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Baroness Cox: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in many of those parts of Burma which are closed to tourists and visitors, countless people are suffering and dying of starvation and disease, including the Kareni people, who are of particular concern to James Mawdsley, who is in prison partly to highlight their plight? Therefore, will the Government ask the SPDC regime to open parts of Burma not only to tourists but also to visitors concerned with humanitarian aid to see whether some relief might be brought to save the lives of those people in the closed areas?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have continued to work with all our interlocutors to try to ease the situation. Obviously, I hear what the noble Baroness says. She will be very aware that there are certain security difficulties in relation to NGOs working in that area. However, certainly our efforts in that regard will continue and we shall take every opportunity to do so. The noble Baroness will know that we co-sponsored the UN resolutions which condemned violations. We are working with our partners to co-ordinate action in the ILO, based on the Burmese regime's response to the ILO recommendations on forced labour, etc. Therefore, those efforts continue.

Lord Brett: My Lords, I have been spurred to my feet by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Will my noble friend comment further? I recognise the policy of sanctions on a unilateral basis, but the International Labour Organisation, of which I have the privilege of being vice-chairman of the governing body, carried a resolution at its 1999 international labour conference. That resolution was sponsored by me as a British worker representative and by other worker representatives, it was supported by 95 per cent of the conference and the vast majority of governments of the world, and it condemned Burma in no uncertain terms. This year we shall call on the United Nations and beyond for sanctions which go beyond those of the ILO, which are merely moral sanctions. In the same way as the Government were supportive during the 1999 conference, I hope that the Minister will support the strongest sanctions against this pariah regime.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, there is no doubt that my noble friend is right to describe Burma as a pariah regime. As I said earlier, we continue to work with our partners to co-ordinate the action. We supported the renewal of the EU common position on measures against Burma in October for a further six months. We look forward to discussions with our partners about the further measures which we may take. We shall support any such measures which are practical and effective.

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Lord Avebury: My Lords, notwithstanding the advice that was given by the late Derek Fatchett, many important British tour operators and holiday firms are still advertising holidays in Burma. Will the noble Baroness renew the advice which Mr Fatchett gave by writing to all those companies urging them to cease operations altogether in that country?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we have written to those tour operators and continue to have contact with them. But the noble Lord will know that this is still a democratic country. We can exhort, suggest and persuade but we cannot compel. We shall continue in those efforts until the Burmese situation has eased.

Government Information Technology Projects

3 p.m.

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to improve the success of major information technology projects in the public sector.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, as I announced to the House in a Written Answer on 27th October of last year, my right honourable friend the other Minister of State for the Cabinet Office launched a major review of the handling of government information technology projects. It is considering best practice from within government, the private sector and overseas to produce recommendations to improve performance in that area in the future. It will identify the pillars which support successful information technology projects and make sure that those are in place at the start of projects so that future systems run effectively and deliver value for money.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for repeating that statement. But is he aware from the recently published report of the Public Accounts Committee of another place that no fewer than 25 investigations have been carried out into IT problems in the public sector and that many of those have revealed very serious shortcomings indeed and cover a large number of government departments?

Will he also accept that, arising out of those inquiries, the overriding problems have been the poor specification of projects and inadequate project management which have led to several hundred million pounds of over-expenditure and massive delays? Will he accept, and will this be borne in mind in the inquiry which he has mentioned, that, unless those projects are delivered better in the future, the Government's plans in the White Paper of March 1999, Modernising Government, will be seriously jeopardised?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the Government are well aware of the publication of the

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Public Accounts Committee report. The Central Information Technology Unit review, to which I referred in the original Answer, is already addressing all the areas which the report has identified. I share the noble Lord's concern about the importance of making sure that those IT projects work, and proper specification at the outset is plainly one of the most important matters that needs to be addressed.

The scope of the Central IT Unit's review is wider than that covered by the Public Accounts Committee and is focused on ways in which to rectify the problems identified and to raise standards in the future. A representative of the National Audit Office who was involved with the production of the Public Accounts Committee report is on the steering committee for the review. The team continues to liaise closely with the National Audit Office on its work.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, further to the Minister's original Answer about the inquiry being undertaken at the Cabinet Office, will the results of that be available in June, as was first indicated, and will the report be given to the public but through the Houses of Parliament rather than simply through a press briefing?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, it is envisaged that the report will be ready in the early summer and it will be published.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, public spending watchdogs have already commented on the 40 projects across Whitehall which are experiencing delay and overspending. Will the noble and learned Lord indicate, in particular in relation to the Immigration Service and the Passport Agency, whether the testing has been completed and when the systems will be fully operative?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, there is much scope for further improvement in relation to the IND project, to which the noble Lord referred. However, in the past year, the IND has rolled out improved systems to a large number of staff. That includes the provision of e-mail and a stock letter system for case workers based in the Croydon office.

Business of the House: Medway Council Bill [H.L.]

3.4 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend, I beg to move the Motion standing in her name on the Order Paper.

As matters stand at present, we are due to take the Third Reading of the Kent County Council Bill tomorrow and the Third Reading of the Medway Council Bill on Wednesday. Both Bills raise exactly the same issues and it now appears that both Bills will be opposed by means of dilatory Motions.

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I am sure that the House will agree that it would be undesirable to debate the same issues twice on successive days. Therefore, it may be for the convenience of the House if the two Bills are taken on the same day in order to avoid any duplication of debate. If this Motion is agreed to, both Bills will be taken tomorrow but the Motions on both Bills will still be taken separately.

Moved, That leave be given to advance the Third Reading of the Medway Council Bill [H.L.] from Wednesday 19th January to Tuesday 18th January.--(Lord Carter.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Learning and Skills Bill [H.L.]

3.5 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This Government were elected on their pledge to put education at the top of their agenda, and we have been as good as our word. The scope of our ambitions and the pace of change have necessarily been great: 1998 saw two major pieces of education law on the statute book through which we have continued our drive to raise standards in schools, reform higher education funding and student support and enhance the effectiveness and standing of the teaching profession.

The Bill we are debating today represents a radical third stage of our reforms--the foundation for exciting developments in further education and training. That is not an area in which we have been standing still. Planned funding for training and enterprise councils (TECs) increased this year by £200 million compared with last year's spend, which is a 17 per cent rise, and there will be an increase of £30 million next year to add to that. We are also making the biggest ever investment in further education with an extra £365 million available for 2001-02, which is a 10 per cent increase over and above the £3.5 billion already announced for next year.

However, the current structures and systems for post-16 learning are letting us down. Too many people are "turned off" learning. Drop-out rates are too high, wasting resources and human potential. Quality of provision is patchy and levels of achievement are too variable and often too low; for example, in general FE colleges, qualification achievement rates vary from 34 per cent to 94 per cent. The percentage of young people successfully completing training funded by TECs ranges from 40 per cent to 70 per cent.

None of us can afford to let that situation continue. The Government have a vision of a learning society in which individuals, businesses and communities flourish and prosper. Equipping individuals for the skills and knowledge-based economy of the 21st century is a vital part of that vision. It is essential if we are to live up to the challenges which face us. There are still more than 6 million adults in the UK with no

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formal qualifications. One in five adults in England has a lower level of literacy than is expected of an 11 year-old, and 170,000 16 to 18 year-olds in England are not in education, training or employment. In productivity we face a clear challenge. The UK's productivity gap with countries such as the US, France and Germany is substantial--up to one-third.

The Government are determined to raise standards, to increase and widen participation, and to tackle the skills deficit. We shall put in place structures to maximise our investment and to secure a more creative, strategic approach to post-16 learning, and we are putting employers in the driving seat. Forty per cent of LSC board members at both the national and local levels, together with the national chair and most local chairs, will have significant business or commercial experience. Indeed, the proposals of which this Bill is a part have been welcomed by the business community and their representatives, including national training organisations, the Federation of Small Businesses and the CBI, which recently commented:


    "We are pleased to see the Government taking a business-led and bottom-up approach to post 16 education and training. We have argued for a strong business voice in the new arrangements and the Government has taken our message on board".

Employers and individual learners alike can rightly expect a more straightforward system and a better service. At present, some 250 different bodies within at least three different systems are responsible for work-based learning and further education. We propose to bring these systems together under a single organisation: the learning and skills council. The LSC will focus on customer need, collaboration rather than competition, and on cutting out bureaucracy. This streamlined structure will release at least £50 million of savings; money which can be used to improve the quality of learning for the benefit of learners. In addition, an independent and rigorous inspection regime of all post-16 education and training will help to ensure that the LSC's annual budget--some £6 billion--is spent wisely and well, in the interests of the 6 million or so learners it is expected to serve.

The constituency of parties with an interest in this Bill is wide. Over and above individual learners, it includes employers, FE colleges, training providers, local authorities and the voluntary sector. I should like to thank the 1,100 such individuals and organisations who responded to our Learning to Succeed White Paper. Their views have informed our deliberations and their overwhelming support for the case for change has spurred us on. In particular I should like to thank TEC boards and their staff and the FEFC and its regional committees for their commitment and contributions over the past decade.

Before I describe the provisions of the Bill in more detail, I should like to announce how the Government will realise their commitment to introduce legislation this Session to reflect the recommendations of the Disability Rights Task Force on education. The task force was set up in December 1997 to consider how best to secure comprehensive, enforceable civil rights for disabled people within the context of our wider

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society. It carried out its work with great enthusiasm and dedication and published its final report on 13th December of last year. There may have been some expectation that the Learning and Skills Bill would contain provisions which would take forward the recommendations of the task force in relation to post-16 education.

The Bill makes a number of important provisions for disabled people, in particular to improve the transition from school to other post-16 learning of young people with statements of special educational needs. However, we want to give full and proper attention to the recommendations of the task force and we believe this can best be achieved in a self-standing "disability in education" Bill to be introduced later this Session. That Bill will do two things. It will give effect to the recommendations of the task force in respect of both schools and post-16 education and will make provision in relation to special educational needs as foreshadowed in the Queen's Speech.

That approach offers the best opportunity to secure a coherent approach to disability across education. There is considerable expertise and interest in this House in both disability issues and special educational needs. I look forward to debating these matters once the Bill is introduced later this Session.

I turn to the detail of the Learning and Skills Bill. Part I of the Bill creates a new non-departmental public body: the learning and skills council. Subject to Parliament's approval, that new body will be responsible from April 2001 for the planning, funding and quality management of all post-16 education and training up to but not including higher education in England. In this, it will take on functions of the current Further Education Funding Council and of the 72 TECs in England. The Bill will do away with the incoherence and duplication from which we have suffered in the past.

Bringing together the worlds of learning and work is a principle at the very core of the Bill by which the LSC will serve the interests of individuals and employers, the consumers of learning. The LSC's two advisory committees--the adult learning and young people's learning committees--will ensure that individual learners and their needs are at the heart of the new regime. We want employers to be involved in planning and supporting learning provision and the LSC to have a clear focus on securing provision which will help meet the skill needs of the economy at both national and local levels.

National training organisations must play a central role in the new arrangements. Through their skills foresights work, they are uniquely placed to provide the LSC with information on future sector skills needs. It will be important for the LSC and NT0s to work together at national and local level in the planning and implementation of workforce development strategies.

The local arms of the LSC will have discretionary funding with which, for example, to pump-prime workforce development initiatives designed to support employers' training and skills needs, building on the success of TECs in this area. Local LSCs will work

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with the University for Industry to break down barriers to learning by encouraging and funding new ways to learn. That will be critical in ensuring that we build the capacity of communities to overcome generations of disadvantage. As we laid out in the LSC prospectus, one of the key objectives we will set the LSC is that of promoting equal opportunities, especially for groups who have traditionally suffered from discrimination and disadvantage. The LSCs will build close links between learning, skills and economic development, supporting the regional priorities identified by the regional development agencies and working with the Small Business Service. The RDAs have already played a major role in advising the Government on the boundaries for the local arms. This they did taking full account of the economic interests and structures in their areas in their recommendation for the 47 local LSCs and a co-ordinating body to support the five local LSCs in London.

The links between learning and work must feature throughout the new regime and at all levels. The LSC's powers to fund education-business links, including work experience and teacher placements, for example, will draw in teachers, secondary school pupils and employers.

This Government believe in learning for all, and that is what the learning and skills council will deliver. Its first duty, as set out in Clause 2, reflects our determination to give an entitlement to education or training to all 16 to 19 year-olds--our citizens, workers and entrepreneurs of tomorrow. The council's second duty, as set out in Clause 3, will require the LSC to provide opportunities for all adults to be able to continue to learn throughout their lives. Participation levels for both age groups must be raised, especially among those not traditionally engaged by learning. Indeed, the Bill will place a duty on the LSC to encourage all individuals to engage in learning. This is our commitment to the principle of learning and to the principle of lifelong learning.

The LSC will be taking on a great deal, becoming responsible for the fragmented functions delivered currently by the FEFC, local education authorities and TECs. We also expect the LSC to take a fresh and creative approach to learning in the 21st century, unfettered by the barriers of the present system. We are doing away with the artificial distinction that existing legislation imposes as to what LEAs and the FEFC can fund. The LSC will fund learning that leads to qualifications and learning that does not. It will set learning in the wider economic and social context by extending its focus beyond the needs of institutions to the important provision offered outside schools and colleges.

Quality will be the byword for the new regime. Securing quality is an express part of the LSC's main duties, at Clauses 2 and 3. We intend that the council should draw up an annual quality improvement strategy as part of the high-level, long-term planning required under Clause 16. Quality must be at the top of our agenda and we are determined to ensure that the LSC will have the tools to do the job.

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Part and parcel of the Bill and the new learning regime it heralds will be the creation of a comprehensive, rigorous and independent inspection regime for post-16 learning based on four key elements, as set out in Part III. First, we will establish a new adult learning inspectorate--ALI--which will be fully independent but accountable as a non-departmental public body, to take on the inspection of all post-19 learning other than higher education and of all post-16 government-funded work-based training. The new body will offer more penetrating scrutiny of adult learning, particularly that outside the qualifications framework, and build on the good work of the FEFC and Training Standards Council to promote a culture of continuous improvement by providers.

Secondly, we will harness Ofsted's rigour and experience in inspecting schools and local authorities by extending its remit to include learning provision for 16 to 19 year-olds in the FE sector--for example, in sixth form colleges. Thirdly, the common inspection framework that ALI and Ofsted will be required to agree will ensure that the two inspectorates work effectively together in undertaking joint inspections where their remits overlap--notably in FE colleges.

Fourthly, they will work side by side to carry out inspections of all learning for 16 to 19 year-olds in a given area. Together with the action planning and follow-up to inspections for which providers and the LSC will be responsible, those measures will ensure that education and training providers aspire to the highest standards.

The LSC and the new regime of which it will be at the centre will be about partnership, collaboration and joined-up government on the ground. Close working with local authorities will be crucial because of their important strategic role in furthering the social and economic interests of their communities, and they are well placed to be leading providers of learning provision funded by the LSC. Our proposals make particular recognition of local education authorities' special role in the world of post-16 learning by involving them early in the planning process.

Clauses 22 and 23 set out how, as part of preparing their plans, local LSCs will agree with local authorities the provision that they will be expected to secure and the resources to be made available. Local learning partnerships, too, will play their vital part in ensuring that provision matches the aspirations of local communities. The Secretary of State will be requiring local LSCs to consult the partnerships.

We are confident that local authorities will respond positively and prosper under the new regime. That is why we are guaranteeing continuity of funding to LEAs for post-16 learning for the first two years of the new arrangements, provided that they maintain their current level of spend and draw up and effectively implement lifelong learning plans.

The LSC will also be involved in funding and planning school sixth form provision, which will ensure a genuinely coherent approach to post-16

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learning across the FE/schools divide. That objective found favour during the consultation from head teachers, foundation schools, colleges and many others. We are also guaranteeing levels of funding for their school sixth forms--a provision that will, in time, be funded by the LSC. This Government are interested in standards, not structures--which is why, for example, we are in the Bill improving inspection arrangements for 16 to 19 learning. The LSC's involvement in funding school sixth forms through LEAs is the only way to achieve coherence, quality and choice for all young people. School sixth forms are an important and valuable part of the choices available to young people. We intend to extend those choices and therefore Clause 95 will enable LEAs and others to propose the establishment of schools that cater principally for 16 to 19 year-olds.

Part II will establish the national council for education and training for Wales, which will have broadly similar functions to the LSC in England but with some variation tailored to meet Welsh circumstances. Part IV extends the remit of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector for Wales to take on wider responsibilities for the inspection of post-16 learning provision up to degree level in the Principality.

Part V makes provision on other issues, aspects of which will impact on the activities of the LSC in England and of the council in Wales.

Clauses 93 and 94 will allow us fully to develop what are currently known as individual learning accounts, which are an important strand in our strategy for lifelong learning. They are an expression of our vision of government, employers and individuals sharing responsibility for learning. The accounts are being designed with the aim of encouraging individuals to see the benefits of investing in their own learning and of encouraging employers to support that learning. Account holders will be provided with a range of benefits, including discounts on learning. We made it clear in our 1997 manifesto that 1 million accounts would be opened by 2002. The Bill sets out the means by which learning accounts may be defined and discounts on learning secured. The Bill also enables the LSC to have a role in promoting the accounts and delivering the discounts.

Clauses 99 to 108 lay the statutory foundation for the establishment in England of a coherent, comprehensive and accountable support service for all 13 to 19 year-olds, whatever their needs and circumstances. The teenage years are a time of major transition. The Social Exclusion Unit's Bridging the Gap report of last year identified how and why some young people are particularly vulnerable during that transition. This Government are determined to take action to ensure that all young people receive the support that they need to sustain their motivation, aim high and maximise their achievement. Under-achievement at all levels threatens the individual's sense of well-being and purpose, their chances of rewarding employment and ability to engage in the community. The clauses provide the legislative framework through which we intend to bring together and build upon the range of existing support services

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for young people--services that, at present, are too often fragmented, ephemeral and inconsistent in terms of availability, quality and ease of access.

Delivery of the new service will be through a network of trained personal advisers working in local multi-agency teams. We will be making an announcement shortly, giving more detail about what that will mean in practice.

The Bill gives us the opportunity to respond to requests from various bodies for improvements to existing legislation. Clause 109 will allow us to make arrangements for newly qualified teachers to serve their induction period in sixth-form colleges or other FE sector institutions offering a suitable teaching environment. Clause 111 will remove some legal obstacles to desirable collaboration between schools and colleges, so that they may better tailor education for young people with particular needs. Clause 112 will deal with a long-standing anomaly whereby the governing bodies of a small number of sixth-form colleges do not have corporate status.

