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Lord Hanningfield: I realised that I was doomed when the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, opposed the amendment. I thank the noble Baroness for that very extensive response. I shall read what has been said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Hanningfield: It is clear from some of our debates that we have a diverging education system on either side of the border. It is separate and distinct, which is only right with the creation of the Welsh Assembly. As we said several times at Second Reading, it would have been advantageous if we could have had a separate Bill to deal with the specific elements relating to Wales.
Although we have an assembly in Cardiff with its own education Minister handling the devolved responsibilities for education, it seems slightly odd that Members of your Lordships' House are being asked to take part in judgments on an area of devolved responsibility. However, I am of course aware that such powers are far more limited than is the case for the Scottish Parliament.
Make no mistake, I believe that this is the Parliament of the entire United Kingdom. However, when considering the lack of amendments tabled in respect of the Welsh elements of the Bill, it worries me that noble Lords may be under the impression that such areas are somehow off limits. We are concerned that we may be passing legislation while the expected level of scrutiny that this House demands is not being met, thus doing a gross disservice to the Welsh people.
Perhaps the Minister could take a moment to explainif he is unable to provide an answer today, perhaps he would write to mewhy we are discussing such matters of devolved responsibility. Which particular elements of the Welsh education policy are devolved and which are reserved? Which section of the Government of Wales Act 1998 is applicable to this concern, and what if any plans do the Government have to address this issue in the near future?
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: We do not agree with this suggestion because not only have we given Wales devolved responsibility but also, when the subject and this Bill were discussed with them, Assembly Members said that they were in favour of it. This is not something from out of the blue. As Campbell-Bannerman said many years ago
Lord Hanningfield: I thank the noble Lord; that is exactly what we are saying. We agree with devolved responsibility, but we feel that there should be a little more discussion here. The Bill does not have enough detail to enable us to consider it.
We agree that these are matters devolved to the Assembly, but almost every speaker at Second Reading remarked that it is a pity that there is no separate Welsh education Bill, which could then have devolved powers to Wales.
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I agree with the noble Lord. Our Question whether this clause should stand part provides the only opportunity for the Government to explain their reasoning before the provisions are devolved to the Welsh Assembly, and we agree with that.
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: I am glad to hear it. Time after time in debates of this kind we hear arguments that certain powers should be retained by the Westminster Parliament, or that the Welsh Assembly should report to this place. However, we say that we have to trust the Welsh Assembly.
Lord Hanningfield: I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again. The words I used were "separate", "distinct" and "only right with the creation of the Welsh Assembly". Devolution is right with regard to the Assembly. We seek to elicit from the Government their views on the provision before it devolves to the Assembly.
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: Shall we wait to see what the Minister has to say? Our concerns may be put to rest. However, I am so glad that the Conservative Party is now supporting devolutionand supporting it all the way, which it has not done in the past.
Baroness Andrews: I am sorry that that lively debate has come to an end. To be called to arbitrate between the two Opposition parties is rather a luxurious position. Moreover, I am glad that the noble Lord has confirmed the welcome given by the Conservatives to devolution in Wales.
Education and training are wholly devolved matters. I understand that certain provisions set out in Clause 61 will allow for changes to be made by regulation, but those will be based on consultation. That said, part of the answer to the noble Lord's fundamental question is that when changes are made in Wales following enabling provisions set out in legislation in this place, that is done, as always, on the basis of consultation undertaken in Wales. There is a dichotomy here. There is always some difficulty for us in the London Parliament discussing in detail Welsh affairs which we are not fully informed about. It is for the Assembly to get that right and to put consultation processes in place.
Let me explain why Wales has the ability to make changes at a later stage. A new inspection system was introduced in Wales in September 2004. Bringing all inspection within one framework is a major change. That puts a major new responsibility on the providers and on the inspection process. It is based on the principle that the scale of inspection should be proportionate to performance with scaled-down
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inspections for schools with a strong emphasis on high standards continually being achieved. The inspection process remains vigorous and effective.
Along with those changes and with this Bill it was recognised that there is some point in making a number of changes in legislation to support the implementation of the common inspection framework in Wales. However, the emphasis is on taking powers to amend inspection arrangements by regulation as the common inspection framework beds in. Any changes will be subject to full consultation with schools.
I believe that we should leave this subject there. These are matters for the Welsh Inspectorate and Welsh schools, the Welsh education framework and interested parties. The noble Lord is right; at Second Reading there was discussion about whether consideration had been given to a separate Bill for Wales. My noble friend subsequently wrote to the noble Lords, Lord Roberts and Lord Livsey of Talgarth, confirming that we had considered this. However, we thought that the synergies between the changes for England and Wales were strong enough to warrant a single Bill; in view of the large number of clauses covering England and Wales, that makes sense.
The most important point is that the department, the Welsh Office and the Assembly work well together so we get both the process and the outcome right. Whether we have a single or joint Bill is less important than whether its implementation is properly done and effective.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, is not in his place. He spoke very eloquently about what it was important to achieve in Wales. He said that Wales could adopt the new inspectorate system for England in its entirety but, having taken the view that this novel common inspection framework was only recently introduced, it was too early to change the system yet. That sounds reasonable enough. It is important that Wales should keep its options open. The noble Lord
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preferred any impression of lack of joined-up thinking to regretting a missed legislative opportunity by closing off an option early. Those were wise words.
I hope the noble Lord is reassured by that. The central provision has to be that inspection develops in a manner that is distinctive to and serves the needs of the learners. The provisions in Clause 61 will provide the Assembly with the necessary powers to develop an inspection framework which is sensitive to need but which is also progressive and consistent with what young people will need in the coming years. So I hope on that basis he will withdraw his objection.
Lord Hanningfield: I thank the Minister for that. I was never going to vote to remove part of this clause. I opposed the Question, that Clause 61 stand part in order to get the sort of answer that we have just had. We feltmy noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy was unable to stay for this debatethat there is a big chunk of the Bill about Wales but that there has not been that much discussion or amendments about it. Therefore it was not fair on Wales that we were not discussing this more. Yes, we have a Welsh Assembly; whether we agree with it or not it is here and has devolved powers. We felt that there should be more discussion in your Lordships' House.
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