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Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, in speaking to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, I wish to speak also to the government amendments to Clause 25.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has returned to the concerns which she and others expressed during our debates on Clause 11 in Committee that the power available to the LSC to appoint additional governors, where there were concerns about institutions, was open-ended and had no trigger mechanism.

The amendments tabled by the noble Baroness would place restrictions on the use of that power. I made clear in our earlier debates on Clause 11 that the Government consider that there should not be any restrictions placed on the circumstances in which the LSC can make an early intervention, and our position on that has not changed.

We are clear that the LSC should be able to intervene at an early stage where there are concerns. It should not be constrained by conditions which could lead to the worsening of a problem. The Secretary of State and the National Assembly announced last year, as part of the revised accountability framework for FE colleges, that the FEFCE and FEFCW should be able to intervene at individual colleges by nominating up to two governors. Clauses 11 and 39 provide for the LSC and the CETW respectively to have the same capability but will provide for them to have the power to appoint up to two additional members to any college governing body as they consider necessary.

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Noble Lords must bear in mind that there are already powers for the funding council to provide for additional members on governing bodies. We covered that matter in Committee. The present arrangements allow an unrestricted power to nominate additional members. The power to appoint simply ensures that there can be no delay or blockage before new members take up their new posts. I am a little puzzled as to why the noble Baroness is still concerned. We debated this clause thoroughly in Committee. Indeed, I was most grateful during that debate for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and the pertinent example he gave from his own experience on the then Polytechnics and College Funding Council.

Since that debate, my officials have met with the AoC. Its representatives said that they understand the reasons why the Government want to give that power to the LSC and why we do not want to constrain its use with unnecessary restrictions. They have made it clear that they no longer oppose in any way the clause as it stands. Professor Melville, at the FEFC, has indicated also to the department that he welcomes the power to nominate additional governors.

Perhaps the noble Baroness is concerned that the power to nominate will threaten the autonomy of FE governing bodies. I do not believe that it will. We are allowing a maximum of only two additional members. The minimum number on any governing body is 12 and in many cases it is nearer the maximum of 20. An extra two members will not, therefore, have an effect on the autonomy of governing bodies. As I have explained, the power will allow the LSC and CETW to intervene; for example, where they consider there might be mismanagement or potential mismanagement by the governing body or where there are signs that the educational provision at the college is failing. The councils must be able to do so before the problem becomes so serious as to warrant intervention by the Secretary of State or the National Assembly. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, was fully aware of that provision and she was extremely helpful in conceding the desirability to intervene in such circumstances. Any constraints on that power would defeat that aim.

However, there may also be occasions when a college wants to invite the LSC to appoint an additional governor to assist with a difficult situation or to provide specialist expertise. Restrictions on the use of the power would prevent the LSC or CETW from making that kind of appointment.

I turn now to the government amendments. During our earlier debate on the clause I promised to bring forward amendments to ensure that the Secretary of State could intervene if he felt that the LSC was using its power to appoint members inappropriately. The amendments which I propose to Clause 25 will allow any college which considers that the LSC, in appointing additional governors, is not acting appropriately to take the matter up with the Secretary of State who, if he agrees, may intervene.

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Amendments Nos. 84, 85 and 86 will allow the Secretary of State, and Amendments Nos. 102, 103 and 104 the National Assembly, to intervene if the LSC or CETW fail to discharge a duty placed upon them by or for the purposes of any Act of Parliament.

Intervention would also be possible in the event that the LSC or CETW act or propose to act unreasonably in the exercise of their functions. If, for example, a college was concerned that the LSC had decided to appoint additional governors under Clause 11 without reasonable cause, they would be able to complain to the Secretary of State. If he agreed that the appointment was inappropriate, he would then be able to intervene and issue directions accordingly. Of course, this power of intervention will be more wide-ranging than this and will apply generally to all the functions of the LSC and CETW.

The amendments are clearly sensible in view of the wide-ranging powers of the new NDPBs. The Secretary of State has similar powers at present in respect of the FEFC and, indeed, over LEAs and governing bodies where they have acted or are proposing to act unreasonably in the exercise of their statutory powers. This approach follows current precedent provided for by the former government in the Further and Higher Education Act 1992.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for, in a sense, provoking the Government to table amendments in this regard. They provide important clarification and will, I hope, address at least in part the concerns expressed in Committee by the noble Baroness. The noble Baroness is concerned that there is no qualification on the use of the power. The amendments introduce qualifications. Given that we will be placing a restriction on the power to appoint governors so that it may not be used unreasonably, I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to reconsider and withdraw her amendment.

