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Baroness Carnegy of Lour: This is not an animal with which I am enormously familiar. I have not spoken so far on this topic but re-reading what CoSLA said I personally see the merit of the colleges doing this work. The problem CoSLA faces is, to a large extent, a problem for the staff. The local authority bursary staff who are doing the job will lose it while the colleges will have to take on people. Does the Minister have any information about whether it is possible to facilitate the move of local authority staff to the colleges? Those working within the local authorities feel that the colleges lack understanding and knowledge of the system, which is natural. Of course, at the moment that is the case because they have not been doing it: those people reside in the local authorities. One has some sympathy with people who find themselves in that position. This is quite a big part of the argument that CoSLA is making to Members of the Committee. Does the Minister have anything to say about that? Is he able to look at it?

The Earl of Lindsay: I can promise both the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, and my noble friend Lady Carnegy that I will write if there is any information which could usefully be given that I have not already given. My noble friend makes a very good point. The transition had to be smooth and the transfer of functions had to take place with minimum disruption. I repeat that that is why we issued bursary policy guidelines along the lines of those which CoSLA issued.

We set out to assist the colleges in every possible way we could. We distributed instructions on eligibility. We issued a national policy document and a commentary on its application. We issued guidance on the appeals and complaints procedure and also a standard bursary application form for the session 1996-97 as well as the student guide. We wanted the colleges to assume these new duties simply, quickly and efficiently and we wanted the students to benefit from the transition similarly.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: I would like to press the Minister further. I am impressed by his ability to defend the indefensible but he is never really very comfortable when doing so. If, as the Minister says, the Government wanted the colleges to administer these bursaries, wanted to help the colleges all they could, and wanted to provide support and advise them on the complaints procedure and the appeals procedure, why was there not

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a joint working party established? Why were there not new regulations applicable to local authorities to enable that to happen?

The Earl of Lindsay: I am sure it is not unusual for different parts of the public arena to be exploring the same issue in different directions. While one policy was perhaps unfolding towards the transition which then took place, I imagine that the joint working party itself might have been working to an agenda that preceded our intentions articulated on 10th November 1995 by the Secretary of State to the CoSLA representatives. I find nothing unsurprising in different aspects of the same policy being simultaneously pursued.

We may have a problem of principle here between the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, and myself in that the Government feel strongly that if a function or decision-making power can be devolved downwards to the point where it matters most, we would like to see that happen, whether it be in the health area, schools or indeed any other area. That is why we have been in such extensive discussions with CoSLA to see how many duties we have in the Scottish Office that are not necessarily for the Scottish Office Ministers to pursue but could be better performed by local authorities.

The local authorities have perhaps been a little more reluctant to give up duties and see them devolved downwards into the community than we have in our efforts to devolve powers to local authorities and others. However, we feel strongly that such duties should be delegated downwards.

This is perhaps not too far from the principle that divides us on nursery education vouchers in that we want to see parents making the decision as to where children are sent for their pre-school education rather than the local authority being the sole arbiter and, as it were, monopoly-holder of such matters. We may well be back on a well-argued principle that was aired earlier in our discussions on the Bill.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: We are obviously not going to receive an explanation. The Scottish Office has changed substantially since my days there when civil servants took their guidance from Ministers. Now we are told that it is nothing unusual for civil servants to be pursuing one course of action while the Minister is pursuing a completely different course of action. I suppose that that encapsulates the whole approach of the Government. It must be absolute chaos in the Scottish Office. One of the first jobs of my noble friend Lord Sewel on entering the office will be to sort it all out and get the place on an even keel.

We shall not get any further on this. We have had no explanation as to why the Secretary of State did not consult CoSLA. He just went and told them in November 1995. There is no explanation of why he changed his mind within seven days of meeting the National Union of Students. We are not to get any explanation. I should like to put on record my admiration of the Minister's ability to defend the indefensible. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Clause 33 agreed to.

Clause 34 [Regulations and orders]:

Lord Sewel moved Amendment No. 41:

Page 19, line 20, leave out ("annulment in pursuance of a") and insert ("approval by").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is self-evident. It is clearly to provide that regulations under the Bill, when it becomes an Act, should be subject to the affirmative rather than the negative procedure. Why? Quite simply, the Bill is replete with clauses giving the Secretary of State power to make regulations. Indeed, there has been a ghost almost, not so much in the debate but a ghost within the Bill.

We all know that the main part of the Bill is about a voucher scheme for nursery education. The word "voucher" does not appear at all. That part of the Bill becomes operative only as a result of regulation. Indeed, the policy objectives of the entire Bill can be secured and will be given flesh only through regulation and order.

Given the disproportionate importance of the orders and the power given to the Secretary of State to make regulations and orders within the Bill, surely it is appropriate that the affirmative procedure is adopted so that the opportunity for Parliamentary scrutiny is widened. That is particularly relevant and necessary when the Bill is silent about what it is seeking to achieve; that is, the introduction of a voucher scheme.

Lord Addington: We should all recommend and encourage the department to discuss provisions which will be introduced by regulations. The affirmative procedure gives us the opportunity so to do, and thus it should be used wherever practically possible.

In agreeing to the scheme, as the noble Lord has just said, the beef, if we can use that expression at this particular time, is not here, but will be served at some later date so that at least we will be able to pass some opinion on the quality of the cut.

4.45 p.m.

The Earl of Lindsay: I was surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, mentioned the word "ghosts" in moving this amendment. It was a refreshing departure from the speech which I had been expecting from him. I would remind the noble Lord that, although he sees some kind of shadowy vacuum in Part II, the Secretary of State, under Section 23 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, already has the power to make grants to persons for the provision of education. The noble Lord may see ghosts in the Bill where is a hard profile of what we are seeking in the 1980 Act.

Lord Sewel: Will the Minister accept that the word "voucher" does not appear in any legislation relating to nursery provision?

The Earl of Lindsay: I was talking about the Secretary of State's ability to make grants. I cannot immediately tell him how often the word "voucher" appears in Scottish education Acts.

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This amendment would require that every order or regulation made under this Bill by the Secretary of State for Scotland would be subject to affirmative resolution by either House of Parliament. I suspect that the drafting of the amendment did not intend the "either" to be the case, but that is the way the amendment is focused on the Bill as presently drafted.

Members of the Committee will be aware that the affirmative resolution procedure is now used quite sparingly. There is good reason for this. Negative resolution procedures allow efficient use of limited parliamentary time while allowing for proper scrutiny to be made where necessary. Affirmative resolution is used only where the power in the enabling Act is such that it would be inappropriate for the positive consent of Parliament not to be sought.

There is no discretionary element in the Bill which is of a nature which would demand that Parliament be required to debate its exercise. I would assure the Committee, and specifically the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that in any event negative resolution retains Parliament's ultimate control. We feel that that is absolutely vital and should be the case. On that basis, in addition to the technical observation on the drafting of the amendment, I hope the noble Lord can withdraw his amendment.

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