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The Minister suggested in Committee that the LSC could always go to judicial review. How often has a non-departmental public body gone to judicial review and won against a Secretary of State? Does the Minister really believe that the LSC would approve a recommendation from its chief executive that it go to judicial review? Does he believe that the chief executive would ever make such a recommendation? The trouble is that the Government have not studied the psychology and practice of non-departmental public body management. Ministers forget that sanctions, potential or otherwise, erode confidence. Having eroded confidence and thus damaged performance, they tighten the screw—as is proposed here. Confidence is further eroded. These powers of direction should be dropped. Direction should be kept for its conventional constitutional purpose: matters of administration and of last resort. If my amendment were agreed, consequential government

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amendments would be needed in other clauses. The constitutional argument would be the same. I beg to move.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the noble Viscount returns to an issue that he raised in Committee: the legitimacy of directions by Ministers on policy or routine management. Perhaps I could seek to reassure him again that it is not our intention to act unreasonably in this regard. The sort of matters that we envisage being subject to directions rather than guidance include the organisations and bodies to be consulted in preparing a strategy on the part of the respective learning and skills council, the form of and broad areas to be covered by the strategy, and matters to which a body should “have regard” when preparing its strategy. It is our firm intention to keep directions high-level and specific. We have demonstrated this clearly in the draft directions that we have already published for the strategy-making body for London, which I made available to noble Lords at an earlier stage. That document set out very clearly the scope of proposed directions. Those directions concern the form and content of the London strategy-making body. The strategy must,

It sets out the elements that must be covered by the strategy. It also sets out a process for updating the strategy, stating that it must be set for a period of five years and formally reviewed and updated annually. It also sets out arrangements for consultation when formulating or reviewing a strategy, including listing the bodies that should be consulted.

We do not regard those as unreasonable matters that the strategy-making body should have regard to in devising a strategy; on the contrary, if we were not able to give assurances that these matters would be pursued by the respective strategy-making body, I believe we would be in dereliction of our duties to Parliament. So we think that the matters covered by the proposed directions are reasonable and, on that basis, I do not believe that the issues raised by the noble Viscount apply. However, as he says, as a last resort, there could be a judicial review if the Secretary of State sought to act unreasonably. Although I cannot give him the figures for judicial reviews in this area, they are common within the public sector where it is thought that public bodies act unreasonably.

Viscount Eccles: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation. With regard to the last point, I think that there is a difference between judicial reviews raised by private bodies and bodies among the public and those that might be raised by a non-departmental public body taking on its own Secretary of State. I do not think that that has happened very often, if ever.

I do not disagree at all with the Minister that those matters need to be covered. My point is quite different: they can be covered in the Bill and by

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guidance, letters and dialogue. It is the constitutional issue relating to directions about which I am concerned. However, I have heard the Minister’s explanation, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.45 pm

Baroness Walmsley moved Amendment No. 8:

(i) local area agreements approved under section 82 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, and (ii) local improvement targets as defined in section 83 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, which have been prepared by any responsible local authority where the area of authority falls within the area of the order made under subsection (1);”

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 9, 21 and 22, which are grouped with Amendment No. 8. Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 are similar to Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 proposed by these Benches in Grand Committee. They would insert a new section in the Learning and Skills Act 2000 enabling the Learning and Skills Council to work with city region councils, which develop their own labour market strategies, as in the case of London, covered elsewhere in the Bill.

The first amendment would ensure that any such strategy took account of local area agreements and local improvement targets. The second amendment relates to consultations which should be carried out in formulating such strategies and asks that they should include not only the responsible local authorities but also partner authorities working with them. If this duty is not placed on the new strategic body, there is a danger that conflicting strategies will emerge to the detriment of learners in the area and the effectiveness of the programmes.

The Minister was reluctant to burden the Bill with this detail and claimed that the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill, which is currently passing through another place, will cover these matters. His reassurances have not convinced the Local Government Association, which has asked us to lay this amendment again to indicate the strength of its feeling on the matter. Can the Minister assure the House that the new regional strategic body would not be able to make decisions without regard to these agreements and targets?

Amendments Nos. 21 and 22 have not appeared previously in the Marshalled List. They would ensure that the Learning and Skills Council gave active regard to representations from the local authority when considering either the establishment or dissolution of a further education corporation and that it provided those authorities with written information and reasons for such decisions.

