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Baroness Blatch: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for a full and comprehensive answer. I echo the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that there is a great deal of agreement about the principle and about the policy intention behind this issue.

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I am sorry that the noble Baroness believes that my amendment is narrowly drawn. It covers absolutely every aspect of a college: the quality of the education and training provided--that is, its whole rationale for being--and the whole of the management. It states,


    "where it has reasonable cause to believe that the governing body of the institution is managing the affairs of the institution or discharging any duty imposed on them by ... the ... Acts".

In other words, it covers every aspect of the college. The amendment refers to "Education Acts"; that is, those that have been passed and this Act, in particular, which is about to be passed and which, as I say, is likely to have an adverse effect on the quality of education or the management of the college and/or the use of public funds. There is nothing narrow about that. It includes all the activities of the college.

I turn to the particular examples given by the noble Baroness. A number of us are still bemused that the FEFC, which continued to fund those colleges--and that was not the only example; there were one or two others--continued to fund them in the full knowledge of what was happening. The only eyes and ears for any Secretary of State--past or present--in this situation are the inspectorates and/or the FEFC. It seems to me extraordinary that such a parlous situation was allowed to develop at that college and that the report to which the noble Baroness referred was the first manifestation of what was going on there. Therefore the appointment of two governors was extremely late in the day. I absolutely agree with the point made by the noble Baroness that early intervention would have been much more appropriate. An early expose of what was going on at that college would have helped a great number of people, not least the students and the people in the local community.

It is not a narrowly drawn amendment. The noble Baroness has talked about strengthening the powers. I still believe that it is important for the colleges to know that any additional governors are nominated and/or appointed because of a reasonable view that there is something wrong. That is precisely what my amendment provides.

I spoke to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, before coming into the Chamber today. I know that Members on the Liberal Democrat Benches wish to give more thought to this matter because there are concerns about the use of a power.

What needs to be said and put on the record is that for every college that went wrong, many more colleges had no problems at all and served their local communities and students extremely well. They have enjoyed and made the most effective use of their autonomy. Therefore, it is important to balance the autonomy of the governing body and the running of an institution with taking sensible precautionary action where that becomes necessary.

The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, gave us some examples. Throughout what he was saying, I was thinking to myself that it was much too late in the situation which the noble Lord described. One would want to appoint the governors at the point at which the

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signs were picked up, either through auditing and/or inspection or by the funding council, which in future will be the skills council, that something is going seriously wrong. That would be on the basis of having some suspicion that problems were beginning and things were beginning to go awry. Intervention would then be wholly justified.

That is linked to another point, to which I shall return on a later amendment; namely, governors' liability. It is extremely important that, from time to time, governors see these matters for themselves. Some people operate in some institutions in such a way that the governors are not aware that something is going wrong until it is too late.

But I return to my original point. It is very odd that the FEFC waited so long to expose the problems in that particular college. I shall withdraw the amendment. I hope that discussions can continue and that we can reach an accommodation before the next stage of the Bill.

Baroness Blackstone: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for saying that she will withdraw her amendment. Just before she sits down, I want to make two or three small points.

First, I too want it on the record, as I think I said earlier this afternoon, that the vast majority of colleges do a very good job. But unfortunately, a small minority has not done so and it has been able to get away with that partly because the structures were not in place which allow the FEFC to intervene as quickly as it needs to.

It is precisely because of the autonomy of those colleges which the noble Baroness wants to see that the FEFC's position must be one whereby it abides by the law and takes care in how it operates. It must also collect the evidence before it can intervene. But once that evidence is collected, it must be untrammelled in its ability to do so.

The primary power existed under the previous government's 1992 Act but, unfortunately, an order had never been brought forward until this Government did so in October last year, making it possible for the FEFC to nominate up to two additional governors. We are now taking that one step further and allowing it to make that appointment.

Baroness Blatch: Is the noble Baroness saying that the FEFC could continue to fund for specific purposes, knowing that the money and resources given to those colleges was being abused and misused and could continue without any power whatever to do anything about it?

Baroness Blackstone: Unfortunately, most of the continuing funding of those colleges went on under the government of whom the noble Baroness was a member. As soon as this Government came into power, they immediately took action through the FEFC to sort out the appalling mess which had existed as a result of the failure of the previous government to have a proper structure in place.

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5.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: That was not my question. Where was the lack of power which would have prevented the FEFC from saying to a college, "You are not receiving any more money until resources are being properly used"? The FEFC had power to hold moneys back. No Secretary of State can know what is going on unless he is told what is going on. Where was the lack of power? Under what power did the FEFC continue to fund a college knowing that things were going so badly wrong?

Baroness Blackstone: The issue at stake here is that the governing bodies of further education colleges have very considerable autonomy with respect to spending the money which has been allocated to them. There may be subsequent changes to the allocations but a large college already has substantial resources. A couple of those colleges got into a deficit position. At that stage, the FEFC was able to intervene.

Baroness Blatch: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 12 [Research and information]:

Lord Addington moved Amendment No. 80:


    Page 6, line 18, at end insert--


("( ) The Council shall carry out research into specific groups of learners and the learning process as relevant to such groups.").

The noble Lord said: With this amendment, we return to something of a hobby-horse of mine; that is, the provision of information and making sure that the correct information is available. It deals also with something of a parliamentary old friend; namely, "may" and "shall".

At present the Bill provides that:


    "The Council may carry out research".

My amendment seeks to ensure that:


    "The Council shall carry out research into specific groups of learners and the learning process as relevant to such groups".

Effectively, we are seeking to build up the bank of information. Most people who have been dealing with this problem--I referred to it during our previous debates in Committee--encounter enormous difficulties in trying to secure the right sort of information and to take the right sort of action. That leads to a prolonged process in trying to obtain the appropriate help for individual students, and it is probably the greatest bugbear of all the organisations which are dealing with those issues.

I suggest that this Bill provides us with the opportunity to build up a great pool of information on which it will be possible to call. It will be of tremendous help also to other sectors of education as it will set precedents which will be relevant to the schools and higher education sectors. We should grab that opportunity as it will make life easier for the whole sector. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch: I wish to speak to Amendment No. 92, which is grouped with this amendment. Also, I support the noble Lord, Lord Addington.

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I wish to qualify the word "adequate" which is difficult fully to understand in legislation. I know that those concerned with people with learning difficulties believe that whatever is provided should be "sufficient" and it certainly should be "appropriate" to the particular needs of the individual. Therefore, the words "sufficient and appropriate" would be more specific, understandable and reassuring for those who are concerned about meeting the relevant needs of people with learning difficulties.


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