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Lord Burnham: My Lords, I had expected to be backed in the discussion on this order by serried ranks

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of noble brewers, all complaining about this invasion of their privileges. However, they seem to have been detained elsewhere. This order was welcomed and indeed planned by those of us who are now on this side of the House when we were on the other side. It is further supported by the Brewers and Licensed Victuallers Association. I have much pleasure in associating myself with those who welcome this order.

There is one thing I wish to ask the noble Lord. I believe that there must be the faintest fear that this order might be considered as the thin end of the wedge, which might lead to some alteration in the conditions which apply to brewers and their relationship with tied houses. Therefore, I would welcome an assurance from the noble Lord that no such thing is planned. With that exception I welcome the order.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his support. I imagine that the brewers are not here in their serried ranks because they are not wasting valuable drinking time. The noble Lord asked about breaking the lease. We do not believe that that will be the case because this order will not significantly increase the inspection tasks of the brewers. I am sure that the vast majority of tenants will, as now, comply with the terms of their leases. There are no plans to make any further changes. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his remarks and I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Further Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1997

12.56 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs): rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 3rd July be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the main purpose of the order is to provide for the transfer of responsibility for the management of Northern Ireland's 17 further education colleges from the five education and library boards to incorporated governing bodies established in relation to each college. It will also provide for the regional planning and funding of the further education sector by the Department of Education in Northern Ireland. The order will not only provide for the self-governance of colleges; it will also bring all of Northern Ireland's further education legislation together in one order for the first time.

I believe that it will be helpful to the House if I outline the background to the order and then say a few words about the main provisions. This Government are firmly convinced that the planning and funding of the further education sector would best be addressed on a regional basis. Preparations for incorporation have been under way in Northern Ireland for some considerable time, but the previous government failed to have the legislation put before Parliament and this left the colleges in a very unsatisfactory position. While this

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Government might have altered some aspects of the legislation if they had been starting from scratch, we have taken the decision to proceed on the basis of the existing draft in order to end the potentially damaging period of uncertainty.

However, our decision to proceed with incorporation should be set firmly within the context of a more coherent strategic approach to the management and development of the sector. Colleges will benefit from the freedoms given to them through being able to manage their own affairs, but the sector as a whole and the education service in Northern Ireland in general, will be strengthened and enhanced through the setting of a clearer strategic framework which clarifies the purpose, direction and shape of the FE sector in Northern Ireland and enables all partners in the education service to make the culture of "lifelong learning" a reality.

As a first step in developing this strategy, a number of reviews within and across further education and training will commence over the next few months. Among other things these reviews will explore the relationship between the Department of Education and the Training and Employment Agency, and the implications for further education of the forthcoming report of the Dearing National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education. The outcome of the reviews will determine how further education in Northern Ireland builds on the foundation provided by this order.

The colleges and their provision of vocational education play a vital role in the development of the economy of Northern Ireland, equipping people with the necessary skills to meet the needs of business. The Government are committed in particular to addressing the fundamental problem of youth unemployment. Our welfare to work programme will offer a striking opportunity to address the challenge of equipping young people for work and of finding scope for them to become involved productively and positively in a work environment. The education and training service will have a vital role to play in meeting this challenge. It is essential, therefore, that they are enabled to do so. This order provides the framework for a vigorous and flexible further education sector which will be responsive, not only to the needs of students, but also to the needs of employers. Incorporation will provide colleges with increased freedom and flexibility to make an even greater contribution to the educational and economic development of the Province.

Colleges in England, Wales and Scotland were incorporated on 1st April 1993. While the Northern Ireland legislation is broadly comparable with the corresponding legislation in the rest of the UK, it has been drafted to reflect local circumstances. It has also been possible to learn from the experience of incorporation in the rest of the UK and to take account of the advice provided in particular in the Public Accounts Committee report of July 1995, which examined issues of management and financial control in the incorporated colleges in England.

The draft order was considered by a wide range of interests in Northern Ireland and all of their comments have been carefully considered. Where possible their

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concerns have been addressed and a number of minor amendments have been made to the draft order. The more significant of these amendments aim to give governing bodies more flexibility in the exercise of their functions while at the same time retaining adequate provision to ensure accountability for the use of public funds. The order will also provide for the respective functions of the Department of Education, the colleges and the education and library boards and will ensure that all those involved in the education service work together towards its strategic objectives.

