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The Earl of Lindsay: I can give the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, the assurance he needs right now: Section 1 of the 1980 Act is not affected by the Bill.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: We will look at it closely and see the effects. However, with that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour moved Amendment No. 10:

Leave out Clause 4 and insert the following Clause--

Quality Assurance

("In respect of bodies awarding qualifications accredited by SQA, SQA may, in its role as accrediting body and with the approval of the Accreditation Committee, make such arrangements as are considered necessary to be satisfied with--
(a) the quality of procedures used by awarding bodies;
(b) the quality of the internal arrangements used by awarding bodies for monitoring and controlling the effectiveness of such procedures.").

The noble Baroness said: On behalf of my noble friend Lord Stockton I beg to move Amendment No. 10. Clause 4, as my noble friend stated in relation to the last amendment, deals with quality assurance. The amendment redrafts Clause 4 to make clearer the procedures governing bodies other than the Scottish qualifications authority which seek accreditation of their awards. That clarification is felt to be necessary. I shall be interested to hear what my noble friend has to say.

The Earl of Lindsay: I hope I can give the necessary clarification to my noble friend. The Government are committed to securing consistently high standards in education. We shall expect a similar commitment from the SQA to build on the undoubted success of the existing bodies. The amendment would remove the power of the SQA to monitor the quality of assessment procedures of presenting centres offering SQA qualifications. This is an absolutely vital function of an awarding body.

The amendment replaces Clause 4 only with a power to monitor the procedures of awarding bodies whose qualifications have been accredited by SQA. This would be a considerable restriction on the exercise of SQA's powers. Monitoring in relation to accreditation is in any case inherent in that process. The requirements in this regard will be published under Clause 3(1). It is therefore unnecessary to include provision as proposed in the amendment.

As the objective of the amendment is already met in Clause 3, and as the text which the amendment seeks to remove is of such great importance, I hope that my

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noble friend will be able to withdraw the amendment and that my noble friend Lord Stockton, on reading Hansard, will feel considerably reassured.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I thank my noble friend for that reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Incidental Functions]:

Lord Sewel moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 3, line 34, at end insert ("with the agreement of such local authority associations as exist").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to put the local authorities, through their associations, in a position where they play a key role in the consideration of the financial estimates of the Scottish qualifications authority. The question may be asked: why? The answer is simple. They are the major paymasters. It boils down to that.

The present estimate is that 70 per cent. of the income of the Scottish qualifications authority is likely to be contributed by the local authorities. If that is the case, it seems only reasonable that those who pay the bill should at least have some involvement in the construction of the financial estimates of the body they are, perforce, paying for. As I understand it, the current situation is that the Scottish Examination Board has a statutory duty and is required to agree the level of its fees in consultation with CoSLA, and this seeks in a form to take that relationship on to the new authority.

There is a danger that if a body such as this does not have some check on it by the people from whom it is seeking its income it runs into at least some temptation of taking on a slightly irresponsible life of its own. There needs to be this kind of check or, if not, some kind of combination of power without responsibility. We all know of the description as regards taxation without representation and we would wish to avoid that as well.

I hope the Minister can give some assurance that the paymasters will be involved in some form in seeking the agreement--certainly stronger than consultation--when the authority draws up its financial estimates.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I expressed some sympathy earlier for the position of CoSLA in the authority, and this is the part where its interest is greatest. CoSLA has been kind enough to write to me and has reminded me that as regards the Scottish Examination Board the local authority funding is 92 per cent. of the whole, whereas as regards the SCOTVEC it is 50 per cent. and in future, as the noble Lord said, it is likely to be 70 per cent. It certainly is a problem for local authorities in that if fees get completely out of hand they will not be able to afford them, so they have an interest in at least commenting on what is proposed. Their interest and that of the new authority cannot be separated and I hope that my noble friend will have something nice to say about that.

