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Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I set down a marker that I am concerned about the degree of prescription in membership that Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 4 envisage. I am not happy about the Bill moving more and more strongly towards making provision simply about education and training for employment. If we consider the figures, 60 per cent would be predicated to education and business. My calculation is that 60 per cent of 16 is 9.6--that is 10 members, plus the chairman and chief executive. It leaves only four members to be selected from other disciplines and backgrounds.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, I am puzzled by Amendment No. 1 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. It simply replicates provisions already in Schedule 1. In Committee, the noble Baroness seemed to suggest--she repeated the suggestion today--that provisions in a schedule have somehow less force than provisions in a clause. That is not the case. If provisions are in a schedule they are still part of an Act when it is enacted and, therefore, have statutory power. It is simply not the case that they have less force if they are in a schedule. It means that the chief executive will be no less a creature of statute than the chairman.

I do not believe that the chief executives of, for example, the Further Education Funding Council or the Higher Education Funding Council, for which the noble Baroness's own government legislated in 1992, felt slighted because their appointments were contained within schedules to the relevant legislation. Nor, I am sure, do the chief executives of any of the regional development agencies. The Bill does exactly what earlier legislation did--legislation of the government of which the noble Baroness was a member.

As to Amendment No. 2, I fully support the wish of noble Lords that the business sector should play a major role in the LSC's strategic decision-making and planning. That is exactly why I sought to reassure noble Lords during Second Reading and in Committee that the national chair and most local chairs will have significant business or commercial experience.

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I set out the reasons for those commitments to business at an earlier stage. However, it does not follow that we should incorporate such commitments on the face of the Bill. As I mentioned before, there is an obvious problem of definition with the terms "business" or "non-public sector"--I am not entirely sure how they would be defined, and what would happen in a court case if there were argument on the definition--and "national respect". I am sure that many Members of this House are the subject of great national respect, but some people might debate that.

We have discussed at great length the issues in Amendment No. 3. I made clear at Second Reading and in Committee that the Government want and are fully committed to ensuring that the business sector should play a major role in the strategic decision-making and planning that the LSC undertakes.

In response to the Committee stage debates, the CBI welcomed,

    "the Government's commitment to business involvement; and the fact that the LSC will take account of the sectoral skills needs of industry".

I could repeat the assurances and commitments given in Committee, but since the CBI has noted and warmly welcomed our commitments, I hope that the noble Baroness can do the same. I do not believe that there is any need to put this provision on the face of the Bill. Nor am I aware of pressure from elsewhere that it should be on the face of the Bill.

Turning to Amendment No. 4, I accept that the noble Baroness now seeks to secure a quota of 20 per cent rather than 25 per cent, thereby allowing more representation of other groups. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that if we have too many percentage quotas on the face of the Bill, the situation will become inflexible. It could lead to difficulties when we have to take into account other people and bodies which must be represented on the learning and skills council.

I reassure noble Lords once again that local authorities will have a major role in the new arrangements. As we shall hear later, we are looking to strengthen the framework for consulting local authorities on local LSC plans. They will be central partners not only in securing and providing learning opportunities in schools and through adult and community learning, but also as organisations which can provide vision and leadership for local communities. I believe that they have an important role.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, asked about definitions. I am not sure about the relevance of that to these clauses, but wherever the Bill specifies "local education authority", it refers only to local education authorities. Where it refers to "local authorities", it can include LEAs as well as district councils. I hope that that answers his question.

As I said previously, if a suitable individual with current local government experience were appointed to the council, that would serve to strengthen the links with the LGA. However, it would be wrong to specify the number or to guarantee a quota of places for the

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LGA and its representatives. In any case, we do not want members of the council to be delegates or nominees of any particular organisation. Members of the council, wherever they come from, should serve the interest of the council as a whole,

I accept the principle behind Amendment No. 5, which is that the period of the term of office of the chairman will be between three and five years. That is in line with guidance from the office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, which we have made a public commitment to follow. But setting that in stone in the legislation would make no allowance for exceptional circumstances in which, for some reason, we may need to appoint a chairman for a different period of time. For instance, the principle would not allow the short-term appointment of a chairman to see through a period of change before a longer-term appointment could be made. We need to retain flexibility in these matters.

