Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Blatch: Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may say that that was a full and helpful answer. However, the noble Baroness sounded slightly

8 Feb 2000 : Column 536

disparaging about having mission statements on the face of a Bill and at the beginning of a Bill. In previous Bills it has been stated clearly that the context for education "shall be" spiritual, cultural, mental, physical and so on. But the noble Baroness seemed to suggest that that should be determined locally and at local discretion. I wish to take issue with that. Given that the Government are setting up the whole remit and are setting up and establishing the framework within which people will be trained and educated, both vocationally and non-vocationally, I believe that setting the context is something the Government could do. If it is left to local discretion,


    "spiritually, morally, culturally, mentally, socially and physically",

could simply be left out. I am not sure that the Government would want that. All those dimensions are universally accepted as creating a context within which education should be delivered.

Baroness Blackstone: I apologise if I was not clear enough. I did not want to be disparaging about mission statements. What I thought I said was that the LSC will develop a mission statement--by the LSC, I mean the national LSC. I agree with the noble Baroness that we could not have this matter entirely determined locally. There needs to be a coherent framework of commitment to the kind of education and training that we all want to see. That has to be owned by the national LSC. I also said that it would have to be developed in consultation with the Government--with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State--but also with all the external partners that are involved in delivering this important part of the education system.

Lord Northbourne: I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for her very helpful answer and to those noble Lords who intervened in the debate. As far as concerns the mission statement, I cannot say that I am entirely happy. It seems to me that a mission statement evolved by the learning and skills council, possibly under pressure from the Secretary of State, might not necessarily accord with what Parliament would wish. It seems to me that a mission statement should be passed through Parliament and approved. It also seems to me that a mission statement on the face of the Bill would help to clarify what Parliament has authorised the LSC to do. From my reading of the Bill as it stands, a great many things may be challenged as being ultra vires. However, I shall look at these matters again and, if necessary, discuss them with the noble Baroness.

The noble Baroness made it clear that the ConneXions service is not the business of the LSC but the business of whatever happens under Clauses 99 to 108. Therefore, we shall have time to raise those issues later.

I do not think that I shall shift the Government on the entire structure of the Bill. But I believe that they are making an appalling mistake in putting the motivation element and the provision element under

8 Feb 2000 : Column 537

separate hats. I think that there will be conflict, overlap and underlap. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 4 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Serota): In calling Amendment No. 5, I should point out to the Committee that if it is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 6.

4.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 5:


    Page 1, line 11, leave out from ("members") to end of line 12.

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 7.

It is always difficult for government to get the size of a committee right. Therefore, I have not chosen to take issue with that aspect, although there are arguments both ways. Unwieldy committees are not in general very good, and getting the size right to do the job, consistent with efficiency and effectiveness, is often a matter of judgment.

The Minister will see that I am concerned about the "top down" approach and the way in which the Secretary of State has a hand on almost every aspect of the Bill. It is right that he should appoint the members of the council. There is no one else who can do that--certainly not for the initial council. However, I believe that the council should be sufficiently mature to be able to determine who shall, of its number, be chairman.

Although it is the subject of another amendment, I link the point with Clause 1(3), where the Government advocate that in appointing the committee, the Secretary of State,


    "must have regard to the desirability of appointing a person"--

just one person--


    "who has experience relevant to the Council's functions".

I find that extraordinary. I should have hoped that any person appointed to a national committee that is relatively small should have some skills or experience relevant to the council's functions. It seems to me extraordinary that, if 12 people are to be appointed, technically speaking 11 of those need have no experience at all if the wording of subsection (3) is to be taken literally.

Although he will appoint the council, the Secretary of State should leave it to people who one hopes will be extremely mature at national level to elect their own chairman. If they elect their own chairman, the confidence in that chairman will be all the greater. Also, the authority enjoyed by that chairman will be the greater, because confidence in the appointment will be vested in all the other members of the council. I beg to move.

Lord McCarthy: Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness three questions. I am still trying to find out what she means by "the democratic deficit". This is a kind of self-selected internal promotion system--what

8 Feb 2000 : Column 538

used to be called in Fleet Street the "sons and brothers" list. Is that a form of the democratic deficit now advocated by the Conservatives? Secondly, if a person were to be appointed in that way, would one also be allowed to sack that person? I should have thought that that would follow; or would one be allowed to set the terms and conditions? Thirdly, is this general policy in the noble Baroness's party? For example, under a future Conservative government would it apply to the chairman of the Low Pay Unit, the CAC, ACAS, or the monopolies commission, or anyone else; and if not, why not?

Baroness Blatch: I do not remember referring to "democratic deficit" in the context of this question. I am simply saying that the Secretary of State has a hand on almost every aspect of the Bill and the framework. The Secretary of State will appoint all the members. I thought it might be appropriate, as the council is to act as a corporate body, for it to elect its chairman. I make no greater or lesser case than that.

Lord Bach: If Amendment No. 5 as presently worded were to be accepted, it is difficult to see how the council would come into being at all. But that is a pure matter of detail. What the noble Baroness has made clear is the role of the Secretary of State in appointing the chairman.

We have made clear that all these appointments to national and local councils will be made following Nolan principles. That means that we shall draw up a specification of the skills, experience and background of the individuals we want for these demanding and important posts. We shall ask all our partners and stakeholder organisations with an interest and involvement in developing the LSC to encourage their own people to apply. We shall openly advertise all the posts and we shall ensure that we have an independent assessor who will sit on all the appointment panels. The panels will make recommendations to the Secretary of State on the best candidates for the post. We are delighted that the noble Baroness agrees that the Secretary of State should appoint the council. In these arrangements we shall follow the code of practice for public appointments that has been set out by the Office of the Commissioner of Public Appointments.

We argue that it is vital that in establishing the new learning and skills council we build a close working relationship between Ministers of the DfEE and members of the LSC. That applies in particular to the working relationship between Ministers and the chairman of the LSC. We shall want a direct working relationship on critical issues and a joint approach to the overriding mission of improving standards and participation in learning in this country.

We believe it right in those circumstances that the chairman of the council should be appointed by the Secretary of State. We are encouraged in our belief by the fact that, since 1992, the Secretary of State has appointed not only all members of the Further Education Funding Council but also its chairman. I ask the rhetorical question: why was that all right in

8 Feb 2000 : Column 539

1992 but is not all right now? As I say, in establishing the new LSC, a close working relationship is vital, particularly between Ministers and the chairman of the council.

We are not attracted to the alternative suggested by the noble Baroness in Amendment No. 7 for a further reason. All the appointments to the national council are important and we shall be looking for talented people with the necessary drive, enthusiasm and commitment to fill these posts. That is particularly the case for the chairman. We shall be looking for a business person who commands national respect and who is able to make a substantial time commitment to the council. That is why we shall be advertising that post separately. There may well be people who would relish the challenge of taking on the chairmanship but who would be less attracted by being a member of the council.

It is entirely right that the Secretary of State should make these appointments. I therefore invite the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page