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The Earl of Lindsay: Of course I have something nice to say about all the concerns raised by other noble Lords on this Bill. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, for explaining this amendment to us. We recognise that the users of the SQA services have an important interest in the policies to be adopted by the SQA and not least among those policies will be the level of fees. We also recognise that the local authorities are likely to be the predominant source of the SQA income, as was pointed out by both the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, and my noble friend Lady Carnegy. However, we are not persuaded that it would be fair or even democratic to the other users of the SQA services that one group of purchasers should have the type of special financial control that is being proposed in this amendment, even if at present they collectively provide a high level of SQA's income.

Clause 6 provides for the Secretary of State to determine criteria in the setting of charges by the SQA. Those criteria would seek to recognise the interests of all the SQA customers. In addition, Clause 7 requires the SQA to have regard to the interests of those using its services. This provision will also require the SQA to take into account the financial interests of local authorities.

The Government intend that the procedures by which the SQA sets its fees should be known to its customers and that the stages should incorporate consultation. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, asked for at least some involvement by local authorities and they will have that involvement through the consultation on the stages and the procedures through which SQA goes in setting its fees.

Common sense dictates that the leverage which consultation with the principal customer will offer to that principal customer will guide the SQA in the decisions which it reaches. So I can assure both my noble friend and the noble Lord that the just interests of local authorities in the setting of fees are bound to be reflected both in the consultation process and indeed through Clauses 6 and 7. On that basis, I hope the noble Lord feels able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Sewel: I thank the noble Minister for his comments. I would hope to nudge him a little further at some stage, but I now beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Regard to certain considerations]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 12:

Page 4, line 38, at end insert--
("and shall consult such persons mentioned in paragraph (b) on the exercise of its general functions under section 2 of this Act and the function of accrediting qualifications under section 3 of this Act").

The noble Lord said: The Minister may be slightly tired of hearing this kind of argument and he may describe it as a niggly amendment. However, I am afraid that I do not quite see it that way. It is too often the case that a body is meant to have regard to the fact that,

23 Apr 1996 : Column CWH20

when we are dealing with education, technology and the modern world, things are changing rather rapidly. The amendment that is down in my name proposes that such a body shall consult, not just try to double guess, what the users of the service will want. It should consult the users of the service before it makes an important decision. This seems to be a fairly simple proposition. I know the Minister will be able to say that it will be in touch all the time, but I would like it specifically detailed that it has at some point to discuss and find out what the users of the services really require at any particular period. I beg to move.

4.45 p.m.

The Earl of Lindsay: I can stress to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, that it is intended that the SQA should be responsive to the interests and needs of its customers and indeed many of the assurances given in Committee to date have underlined this point. Both SEB and SCOTVEC in practice consult widely at present in relation to the exercise of their functions and we will expect SQA to build on this firm foundation.

The possibility of achieving such responsiveness by requiring SQA to consult its customers was considered during the drafting of the Bill. Therefore we do not have a quarrel with the principle behind the amendment. It became apparent, however, that this would be impractical. It would be extremely difficult to be certain that such a requirement had been properly fulfilled given the very wide range of customers and the difficulty in identifying interests in relation to the different powers of SQA. It would also place a large and inflexible burden on SQA in managing its day-to-day affairs.

It is considered appropriate, however, for there to be some requirements in the Bill to show that the interests of customers should be a significant consideration. I consider therefore that the present wording of Clause 7(b), which provides that in the exercise of its functions SQA shall,

    "(b) have regard to the interests of persons using its services".

is sufficient for this purpose. It delivers the assurances that the noble Lord seeks, but without doing so in an impractical manner. The duties span the whole range of the SQA's functions under the Bill or under any other enactment. This is a wide ranging duty but expressed in a flexible way. It will be for the SQA itself to determine how to meet the duty in a particular case though it would have to have regard to any advice which the Secretary of State might give on this question. In many cases this might mean that SQA will consult.

I hope with those assurances the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

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