As regards Amendment No. 6, I am disappointed that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has felt the need to return to the issue. In Committee, I gave the noble Baroness a full explanation of the reason why Clause 1(3) was so drafted. By way of reply, the noble Baroness launched into what I thought was an unnecessary attack on parliamentary counsel, accusing them of pedantry. The noble Baroness is insisting that Clause 1(3) be amended so that the indefinite article "a" is replaced by the adjective "each". Without wishing to be pedantic myself, I simply repeat that the legal effect of the amendment would be precisely zero. That is because under Section 6 of the Interpretation Act 1978,

    "unless the contrary intention appears ... words in the singular include the plural and words in the plural include the singular".

Therefore, the effect of Section 6 of the Interpretation Act is that, when Clause 1(3) sets out to what the Secretary of State must have regard in appointing "a" member, it applies to his appointment of all members. I hope that with that assurance, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will not feel the need to press her amendment.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Baroness for giving way. She said that she had answered my question. Perhaps before she leaves the matter I may respectfully say that she did not. The answer to my question is either "yes", "no" or "do not know". I do not want to press the noble Baroness now, but will she be good enough to read Hansard and answer my question, which is specifically related to Clause 1, Schedule 1 and Clause 2? That is all I ask.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, yes, I shall be happy to do that.

Perhaps I may return to the effect of Section 6 of the Interpretation Act. When Clause 1(3) sets out to what the Secretary of State must have regard in appointing "a" member, it applies to his appointment of all members.

Amendment No. 8, which was spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, seeks to limit the number of terms which a member of the LSC may serve. With

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regard to the tenure of members, the Government have stated that they will adhere to the guidelines set out in the code of practice for public appointments. The last thing that they would want to see is people permanently in such jobs. Of course there must be fresh blood and limits to the length of time that chairmen and others may serve, but the code of practice for public appointments states that chairs and members should normally serve for a maximum of two terms.

However, I am sure that the noble Baroness will appreciate that there may be exceptional circumstances in which a member's final term may need to be extended. That might happen, for example, when a degree of stability is needed due to a large number of members simultaneously reaching the end of their period of office, or a large number of resignations taking place for some reason. The guidance allows for such exceptional circumstances. However, setting the provision in legislation raises difficult questions of interpretation; for instance, what "normally" means and so forth. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baronesses, Lady Blatch and Lady Sharp, will accept our clear and repeatedly expressed intentions on those issues of appointment and that we shall be bound by the relevant guidance. I hope that with those assurances they will feel able to withdraw their amendments.

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her response. She totally missed the point as regards the first amendment. It asks why it has been thought necessary to provide in Clause 1 that the council shall include a chairman and not a chief executive and why it has been thought fit to provide in the schedule that it shall include a chief executive and not a chairman? Furthermore, the schedule includes references to subsequent appointments.

One of the weakest defensive arguments ever to be used by a Minister--I am culpable and probably used it myself--is to say, "It has always been done like this and we shall continue with it". I am afraid that that is not an answer.

As regards the noble Baroness's disparaging comments about me using the words "commands national respect", I took them verbatim from col. 539 of Hansard. They were the words of the noble Lord, Lord Bach, on 8th February and I thought that if they were good enough for him, they were good enough for me and for the consideration of this House.

I understand what the noble Baroness said about the term of office not being set out on the face of the Bill. It is helpful to have the Government's explanation on the record. However, will reference be made to the term of office in any job advertisement or job description for the post?

As regards the definite article, yes, we are becoming a little pedantic, but so often lay people must make sense of legalese. I make no apologies for being slightly critical of counsel, who write for counsel readers. The truth is that when the law is interpreted, it must have

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a practical meaning to those who implement it. However, as the noble Baroness said, although the indefinite article subsumes the plural, what happens when it is meant to mean only the singular? What happens when the indefinite article is meant to include the plural? What, then, does "council" suggest? There are occasions in legislation when "a" is used to mean a specific person, one thing or one aspect of a Bill. Therefore, the indefinite article becomes appropriate. However, to say that it always includes the plural is, frankly, not right.

I am not entirely happy with the answers. As I said, no reason has been given as to why the chairman and chief executive have been treated differently. It is possible that a person who reads Clause 1 will understand that a council will have 12 to 16 members, one of whom will be a chairman, and that that will be the only prescribed post. It is not until one reads almost to the end of the Bill that one finds, hidden away in a schedule, that another post of the council is prescribed to be held by the chief executive. I believe that that is unfortunate. They should either both be on the face of the Bill in Clause 1 or both in the schedule together so that no one is left, as I am, wondering why they should be treated differently, even if that has been the case in the past. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

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