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Lord Bach: I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Royal Assent

The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Turner of Camden): My Lords, I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Northern Ireland Act

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Eriskay Causeway) Order Confirmation Act

United Reformed Church Act

Alliance & Leicester PLC (Group Reorganisation) Act

Baxi Partnership Limited Trusts Act.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.30 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.51 to 8.30 p.m.]

Learning and Skills Bill [H.L.]

House again in Committee on Clause 19.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 104:

("( ) No less than 40 per cent. of the members shall include persons who have current or recent non-public sector business or commercial experience.").

The noble Baroness said: It will come as no surprise to the Minister that I return to this fray. The Government have talked about two things. One is that there will be a predominance of people with business experience on the councils, both national and local. Forty per cent has been mentioned in a number of places: at meetings with Ministers and when Ministers have talked to people in business and commerce.

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I was pleasantly surprised by the number of contacts that I had following our first day in Committee. People said how pleased they were that the subject had been raised but how disappointed they were at the way in which the Government appear to be extremely reluctant in relation to two matters. One concerned a definitive statement by the Secretary of State and other Ministers in the department about the 40 per cent of people with business experience. The other concerned what appeared to be prevarication about the definition of a person with business experience.

Therefore, I believe that it is essential, especially at national level but more especially at local level, that two-thirds of the membership of the training and enterprise councils, as they exist at present, are business people; that is, people with business experience in their local areas. However, it appears that that number may be reduced not only to 40 per cent but possibly even lower. If that does not appear as a commitment in the Bill, it does not necessarily have to be repeated in every single local skills council nor, indeed, at national level. I believe that this issue is terribly important.

One argument that has been made is that one cannot prescribe membership of the committee in advance. The reason given by the noble Baroness was that there are many representative groups out there and they will all want their slice of the action. In responding to two of my amendments on the first day in Committee concerning 25 per cent local government authority nominated membership and the 40 per cent minimum non-sector business membership, the noble Baroness went on to say, "What about all the others?" However, I believe that there is a case for this one group. I say that because there was a very specific commitment on the part of the Government.

The Government's rationale for moving to this form of committee is that it will be business led. "Business led" is a phrase that has been used by the Secretary of State and by Ministers, and it was certainly used in the briefing that I attended--not the noble Baroness's briefing; I was unable to attend that, but I attended the previous one. It can be made a reality and meet the expectations of business, which expects that only if it is on the face of the Bill. One must take into account the Nolan procedures and the way in which appointments are made. After my amendments for the national council had been rejected, the noble Baroness said that the Government would take the best of what came through the Nolan process. Unless it is prescribed through Nolan--that is, using the Nolan procedures but prescribing that a percentage will come with business experience--then it will be an incidental rather than a positive factor.

While I am addressing the subject of the Nolan procedures, which I know will be invoked again by whichever Minister replies to this amendment, I wish to say that I was--as, indeed, were many of my noble friends--quite shocked today at the exchange between the two Benches on one of the Starred Questions at the beginning of the day when we discussed the appointment to the Dome with the noble and learned

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Lord, Lord Falconer. I know that that comes under a different category and that the arrangements may be different. However, one of his answers stated that we could not have advertised the post of chief executive and, certainly, we could not have used the Nolan procedures because they would take at least six months.

In this case, there are many appointments to be made--a huge number of appointments if one takes into account the national and the 47 local councils--and the Secretary of State is responsible for all the working posts, too. Therefore, there are some real concerns about this matter. The business world is listening hard to what the Minister has to say. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone: We have already debated the issue of the composition of the national councils. This amendment, of course, relates to the composition of the local LSCs. I really have little more to add to the discussion that we had when we debated the national council.

The Government oppose the equivalent amendments in respect of the local councils. I am afraid that I must disagree here with the noble Baroness. We are extremely reluctant to put quotas on the face of the Bill, either nationally or locally. Incidentally, the TECs cover a much narrower range of provision than will the local LSCs.

I was not intending to invoke the Nolan procedures, although, of course, they will apply. However, Members of the Committee may recall that during the debate on Amendment No. 2 we made clear that stimulating and supporting workforce development will, of course, be a central part of the LSCs' remit. That is why we gave the assurance that 40 per cent of members on both the national and local LSCs will have recent business or commercial experience. Therefore, we are firmly committed to ensuring that local councils have a business perspective so that we can create a system where skills and innovation are the foundation for the success of this economy.

However, I do not accept that it is either necessary or appropriate to set ratios in legislation. I said that it was not appropriate at the national level, and I am afraid that I do not consider it to be appropriate at the local level either. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that we are committed to what we have stated. I hope that she will accept that it is not necessary to put this on the face of the Bill or, indeed, appropriate, and that, therefore, she will withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Blatch: Before I decide how to proceed with the amendment, perhaps I may press the noble

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Baroness to answer a question. Are the Government still committed to approximately 40 per cent on each local council and on the national council?

