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Baroness Nicol: My Lords, at the end of the report reference is made to an examination of the Companion to the Standing Orders with a view to possible revision. Can the Chairman of Committees tell the House the object of that possible revision? Who is to conduct it, and will Members of the House be invited to comment before it is published?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I deal first with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe. I was not aware that the terminology to which he refers was the invention of spin doctors, whatever they may be. The term has historic connections with judicial proceedings and is frequently used by both noble and learned Lords and others of lesser standing within the justice system. Your Lordships may feel that it has impeccable origins. I do not believe that I can help the noble Lord further.

I turn next to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington. He quoted the words,

in paragraph 1 of the report and suggested that the term "proper" might more properly be substituted. The words used by the committee in its report have been taken from the Bill itself. The proposal in paragraph 1 of the report was given careful consideration by the Procedure Committee before the decision was taken. It was thought that this was a proper way to proceed.

I do not believe that I can help the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, in regard to his suggestion that these matters should be deferred until the Bill has been considered. I would have thought--I am sure that I speak for the committee--that it was right for these matters to be considered by your Lordships' House at the earliest possible moment. There was no doubt within the Procedure Committee that this provision was required

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and that it was right and fair to all concerned. I would, therefore, commend to your Lordships this proposal along with the others in the report.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Learning and Skills Bill [H.L.]

3.22 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [The Council]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 1:

    Page 1, line 12, at end insert ("and one as Chief Executive, a post which shall subsequently be appointed by the Council as set out in Schedule 1 to this Act").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I rise to move Amendment No. 1 and to speak to Amendments Nos. 2 to 6. I understand that Amendment No. 8, which is grouped with my amendments, is to be spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Tope.

Amendment No. 1, which seeks to include on the face of the Bill a reference to the subsequent appointment of the post of chief executive as set out in Schedule 1 to the Bill, does no more than bring the arrangements into line with those for the chairman. The Minister gave no reason why it had been found necessary in Clause 1 to say that a member of the council should be appointed chairman but not that a member should also be appointed chief executive. Both should appear in either the schedule or in Clause 1, with subsequent detailed arrangements being dealt with in the schedule. Therefore, the amendment is tabled merely as a matter of consistency.

Amendment No. 2 is about the appointment of the chairman and ensures that he is a person with current or recent non-public business experience who commands national respect. The amendment adopts the Minister's own words. The Government intend that the individual should be someone from business who is nationally respected. Given that there is a great deal of minutiae on the face of the Bill, which will increase some of the concerns of business and commerce about the council, it is important that this should also be made explicit.

Amendment No. 3 is about the composition of the Bill, and it, too, is a matter with which the Government should have no difficulty. The Government have made it clear both informally and formally that 40 per cent of the members of the national council and of the local councils should include people from the business community. It is essential that that appears on the face of the Bill. At each stage of the Bill business and commerce have re-emphasised the importance of seeing something like this on the face of the Bill. Both we and business and commerce are conscious that the training and enterprise councils, which will go out of business as a result of the Bill and government policy, are to lose membership of those bodies. At the moment, they comprise two-thirds of the membership, which will reduce as a result of the Bill. In order to steady any nerves about the legislation, it is important that that should be made explicit on the face of the Bill.

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Amendment No. 4 provides that,

    "Not less than 20 per cent. of the members shall be nominated by the Local Government Association".

I listened to what the Government said at an earlier stage and have read what they have said since. They are concerned about prescribing so much of the composition on the face of the Bill. Therefore, I have reduced the figure from 25 per cent to 20 per cent. I feel strongly that there should be representation on the body and that it should be made explicit in some form on the face of the Bill.

The concern is that the Government say all the right things. I have been present at a number of meetings where Ministers have explained their intentions, but very little in the Bill bears out those intentions; much of it is left to chance. If in addition to some of the comforting statements one accepts what the noble Baroness has said constantly--that it will be a matter for Nolan--if Nolan does not make the recommendations, that will not happen. In order for the Government to make that happen--in other words, to say to Nolan that they mean that there should be 40 per cent representation by business and local government--it is important that, even if that is subject to Nolan procedures, that matter is made explicit on the face of the Bill.

