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Lord Bach: I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken on this series of amendments. Amendments Nos. 39, 42 and 43 would extend to all adults the entitlement that we have provided for young people. They cover the same principles that were explored to some extent by Amendments Nos. 25 and 26. My noble friend Lady Blackstone has already set out the Government's position in respect of the balance between Clauses 2 and 3. However, perhaps I may add something to that response.

The difference in words between the two clauses is intentional. The distinction between them is as follows. There is an entitlement at the ages of 16 to 19, but no government could enter an absolute guarantee to adults in the same way. This Government are extremely in favour of adult education and their record speaks very highly indeed for itself. However, for any government to pretend that resources were absolutely unlimited and that, therefore, they could do for adults exactly what they were going to do for 16 to 19 year-olds would be foolish; and, indeed, I venture to say, would not be believed by noble Lords and those outside this place.

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I turn now to the meaning of words. I should point out that I am doing my best here, because the meanings of these words may one day be interpreted in the courts of our land--who knows! The word "proper" in Clause 2 means quantity to meet the needs of individuals and of adequate quality; in other words, an entitlement, an objective test. Then we have the word "reasonable". This is the second time within a week that I have been faced with defining or discussing this word. As I said on the previous occasion, anyone who has been involved in the law for any length of time will know that it is tempting to try to define the word "reasonable", but the detail of it is always so difficult. However, I shall do my best.

In the sense of Clause 3, "reasonable" means that if they are of a quality and quantity that the LSC can provide from its resources--again, an entitlement which applies to those aged 16 to 19--there will be something slightly less for those over 19. I am not talking about an intention not to put funds into adult education--indeed, that would be completely against this Government's intentions--but it is not quite the same. That is why the distinction between Clauses 2 and 3 is important.

Of course we recognise that those needs, abilities and aptitudes do not suddenly change over night on a person's 19th birthday. No one would expect a young person part way through a GNVQ not to be allowed to complete his or her course. Likewise, nothing in these provisions prevents learners continuing their education. My noble friend gave that assurance when she addressed earlier amendments.

The amendments now before the Committee go further than the earlier ones with the commensurate implications for public spending. For that and other reasons I have attempted to give, I invite noble Lords to withdraw their amendments. In short, they seek a commitment that no government could possibly give.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Boardman: I thank the Minister for giving way. Is he saying that the word "proper" means that no matter what the consequences are and no matter what the budget may be, those needs will be met? Is he also saying that "reasonable" means that the facilities will be available only if funds happen to be there?

Lord Bach: The noble Lord uses his own words; they are not mine. I was careful in the words that I chose. I prefer to say that there is an "entitlement" for those between 16 and 19 and to say that the LSC will do all that it can in relation to those who are over the age of 19. However, it cannot give to them the entitlement which applies to those between the ages of 16 and 19.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 32, 44 and 50. Improving quality for all learners, whatever their ages and whatever they may be studying, is a priority. That is why quality has been made an integral part of the council's main duties. I contrast that--I hope, gently--with the arrangements made by the previous government for the further education funding

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councils. There is no reference to quality in relation to the provision to be funded by those bodies. All they are required to do is assess quality; there is no requirement to do anything about it afterwards.

We know from reports of the inspectorates with responsibility for this key post-16 learning--Ofsted, the FEFC and the TSC--that much of post-16 education and training is of good quality. But there remain too many examples of weak provision. No particular sector is exempt. There are examples of poor quality provision made by private and voluntary providers, sixth forms and further education colleges. We are quite clear that all provision must be at least satisfactory and continuously improving. We want to promote excellence in all post-16 provision. We want to raise standards in post-16 provision, just as we have done in schools.

We do not make any distinction between different age ranges in our aims for improving quality. Nothing in this Bill requires quality for adults to be lower than that for young people or implies that it should be. Indeed, many providers would find the concept unimaginable and impractical because their provision meets the needs of all age ranges alongside each other. Nor will the common inspection framework be constructed on such an artificial basis. We expect quality to be equally high for all. That is why quality is not separated out as an add-on duty. We say that it must be integral to the core functions of the LSC. I hope I have persuaded Members of the Committee to withdraw their amendments.

