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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I believe that the fundamental principle which needs to be tackled here is that devolution leads to a process, well described by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, in which there is a joint approach and co-operation in a democratic family partnership. It cannot be paternalistic. There is a danger that the detail of the amendments to which the noble Lord draws attention tonight will move away from partnership and towards imposition. That would be resented by the Assembly, in our view quite rightly.
There has been considerable debate in Wales about the arrangements for the CETW's regional committees. Following the account by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, in the plenary debate on 1st February the National Assembly made clear its expectation of the new council to establish a committee for each of the four regions within Wales. The National Assembly, with the support of the cross-party Post-16 Education and Training Committee, made it equally clear that its strong preference was that the new council should have a permissive power rather than a duty with regard to the setting up of committees. That is what we have provided should happen.
Amendment No. 175 seeks to place a further duty on the CETW to establish two further committees, one for young people and the other for adults. As the noble Lord recognises, that would impose the same sub-structure in Wales as in England, but the issues, policies and needs of Wales are distinct from England's. It would be preferable to give discretion to CETW on this matter, as we have provided in the Bill.
As to the minimum number of members required for a regional committee of the CETW and its composition, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, seeks to raise the number from eight to 12, at least four of whom should come from the business or commercial sector. The National Assembly considered that and believed that a minimum of eight members would be sufficient to ensure efficient operation. Members will be appointed on the basis of having the right experience, knowledge and skills for the job, rather than whether they come from the education, business or commercial sector. In saying this, the National Assembly recognises the key input of the business sector and has pledged that each regional committee will have a chairman with a solid business background.
Forgive me, at this late hour, a small anecdote. During the late Lord Joseph's time as Secretary of State, he visited a tertiary college in Lancashire. He greeted the person who chaired that body with the words, "Who do you represent?" The Conservative county councillor replied, "I'm an employer; I am a trainer; I am a local authority member; I am a member of a voluntary organisation; I come from your Party; I am the parent of two daughters at the college; my wife is a student and I am a student at night. Which hat would you like me to say I am wearing?"
Amendments Nos. 178 and 179 would remove the National Assembly's control over the locus of the CETW's regional committees. Since the regional committees will ultimately be accountable to the National Assembly, it is essential that the National Assembly has a clear and real say in what they do. I hope, in the light of this reply, and the experience I have recounted, that the noble Lord will feel confident to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: Perhaps I may begin by simply saying to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, that my approach to these issues is not to say that if England has some of these clauses Wales must have them too. It is rather that I wish to know quite clearly why they do not apply to Wales.
I have to be quite clear in my understanding of how this Bill is going to work in practice in Wales. We are familiar with the English situation--the national council and the power of the local councils--but quite clearly in Wales all the real power is going to be concentrated in the national council. The regional committees, if they come into existence, will be purely advisory. So this justifies my earlier remark that there is even more centralisation of power in Wales under the system proposed in this Bill than there is in England. We do not have the regional equivalents of the English local councils.
Therefore, I would be grateful, before I beg leave to withdraw this amendment, if the Minister could confirm my belief that that is the way the national council will work--through local offices and taking advice only from regional committees.
The noble Lord said: This amendment contains the first reference to community consortia for education and training. These are the local bodies which have featured prominently in the Education and Training Action Group's report in Wales. It pre-dates the Assembly, and of course the proposal is also featured in the Assembly's Post-16 Education and Training Committee deliberations.
The report of that committee, itself welcomed and approved by the full Assembly on 1st February--as we have heard--endorses the concept of local consortia and urges the Assembly Secretary to produce a framework for their establishment. It is common knowledge that around 15 will be established in Wales. They will comprise local providers, including further education colleges, local authority school sixth forms, private training providers, Welsh medium secondary schools, voluntary organisations engaged in post-16 learning and other partners in adult and higher education.
I am somewhat mystified as to why such bodies should be non-statutory when they will be in receipt of public funds and will be charged with specific duties by the council. Clearly they will be important bodies and I believe that at least they deserve a mention somewhere in the Bill. If the amendment is carried, it will not in any way inhibit the National Assembly or the council. The council will specify functions and appoint members and, if the community consortia are to receive public moneys, they will of course be subject to the usual constraints.
As I said earlier, perhaps the whole structure of community consortia, regional committees and the national council is something of a facade and the real work will be done under the auspices of the Skills Wales Task Force, another body which does not appear in the Bill. I should be grateful for a little
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, has said, Amendment No. 180 would bring local community consortia for education and training within the scope of the CETW's powers in relation to its committees other than regional committees. However, local consortia will not be part of the CETW. They will be voluntary partnerships of education and training providers, employers and others, which will help plan the delivery of post-16 learning in their areas. The distinct components of the consortia will have equal status and will be funded directly by the CETW.
The CETW will be tasked by the National Assembly with deciding the actual size, boundaries and composition of community consortia, but it is the National Assembly's intention that no single interest will dominate. Community consortia partners, including employers and voluntary sector representatives, will together plan the provision for their local areas.
The task force will advise on the practical measures which can be taken to ease skills shortages, to improve the extent and quality of learning in the workplace and to ensure that providers of education and training are responsive to the skills needs of employers and individuals. I hope that, with these reassurances, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: I am grateful to the Minister for her explanation. I am beginning to see rather more clearly how this Bill will work in Wales. We know that the community consortia are already in existence in certain areas, and it is clearly intended that they should multiply. However, as the Minister has explained on more than one occasion, the real responsibility for the implementation of the Bill will rest with the Assembly. I certainly wish it well in that task. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.