The Government have also decided that more general consultation arrangements should be established which will play a useful role in assisting the Department of Education in the strategic management of the sector. We will, therefore, be making arrangements for the setting up of a consultative body to represent the further education sector. Such a body will be non-statutory.

The governing body of each college will have the duty to secure the efficient and effective management of the institution and to have regard to the educational needs of industry and commerce and the community in its area. The executive onus is clearly placed on the incorporated governing bodies to provide an efficient and effective education and training service for the local community within the context of the department's strategic planning and funding role.

The education and library boards will continue to have responsibilities in relation to certain student-specific services (student awards, home-to-college transport and free meals) and will make nominations for membership of college governing bodies. Education and library boards will also be enabled to provide services to colleges after incorporation. The order will facilitate and encourage co-operation between colleges and boards after incorporation, thus maintaining and developing the spirit of partnership which is a hallmark of the Northern Ireland education system.

Finally, the draft order not only provides for the transfer of management of colleges; it also includes detailed provisions for the transfer of property, rights, liabilities and staff from education and library boards to the governing bodies. This includes arrangements for the resolution by the Department of Education of any disputes which may arise. Also, to ensure an orderly transfer of functions and responsibilities, the order allows for arrangements to be put in place for the continuing provision of services by the education and library boards to colleges for up to three years after the incorporation date.

These are the main provisions of the order which, when set within the context of the developing strategic framework, is a significant and important step on the path to a more flexible and responsive further education sector in Northern Ireland. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, that the draft order laid before the House on 3rd July be approved.--[Lord Dubs.]

1.1 p.m.

Lord Alderdice: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his very helpful explanation of the order. I thank too his honourable colleague in another place with direct

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responsibility for education who made available to me the details of the amendments that he wished to make subsequent to the process of consultation. I was a member of Belfast Education and Library Board for the four years up until the end of last month. That board has had, and will have until the implementation of this order, a responsibility for the Belfast Institute for Further and Higher Education (BIFHE). I was, as a member of the board, very committed to democratic accountability at local level in Northern Ireland. So noble Lords might expect me to be unhappy about a proposal which takes responsibility from the education and library boards and puts it with a governing body. However, I am supportive of it, not least because of my experience on the education and library board.

During my four years on the board there were almost no situations in which it seemed to me at board level that any useful work was being done to facilitate thinking of a creative and novel kind in the Belfast institute. One such opportunity might have arisen. I refer to a major proposal by the University of Ulster, which is well known for its creative and novel approach to co-operation not only within its own institution but in the community at large and internationally, for the development of a Springvale campus. That would have had enormous social, economic and educational consequences in a particularly deprived area of the city with interfaces between unionist and nationalist areas that could helpfully have been overcome.

No secret was made of the proposition. A great deal of work was done to publicise it and a great deal of consultation took place. The University of Ulster engaged local councillors in the area. There was a good deal of discussion. A number of months after it came to the fore I raised the matter in the education and library board. I asked whether there had been any discussions between the officers of the board and the University of Ulster. Had there been any direct discussions between the officers of the institute for further and higher education and the University of Ulster? The answer was "No" on both counts. It became perfectly clear that the Belfast institute believed that the proposition of the University of Ulster was an intrusion into its fiefdom. While that might have been understandable, what was neither understandable nor very forgivable was that the education and library board, which had a broader remit and a responsibility to look at matters in the round, failed absolutely to encourage the institute to engage with the University of Ulster. It was only subsequent to very considerable pressure exerted by myself and colleagues that some desultory meetings were held but clearly with relatively little enthusiasm.

When the proposals were made public the initial response of the education and library board officers was of a very flat and unimaginative kind. The reason why I am rather positive about the proposals that have come forward is that insofar as the education and library board had responsibility and could have used it over the past few years to encourage creative and novel thinking in the Belfast institute, that was not forthcoming. There is nothing I can see which leads me to believe that a newly constituted board would be any more lively or vital in its encouragement of the Belfast institute.

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I rather suspect--perhaps it is a matter of great hope--that the strategic review to which the noble Lord refers may, at a central or regional level, be a more vital and vibrant instrument to encourage creative and novel thinking in the Belfast institute and others, particularly in regard to co-operation not just with the community at large but with other institutes of higher learning. In particular, I commend to the Minister and his colleagues the energetic work of the University of Ulster and the Springvale propositions which are still around. I hope that they may receive a more substantial boost than perhaps was the case under the previous administration.

