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Lord Northbourne moved Amendment No. 2:

("( ) take account of the education and training required to prepare young persons of different abilities and aptitudes for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life outside the workplace;").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on Report I rehearsed the arguments for this amendment which turn on the desirability of having on the face of the Bill a better balance between the duty of the learning and skills council to provide vocational education--education for work--and providing a broader category of education--education for life. At that time, I received support from all sides of the House, as well as from the noble Baroness.

I understand that the noble Baroness will say that she can bring forward a government amendment to Schedule 3, which will cover the point that I made. Therefore, subject to what the noble Baroness says in her response, I shall not press my amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am sorry that I was unable to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, completely on these matters in earlier debates. Under its main duties Clause 2(3)(b) already obliges the LSC, when securing proper facilities for those aged 16 to 19, to take account,

    "of the different abilities and aptitudes of different persons".

That links directly to the provisions of Clause 2(1) where education is not going to be "suitable to the requirements" of those aged 16 to 19 if the LSC does not prepare them for adult life generally, including life outside the workplace.

This Government want the LSC to make a real difference to people's lives, especially young people, by helping to support families and build stronger neighbourhoods. I can assure the House that the LSC will play a very important role in promoting the benefits of learning outside the workplace--not just the economic benefits, important though they are, but also the personal, family and community benefits that learning can, and should, bring. Therefore, we intend that "training", within the meaning of Clause 2(4)(c), should have as broad a definition as possible; that is why the paragraph refers specifically to,

    "vocational, social, physical and recreational training".

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We want to ensure that our young people grow up to make the correct and informed choices that we want them to make, whether that choice is about a career or how to behave socially. Similarly, we are not awaiting the establishment of the LSC to take action on some of the issues that concern the noble Lord; for example, the group established under Professor Crick on citizenship met for the first time in January and is due to report in June or July. Further, the FEFC, as part of its Curriculum 2000 initiative, is creating specific funding for key skills and enrichment courses for full-time 16 to 19 year-olds.

The FEFC's Curriculum 2000 regime explicitly recognises, for the first time, enrichment courses running alongside A-levels and full-time vocational courses. Students undertaking such activities, coupled with key skills, will earn the funding equivalent of a full A-level. At present, a wide range of enrichment activities is eligible, including the Duke of Edinburgh's award scheme, work experience, health education and sports.

Nevertheless, I listened to what the noble Lord said today. I should like to offer to try to meet his continuing concerns by making an amendment to the Bill in another place. Schedule 3 to the Bill provides that the council must establish a "young people's learning committee". I accept that the preparation of young people for adult life outside the workplace is where the council can, and should, make a real difference. I believe that there is a case for recognising this by specifying in Schedule 3 that the committee must also consider and advise the council on the matters that I recognise are of such importance to the noble Lord--as, indeed, they are to the Government--and which he has raised in his amendment.

I hope that the noble Lord will agree that this proposal represents a clear and firm step towards meeting the concerns that he has expressed and that, therefore, he will feel able--as he indicated--to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for those assurances, which I believe meet the case that I was trying to make. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford moved Amendment No. 3:

    Page 2, line 28, at end insert--

("(e) disproportionate expenditure is expenditure that is wasteful or unrelated to the duties and functions of the Council, but shall not be taken to mean expenditure on provision that, by its nature, has higher unit costs than other forms of provision").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall be brief as this matter was discussed during earlier stages of the Bill. My amendment relates to Clause 2(3)(e) and attempts to define more fully the phrase "disproportionate expenditure". As the clause stands, the paragraph could read as though finance--money in the crudest

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sense--was the total guide to the operation of the councils. Noble Lords know that both I and my noble friends are worried about the effect of such a crude clause on school sixth forms, as against college provision.

We all know that school sixth forms have a higher unit cost because they provide more services; for example, orchestras, drama and moral and religious education. Moreover, in the case of smaller, rural sixth forms, they play a part in the local community. Therefore, we are worried about the provision and feel that greater guidance should be given regarding the position of these bodies. I realise that Ministers have assured us that they will take this into account. As I have said at previous stages of the Bill, I therefore can see no reason why they should object to having it on the face of the Bill. School organisation committees and adjudicators will make decisions on this matter. Legislative direction will be important. I beg to move.

Lord Tope: My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. As he said, we have discussed this matter at every stage of the Bill. At every stage of the Bill I have said that a paragraph which begins with the words,

    "make the best use of the Council's resources"

does not need the further words,

    "avoid provision which might give rise to disproportionate expenditure".

That must be inconsistent with making the best use of the council's resources.

