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Lord Haskel: I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 86 and 170. My reasons for tabling these amendments are close to the reasons stated by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. But this is not the time or place to make a long speech about the benefits of openness and freedom of information.

The purpose of my amendment is to ask the Government to continue collecting the data which is at present collected by the Further Education Funding Council. It collects data, including staffing information on FE colleges and other information, which is not published regularly but which is valuable both to unions and local authorities. My amendments ask the Government to ensure that that information continues to be collected and is published regularly. It is the regular publication of the data which is helpful to those trying to plan staffing and other aspects of FE education.

Lord Tope: First, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on Amendment No. 81. I see the Minister shaking his head. I have no doubt the previous government got it wrong as well. I pledge the noble Baroness our support at least if she feels the need to

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divide the Committee on this important issue. It may be that this will be the most significant victory that she scores in these Committee proceedings.

I support the intention behind the other amendments, which is to obtain from the Government what I hope we are about to hear; namely, an assurance that this information will continue to be collected and published. Whether or not it belongs on the face of the Bill I have some doubts, but I welcome an assurance from the Minister that, if it is thought appropriate, the council will be asked to provide and publish this information, in guidance or whatever.

Lord Lucas: I rise to support my noble friend. A freedom of information Bill is coming to this House in due course and one of its great effects, should it become law, will be to open up this closed box of information that is kept by the likes of Ofsted and the FEFC. It is important information on how schools are run and managed, to which access to the public and researchers is far too restricted. Outside researchers hardly ever have access to that information and analyses of how schools do and what kind of education works well. That access tends to be restricted to authorities' researchers alone. The freedom of information Bill will open that up and make this sort of information much more widely available on much better terms.

I hope the Government will recognise that the freedom of information Act is coming and adjust the terms of this Bill to accommodate the kind of openness that will be the ruling feature of the Act. It is important that information is collected--information cannot be made available if it is not collected. It must be clear that the right information is collected; that there are duties on the council to collect information that will be useful to people on a wide scale and not just to the limited clientele described in the Bill. I hope the Government will see their way to supporting my noble friend's amendments.

In relation to Amendment No. 81, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, appears to wish to dispute it. If he does he will misunderstand the nature of "information". We cannot design information. Information is something that is collected. We can design systems for collecting it; but we cannot design it. If we design information all we get is lies.

Lord Bach: I should like to take in turn Amendments Nos. 81, 82 to 85 and then 86 and 170, all of which relate in different ways to the provision of information.

I start by saying that I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that Amendment No. 81 does not concern any political issue. I am impressed by how closely the noble Baroness scrutinised the Bill. But that is as far as I can go. I cannot accept the amendment, which is based on a belief that there is a grammatical inaccuracy in the Bill as it now stands.

I do not want to spend too much time on this; there are other matters with which we must deal. The effect of the amendment, and indeed what the noble

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Baroness means by it, is that it is the systems which the councils set up which could, in and of themselves, secure that the funding and other decisions are made on a sound basis. The Government argue that it is the information--for example, on learner and labour market needs--which will do the securing and not the mechanics and structures of the systems which will hold and process the information. So it is "information is" rather than "information are". I am afraid therefore that we reject the amendment and ask her to withdraw it.

Lord Tope: Perhaps I may intervene at this stage and thank the Minister for his explanation. I read the wording with different breaks in it and feel that I must now withdraw my unqualified support for the noble Baroness that I gave earlier.

Lord Bach: This must be the first time, certainly in my experience, that I have ever persuaded any Member of the Committee of the strength of my argument. It gives me encouragement for the future.

I turn to Amendment No. 82. The intention is to amend line 21 and Clause 21(2), which deals with requests from the Secretary of State, and not Clause 21(4), which links to line 27. I only say this for the sake of clarity and not to be clever, but I believe the amendment should read "Page 6, line 21" and not "line 27". I give way of course if I am wrong.

