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Baroness Blatch: It is difficult to argue for yet more committees given the Bill before us. We must be the most over-governed country in the world. We start off with the European Parliament, followed by the Westminster Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies, rural development agencies, county councils, borough and district councils, town and parish councils, the London mayor, the London assembly and the London Development Agency. We now have a national learning and skills council and 47 local councils. The
In view of the time that will be taken up and the mixed messages that will come from the Secretary of State through the national council, and sideways through the rural development agencies, the London Development Agency, the co-ordinating council and the local councils, there is a powerful argument for saying that London should be looked at again. To have a co-ordinating committee on top of five committees is not an answer.
Lord Lucas: If we are trying to make sense of the arrangements the Government propose for London, we have to realise that London is an integrated whole with a very good transport system, which leads to large numbers of people living in certain areas and working in others, so that across the five areas of London there will be patches where the training requirements occur in one area for an industry in one area but actually the people live in a different area. There will be a great need for co-operation and indeed cross-working between the five London areas if we are to get an effective system for London.
What concerns me, therefore, is the apparent prohibition in Clause 22(3) of a local council paying for provision in another council's area. Given the particular skills which are going to be available in the educational institutions in the middle of London and the ease of getting to the middle of London, I suggest it would always seem appropriate for some of the rarer skills in particular to be catered for in the middle as a matter of co-operation between all five councils. To have a system which appears to mean that councils cannot pay for that provision out of area, or at least cannot plan for it, would give me considerable cause for concern. I hope the Government will be able to provide reassurance that whatever structure we have for these five councils working together, they will be able to invest training money in each other's areas so that there can be a combined provision between the five areas, though the provision may be located in only one of the areas.
Lord Dormand of Easington: May I ask my noble friend, before she replies, to say whether she feels that London is unique in this respect? What about Birmingham and what about Manchester? Is this something which would have to be done in other parts of the country?
Baroness Blackstone: These amendments confirm the arrangements for managing pan-London issues for the five London councils which will cover different parts of London. I should like to say straight away to my noble friend Lord Dormand of Easington that
Let me take this opportunity to place on record my gratitude for all the work which the RDAs did, and particularly the London Development Partnership, in consulting and advising on the appropriate boundaries for all parts of England. Inevitably there were a number of difficult areas where it was hard to reach a final judgment and, not surprisingly, London was particularly difficult.
In responding to these amendments I do not want to reopen the debate on whether there should have been one pan-London local learning and skills council or whether there should be five or more. A huge amount of argument went on about this. On the one hand, there are a variety of issues where a pan-London view is appropriate and, on the other hand, there are many issues where a local response is necessary and appropriate so that the needs of particular communities in London can be met.
I was a little surprised by several things the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said. He suggested that transport right across London is easy and integrated. I am afraid that after 18 years of Tory rule there is still quite a lot to be done to improve transport across London and I do not think it is that easy for someone living in Enfield to get to, say, Richmond. Perhaps the noble Lord knows of routes that I do not and can get there quickly. It is of course the case that in central London some specialist provision is already made available and will continue to be so in further education because it is easier to get into the centre from some parts of London than from others.
I should also say to him that I do not think it would be terribly sensible for an individual local learning and skills council to be investing money in other such councils. This would be rather a messy approach and would get us into difficulty. That does not mean to say that councils cannot pay for out-of-area provision. Of course Clause 22 is about plans. We want them to plan for their own areas but not for others.
The solution recommended by the London Development Partnership was for five local councils covering London, with a co-ordinating mechanism to make sure that those pan-London issues to which I referred are dealt with effectively. I was happy to accept this recommendation and I say to my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that I am equally happy to place on record here today our commitment to making this arrangement work in practice. However, we do not need a provision on the face of the Bill to make this happen. As your Lordships will see, we specify very little about local functions on the face of the Bill anyway. After all, the LSC is one organisation, so the duties and powers that the Bill will give are in principle available to the whole of the national LSC. We set out in the prospectus how we will capitalise on the benefits of a strong national council and strong local councils. The Bill provides for the power for the council to delegate to local arms the appropriate powers.
The same approach has guided our thinking on the London co-ordinating mechanism, and for these reasons I do not think it is necessary to include this provision on the face of the Bill. Of course it is the case that the London council, which provides a similar co-ordinating role for local TECs, has done so without a statutory basis. I am confident that a London co-ordinating mechanism committee will do the same thing effectively in the future.
Turning now to Amendments Nos. 110 and 133, there is a risk in specifying the functions on the face of the Bill that we build in conflicts between local councils in London and the co-ordinating mechanism. These matters are best worked out by local people in a spirit of partnership and co-operation, and I am sure that is what we will see. The exact form that the co-ordinating mechanism in London will take will be for the learning and skills council and for the five local councils to determine together. However, I should like to take the opportunity to make it clear that we do not want to see a new tier of management or bureaucracy. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, about this. We do not want to see this imposed on the London LSCs: nor do we want to see direction of the five London councils by some form of central committee. In fact that was not what the London Development Partnership recommended. I hope therefore that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw these amendments.
Lord Lucas: If I might help the noble Baroness with her transport problems, the north London line provides a very adequate link between Enfield and Richmond--indeed it is almost direct--and if the noble Baroness wished to do so she could stop off in Camden and visit Camden School for Girls, which is one of the jewels of the state system but which is sadly in need of new buildings which have been denied for far too long.
Baroness Blackstone: I knew when I was searching in my mind for a difficult route across London that the noble Lord would come up with a perfect answer! As for the Camden School for Girls, I know it well since my daughter attended it. It is a very good school.
I am grateful to the Minister for putting on record that the Government accept the need for what I think she described as a co-ordinating mechanism. I am sorry she was rather longer on what she thinks that mechanism should not be rather than on what it should be. Of course I will read carefully what she has said, but I understood her to say that this is a matter to be determined by the local learning and skills councils when they are established; in other words, quite a long way down the road. It would be helpful to have a little more from the Government, perhaps not tonight but
I understand why she thinks it would be inappropriate to have this on the face of the Bill. It is here today of course to enable us to have this debate and to try to understand better what the Government have in mind for a co-ordinating mechanism. We shall look forward to hearing more about that, but in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.