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Baroness Blackstone moved Amendments Nos. 76 and 77:

    Page 10, line 2, at end insert--

("(c) any strategy prepared by any relevant local authority under section 4 of the Local Government Act 2000 (strategies for promoting well-being).").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 78 and 79 not moved.]

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 80:

    Page 10, line 5, leave out ("education").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 81 and 82 not moved.]

13 Mar 2000 : Column 1416

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 83:

    Page 10, line 26, at end insert--

("(d) "local authority" means a local authority as defined in section 1(a) of the Local Government Act 2000 and the Greater London Authority;
(e) a local authority is a relevant authority if any of its area falls within the area of the local council concerned.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

11.15 p.m.

Clause 25 [Directions]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendments Nos. 84 to 86:

    Page 11, line 5, at end insert ("; and the directions may include any provisions described in subsections (2) to (2B)").

    Page 11, line 6, leave out ("include") and insert ("contain").

    Page 11, line 10, at end insert--

("(2A) Subsection (2B) applies if the Secretary of State is satisfied that the Council--
(a) has failed to discharge a duty imposed by or under any Act, or
(b) has acted or is proposing to act unreasonably with respect to the exercise of a power conferred or the performance of a duty imposed by or under any Act.
(2B) 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.
(2C) Directions may contain provision described in subsection (2B) despite any enactment making the exercise of a power or performance of a duty contingent on the Council's opinion.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 87:

    Page 11, line 12, at end insert (", or

(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").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, with this amendment we return to Clause 25, which I know has been amended by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. But, unfortunately, it has not been amended in quite the way I expected. I am concerned about the conditions that the Secretary of State can impose on local councils. I believe that the Secretary of State should not have the right to direct that local authorities should close sixth forms.

The Minister said that the clause could be made clearer. One of those unclear provisions related to some of the conditions that could be placed on a local council and the subjective nature of some of the judgments that would form the foundational basis for any directions made by a Secretary of State, or any conditions laid on a council. I regard that as a serious concern. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, we discussed an identical amendment moved by the noble Baroness in Committee. I told noble Lords then that Clause 25 secures the Secretary of State's powers to direct the LSC, as a last resort, where the proper use of large amounts of public funds is in question. I also made it clear that there is nothing novel in such a provision. I also explained that a clear precedent lay in the current

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direction-making powers of the Secretary of State and the National Assembly in respect of the FEFCs, under Section 56 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992.

The noble Baroness has suggested that the Secretary of State would issue directions as a matter of course and that the council would be unreasonably constrained by them and have to make its routine planning in line with them. That is really not the case. However, as a last resort, it is essential that the Secretary of State should be able to intervene to direct the council. As the noble Baroness said, we have already debated government amendments that clarify that the Secretary of State would issue directions if he was satisfied that the council was in breach of any duty under this or any other Act, or had acted, or proposed to act, unreasonably.

The noble Baroness said that she is particularly concerned to prevent the Secretary of State issuing directions on how the LSC should exercise its functions in respect of any reorganisation of LEA 16 to 19 provision. In this connection, perhaps I should remind noble Lords that the LSC has three main functions in this area: first, it will be participating as a voting member on school organisation committees; secondly, it will be making proposals, where agreed with the governing body and the LEA, for the incorporation of LEA 16 to 19 institutions; and, thirdly, it will be making proposals for the closure of 16 to 19 LEA provision, which Ofsted has found to be inadequate in two consecutive reports. If, for example, the Secretary of State believed on receipt of a complaint from a parent or teacher that the council had acted unreasonably in respect of any of those functions, the government amendments to this clause ensure that he could intervene. However, the amendment of the noble Baroness would prevent him doing so.

On the previous occasion, the noble Baroness implied that, without her amendment, the Secretary of State would be able to direct the council to take action that would eclipse the responsibilities of LEAs for the 16 to 19 provision that they maintain. I cannot set out more clearly than I have just done the very limited functions that the LSC will have in respect of such provision. In Committee, we debated the way in which even these limited functions come with safeguards. I do not know how to set out more explicitly that the Secretary of State would direct the council in relation to these limited functions only if he believed that the council was acting unreasonably.

When we last debated this issue, the noble Baroness was also puzzled about how this clause protected public funds when directions may not concern the provision of financial resources in respect of activities carried on by a particular person or persons. I believe that there may be some confusion here. The Secretary of State may certainly give general directions about the use of public funds; and the LSC has powers of its own to ensure that public funds are used properly by individual institutions and providers. We have already

13 Mar 2000 : Column 1418

debated some aspects of these in relation to Clause 6. The chief executive of the LSC will, of course, have his own personal responsibilities as the accounting officer.

However, we think that it would be entirely inappropriate for the Secretary of State to be able to tell the LSC how much money should go to a particular provider. That must be a matter for the judgment of the LSC, because it is the LSC that has the duty to make provision. If the Secretary of State could direct the LSC that such and such a college or school should have such and such an amount of money, he would immediately be open to accusations of favouritism and even of political interference. It is quite right that we should separate this out.

Much the same arrangements apply to further and higher education at present and we think that it is a sensible arrangement. But if there were serious and justified concerns about financial mismanagement which warranted the intervention of the Secretary of State, this would be possible under Section 57 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992.

I hope that I have now made clear the distinction here. There is a difference between the decision-making required to make funding allocations to individual providers and the action that is required if those funds are considered to be at risk. In these circumstances, and in the light of the explanations that I have given, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am becoming almost cynical as we progress through the Bill. It seems that the department works extremely hard to counter any reasonable idea of bringing some clarification and refinement to the Bill. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 26 [Committees]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 88:

    Leave out Clause 26.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I have stated my feelings clearly concerning the proliferation of committees and the most unbelievable bureaucracy that the Bill incurs. I do not think that I have come across a Bill that has set up such a bureaucratic superstructure. Clause 26 refers to the power to set up committees.

The most sensible way for the national council to go about its work would be from time to time to commission specific work to be done, for example reviews, surveys or in-depth thinking about a particular aspect of delivering services to young people and adults below and above the age of 19. It is depressing to see provision for more standing committees. The Bill contains the power to establish a standing committee and also the power to set up any other committees. The provision appears to be open-ended. There is little information on that in the financial memorandum.

These committees could last for all time. They are proper standing committees. We all know that once a standing committee is set up it will spawn work and

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certainly a secretariat. It will certainly require support, equipment and accommodation. Endless other people will attend the proceedings as observers. I do not believe that that is the most effective way to look for innovative ideas to develop and provide services for young people and adults. I have a total aversion to setting up standing committees in the way that is proposed and also to the open-ended commitment for the council to set up any number of committees as it wishes.

There is no reference anywhere in the Bill to a requirement to have regard to the cost of setting up such committees; to the life of such committees; to the number of such committees; or to the number of people who serve on such committees. The Secretary of State has yet another finger in a pie approving the appointments to the committees, the chairmen of the committees and the conditions under which they work. This is another example of the heavy-handed, top down approach with, as I say, yet more bureaucracy. I do not believe that this will genuinely further the needs of young people or of adult learners. I beg to move.

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