Lord Tope: I am grateful to the Minister for explaining that the distinction between Clause 2 and Clause 3 is intentional. It had never occurred to me that it might be an accident! I rather thought that it probably was intentional. I wanted to draw attention to precisely that. I think I am right in saying that in a former life the Minister was a lawyer, and perhaps still is a lawyer. That may be why he was especially careful in attempting to define the words we were discussing.

Lord Bach: Once a lawyer, always a lawyer!

Lord Tope: I shall resist commenting. The Minister will know more about that than I. Perhaps that is why he was so careful in trying to define the words that we discussed. He was so careful in trying to define "reasonable" that I may not be the only person who is not much wiser than when the debate began. The Minister's former colleagues may test the definition of "reasonable" in years to come.

I am grateful for the Minister's comments on quality. I am sure they will offer some reassurance as we are all concerned that quality in provision must apply regardless of the age of the person who is receiving the provision. We shall ponder what the Minister has said and the distinctions he has drawn and consider the matter further. However, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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[Amendment No. 33 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 34:

    Page 2, line 17, leave out ("best") and insert ("most cost effective").

The noble Baroness said: I have been thrown completely because I understood that when we discussed the distinction between "reasonable" and "proper" earlier we would receive a reply to that matter with Amendment No. 34. I shall return to the fray as I would have spoken to this group of amendments had I known what the Minister was going to say.

We are now talking about resources and their use. I return to what I said earlier; namely, that we all, certainly governments, operate in the real world. We all know that there is no area of central or local government spending that is not restricted by the amount of resources available. It is important to ascertain right at the beginning whether there is no restriction as regards the provision in Clause 2 as opposed to the provision in Clause 3. We have tried to ascertain the difference between "proper" and "reasonable". I believe that more honesty is now entering the debate. When responding to the previous group of amendments the Minister mentioned an entitlement. There is no question of flexibility here because so far the Government have not given one inch on that. There is a cut-off point at the age of 19. There is a different obligation as regards those over the age of 19. We all hope that a person will complete a course; it is unlikely that someone will not. However, someone may be "picked up", as it were, at the age of 20, but the council has a different obligation towards such a person as opposed to the age group mentioned in Clause 2.

Earlier the noble Baroness mentioned the number of young people who will enter further education. There is an absolute obligation under the Bill to provide proper facilities and arrangements for a young person under the age of 19 who requires provision. However, there is no blank cheque available. My noble friend Lord Boardman tried to tease out that point. The council or providers have no blank cheque. However, those under the age of 19 will have the first call on the money that is available. Anyone over the age of 19, whatever their situation, can have only a reasonable expectation of provision funded by the money that is left over. That is the only way the system can work as it was explained by the noble Lord. He said time and time again that for people up to the age of 19 there is an entitlement to provision. Under Clause 3 of the Bill those over 19 have an entitlement to expect only "reasonable" provision, assuming that there is money left in the coffers to provide that.

The Government cannot say that they will meet everyone's needs and aspirations--I refer also to young people with special needs--if there is to be a distinction as between those under and over the age of 19. I understand that there is no bottomless pit of money available. All governments when in office realise quickly that there are constraints on the amounts of money that can be spent at any level of

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government. I believe that those over the age of 19 will comprise as many needy cases as among those in the 16 to 19 age group. There will be no opportunity to determine priorities at a local level because under Clause 2 the council will have an obligation to provide an absolute entitlement to 16 to 19 year-olds. Under Clause 3 the needs of those over the age of 19 will be met with the provision of reasonable facilities if there is money left over with which to do that.

I understand that my noble friend Lord Pilkington has given the Minister notice that he intends to speak to Amendment No. 35 with Amendments Nos. 36 and 158. My Amendment No. 34 to Clause 2 seeks to replace the word "best" with the words "cost effective". I am not sure that anyone knows what "best" means. I believe that the most important concept here is to make the most effective use of resources. I am tempted to seek to insert the words,

    "the most cost effective and the most operationally effective".

One could have simply "the most effective" or "the most cost effective" if the matter is assessed purely on cost. However, it is not always merely a question of the best value for money, in that operational considerations may also need to be taken into account. However, I believe that it is better to include either the words "the most cost effective" or the,

    "most cost and operationally effective",

use of the council's resources rather than simply a reference to the "best use of resources". This issue also arises in Clause 3. My Amendment No. 46 seeks to remove the words in Clause 3(3)(d),

    "and in particular avoid provision which might give rise to disproportionate expenditure".

