Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Wade of Chorlton: I am grateful to the Minister for her further explanations and reassurances. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 7:

("( ) The Council shall elect a chairman from among their number for a period not exceeding 5 years.").

The noble Baroness said: I should like, if I may, to speak to just one point on Amendment No. 7. I did not refer to the term of office. Noble Lords will have noticed that in my amendment I refer to a period not exceeding five years. It is normal to have a period of time specified for an appointment to a national body such as this. I should like to ask the Government whether they have any intention of putting a period of time upon this appointment, or will the chairman be appointed for all time until either he or she is disgraced, sent out of office or retires? I beg to move.

Lord Bach: The noble Baroness has quite justifiably come back to this amendment to ask the question. We are going to be dealing with time-scales for membership of the committee and, as I understand it, for the chairman a little later. I should like to respond to her on this point then, if I may.

Baroness Blatch: I am grateful to the noble Lord. In anticipation, I will ask leave to withdraw the amendment and wait for the explanation.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 8:

    Page 1, line 12, at end insert--

("( ) The Council shall appoint a Chief Executive on such terms as it determines who shall not serve as a member of any Learning and Skills Council.").

The noble Baroness said: There is an anomaly in the Bill. Clause 1 states that the Secretary of State shall appoint the council and appoint a chairman from within the council. There is no reference whatsoever to

8 Feb 2000 : Column 544

how that will be done. The schedule contains no reference to that. Then, quite extraordinarily, there is a reference to the chief executive being appointed from the members of the council. This is a job. The board, or council as it is now called, would appoint a chief executive and not the Secretary of State. The chief executive would then answer to the council but not be a member of it.

There may well be precedents. There has been a very interesting debate, which has gone on for a long time. There ought to be a separation between the chief executive and the chairman of the board and the board itself. Certainly that is what happens in the private sector. It is important that the terms and conditions should be laid down by the board or by the council; the chief executive should be answerable to them. He should be the executive arm, in other words, delivering the policies of the council, working with all the other members of staff and being the chief member of staff working for the council.

I find that strange. Secondly, I find it strange that for the chairman there are no arrangements set out in the schedule at all. Yet on page 55 we have some fairly detailed arrangements set out for the chief executive. On the face of the Bill it is said that the chairman shall be a member of the council. There is no reference whatsoever to the chief executive being a member of the council until we turn to the schedule. It is not on the face of the Bill but it appears in the schedule that one of the council members is to be its chief executive.

Referring to the members of the council who are to represent the body that has already been mentioned by the Minister and indeed by others, you need particular skills to be a chief executive and sometimes you need different skills to be a member of the council. I cannot understand why there is a separate schedule with a definite statement saying that one of the council's members shall be its chief executive. No arrangements, on the face of the Bill, appear in Clause 1 or a statement that says that the council shall be appointed by the Secretary of State and that one of its members shall be chairman.

My amendment deals with two main points. First, I should like an explanation as to why they are treated so differently. Secondly, I should like to know whether the Government believe there should be a distinct split between those who make policy and those who have to deliver it. Thirdly, may I ask why it is that a chief executive should be a member of the council? I beg to move.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I rise to support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness. We on these Benches agree with her that it is not right that the chief executive of the council should also be a full member of the council. We also agree completely that it should be for the council itself to appoint the chief executive. The chief executive is the servant of the council, as happens, as the noble Baroness said, normally in business.

Baroness Blackstone: Perhaps I could start with Amendment No. 8. We have made provision in

8 Feb 2000 : Column 545

Schedule 1 for the first appointment of chief executive to be made by the Secretary of State rather than by the council. The noble Baroness's amendments would change that position and give the responsibility to the council alone. The reason why we intend the appointment of the first chief executive to be made by the Secretary of State is one of practicality. It is very common when setting up a new body of this kind, when there is no existing council membership in place, for a chief executive to be appointed in this way. It is vital that we have an early appointment of a chief executive to take charge of the very wide range of implementation of staff appointments, ensuring that there is an effective funding and information system and that plans for the council's first operational year are drawn up in good time.

If we wait until all the council members are appointed we will inevitably be delaying the process and we may put at risk a smooth transition, which I am sure all Members of your Lordships' Committee would wish to see, to the new arrangements. Your Lordships will perhaps be reassured to hear that we intend to identify the chair of the learning and skills council first, and then involve him or her in the appointment of the chief executive, since it is clearly of paramount importance that there should be a really good working relationship between the chair and the chief executive. The Bill already provides in Schedule 1 for all future appointments of the chief executive to be made by the council. I hope that that clarifies one of the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and indeed by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp.

Turning to Amendment No. 19, this would prevent the chief executive being a member of the council. Contrary to what has been said by both noble Baronesses, I think this would diminish the status and the authority of the chief executive to that of an employee rather than creating a situation where the chief executive is fully part of, and committed to, the strategic direction that the council takes.

I accept that there is a distinction between the role of the chairman and members of the council, who are part time and in that sense have a non-executive role, and that of the chief executive who is a full time paid official. However, that should not suggest that the chief executive is not a member of a council. In the Higher Education Funding Council and the Further Education Funding Council the chief executives are members of those councils. It is an established practice that chief executives of NDPBs may be members of their governing councils. We believe it is right that that should be so in this instance. We must remember that the chief executive will be the accounting officer for some £6 billion of public expenditure. It is only right that he or she should be fully party to the decisions of the national council.

The current draft of the clause and related schedule provides for a good start for the council and the establishment of an effective organisation. I hope that the noble Baroness will not press the amendment.

Baroness Blatch: I am extremely disappointed with the answer. The Minister did not answer the question

8 Feb 2000 : Column 546

as to why the Secretary of State appoints one of the board as chairman but not as chief executive. As regards the appointment, why should the provision appear only in a schedule? There is no link between the schedule and the main part of the Bill. Normally schedules support clauses in the Bill; this schedule does not.

The noble Baroness has not answered the point about the importance of the chief executive being a servant of the council and the board. He or she is responsible for carrying out the policies of the council. Therefore that seems to be a problem. There is the flimsiest defence. The Government intend to appoint early the first member of the board who shall be the chairman, and to involve the chairman in the appointment of a chief executive.

Has the Secretary of State time on his hands? Is not the Secretary of State an extraordinarily busy person? The Bill provides for the Secretary of State to approve plans and to do this, that and the other. Every appointment to all the bodies will be approved by the Secretary of State. Those of us who watch the Secretary of State on television are impressed by his performance. But the idea that he should be engaged in the minutiae of every single appointment is extraordinary.

The Minister referred to the accounting officer. There are endless examples of bodies--I sit as a volunteer on one--where the accounting officer does not necessarily belong to the policy-making body. It is not uncommon for the accounting officer not to be a member of the policy body. Again, the accounting officer is a servant of the organisation. So that is no argument.

Amendment No. 8 provides that,

    "The Council shall appoint a Chief Executive on such terms as it determines who shall not serve as a member of any Learning and Skills Council".

It is an important amendment. I wish to seek the opinion of the House.

5.3 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 8) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 95; Not-Contents, 111.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page