The previous administration merged the departments of education and employment. I believe that that was the right thing to do. But they failed to make the key links between skills, learning, employability and business where they matter most--in learning and skills provision to meet the needs of individuals, businesses, communities and the economy of the 21st century.

This Bill is the foundation from which we are determined to develop structures which will deliver a post-16 learning and skills system for this country based firmly on quality, coherence and choice. The constituency of interests is wide and the stakes are high. Getting it right will mean striking the right balances--the balance between national coherence and local flexibility; the balance between providing learning for all and focusing on those individuals most in need.

The challenge to build this new learning and skills system is a major task for all who currently work to improve opportunities for individuals, to regenerate communities and to improve our economic performance. The Learning and Skills Bill will be instrumental in our lifelong learning goals and is a fitting way to set a path to the new learning age. I commend it to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.--(Baroness Blackstone.)

3.31 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for setting out the Government's case for this Bill.

The Secretary of State makes great claims for the Bill when he pronounces that,


    "waste, duplication and unnecessary competition would be stripped away".

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It is an extraordinary claim when one considers the plethora of new, unelected quangos and the sheer spaghetti-like network of bodies that share responsibility for the guidance, recreation, education and training of 13 to 19 year-olds.

The proposals set out in this Bill are bureaucratic. They will result in duplication. They are confusing. They will be costly and divisive. They will remove local flexibility and they will pose a real threat to sixth forms; and to have left outside of this Bill arrangements to meet the needs of people with disabilities really is unfortunate.

When a Bill comes before Parliament the time for visionary statements and general broad-brush descriptions of the proposals must give way to a detailed explanation and clarification by the Minister of the way in which these measures will actually be delivered on the ground. To that end I have to admit to great disappointment when I attended a Bill briefing last Wednesday along with other Members of both Houses and representatives from other interested bodies.

The Minister, Mr Malcolm Wicks, who addressed the meeting was unable, or perhaps unwilling, to answer questions of detail. At one stage he intimated that the time for detail was when the Bill was before Parliament. Therefore we look now to the Minister in this House for some enlightenment. However, it is an open secret that officials in the department are still grappling with the details of policy.

The hallmark of government legislation during the first two-and-a-half years of this Parliament has been the degree to which the Bills represent structural framework changes, with the detail for implementation subordinated to secondary legislation or, worse, through directions by the Secretary of State. This Bill is no exception.

I was struck by how many of the respondents to the consultative documents broadly welcomed the thrust of the Bill. They welcomed the promised coherence for post-16 education that is intended to result from the proposals. However, in almost all cases they went on to query how the policies would work in practice and how duplication and confusion could be avoided; and they sought definition and clarification of the respective roles for the many existing and new bodies operating in the field of post-16 education.

Once again, the law of unintended consequences looms large as a result of not thinking through the practical and effective delivery of the service. The Bill sets out a top-down, highly centralised and controlled approach to reform. This was described by the Institute of Directors as proposals which,


    "could degenerate into a wasteful and ineffective form of centralised manpower planning".

Far from increasing flexibility at local level, the proposals will in fact inhibit sensible local solutions to local situations. The level of bureaucracy that will result and that will have to be funded is breathtaking.

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A paper produced by a representative body of the electronics industry called for the need to cut through the complexity, the jargon and the bureaucracy and to achieve focus of purpose. The paper continued:


    "the Government has published a number of Green and White Papers, parts of which have merit, but which tend to concentrate on the organisation and process of education delivery and the surrounding funding and advisory structures. It has set up many initiatives, targets and schemes and promises more of the same. Reorganising the educational bureaucracy, new inspection schemes and increased control give an illusion of progress and efficiency".

The paper went on to say:


    "Industrial experience shows such activities consume resources and attention, and put the focus upon internal activities rather than upon the output and upon the customer, the educated and motivated person. The plethora of Government announcements are introducing a level of complexity which is counterproductive to clarity of purpose and persuasion, although taken individually each idea has some merit".

In more colloquial language, this Bill does not reflect joined-up thinking or appreciate the real focus for service and resources; that is, the consumer. As my honourable friend in another place, Theresa May, said, bureaucracy will increase; there will now be a national learning and skills council, rural development agencies, almost 50 local learning and skills councils and life-long learning partnerships before one even gets to a school or a college, let alone a student. In fact, right across all departments a non-elected and non-accountable government outside of elected government is being created. The growth of quangos, task forces, political advisers and spin doctors is unprecedented. So too is the amount of funding that is being top-sliced by government from core-funding, especially in health and education, in order to pay for a bureaucratic superstructure which results in denying essential funds to our schools, colleges and universities throughout the country.

Local authorities are much affected by this. Under the School Standards and Framework Bill, organisation committees and adjudicators were created to second-guess LEAs. I have to say, as an aside, that I was delighted to see that Wandsworth Local Education Authority won its case against the adjudicator, Peter Downes, who was found to have exceeded his powers when ordering schools to reduce the number of pupils they admitted by selection on ability.

Under this Bill, local education authorities are to lose many functions and funding powers and are reduced to consultee status under the umbrella of the unelected learning and skills council. The only consolation for LEAs was the assurance given by Mr Wicks, not repeated today, that LEAs would be represented on each of the local skills councils.

This Bill is more significant for what it leaves out than for what it addresses. For example, many young people, particularly in the age group 13 to 19, are in fact being educated in schools. There is nothing in the Bill which addresses the interaction between the demands on schools arising from the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. Schools were promised

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intervention with a very light touch. However, the powers proposed in this Bill over inspection arrangements, the future of sixth forms, careers advice and the youth service delivery will impact on many schools, including community schools where education both formal and recreational is provided to all age groups. Equally, there is no mention of the interaction between further and higher education. As for the planning of services, Mr Blunkett says in paragraph 3.1 of the Learning and Skills Prospectus that,


    "the planning and funding framework for the Learning and Skills Council will increase transparency and simplicity and will cut out layers of bureaucracy".

Will the Minister explain how this can be so, when the level of bureaucracy as a result of the School Standards and Framework Act already requires 13 statutory plans to be completed and updated annually and a further four plans, which are relevant to the bidding process, including education action zones, information, communication and technology and life-long learning plans, all of which impact on the age range to which this Bill is subject? This Bill will add considerably to that burden.

Finally, on the subject of planning, will the local performance plan (the mother of all plans arising from the Local Government Bill) which includes services to 13 to 19 year-olds, have to be adjusted to take account of aspects of this Bill?

As Andrew Povey writes in his excellent pamphlet Plans Plans Plans, it is estimated that the 150 local education authorities in England and Wales are now collectively producing over 2,600 plans each year. The manpower involved in the production, scrutiny and review of these plans is formidable. It is estimated that a complete set of these plans for every LEA in the country would take the equivalent of 1,000 man-years to complete. Is it any wonder that schools and colleges are being starved of resources?

Will the Minister also explain how personnel time and money can be saved when the following, not entirely inclusive, list of bodies must work in partnership through centrally-directed collaboration, negotiation and consultation: the national learning and skills council, local learning and skills councils, lifelong learning partnerships, rural development agencies, the Department for Education and Employment and the Secretary of State, special needs organisations, local education authorities, employers' organisations--such as the CBI, the Institute of Directors and chambers of trade and commerce--the Small Business Service, the Higher Education Funding Council, the Employment Service, government offices, small business service franchises, Ofsted, the adult learning inspectorate, local learning partnerships, the Careers Service, the University for Industry, education business partnerships, education action zones, organisation committees, the education adjudicators and national training organisations, not forgetting the individual schools and colleges?

There is no reference in the Bill to national training organisations, which is to be regretted. However, my noble friend Lord Oxfuird will refer to the concerns of

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national training organisations, in particular those of the highly respected Engineering Marine Training Association.

This Bill gives rise to considerable anxiety about the future of our sixth forms, especially the smaller ones or those whose numbers fluctuate from year to year. Parents who choose sixth-form education for their sons and daughters do so from choice. It should be a matter for them as to whether they are satisfied with the quality of education. Will the Minister reaffirm that the guarantee of continuing funding per pupil in sixth forms will be sustained in real terms, especially where numbers are rising?

Will the Minister also give an assurance that any disparities of funding between schools and further education colleges will be addressed by levelling up and not by levelling down? Moreover, if and when the principle of equivalent funding for equivalent courses is introduced, will work-based training be treated equally?

Schedule 7 to the Bill constitutes the greatest threat to sixth forms, with powers vested in the learning and skills council to propose the closure of "inadequate" sixth forms. What is the definition of "inadequate"? Is it a small number of pupils overall, a small number of pupils taking a particular subject, a school offering minority subjects, the results of students in any one or more years, or the cost of courses, which could discriminate against high-cost vocational courses? What weight will be given to the wishes of staff, governors, students, parents and/or local education authorities where they wish to keep a sixth form in the event of a recommendation to close? Who, other than Ofsted, would be authorised to make an inspection? Would the Government contemplate a minimum period between inspections? Why is it that the Bill allows the first report on a school to be one that pre-dates this Bill?

Can the Minister say what calculation is to be used to top-slice sixth-form funding in order to re-route it through learning and skills councils to local education authorities and then down to schools? What will the administration costs be of this extraordinary, convoluted system of sixth-form funding? It is difficult not to conclude that sixth forms are destined for the same rocky road as our grammar schools. It is interesting to note that where the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education find it politically difficult or embarrassing to abolish something, they create an arm's length mechanism to achieve those ends--just as they did with our grammar schools.

The financial effects of this Bill beg many questions. In paragraph 202 of the Explanatory Notes the Government cannot give an assessment of cost to meet the additional powers to provide services which support youth participation in education. In paragraph 203 the Government cannot give an assessment of the additional funds needed by Ofsted and in paragraph 204 the Government cannot say how much additional funding will be needed to meet the full costs of the adult learning inspectorate. In paragraph

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205 the Government claim that it is "too early" to estimate accurately the costs of the national council for education and training in Wales.

Yet--surprise, surprise--the Government can say unequivocally that the savings as a result of the measures in the Bill will be £50 million. On what basis was this calculation made? Manpower figures are also puzzling. How many publicly funded posts are engaged in training and enterprise councils and separately in the Training Standards Council? Will the Government make available the number of posts, and their description, engaged in post-16 education administration at present, together with an estimate of numbers and a description of people planned to be in post as a result of this Bill?

Time does not allow me to explore other areas of concern. I can do no more than list some of them at this stage: the funding of residential colleges and colleges offering distance learning; how the operational freedom enjoyed by further education colleges will be safeguarded; how will confusion, repetition and unnecessary bureaucracy be avoided by the arrangements for the inspection of mixed-age programmes; how did the budget of £5 billion for the learning skills council, referred to by Mr Blunkett in June, become £6 billion when addressing businessmen in No. 10 Downing Street in December; what progress has been made with the individual learning accounts pilots, when will the full scheme be in place and at what cost, and, finally, who will administer the scheme? The training and enterprise councils are concerned about a number of matters, especially the role of employers and business, and possibly about there being too much emphasis on the supply side.

Given the concentration on central direction and the focus on skills for work, in particular for the 16 to 19 year-olds, what safeguards will there be to protect adult education not necessarily leading to qualifications, which is undertaken by many--especially the retired, the elderly those with disabilities, those who enjoy learning as a respite from caring or other domestic ties and those who just choose to develop a skill, a hobby or a particular recreational interest? For many it is a lifeline.

There is also concern that over-concentration on recommendations from the exclusion unit may well result in services to the 93 per cent of young people who do not require special measures being reduced. Will the Minister confirm that government money cannot be spent on setting up shadow structures, as set out in this Bill, until the Second Reading stage is reached in another place?

If we are to believe what we read and hear in media reports, those on the next considerable list of the Government's compliant friends are about to be elevated to this place. Therefore, the challenge for this House of carrying out its primary task of objective scrutiny will be the greater. However, I can promise the House that my noble friends on these Benches shall not be wanting in the energy and enthusiasm needed to hold the Government to account over the coming weeks and months. The themes will be--a war on

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bureaucracy, the extension of choice and diversity, the protection of what is best, the maximum devolution of funds to schools and colleges and to make a reality of the Secretary of State's own words to strip away waste and duplication.

3.49 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, from these Benches I wish to begin by giving a broad welcome to the Bill. We believe that the provision of a comprehensive framework for post-16 education and training is long overdue. We welcome the width and the depth of consultation that has taken place in its preparation and we are particularly appreciative of the degree to which the Minister has dealt separately with the Welsh issue and has consulted the Welsh Assembly and the interests of the appropriate authorities in Wales.

Overall we welcome the range of the Bill and its emphasis both on broad strategy and on detailed delivery. From a strategic point of view, as the Minister made clear, there is much discussion these days of what is called the "knowledge-based economy". Underlying this Bill is broad acknowledgement and understanding on all sides of the challenges that new technologies and the knowledge-based economy will pose and of the need to upgrade skills and educational achievements. For Britain this is not a new challenge. Back in the 1880s, Britain's poor performance compared with that of the then newly industrialising countries of Germany and the United States was blamed on poor levels of education and training. A century later, in the 1980s, the work of Professor Sig Prais and Hilary Steed at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research showed clearly how little had changed.

For my part, the importance of the issue of education and training together was very much brought home by the work of Professor Prais at the national institute. I remember in particular one article that appeared in the early 1980s which compared what was known as a "matched pair" of companies in Britain and in Germany in the engineering sector. The German company's productivity was 60 per cent higher than that of the British company. Why was that? It was not a matter of size; they were a matched pair of companies of similar size; nor was it a matter of the vintage of machinery. In fact, both plants used machinery produced by the same German manufacturer. It was not a question of hours worked and tea breaks in Britain. The workers in both plants worked similar hours.

However, when one "peeled back the skin of the onion" to discover precisely what was in the centre, it was discovered that the British machines were idle for almost 50 per cent of the time. When they broke down those who operated them did not know how to repair them, whereas in Germany the operator was usually able to fix them. Often, the plant engineer who was subsequently consulted did not have the necessary expertise and the service engineer had to be sent for so that the machine was idle for a whole day. When the

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service engineer had fixed the machine and it was back in working order, there was such a backlog of work that the machine was worked hell for leather and broke down again.

The service engineers reported that the main reason for machines breaking down was the build-up of iron filings. There was no routine maintenance of the machines, whereas in Germany the apprentices stripped down the machines every Friday afternoon and left them oiled, repaired and ready to start again the following Monday morning. Why could not the same procedures apply in the United Kingdom? There were no apprentices and even where apprentices were employed, service engineers reported that they had been unsuccessful in training those who had attended their training courses because, they said, they did not have the basic mathematical ability to take in the mathematics required for the first level of training.

All told, that is a sorry story which highlights two things: first, the need for vocational training and, secondly, the fact that vocational training must be backed up by high quality education.

These failings underlay many of the reforms which took place in the 1980s. We saw what was then the Manpower Services Commission translated into the local TECs, mirroring in many senses the role of the German chambers of commerce. What was then the youth training scheme was transformed by the development of the national vocational qualifications. The national curriculum was introduced in an attempt to upgrade educational achievements. The aim therefore was to operate both on the education and the training systems.

What have we achieved since the 1980s? Sadly, I believe, it is still a story of failure, not achievement. One in five of the workforce remains what is known as "functionally illiterate"; that is, unable to read well enough to understand the detailed instructions that come with any machine they have to operate. Some 170,000 young people between 16 and 19 still receive no education and training and many are unemployed and in many senses unemployable.

The "competition" model established by the Conservative government in the 1980s whereby it was hoped that public and private providers of further education and training would compete and thereby increase options, access and the number of those in vocational education and training has just not worked. Instead, we find TECs and Business Links often at each others' throats and further education colleges at odds with sixth-form colleges, both trying to entice students away from sixth forms in schools. In spite of all the incentives, more students are taking non-NVQ vocational qualifications than NVQs. The take-up of modern apprenticeships has also been disappointing. Only a third of the target number of places are filled with a disproportionate number in hairdressing, the caring services and retailing.

In 1979, we lamented the fact that the number of apprentices had fallen to 150,000 young people. Today, there are fewer than one-fifth that number--fewer than 30,000 modern apprenticeships. None of

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this bodes well for filling Britain's oft reported deficit in craft and technician skills. The national training targets envisaged 60 per cent of young people reaching A-level or equivalent standards by the year 2000. Instead, the figure is around the 50 per cent mark. Instead of all employees being involved in some kind of training or development activities, one-third of adult employees receive none. Instead of half the workforce aiming for qualifications within the NVQ framework, only one in five are doing so. Instead of half the large and medium-sized employers achieving the Investors in People award, the total remains well below 20 per cent, with over one-third of all employers admitting they are unaware of the initiative. I regret to say that these targets have been not only missed; they have been missed by miles!

How far will the proposed learning and skills council answer these criticisms and reverse these failures? As we know, it is a comprehensive framework which brings together the various agencies providing education and training provision for this age group and providing a common funding framework. At the local level it aims to build on the successful pattern of the lifelong learning partnerships where the objective was co-operation, not competition. By including youth services and careers guidance alongside the further education colleges, it is hoped to crack the social exclusion issue. By bringing in school sixth forms as well as sixth-form colleges at a time when the new A-levels are being introduced, it is hoped to bridge the status gap between NVQs and A-levels just as, with adult education, it is hoped that the term "lifelong learning" can apply as much to the pursuit of leisure and cultural activities as to vocational education.

As I have made clear from these Benches, we welcome the attempt to provide this comprehensive framework and to get away from the fragmentation that has plagued provision in this area. We welcome too the injection of co-operation and partnership into a field where competition has been so destructive. We endorse wholeheartedly the Government's commitment to reversing the long-standing failures in this area.

That said, however, we are not without criticism. First and foremost, we object to the democratic deficit at the heart of the Bill. Why should we have yet another unaccountable quango? Why, when pledged to 40 per cent business representation, is there no statutory representation on either the national or the local learning and skills councils from local authorities or local education authorities? The answer to the Government's fears of the dinosaur tendencies of their own backwoodsmen or of Tory councils is not to avoid them by yet more centralisation in what is already the most centralised of European countries but to reform the voting system for local government so that these rotten boroughs no longer exist.