What do those words mean? Do they refer to wasteful expenditure? Sometimes expenditure can be disproportionate if one has to meet the needs of someone with very special needs. The cost of that is disproportionate when compared to the resources that one might allocate to someone who has no special needs whatsoever and is simply doing a straightforward course which requires no special provision to be made. However, to invite the council to avoid disproportionate expenditure might militate against making complicated provision for someone with multiple disabilities. That is extremely misleading. If one accepts that councils must make the most effective use of resources, that leaves them free to make judgments about where expenditure should be incurred and to make professional judgments about the particular needs of young people that have to be met, even if that involves incurring disproportionate expenditure within an allocated budget.

I hope that the noble Lord will accept that there is still much anxiety with regard to the cut-off point at the age of 19; the lack of flexibility on the part of the council to make judgments with regard to the needs of those over and under the age of 19; to make its own judgment about whether needs should be met; and to make its own judgment about use of resources, as long as such use is considered by those who judge it externally to be effective use of its funds to meet both the operational and the cost effective restraints upon it. I beg to move.

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9 p.m.

Lord Bach: As I understand it, the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington of Oxenford, will speak to the next grouping of amendments.

The Bill fulfils our commitment to give an entitlement--I use the word again--to education and training for all young people over compulsory school age up until their 19th birthday. For the first time there will be a unified statutory entitlement for all young people in this age group, rather than the fragmented arrangements that everyone agrees have applied up until now. This will apply to young people whatever route they take after compulsory education--whether it be through a school sixth form, the further education sector or the work-based route.

I turn now to Amendment No. 34. I shall deal with Amendment No. 35 at a later stage. I am sure that we all expect the LSC to use the public funds placed at its disposal to achieve the maximum benefit for pupils and for students. This provision is concerned with requiring the council to do that. We expect the council to deliver excellent value for money. Value for money is achieved through balancing three different elements, the three "Es"--economy, efficiency and effectiveness. In our view, this is expressed most succinctly through the word "best", although it is possible that other formulations may be used to achieve the same effect. Indeed, the expression "best value" is not unknown to the Committee: regulations with that title were passed through this House 24 hours ago.

However, the Government have concerns about the particular formulation "most cost effective". Under the previous government we saw the effects of a "pile it high, sell it cheap" approach to further education and the disastrous effects of demand-led funding. It may have been cost effective but the impact on quality and the financial health of colleges was, at the very least, worrying. To focus on cost to the exclusion of quality would be wrong. The Government place great emphasis on the improvement of standards right across the education service. We expect a balanced approach to the use of public money and we believe that the present wording achieves this.

Turning to Amendment No. 46, apart from fulfilling our commitment to give an entitlement to education and training for all young people over compulsory school age up until their 19th birthday, we have brought together the duty to make education and training available for adults. We expect the council to use the public funds made available to it in the best possible way. However, the potential effect of Amendment No. 46 would be to require the LSC, in making provision of all types, to disregard excessive cost and the economic use of the very substantial public funds to be placed at its disposal.

Of course the council must ensure that reasonable facilities are available to adults wherever they may be receiving their education and training. That may be expensive. These provisions do not restrict the council's ability to fund expensive provision--we would be concerned if they did, especially if that impacted on the provision needed by the most

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disadvantaged and vulnerable members of our community--but to disregard value for money in the use of public funds would be wrong, not least because excessive expenditure on one comes only at the expense of the learning opportunities for another or through the LSC exceeding the budget voted to it by Parliament.

When we consider the matters raised, quite fairly, by the noble Baroness at the outset in moving the amendments--she thought that the discussion would take place on these amendments rather than on the preceding amendment--it is essential to remember that all entitlements--even the entitlement to a free education up until the age of 16-- depend to some extent on the resources available. As the noble Baroness rightly said, with her great experience of both local government and of national government, whoever is in charge of government has to decide what resources are placed in what fields. We repeat that the entitlement will be for 16 to 19 year-olds, but we expect the additional resources we are devoting to post-16 learning to allow access to learning for all those who need it.

Money is available for adult education depending on the resources made available by government. This Government, unlike their predecessor, have demonstrated their commitment to adult learning. Perhaps I may give one figure, which will be well known to most of your Lordships. We are spending £2 billion in the financial year 2001-02, up from £1.6 billion in 1998-99. We believe in lifelong learning, but we would be foolish if we expected the Bill to cover every aspect of adult education.

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