Baroness Blatch: On a quick reading, I still think that I am right. I am less interested in where it goes than in whether the Minister thinks the point is good, and that information should be in the public arena.

Lord Bach: Let us move straight to that aspect. It is neither surprising nor exceptional that the Bill contains a requirement of the LSC to respond to requests from the Secretary of State for information or advice on matters relating to its functions. Such a prevision--like its precedent in the 1992 Act--helps lay the foundation for good governance and a good working relationship between a Secretary of State and a non-departmental public body.

As to confidentiality, I had the pleasure of serving with the normal Lord, Lord Lucas, on the Select Committee that considered the draft Freedom of Information Bill. The revised Bill is still in another place. No doubt we will spend many hours, if not days, examining that Bill in due course.

Lord McNally: Weeks.

Lord Bach: I see another member of the Select Committee in his place, when he was not a few minutes ago.

Lord McNally: But it will still be weeks.

Lord Bach: I question whether a requirement to publish would not cut across good practice in relation to confidentiality. I believe that everyone, including

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those in your Lordships' House, is committed to the principle of open government, but due regard must be paid to ensuring the privacy of personal and commercially important policy information.

The publication of requests for information or advice, which might relate to the circumstances of individuals or future expenditure plans, may not always be appropriate or constructive. On that basis and with the law as I stands, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will not press Amendment No. 82.

Amendments Nos. 83 and 85 would require the LSC to obtain information about all external qualifications, whether they are pursued in the secondary or further education sectors--including those delivered by private providers. Approvals will be made for qualifications under Clause 87 for the purposes of public funding by the LSC or LEAs, but approved qualifications may also be provided without any recourse to public funds. The amendments appear not to distinguish between qualifications that are publicly funded and those which are not. The LSC would have to supply information about the uptake and achievement of approved qualifications regardless of who funds them.

The amendments would impose a disproportionate additional burden on learning providers in both the public and private sectors. The information required would probably exceed the use to which it would be put--and far more than the LSC requires to meet management or financial information needs. It might replicate information that providers already supply to meet other requirements. Schools provide information about provision and achievement for various purposes under the Education Act 1996. The governing bodies of FE sector institutions will continue to be required to publish information on provision and achievement under the Further and Higher Education Act 1992.

We want to ensure that information on achievement will be published. The current secondary and 16 to 18 performance tables and measures to monitor progress against national learning targets for young people and adults already provide the appropriately focused information that we all require, so we cannot accept the noble Baroness's three amendments.

As to Amendment No. 86 and--the Welsh connection--Amendment No. 170, I am conscious that there are Welsh experts seated in all parts of the Committee. Providing high-quality learning requires people with the necessary skills. In the prospectus we said that all providers will need to demonstrate to the local LSC that their employees have appropriate nationally recognised qualifications or at least have plans to acquire them. The LSC will base its requirements on work by the employment and further national training organisations--NTOs. That is the right approach to developing high-quality standards and recognises the independence of providers, whether they are FE colleges or private or voluntary sector training providers. The proper approach for the LSC as the purchaser is to set the standards its providers

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should meet, then support them in a process of continuous improvement using the best-quality management systems.

The amendments would make that a bureaucratic process, with costly and time-consuming data collection. It may be necessary from time to time--I hope this gives my noble friend some comfort--for the LSC to undertake surveys on matters such as staff qualifications, as does the FEFC with its annual survey of FE sector colleges. It would not be right to impose that practice by statute. The remuneration of staff employed by providers is a matter for employers rather than the LSC. I have to disappoint noble Lords, saying that I cannot accept the amendments.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Dearing: I presume to intervene on this greater matter of the "is" and have considerable sympathy for the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in the way that she has been misled by the construction of the sentence. I have never heard of information that is designed. Information is information. Surely the provision is stating, in simple English, that the council must establish systems to collect the information needed to provide a sound basis for its decisions. The draftsman has been less than lucid in expressing his intentions.

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