Councils have duties with regard to schools and entitlements and options for pupils over the age of 14, and they have a strategic lead with regard to 14 to 19 education. They also have duties to fulfil every child’s

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educational potential under the Education and Inspections Act 2006, and they share responsibility for monitoring admissions, planning sufficient places and building schools for the future. All those responsibilities will be impacted by LSC decisions to open or close colleges of further education. The LSC therefore must exercise its powers to reorganise colleges in close consultation with local authorities. I beg to move.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment No. 11, which is grouped. As your Lordships will be aware, in Grand Committee, there was a very lengthy discussion about the position of London, to which the amendment relates. It was understood, I think, that London is in a special situation because there are skill disparities in London, a high unemployment rate of 7.5 per cent—higher than the national average—and high child poverty rates. Of course, it was understood that skill levels are only one dimension in all this, but they are an important one. There was general agreement that it was right that there should be a special role for the mayor in seeing through the strategy in London and in establishing and chairing a new London skills and employment board.

Our only problem is that the Bill seems to make that a matter for the Secretary of State's discretion. Although that might be all right today, one does not know what may happen in future. Therefore, we felt it necessary to have an amendment that makes it obligatory on the Secretary of State to ensure that the board is established and permanent—that those arrangements continue with no question of them being withdrawn by some future Secretary of State.

I must say that when we had that discussion and many people agreed with that view in Grand Committee, my noble friend made an extremely sympathetic response. We were very pleased that he responded in the way that he did. Since then, I have had a very welcome letter from him indicating general agreement with that. That being the case, when the amendment is called, seriatim in its place, I intend to move it and hope to receive the endorsement of the House.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, on succeeding where many of us have failed.

I am glad that the Government have come some way in amendments to be moved in a later group to meet the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, in Grand Committee and again here by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. However, the government amendment to allow the Secretary of State to specify other people and organisations which the Learning and Skills Council should consult falls a long way short of providing sufficient reassurance. In reply to this amendment or when he moves his amendments, can the Minister confirm which organisations he intends to include in guidance?

The Learning and Skills Council has enormous powers over further education providers and will have yet more when the Bill goes through. It is only right that those powers are wielded with the utmost care to

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ensure that local organisations are listened to and their concerns acted on. I hope that the Government will consider whether the amendment moved by the noble Baroness can be more positively incorporated into theirs.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, on her success in being so persuasive with the Government. I must take some lessons from her privately. I am grateful to the Minister for succumbing to her persuasion.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I start with the London skills and employment board. In Grand Committee, I promised that if my noble friend Lady Turner wished to table her amendment to Clause 4 again on Report, we would give it very sympathetic consideration. She has done so and I can say that we are glad to accept it. We always intended to put the arrangements for the existing non-statutory London skills and employment board on a firm and permanent footing. The amendment gives us the opportunity to do so, which we are glad to embrace. We are also glad that it has such wide support across the House.

On Amendments Nos. 8, 9, 21 and 22 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, let me say first that we share entirely the objectives of the noble Baroness in respect of consultation with local authorities and the need to take account of local area agreements. However, as I said in Grand Committee, we do not believe that these amendments are necessary. In the first place, the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill will place a duty on local authorities to co-operate with partner authorities, of which the Learning and Skills Council is one, when producing local area agreements. The Bill also proposes that partner authorities such as the LSC must, in exercising their functions, have regard to every local improvement target specified in the local area agreement which relates to it. That, I believe, goes a considerable way towards meeting the objectives set out by the noble Baroness.

However, in terms of the duties on the further education sector itself, we believe that the right place to refer to these matters is in direction and guidance. We have been considering how to take forward the issue of strengthening directions and guidance to ensure that the process takes place. Although the published draft of the directions and guidance does not currently refer to local area agreements and local improvement targets, we intend to ensure that the matters referred to in Amendment No. 8, as proposed in the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill, are addressed in the final version of the directions and guidance. That will meet the objective set out in Amendment No. 8.

Turning to Amendments Nos. 21 and 22, I understand the concern to ensure that the Learning and Skills Council consults the community, including the relevant local authority, where there are proposals to establish or dissolve further education corporations. Such consultation is already a fundamental part of the process of establishing and dissolving further education corporations and it will continue to be so. Regulations

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are already in place which set out the process for publishing proposals to establish and dissolve corporations. While some minor amendments to the existing regulations are required to reflect the transfer of powers from the Secretary of State to the Learning and Skills Council, we intend to keep the current process set out in those regulations in place. They prescribe both the type of information that must be included in the proposal and the manner in which it must be published. The proposal must include the rationale for the action being proposed and there is an existing requirement for all proposals to be sent to the local authority in the area the institution is situated, or is proposed to be situated. Under the regulations, following a period of at least one calendar month, any representations from the community, including the relevant local authority, have to be considered by the Learning and Skills Council before a decision is made to establish or to dissolve a further education corporation and, as I have said, these provisions will be retained in the new regulations to be made under Section 51 as amended. Local authorities will therefore have information on the rationale for the proposed action. They will also have the ability to comment on those proposals and to have those comments formally considered before any decision can be made. So I hope that the matters raised by the noble Baroness are fully met.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and I am delighted with what he has told us about the final version of the directions and guidance. I suppose it only goes to show that when writing amendments for any Bill, one must have on one’s desk a large pile of the previous Bills, and now future Bills that have not come before us yet as well. I soon learnt that no Bill is an island in this place. So I thank the noble Lord for his reassurances. Taken together, his comments go a long way towards satisfying my concerns. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 not moved.]