Secondly, we do not understand why the Government have not used this occasion to reinforce regional boundaries. Why is it necessary to set up different geographical boundaries for the lower-tier authorities from the ones that exist already under the regional development agencies? Surely, the sensible

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way forward would have been to make the two authorities coterminous, and to ensure that they worked together and, in due course, became answerable to one elected assembly. As it is, the links between the two are at best tenuous. The aim is that the local learning and skills councils should work closely with the regional development agencies and the Small Business Service, but it is by no means clear how that will happen.

I cannot emphasise too much that we see this as an opportunity lost. If we look around Europe and at the United States, we see that the dynamic is now coming from the regional level. Often, the regional authority acts as a catalyst to new development and the pulling together of local capabilities, with universities and colleges at their centre and activities clustered around them. Certainly, with its emphasis on clusters, this is what the DTI has in mind for the regional development agencies. It is what we are beginning to see in the life-long learning partnerships. It does not make sense to put education institutions on a different axis; nor, given the growing importance of local universities as providers of all kinds of post-level 3 training, does it make sense to leave them out of the local learning and skills council net.

Moreover, nothing much will happen--certainly nothing to mirror the kinds of developments to be seen now in other European countries, even in Ireland--unless the Treasury is prepared to offer the RDAs and the local learning and skills councils much greater discretion over funding. I say again: Britain is the most centralised country in Europe. Unless and until we unlock and free up the creativity and the initiative that lies dormant at the local level we shall see nothing of this bottom-up burgeoning of activity that is stimulating growth in America and other countries in Europe.

Sadly, on these Benches we have come to the conclusion that the Bill and the proposals incorporated into it lack the vision that we had hoped to see--a vision apparent in the Green Papers and the White Papers which preceded the Bill and which shines through in Helena Kennedy's 1997 report, Learning Works.

It is common ground that, in future, education and training will be life-long and that individuals will need to plan in terms of moving in and out of education and training, on a full-time or part-time basis, throughout their lives. There needs to be an "open door" system which encourages everyone, always, to go a little further. To achieve this, the system needs to offer a common unit of account--or, as some would say, a credit system--in order that individuals can mix and match courses and institutions to their own needs and preferences. For example, 20 credit units earned, let us say, on a day-release training course could be topped up to a diploma level by credits earned with evening courses undertaken in one's own time.

It is this vision which underlies the idea of individual learning accounts, but it is not clear where individual learning accounts now come into the act. Yes, I know we have got Clauses 93 and 94. They are

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no longer called individual learning accounts. They are now "qualifying accounts"--and it is by no means clear how they will fit into the overall picture painted in the Bill.

Speaking of vision, what has happened to the proposals from the National Skills Task Force? The prospectus makes clear that all tuition costs for nationally recognised qualifications up to level 3 for 16 to 19 year-olds will be publicly funded. But what about the task force proposals that this should apply to 16 to 24 year-olds? Where do the 18 to 24 year-olds fit into the new picture? Will they be covered by the youth committee or by the adult committee of the learning and skills council? What of the task force's latest (third report) recommendation for income contingent loans for further education? I should like to ask the Minister whether there will be proposals to take this forward.

We have two further criticisms of the Bill. First, the issue of inspection. Why is it considered necessary to have two different sets of inspectors for this sector of education? Surely, it does not make sense to have both Ofsted and the adult learning inspectorate. How can you possibly achieve a consistent set of standards across this very wide range of institutions unless you have only one set of inspectors with one agenda? We cannot see that it is appropriate to bring Ofsted, with its school-based experience and school-based standards, into the adult sector. Surely, the answer is to have only the adult learning inspectorate, backed up by the work of the National Audit Office, in this whole sector.

Secondly, we see no reason why it is necessary to set up a separate careers service for this sector. In our view, a single integrated service is required for all post-13 students, whether in school or in further education. It is not clear how the new support arrangements will be funded. How is it proposed to ensure that all young people, irrespective of their ability or their position in society, will progress to appropriate--not just any--learning in their next phase of life? They need not only advice and information but positive guidance on the choices available. This becomes more important as the range of choice becomes more complex.

Good advice and guidance can help to reduce drop-out rates. We have seen how, in the further education sector, improved guidance has helped retention and completion rates. But the waste through wrong choices is still considerable. For example, even in universities there is now a drop-out rate of about 20 per cent. It is vital therefore that we have a proper, integrated and well-resourced careers service for all young people.

As I have made clear, broadly speaking we welcome the Bill. It brings together a vitally important set of institutions, many of which have emerged in the past two decades in attempts to reverse Britain's endemic failures in education and training. To date, as I have indicated, they have failed to achieve that objective. Implicit in the Bill is the view that the cause of failure lies in the fragmentation of effort among these institutions and that signally they have failed to get their act together. We share with the Government the view that co-operation in this sector will achieve more

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than competition. There is need to build on the nascent co-operation emerging at the local level in the life-long learning partnerships.

However, we remain wary of the top-down nature of the Bill. We do not share the Government's faith in the leadership of the business sector--which, to our way of thinking, has, time and again, neglected disgracefully its training responsibilities, particularly among those with fewest qualifications--and we object to the democratic deficit at the centre of the Bill. We share many of the fears of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that too much time will be spent on drawing up plans and on reports of how the plans are being implemented rather than on delivering front-line services.

Perhaps, above all, we regret the continuing lack of vision. Today, at the dawn of this new millennium, with new technologies challenging so many of our accepted structures, we have an exciting opportunity to build afresh. Sadly, while worthy in what we are seeking to achieve, this Bill does not rise to that challenge.

4.8 p.m.

Lord Dearing: My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, in her broad welcome for the Bill.

On Friday afternoon I attended a conference organised by the National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education, where its director described the Bill and the prospectus that preceded it as a new dawn for adult learning. Although he had a number of concerns to share with us, he nevertheless began the conference by giving 10 reasons to be cheerful about the Government's proposals. In the discussions that followed, while again there were concerns and requests for clarification, I heard no dissent from this general warm welcome. Believe me, it is unusual in the world of education to hear such a response to any government's policies--and I place emphasis on the policies rather than the Bill in particular, since the Bill provides the instruments rather than the substance of the policies set out in other publications.

In welcoming the Bill, I declare an interest as chairman of the University for Industry--the UfI--which the Government have established to be a flagship in creating demand for, and participation in, lifelong learning on a mass scale.

As someone who has been involved in various roles in education over the past 12 years, I was particularly pleased to hear the emphasis placed by the Minister on quality of provision and quality assurance. I also welcome the proposal on funding published last Monday in the consultation document that there should be a clear link between quality and the decisions of the new learning and skills council, and of the Employment Service, coupled with a proposition that those offering high quality provision should be able to expand where they can demonstrate demand. Strong quality assurance systems will facilitate the entry of new providers to the system so that it can continue to benefit from refreshment and new talent.

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While still on the subject of funding, I welcome the intention expressed in the same document that,


    "allowance should be made for up to four core elements in the funding of adult education--the recruitment of learners, retention, achievement and disadvantage".

The judgment of history on the Government's policies for adult learning will turn on the extent to which they can create a truly inclusive learning society by bringing into learning and skills development the multitude of individuals who dusted their sandals after leaving school, intending never to return; the disabled and the disadvantaged; and the mass of small firms who hitherto have seen the learning on offer as remote to their specific needs, costly, not available when and where they want it, or simply as something for which there is no time.

The key to the success of the Government's policies for adult learning is therefore attracting into learning the missing millions and, not less important, keeping them there, especially during the early weeks of engagement. Neither will be cheap; it means a major commitment of resource: skilled resource. I wish to assure the Government that the UfI intends to give every support to the learning and skills council in that great enterprise. Indeed, it is central to its mission. I hope that that will be reflected in the membership of both the national and local learning skills councils.

Earlier I referred to the importance of effective arrangements for quality assurance. Adult education also needs to be included within a rigorous framework of external inspection. The adult learning inspectorate is a welcome proposal. It is clearly right that, where the provision is for young people of under 19, as well as for adults, the inspection arrangements should include Her Majesty's inspectors of schools. Much as I respect the work of HMI, I should like to ask the Government why, when the majority of students--possibly the vast majority in an FE college--are adults, the adult learning inspectorate is cast as a junior partner, with HMI in the lead? If there is one quality that my good friend the chief inspector has without question, it is the will to speak his mind. He may be relied upon to do that whether in the lead or in support of the joint inspection, and it would be an explicit vote of limited confidence in the new adult inspectorate to cast it in the subordinate role, even though the great majority of students in an institution may be adults.

Perhaps I may return to the question of quality and the need for success in retaining new adult learners. I welcome in particular the emphasis, at paragraph 5.24 in the prospectus, on the development and skills of the teachers and trainers themselves. It is surely right that all providers will have to demonstrate to their local learning and skills council that their staff have appropriate qualifications or have personal development plans leading to appropriate qualifications. It is on the supply of such staff, who are themselves practising what they preach by engaging in continuing professional development, that the long-term success of this policy will be founded. Teachers and trainers will need to have new

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skills which can enable them and their students to benefit from the innovations that the new learning technologies can bring.

I turn now to the local learning and skills councils, where most of the action will be. I welcome the intention for emphasis to be placed on provision of representation for the worlds of industry and commerce. The Government have made specific commitments in that area. I should like to see a specific commitment to the inclusion of democratically elected members of local authorities and a clear articulation with the work of the local lifelong learning partnerships, which have so far had no statutory recognition, by including as a matter of right a representative of such local learning partnerships on local skills councils. I am sure that the Government will want the local councils to consult widely in developing their policies.

Perhaps I may offer one further brief comment on the composition of the local learning and skills councils. It is one of surprise that no provision has been made for chief officers to be members of the councils as a matter of right. The success of the councils will turn materially on the success of those chief officers and it is right that they should have the authority that comes from membership of the councils. I see that the Government have so provided for the national council and I suggest that they do likewise for the local councils.

Returning to the funding arrangements, while I see good reason for most of the funding flowing through local councils, I hope that the Government will recognise that, in the interests of effectiveness and reducing bureaucracy--dear though that was for 33 years of my life--it will often be right to fund national bodies through national arrangements rather than require them to refer to 47 separate councils. I have in mind the example of the learning hubs which the UfI is envisaging with major employers, trade unions and trade associations.

The Government will also need to give thought to the arrangements for funding the increasingly important area of on-line learning, where the learners and the tutors will not always fall within the same local boundaries. Most of all, I hope that the Bill will pave the way for arrangements which put the learners first and drive learning from that perspective. This is a great opportunity that should not be missed.

Perhaps I may finish by urging that the Bill is to be welcomed as a vehicle through which people are brought together in partnership at national and local levels with clear objectives in an enterprise which, to the extent it succeeds, will create an inclusive learning society that will bring in those who have consciously stood aside from learning. That is an economic imperative. But this is as much a moral and social issue as an economic one. We owe it to all our people to equip them to earn a decent standard of living in an increasingly competitive world and to participate effectively in society.

Although I have some questions, I welcome the Bill as a major paving stone in the pathway to the inclusive learning society which our people urgently need.

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4.18 p.m.

Lord Puttnam : My Lords, I have now spent over two principally very happy years in your Lordships' House. During that time I have seldom spoken at length, for the most part because my experience covers limited, or at least fairly specific, terrain. After a number of quite punishing hours in this Chamber I decided early on that it was unreasonably burdensome to impose personal opinions on your Lordships, most particularly on matters in which my expertise was, to say the least, somewhat limited. Today's debate--indeed, this Bill--is somewhat different.

I must start by declaring several interests: I am patron of Skillset, the national training organisation for broadcast, film and multimedia; chairman of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, more popularly known as NESTA; and Chancellor of the University of Sunderland. Through these and other initiatives I have, over a period of some 30 years, found myself involved in any number of issues surrounding skills and training across a variety of institutions and industries.

I am a wholehearted supporter of the Bill. I believe that it is high time that we paved the way for a comprehensive, well-planned national strategy for learning and skills development--one that takes account of ever more rapid changes in the world of work; a strategy acknowledging that competence-based qualifications and lifelong learning will increasingly be at the heart of any fulfilling and stimulating life, as well as any viable economic future for the nation as a whole.

The era of a "job for life" has gone, quite possibly for ever. There will certainly be no return to the days when 10,000 men and women marched through the factory gates each morning, lunchboxes tucked under their arms, and kept on marching until, 40 years later, they collected their gold watch and clocked off for the last time, quietly slipping away to live out the rest of their days digging an allotment or looking after the grandchildren. For good or ill, the dominant local employer, the nine to five working day, the sole male breadwinner, all are essentially things of the past. They have been replaced by a whole series of overused buzzwords--"downsizing", "lifelong learning", "employability", "portfolio careers", "flexible working", "e-working"--that is to name just a handful--and, of course, "globalisation".

Our national reputation as the "workshop of the world" rested for decades on our unique manufacturing industries. At the beginning of the 21st century, it is no longer even remotely possible to conceive of any nation having any unique manufacturing industry. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister reminded us in his New Year's speech, for we in Britain,


    "human capital is the chief resource. Developing it should be our national purpose for the 21st century".

The "knowledge economy" is no empty platitude, and its implications for learning and skills development are almost impossible to underestimate.

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Those of your Lordships who might question that need look no further than the announcement a week ago today that America Online, the world's largest Internet company, is to acquire Time Warner, the world's largest traditional media company. This will create a 250 billion dollar "clicks and mortar" global giant combining the "old" and the "new" media. A company like America Online, which barely existed five years ago, was made possible by the development of the silicon chip; but the chip itself is virtually worthless. All the value in that company--and a myriad of other start- ups with individual stock market valuations far exceeding those of more established leviathans such as General Motors, Texaco and IBM--was created by the skills and knowledge of a relatively small number of fresh-faced dot.com wizards. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it was 10th, not 1st, January that marked the beginning of the 21st century as I believe we will come to know it.

In an era when manufacturing was, as I mentioned a moment ago, all powerful, perhaps it was right to construct training strategies around specific regional and industrial strengths: shipbuilding here, steel there, railways yet somewhere else; perhaps. Perhaps it was right to think that Britain could remain a successful economy through its seemingly unique combination of its inventiveness and a comparatively poorly paid workforce; perhaps, but only perhaps.

One thing is absolutely certain: none of this holds true today. Value is now added by brains, not brawn; by inspiration, not perspiration; by bytes of memory, not bits of metal. Between 1969 and 1998 the market capitalisation of the top 10 companies in this country, leaving aside the impact of inflation, rose by no less than a factor of 50. During that same period, the number of people working for the 10 top employers shrank by 20 per cent. With the exception of the Post Office, which still ranks as a major employer, they were anything but the same companies. In fact no corporation, other than the Post Office, remains in that elite list 30 years on. It is the value added by skills, not numbers of employees, that makes a company competitive; and the skills that are essential to compete in the globalised market of the 21st century are not unique to any particular region or even to any particular country. That is the scale of change that faces all of us in this new century--and I mean all of us. Today's announcement of yet another mega-merger makes it clear that "middle management" is just as vulnerable as the traditional blue collar worker to imposed career change involving significant re-skilling and a great deal of adaptability.

That is why the report of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, on higher education was absolutely right when it concluded that,


    "it would be in the long-term interests of the UK to establish a national framework",

for qualifications and standards; for the possibility of a continual upgrading of skills.

Much of what I have said is utterly self-evident to anyone with an interest in training, or for that matter an interest in the long-term prospects for our economy. But the delivery of the thoroughly coherent

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Dearing recommendations has been slow, patchy--as the Minister politely put it--and has been somewhat underresourced. It is for that reason that I felt it worth restating the issues that make this Bill important. The Committee stage of the Bill will give us the opportunity to look in more detail at its proposals and at whether they can be in any way improved. For example, I believe it was absolutely right to have sought to develop NVQs as the "gold standard" for vocational qualifications. The principle of competency as a basis for making awards must be correct. But we must also ensure that qualifications remain "fit for purpose". Surely it is a focus on quality control not "badging" which is the key to rigorous criterion-based assessment. This is just one of the issues that I should like to pursue in more detail in Committee.

I commend the broad thrust of this legislation to your Lordships. Only by bringing together the widest possible mix of skills and experience and ensuring adequate levels of guaranteed funding from both the state and private sectors can we possibly expect to meet the quite enormous challenges ahead of us. This Bill is an important step towards helping us achieve that goal.

4.25 p.m.

Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, who in his previous career gave me and many millions of other people great enjoyment and happiness. I am very glad that he is now spending so much of his time trying to improve the educational system of our country. We should be grateful to him for that.

I am delighted to be debating further education because further education is one of the great success stories of our country. I do not recognise the gloomy picture of further education painted by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford. The number of students going into further education increases each year. The wide variety of courses increases each year. There is no area of education in which the private sector is more involved than further education. It is an enormous success story of which this Government and previous governments can be very proud indeed.

When the Conservative government took over way back in 1979--this is now almost ancient history--the participation rate of 16 year-olds was about 30 per cent. When we left office, the rate was approaching 70 per cent. That reflected the enormous opportunity that opened. No area of education is as socially inclusive as further education. It gives to young men and women the opportunity, which they never thought they could possibly have, of tertiary education, qualifications and enhanced job prospects. We should be very proud of that. Further education used to be referred to as the "Cinderella" part of education--Cinderella showered with money, I may say, but it was never fully appreciated. In my time I certainly did what I could to improve that.

I shall make two general comments on the Bill before speaking about special education, which is the real purpose of my intervention today. There is a great

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deal of bureaucracy in the Bill. I beg the Minister to look again at the levels of bureaucracy. All bureaucracy stifles; all bureaucracy smothers. The enormous tiers of quangos and interrelated bodies make "spaghetti junction" look like an open road. I hope that the Minister will look at that again. Further education will not expand through bureaucracy; it will be learner-led. It will be those students, sitting probably in front of a screen and probably linked into the Internet, who with a bit of luck can flummox the bureaucrats. They will decide what kind of things they want to learn and they will go shopping around this country, and more extensively around the world, to acquire those skills. Therefore, I ask the Minister to look again at the bureaucracy.

Secondly, I ask the Minister to think carefully about the provisions of the Bill on the question of the fate of sixth forms. The Bill looks at sixth forms from the point of view of further education rather than from the point of view of the schools. Sixth forms have a special role in schools--those which still have them--in that they allow schools to employ teachers to educate the sixth formers who are then available to the rest of the school. Sixth forms provide a continuity and a purpose in schools' education.

