"

The Minister replied "Yes". I thank him for his very clear "yes" on that point. The amendment therefore seeks to put in form the "yes" which the Minister gave then--that the scheme will not be implemented until the Comptroller and Auditor General certifies satisfaction with the financial provisions and particularly that he is satisfied on the score of fraud and the extent to which it can be minimised. I beg to move.

23 Apr 1996 : Column CWH24

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: On the general point made by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, in moving the amendment, this is the first time that a public service has been funded by means of vouchers. It is perhaps wide of the mark but it is interesting in this context that the Labour Party has recently put forward a proposal to withdraw benefits from 16 to 18 year-olds and use the money for the provision of education and training. That implies the use of vouchers. The noble Lord smiles broadly, looking at me as though I do not know what I am talking about, but it sounded to me as though the voucher scheme could have a place. The noble Lord can perhaps tell us whether that is a gleam in the Labour Party's eye. That is my only comment.

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