Baroness Turner of Camden moved Amendment No. 11:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 12:

(a) identify which of the comments submitted by the Assembly are accepted by the body for implementation in the strategy, and (b) set out the reasons why any comments so submitted are not accepted.”

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The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 13. These amendments also concern the position in London. Perhaps I should start by reminding noble Lords—although it may be that readers of the Evening Standard need little reminding—that London really does have a government which is quite unlike that in any other city. It has a single-person executive; it also has a scrutiny body. Amendment No. 12 is about the scrutiny role of the London Assembly, which is one of the two constituent parts of the Greater London Authority.

Under the Greater London Authority Act the Mayor is required to consult the Assembly and others in preparing and revising a large number of strategies. The Greater London Authority Bill, currently in another place, strengthens the scrutiny role and the amendment seeks to place that strategy on all fours with the other strategies. The same language is used as in the Greater London Authority Bill that regard must be had to comments submitted by the Assembly; a written statement and response must be received; comments by the Assembly that are accepted should be identified and reasons set out for not accepting any comments. I have been in correspondence with the Minister and I thank him for his letter responding to my concerns encapsulated in this and the next amendment.

The Minister distinguishes this strategy, saying that it is part of the national skills strategy framework—indeed it is—and that the Secretary of State will resolve disputes. There is not so great a distinction. All mayoral strategies sit within a framework, the different subject areas. The Secretary of State has considerable reserve powers. When we were debating that Act we discovered, because someone had counted, perhaps with the use of a computer, that there were more mentions of the Secretary of State than there were of the Mayor. To argue that this strategy is different because of the Secretary of State’s role and because of the policy framework within which it sits does not take us a great deal further.

I mention also the strategy of the London Development Agency, which is part of the Greater London Authority family. The Mayor has a considerable role in it but it is a regional development agency and in that way subject to many of the RDAs’ constraints. In the case of this Bill it is the Mayor who appoints the board and it seems to me that it is not only not unreasonable but an appropriate progression of the Assembly’s scrutiny role. I believe that scrutiny plays an important part in achieving good policy as the end result. It is not opposition; that is not how I approach it. In summary, I see no difference between this and the other strategies that will be subject to the input from the Assembly in the way that I have described.

Amendment No. 13 seeks to increase the openness of the way in which the board functions and to include provision for openness in regulations. Again I thank the Minister for his letter. He says that the provision does not need to be set out in directions. I agree that the right of access to meetings and material of such a board should not need saying but

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experience suggests that it does. I acknowledged in Grand Committee that in some matters confidentiality should inevitably prevail but that it would be best if the board were to decide to be completely open and that the default position should be open. I acknowledge that the Government want to move in the direction of greater openness. I should like to see them do so with more energy than so far has been offered.

I said that experience sadly suggests that it is necessary to spell these matters out. The London Development Agency, to which I have referred, has not always been wholly open in the way it has conducted its business. I pay tribute to the deputy chair of the LDA, who I think is gradually persuading the board of the value of openness. He comes from a background in local government, which is an important factor. Members of the board will mostly be business people. People with that background have a different ethos from those of us who are used to conducting our business in the public eye. They are not naturally comfortable with having sometimes quite difficult discussions in public. The board has met, but it did not do so in a public manner; indeed, I understand that a journalist was specifically refused the opportunity to report on its first meeting. It is not possible to find any of its business published on the web. A Google search takes one to the London Development Agency, and pretty much all I have been able to find is the announcement of the board’s membership.

I would prefer to see these provisions in regulations; or, if not in regulations, at least in the Secretary of State’s directions. In his letter to me the Minister said he will consider guidance. My third preference, I suppose, is not “considering” guidance but a commitment to guidance. I would like to see the commitment at a higher level than that, for the reasons I have explained. I beg to move.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, we are sympathetic to the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, to ensure that the council consults and listens to the Assembly, and is suitably open to the public. As I made clear when speaking to the previous group of amendments, anything that makes the Learning and Skills Council more transparent, accountable and responsive to local opinion and needs is a good thing. There is no other way that we can move towards a demand-led system. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure us on these points, and that he will consider these amendments carefully.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has retabled two amendments that were tabled in Grand Committee. Amendment No. 12 would require the London Skills and Employment Board in preparing its strategy to consult the Assembly, and to have regard to any response. Amendment No. 13 would make statutory provision about public access to the body’s meetings and papers.


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