Undoubtedly there are in this Bill threats to sixth forms because the learning and skills council and not local education authorities will provide the money for sixth forms. All history teaches us that those who provide the money ultimately determine the policy. In our country the politics of the 17th century established that fact. It is inevitable that, if this new body is to provide the funding, eventually it will determine the shape and nature of sixth forms in all schools in the country. That is unsatisfactory. I do not believe that the schools have a sufficient voice in determining the future of sixth forms. I hope that, as the Bill progresses, amendments will be tabled to ensure that local authorities are not just consulted as to whether sixth forms should be closed but will have a say in the decision-making process.

Why should parents not be consulted? After all, when one comes to the abolition of grammar schools the Government want to hear the voice of parents. Here is a difficult dilemma for the Minister. She invoked the power of the parental voice in relation to the future of grammar schools, and I hope that she will do likewise when it comes to the future of sixth forms. I look forward to her eloquence which in that respect may be limited.

I turn to the aspects of the Bill which deal with special education. I speak as President of the Royal London Society for the Blind which maintains a school in Kent of international renown for blind and visually impaired children. That takes toddlers of two and a half to children at GCSE level, and there is also a further education college for 16 to 19 year-olds. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that later this year the Government intend to bring forward a Bill to deal specifically with special education. Some of my comments will be reserved for that Bill and no doubt

17 Jan 2000 : Column 901

will be repeated. As this Bill refers in several clauses specifically to special education, clearly this council will have funding responsibility for it.

I should like to bring a few matters to the attention of the Minister. I may not be here to listen to the Minister's remarks in winding up the debate. I have an engagement on the other side of London. Whether I can hear the Minister accept the points that I make depends on the brevity of the speakers who follow me. Generally, those schools that provide special education welcome the Bill, which places responsibility on the new council for the education and training of persons with educational difficulties. Clause 13(2) provides for placement in residential accommodation and therefore preserves a role for specialist residential colleges, of which Dorton House is one. In future will such colleges enjoy a level playing field with the maintained sector and have the same entitlements to grants and funding? At present the independent colleges are funded on an entirely different basis which is wholly dependent on the number of places taken up, with no provision for core costs to be met.

In addition, specialist colleges are denied access to funding for vital developments. To give an example, one very good initiative--it must have been started by the previous government because it is so good--is the National Learning Network for Further Education. I may even have started it myself but I am unable to remember. Unfortunately, specialist colleges like Dorton House have difficulty in accessing it. I do not believe that that was the intention. I appreciate that some of these questions are detailed and I do not necessarily expect the Minister to answer this question tonight. The maintenance of colleges such as Dorton House in Kent depends on the willingness of the local education authority. Kent is an enlightened authority and helps this school, particularly by way of GEST funding for the training of teachers. We have received some help under that scheme.

There has been an increase of £50 million in the funding of the successor scheme. The DfEE has proclaimed the importance of that funding in driving forward the action plan for the training of teachers of children with special educational needs. It is very difficult for schools in the non-maintained sector to apply for that money and I ask the Minister to look into that. I do not necessarily expect an answer to these questions tonight. However, when discussing the agency which is to fund specialist education it is important to get one's demands in early and to be at the head of the queue.

The last point that I raise, which is more a matter for the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, concerns the New Opportunities Fund. A 50 per cent grant towards the cost of computers up to £500 is available to teachers, but that is contingent upon them following the ICT training provided under the New Opportunities Fund. Teachers in those schools of which Dorton House is an example do not qualify under that scheme.

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I hope that the Minister will be able to consider the matters that I have raised. The area of special education particularly for post-16 year-olds is very difficult. It can be argued that for many the period from 16 to 19 is not appropriate and that at age 19 many students who are severely physically disabled or suffer from multiple handicaps need to go on in the further education process. I should like the Minister to consider that particularly in the context of the Bill that she is to bring forward.

However, in general I welcome the fact that this Bill brings together education and training. The noble Baroness said that the previous government brought the two departments together. In my view it did not happen early enough but I was unable to persuade my colleagues to do it. A strong lobby tried to keep the Department of Employment separate, particularly because at that time it was the department that dealt with the trade union movement. That has largely disappeared, by which I mean the engagement rather than the trade union movement. I am glad that the whole area of TECs and further education is to be brought together. My final plea to the Minister is: please try to simplify the matter as the Bill proceeds. At the moment the system is far too complicated bureaucratically.

4.36 p.m.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe: My Lords, the publication of the Learning and Skills Bill marks the culmination of the Government's policy consultations over the past two years in the area of post-16 education and training in England and Wales. In speaking briefly to it I declare an interest as Chief Executive of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. I stress that the Bill before us expressly excludes consideration of universities and higher education, and I shall say a brief word about that in a moment.

The Bill focuses on raising standards and participation beyond 16 and modernising arrangements for the planning, funding, delivery and quality assurance of post-16 education and training. It particularly impacts on further education, local government, training agencies and specifically employers in the regions. I welcome the fact that the Government have focused on each part of our education system from pre-school right up to higher education and invited discussion in each area. The consultation has been real and considerable. This Bill was preceded by the Green Paper The Learning Age which followed the thoughtful and ground-breaking report by my noble friend Lady Kennedy in 1997 and the White Paper Learning to Succeed. The Government are to be congratulated on the commitment to the post-16 sector, especially their attention to further education.

Despite the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, further education has for too long been a neglected sector, with consequences for many young people whose talents are in danger of being lost to us. Through the National Skills Task Force attention has also been focused on the low skill base of a substantial minority of the adult workforce who missed out on the

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massive expansion of higher learning opportunities in the 1980s and 1990s. Twenty per cent of adults lack the basic skills to perform even the lowest skilled jobs. They have been let down by the fragmentation which characterises the current provision built up on an ad hoc basis over recent years. That is why this Bill is so important. The partnership among employers, further education institutions and individuals which the Government's framework envisages is essential if lifelong learning is to become a reality for the very people who are least likely to be aware of the opportunities that are open to them.

A number of bodies are now charged to take action on the 16 to 19 year-old front and improve the wider skills area. That is excellent because it means that in innovative and different ways we shall reach out to connect with the largest number of potential learners, but it also means greater efforts of co-ordination between all these bodies to deliver the coherent strategy. So I was enormously pleased at the Minister's emphasis on co-ordination and the aim to reduce bureaucracy.

The learning and skills council will work with the University for Industry, as the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, also emphasised and with the Campaign for Learning and the national training organisations to gain national synergy from the different functions of these different bodies. At a local level the learning and skills council will connect with regional development authorities in order to map out and then respond to the skills needs of each part of the country which are bound to be different.

That leads me to the specifics of the Bill and the points I want to make about the commitment of the universities in this area. The CVCP has emphasised the need to rationalise post-16 education in England and Wales during previous consultations. We said then that some streamlining of existing provision, a structure more conducive to partnerships and resource-sharing, was vital to ensure that national skills targets and learning challenges are met in the medium term. In particular I welcome the creation of a post-16 structure that encourages specific local needs to be accommodated within a national framework lead by the central national learning and skills council.

However, in taking on the functions of the Further Education Funding Council, the national learning and skills council also assumes responsibility for the small but significant amount of funding which is channelled to 53 universities which deliver education. In addition the White Paper identifies the responsibilities of the LSC to work closely with the HEFC in respect of national and local targets for attainment at degree level. Universities have absolutely no quarrel with that. As I have said, it is sensible streamlining for the LSC to fulfil this remit. But these two functions point up the overlap between higher education, further education and the training agencies. We must ensure that the links between the areas with which the Bill is concerned--further education in particular and universities--remain close.

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So while the primary concern of the council does not relate directly to higher education, I very much endorse the view of the White Paper that the attainment of the shared vision in the learning age will require new arrangements and improved partnerships including higher education. I add that it is important that universities should be represented on the national learning and skills council and on local councils, too. Many universities, not only those delivering further education, are very actively engaged in lifelong learning partnerships introduced last year by the DfEE. There is no reason why the changes envisaged by this Bill should depart from this principle.

More importantly, the White Paper was unequivocal in placing the learner at the heart of the new post-16 system. Many learners will be taking further education in universities, receiving training for work or upgrading their skills on courses that will involve to some degree their local universities. For these students it is important that the provisions of the Bill allow direct dialogue on the councils between all parties. Despite not being directly affected by the planned reorganisation, higher education is a player in the delivery of post-16 education and a key partner. I hope that the Bill will recognise that and so reflect the reality of the many local relationships that exist.

I would like to make one final and very specific point. During the establishment of the new support services for young people set out in Part V of the Bill, LSCs must appreciate the need for co-ordination between universities and "connections" careers companies which universities will strive to ensure. There is some evidence that some career companies are prioritising their work with under-achievers and as a result they are severely reducing the level of support provided to students progressing to higher education. Yet many prospective higher education students need advice about the range of qualifications they can attain at university and about the relative suitability of their local institutions as well as opportunities further afield. As I said, that is a very specific point and one which I hope the Minister will be prepared to address.

Finally, the Bill signals the huge amount of investment, both of time and resources, going into this area. That is very much to be welcomed. It certainly shows this Government's commitment to tackle the skills gap and to encourage all talents to bloom.

4.44 p.m.

Baroness Platt of Writtle: My Lords, no doubt the Government mean well in stating the intentions of this Bill, with which many people might agree. Certainly now, and into the new millennium, skills and lifelong learning will be necessary for everybody if they are to cope with the applications of new science and technology as the years go by. Let us make no mistake, the pace of change will continue to accelerate. There is no standing still if we are to maintain our standard of living, quality of life and care of the environment.

Wealth creation is of vital importance to underpin everybody's personal standard of living and, through taxes, to pay for good public services such as

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education, health, transport, etc. The applications of new technology also underpin the development of better, more efficient and effective services in those areas, whether it be schools, hospitals or railways. It is the ingenuity of our people controlling those applications which will determine whether they serve humanity with sensitivity and in better ways in the future.

In theory, this Bill hopes to provide for that. As in other fields, as an engineer I find this Government long on theory, but short on practice. This Bill pulls many longstanding schemes up by the roots in order to set up a new structure following the Government's underlying motto of modernise first, centralise, second and think, a poor third.

Today's complex society means that every fundamental change, such as that proposed in this Bill, sends ripples out over a wide area and has unexpected and unfortunate repercussions which it seems to me have not been thought out carefully or sufficiently. It sounds good to a spin doctor to put everything under one council, but in the case of the learning and skills council it is not elected: it is a quango whose chairman and members are all appointed by the Secretary of State. As an after-thought Clause 1 suggests,


    "the desirability of appointing a person who has experience relevant to the Council's functions".

There is no mandatory statement, just "desirability". Yet this council takes over the Further Education Funding Council, with eight years' experience; the Training and Enterprise Council, with 12 years' experience; and the many years of local authority experience in schools, adult education and the youth service.

Nothing is said about the vital role of business in specifying the skills needed for their efficient commercial operation. Surely, it should be laid down in the Bill that the chairman and a substantial proportion of the members of the council should have business experience and preferably have been effective people in TECs and the FEFC.

I was glad to hear from the noble Baroness this afternoon that that is to be the case, but why is it not in the Bill? The same looseness is evident at local level where 47 new local councils--new quangos--are to be appointed by the central quango. There is no emphasis on previous experience in this field of skills, learning provision or business. Clause 19(4) states,


    "Members of a local council may be (but need not be) members of these Councils".

Again, why no mandatory statements about previous experience?

Local skills shortages differ across the country. The noble Baroness called them "patchy". They are bound to be different. Local business people will know practically where they lie. Some of the skills can be best supplied through work-based learning as well as through education and training in the education system. There is not much mention of that.

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One of the possible faults in past further education is that it has been supply-side rather than demand-led, and the provision must be up to date, not months later. Business people's co-operation locally will be vital if quick, suitable action to provide shortage skills locally is to be achieved. The kind of inexperienced bureaucracy provided by the Bill is not the right recipe. Local business must be closely involved, and yet that is not laid down. Why is it not made mandatory? There is no mention of training organisations despite the fact that, as the Engineering and Marine Training Authority states, the Government make it clear in their strategic guidance that the national training organisations are


    "at the heart of the learning and skills agenda".

There is no mention of City and Guilds or the RSA, despite their involvement in the provision of skills and life-long learning over decades, indeed centuries. Why are they not mentioned in the Bill?

In removing the Further Education Funding Council and the TECs, there will be substantial unnecessary expenditure on redundancy and valuable experience will be lost. How will the knowledgeable and experienced people be involved in the new system? If the good people are not offered continued employment, both nationally and locally, valuable experience and personal relationships will literally be thrown away. Good personal relationships are the key to efficient collaboration and use of precious resources.

This scheme, with its centralist emphasis, is a long way from the practical provision, and seems to be much too top-down and bureaucratic, as other noble Lords have remarked.

In paragraph 200 of the Explanatory Notes it is stated that money will be saved,


    "although in the short term this saving will be abated by costs arising from winding-up existing arrangements and establishing new bodies".

The Government admit that no attempt has been made to provide an accurate assessment of these transitional costs, which in my view are likely to impose overall costs rather than savings.

There is a reference to full-time and part-time provision. Does that mean that students will now have grants for part-time education, which is so vital to women returners?

There is reference to both vocational and leisure-based adult education. I can say from long experience that it is impossible to separate the two. Immediately, flower arranging or conversational foreign languages are mentioned. These may start as providing leisure interests, but often develop into vocational courses, as foreign languages are used at work, and flower arrangers decide to open flower shops or provide flower arrangements commercially for weddings, private receptions, et cetera. This is a minefield--not one to put into the hands of inexperienced people.

The Essex TEC has done an excellent job. Every year it makes Essex Skills Financial Awards to voluntary groups which are helping disadvantaged people: the deaf, the blind, the mentally handicapped,

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lone parents, Asian women returners, ex-offenders, the unemployed--the socially excluded people that the Government claim to help. Alan Howarth, Minister of State, came to Chelmsford in 1998 to make the awards and paid tribute to their work. The Essex TEC wishes to continue. If it does not, all that valuable, practical and collaborative experience will be lost. Why does it need to be so thoughtlessly and violently disturbed?

Sixth forms in schools are now to be financed through two new tiers of bureaucracy. The schools will have to separate costs of the 11 to 16 and 16 to 18 education. One of the good things about 11 to 18 schools is that gifted teachers teach children of all ages and encourage them to succeed and progress into sixth forms.

Now, money and time will have to be spent on more form-filling, just when teachers are asking for relief from this boring exercise. The National Association of Head Teachers calls it, rightly, "intervention overkill". Will that help children to learn new skills? The NAHT fears that it will lead to loss of valuable sixth forms and parental choice of school. Its fears are understandable. Why take adult education and the youth service away from the local education authorities?

Essex has a wonderful youth orchestra in which the LEA has invested deeply over many years. The young people met us years ago and said that they wanted to visit America and asked whether, if they raised half the money, the LEA would provide matching funding. Of course, we did. Every year they visit different countries, gaining confidence and providing much enjoyment. Similarly, other groups enjoy the facilities of the Essex Sailing Centre. Only in this week's local paper there is a picture of young people receiving their Duke of Edinburgh's Gold Award locally, before going to the Palace. How will all this good work be enhanced by far-away and inexperienced bureaucrats?

There is reference to work experience and education business links for school children. We did that in Essex in the 1970s and also linked courses with further education, which is valuable for the children; but it is happening all over the country now.

This disturbing Bill was not necessary. No human institution is perfect. As NEDO stated some time ago, if a structure is 70 per cent right, improve it, do not destroy it. Dissemination of good practice by the Secretary of State through education and employment circulars and other improvements could have improved and spread the necessary practices much more effectively without all this bureaucracy.

4.57 p.m.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for her very full introduction to the Bill, which is the most important restructuring of post-16 education since the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. I welcome the Bill because it has the potential to improve greatly the opportunities for students with disabilities and learning difficulties. It is also warmly welcomed by the Post-16 Disability Consortium, which is a forum of the main disability organisations concerned with education, including

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Mencap, the RNIB, which the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, has already spoken for, Scope and SKILL, which is the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities. I should declare an interest in relation to the latter because I have the honour to be President of SKILL.

I particularly welcome the fact that the Bill brings further education, adult and community education and training together, which should mean more cohesion in post-school learning. I also welcome the abolition of Schedule 2, which I hope will open up provision for those students with learning disabilities who are unable to progress to an accredited vocational course. This is something particularly close to my heart because Schedule 2 provision was brought in by the Government as an amendment to the 1992 Act, in response to quite a lot of cajoling and not a little pressure. I see the noble Baroness, Lady David, smile because she remembers exactly how much we had to put into it. However, it never quite lived up to expectations because of the proviso about having to progress to an accredited vocational course.

I applaud the statement in Clause 3 that the council must take account of the different abilities and aptitude of different persons and the attempt to address people's holistic learning needs and the recognition of the importance of non-vocational leisure-time occupation.

The Minister will not be surprised to hear that I feel that there are several improvements that could be made, some of which are very important if the Bill is to be really successful in meeting the needs of students with disabilities and learning difficulties.

I intended to raise four main points, but the first concerned the Disability Discrimination Act and the learning and skills council. I very much welcome what the Minister said about having a self-standing disability and education Bill. A quick telephone call to SKILL revealed that it also has no problem with the Bill. Obviously, we need to see what is in it, and we need to do that soon so that it dovetails with the current legislation. The Minister said that that would occur later in this Session. Can she confirm that that means before November 2000? I hope very much that the "later" will be a sooner later rather than a later later.

First, in the Bill there is the chance to create a stronger entitlement to equality of educational opportunity than is implied by the words of Clause 13(1) to,


    "have regard to the needs of persons with learning difficulties".

That is welcome as far as it goes, but the provision is the same as the 1992 Act. I would hope that we can go a little further now. The consortium suggests that the new learning and skills council and the new youth support service should have a duty to promote equality of opportunity between disabled and non-disabled people in education and training and all support services covering transition. The Minister has many points to answer, but I should welcome her view on that issue.

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Secondly, in Clause 13(2) the Bill places a duty on the learning and skills council to secure residential education for disabled students who cannot be provided for in daytime provision up to the age of 25. That is the same duty as in the 1992 Act but it applies still only to residential establishments. That means that a disabled student aged over 19 who wishes to go to a local non-residential college could be refused funding for post-school studies even though his need for them was just as great as a student who might go to a residential college. I feel strongly that that anomaly should be dealt with, in particular with the most welcome increase in inclusive learning. I very much hope that the Government may agree to bring in an amendment to give the new council a duty to secure education and/or training for all disabled young people up to the age of 25 who may need it, irrespective of whether they are in a residential establishment. I hope that the Minister will comment on that when she replies.

