Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am surprised that the noble Baroness can get so upset about this part of the Bill so late at night. We had a full discussion at Committee stage about the setting up of these two committees, a young persons' learning committee and an adult learning committee. Her amendments would, of course, also prevent the LSC from setting up any further committees.

The young persons' committee and the adult committee are necessary to advise the council on how to attain the national learning targets for young people and adults. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said that she was very worried about the costs that will be associated with these committees. I can reassure her that members of the committees will not be paid a salary; they will receive only allowances of the kind which are necessary to cover their general expenses--for example, to cover the costs of travel and subsistence. We think that that is only reasonable. It is surely right that, where committee members--who will be experts in their field--give up significant amounts of time for the benefit of the public, they are not left out of pocket. If this were not the case, I think it might be unnecessarily difficult for the council to obtain the services of people of the highest calibre, which it surely deserves. The nature, extent and eligibility of committee members for allowances will be under the control of the Secretary of State, not the LSC. He is accountable to Parliament for all his expenditure.

The amendments would also prevent the LSC from establishing any other committees to advise it on its functions. Given the range and depth of the LSC's responsibilities, we do not think that that is wise. It would seriously impair the decision-making of the LSC and put at risk both its obligations to learners and to the best use of public funds. In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said that she was very concerned that the committees of the LSC could create

13 Mar 2000 : Column 1420

further committees of their own volition. I am happy to reassure her that that is not the case. Schedule 3 makes clear that the creation of any committees is a matter for the council.

I regret that the noble Baroness and I will disagree so far as concerns these committees. In the light of the explanation I have given her, I hope she will withdraw her amendments.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, it is obviously because of the lateness of the hour that the noble Lord has misunderstood so much of what I have said. I said that it is the council that will have the power to set up endless committees. There is no limit on the number of committees it can set up and there is no limit on its budget for setting them up. It simply has the power to set up other committees as it sees fit.

Neither my amendments nor the way I spoke to them would inhibit work from being done. My suggestion was that the council should commission specific work. It should determine what it wants to look into, what aspects of policy it wants to develop and what innovations should be considered. If specific work was commissioned, once it had been done the people carrying it out could be stood down and that would be the end of the matter. That would be a much better way. Volunteers could still be engaged to do that work and be paid on the basis suggested by the noble Lord for paying members of the standing committees. If I thought that the noble Lord would even partly accommodate my putting forward an amendment along those lines, I would do so in order to make it absolutely clear that I am not leaving a vacuum so far as concerns Schedule 3 and Clause 26.

It is all very well for the Minister to say that the members of the standing committees will be paid only out-of-pocket allowances for travelling, food and subsistence--of course that will be the case. But they will be serviced by a fully-paid secretariat and supported by fully-paid scribes, who will have to print agendas, liaise with other bodies and communicate on their behalf. There will be a good number of fully paid people. We shall stand back and watch with interest as they appear.

We shall be interested to know where they will come from. At the risk of some irritation to the Government, I return constantly to the matter of the £19 billion. During the course of the Bill we have heard much about money that will be taken from the so-called £19 billion over three years. If an issue concerning education needs funding, there is no other source that it can come from. We heard earlier about the new £40 a week for educational maintenance allowances; again, that is making inroads into the £19 billion. Every time that happens, more money is held back from core funding for our schools. It is no surprise that schools are wondering where the £19 billion is going.

I was deeply disappointed with the answer that I received, but it was no more than I expected. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

13 Mar 2000 : Column 1421

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 3 [Committees (England)]:

[Amendment No. 89 not moved.]

11.30 p.m.

Clause 30 [The Council]:

Lord Roberts of Conwy moved Amendment No. 90:

    Page 12, line 19, leave out ("not less than 10 and not more than 12") and insert ("up to 16").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, your Lordships considered two of these amendments, Amendments Nos. 91 and 92, at a late hour on the second day in Committee. They did not find favour with the Government, although there are clearly strong arguments for making the membership of the council for education and training for Wales (CETW) commensurate in size, not only with the LSC, its English equivalent, but also with the 47 English regional councils. That is the aim of those two amendments. Amendment No. 90 is new, and specifies a maximum number of members--at 16, equal to the maximum of the English councils.

The case for parity between national councils in England and Wales is very strong. The duties and responsibilities of both national councils are much the same and so are the diverse interests for which they will have to cater: sixth-formers, further education students, their teachers and lecturers, local education authorities and colleges, training providers and employers, actual and potential, in the public and private sectors. Additionally, there is a string of bodies, from the Welsh Development Agency to the TUC, which will have an input.

