Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Addington: My Lords, the amendment is one of a type that we have all seen before and has been put forward for the simple reason that what it proposes is generally necessary. We are trying to get some support for the new body and that means that it must be respected by those people whom it is supposed to be representing; namely, the educational establishment in Scotland. It is to be hoped that something similar to the amendment in the Bill would give greater authority and weight to the new examination authority so that those concerned will be able to give more authority to the relevant qualifications, which is something that everyone needs. All we are saying is that those people who actually know what is going on in education should be consulted. That is all that lies behind the amendment. I hope that the Minister will be able to accept the proposal or, indeed, something very like it.

The Earl of Balfour: My Lords, I am rather intrigued by the amendment. Although I have never managed to take part in the proceedings on the Bill up to now, I am surprised that, in specifying the persons who should be included, the noble Lords who have tabled the amendment have not considered the appointment of someone from industry. I believe that in future there needs to be a slightly closer connection between industry and education than has been the case in the past. The other aspect which rather surprises me about

13 May 1996 : Column 328

the amendment is the fact that the noble Lords concerned have included "the Universities of Scotland" in the text. However, to the best of my knowledge, the Bill has nothing to do with the university side of education in Scotland.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, the matter has already been well discussed on three occasions. It was discussed on Second Reading, when the Scottish Select Committee took evidence in Glasgow, as the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, mentioned, and, indeed, in Committee. The advantage of this new House of Lords procedure, which adds an extra stage to the consideration of Scottish legislation--a stage which takes place in Scotland--is that noble Lords will have an even better opportunity than before to hear what groups and individuals in Scotland want. Moreover, evidence can be placed on the record. In my view, in the case of this amendment, that has been extremely helpful.

The amendment is in fact the same as one discussed in Committee. However, it is no worse for that because there was no opportunity to vote on that occasion. Therefore, I do not in any way chide noble Lords for tabling it again. If passed, the amendment would still allow the Secretary of State to choose and appoint most of the members of the body. I should tell my noble friend who has just spoken that the nominees would not be those appointed; they would be a number of people from whom the Secretary of State would make appointments. In that case, it is perhaps one degree better than my noble friend supposed.

If the amendment were passed, it would still mean that the choice of the Secretary of State would be limited to people nominated by bodies listed on the face of the Bill. As my noble friend said, the list proposed still does not include--as was the case with the amendment tabled in Committee--anyone with experience as an employer or indeed in industry; nor, for that matter, does it include the Scottish Trades Union Congress, which I should have thought would, just like employers, have an interest in how young people are qualified for work in Scotland.

Moreover, if even the principle of the amendment were adopted, members of the new authority, having been nominated by a certain body, would tend to see themselves as representatives. As Mr. Miller, who has experience as a chairman of the existing bodies which will come together under the new authority--namely, the Scottish Examination Board and SCOTVEC--told us in evidence, that tends to make for less good and balanced discussion than does a group of individuals appointed because of their wide background of experience. That is a better way than forming a body from nominees.

In evidence, various groups made plain to the Select Committee the importance that they placed on the membership of the body. That was extremely understandable and was something that was very much emphasised. Indeed, great emphasis was placed on the need for the Secretary of State to consult on the matter. Clearly it is crucial that the membership should be

13 May 1996 : Column 329

properly balanced and that the views of those with an interest should be taken fully into account in deciding the membership.

As a result of discussion of the amendment in Committee on 23rd April, my noble friend the Minister put on record (at col. CWH 6 and 7 of Hansard) the fact that there will be significant consultation. My noble friend also said--and here we read between the lines--that,


    "local authorities have an interest that will require to be properly represented".--[Official Report, 23/4/96; col. CWH 6.]

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, will not press the amendment. However, if he decides to do so, I hope that the House will not accept it. When he replies, I wonder whether the noble Lord can tell us--he may think that this is a naughty question, but it is one that I believe to be relevant--whether, should his party be elected to government at the general election, it would return to the system that was used before 1979, when important bodies like the new SQA were put in the hands of the nominees of interested bodies rather than those chosen by the Secretary of State of the day? I have been a member of many such bodies and I know how that system worked. I trust that we shall not see a return to it. That is one reason why I hope that the House will reject the amendment.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Lyell: My Lords, I should like to follow my noble friend and neighbour so that the voice of Angus can perhaps be heard in the House this afternoon. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, and what he said made me think about many such amendments which are installed or, although I do not believe the noble Lord used the word, put on the face of the Bill. The proposed amendment has one particular danger, in that any group or organisation might feel deprived or left out if it were not included. Indeed, such a group or organisation might be upset if the amendment were accepted. I take the point made by my noble friend Lord Balfour, but I wonder whether both he and the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, would consider glancing at Clause 5 of the Bill. It seems to me that subsections (1) and (2) of that clause will certainly cover the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, without necessarily ring-fencing those persons who might or might not be fitted to give advice.

