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Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, we discussed the same amendment in Committee and I am afraid that I shall disappoint the noble Lord because I am able to add little to what I said in that debate.

The solution that the London Development Partnership recommended for local arrangements in London was, as the noble Lord rightly noted, five local councils with a co-ordinating mechanism to ensure that the pan-London issues were dealt with effectively. I am happy to reiterate that we accept the recommendation and I am equally happy to place on record my commitment to making the arrangement work in practice.

I have something in common with the noble Lord, Lord Tope. I, too, in an earlier life was involved in post-GLC arrangements. In my case, it was trying to ensure that the ILEA, as it then was, was able to continue to operate and had in place the services which it had acquired from the GLC when the GLC was abolished. Therefore, I know what the noble Lord is talking about.

However, I do not believe that we need a provision on the face of the Bill to ensure that we have a proper co-ordinating mechanism. We have set out in the prospectus how we shall capitalise on the benefits of a

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strong national council and strong local councils. The Bill allows the council to delegate to local arms the appropriate powers and to establish other committees as it sees fit.

The light-touch mechanism which the London Development Partnership recommended, and to which the noble Lord referred, should be a matter for the LSC and its local councils to determine in order to meet London's needs. The exact form which the co-ordinating body in London will take has not yet been agreed. That will be for the LSC to determine, together with the five local London councils. However, we anticipate that it will be an internal LSC working group acting as a light-touch mechanism. I envisage the five London councils using it as a forum to agree common approaches to collective problems and then to inform the LSC's wider planning in London.

We also expect the London regional economic strategy to feed into the discussions of the group and the group to have a channel of communication to wider partners in the London theme. The boundaries of the local LSCs are not specified in the Bill. They may change somewhat in future. It is not inconceivable that the consensus might change and that the need for a co-ordinating mechanism might no longer exist. So there is no advantage in putting the provision on the face of the Bill. I am not saying that I anticipate such changes, but I am saying that if there were to be such changes, and if we accept the amendment, the situation would be inflexible and the law would have to be changed.

I hope that with my repeated commitment to ensuring that such a mechanism is effectively established, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Tope: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply, but it has not taken us much further. I was aware of her experience in the ILEA, although I would not be so unkind as to draw attention to it. All I would say is, "Look at what happened to the ILEA". If I cannot convince her of the need for reassurance in the Bill, so be it. I am sad. She rightly says that there is no provision in the Bill for the boundaries of the local LSCs--I know and recognise that--and that circumstances could change and there may be no need for a co-ordinating mechanism. The only way in which that can occur is for the Government to make the right decision and to have only one LSC for London. In that case, it can co-ordinate with itself. The provision in the Bill may then be unnecessary, but it would not make it impossible to work. Therefore, I cannot accept her argument

I am not entirely surprised that the Minister was not prepared to put the provision on the face of the Bill. However, I listened to, and shall read carefully, what she said about the co-ordinating mechanism. My understanding is that the London Development Partnership did not ask for a light-touch co-ordinating mechanism, but for a stronger co-ordinating body. It has simply accepted that the Minister is not prepared to let us have that.

From what I understood of her reply, the noble Baroness suggested that the real work and the decisions on this matter will not get under way, and certainly will

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not be in place, until the local LSCs are up and running, working together and in a position to reach a decision on the best co-ordinating mechanism. As they do not come into being until April 2001 and it will be some time before they are in a position to make such decisions, I repeat my considerable concern that, whatever the co-ordinating mechanism, which we all accept is necessary for London, it will not be in place and operable until well into the first term of the GLA. I believe that we are missing important opportunities there.

I have made no secret of the fact that I believe we are making a mistake in the way that we are dealing with this matter. However, there is no need to make it worse. I urge the Minister to think a little more about trying to ensure that when the LSCs come into being in April 2001, as quickly as possible thereafter an effective co-ordinating mechanism is put in place. Thus, the learning and skills councils in London will be able to speak with a strong and united voice in what is likely to be a very lively and quite hard fought debate within London. If we have to wait for months--possibly longer--before they are in that position, I believe that they will get off to an unnecessarily bad start. However, this is not the time to pursue the matter further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 61:


    Page 8, line 36, at end insert--


("( ) Not 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: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 61, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 62, 64 and 65. These amendments very much repeat previous ones. They concern the composition of the local skills councils. Again, I press the Government to place something on the face of the Bill both to recognise the present representation of business and commerce and, of course, to recognise some local democratic representation.

Secondly, I feel very strongly about Amendments Nos. 64 and 65. It seems to me that the national council will be relatively small. It will comprise between 12 and 16 people, one of whom will be the chairman and one the chief executive. Therefore, one is left with approximately 10 to 14 people. The idea that they should be members of the national council and a local council suggests that we do not have enough people to make a distinctive national council. They will, in any case, be very busy people, heavily involved in their business world or the particular worlds from which they come and from which they will bring their talents and expertise. It seems to me quite outrageous that they should have dual membership with the local skills councils. Therefore, I regard Amendments Nos. 64 and 65 as very important. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, both in respect of the national council and local councils, we have debated a number of times the merits of specifying in

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legislation the precise details of their membership. Nothing has made me change my mind that it is inappropriate to set out in legislation the proportion of the membership of a public body which should represent any particular group. I know from his comments during the Committee stage that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, shares my reservations about specifying numbers and proportions on the face of the Bill. Therefore, I reject the suggestion in Amendments Nos. 61 and 62 that we should specify any proportion.

That is not to say that we are drawing back from our commitment to seek to ensure through the appointment process that we have a membership in which 40 per cent of local council members are people from a business background. That is simply not the case. However, specifying that in law will only (if I may beg the pardon of my noble friend beside me) please the lawyers. With regard to Amendment No. 61, we have repeatedly made clear our commitment that at least 40 per cent of local council members will be people from a business background. I hope that the noble Baroness will accept our assurances on that.

There is a second aspect to Amendment No. 62 which I cannot accept. We do not want to give nomination rights to any body--to the GLA or anyone else. That would restrict the field of candidates and potentially diminish the quality of candidates. In the appointments process, we want individuals, as I said earlier in relation to the national council, who will serve the interests of the local LSC as a whole and not be representatives or delegates.

Some noble Lords claimed that there is a disparity in our approach to business and to local government. But let us look carefully at that for a moment. There is a real distinction between local authorities and businesses. Local authorities are statutory bodies which will have close working relationships with the local LSCs at every level. On the other hand, the business world consists of a multitude of individual firms which may have little or no regular contact with the LSCs, yet they represent a vital part of the demand side. That is why we have a policy of providing that 40 per cent of the membership of local LSCs should have a business or commercial background. However, they are not there to represent their own businesses but to bring with them their experience of the business world in all its many forms and interests. Similarly, we expect local councils to have members who understand the needs of local communities through local authority experience. Again, I am happy to repeat that here.

Amendments Nos. 64 and 65, about which the noble Baroness said she feels very strongly, seek to bar membership of a local council to any member of the national learning and skills council. As I suggested in Committee, having high calibre individuals who are members of councils at local and national level could promote co-operation, some cross-fertilisation of ideas, and enable the national council to have a better understanding of local concerns.

I want to make it absolutely clear that I regard dual membership as something which is not likely to take place very often and, indeed, as something rather

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unusual. But we do not want to bar or in any way discourage members of a local council, who may also have an enormous amount to contribute at national level, from becoming a member of the national council. Of course, in making such an appointment, the Secretary of State would have to be thoroughly satisfied that the individual in question had the time to devote to both responsibilities. But that is a standard criterion in any event.

In the light of those assurances, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will feel able to withdraw her amendment.


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