Thirdly, the Bill makes no mention of the transport needs of disabled students and trainees. Transport for disabled students has always been a substantial barrier to their ability to receive further study and there are still many instances of disabled students being unable to take up a place at college because their local authority will not provide them with necessary transport. That is especially true for students who have reached the age of 19. Under 19 most of them get transport eventually, although it can be a terrible hassle to secure it. However, post-19 it is a real problem and depends on the LEA. We need to sort out that matter. During the passage of the 1992 Act, we tried to ensure that transport was provided. As the noble Baroness, Lady David, will remember again, we had another go under the DDA. Unless there is a clear duty to provide transport, ensuring that disabled learners can get to their courses, all the rights mentioned in the Bill and aspirations to inclusive learning will become meaningless to a student denied that transport. I hope that the Minister will agree that that problem needs to be sorted out so that we can ensure that students with disabilities and learning difficulties will have every opportunity to benefit fully from the measures in the Bill.

The Bill is greatly welcome. Much progress has been made since the 1992 Act. I hope that during the Bill's passage we can agree some amendments which will ensure that students with disabilities and learning difficulties benefit from all that it offers.

5.2 p.m.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I intend this afternoon to make three fairly brief points about the proposals in the Bill for the creation of learning and skills councils. The first of these concerns the relationship between the councils and the local authorities in their areas; the second concerns the relationship between the new regional development agencies and these new councils; and, finally, I want to comment specifically on the arrangements for London.

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First, I should like to say a few words about why it is so important to get these matters right. My perspective is unashamedly a London one; that is my background and my experience. And an effective skills agenda is crucial for London and its future prosperity and competitive success. Skills gaps are already hampering that competitiveness. According to the London Skills Forecasting Unit, more than one in three of the jobs on offer are regarded as "difficult to fill" and that is frequently because people in London lack the right skills. This is a problem that both individuals and employers need to address. One in three people admit that they lack a relevant skill for the job they do but also say that they have no plans to do anything about it. But at the same time half of London's employers failed last year to offer any staff training to their 3.4 million employees. It is not surprising that employers rate 280,000 of their employees as lacking the skills they need for their current job.

There is already the danger that we shall end up with an IT "underclass". Gaps in skills divide the workforce. Of those unemployed, 43 per cent lack computer skills, compared with only 22 per cent of those who are in work. And for those who see this as a vanishing problem as technologically literate young people come into the workforce, it is disturbing to learn that in London one in five young people (aged 16 to 24) claim not to have a knowledge of computers.

In Learning to Succeed there was a vision: that a competitive, prosperous and inclusive society would be created through skills and learning. The statistics I have quoted demonstrate why that vision is so important to Londoners. Yet that vision can be achieved only if the skills that people are given are matched to the skills that businesses require. LSCs must therefore be responsive to the needs of employers and the labour market and not just to individual aspirations.

But the pace of change these days in the labour market is extremely rapid and LSCs will succeed in what they need to do only if there is a requirement to monitor and provide for emerging skill needs. I am not clear whether this is adequately provided for in the Bill.

That need to be alive to the wider agenda brings me neatly to my first point about the relationship between LSCs and the local authorities in their areas. Before your Lordships' House at present is the Local Government Bill. This will provide local authorities with a new power to promote the economic, social and environmental well-being of their areas. At the same time the Bill encourages local authorities to develop community plans and to exercise community leadership in their areas.

Ensuring that young people (and indeed the whole population) have the necessary skills for the developing world of work must be an integral part of the promotion of economic well-being and of any community plan. There must therefore be strong and clear links between the work of LSCs and the community leadership agenda of the local authorities.

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I am pleased to see that local authorities are to be embedded in the planning and consultation arrangements of the new LSCs. However, the Bill requires consultation with LEAs rather than local authorities and fails to recognise the broader community leadership role of local authorities as a whole.

The Bill should also recognise the central leadership role of local authorities in local economic development and LSCs should be required to work with local authorities on this. That means that the arrangements which specify relationships with local education authorities are inadequate.

The significance of economic development brings me to my second point. The new regional development agencies are required to develop an economic development strategy for their regions. Central to any such strategy must be the learning and skills agenda being followed by the LSCs. It is difficult to see how the RDAs can do their job unless they are able to develop their strategies in conjunction with the LSCs and in the knowledge that the LSCs will act in accordance with the agreed regional strategy. I have to admit to being unclear about how this relationship will be managed and indeed why the LSCs are accountable to a national council rather than to the relevant RDAs. I trust that joined-up government will be allowed to extend to these relationships and that this will not be the subject of squabbles and tensions between Whitehall departments. I am sure that that cannot be the case and that a workable relationship will be found to ensure that the regional development agencies and learning and skills councils work together effectively.

Finally, I turn to the arrangements for London. In practice, London is one labour market, albeit a big one. I believe that that would have been best recognised by having one learning and skills council for the whole of London. Unfortunately, that viewpoint did not prevail among my colleagues on the London Development Partnership. However, the LDP recommended very strongly that there should be a strong co-ordinating body for the five learning and skills councils proposed for the capital. I would have hoped that London's unique nature could have been recognised in the Bill.

Some may feel that that amounts to special pleading for London. However, I remind your Lordships that the UK's prosperity depends on London. London's unemployment is 20 per cent above the national average. There are as many unemployed people in London as in Scotland and Wales combined. At any one time there are 120,000 jobs on offer but people lack the right skills to fill them. One in four of London's residents have no or only minimal qualifications. Therefore it is clear why we need to get the skills agenda right and why the provisions in the Bill are so important. In this House it is our duty to ensure that we have the best arrangements for London--ones that are most workable and likely to be effective--and for the people of London.

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5.9 p.m.

The Viscount of Oxfuird: My Lords, I shall not delay the House for long. I shall merely make a few observations about some areas of concern to me and the engineering and manufacturing industries with which I try to keep in close contact. For some 40 years I have had close links with industry and especially the engineering industry. My past employers have included the Ford Motor Company and Lansing Bagnall Ltd. Therefore, it is from an industrial and engineering perspective that I look at the Bill.

At first glance, the Bill makes some sensible points. For too long industry has suffered from the highly variable funding of modern apprenticeships. The engineering industry has for many years made the point that to train someone to NVQ level three in engineering, which is a key part of the modern apprenticeship framework, costs at least £28,000, compared with only £8,000 for business administration. The experience of the industry has been that some TECs were much more generous than others in funding modern apprenticeship programmes, and therein lies a problem.

It is therefore not surprising that industry welcomes the fact that the national learning and skills council will result in the introduction of national tariffs and funding systems. Will the Minister be in a position to reassure us that the new body and its local arms will ensure that appropriate differential rates of funding are introduced to reflect adequately the high costs of some sectors, such as engineering, compared with others?

I am concerned that the internal make-up of the new body should reflect the whole spectrum of post-16 education and training, so that the interests of both colleges and other training providers, such as group training schemes and in-house training schemes, are addressed. We must not end up with something similar to the current Further Education Funding Council but with a slightly expanded remit.

Any sensible person will want to see the learning and skills councils make a real difference. It would be wrong and damaging to the industry for us to end up with an organisation that took a one-sided view. Quite simply, I do not want us to end up lumbered with a body that has a bias towards traditional classroom learning against vocational, work-based learning. That is the current criticism of the FEFC and I hope that Ministers will take great care in ensuring that the LSCs do not follow the same pattern.

However, I can see problems in trying to ensure such an outcome. Clause 83 of the Bill makes it clear that the assets, rights and liabilities of the FEFC will transfer to the LSC upon dissolution of that body. No similar mention is made of the TECs, which is quite understandable given that they are companies limited by guarantee. But will the Minister give us an assurance that that will not mean that FEFC staff will receive preference over those employed by individual TECs when the LSCs--both national and local--are recruiting staff? I fear that the TUPE arrangements--I apologise for all those acronyms; they are the

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Government's creation, not mine--will result in exactly such a scenario occurring, which will have serious consequences against ensuring that industry has total confidence in the organisation.

Finally, I should like to touch upon what appears to be a serious omission in the Bill. The Minister will know that national training organisations are a creation of her department and indeed, are a recent development. The Secretary of State has made it clear that he has high expectations of those NTOs and I do not blame him. Indeed, in his foreword to the latest strategic guidance for NTOs, the Secretary of State writes that NTOs,


    "are at the heart of the learning and skills agenda",

and that they,


    "play a pivotal role in helping to modernise the education and training systems needed to deliver the skills for greater competitiveness and employability".

He goes on to add that,


    "the employer's voice must be heard to ensure these developments meet the need of business and the public services".

Those are fine words and the NTOs must be delighted that the Secretary of State thinks so highly of them. but why has he not mentioned them in the Bill? I have searched and searched, as have others, and nowhere are they mentioned. They are not even listed in the glossary to the Explanatory Notes. In addition, why are the county careers services not being guided in that direction for suitable young people? It should be part of their job.

It makes me wonder whether the Secretary of State has created so many bodies that he actually forgets about some of them. NTOs have a vital role in representing the views of industry and I urge the Minister to ask her officials to look again at the Bill to see how NTOs may be included so that they can achieve the remit given to them by the Secretary of State and ensure that the LSCs are left in no doubt that the NTO movement is,


    "at the heart of the learning and skills agenda".

5.17 p.m.

Baroness David: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her exposition of the Bill and also for her mention of the Special Educational Needs Bill to come. I was extremely glad to hear of it and I hope that we shall have it sooner rather than later. I hope also that it may start in this House. I do not know whether she can give us any information on that point and I do not suppose that she will.

There is a great deal of support for this Bill, which will lend much more coherence to what is a far from coherent system at present. Many organisations have expressed their support, as well as a great many noble Lords today. Alan Tuckett, the director of NIACE--the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education--says that,


    "The Bill provides a workable framework for improving opportunities for adult learners across the board ... given goodwill and imagination, the new Council should provide a platform for the creation of a learning society".

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The institute has been anxious about the funding but has found some reassurance in the funding document which came out recently. After many years of insecure funding, a foundation for the provision of all-age education and careers information advice and guidance looked to have been secured last year when the Minister spoke at the AGM of the guidance council. I hope that she will confirm that that is so.

NIACE picks out in its briefing 10 reasons to be cheerful, as the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said. I shall mention one, because I am particularly pleased about it--it was mentioned also by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth. That is the ending of the curriculum distinction between Schedule 2 and non-Schedule 2 provision. I remember trying hard, during the passage of the Further and Higher Education Bill 1992, to prevent the distinction from being included in the Bill, but I was not successful.

In particular, we want to encourage the learning process and we do not want to discourage those people who have made a start--those who previously may not have attended classes, and so on, but who have made some progress and do not want to change their institution to take a qualification. I was most cheered to read at paragraph 5.27 of the prospectus:


    "While qualifications are very important ... we also want to see the LSC provide opportunities with scope for learners to get recognition for their achievements other than through qualifications".

I was anxious that local government might feel aggrieved that some of its responsibilities would be taken from it. However, the LGA seems to be content. In fact, it says that there is much to welcome in the Bill which brings forward many welcome changes to the public provision of post-16 education. It regrets that the Government have chosen to achieve that improvement through nationalising provision, rather than using local government to lead the co-ordination of the disparate system that exists at present. However, because of the variety in the performance of local authorities, one can understand why the Government chose the national commission route. The LGA praises the words in the first consultation paper on post-16 funding and allocations:


    "There should be common funding rates so that the same type of learner with the same type of needs on the same type and length of programme is funded to the same extent, no matter which school or college he or she is registered with".

I agree with that.

The LGA feared that the voice of the local community could become drowned out by the sub-regional local learning and skills councils and the national power of its umbrella body. However, at least the Bill provides a welcome role for the local authority to have a plan for the development of adult and community learning which can be used by the local learning and skills council.

I was going to make a point about the Local Government Bill. However, the point has already been made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, and, therefore, I need not do so. But I hope that there will be a cross-reference between that and this Bill and that we can table an amendment to bring that about.

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The LGA regrets that the funding of sixth forms is to be taken from it. However, it is pleased that it will be able to set up and maintain schools for 16 to 19 year-olds, and looks on that as an exciting opportunity to improve the rationalisation of sixth-form education in its areas. It does not seem to object to the closing of small sixth forms. Here I must disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Baker. I do not believe that small sixth forms are sensible, either for pupils or economically. They cannot take the necessary range of subjects. Therefore, if the noble Lord aims to change that, I believe that we can perhaps look forward to some battles at Committee stage.

Therefore, on the whole I believe that local government is satisfied with what has been included in the Bill. It is not surprising that it does not like absolutely everything, but, as I pointed out, I believe that there is much satisfaction. I believe that some of the Minister's words in her opening speech should also give reassurance.

For the rest of my remarks, I want to concentrate on the youth support service. I am sure that noble Lords will know what I mean, although the words "youth support service" do not appear in the Bill, nor in the Explanatory Notes, and nor did the Minister use them in her opening speech. Perhaps she can tell us what it is to be called when that is finally decided.

Social exclusion is the basis and the reason for the plans proposed in the Bill. Of course, I am delighted that the Government are making such an effort to include all young people in the learning process and in the acquisition of skills. My anxiety is that, in the determination to prevent social exclusion, the needs of the remainder of young people may fail to receive the attention which they should and which they deserve. The Bill is heavy on processes but says little on functions and purposes. Would it be a good idea to have a purpose clause at the beginning of that part of the Bill?

Social inclusion, partnerships and personal advisers are all stressed, and rightly so. A great deal of attention should go to people at risk, but is there a danger that the mainstream work may be marginalised so that some young people will not have access to professional advice? That is extremely important when deciding on subjects, courses, future further and higher education and jobs. I want to emphasise that that help is as necessary for bright and clever young people as it is for the less able. They may not have the maturity to make the right decisions for themselves.

It would be helpful to know whether the current careers service will be the lead body--the local contracting body between departments--and whether the resources available will be adequate to ensure that the new service will extend to all young people, rather than there being a reduction in the amount overall. I am sure that the careers service will be willing to take on the new work, but not at the expense of reducing the old. It is interesting to look at Scotland. There, the careers service is kept, but within the youth support service. Obviously, there must be partnership and close links between all involved. However, a lead

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service seems important. Perhaps all that will become clear when we receive the next prospectus. I hope that the Minister can tell us when that will be. Certainly, we need it well before the Committee stage.

I turn to careers teachers and ask for clarification. Do the Government plan any measures to improve careers education provision? We know from Ofsted that that varies across the country and is very patchy. There is the issue of age: 13 to 19 is the age range in the Bill, but support in schools goes to those below 13. Very interesting work is taking place in primary schools with the careers service in support. Can we be sure that age specification in the Bill will not prevent that work from continuing? I quote from a conference paper, Career-Related Learning in Primary Schools:


    "Communities and society benefit from children being aware of the responsibilities and opportunities of adult working life ... Career-related learning can promote equality of opportunity by opening up to children a broader range of opportunities, and can help the school to monitor and raise pupil aspirations. The potential for career-related learning to motivate children and make their learning more relevant to them is an important contribution to tackling social exclusion. Early intervention to target children at risk of becoming disaffected can forestall the more intractable problems which could arise later".

Therefore, I hope that the Minister will give some assurance on that.

The careers service is carrying out an increasing amount of work with adults. In a paper last week the Skills Task Force underlined the importance of that work and expressed concern that the careers service is in danger of being subsumed within the YSS. That could mean that the work is being marginalised. While I welcome the new YSS because it brings together all the services to help young people through a challenging period of their lives,


    "it is likely to reduce the focus of local careers services on meeting the needs of adults".

Can the Minister also give us an assurance that that will not be the case?

I make a final point on adult guidance--an important technical point in relation to the Bill. Clause 5(1)(i) provides for the LSC to secure "information or advice" to post-16 year-olds. It does not mention guidance. I hope that the Minister will accept an amendment to add "guidance" to the phrase and, similarly, to Clause 34 in the part of the Bill which relates to Wales. If that cannot be agreed, as I hope that it will, can the Minister assure us that the terminology in the Bill includes access to an in-depth interview conducted by a trained adviser, which is what "guidance" means in this context?

I believe that we shall have an interesting Committee stage to the Bill. There is much to be admired in it, but some things need to be improved. I hope that the Minister will support some of those amendments when they come before the House.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I echo the hopes of other noble Lords that the Government will make every effort to ensure that the learning and skills council supports the maintenance of sixth forms in

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schools. I am afraid that I usually disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady David, and I do so again at this point.

Over the past 30 years or more, there have been many efforts to argue that schools should end at 16 and that all 16-19 education should be provided in colleges. For example, in 1976, the influential Lord Alexander of Potterhill, the former Sir William Alexander, said that it would be economically impossible for comprehensives with 1,000 pupils to support a sixth form and that the answer was colleges. The Macfarlane report of the early 1980s was even more direct, saying that many factors pointed inescapably to the national adoption of a break at 16. Of course, there is a great temptation to adopt a college answer. It is cheaper than keeping a pupil in a sixth form, although it must be remembered that a sixth form in a school gives much more to the pupils.

I taught for 30 years in school sixth forms. I feel that it would be a disaster for English education if schools were stripped of their sixth forms. I wish to echo what my noble friend Lord Baker said. I know that my noble friend Lady Young fought a battle royal in the early 1980s to stop the Macfarlane report being implemented. The point made by my noble friend Lord Baker--and I echo it--is that many graduates enter teaching with the expectation that at least some of their timetables will allow them to teach pupils at an advanced level.

It is interesting that schools with sixth forms perform better at GCSE level. I believe that it is roughly an improvement of 15 per cent. I would even go so far as to say that it is doubtful whether the national curriculum could be sustained in some schools if talented graduates stayed away from the teaching profession because of the lack of available advanced teaching. That would be particularly true of subjects like physics and some modern languages.

Let us go further. If teachers inspire pupils at the highest level, it often affects the ethos of the whole school. I am sure that the lives of many noble Lords in this House today were transformed by inspiring and inspirational teaching in the sixth form. It is certainly true of me.

The school sixth form also sustains sports teams, takes a lead in plays and contributes a large part to distinguished orchestras which have characterised many schools. Sixth form pupils provide a role model for the younger pupils on the games field, in drama and in school societies. Many noble Lords have spoken in school societies and have seen the interaction between the older and younger pupils.