There will be some argument about Amendment No. 4, but I hope that there will be none about Amendment No. 3 which represents the Government's declared intention. The Government have been less explicit about local government representation. The only explicit statement that we have had from the Minister in another place, Mr Wicks, is that there will be one local government representative on each of the councils, both national and local.

Amendment No. 5 proposes that,

    "The chairman shall be appointed for a period of not less than three years and not exceeding five years".

We have again taken the Minister's declared intention that there should be a properly recognised term of office. The Minister will notice that the amendment does not say that the person shall be reappointed, but that the appointment should be for a period of not less than three years and not exceeding five years. All of that is subject to the chairman not making an awful gaffe whereby he or she may have to be dismissed in a shorter period of time, but the appointment itself should be made for a specific period, and that should be properly understood by the person who accepts the post.

Amendment No. 6 makes grammatically explicit on the face of the Bill that the reference is not to "a member". I understand that the present wording is counsel-speak. Counsel always knows what he or she means by a word. However, given that business, commerce, local authorities and other interested parties--for example the voluntary sector and so forth--need to understand what these words mean, it is right that each member appointed to a relatively small national council should bring to it skills and experience which are relevant to the work of that body. That should be required not of "a member", or of "any member", but of "each member".

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Perhaps I may say in passing that there will be some concern if at the end of the day the Government take the view that the membership should be 12 and not 16 members. If two of the posts are already taken up by the chairman and chief executive, there will be only a very small number of people to represent all the interests. I am aware that today noble Lords will propose that other interests should be represented on the council. I beg to move.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, perhaps I may ask a question for clarification as regards construction. I speak to all amendments within the grouping. Do the functions and duties under Clause 1, Schedule 1 and Clause 2 apply where the local authority is not a local education authority? Moving Amendments Nos. 150 and 152 in Committee the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn made plain that they applied only where the local authority was a local education authority. I can see the logic of that. This morning I asked half a dozen noble Lords with greater knowledge of education than I possess and no one knew the answer. As a matter of principle, it would be a good idea to see where we are going at the outset. I hope that the Minister will take the matter on board.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I speak to Amendment No. 8 tabled by my noble friend Lord Tope and myself. We moved a somewhat similar amendment in Committee stressing that it was a minor proposal aimed at preventing the learning and skills council being dominated by a self-perpetuating clique. The amendment seeks to limit the normal term of the chairman's appointment to no more than two terms. It is somewhat similar to Amendment No. 5 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, which seeks to limit the period for which the chairman shall be appointed to not less than three years and not exceeding five years. Our amendment is slightly different. We seek to limit the normal period to two terms. It echoes the reply that we received from the Minister in Committee.

Although recognising that stability and membership build up a team spirit and strengthen bonds between members, they can also lead to conservatism and entrenched attitudes. It is always good for an organisation to be challenged from time to time. We are worried that, as drafted, Schedule 1 allows the chairman to continue indefinitely. We want to ensure that that does not occur. The Minister stressed in Committee that the general rule set out in the code of practice for public appointments was that members and chairs would normally serve for a maximum of two terms but that exceptions were allowed. That is good. However, the very fact that it is normal practice suggests that the provision should be incorporated on the face of the Bill. It is for that reason that we again bring forward an amendment in a slightly altered form.

Perhaps I may comment on the noble Baroness's six amendments. We have some sympathy with Amendment No. 1 in relation to the chief executive

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serving on the council. However, we accept, as the Minister stated on the last occasion, that chief executives sit on the research councils, the Higher Education Funding Council and the Further Education Funding Council, and that that provides a precedent. It is not essential.

We have less sympathy with Amendments Nos. 2 and 3. We feel that they are too prescriptive. It would be wrong for such a clear proportion of the council to be dominated by one forum or another. We have a great deal of sympathy for Amendment No. 4. It is right that local government should be represented on the learning and skills council. Amendment No. 5 is very close to our own amendment. It seeks the same end.

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