My noble friend Lord Balfour made some excellent remarks. I did follow the previous proceedings on the Bill, but I have one query regarding Scottish qualifications. Are such qualifications applicable only to young people under 16? Alternatively, are they applicable to someone like myself? I am happy to declare an interest as I am a member of the chartered accountants of Scotland. Considering those among us who have taken qualifications of that nature, I certainly think that Clauses 2 and 5 would cover all the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel. However, if I am totally wrong in that respect, perhaps my noble friend the Minister can put me right.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, my concern about the amendment is probably the same as that

13 May 1996 : Column 330

expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Lyell. I say that because in legislation, where, as here, there is a list of people who may nominate persons to be considered by the Secretary of State, is it not the case that any organisation not included is thereby excluded? Therefore, such a provision could be rather restrictive.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Lindsay): My Lords, I am grateful for the clear explanation given by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, when moving the amendment. I am also grateful to him for the welcome that he extended to me on my return from Aberdeen. However, I should point out to the noble Lord--although I am sure he realises it--that we are not an endangered species; indeed, we are in good heart and our numbers are strong.

In the Moses Room I assured the Committee of the intention to consult widely before making appointments to the SQA. I am happy to confirm that assurance today to the House. It may be helpful if I repeat the words that my noble friend Lady Carnegy recalled. Local authorities have an interest in this matter that will require to be properly represented on the SQA. I hope that it is obvious to all noble Lords that there are certain organisations which would probably be consulted by the Secretary of State before appointments were made to the SQA. CoSLA would probably be one of the principal consultees, as would the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, the Association of Scottish Colleges, the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals, the Confederation of British Industry in Scotland, and the STUC, which is also an important source of advice. My noble friend Lady Carnegy referred to its omission from the list. The Association of Scottish Chambers of Commerce also springs to mind. We have given an assurance as regards consultation and a number of bodies will probably be included. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, made the vital point that in specifying a list one automatically excludes others. I hope that I have reassured those who have been worried about this matter since the Committee stage.

The SQA will be an important new public body and it is vital that individuals of the right calibre and mix of skills and experience are appointed to its board of management. In order to achieve that, we shall consult widely and take full account of the recommendations of the Nolan Committee and the code of practice issued by the Commissioner for Public Appointments. The range of bodies will certainly include the interests currently recognised within the existing membership of the SEB and SCOTVEC, as I indicated.

This goes beyond the list suggested in the amendment and embraces also employer interests which we consider equally important. My noble friend Lord Balfour pointed out the importance of industry. Noble Lords cannot seriously suggest that employers do not have an interest in a qualified workforce. I am sure noble Lords will agree that employers have a vital and particular interest in the SQA's role in work-related and work-based qualifications. We also see merit in going beyond those currently represented; for instance, to consider the interests of parents.

13 May 1996 : Column 331

The noble Lord, Lord Ewing, expressed concern at an earlier stage that a requirement for names suggested in consultation to be scrutinised by a selection panel would make the consultation meaningless. I do not believe that to be so. The purpose of the consultation is to provide a field of names from which members can be selected. The involvement of a selection panel, including independent members, as required by the Commissioner for Public Appointments will, on the contrary, add value to the process. I am also happy to repeat my assurance, made in Committee, that the consultation process will be significant in the final composition of the SQA.

I recognise, however, that representation on the authority for particular groups is behind much of what the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, put to the House today. As I explained in Committee, echoed by my noble friend Lady Carnegy, we do not believe that an approach based on guaranteed constituencies is appropriate or indeed necessary. We remain firmly of that view. I cannot therefore give assurances that specific organisations will supply one or more members. However, I have given categoric assurances that it is our intention that the members of the authority will have the breadth of experience and knowledge necessary to cover a broad range of interests. In this context, I recognise the helpful contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, at Committee stage, and indeed today. In bringing to bear his experience as Vice Principal of the University of Aberdeen he pointed out that the authority needed to carry the confidence of its customers. We entirely agree. We endorse that view and would expect the composition of the authority to reflect the interests of its main customer groups. This of course would include further and higher education, schools, local authorities and employers.

However, that does not mean that we can accept the amendment. It is too narrow, and it excludes the interests of industry, employers and parents. As the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, pointed out, it also includes "central institutions", a term which no longer has statutory significance. I do not believe therefore that the interests of those who will use the services of SQA would be best served by restricting the scope of the Secretary of State to appoint its members. Rather I feel that by allowing flexibility a broader range of relevant interests will be covered and indeed represented on the authority. As my noble friend Lady Carnegy said, we want balance and consultation, and we want to reflect the views of those who have an interest in the matter. I wish to reassure my noble friend Lord Lyell that as regards age the SQA is totally flexible. One cannot be too old as regards the SQA. In the light of the reassurances and the clarification I have given, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, will be happy to withdraw his amendment.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page