Perhaps I may add that Section 496 of the Education Act 1996 gives the Secretary of State power to direct governing bodies, LEAs and head teachers if they fail to act in accordance with their statutory duties. We are simply replicating that approach in this power. The FEFC can be directed by the Secretary of State in similar circumstances, although the power of direction--Sections 5, 6 and 7 of the 1992 Act--is phrased a little differently but to entirely the same effect. I hope that that responds to the queries raised by the noble Baroness.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps she can explain the meaning of the words in Amendment No. 86 which states:

    "In such a case directions may contain such provision as the Secretary of State thinks fit as to the exercise of the Council's powers and performance of its duties".

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the point I have just made refers to Amendment No. 86. The approach is taken directly from Section 496 of the Education Act

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1996. It simply means that the Secretary of State can intervene if the council fails to act on a duty, not on a power.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I shall read carefully the words of the noble Baroness. It is comforting that the Bill now provides both a triggering mechanism and conditions under which the powers would be used. I believe that will be welcomed in Wales as well as in England. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 12 [Research and information.]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 48:

    Page 6, line 28, at end insert--

("( ) The Secretary of State shall publish any request he makes under this section.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 48, grouped with Amendments Nos. 49 to 51, returns to the issue of performance information. When we discussed this before, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, made reference to the fact that some provision was entirely privately funded and stated that therefore it would be difficult to require this sort of information. My amendment therefore states that only publicly-funded education and training should provide such information.

As regards Amendment No. 48 it seems to me important that when asking for information, in the interests of open government and transparency, any request by the Secretary of State is made public so that the world at large, not least the institutions, can be privy to the information given in response to the request from the Secretary of State.

Amendment No. 49 provides that the council must publish annually information about the number of students in each age cohort obtaining any publicly-funded qualifications approved under Section 90. That seems to me to be straightforward. I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment.

Again, Amendment No. 50 states:

    "The Council must publish annually information about the number of students in each age cohort working towards any publicly-funded qualification approved under section 90".

That information,

    "working towards [and achieving] any publicly-funded qualification"

gives some indication of what is going on in institutions.

Finally, my Amendment No. 51 asks that,

    "The Council must publish annually information about the number and percentage of people in each age cohort achieving each level of publicly-funded qualification approved under section 90, making due allowance for individuals achieving more than one approved qualification".

It is really an argument for making this public information available to all. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, is not here. I believe that he was equally interested in information. I noticed that he was sufficiently cogent in pressing his case that he gained a concession from the Government. I beg to move.

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9.30 p.m.

Lord Bach: My Lords, Amendment No. 48 was tabled at Committee stage. I made it clear at the time that while we are fully committed to the principle of open government, due regard must be paid to ensuring the privacy of personal and commercially important policy information. That remains the case. It may not always be appropriate for the Secretary of State to publish every request; for example, if the request related to future expenditure or other commercial-in-confidence information. That is why we cannot accept the amendment as it stands.

Amendments Nos. 49, 50 and 51 are similar to amendments discussed in Committee. I undertook to consider any amendments that the noble Baroness tabled in the light of that debate. She has tabled amendments which refer only to provision which is publicly funded. I assure her that these amendments have been considered with care, as promised. But I will disappoint her when I say that the Government remain of the view that the existing provision is sufficient.

We agree with the noble Baroness's intention that achievements in post-16 learning should be monitored and evaluated, and we certainly intend that the LSC will be required to publish information at both local and national levels. But we do not require these provisions in primary legislation. Our guidance will allow us to ensure that the LSC publishes information to these and other ends. We suggest that that is a more appropriate means than the provisions in primary legislation that the amendments propose.

The noble Baroness's amendments are very specific about the information required and relate to a diverse range of circumstances in which external qualifications approved under Clause 90 of the Bill will be funded not just by the LSC but LEAs and other specified public funding bodies. We do not believe that bringing together the information in such a way will tell us very much that is of value. Nor will it provide a suitable alternative to existing measures of achievement such as the secondary and 16-18 performance tables or the measures of progress against the national learning targets for adults and young people. It will certainly be more than the LSC will need for financial and management purposes. We believe that we would therefore risk adding to the reporting burden on employers and institutions in order to obtain information that would have limited value. By having these requirements in primary legislation, we would be forsaking any flexibility to meet information needs which may change over time.

Moreover, the specification of the sort of information we will expect the LSC to publish is being developed now as part of the quality framework for the LSC and will be the subject of public consultation after Easter. It is therefore too early to say what these requirements should be.

Although we might expect some of the information referred to in these amendments to be gathered, the specific statutory requirements proposed would anticipate the outcome of the consultation and might not be compatible with changing information needs.

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Together with our earlier assurance that we will indeed be requiring the LSC to publish information, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

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