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Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 210W:


The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 210W, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 210X and 212A. I believe that I am right in saying that the Minister has already replied to Amendment No. 210W, which relates to the issue of publications. I should like to place on record that this amendment would require a school organisation committee in England to have regard to assurances given by the Secretary of State on the future of school sixth forms.

Lord Bach: Perhaps the noble Baroness will give way. If I have replied to it, I have not meant to. I shall be ready to reply to it in a few minutes' time.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I believed that the Minister had already mentioned Amendment No. 210W. Again, this amendment concerns the issue of consultation. From these Benches, we have never been too happy with school organisation committees, but we accept that they now exist. However, it is extremely important that they take account of the assurances given by the Secretary of State on the future of school sixth forms.

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Amendment No. 210X inserts a requirement that a school organisation committee in England consults the governing body and the head teacher of the school concerned or modifies proposals to close a sixth form prior to its implementation. Amendment No. 212A inserts a requirement that the National Assembly for Wales consults the governing body and the head teacher of the school concerned on any modified proposals put forward to close a sixth form. Therefore, these amendments are somewhat similar to those which I have just moved, which relate to ensuring that the governing body and head teacher are kept fully informed of what is happening. I beg to move.

Lord Bach: These are similar amendments and I shall reply as briefly as I can. However, I must deal with Amendment No. 210W. I want to remind the noble Baroness of the limited nature of the proposals which would be made by the LSC. They would be proposals to close an inadequate sixth form or to discontinue an inadequate 16 to 19 institution. As has been said by my noble friend, they would be made by the LSC only after the school had had reasonable time to secure improvements. It is only when a second consecutive adverse inspection report has been made that the council's powers to propose closure would be triggered. The period between the two reports generally would be about two years.

We believe that the fact that we are restricting the circumstances in which proposals can be brought forward by the LSC represents a substantial assurance to any school with inadequate 16 to 19 provision that it will be given a fair and reasonable opportunity to turn round its sixth-form provision.

The Secretary of State will be providing guidance to the school organisation committees and adjudicators on the factors they should take into account in considering proposals published by the LSC. It will be on broadly similar lines to that produced for the 1998 Act. The decision-makers must have regard to this guidance in considering the particular facts and circumstances of each case and all proposals must be considered on their individual merits.

We do not believe that it would be right for the Secretary of State to fetter the decision-making of the school organisation committee or adjudicator by providing blanket assurances that they should take into account in performing their statutory duty. The assurances that we are able to give today reflect the safeguards we have built into the provisions in Schedule 7. In other words, the school organisation committee or adjudicator will be involved in LSC proposals only as a genuine last resort.

The other amendments spoken to by the noble Baroness are Amendments Nos. 210X and 212A. When the school organisation committee or adjudicator in England or the National Assembly in Wales are minded to approve proposals but with modifications, they must consult such persons as may be prescribed. There are equivalent provisions under the 1998 Act. The regulations under that Act require the decision-makers to consult the body that made the proposals together with the LEA if the proposals come

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from a governing body or the governing body if the proposals are made by the LEA. Where the decision makers wish to make modifications to proposals to close, it must make sense for those most concerned with the proposals to be consulted.

Accordingly, we intend--and I am sure that this will give some satisfaction to the noble Baroness--that the regulations made under Schedule 7 should specify that the councils in England and Wales respectively should be consulted on modifications together with the LEA and the governing body of the school concerned. Usually, modifications to proposals to close or discontinue will be modifications to the implementation date of the proposals. We believe that these are important but are still procedural details that are best left to regulations. That is exactly how it was dealt with it in the 1998 Act.

I invite the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Blatch: Before the noble Baroness decides what to do about the amendment, does the noble Lord really think that this is a limited and modest power given to the committees to cause the closure of a sixth form of a school?

Lord Bach: It is clearly not a minor power. The important point is whether it is circumscribed. We believe that it is because of the reasons that I tried to outline in my reply to the noble Baroness's amendments.

Baroness Blatch: Circumscribed or not, it is a power to close the sixth form of a school.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I thank the Minister for his full reply to this series of amendments and for his assurances on Amendment No. 210W. I do not think that we were wishing to fetter the power of the school organisation committees in any sense. It is extremely helpful to have on the record the very full explanation that the noble Lord has given. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 210X not moved.]

Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 211 and 212:


    Page 75, line 8, leave out sub-paragraph (5) and insert--


("( ) A committee shall refer proposals to the adjudicator if--
(a) the committee votes on a decision in relation to the proposals,
(b) the decision is required to be unanimous by regulations under paragraph 5 of Schedule 4 to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (school organisation committees), and
(c) the result of the vote is not unanimous.
( ) A committee shall also refer proposals to the adjudicator if--
(a) by the end of the prescribed period the committee has not determined what action to take in relation to the proposals, and
(b) the Council requests that the proposals be referred to the adjudicator.").