The existence of the sixth form offers an opportunity for post-16 religious and moral education--something for which the Government have argued frequently--and provides emotional and pastoral continuity.

Colleges are modelled on the university. Many of us know that the atmosphere of the sixth form is more conducive to security and stability between the ages of 16 and 19 rather than the neo-university atmosphere of

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a college. The years 16 to 19, as many of us remember, are not the easiest for young people when they are exploring their emotions and deciding who they are as well as experiencing more advanced and sophisticated methods of learning.

It is true that some--a minority--have outgrown school and want a freer and less structured environment which a college can provide. But from my own experience over many years, I know many who collapsed within the neo-university style of the college which had been imposed on them too early.

I conclude by hoping that the Government, and particularly the Minister, will not allow the new council not to give value to the sixth form as English education would be the poorer if schools finished at 16. I should support any amendment giving local authorities and parents the right to decide whether a school sixth form should be ended. If my own Front Bench is not prepared to table such an amendment, I shall do so myself.

5.34 p.m.

Lord Rix: My Lords, I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to today's debate on the Learning and Skills Bill which carries forward government strategies for lifelong learning. Mencap's last annual conference focused on that very issue, examining strategies for inclusive learning for adults, young people and children with learning disabilities. Many of my comments will draw upon the debates held at that conference by families and professionals while others reflect wider, pan-disability issues, largely influenced by the post-16 coalition of disability organisations referred to already by my noble friend Lady Darcy de Knayth.

In her opening speech, the Minister threw those of us concerned with disability into some confusion. On the one hand she acknowledged that the Learning and Skills Bill makes a number of important provisions for disabled people, particularly in relation to the transition from school to other post-16 learning of young people with statements of special educational needs. On the other hand, the Minister stated that full and proper attention to the recommendations of the task force will be best achieved in a self-standing "disability in education" Bill. Therefore, I am not quite certain whether the rather lengthy remarks which I propose to make are germane to this Bill or to the proposed new Bill. Perhaps I shall have to repeat them later in this Session. I shall ignore the cries of "Shame". Frankly, I do not care, provided that the Disability Discrimination Act, this Learning and Skills Bill plus the proposed disability in education Bill achieve full equality of opportunity for lifelong learning for people with all disabilities and learning difficulties.

There is no doubt that the term "lifelong learning" falls victim to over-use. Nevertheless, I believe it to be helpful in understanding the ongoing support which many people with learning disabilities may need to achieve their full potential as confident and independent citizens, whether that is learning social skills; how to advocate for themselves; how to choose

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a vacation and make a success of it; or even how to develop non-verbal expression to communicate with others.

Learners with disabilities may work at a different pace, require a different interpretation of texts and materials or may have other ways of responding to questions and expressing themselves. Others may have complex health needs which must be taken into account. Others still may find that their disability presents no specific barriers beyond that of discriminatory attitudes of others.

The principal duty placed upon the new national learning and skills council is to secure the provision of proper facilities for the education and training of 16 to 19 year-olds where "proper" is construed both in terms of quantity and quality. I welcome both of those emphases but most notably, the latter since it is in terms of quality that much of the provision for young people with learning disabilities has been sorely lacking.

The seminal piece of research into inclusive learning, the Tomlinson report, back in 1996, recognised with respect to people with learning disabilities that:


    "The quality of learning opportunities is poorer than for other students".

While improvements have been made, there is still a long way to go. Therefore, I look forward to the council grasping the nettle of that problem.

The secondary duty of the council is to secure reasonable provision for the education and training of persons over the age of 19. Reasonable facilities for adults are reasonable if they are affordable, implying that the council can place less priority on adult learners. I caution against a clear demarcation of priority between young people and adult learners. Young people with a learning disability may not be in a position to move into further education until they are in their 20s, perhaps even 25. Those who leave school over the age of 19 should have the same rights to a proper, quality further education or training experience as any other school leavers. I would like that distinction removed, giving the council and its local subsidiaries the opportunity to provide lifelong learning as it sees fit.

I am most encouraged to see the council charged with securing non-vocational learning and leisure-based opportunities alongside the more traditional forms of full and part-time education and vocational training. People with mild learning disabilities, who might eventually go on and work, may require a period of non-vocational training after they leave school to develop their ability to make choices or to work as part of a team. Non-vocational courses may also be best suited to people with severe learning disabilities or multiple disabilities and will pay crucial dividends in terms of the development of communication skills, self-esteem and social inclusion.

In the past, non-vocational training has always been something of a Cinderella service and the first to scale down when budgets are tight. I look forward to the council improving that state of affairs. The council will

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also be charged with the important task of fostering links between education, training and employment. That will benefit all learners, including those with learning disabilities. Through its Pathway employment service, Mencap is one of a number of organisations that already undertake that role, supporting people with learning disabilities who are hoping to obtain work. Clients are offered many different elements or pathways of support, including vocational training, IT or basic skills support, help into self-employment, work experience or trials, job search assistance or on-the-job coaching.

There is considerable evidence to suggest that where a college of further education has developed a partnership with such a supported employment service, the transition from college to employment has been much more cost effective and successful and has avoided the scenario whereby the student becomes unemployed on leaving college because the necessary planning and support provisions were not identified. We all know that long-term unemployment for such people generally leads to lifelong unemployment.

Clause 13 asks the council specifically to recognise the importance of securing appropriate provision for people with learning difficulties. I warmly welcome the inclusion of that direction. The learning and skills prospectus goes further in fleshing that out, asking the council to co-ordinate a national strategy to ensure that accessible learning opportunities are available and to promote equal opportunities for all learners. It is essential that the council is able to draw upon relevant expertise in devising that strategy and its implementation, both locally and nationally. I would expect the council's annual report to outline specifically how it has undertaken that direction.

The latter part of Clause 13 suggests that the council has an obligation to provide boarding accommodation for under-25s with learning disabilities for whom no local provision is suitable. That is welcome in principle but one of my key concerns is that implementing that obligation might compound an existing problem--that the young person seeking a specialist college place has to be turned down by a mainstream provider to be eligible for specialist provision.

We should continue to strive to place young people in mainstream provision where their needs can be adequately met. But for some young people, specialist provision can easily be determined early on as the best option. Those young people should not be penalised as a consequence. I urge the Minister, as did my noble friend Lady Darcy de Knayth, to broaden and strengthen the clause to ensure that the council has a duty to provide learner- focused education and training for all disabled people under the age of 25 regardless of whether those individuals' needs are best met and without unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles.

The council will be expected to have an ambitious equal opportunities policy covering all aspects of its work. It will include eliminating barriers to learning through the provision of appropriate materials and support for people with learning disabilities. Perhaps the Minister will clarify whether support is to be

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provided with transport costs or travel training for people with learning disabilities. That may seem a small point but it is generally one reported to me as being the most problematic in securing access to appropriate education and training, as was also said by my noble friend. We have to recognise that individuals require different support provided in different ways, and we must be creative and flexible in our responses to individual need.

The equal opportunities strategy will also consider measures for tackling discrimination within further education and training. Perhaps the Minister will assure us that the council will work closely with the Disability Rights Commission to advance the recommendations of the Disability Rights Task Force and the Education Select Committee that further education and training will be brought specifically within the remit of the DisabilityDiscrimination Act 1995. Perhaps the Minister will do as was asked by the noble Baroness, Lady David, and give more information about the proposed disability in education Bill.

One would expect the council and its local subsidiaries to be accountable to the local community and its membership to reflect the views of all stakeholders in the lifelong learning project. Fighting my own corner, I like the membership of the councils to include at least one member with knowledge and experience of disability. I see no reason why applicants with learning disabilities could not, with appropriate support, fit the bill--as illustrated by the Department for Education and Employment's much-welcomed announcement today that a person with a learning disability is to serve for a minimum of three years on the Disability Rights Commission. There is a powerful self-advocacy movement that needs to be nurtured and valued.

The remaining aspects of the Bill are concerned with developing strategies to encourage school leavers to undertake education or training and measures to make learning or work more attractive to them. A recent project that considered transitional arrangements for young adults with disabilities in London found that those in education tended not to have concrete plans for the next step after their current course. Research also found that young people, including those with severe disabilities, overwhelmingly wanted to work but there was often no clear idea of how they would progress and little or no awareness of any benefits or services to support them in independent living.

The Bill will legislate for compulsory transition reviews for young people with disabilities in their final year of school or before they reach the age of 19, which is most welcome. However, there is already a requirement upon schools, local education authorities, social services and the careers service to join forces to devise a transition plan, which should be renewed annually. Unhappily, there are extremely poor rates of compliance--particularly for children in mainstream schools, whose staff are less accustomed to the procedure, or for young people who are placed outside their local borough. Only half the young people

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surveyed in the London project in mainstream schools said that a review had taken place--and no other options had been discussed with them, apart from their current placement. There needs to be a concerted drive towards compliance with the code and with the new legislation. Reviews need to involve all agencies working together to offer youngsters real options.

One final measure worthy of comment is the plan to introduce individual learning accounts to enable learners to benefit from incentives to save for education or training. As with other independent financial arrangements such as direct payments in the social services field, measures must be put in place to ensure that people with learning disabilities can access appropriate support in running their own accounts, and that they are properly supported in making choices about what learning is right for them.

To conclude, we have before us a promising Bill and an encouraging prospectus for the new councils but that is not to say that this particular transition will be easy. It will take a real shift in priorities, backed up by strong resources, to really make lifelong learning viable for all. Only then will we be able to declare, as does Trofimov in Chekhov's Cherry Orchard,


    "I expect I shall be a student to the end of my days".


5.51 p.m.

Baroness Whitaker : My Lords, I welcome the Bill for the coherence and higher and more consistent standards that it will bring to further and adult education. I should declare an interest as chair of the governors of the Working Men's College, founded in 1854, one of the great periods of widening participation, to use the term from the seminal report of my noble friend Lady Kennedy.

Further education is an engine of change in our society. Reaching the parts that other education does not, it can repair the gaps left by inadequate schools, of which there have been plenty over the past decade. It enables people to retrain, "upskill", widen their horizons or, that rare privilege, to turn a consuming passion into a means of earning a living, and to transform skills acquired in another country into an asset to themselves and this country. Further education is an integrating force for individuals as well as society, not least in its economic aspect, as my learned friend the Minister and other noble Lords have indicated.

But in recent decades, as opposed to 1854, further and adult education did not have what one might call national respect or much state resources and attention. By improving funding mechanisms, this Government have already improved standards. The Bill is a huge step forward in providing a new framework. The integration of TECs into the learning and skills councils, the youth support service, the expansion of business links with further education and, most importantly, the power for local education authorities to co-ordinate and improve sixth-form provision where needed, will all empower the further education system to deliver national standards.

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To have an effective engine of change we need to know how change is working. We need to have disaggregated information on a national basis to inform us which courses men and women undertake; how people from the different ethnic minority communities fare, which is particularly important at present; how people with disabilities get on and the job destinations of people according to those categories and the courses they take. The Government have developed the useful concept of postcode definition, which is welcome as the best proxy we have for socio-economic status. But we need more to be able to flush out areas of success and failure and monitor how the engine is working. I hope that my noble friend the Minister can assure us that under the new regime arrangements will be in place to collect full data on the experience in further and adult education of people in all our different communities.

My final point concerns the role of on-line learning. Information technology provides unprecedented opportunities for an almost limitless range of cheap--probably soon to be free--and accessible learning. The University for Industry, "Learning Direct", under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, develops a range of distance learning. However, there is also a multiplicity of other packages. Colleges and students need to know which of those are reliable. It would be helpful if the Minister could tell us what accreditation systems exist which will ensure the quality of on-line learning. Apart from content, we must consider the conduit for on-line learning. Is the Minister satisfied that BT is making high bandwidth access affordable as soon as possible?

5.55 p.m.

Lord Sheppard of Didgemere: My Lords, most of the relevant points have been made, so the good news is that I shall brief, which means about two hours!

As a businessman, overall I welcome the Bill. The reform and rationalisation of post-16 education and training will meet the requirements of a rapidly changing world, and we must update. I agree that we do not want change for the sake of change. We already have too much bureaucracy. If the Bill becomes an Act, it must be in the spirit of minimum bureaucracy. That must be the aim.

A decade ago, as a member of the national training task force, I was involved in the establishment of TECs. I believe that by and large they have done a good job. However, they have been surrounded by a huge amount of bureaucracy. Quite often the "E" of TECs got lost in that process. Why, therefore, do we need change? We still have a patchy situation on training. Certainly, enough is not being done by employers.

The changes proposed in the Bill provide an opportunity to raise standards and to ensure that skills and education meet the needs of individuals and--which has not been stressed enough--employers, both public and private, for the new century. That is essential not only for economic development but in order to tackle the subject of inclusiveness. Quite often

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we are institutionally racist in some of our approaches to training without--it is to be hoped--realising it. We treat all people alike. That may sound democratic. However, if one is disabled or one's first language is not English, perhaps one needs a little more than average assistance. Perhaps I should declare an interest as a passionate believer in equality of opportunity.

The aspirations and commitments of the White Paper and the council prospectus set out in strong language the "gut feel" for what it was about. In my view, some of that was lost in the drafting of the Bill. We should perhaps try, in Committee, to build passion into the Bill--I do not know whether that is allowed in Committee--but I believe that the Bill needs a touch more passion, as was in the prospectus.

We must ensure that, alongside requirements of individuals, the changing needs of employers are anticipated. It is no use saying that we must learn the skills we require. As we all know, the skills we need are constantly changing, not least in the area of IT, but also in many other areas. The workplace needs people with up-to- date skills which are relevant to the future, not the past, and who have positive attitudes to work. We have come a long way in the past decade but we have to go a lot further.

If this challenge is to be achieved, the business community must play a central role in determining educational needs and the need for skills. We must establish a culture where employer investment in raising skill levels is the norm and not the exception. Many companies are being given prizes for their excellent training. But perhaps training should be so commonplace that we do not even notice it.

Last October the Secretary of State for Education and Employment confirmed--I understand that the Minister repeated some of that today--that there would be a strong business experience element in the members of national and local councils. That is essential. We must have representatives on the councils who believe in action rather than words. They could perhaps have not just business experience, but also local government experience and experience in further education. An amendment defining more clearly those needs was referred to by several noble Lords, so I can delete the next six pages of my speech and merely say that I support that need.

My second point--in this case my thunder was stolen by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, who proceeded to quote most of the statistics I intended to quote--relates to regional co-ordination. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, mentioned the need to fit in with the regional development agencies' skills strategies. That is fundamental. We must stop talking about "joined-up government" and actually see it in action.

Another reason why there must be close liaison at local level is the councils' approach to further education colleges. Their catchment and specialities cross boundaries. We must be careful that that does not become a graveyard situation rather than a dynamic situation. The Bill makes no provision for regional co-operation between councils--at least, I

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have not found it. When the chief executive of the national council is appointed he should be encouraged to foster such links.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, said most of what I intended to say in relation to London. The business community supported the five local councils in London. After years of in-depth analysis we ended up with north, south, east, west and central, but only after a lot of fierce debate. I completely accept what the noble Lord said; that is, that we must have pan-London co-operation and co-ordination. Many people come from outside of London and travel straight through those zones to work.

I am sure that we in this House support with a passion the need for skills improvement. As I say, the noble Lord, Lord Harris, stole all the exciting statistics in relation to London, but some are worthy of repetition. Only one employer in three has a formal training plan, partly because they consist of small and medium-sized businesses. One in three people, when questioned, admitted lacking a relevant skill for their job, but had no individual plan or even concern about doing something about it. So the individual approach is important.

One in four of London residents had no or minimal qualifications. Given that we are a world-leading city, that is a terrible situation. In time that will result in unemployment in London being above the national average. There may be 120,000 jobs on offer, but the people with the relevant skills cannot be found to fill them--some of the skills being quite basic. The skills gap produces the lack of inclusiveness that we see. If one has no basic skills to offer, or even cannot move up the work ladder, then it is not surprising that one lacks interest and drops out.

I am speaking of London but I am sure that it is true also of other areas of England, and also Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We must tackle some of those needs, not only to achieve economic progress but also to improve the whole area of maintaining an inclusive society. The vital strategic task for the councils at local, regional and national level will be to work with employers and with educational and training activities to anticipate and tackle future demands for skills and training.

My concern is that the Bill as drafted is too supply-driven rather than demand-pulled. We must have more reference to involving employers, both public and private, and getting them to do their full job on skill development. We must involve them in doing more and spending more money.

6.4 p.m.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for explaining this Bill to us. I agree that it is an important Bill for business and industry.

A significant reason for the productivity gap about which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and my noble friend Lady Blackstone spoke is the lack of skills and education on the shopfloor. I have always put that down to the neglect of the FE sector by government

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and the lack of training by employers. I suppose it is pointing out the obvious when I say that the latest knowledge and technology are useless unless we have the workers trained and able to put it into practice.

So I welcome the Government's intention to give a better deal to FE colleges. It is long overdue. The buildings, staff and resources of our FE colleges are the largest resource in the nation's FE sector. It is a scandal that they have not been used more effectively. It is symptomatic of that neglect that levels of pay in FE colleges have fallen behind that of sixth forms.

Because the unit of provision of each A-level student is lower in FE colleges than in schools, there is a constant temptation for skilled staff at FE colleges to move to school sixth forms for better pay. It is of no benefit to our economy when a skilled instructor in computer-aided design, working with industry and trainees from industry, is rated lower than a sixth-form teacher. That is why, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Baker, who is not in his place, the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, I welcome the learning and skills council taking control of sixth-form pay. It can create the level playing field which we all seek.

Another significant waste of resources which the Bill will correct is the competition which was encouraged among colleges, councils, training organisations and TECs. The partnership and co-operation that the Bill sets out to encourage are much more in keeping with modern thinking. I do not see this as the complexity about which the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, spoke. On the contrary, this co-operation will enable the local education authorities, the councils, the training organisations and the colleges to work together to respond in a realistic way to the needs identified by the National Skills Audit. Co-operation and partnership will achieve that in a way which competition never could. In addition, it should encourage many more diverse ways of industry working with the colleges.

