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Lord Bach: The Committee appreciates the noble Lord's concerns about sixth forms in schools which he expressed during Second Reading. I re-read his speech this morning. I remind the noble Lord that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has made quite clear--I repeat it now--the value that he attaches to the best school sixth forms and that nothing we do should jeopardise them. He has also made it clear that the Government should protect the funding of school sixth forms in real terms as long as numbers do not fall. However, we believe that the potential effect of Amendment No. 35 is to require the learning and skills council to disregard excessive cost in making provision of all types, not just in sixth forms, and hinder the economic use of the very substantial public funds to be placed at its disposal. The council must ensure that proper facilities are available to all

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young people, wherever they may receive their education and training, and that they are suitable to their requirements. However, to impair the effective use of public funds would be wrong, not least because excessive expenditure on one person could come only at the expense of the learning opportunities for others, or through the LSC exceeding the budget voted to it by Parliament. That attempts to deal with Amendment No. 35. While appreciating the concerns of the noble Lord, we say that his amendment is not acceptable.

As regards Amendment No. 36, to which he has also just spoken, our arrangements for 16 to 19 year-old education are extremely diverse and already provide a wide range of opportunities at local level. Young people can study in further education and tertiary colleges, sixth-form colleges, school sixth forms or in employment. There are over 400 colleges in the further education sector, including over 100 sixth-form colleges. There are about 1,800 schools with sixth forms. There are some 3,000 other providers currently funded through the TECs. Nothing in this Bill will restrict this diversity, which we expect to retain in order to match the varying needs of young people.

Nevertheless we recognise the need to ensure that we have the right balance and mix of provision for young people. Our proposals are intended to open up new opportunities for them, to ensure that we maximise participation in learning, improve retention and ensure that provision is responsive to the needs of individuals and employers. That is why the local councils of the LSC in England will have discretion to secure the right balance and mix of post-16 provision in their areas and the resources to deliver this. It will remain open to LEAs and other promoters to bring forward proposals not only for the creation of new sixth forms, if they judge there to be a need, but also for new LEA-maintained 16 to 19 institutions. We are also removing obstacles to collaboration between colleges and schools so that schools can draw upon the expertise which colleges have to offer, particularly in making vocational provision.

Our new arrangements are intended to support and encourage a pluralistic and diverse education and training system. How could it be otherwise, if provision is to meet the needs of our young people? I hope that those remarks will go some way towards reassuring the noble Lord, and I invite him to withdraw his amendment.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Tope: Before the noble Lord decides what to do, perhaps I may comment. First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, for raising the issue. I know he has a great concern about the future of school sixth forms. I know, too, that he is not the only one to have that concern, and I welcome the assurances that the Government have given and continue to give. I accept entirely that they mean what they say.

It is for the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, to say, but I think the purpose of his second amendment is not to challenge that there is choice and diversity now, but rather to ensure that there remain choice and diversity

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in the provision of post-16 education. In that we would strongly support him. I particularly welcome, as the Minister has just said, the provision for collaboration between school sixth forms and FE colleges--collaboration rather than competition--that has existed up to now and, I have to say, I believe has been in the worst rather than the best interests of the learners.

I was less happy with the response to Amendment No. 35. If it were to be carried, Clause 2(3)(d) would read,

    "make the best use of the Council's resources".

The Minister seemed to be saying that that would then mean that the LSC could disregard excessive costs. I wonder whether he could explain that. Perhaps I am just being stupid, but could he explain how making the best use of the council's resources would enable it at the same time to disregard excessive costs? It seems to me that making the best use of the council's resources means that you must have regard to excessive costs, however you might choose to define them. It seems to me, especially given the definitions we have had earlier today, that the inclusion of the words which the noble Lord is seeking to delete actually encourages his suspicions and fears, rather than discourages them.

I hope that I have given the Minister enough time to explain to me how making best use of the council's resources is consistent with disregarding excessive costs, which apparently he thinks that it would then be able to do.

Baroness Blatch: I wish to continue that point. I am only sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, was unable to support us in the Lobby if only to give us another chance to return on another day to what is or is not best use of resources. An auditor will have to judge the council's spending against the word "best". In whose view is it judged best? Is it that of the Government, the national council, or the local council? In that case it is its own local independent judgment and may conflict with the view of the Secretary of State.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, used the word "excessive". The arguments apply equally to "disproportionate". There will be legitimate uses of excessive expenditure or disproportionate expenditure which would be approved by Secretaries of State, the national council, local councils and all of us. The idea that they are not allowed to incur disproportionate expenditure is a real constraint. The word "best" needs qualifying by the word "value" or some reference to operational effectiveness. That expression is jargonistic and is used by management consultants but it refers to the best possible cost effective service. The word "best" does not express that.

Lord Bach: The word "disproportionate" does not rule out expensive expenditure, if I may use that phrase. However, on the face of the Bill it obliges the LSC to take into account wasteful expenditure. That seems to us a sensible precaution. I am slightly

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surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, makes such a fuss about it. It seems a perfectly ordinary, normal provision to put on the face of the Bill.

Lord Tope: I am pleased to have caused the Minister a little surprise at this time of night. I made no reference to the word "disproportionate". I picked the noble Lord up on his use of the words "excessive costs". The Minister said that if the amendment were passed it would mean that the LSC could disregard excessive cost. My question may be too simple but it is straightforward. How is it consistent that the LSC can disregard excessive costs--I refer to the Minister's words--while at the same time making the best use of the council's resources? If I am being stupid--although I see nods around me which suggest that I am not the only stupid person in the Chamber--perhaps the Minister (who has had several notes passed from the box) will explain what he means.

Lord Bach: I shall try again to explain the issue to the noble Lord, Lord Tope. Amendment No. 35 would remove the words that appear in the 1992 Act. They occasioned comment then that they might prevent further education councils from funding provision. The then government spokesman--it was not me; nor was it the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, but someone in government at that time--made the following statement: that the intention was,

    "expenditure which is out of proportion to what is being provided for in regard to the discharge of the main duties".

The spokesman continued:

    "It does not prohibit provision that is needed but rather provision that is unnecessary".

I hope that that satisfies the noble Lord.

Lord Rix: If it is a subjective view of the council, does it mean that if a person with a learning disability was incurring a great deal of excess expenditure, that would not be considered disproportionate to the effect that that education would have on that person?

Lord Bach: As so often, the noble Lord, Lord Rix, is quite right; that is what I am saying here. Such expenditure, simply because it happened to be very expensive, would not immediately be considered to be disproportionate. Proportionality is the clue to this issue.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I believe that there has been a disproportionate use of words here. When responding to the previous amendment, the Minister made it quite clear that his definition of "best value" excluded disproportionate expenditure. It now seems to me that it is unnecessary for these words to be included and that the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, is entirely correct.

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