These matters raise questions about the role of education and library boards as one goes down the line. One has further education moving out of its remit. There are propositions to bring together various museums, some of which originally came out of local government, and questions are being raised in terms of the other responsibilities of education and library boards. Serious questions are being raised about whether one needs the number of boards that exist across the whole of Northern Ireland. That was a question before the previous government, as is well known. As we made clear at that stage what was required was a more radical review which perhaps questioned the need for education and library boards or health and social services boards at all. This order, in a sense, adds to those rather fundamental questions. However, we give full support to the order but also place on the agenda of the Minister the important question of the development of institutes of education in Belfast, particularly with the University of Ulster propositions.

1.9 p.m.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, I too thank the Minister for his very clear introduction to this order. There is clearly an all-party consensus on this matter. This was initiated by the previous government and has been introduced by this Government. We on these Benches have no hesitation in supporting it. I cannot speak with the authority of my noble friend Lord Alderdice from his personal experience, but the bringing together of all Northern Ireland legislation relating to further education and the consolidation of it in this way should ultimately make the Government more accessible and accountable. In particular, we on these Benches welcome the new consultative body. Perhaps I may put one or two questions to the noble Lord.

Article 15 effectively extends the PFI to the education sector. From these Benches we by no means object to the use of the PFI in the education sector. However, despite its possible advantages, it can be no substitute for proper funding. One area of core funding about which I should like to ask the Minister is IT. One of the problems with IT in general is that it does not readily lend itself to private finance, because it depreciates so quickly. I should like some reassurance that the Government's commitment to core funding of core projects, which nowadays has to include familiarity with IT by every student, will be sustained.

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Under Article 20, governing bodies are required to set out their financial and development plans for the coming three years. It is admirable that they should take a long-term view, but that demands from government some reciprocity. How can one make plans if one does not know what one's income will be? As we have seen with the tertiary sector, the issue of tuition fees is very current. The more help the Government can give in the forward planning of their own expenditure, defying the arbitrary barriers that the Treasury so often establishes, particularly in Northern Ireland, to allow those institutions to plan ahead realistically, the better it will be.

My noble friend Lord Alderdice referred to the Springvale campus. Through the community outreach project, Springvale has now begun to establish a basis which could command general support in Belfast and would make a major contribution to the building of the civil society, the cross-community links, and the educational depth that Northern Ireland needs. Can the Minister give us any encouragement about prospects for some movement on the Springvale campus?

1.12 p.m.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for his introduction of the order, and share the views on this order expressed by my colleagues. Of course we support it, not just on the basis that it was an order that started under our administration, but on the principle of delegating to what we would have once described as the "chalk face", but which we now describe as the "keyboard". Where decisions are based on local knowledge and needs, the better they must be.

I have a few points for the Minister. First, will the organisations have the resources to achieve this? If I heard the Minister correctly, some of the welfare-to-work resources will be used within those colleges. One hopes that that will be possible, because, although we are all concerned with the young unemployed, the long-term unemployed have needs--in particular, those who are not on the unemployment register. Women looking to re-enter the workforce will have needs which the colleges can satisfy.

Will additional resources be available for the colleges from the savings which will result from the transfer of the library and education boards? Will there be moneys which can also be transferred? The Minister repeated what his colleague in another place said about the fact that he might have altered the order, and started from a different place. The uncertainty about which he complains arose from the fact that we could not find parliamentary time to bring it forward. It is not helped by the Minister saying that he is not 100 per cent. happy with the order as it is. That leaves an element of uncertainty. Will the Minister give us some guidance as to what he would have preferred the order to do, and whether that will be brought forward in a further order in due course?

The Minister also said that the order reflects local circumstances which are different from those in England, Scotland and Wales. Will he expand on those, because the need to provide lifetime training is constant

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throughout the UK? Springvale is important for the future of the Province. The noble Lords, Lord Holme of Cheltenham and Lord Alderdice, mentioned the issue. In Committee in another place, the Minister said that the review would consider the work of the three universities (Ulster, Queen's and the OU) and the further education sector. I hope that that was not an indication that the Springvale campus is off the agenda. From these Benches we would have expected, if it were to go in that direction, that there would have been a specific review.