Baroness Blackstone: Yes. We are not distinguishing and suggesting that on only a certain number of councils will the 40 per cent apply. It should apply to all the local councils as well as to the national council.

Baroness Blatch: Perhaps I may come back again. Are the Government putting on the record that there will be 40 per cent or more, but not less than 40 per cent, on each of the councils, including the national council?

Baroness Blackstone: Yes. We have said that there will be not less than 40 per cent on each of the councils.

Baroness Blatch: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 105:

    Page 8, line 34, at end insert--

("( ) No less than 25 per cent. of the members shall be nominated by the local authorities within the local council area.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 108, 109 and 111. Amendment No. 106 is also in this group. That amendment is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, who will deal with that.

Amendment No. 105 returns to the issue of the nominated posts by local authorities within the local area. I shall return to the issue of business membership at the next stage of the Bill. The Nolan procedures are always invoked as part of the answer to this question. But it would be helpful if the noble Baroness is as committed as was her honourable friend Mr Wicks to local authority representation on the national and local councils. I seek a definitive commitment in relation to that.

I shall be urging--as will, I believe, Members on the Liberal Democrat Benches--that those selections should not be made simply by the Secretary of State through those procedures but that there should be nominations to which the Nolan procedures would apply.

Amendment No. 108 seeks a change of emphasis. This is an important point. We want members of a local council not to be members also of the national council. The national council will comprise only between 12 and 16 people. The idea that it needs to take anybody who is also serving on a local council is extraordinary. The selections will be made through rather complicated procedures. Anybody who becomes a member of the national and/or local council will be fairly important either in the field of business and commerce, with a background in national training organisations, with a background in local government and so on. The idea that such people would have the time in their lives to be dual members of a national committee, which will be relatively small, and a local

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committee, is absurd. The principle of dual membership should not be supported. That is my rationale for that amendment. Amendment No. 109 goes to the same argument.

Amendment No. 111 seeks to remove paragraph 2(3) of Schedule 2 which states:

    "A notice under this paragraph requires the Secretary of State's approval".

Again, the Secretary of State has a handle on absolutely everything to do with any activity whatever in the Bill. He appoints the members, the chairmen, the chief executives. He appoints every single member of the 47 councils. He also appoints all the members of staff to all those councils. It is not possible in practical terms to deliver that level of control and I do not believe it is entirely democratic. I beg to move.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Tope: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 106 which stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford.

I said earlier in the debate that I have some sympathy with the Government to the extent of not wishing to be prescriptive on the face of the Bill about the exact percentages of various categories of membership. Therefore, I prefer the wording in Amendment No. 106 which states, slightly less prescriptively, that,

    "the Council shall ensure that the majority are representative of the different providers of education and training within the area, and of local authorities, and that all members have experience relevant to the Council's functions".

I turn in particular to the local authority question. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has referred to the meeting which we both attended at which the Under-Secretary of State, Malcolm Wicks, said quite specifically that each council would have as members representatives of the local authorities. He was unequivocal about that.

So far in the proceedings in this House, I have not heard such an unequivocal statement from the Minister. I hope that that is about to change. I should have checked and I did not but, if my memory serves me right, on Second Reading she said that the councils would have representatives who were knowledgeable of local government. She is shaking her head. Perhaps I have got it wrong and she will correct that when she replies. But such an expression could embrace a very wide number of people.

Let us leave aside for the moment the proportion. Local government is concerned that it should be represented as of right on each learning and skills council. That is extremely important, not only for local authorities as providers, which is important, but these days even more so because they will soon have a duty, under the Local Government Bill also before this House, to promote the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of the area. Therefore the community leadership role of a local authority is equally important in that regard.

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We really need to hear from the Government clearly and unequivocally exactly how local government is to be represented on each learning and skills council. Amendment No. 106 to which I am now speaking will at least confirm that they and other providers should form the majority.

Some would go so far as to say that local government should be nominating a number of members. That is an important point. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has just said, under the proposals in this Bill, the Secretary of State will have power to appoint 600 or 700 people, most of whom he will certainly not know. He will have to be guided by somebody else's say so. It seems to me that if people are to be representatives of local government in any sense, then local government should have the right to choose its own representatives, subject to the Nolan procedures. Nobody argues about that. We understand that. We do not just want place people on those relatively small councils. We want people with the relevant knowledge and experience who will play a full part there.

Local government can provide the required proportion of such people. I hope to hear a clearer response from the Government than I have heard so far.

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