I do not expect all those bodies to be directly or indirectly represented but their educational achievement and skill needs and those of the public and private sector concerns with which they are involved must be fully understood, appreciated and taken into account. Why it should be thought that Wales can make do with a smaller council than England in these circumstances frankly defies my understanding.

In Committee, the Minister referred to the geographical disparity between England and Wales, but at the same time she wisely acknowledged the diversity of interests within Wales. They will rightly expect their needs, which reflect those of one of the poorest regional economies in the United Kingdom, to be attended to. I must remind the House that a substantial part of Wales, the Valleys and the western parts, now meet the criteria for Objective 1 status, which means in brief that their GDP is below 75 per cent of the European average.

There is an enormous amount of work to be done in the education and training field in Wales if our economy is to thrive and our young people are to stay put rather than leave for greener pastures. "Depopulation" is a very ugly word in Wales, and we do not want to see a repetition of it.

13 Mar 2000 : Column 1422

There are other peculiarities in the Welsh scene that justify parity of membership between the two national councils. Let me preface my summary of them by saying that I do not argue for parity for its own sake; that is, just because England has a council of 12 to 16, Wales must have the same as a matter of right or pride. If the Welsh council could perform its tasks with fewer, I should be more than content. But I do not believe that it can, and there's the rub. Here we are, writing the minimum and maximum numbers into the Bill until such time as there is another Bill on these matters, which may be some years hence.

The great underlying difference between England and Wales so far as the Bill is concerned is that provision for business and employer interests has been made for England but not in Wales. We have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, that the chairman of the LSC will have business experience and it is intended that about 40 per cent of the membership will be similarly qualified. We know that some of the functions of the training and enterprise councils in England are to be transferred to the Small Business Unit. That is a reasonably promising scenario. I regret to say that the Welsh scene is not so promising and that there is grave danger that our young people will suffer in consequence.

At worst, the charge in Wales is that the Assembly is unfriendly towards business. Whether that is true or false, the Assembly would be wise to counter it, as one Member of the administration, Mr Tom Middlehurst, has already done. But more than words will be needed to establish beyond doubt that the council will not have a built-in public sector institutional bias which may cause it to fail to meet employers' needs for skills. The CBI put the position as follows:

    "The new system will succeed or fail to the extent that it involves and meets the needs of employers. Employers depend on a skilled workforce to survive and prosper--they are the ultimate customers of the system. They are important partners as well--in making apprenticeship and trainee places available, in providing labour market information to help individuals choose the best education and training for their employability and in developing young people's employability through education business links. Employers are the primary source of training investment. All this does not only apply to England--it also applies to Wales. The current proposals in Wales do not encourage employers to become involved. They could lead to an ineffective supplier-led system which fails to promote economic growth and employment".

That is a very serious piece of criticism which must be heeded.

Employers must be present within the council itself to ensure that there are policies in place to meet their requirements. The problem of regaining their good will is compounded by the fact that no firm decision has yet been taken about the future location of the various roles of the soon-to-be-abolished TECs. That issue is now to be considered at a leisurely pace by the Assembly's Economic Development Committee.

I do not attempt to put into the Bill the 40 per cent business membership requirement for which the CBI has pressed. That proposal was rejected outright by a vote in the Assembly and I have no wish to defy that decision. However, I have a great deal of sympathy

13 Mar 2000 : Column 1423

with the proposal, as I suspect do the Government because they have given assurances on that score as far as concerns England.

During proceedings in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, who is now in his place, took the line that we should leave all these matters to the Assembly. We have no option but to do so. However, in this piece of primary legislation we can ensure that the Assembly is not so constricted and that it has scope with regard to the membership of the council. That is the purpose of Amendment No. 90 which would allow up to 16 members, as in the case of the English council. Incidentally, I have scoured the proceedings of the Assembly and of the Post-16 Education, Schools and Early Learning Committee and can find no substantial discussion of the size of council required to enable it adequately to perform its functions.

There are two other distinctive aspects of the Welsh scene that I mention briefly. First, the Welsh council will continue to have oversight of the higher education sector. That is totally different from the position in England. I entirely approve of that decision, not least because I had a hand in joining the funding of further and higher education in Wales eight years ago. But it means that the council will have control of a very large sum of money which is estimated by Professor Kevin Morgan to be about 10 per cent of the entire budget of the Assembly, and bigger than that of any other quango in Wales.

Secondly, it is laid down in the Bill that if the Assembly decides that there should be subsidiary regional councils or committees--the possibility is that there will be four--their chairmen will automatically be members of the main council. That will reduce the remaining membership to between six and eight. Such numbers will be totally inadequate and will result in an oligarchic set-up which will please no one. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page