Will the Minister consider, and perhaps discuss with his colleagues, whether it is right that Springvale should be seen as a purely educational activity. Is it not an overall economic activity for which there could be support? I should have thought that that would have formed an important part of considering training in the sector. Having said that, we support the order, and wish the colleges well with their new-found responsibilities.

1.16 p.m.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I thank all those who have contributed to this short but interesting debate. I turn first to the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. I welcome his general support for the order. All noble Lords have referred to Springvale. Discussions are taking place between the University of Ulster and the Belfast Institute of Further and Higher Education with a view to developing new proposals for the Springvale site. I hope that that will lead to something that will be both creative and novel. I have to utter the reservation that there will have to be an assessment of the economics of such a proposal. Money will have to be found. I want to say only that the matter is being considered on the basis that I have suggested.

The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, also made interesting comments about the education and library boards. I had better pass those on to my honourable friend the Minister responsible as being the best way forward on that suggestion. I appreciate the comments of the noble Lord, particularly, as he has direct experience of the education system in Belfast, and therefore his comments have more authority.

The noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, too, welcomed the proposal, for which I am grateful. I shall deal first with the point about the PFI. The PFI has many advantages for this sector. Two PFI projects are currently under way--at the Belfast institute and the North West Institute in Derry. The focus of those PFI applications is on an extension of the colleges rather than on something such as IT. It may not be suitable for all colleges.

One would not wish to stifle the possible use of PFI money for the development of the IT sector, but it may be that PFI support for aspects of the colleges' work other than IT would be more appropriate. I had better leave it at that. The Government will clearly want to monitor the progress of the PFI for the whole of the sector we have been discussing.

The noble Lord talked also about the development planning process. I welcome his support for it. The Department of Education will be working closely with the sector in defining what is required and how it should

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be monitored. That will include the sharing of the appropriate financial information in relation to the colleges. I believe that I have dealt with all the points about Springvale, to which the noble Lord referred in detail. There is nothing to be said beyond the comments that I have made.

The noble Baroness, Lady Denton, asked a number of specific questions. As regards resources for the sector, also raised by other noble Lords, the Government have initiated a comprehensive spending review covering all public expenditure. The needs of the FE sector must be considered within that framework. Officials in the Department of Education for Northern Ireland are currently negotiating with the boards on the resources which will be transferred to further education.

As regards welfare to work, I assure the noble Baroness that there will be an opportunity for the colleges to benefit from the extra resources made available. Indeed, the FE sector will have an important role to play in implementing some of the welfare to work provisions as regards education and training. However, the colleges must be flexible and creative in providing courses of high quality for the target groups which the noble Baroness mentioned.

She also asked how we might have altered the order had there been time to do so. With more time, the Government could have reviewed fundamentally the whole approach and structure which is proposed for incorporation. We had to balance that against the need to end the uncertainty from which all the colleges were suffering and offer them a clear way forward. We judged the first priority to be this legislation; that it should be passed in order to benefit the colleges and give them a proper framework within which to work. However, my honourable friend's review will provide an opportunity to reflect on future developments, which might require legislation in due course.

The noble Baroness, Lady Denton, also asked about local circumstances and how legislation reflected them. She suggested that further education ought to be similar in all parts of the United Kingdom. Perhaps I may give two examples. It is intended that the education and library boards will have a continuing role in participating in the college governing bodies and in the provision of specific services to the sector. There is no parallel for that in the changes that were made to the sector in England, for example. Secondly, there is provision for the continuing funding of adult and community provision in the further education sector. Thirdly, further education training links will be reviewed in the context of incorporation and wider government policy.

There are a number of reasons for the local differences which justify a slightly different approach in this legislation. There is also the issue of the Public Accounts Committee report, which the legislation reflects--for example, as regards the appointment procedures for governing bodies and the role of the Department of Education for Northern Ireland in that process--and in moving towards better provisions for accountability--for example, the provision for a statutory audit committee in each college and the

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strength of the department's regulatory powers. We are able to take those factors into account because we have the report of the Public Accounts Committee. Finally, the future of Springvale and any possible developments will be considered in educational terms and on its impact on economic regeneration.

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