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Lord Northbourne: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, does she agree that the admirable principles of equal opportunities of a general nature and the comprehensive approach which she enunciated of challenging discrimination and stereotyping wherever it is found are weakened by Amendment No. 55 which refers specifically to three particular groups which will be protected by this legislation? When a particular group is mentioned in legislation, the rights of and opportunities for all the other groups who may fall into the general class are
Baroness Blackstone: No, my Lords, I am afraid I do not agree with the noble Lord. I believe it is right to state categorically that we should not be discriminating against girls or women, ethnic minorities, disabled people or young people with a learning disability. It is perfectly appropriate to specify that because these groups have suffered from discrimination in many different areas of public life. It is right that we should make clear that we expect the LSC to work hard to ensure that that does not happen.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I ask the noble Baroness to give way for a moment. I am sorry to interrupt but we are on Report. Of course, the noble Baroness is entitled to ask questions to elucidate something the Minister said in her reply, but she cannot make a speech.
Baroness Warnock: My Lords, the question I wish to ask the Minister is whether, under the category of people with learning difficulties, she would include those who have emotional and behavioural difficulties and who, in the light of their past careers, might find it very difficult to be taken seriously by the council. If such people are included, then I shall be very happy to have them mentioned in a category in her amendment.
Lord Tope: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. I begin with the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington. I understand very well the point that he makes. My understanding is that this clause is about discrimination and not about teaching as such. I do not want to be drawn into a debate as to whether it is possible or desirable to teach non-religion. My understanding is that that would cover those who did not profess to have a religion, although if the wording needs to be tightened I would not be worried about that. It is the principle that I am trying to convey. I believe that on this issue the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, and I are at one.
I have no doubt also that the Minister and I are at one over what we want to achieve. I hope that I made that clear, but perhaps I may do so again. I welcome the Minister's two amendments although my feeling is that they do not go far enough. I have some sympathy for the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, who described herself as a wimp. I would not have been so rude in that regard, but she expressed exactly my concern that we are specifying three important areas of discrimination and in doing so drawing attention to
In reply the Minister made reference to what is a new body, the importance of establishing it as such, and being at the cutting edge. Not so long ago I spent many happy hours here setting up another new body, the Greater London Authority. We eventually included a provision in what is now an Act, specifically giving the new authority a duty in all these areas of discrimination. To have done that for one new body and now quite deliberately leaving it out for another is a form of discrimination itself. It is a mistake.
I do not doubt the Minister's belief that the matter is covered in the prospectus and that there will be a strong duty on the national council. One could argue there is no need to make any reference in the Bill. But we are, and we have welcomed it. I feel quite strongly that if we are to make a reference, it should be a comprehensive one--not a partial reference, as it is now. It is almost a retrograde step which I very much regret.
Similarly, we are not imposing any duty on the local councils because they will be benchmarked by the national council which will require them to deliver and so forth. That argument could be used for not having the government amendments as regards the national council. If it is a priority for the local councils, as the Minister and I believe, then that too should be on the face of the Bill, not least because its omission, having put the onus on the national council, in a sense has a reverse effect.
In many ways the proviso is possibly more important on a local council at local level where in some cases it is business dominated and the matter is not necessarily at the top of the agenda. I have some regret about not pressing the amendment. I hope that the Minister will think further. I welcome the step that has been taken today, but I urge the Government to turn it into a bigger stride and to give a more wholehearted and all-embracing commitment to equality of opportunity before the Bill is finally enacted. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 10 and 11. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, invited me to bring back these three amendments because I confused appointing staff with appointing the chief executive. I agreed; hence Amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 11.
My third amendment I admitted to when speaking to these amendments before they were withdrawn at the previous stage of the Bill. I refer to the battle that I lost in the back room and in this Chamber when dealing with a previous Bill. When a body is set up and the Government argue strongly that it is not a top-down arrangement and not everything is emanating from the Secretary of State, why is it that the Secretary of State has an absolute right to attend the meetings?
It seems to me that once the council is set up, as has happened when similar bodies have been established in the past, it should, if it wishes, have representatives of the Secretary of State or the holder of that office present at council meetings. But it should be at the discretion of the council. If we are to dispel any fears that the Bill is a top-down, influential arrangement, then it should be the council which invites the Secretary of State or his or her representatives to attend meetings. I beg to move.
Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right. We agreed that we should return to these issues today on Report. Paragraph 5(2) of the schedule, as the noble Baroness says, provides that the terms and conditions (including pay) on which the council employs staff are for the council itself to determine but
The LSC will be a large, non-departmental public body within the public sector employing significant numbers of staff. It is a standard provision for such NDPBs that the Secretary of State should be able to approve their proposed terms and conditions to ensure that public sector employment policies are observed. By way of example, perhaps I may refer the noble Baroness to Schedule 1 to the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 and Schedule 2 to the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998, both of which are fairly recent examples under successive governments of how this problem has been approached. We do not believe that we should take a different attitude in this Bill.
Amendment No. 10 refers to the part of Schedule 1 which deals with members' interests. Under this provision, a member of the national LSC cannot take part in discussions or decisions of the national council where that member has disclosed an interest in the outcome. The noble Baroness asked what the word "disability" means in that context. It really means disclosing an interest.
The intention of sub-paragraphs (6) to (8) is to allow the Secretary of State to remove that bar where appropriate. If the amendment were passed, it would no longer be possible for the Secretary of State to intervene. It is of course right that LSC members with an interest should disclose that interest when such matters are discussed and should normally be barred from taking part in relevant deliberations and decisions in which they have an interest. We believe that an unqualified application of these provisions could lead to perverse consequences. I shall give one hypothetical example. If a principal of a further education college who was on the national council was unable to take part in general debates on priorities for resource allocation because the outcome would inevitably have some impact on his or her college, we do not think it would be in the public interest for that principal necessarily not to take part in the discussions on that broad topic. We believe that there should be a provision for the Secretary of State to lift such a bar on an individual member when he judges that it is sensible. This is standard provision in legislation which establishes NDPBs. I refer to Schedule 2 to the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998. We believe that it is right that this power should be with the Secretary of State rather than the council in order to ensure that such decisions are made in a detached and considered way.
The noble Baroness's third amendment would remove the entitlement of the Secretary of State to have a representative present at any meeting of the council and take part in any deliberations at these meetings. It would make the representative's attendance subject to the approval of the council.
However, I say to the noble Baroness that we believe it right that the representative should be there to inform and observe. I repeat what has been often said: the LSC will be responsible for spending a huge amount of public money--£6 billion. It will be important that the relationship between the council, the department and the Secretary of State is a close one. We believe that an arrangement whereby the Secretary of State's observer attends meetings but does not take part in decisions strikes about the right balance.
I hope I have explained to some extent the thinking behind the way in which the Bill appears, and that the noble Baroness will not press these amendments.
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