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Lord Northbourne: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 15. Before I do so, I mention in relation to Amendment No. 14 that I hope that when we come to discuss disability we shall talk about it in the widest possible context, including the problems of mental disability and emotional disadvantage.

In connection with Amendment No. 15, if the learning and skills councils are to be successful, they need to understand the needs of education and training in a modern society and the needs of local employers.

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Also, they need to understand the social and emotional problems which beset alienated and excluded young people. The noble Baroness said this afternoon that alienated and excluded young people are among the most important targets of this Bill. Often their problems arise much earlier in their lives, from experiences in the family or in local authority care. Unless one has experience of working with such young people--and I have had the privilege of doing that, as has the noble Earl, Lord Listowel--it is hard to believe that such young people are deeply vulnerable human beings, in spite of the veneer of "street cred", and one cannot begin to understand the problems that they have.

Therefore, I have suggested that on the councils there should be at least one person with experience of youth work in general and one person with experience of vulnerable young people. I do not believe that representatives of local business and of normal education are necessarily capable of envisaging the problems which those young people have and, therefore, of providing the services that they need. My amendment seeks to ensure that there will be at least one voice on each council with experience of very disturbed young people.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone: Perhaps, at the beginning, I may clear up one matter in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. She commented that Clause 1(3) states that only one person is required to have relevant experience of the council's functions. I believe that she has interpreted that rather too literally. I understand that in Acts of Parliament the general rule is that the singular includes the plural unless the context otherwise requires. Therefore, under Clause 1(3) all persons must have experience relevant to the council's functions. I am sorry about that rather technical point, but I believed that I should clear up the matter and explain why there may be a little confusion.

I start with Amendment No. 10 in the name of the noble Baroness. I find it hard to comprehend how a party which in government did its utmost to diminish the power and status of local government should have performed such a spectacular U-turn. Of course, it would be ungracious of me not to welcome its conversion, but I fear that it has not yet found the right balance. Let me make it clear that we see a major role for local government in the new arrangements. It will be a central partner, not only in providing and securing learning opportunities in schools and through adult and community learning, but also as an organisation which can provide vision and leadership for local communities.

The new arrangements will offer greater influence over the whole range of post-16 provision as local LSCs will be required to consult local authorities on their plans and set out in them the post-16 learning provision which LEAs will secure. I am happy to

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confirm that we expect the national and local LSCs to include members with current local authority experience.

However, it would be wrong to go further than that and to build in 25 per cent of places for local authority representatives. Then it would be difficult to ensure that there were enough places for all the other interests to be represented. In this group of amendments, we have already had requests from Members of the Committee for several other categories. However, we want employees, young people, adult learners, the voluntary sector, and so on, to have their place. It would be wrong to have members nominated by another body. We want members who are appointed on merit because of what they can offer, rather than as delegates of other organisations. I hope, therefore, that the noble Baroness will withdraw this amendment.

An important point in Amendment No. 11 is that national training organisations have a pivotal role to play in these new arrangements. I was encouraged to hear how many noble Lords highlighted the NTO role during the Second Reading debate. The NTOs have to be at the forefront of identifying national school needs in their sector and, working with RDAs and local LSCs, they will help to ensure that local skills needs are not just identified, but also met.

Recognising the importance of NTOs, we said in the prospectus that business members who are appointed to local LSCs will be expected to develop effective links with an appropriate NTO. That goes far further in practice than the amendment before us in ensuring that there is a truly effective role for NTOs.

I believe it would be unhelpful to specify in the Bill a requirement along the lines of this amendment, or indeed to legislate for the more ambitious arrangements that I have described and which we intend. We have clearly said that we do not want members of councils to be delegates of other organisations. There are difficulties of definition. It is not the NTOs which need to be represented, but the interests of different industrial and commercial sectors. We shall discuss how the skills needs of sectors can best be reflected when we consider the amendment of my noble friend Lord Haskel later this evening and when I shall make what I hope will be seen as a positive suggestion in this area. For those reasons, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will withdraw her amendment.

On Amendment No. 13, we want all the appointments to the national and local councils to be made following the so-called "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 learning and skills council to encourage their own people to apply. We shall openly advertise all the posts and 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 posts.

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In all these arrangements, we shall follow the code of practice for public appointments which has been set out by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. It is surely right that the Bill should contain a provision ensuring that the Secretary of State appoints people with relevant experience. That reflects similar provisions made in respect of the FEFC in the 1992 Act or, to take a more recent example, the provisions for the constitution of the RDAs in the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998. It is also vital to the success of an organisation which must understand and seek to meet the learning needs of a wide range of individuals and employers. Once again, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will withdraw the amendment.

Identifying and meeting the learning needs of disabled people will be part of the core business of the LSC and the CETW--not a peripheral concern. That is why the Bill requires the LSC and the CETW to have particular regard to the needs of people with disabilities and to report annually on their progress and plans in meeting the needs of disabled people. That is also why the Government have made a firm commitment in the learning and skills council prospectus that they would expect the national and local LSCs to have members who understand the needs of people with learning difficulties and disabilities.

As the functions of the LSC and the CETW clearly and explicitly include provision for disabled people, the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales must--and I emphasise the word "must"--under Clauses 1 and 30 respectively, have regard to the desirability of appointing members of their respective councils who have experience relevant to disability matters. With that reassurance, I hope that noble Lords will feel able to withdraw Amendments Nos. 14 and 152.

Turning to Amendment No. 15, I want to make it clear that the new framework will support the severely disadvantaged and socially excluded young people. The new arrangements provide for the LSC to work with partners at national and local level in creative ways to stimulate interest in learning and create opportunity and aspiration, especially among those who do not consider themselves to be learners. As we made clear in the prospectus, that will mean ensuring that learning should be accessible to all individuals and sections of the community and above all to the socially disadvantaged. I am happy to confirm that we expect the national and local LSCs to include at least one member with relevant knowledge and understanding of the needs of those severely disadvantaged or socially disadvantaged members.

Furthermore, at national level the head of the National ConneXions Service Unit will be invited to attend all meetings of the national council and of its Young People's Learning Committee. At local level the ConneXions Partnership will be invited to attend each meeting of the local councils of the LSC. So at every meeting of every LSC someone will be present with an understanding of the needs of socially excluded young people and experience of delivering support services to them.

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It would be wrong to go further than that and guarantee at least one place for each group as members of the national council. That would make it difficult to resist calls from other groups or bodies and would be counter to the Government's wish that all council members are appointed on merit because of what they can offer rather than as delegates of other organisations. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.


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