Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for their strong support. I thank the Minister for her reply. I am delighted about the local LSCs and Wales being covered in her prospective amendment. That is wonderful.

I do not feel that there would be any harm in having a specific reference in the Bill. I presume that guidance will be given on the drawing up of plans by local LSCs. If in the guidance a little jogging of the memory was given to say that this will be done with specific reference to the needs of people with learning difficulties, I would be happy. Perhaps the Minister could indicate whether that would be possible.

Baroness Blackstone: I can give the noble Baroness that reassurance.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: I am grateful to the Minister. I have no hesitation in saying I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 130 to 142 not moved.]

Clause 22 agreed to.

Clause 23 [Duty of local education authorities]:

[Amendments Nos. 143 and 144 not moved.]

Clause 23 agreed to.

Clause 24 agreed to.

Clause 25 [Directions]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 145:

(b) the reorganisation of education for persons from the age of 16 to 19, where such education is currently the responsibility of the education authority.").

10 Feb 2000 : Column 875

The noble Baroness said: When we were discussing the School Standards and Framework Bill I took some time to elicit from the Government a promise that the organisational committees that were set up and the adjudicator would not have the power to remove school sixth forms. We eventually received a letter of confirmation. We now have the possibility, by an oblique method, of a direction that would have real impact on the survival of education for 16 to 19-year-olds under local authority control.

Under Clause 25, the Secretary of State may give directions covering objectives, time limits for achieving them and provisions relating to the LSC's management. It states also:

    "Directions may not concern the provision of financial resources in respect of activities carried on by a particular person or persons".

I am not certain what that means but I wish to add the words of the amendment for clarification.

Either the Government mean local authorities to have power over people for whom they are responsible for providing education or they do not. On the face of it, Clause 25 is inoffensive but it is part of something inherent in the Bill--a threat to the survival of sixth forms. The amendment would put that out of bounds of strong central leadership. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone: Clause 25 provides for the directions that the Secretary of State will give the LSC. There is nothing novel in such a provision. It has an obvious precedent in the current direction-making powers of the Secretary of State and the National Assembly in respect of FEFCs under Section 56 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. When debating that legislation, it was made clear by the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, that powers of direction were a long-stop protection of the taxpayer's interests as regards considerable sums of public funding. That principle followed through into the Bill.

As a last resort, the Secretary of State should intervene to direct the council. One exception is Clause 25(3), which rightly prohibits directions about the provision of council funds in respect of activities undertaken by any particular person or group. We, like the previous Administration, think it important to make it clear that the LSC is entirely independent of government in funding decisions concerning individual providers.

The noble Baroness is seeking to prevent the Secretary of State from issuing directions as to how the LSC should exercise its functions in LEA 16 to 19 provision.

The LSC's three main functions are participation, as a voting member, on school organisation committees where 16 to 19 matters are involved; making proposals for the incorporation of LEA-maintained 16 to 19 institutions; and making proposals for the closure of 16 to 19 LEA provision that Ofsted has found to be failing or significantly weak and has failed to make necessary improvements. The amendment betrays a mis-understanding of the LSC's powers and those of the Secretary of State. The council will be a statutory independent body. The Secretary of State would only

10 Feb 2000 : Column 876

expect to intervene as a last resort, when things have gone seriously wrong. The proposed restriction is unnecessary.

I accept that the powers of direction in Clause 25 could be clearer. Earlier, I mentioned our intention to table amendments to clarify those powers--in particular, those of the Secretary of State to intervene if the LSC acts unreasonably or in breach of duty in respect of its functions.

Similar provisions apply to the FEFCs under Sections 56 and 57 of the 1992 Act. Indeed, in the unlikely event that the council were to act improperly in exercising its functions in respect of LEA-maintained 16 to 19 provision, this amendment would prevent a Secretary of State from intervening to protect those affected. I doubt that that is really the intention of the noble Baroness. Therefore, I hope that she will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

10.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: I am puzzled on one point. If this is about the protection of public funds, why does subsection (3) say:

    "Directions may not concern the provision of financial resources in respect of activities carried on by a particular person or persons"?

They are just as much an activity that incurs expenditure, yet they are outside the directions. It seems to me to be slightly puzzling as why that should be the case, bearing in mind the explanation given by the noble Baroness.

The council is not independent in the sense that it is entirely beholden to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State will issue its central directions and it will be for the national council to take those directions and plan in conformity with them. So the idea that it is somehow a free spirit out there, determining everything for itself, is simply not true; it will do it within the framework of the directions set out by the Secretary of State.

The functions outlined by the noble Baroness are certainly right as far as concerns the Bill, but I still think that this poses a very real threat to schools. The difference here is that we are talking about LEAs' territory. These are their schools for which they have been providing all this time. School sixth forms, with 11 to 16 children within them, are single institutions. So there is very real concern here. However, the Minister has hinted that some thought will be given to qualifying the use of these powers. I welcome that move and I wait to see the detail. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 25 agreed to.

Clause 26 [Committees]:

On Question, Whether Clause 26 shall stand part of the Bill?

Baroness Blatch: Schedule 3 deals with the establishment of two more committees. I have absolutely no quarrel with the idea that the

10 Feb 2000 : Column 877

Government should be very specifically concerned about young people up to and beyond the age of 19. However, I have been reading Schedule 3 very carefully and there are two aspects of it that I find disturbing. First, if this national council wishes to seek advice, have research undertaken to look in depth at a particular aspect of education and training and links with employment for either pre-19 year-olds and post-19 year-olds, the best way of securing that aim would be to leave the council totally free to bring together an ad hoc committee for the purpose of taking advice from a group of people--it will be different groups of people for different things--rather than have a single standing committee.

Secondly, there is nothing in Clause 26, which I wish to remove from the Bill, in this respect: it simply refers to the schedule. However, on reading the schedule, one sees that it would be a full standing committee, which would have the power to establish other committees as it sees fit. So already we have the national council spawning a standing committee, which, in turn, takes upon itself further powers. Indeed, we are now far removed from the democratic process. It would seem that the "young people's learning committee" would have to investigate the provision of education and training for young people and advice the council. Moreover, according to sub-paragraph (3) of the schedule:

    "The committee is to have such other functions relating to the education and training of young persons, and such functions relating to their employment, as the Council specifies"--

that is, not Parliament but the council. The council is not accountable to Parliament and yet it will be given powers to set up another statutory committee with power to establish other committees; and they, in turn, will also have the power to incur expenditure without any accountability whatever either to the democratic, elected Parliament or to local authorities.

I really am worried about this provision. But lest the speech note that has already been written for the noble Baroness should in any way denigrate my support for the notion that this council, if it is set up--and the noble Baroness knows that I would not go down this road and do it in this way--will not need expert specialist advice about the client groups for whom it will be responsible, I am not against that. I support it. I am very, very worried about very expensive, bureaucratic, static standing committees that would replace the flexibility of commissioning research and ad hoc groups that could provide advice. The power and the accountability would lie with the council, not with another council or another committee, and would be somewhat removed from what I call the accountability process.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page