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    Page 75, line 39, at end insert--


("( ) A committee shall also refer to the adjudicator a question of a kind referred to in sub-paragraph (1)(a) or (b) if--
(a) the committee votes on the question,
(b) the decision is required to be unanimous by regulations under paragraph 5 of Schedule 4 to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (school organisation committees), and
(c) the result of the vote is not unanimous.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 212A not moved.]

Schedule 7, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 99 [Provision of services]:

[Amendment No. 213 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No 214:


    43, line 38, leave out ("may") and insert ("must").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 214, I shall speak also to Amendment No 217. I assume that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, will speak to Amendment No 214A.

This clause refers to 13 to 19 year-olds and the procurement of services by the Secretary of State for that age group. Given that we are talking predominantly about young people to whom there is an obligation under the law to provide education, it seems to me that the word "may", which gives a degree of flexibility, should be replaced by the word "must". Alternatively, I should agree to the word "shall" and I would not go to the barricades for one or the other, provided that the matter is given serious consideration by the Government. The obligation under Clause 99 that the Secretary of State must or shall,


    "provide or secure the provision of services which he thinks will encourage, enable or assist ... effective participation by young persons in education and training",

is a relatively modest amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Northbourne: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 214A. I shall not do so quite as succinctly as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has done.

On the first day in Committee I attempted to insert into the duties of the learning and skills council the obligation to support the kind of work we see identified in Clause 99 and the government's Connexions document. The noble Baroness was adamant that those duties--which include a provision for support, motivation and mentoring for all learners, but especially for those who have been alienated or excluded--should not be the responsibility of the learning and skills councils but would be adequately dealt with under Clauses 99 to 108.

We have come to Clause 99. Alas, we find that the Government propose only a permissive clause, one that would permit the Secretary of State to do these much needed things for young people aged 13 to 19. In my view, that is not quite good enough. There is serious concern in the minds of those who provide youth services that the Government's plan to achieve their admirable objectives under the Connexions programme is going to be achieved by robbing Peter to pay Paul.

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I recognise that democracy forces on governments the need to provide the maximum splash with the minimum cash, the maximum effect for the minimum pain to the Treasury. It seems to me that the Bill as drafted leaves it open to the Secretary of State to do as much or as little as he pleases, or, indeed, as the Treasury pleases, towards the objectives of Clause 99. Secondly, it leaves it open to him to resource what he does either by directing the existing public services to divert resources into this programme from some other activity or by encouraging them to withdraw financial support which at present is going to the voluntary sector unless the voluntary sector does what the Secretary of State wants in terms of the kind of young people who are targeted, and also the services provided.

Those currently providing youth services--that is, a diverse range of opportunities including youth clubs, information centres, outdoor adventure programmes, street-based work and so on--are anxious that they will now be forced to focus only on the socially excluded, mainly in terms of mentoring and the advisory service, and that this will effectively reduce or bring to an end their work with those who are not socially excluded. Yet they too are tomorrow's citizens and they, too, need the kind of personal development that the youth services offer if they are to grow to their full potential and play their part in their community in the future.

I cannot do better than quote from a letter from the chief executive of the National Youth Agency. He states:


    "The Learning and Skills Bill is proposing to weaken further the already frail duties on local authorities to secure sufficient youth services. There is no evidence that the Learning and Skills Council is planning to step into the gap".

We know that already. He goes on:


    "With whom will the Connexions personal adviser connect if the diverse infrastructure of youth services--statutory and voluntary--is no longer in place? Individual guidance is a necessity but not sufficient condition for human development. And universal services--the Connexions goal--need serious money".

Individual guidance is a necessity but not a sufficient condition for human development. Universal services--the Connexions goal--need serious money.

Either we need the Secretary of State to accept the duty--which the noble Baroness has suggested in her amendment or which I have suggested in my amendment--to provide services to all who need them or, at the very least, we need to know from the noble Baroness how much new money the Government are prepared to put into the Connexions programme; what their priorities are in terms of target groups and services; and what they propose to do about the non-priority groups.

5 p.m.

Lord Tope: My noble friend Lady Sharp and I have our names to Amendment No. 217, which is being debated here. It relates to Clause 99(2) which provides that if the Secretary of State is to make provision, either because the amendments under debate are

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passed or under the provisions as currently drafted, he "must" rather than "may" make arrangements with local authorities, direct local education authorities and so on.

The Bill as drafted states that he "may" which means also, of course, that he may not. We feel that that is not adequate if this is to be done. I have considerable sympathy with the views expressed by both the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and at rather greater length but extremely eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. If the Secretary of State is to make such provision, that must be done through arrangement with local authorities and local education authorities. That is why we have tabled that amendment.


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