However, like the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the noble Viscount, Lord Oxfuird, I too regret the absence of the national training organisations in the Bill. The national training organisations are important because it is through them that many employers inform and set the learning and skills agenda within their industries. That is how they apply the new technology of which my noble friend Lord Puttnam spoke; it is the way in which older industries re-invent themselves as knowledge-based businesses and become the ".com" businesses about which he was so enthusiastic.

It is important, therefore, that employers have their say. Their voice will be restricted in the learning and skills council because 40 per cent of its members will be employers. But the council is limited to 16 people. Are those six or seven employers sufficient to represent the huge diversity of trades, businesses and industries in our economy? I do not want the council to be large and unwieldy, but the answer may lie in a special arrangement with the national trading organisations.

At long last there are proposals to develop a national tariff and funding system instead of leaving it to the whim of local TECs. To be successful, the

17 Jan 2000 : Column 927

learning and skills council will have to introduce realistic differential rates of funding to reflect the different costs of training. It costs about £8,000 to train someone to Level 3 in business administration. The noble Viscount, Lord Oxfuird, told us that it costs £28,000 to train someone to NVQ Level 3 in engineering. I agree with him. Unless the new council deals effectively with these differential rates, apprenticeships and training in engineering and other technologies will suffer. That is why the input of employers speaking through their national training organisations is important. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister will give this consideration.

The Bill will see the demise of the TECs. This should mean a new and fresh start. It should not mean that the local learning and skills councils will become the old TECs in a new guise with just a straight transfer of staff. I hope that the learning and skills councils will recruit their staff on merit with an appropriate mix of expertise and experience and that the jobs will be open equally to all applicants. In this way the Bill will also breathe some new life into training at the local level.

I note that the learning and skills councils will have particular responsibility for life-long learning. This is of particular importance to the huge number of small and medium-sized enterprises which cannot train on their premises and which rely on the FE colleges and training organisations to help them raise their performance. The emphasis has to be on continuous learning as well as life-long learning because skills and knowledge become obsolete so quickly. The new skills and knowledge, which are essential to make companies competitive, arise very fast. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard, referred to changing skills.

To this end, I am glad that my noble friend the Minister mentioned the DTI Foresight programme. Foresight is a very ambitious programme designed to prepare and inform industry about change in different sectors of our economy. It should be encouraged because each sector of Foresight will create a pool of knowledge and a vision of the future to help managers cope with, and prepare for, the change mentioned by my noble friend Lord Puttnam. Education, skills and training will be part of this vision. So the learning and skills councils must draw on this "foresight" to determine the skills and knowledge needed to make our small and medium-sized enterprises more competitive and innovative; and deliver this through continuous life-long learning.

There is a real need here to see some joined-up government between the DTI and the DfEE. Skills and learning are time-consuming and costly in money, emotion and dedication. We cannot afford waste. I agree with my noble friend Lady David. Good quality advice must go together with guidance as the best way to avoid this waste and reduce the number of drop-outs. Locating advice and guidance to adults with the learning and skills councils should help to avoid errors and help people make the right decisions in their future careers. It is an important aspect of the work of the learning and skills councils, and the Bill, rightly, gives it high priority. I am afraid that I do not

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agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that this should be combined with the under-13 guidance because the two are entirely different.

There are good ideas and much common sense in this Bill, which should be welcomed by industry and business as well as the FE sector. Business is striving to raise its performance and competitiveness. Learning and skills are a crucial element in this struggle and the ideas in the Bill should help. I wish this Bill every success.

6.13 p.m.

Baroness Young: My Lords, I should like to begin by concentrating on those areas where I believe everyone who has spoken in this afternoon's debate is in agreement. There is no disagreement among any of us about the importance of the subject of further education nor about the need for skills training, re-training, life-long learning and adult education. The importance of this has long been recognised; indeed, it is not something that started in 1997. As my noble friend Lord Baker pointed out, the number of young people staying on in education from 1979 to 1997 nearly tripled. Speaking from memory, I believe that the numbers going into higher education went from being one in eight to one in three. That is a record of which we should be proud, but no one can be satisfied. One should always do better.

It is most important that we all start from the same starting-point; namely, that we need to try to answer some of these very difficult problems associated with getting some young people to stay on in education, stick it out and get the right skills. We must also match those people with jobs. Therefore, the question before us is: will the Bill succeed in doing just that?

In introducing the Bill, the Minister said--and I wrote this down, so I believe I quote her directly--that the Government are interested in standards, not structures. Yet this is a Bill about structures. There is no mention of teachers or of parents, let alone the young people upon whom the legislation is based. That point was well made by my noble friend Lady Blatch and also by my noble friend Lady Platt, who spoke from so much personal experience in Essex. Nor, indeed, has the Bill been greeted well universally by all those involved. For example, the Local Government Association said that it is,


    "setting up a bureaucratic nightmare which hands the bulk of responsibility for £5 billion worth of public money to unelected quangos".

There is no local involvement in the Bill and very little mention of the private sector. Yet, as has been pointed out, if any of the legislation is to work the private sector has to be involved. The Training and Enterprise Councils National Council has asked for a majority of business men and women, or their representatives, to be on both the learning and skills council and the 47 regional councils and for the same to apply to all their chairmen. No doubt we will return to that point in Committee.

However, in saying this, I hope that we will look at some of the Bill's complexities during later stages of its consideration. I said that there is a great deal of

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bureaucracy. Indeed, some of us--certainly myself and, I believe, others--took part quite recently in the Second Reading of the Local Government Bill, which will establish a completely new structure for local government. That is going through concurrently while we consider the new structure in this Bill.

Local government, such as it was when I served in local government, will change. There will be elected mayors, and local education authorities of county councils will have elected chairmen, with a management committee of about eight or 10 members working alongside. How will all that fit into the new structure? The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, raised a very important point about having the director of education involved. But who knows whether there will even be a director of education in the future? This is by no means clear. It is not just a debating point: it is a very serious issue as to how all this will fit in.

One could look at the situation in the part of the country that I know to see how the regional councils will work out. They are not, of course, coterminous with local education authorities, although I understand that they will be in the case of Kent and Surrey. I believe that Hampshire and the Isle of Wight will be joined together; that East and West Sussex and Brighton and Hove will go together; that Berkshire, which now has six education authorities, will have just one; and that Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes will go together. This is quite a complicated structure at local level. At the top we will have the national learning and skills council, followed by the 47 local councils, the regional development agencies--which is quite a different area--and then, struggling along at the bottom the local life-long learning partnerships, together with the local education authorities, going right down to the school level. We need to pause to think whether that is really the best method of delivering something which we all want to see.

I touch on the cost of all this. I hope that when the noble Baroness replies to the debate she will indicate whether the national learning and skills council will cost £5 or £6 billion. Both figures have been mentioned by the Secretary of State. It would be helpful to know which of the figures is correct. That is a great deal of money. It is optimistic to think that anything like £50 million worth of savings will be achieved. Some activities which were formerly conducted by TECs and the Training Standards Council will be dispensed with--they comprised much private money--but I understand that all those who are employed by TECs will be employed by the future councils. Therefore it is difficult to see where the savings will arise.

I should be interested to receive an explanation of paragraph 206 of the helpful Explanatory Notes which sets out the increases in the public service manpower. Paragraph 206 refers to the adult learning inspectorate (ALI) and the learning and skills council (LSC). It states:


    "The LSC and ALI are likely to employ a total of around 5,000 staff".

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The document states that some staff will be cut from the TECs and the Training Standards Council. However, if all the staff of the TECs are to be employed under the new arrangements, it is difficult to see how the sum of money involved will be reduced. I do not understand the paragraph. I hope that at some stage its meaning can be explained.

There are other important points that one should raise. We now know that the TECs are to go. Some of them have been immensely successful. Not surprisingly different TECs throughout the country have had different standards. I should be surprised if in the future the 47 regional councils do not have different standards. One does not get such uniformity in life. I believe that different standards will apply. I understand from those involved in TECs that there is a serious worry about training provision for businesses in particular. The new councils will, of course, be responsible for the learning skills that are required in this regard. However, I understand that the training required for other aspects of setting up a business will be the responsibility of the DTI. It would be helpful to know whether that is the case. If it is the case, it is less likely that the regional councils will be able to help new businesses to become established. I hope that that point will be responded to as I believe that it is important. My noble friend Lady Blatch referred to the anxiety that the new regional councils will not work "bottom up"; that is, finding out what is required and providing it. They will work "top down" and that will constitute a difficulty.

I wish to comment on Clauses 99 to 108 which cover the youth support service. Much concern has been expressed to me on this matter. The provision covers young people of 13 to 19 years of age. However, according to the Explanatory Notes, most of the effort will be concentrated on young people with special needs or who are "disengaged" from the educational scene. I believe that that is the expression that is now used. I do not object in any way to those people being helped. They need help; they should be helped, and I hope that they will be helped. However, it would be a great mistake to assume that others do not also require help. Anyone who has had anything to do with young people knows that the teenage years are difficult years for young people and for parents. It is difficult to determine what A-levels people should take, what courses they should take and what higher or further education courses they should choose. They need help. As I say, it would be a great mistake to assume that just because the parents of these young people may appear more affluent or more knowledgeable they know the intricate details of the education system. I do not think that that is the case. Those young people need help just as much as anyone else.

I cannot end without saying something about sixth forms. I am in complete agreement with everything that my noble friends Lord Pilkington and Lord Baker said. We should all be concerned at the

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comments of the National Association of Head Teachers on this subject. The association states that,


    "the Bill seems to allow the LSC to determine how much money individual sixth-forms might receive--indeed, whether they receive any money at all".

The association is concerned about "intervention overkill" and particularly about Schedule 7 to the Bill,


    "where the LSC's powers to propose the closure of 'inadequate' sixth-forms are spelt out.


    A sixth-form is considered inadequate if it is failing or likely to fail to give an acceptable standard of education, or if it has significant weaknesses in one or more areas.


    Unlike under the School Standards and Framework Act in relation to schools, there are no procedures set out to tackle problems and help turn the sixth-form around. Instead, if two inspection reports identify the sixth-form as being inadequate then proposals for closure can go forward".

I believe that that constitutes a serious situation and that it is a matter to which we shall have to give detailed consideration in Committee.

I also wish to comment on the inspection proposals. Two groups of inspectors are proposed, one of which is Ofsted, with which we are all familiar. I believe that Ofsted is now highly regarded and that we were all pleased when the Labour Government appointed Chris Woodhead, who has done a remarkable job. I mention also the other proposed inspection body, the adult learning inspectorate (ALI). As I understand it, Ofsted will inspect education for 16 to 19 year-olds, while ALI will inspect education for those aged 19-plus. However, many tertiary colleges and FE colleges have students in both age ranges. I do not quite understand how the system will work. Two groups of inspectors will be employed but some classes could comprise the complete age range of people. Any of us may decide to learn a foreign language at a local FE college and may find ourselves side-by-side with someone studying for a GCSE. That might be good for us all. As I say, a huge age range is involved here. Therefore I do not understand how the inspection proposals will work as they seem to apply to different age groups. We need to know precisely how this system is to work in practice.

No one has mentioned Wales but I have a question in connection with Clause 30. I am interested to note that we are discussing Wales at all in this connection. I was not sure that we were supposed to do that. However, clearly we are, devolution or no devolution. I understand that under the terms of Clause 30 the national assembly will appoint the members of the national council for education and training for Wales and its local councils. If the national assembly is to appoint those members in Wales, should not Parliament appoint members to the relevant body in England? How will the national assembly appoint these members? That does not seem to be clear at all. However, it seems to me prima facie a difficult matter for the assembly to decide. Perhaps that matter can also be discussed.

I conclude where I started. I believe that we all accept the importance of the issues involved. It is essential for our country and for our young people that they should be trained and qualified to the highest level

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that they can attain; and that we should deal with the mismatch between unemployed people and job vacancies. These are difficult issues to tackle. However, they are important issues which must be tackled. In considering this whole issue we must be sure that we are establishing a structure that will make things better. I believe that we shall need to tackle a great number of detailed issues at the Committee and subsequent stages of the Bill.

6.30 p.m.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I wish to speak briefly in praise and welcome of the new youth support element for 13 to 19 year-olds in the Bill and its connection with the rest of the Government's programme. Before I do so, perhaps I may say how delighted I was to hear the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, who is chairman of the Working Men's College. Some 15 years ago I was a student at the Working Men's College. I suggest to the Minister that she instantly doubles the funding for that marvellous institution.

I should like to put the Bill in the context of the rest of the Government's programme towards particularly disadvantaged young people and children. The Government have well proved their genuine concern for children and young people. When enacted, the Care Standards Bill will eventually give to the many committed and hard working staff in children's homes recognition for their extremely challenging work. It will ensure that they have a basic training qualification. Most staff currently have no such qualifications. The Children (Leaving Care) Bill extends the duties of local authorities to look after young people beyond 16 to 18 years of age. It introduces named individual workers to support care leavers in their first years of independence.

This may seem to be beside the point in the context of this Bill, but the Government are taking very seriously the needs of the least supported young people and that needs to be highlighted.

The New Deal has provided the sort of personal supervision that many young people find most helpful. The Sure Start programme has targeted support at the most vulnerable families and children, thereby offering better life chances for the most underprivileged.

The Bill before us brings yet more timely, innovative and, let us hope, effective assistance for disadvantaged young people. The new youth support service would appear to offer a very valuable resource for such young people. One concern may be in regard to the training of the officers and supervisors involved in this new resource. I understand that the regulations covering their training need to be completed and in the public domain by early next year. There is a lot of work to be done on that. Can the Minister assure the House that enough resources will be available to develop the service?

The report on rough sleepers, Coming in from the Cold, may be of interest to the Minister--I am sure she has already considered it. A major plank of its

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programme is that people have to be encouraged to come in off the streets and, once they are in a hostel, they have to be given something constructive to do. They very much need to learn useful and interesting skills for themselves.

I should also like to draw attention to Buffy House, which is run by Centrepoint and provides a good example of how training can improve the quality of a workforce. Buffy House deals with some of the most challenging young people, who have difficult life histories behind them, and yet its staff have the lowest sickness rate in Centrepoint. This is because they have had a very innovative programme over several years. It is something which should be expanded, and I believe that there are plans to expand the training programme.

Thanks to the Government we are moving closer to the time when no young person or child who lacks parental support or who is particularly challenged need ever walk alone. Every step in this direction is a great achievement. I say three cheers for this concern, for the new youth support scheme and for the Government's general nurturing of the most vulnerable young Britons.

6.34 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, I welcome the Bill and the framework that it will provide for bringing together the various strands of our education and training system and for safeguarding quality and standards.

I also welcome the fact that the Bill has had a warm reception across a wide spectrum of opinion within the education and training sphere. This is a recognition of the fact that, as a nation, we have failed a large section of our community in providing the right structures and the right incentives to progress through the education and training system. As a consequence, we have failed to train and equip our workforce to the best of international standards, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, indicated. For this, the nation has paid dearly in terms of international competition. In higher education we are competitive and provide a system of world-class level, but below this, we do not. This is in spite of the many schemes and initiatives which have taken place over recent decades, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, indicated.

In saying this, I am not claiming that everything is poor--clearly not. Progress has been made in the growing numbers of students who are staying on in schools and colleges and in the development of life-long learning and continuing education. This progress and these successes must be built into the new system. However, a fully integrated and comprehensive system capable of delivering on the scale required has been lacking. This is what the Bill is about.

I should like to turn now to a number of areas for clarification. First, the universities. The Bill is not about higher education but there is a reference in one of the supporting papers to the seamless process of education, with the universities at the pinnacle.

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The division between academic and vocational education is becoming more and more blurred. In recent years the universities have done valuable work in developing continuing education, with more and more collaboration with colleges in delivering what employers and professional bodies are demanding. For example, the University of Bradford co-operates very closely with Bradford College, one of the largest FE colleges in Europe, on both degree and sub-degree work, as well as sharing physical resources. Universities--certainly my own university, Bradford--are also involved as local partners in economic social and community development. They rightly want to safeguard their academic independence; nevertheless, they have a very important contribution to make to strategic planning, both nationally and locally. So I ask my noble friend what part they will play in the consultative process and through what mechanisms.

Secondly, how will existing partners be brought into the network, particularly local government, as the noble Lord, Lord Dearing mentioned? Clearly, local government has an important role in relation to schools for 16 to 19 year-olds and in community education, but will it have a function in relation to vocational education and training and life-long learning? In recent years, its economic development plans and strategies have had to incorporate these issues. How will such links be made under the proposed new structures and the annual plans for which the local learning and skills councils will be responsible?

In particular, I ask this question about the larger local learning and skills councils, such as West Yorkshire. That is one of the largest, incorporating five metropolitan district councils, including Leeds, the second largest, and Bradford, the fourth largest metropolitan district council in England. Three of those five metropolitan district councils have their own TECs and two share a TEC. To take Bradford as an example, the local council and the Bradford TEC have built up a network of local partnerships to work together in the interests of the district. This has included all the employer-based organisations and many individual employers. How will these partnerships relate to the local learning and skills council? Will the link be made through existing partnerships or will it be made directly from the LLSC to the local authorities and the other individual partners? This is an important point and is the kind of question that is being asked locally.

Of the four West Yorkshire TECs, it appears that Bradford has the best centrally located premises with good facilities for expansion. No doubt it will put in a bid to have the LLSC based in Bradford, as will the other districts for their areas. Who will determine this decision and under what criteria? The competing districts all have different strengths and weaknesses and different needs from the new structure. I hope that those strengths and requirements will be looked at closely to determine where the local learning and skills councils will be based.

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I shall move on to the area of successful schemes operating at both district and wider levels. My noble friend Lord Haskel and other noble Lords referred to some of the national training bodies. The FE21 Group, an association of now 23 leading FE colleges, is concerned that some national partnerships it has established are under threat because of concentration on local priorities. In its paper it gives a number of examples of which I shall mention two. First, Barnsley College's partnership with the security industry training organisation has resulted in up to around 17,000 qualifications being achieved each year in this industry. It is one with a poor track record for training and often recruits workers from those on the margins of social exclusion. Surely it is important to encourage schemes of that kind. Secondly, Stafford Training College works with the licensed retail sector, again an area where there is not much training, but one where many thousands of unqualified bar staff may set their first foot on the lifelong learning ladder. Will some encouragement be given to organisations and initiatives such as these to continue?

