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Baroness Blatch: As I moved the first amendment in this group, I shall respond first. When I undertook the job now carried out by the Minister I suffered great frustration in relation to counsel's opinion. Almost daily I argued with the pedantic nature of the advice that I received from counsel. On one occasion, having received in the Chamber the most incredibly persuasive and I thought common-sense argument against me, I returned to the department and said, "I will not go into the Chamber once more defending the indefensible". I asked whether I could meet counsel. A great shudder went through the room and there was a great intake of breath. I was told that nobody meets counsel; counsel does not talk to Ministers. I insisted that I met counsel. I decided to hold a meeting in which I would sit as the honest broker and counsel would sit face-to-face with my noble friend Lord Renton, who with Members from other Benches had led the fray in the Chamber, and that they would battle it out. I watched and after about 10 minutes counsel conceded the argument.
I find this matter extraordinary on two counts. First, I believe that the wording is clumsy and that the only intellectually valid argument advanced by counsel--I do not blame the Minister--is that it has been done this way for a century so there is no reason to change it. Secondly, it is extraordinary that it should be necessary for any government to say, in appointing members to a national body which has a specific remit set out in law, that they will appoint the kind of members who will do a good job. I would have thought that that would go without saying.
I do not blame the Minister, but I believe that across this House we should insist that counsel must not be so pedantic and should concentrate energy and efforts on parts of the drafting of legislation that have much more substance about them.
The Minister chided me because of my apparently new-found interest in local government. I come from local government, I have a great affection for it and some experience of it. The removal or reforming of powers was carried out in the interests of devolving power downwards and not upwards, such as devolution to schools and autonomy for further education colleges. Such moves were welcomed by most councils in the end and they were certainly welcomed by the schools and colleges.
Councils are now being second-guessed by organisation committees and second-guessed, sometimes wrongly, by adjudicators. They will lose some of their funding powers under this Bill and they certainly will lose their power to determine matters locally. As set out in this Bill, whatever they do will have to conform with the directions of the Secretary of State as sent down through the national and local schools councils. I defend my right, first, to be a supporter of local government and, secondly, to say that over time its role does change, but I think that it should not change in keeping local the determination for decisions that impact on local people. I shall not be pressing my Amendment No. 10.
I hope the noble Lord, Lord Rix, will accept that Amendment No. 152, which bears his name--and I confirm on the record that I supported his amendments--impacts on Wales. My noble friend Lord Roberts will be dealing with all Welsh aspects of the Bill. When it comes to Amendment No. 152, he will speak to it in the context of it applying to Wales. I believe that he will support it. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 10.
Baroness Blatch: At the beginning of the afternoon the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, was particularly cross with me, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, because we started off on what appeared to be a negative note. Indeed, it was either the noble Lord, Lord Tope, or the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, who was accused of wrecking the Bill. Like them, I can see how that interpretation is technically drawn in relation to the amendments that we are discussing today. The argument is not about whether there needs to be more coherence for 16-plus education. There is no disagreement across the whole of the Chamber about that. The argument is about means to ends. From what the noble Baroness has said and what the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has done, I believe that it could be done better, more effectively and certainly at less cost.
My view is that there seems to be almost a fetish on the part of government that anything invented by the previous government must be changed, even if they agree it in principle, rather as they tried to agree with grant-maintained schools in principle. But grant-maintained schools had to go. They had to be redefined. Some changes had to be made. Sadly, the changes were in terms of losing autonomy. They knew that deep down it had in fact been a good idea to give schools more control and more operational autonomy.
Much the same is happening with training and enterprise councils. At some stage, the noble Baroness said that there were good, bad and indifferent training and enterprise councils. Earlier this afternoon, they were referred to as quangos. They are not quangos. They are incorporated companies, and they are separate. Hence, there is no clause in the Bill to dissolve them. They will not be dissolved; they simply will not receive contracts from the DfEE. They will not wither on the vine, but will go in some haste. It is not clear from the details in the Bill exactly how that transition will occur and what some of the practical manifestations of it will be.
There are two fairly important points when it comes to management of change. One is that it can be difficult. It certainly can be painful for the people who are involved and who are the losers. Certainly many members of staff will not be reappointed. Some people who have given very good service as voluntary members will cease to be used. The other side of management of change--and this has been my experience in local and in national government--is that management of change is expensive. To be done properly, it is costly. It is conventional for government, and indeed local government, never properly to fund management of change. Often, with hindsight, the reason why changes do not happen in quite the way that Ministers want them to happen has more to do with the fact that the changes were implemented on a shoestring.
Clause 1 is a bureaucratic monster. It is far removed from the aim of the Bill, which is to introduce more coherence and a more locally-tailored service to meet the skills and educational needs of communities and of business and commerce. A network is already in place. There is an argument for revisiting TECs--training and enterprise councils--looking at their composition, powers and modus operandi, and for introducing some reform so that they can deliver what the Government want.
The noble Baroness earlier criticised the fact that there are too many TECs and said that they are going to be reduced in number. I shall come back to the financial aspect of that in a moment. If that is the case, looking at their coterminosity with other bodies with which they have to work and at whether or not the areas they cover are right, the relationship between them, local business, local commerce and local authorities could be built upon in a practical and cost-effective way.
I was disturbed when earlier today the noble Baroness appeared to imply that part of the £50 million would in fact be saved by reducing the 72 councils down to 47. It is of course true that they may operate in fewer buildings. Parkinson's law being what it is, I suspect that those buildings will still stay within the public sector. But they will use fewer buildings. Is the intention to use fewer staff? And is the intention to have less money? In other words, is the money that is presently available to training and enterprise councils to be reduced in order to provide for the local skills
Lord Haskel: I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. I wanted to remind her that we are debating whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill. Will she tell us why she thinks that Clause 1 should not stand part of the Bill?
Baroness Blatch: I have given a few reasons already-- management of change; costly bureaucracy; this is not the way to achieve the ends; that the argument is about means to ends and not about wrecking the Bill. How many other arguments would the noble Lord like me to introduce? I introduced funding and the cost of management of change. I have even been positive and suggested that there is a way of taking the existing network and building upon it. I have talked about the possibility of revisiting the training and enterprise councils and looking at their coterminosity with the bodies with which they work. I could go on.
In the past few minutes I have mentioned all those points. All of them are relevant as to whether Clause 1 is the best way forward or whether there are alternatives which would work in an effective way. This is a bad way to go forward. It is a top-down system. It is going to be expensive. It is going to be remote from the people it serves. It is going to require even more co-ordinating bodies than presently exist. The coterminosity makes some sense in some parts of the country, but not a great deal in others. That has not been addressed.
The Government have a propensity for not accepting any amendments--I say that having watched the television programme on Sunday evening--even minor amendments, when almost everyone's view, both in the back room and in counsel's opinion, is that the Bill could be changed. I am not hopeful that we will get change in this respect. I believe that this clause should not stand part of the Bill in the interests of giving us an opportunity to find a better way to achieve the aim of more coherence of post-16 education.
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