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Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 102 to 104:

    Page 18, line 32, leave out ("include") and insert ("contain").

    Page 18, line 36, at end insert--

("(2A) Subsection (2B) applies if the National Assembly is satisfied that the Council--
(a) has failed to discharge a duty imposed by or under any Act, or
(b) has acted or is proposing to act unreasonably with respect to the exercise of a power conferred or the performance of a duty imposed by or under any Act.
(2B) In such a case directions may contain such provision as the National Assembly thinks fit as to the exercise of the Council's powers and performance of its duties.
(2C) Directions may contain provision described in subsection (2B) despite any enactment making the exercise of a power or performance of a duty contingent on the Council's opinion.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Committees (Wales)]:

Lord Roberts of Conwy moved Amendment No. 105:

    Page 64, line 35, leave out ("may") and insert ("must").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, as I said earlier, in the business world in Wales there is growing concern about the absence of commitment, in this case to regional committees. That is highlighted by the option given to the council as to whether or not to establish such committees.

During the Committee stage of this Bill, I quoted the CBI brief at col. 902 of the Official Report for 10th February. Those words still stand and I shall not repeat them. Naturally, as I do, the CBI contrasts the provisions made for Wales with those made for England, and the contrast is glaring. The English structure of a national council with local councils allied to it is clear, firm and businesslike. Only today we have heard about the important role that local councils are to play in England in relation to new Clause 14. There is a similar new clause for Wales--

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Clause 100--which relates to equality of opportunity. However, there are no executive councils to carry that out at local level.

Therefore, as I said, the Welsh structure, by contrast, is, frankly, wishy-washy and indecisive. There is a looseness about it which reeks of a laxity of thought and the fear is that that will persist and permeate the implementation of the Bill and its operation on the ground. That would be disastrous, but such a disaster is now staring us in the face unless the Government make the change which we propose.

Of course, the Government's view is that they should not tell the Assembly what to do. But they have not been averse to doing so in the Local Government Bill, which received its Third Reading in your Lordships' House at the end of last week. The word "must" is used there in relation to the assembly. In Clause 45, it states that the Assembly "must" provide a model code of conduct for councillors. So the Government should have no qualms about using that word again as proposed in my amendment.

The position with regard to regional committees is made more ambiguous by the fact that it is believed to be the intention of the assembly to establish such committees. Indeed, in our Committee, the Minister said that,

    "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".--[Official Report, 10/2/2000; col. 905.]

In view of what she has just said, that means that there should be at least four members of the council with a solid business background.

But it will not be easy to find such people of real worth when business people realise that the regional committees in Wales are to be purely advisory and different from the local councils in England, which will have executive powers. But of course that is a separate issue.

The point I wish to make now, even at this late hour, is that there is a body of opinion in the Assembly, not necessarily of my party-political persuasion, which realises the need for regional committees. But there is a lack of wholehearted commitment to them. I believe that the Government would be wise to give the necessary leadership in this Bill and resolve in advance the difficulties which will otherwise arise.

Among the novel ideas developed in Wales as a result of extensive consultation and deliberations by the Assembly's post-16 education committee is that there should be what are called community consortia for education and training. I understand that there will be about 15 of them. They are the subject of my second amendment, Amendment No. 106.

The Minister described them with admirable clarity at 12.30 in the morning. She said:

    "However, local consortia will not be part of 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 CETW".

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She went on to say:

    "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".--[Official Report, 10/2/2000; col. 907.]

I can add to the Minister's statement that the concept has been endorsed by the post-16 committee of the assembly and the relevant Assembly Secretary has been asked to produce a framework for the establishment of the consortia.

But it will astonish your Lordships, as it astonished me, that those community consortia, which are clearly to be an important feature of education and training in Wales are nowhere mentioned in this Bill. They are to be non-statutory but in receipt of public funds and therefore, I presume, accountable for their spending. They will not be an arm or section, but the council will set them up and decide their scope and composition and they, in turn, will plan provision for their area. But they do not seem to deserve a mention in the Bill. I have sought to remedy the situation by simply including them among the committees that the council may establish so that they may have some status, however casual, and recognition of their existence, if not of their potentially important role. But it is not to be unless the Government reject the advice to resist the amendment.

I must say that the consortia are not alone in being left out of the Bill. The task force, to quote the Minister,

    "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".--[Official Report, 10/2/2000; cols. 907-8.]

That, to my mind, is a major remit. The body which has it should have its place in the Bill. But your Lordships will no doubt be told that the task force will work for the council and whatever needs to be done will be done by the council, which is the fons et origo of all executive power under the Assembly. But I wonder what will happen if the task force fails in the proper execution of its remit. It is non-statutory and there is no remedy against it. That is part of the worrying dissemination of ministerial power to arbitrarily appointed people which, I fear, is rampant in the Government and will result in serious embarrassment sooner or later.

I am sorry to say that the picture of the future governance of education and training in Wales, which is emerging from our discussion on the Bill, is far from clear. The one thing that is clear to me is that there is a great deal of confusion and muddle. There is to be a strongly centralist council which may, or may not, but probably will establish regional committees with no real powers, which are advisory only, and voluntary, non-statutory, community consortia with an important planning and delivery role and a national

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advisory task force jogging the pantomime horse along. I have the gravest doubts as to whether it will work. I beg to move.


Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I cannot imagine a more genial way of spending the vanishing moments of my birthday than discussing the Learning and Skills Bill in your Lordships' House with particular reference to Wales. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, and the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, for their good wishes. I wondered whether I might turn into a pumpkin as the notes of Big Ben struck.

Here again, I have had the opportunity of consulting with my colleagues. As I have said before--I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, referred to my remarks--we on these Benches are anxious that the National Assembly for Wales should retain maximum flexibility. Indeed, it was noticeable that, when the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, moved an amendment not so long ago to omit the whole of Schedule 3, she called for that very flexibility in her argument. When one considers Schedule 3, the first thing which strikes me is that the word "must" appears in paragraph 1(1)(a). The council in England,

    "must establish a young people's learning committee and an adult learning committee".

That may be good enough for England, but the National Assembly for Wales requires the maximum amount of flexibility in order to determine what is best for Wales, having regard to the needs of Wales as the National Assembly sees it.

We recognise the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, but it is on principle that we oppose the amendment. As for the further amendment, which refers to community consortia, we are glad that that is a matter which the National Assembly has in mind. Clearly, community consortia will provide useful functions in post-16 education in Wales. We look forward to their being established. But we see no need for them to be marked out in the Bill itself.

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