I should like to refer--as have many other noble Lords--to work-based training. The emphasis of the Bill appears to be put on training and education facilities for 16 to 19 year-olds in established institutions. I recognise the high priority that must be given to this age group. However, we should not forget that vast number of workers are in unskilled jobs, many of them doing skilled work for which they have no formal qualifications. Employers, both nationally and locally, will feed in their skill requirements to the annual plans. Many of those requirements will have to be met through the colleges and other training providers. But what about employer training provision? Is there to be some incentive for providing recognised training on the job, in particular at NVQ Levels 1 and 2? To gain recognition at this level can be an enormous encouragement to low-skilled workers to progress further.

Some up-skilling will be carried out through the UfI. Indeed, there are great expectations for that body. Furthermore, some will be carried out through the Internet. But for those at the very bottom of the skills ladder, something more simple, supervised and available at their place of work is necessary. From that point, workers will be able to progress and take advantage of some of the distance learning provisions. However, those workers must be given incentives to move on and to progress their training.

In putting these points, I am conscious of the fact that the Bill marks a new beginning in our provision for education and training. It is important that, from the start, we ensure that it is successful. The Bill seeks to establish equity between the academic and vocationally minded and to provide for opportunities throughout life. Furthermore, it sets out to provide the skills the nation needs. I welcome this change and will do all I can to ensure that it is successful.

6.48 p.m.

Lord Tope: My Lords, I was fearful that I would have to begin today with a somewhat bitter apology,

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but that has proved unnecessary. I advised the Minister that I needed to be in Brussels this morning and I knew that it would be up to Eurostar whether I arrived at the House in time for the Second Reading debate. However, thanks to Eurostar, I believe that I missed only the first speech and so perhaps merely a small apology is due. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Sharp for speaking at the point in the debate when I would otherwise have done if I had had the confidence in Eurostar that perhaps I should have had.

As my noble friend has already said, we on these Benches extend a broad welcome to the Bill. It contains many welcome features and clearly is a serious attempt both to put post-16 learning in schools and colleges on a more coherent and integrated footing and to make a reality of lifelong learning. Furthermore, I welcome the Bill because it puts the focus on further education. For that reason I must disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Baker, because I believe that, at least until recently, further education has been a neglected sector.

During my five years in the House I have heard many debates on higher education, and rightly and properly so, but very, very few--indeed, I have to think hard of any--on further education. That is not because none of us thinks it is important; it has been one of the problems faced by the further education sector. I believe that the focus provided by the Bill will help to correct that and I hope that the provisions of the Bill will do more to correct that in the future.

I give a broad welcome to the Bill but I must confess to some disappointment, too. I suppose it is too much to hope that a piece of, inevitably, rather dry and complex legislation could ever capture the passion and excitement of the Kennedy Report. To translate that is perhaps beyond any parliamentary draftsman, but I wish that it had managed to capture a little more of the vision that was in the Government's White Paper. We cannot move amendments to include passion, but perhaps we can find some way of amending the Bill to include a little more vision.

There are a number of ways in which we wish to see the Government be more radical. I shall come to those in a moment. At this stage I wish to take up one or two of the points referred to by other noble Lords. The first is the extremely important subject of sixth forms. I very much hope that our discussions and deliberations on the Bill do not turn into a "save our sixth forms" campaign. I am sure that the Minister will reassure us--I certainly hope that she does--that good sixth forms in schools are not under threat from the Government or from the Bill. If they are, I certainly share the concerns expressed by other speakers.

I know, as I am sure other noble Lords know, how important to schools their sixth forms are. Perhaps I may give one local example from my own LEA. A few years ago we were fortunate to persuade the then Conservative government to allow us to build a brand new comprehensive school in spite of objections from the local grant-maintained selective schools. We felt that was a significant achievement, coming from a Conservative government. The school was

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subsequently opened by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and has continued to prosper from that important start. A year or so ago we applied to have a sixth form at the school. Initially, the Government turned down that application, but we had a meeting with the Minister, who suggested that perhaps we should try a different approach. We did so. That approach was to work with the local further education college. With its support we were then able to make another application for a sixth form. I am pleased to say that the Minister has recently agreed to that. I should like to take that as an indication that the Government recognise the importance to many schools of having a good, viable sixth form.

I hope also that we shall not get into the either/or argument; that it is all good to have a school sixth form or it is all good to have post-16 provision in FE colleges. I see the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, nodding her head. I do not think that anyone believes that and I fully accept that she does not. I have an example of that in my own family. My older son stayed on for the sixth form at school and did very well. My younger son--only two years younger and at the same school--felt that he wanted to leave after his GCSEs. He went to an FE college and did equally well. What we are talking about is horses for courses, although I am not sure that my sons will thank me for calling them horses.

My next point, which noble Lords would expect me to make, concerns the role and involvement of local government in this area. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, referred to a meeting in this House which we both attended at which the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Malcolm Wicks, under a little pressure from the noble Baroness, but quite rightly so, said that local government will be represented on each local learning skills council. I hope that the Minister will specifically confirm to us that there will be a local government representative or representatives on each local learning skills council--there as of right and not there because they happen to be among those who have been appointed as the "great and the good".

That is a crucially important point, for two reasons: first, because local education authorities have a major role to play in the provision and planning of post-16 education; and, secondly, for the important reason given by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey. We have a duty to promote the economic and social well-being of our areas. We have an important community leadership role. Therefore, it is right for that reason as well that local government should be represented on the local skills councils. I take the point entirely that the local government representatives need to be worthy representatives and not just be there because it is something they do every other Tuesday evening to fill in a little time. None of us wants that. We want good, effective representation, but representation that we need.

I wish to turn now to a subject which, until the noble Baroness, Lady Young, spoke, I was going to say had rather remarkably not been mentioned at all, apart from by my noble friend Lady Sharp. I refer to Wales.

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Two of the five parts and two of the nine schedules of the Bill are devoted exclusively to Wales. Yet that has barely been referred to at all in the debate. We welcome the recognition of a separate national council for Wales and congratulate the Minister on ensuring that all matters relating to the question of learning and skills in Wales have been set out separately. It is much more than cosmetic. A clear presentation will allow the members of the National Assembly of Wales to understand the provisions of the primary legislation--in that they differ from the Scottish Parliament--when it comes into force and to monitor much more easily the powers and the functions of the proposed council. My Welsh colleagues will be taking part in later stages of the Bill so I shall confine my questions and comments to just one on this occasion.

Schedule 3 to the Bill imposes in England a positive requirement for the creation of adult learning committees. Schedule 5, dealing with Wales, provides specifically for regional committees but, rightly, leaves it in the hands of the members of the Welsh Assembly to determine such other committees as they think fit. I hope the Minister can confirm that there will be ample scope for the Welsh Assembly to make a similar provision for an adult learning committee in Wales.

Perhaps I may now turn to our specific concerns. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, said that he is still a little unclear about the link between regional development agencies and local learning and skills councils. So am I. The noble Lord also referred--I do so, too, as a London member--to the need for London-wide co-ordination between the proposed five London learning and skills councils. I am not sure whether I heard the Minister correctly but I hope she will confirm that that will be the case. We could get rid of all of that uncertainty and possible duplication and confusion. We believe that the work of the local learning and skills councils should be undertaken by the regional development agencies. In London we are to have a London Development Agency answerable to the mayor. Do we really need five learning and skills councils separate from that?

The Bill refers to a duty to consult,


    "any relevant regional development agency".

We would wish to make the local learning and skills councils a part of the RDAs. If we are to develop a series of sensible strategic overviews of the whole provision of post-16 education, training and lifelong learning, including university, college, school and workplace provision, we need regional strategies.

I turn now to the central vision, which is to use the Bill to begin constructing a learning society for England and Wales in a century that will be characterised by the importance of knowledge, information and rapidly changing skills. We believe that we need to construct a seamless web of coherent provision for all learners, perhaps from the age of 14 right on through their working lives and thereafter. Sadly, the Bill does not quite do that. The infinite English capacity for anomaly and contradiction is apparent at every turn. Many Ministers and others have spoken of the importance in the 21st century of

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lifelong learning; and rightly so. They speak of adult access to re-skilling and new training, perhaps in community schools; and rightly so. But the Government seem not to have the courage to put post-19 education and training on the same footing as that provided for the post-16 learners.

To illustrate, the Bill provides in Clause 2(2) that for post-16 education,


    "Facilities are proper if they are--


    (a) of a quantity sufficient to meet the reasonable needs of individuals, and


    (b) of a quality adequate to meet those needs".

If your Lordships feel that words like "sufficient" and "adequate" are themselves a trifle unambitious and unpromising they should look at the words of Clause 3(2) of the Bill which describe facilities for lifelong learning:


    "Facilities are reasonable if (taking account of the Council's resources) the facilities are of such a quantity and quality that the Council can reasonably be expected to secure their provision".

In plain language, it means that as much lifelong learning will be provided as the Government choose to afford regardless of the needs of learners. That is not equitable and we shall seek to amend it.

In the same way, there is a new dispensation under which all post-16 learning provision, whether in school sixth forms, sixth form colleges, FE colleges, or wherever, will be organised and funded on the same basis. Is not the aim to integrate all this provision with the provision of lifelong learning? Why on earth do we have the anomaly of two inspection agencies falling over each other to inspect the provision? Why do we need complex rules about "joint inspection" and a "common inspection framework"? The obvious and radical answer is to have a single inspection agency for all post-16 education and training which will see its work in the context of lifelong learning.

I turn to the Careers Service. A major opportunity for radical action has again been lost. What is needed is a single, coherent and integrated service (inspected by the adult learning inspectorate) to be established for all learners from the age of 13 right through their working lives. At this point I say to the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, that I believe he misheard my noble friend Lady Sharp. In the context of careers guidance my noble friend did not refer to under-13 year-olds but post-13 year-olds. I am sure that that will be revealed when the noble Lord reads Hansard tomorrow.

Much more thought needs to go into this crucial aspect of the education service so that all learners get high quality advice, excellent information and, above all, are led to have high expectations of themselves and the institutions which will train and educate them. We should work towards a system in which every young person, perhaps between the ages of 14 and 19, has a nominated mentor who will oversee progress through the education and training system, advise on both short-term and long-term goals, keep up morale and help learners to rethink when matters do not go quite according to plan. Such mentorships will be invaluable if young people are doing courses at more than one institution, as envisaged in the Bill, or perhaps in part

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in the workplace. Mentorships could very well be developed as part of the Careers Service, but certainly in conjunction with it.

As my noble friend Lady Sharp said, mechanisms need to be established to encourage the small business sector to become involved in the work of the local learning and skills councils as an arm of each RDA. We still live in a culture where business is too disengaged from what is often seen as education's ivory tower. The small business sector needs to be involved from the bottom up. I understand its difficulties in achieving that.

We give the Bill a broad welcome and look forward to the opportunities to improve it. I very much hope that this time the Government will not close their mind to constructive criticism.

7.3 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, we have had a useful and wide-ranging debate. I am pleased that there is a fair degree of consensus about the need for change and reform in the provision of post-16 learning. I say straightaway to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that the Government will listen to constructive criticism. We look forward to the further stages of the Bill in this House. I was especially pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Baker, praise further education. I only wish, as I believe does the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that more people would take notice of this essential part of our educational system. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, that it is a pity that the government of which he was part did not shower this sector with more assistance rather than deny it funding at a time when it desperately needed it.

The one speech that I found somewhat grating was that of the noble Baroness, Lady Platt of Writtle. I believe that the tone of her remarks was a little over the top. I accept that with a Bill of this kind the noble Baroness will not agree with everything, but it would have been nice if she could have found just one or two positive comments to make. Clearly, she felt unable to do so. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, referred to an all-party meeting held last week on adult education and made some extremely unfair remarks about my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State responsible for lifelong learning. This was not a Bill briefing in the broad sense of the term. As is normal practice, between Second Reading and Committee stage I shall provide such briefing for Members of this House. The meeting was concerned with the narrow issue of the adult and community learning aspects of the Bill. The noble Baroness referred to a number of issues which I do not believe were pertinent to the matters which that meeting intended to discuss.

In everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said about the Bill--in this respect I include the noble Baroness, Lady Platt of Writtle--I believe that she and her noble friend were out of touch with the vast majority of people who responded to the White Paper published in the summer which dealt with the matters to be covered in the Bill. I say to both noble Baronesses

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that the Government are in no way embarrassed to abolish something that is not working as well as it might. While we are extremely grateful for the work of the TECs and the Further Education Funding Council and its regional committees, the time has come for change. That will not be incremental but radical change that brings both sides of provision, work-based and college-based learning, closer together. I believe that that is the right approach to take.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Young and Lady Blatch, suggested that the Bill was not about standards. I am flabbergasted to hear that. Much of the Bill is about raising standards. The whole of that part of the Bill dealing with inspection--a long and important element--is concerned with raising standards. That is what the Government are determined to do in this part of the education system.

I am, however, very grateful to the Liberal Democrat Benches, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, for their broad welcome, not only for the English parts of the Bill but also the provisions relating to Wales. As to the specific question on Wales put by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, the answer is, yes. I am always grateful, as I suspect would be Ministers in any government, for the strong endorsement of our proposals by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing.

A number of noble Lords suggested that things had been left out of the Bill. We do not believe that it is necessary to legislate on everything. One example given by the noble Baroness, Lady Platt of Writtle, was the examining boards, or the awarding bodies as they are formally known. They will continue their work, but we do not need to legislate for them. No doubt they will work closely with the learning and skills councils where it is appropriate that they should do so.

Another issue that is pertinent is the position of the national training organisations. We set out in the prospectus for the learning and skills council a central role for the national training organisations in the new arrangements. As I said in my introductory speech, it is essential that the LSC works closely with NTOs which are uniquely placed to represent the needs of the different sectors. That relationship will be characterised, for example, by the sharing of labour market information and by joint planning and action to address skills shortages. However, currently there are 72 national training organisations covering a very wide range of industries and occupations. One is chaired by my noble friend Lord Puttnam. The network is very new and still evolving. It is important that the relationship develops in a flexible way. For example, at local level, LSCs and NTOs may wish to work through NTO groups rather than on an individual basis. For these reasons, we do not believe it appropriate or necessary to provide a statutory basis for the relationship. I reassure noble Lords that we expect that all business members of local LSCs will develop strong links with the appropriate NTO.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, asked whether the DTI would have responsibility for workforce development training. The answer is no. The learning

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and skills council will manage the current TEC budgets for modern apprenticeships and investment in people. However, it will work very closely with the small business service, which is the responsibility of the DTI, in order to give as seamless a service as possible to small firms.

A number of noble Lords opposite raised concerns about bureaucracy. I believe that a number of contributors on the Conservative Benches accused the Government of introducing more bureaucracy. However, this Bill is an attack on bureaucracy and on the complexity and waste of the current system. The noble Baroness shakes her head. In the current legislative framework we have out of date and unnecessary distinctions between what the FEFC can and cannot fund and between further education colleges and local education authorities. For example, we have confusion and arbitrary barriers to which the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, referred over what is and what is not Schedule 2 provision. We have 72 separate training and enterprise councils with their own structures and levels of provision. Providers have a surfeit of audit. The National Audit Office has identified some 25 different agencies that could be scrutinising FE colleges annually. We have duplication and a lack of coherence at every level. We are going to get rid of that.

The Bill allows convergence and coherence across all provider sectors whether it be in funding principles, planning or quality standards. It gives business, local authorities and other key partners a role across all provision for post-16 education and training. It offers the real strength of a single national organisation planning and funding all post-16 provisions. I readily accept that we need local flexibility within that. That is why we are providing for 47 local councils, each with their own board, drawn from local communities and businesses. They will have sufficient local flexibility and autonomy to allow them to match provision to local needs and to meet skills shortages. They will typically control budgets of £100 million with very significant local discretion over spending. So I utterly refute the suggestion made by some noble Lords opposite that this is a top-down centralising Bill. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I say to my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey and to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that the Bill provides for very close involvement at local level with the regional development agencies, local authorities and other key interests. Local councils have a duty to consult RDAs and LEAs over their plans. They must have regard to the local strategies of RDAs. The prospectus for the LSC also sets out clearly the very close involvement of local learning partnerships with whom we shall also require the local LSCs to consult closely. It will be a system driven by local needs and solutions with the advantage of some central provision.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, asked how RDAs and LSCs will work and questioned their boundaries. She asked about the way in which the boundaries had been set up for the local LSCs. We asked RDAs to consult local partners during the summer and advise

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how the boundaries should reflect travel-to-work areas and travel-to-learn areas. We accepted their recommendations in the vast majority of cases. Contrary to what the noble Baroness suggested, we have achieved coterminus boundaries in virtually every case and with the small business service which will benefit working with small businesses.

The noble Baroness also asked about the skills task force report. We are very grateful for a very imaginative and innovative report. When it is established, the learning and skills council will take forward its recommendations by improving adult advice and guidance and developing national and local workplace strategies and producing local authority assessments of skills needs.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked how the £50 million saving that I mentioned is made up. The savings come from two main sources. Nearly £15 million will be saved because we shall no longer need so many Government Office staff to contract with the 72 TECs. The remainder will come from fewer local branches, there being 47 instead of 72. There will be more efficient funding systems with fewer people needed to operate them. We shall save at least £50 million to reinvest in the quality of learning for individuals. That is another sense in which this Bill is about standards and quality.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that there was no mention of the private sector. I am not sure whether she meant business, but I assume she did. We have taken business with us at every step. We set up a business champions group under the chairmanship of Nick Reilly, the chairman and managing director of Vauxhall Motors, to advise the Government on how best to ensure that the learning and skills council meets business needs.

In responding to our White Paper, businesses welcomed the increased opportunities that our proposals will bring. Business will be the single largest player in the learning and skills council. We have already said that 40 per cent of national and local members of the learning and skills council, including the national chair and most local chairs, will have substantial recent business experience.

The provisions in the LSC prospectus are a very firm commitment of government policy. Nobody should be in any doubt that we mean to give business a bigger and wider say in post-16 learning.

Another area which gave rise to concern, particularly among noble Lords opposite, was the question of the role of local authorities. Today is a good day for them, for other community-based providers and for the adult learners whom they serve. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that this Bill is not just about young people, but about learners of every conceivable age up to the age of 80 or beyond. I look forward to the day when I can participate in it myself.

The new environment for post-16 learning will give local authorities fresh opportunities to influence the planning of all adult learning and not just non-vocational education. Local authorities will play a key

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role in helping to ensure that local learning provision is responsive to community needs. They will be involved in many ways--


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