At Report stage the noble Lord, Lord Bach, went to considerable lengths to try to define and explain what all of that meant. However, I became no more convinced. However, if the Government are determined that they must make reference to "disproportionate expenditure", that can only give rise to suspicions which, I must admit, I did not have at first--but others did have--as to what may lie behind the provision. If that does not apply to the current Government and the current Minister--I fully accept that that is the case--once the provision is included on the face of the Bill it is there for all time, until changed. Future Ministers and future governments may be far less benevolent than those who currently occupy the Front Bench. If the Government insist on leaving the words in the Bill, we are right to seek a better definition and a better understanding of the meaning of the words "disproportionate expenditure" in this context.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right to say that this matter has been discussed at each stage of the Bill. I believe that the noble Baroness and others who have spoken in all of the debates well understand the arguments. My noble friend has my full support.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment, specifically from the point of view of young people with learning difficulties and learning disabilities. I do so declaring, yet again, my interest as the father of a 19 year-old Down's Syndrome girl with

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mental handicap who is at the moment going through the considerable difficulties of moving from school to further education. I refer to the sort of thing one comes up against--many parents have experienced this--at the moment with the FEFC and, I fear, in future, with the LSC. Parents who need a special boarding school place for their child are told that that is altogether too expensive and therefore it cannot be allocated. The parents are told that they will have to put up with what is available locally and that the child will have to live in social services accommodation, which may or may not be available, and all that sort of thing.

I should have thought that this amendment, if accepted, would remove all that area of doubt and difficulty for the parents and young people concerned. I also believe that the amendment would fit the Government's laudable determination to achieve joined-up government in this area. The fees of a particular special needs boarding school may look, on the face of it, more expensive than local provision. However, when you go into it, that may not be the case at all. When you have added together the education department's budget and the health and social services departments' costs to look after these young people properly--and, as I have mentioned before, one has now to bring into the equation the Home Office's costs because, unfortunately, a large and growing number of these young people end up in prison because they are not being properly looked after under care in the community--the total cost of what the parents want is often cheaper than that of provision which may be imposed on them as a result of a narrow-minded and short-sighted view of cost comparisons in the education sector alone. Therefore, as I say, I support the amendment.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I genuinely congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, on his tenacity and ingenuity in pursuing this matter during the course of the Bill's passage through this House.

Before I discuss the points that he has made in this short debate, I point out that the first part of his amendment at least is, in our view, both defective and redundant. A statutory body such as the LSC may not act outside its powers. It is clearly a matter for Parliament to set out in legislation the functions of the LSC, its duties and its powers. The LSC will be a statutory body corporate and the statute book will determine what it can do. We do not state anywhere in the Bill that the LSC may not spend money on running hotels or casinos, and, similarly, we do not state in the Bill that it should spend money in a way that is wasteful or unrelated to the duties and functions of the council. We do not need to. All that is required is to say positively what it must do--its duties--and what it may do--its powers. If it is not mentioned, it cannot do it. Expenditure that is unrelated to the functions of the council is not just wasteful; it would be illegal. Moreover, the LSC is already under a duty to make the best use of its resources. We have debated that at some

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length. We believe that the first part of the amendment would introduce redundant and unnecessary words which repeat what is already clear from the Bill.

I turn to the real point that the noble Lord makes so well. He has made clear his concern that the future of sixth forms, and, in particular, of those in small rural schools, should not be threatened by the creation of the learning and skills council. I repeat--as he would expect me to do--the assurances that we have already given as a government that good sixth forms, wherever they are located, have nothing to fear from this Bill. We want to offer a choice of options for all young people to meet their individual and different needs. As the noble Lord himself indicated at Second Reading, a school sixth form may be the best and most appropriate option for many 16 to 19 year-olds, while for others a college option might be more suitable. We absolutely agree with that. A range of options for young people is a healthy situation.

When we previously debated the issue of what could be regarded as "disproportionate expenditure" we made it clear that nothing in this clause would prevent the learning and skills council from funding provision in a small rural sixth form simply because it might be more expensive than provision elsewhere. We fully recognise that some schools will be more expensive than others simply because of their size and location. In the same way, some provision offered by colleges is more expensive than other provision. The present funding arrangements recognise that. Some provision for individual students is more expensive than for others-- here I refer to a point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch--particularly when we consider the needs of those with learning difficulties. That is already a feature of current funding arrangements, which have developed under exactly the same legal provisions that are in the Bill. I repeat that nothing in the Bill concerns simple cost calculations. Money is not--to use the expression of the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington--the total guide. We fully recognise that much broader considerations must be brought to bear when assessing the need to make provision for young people.

On Report the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said that small sixth forms should not be closed down simply because they are small. We agree with him. He made the excellent point that small sixth forms may offer good quality, even though their unit costs are higher than elsewhere. Again, we agree with him. We have said, on the record, that none of the Bill's provisions stops the LSC spending money on expensive provision. We fully accept that high cost provision will be needed in some areas and should be available. The LSC would not be able to fulfil its duties if it failed to make provision that was required, even if that was expensive provision.

We have, of course, listened with care to all that the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, has said on this issue during the passage of the Bill in this House. We believe that there is nothing between us on this. The Bill as it stands deals with this matter fairly and squarely. We have tried to make that clear on a number of occasions, including today, and we have given assurances that we

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believe deal exactly with the noble Lord's concerns. We would argue that the amendment is unnecessary. I have repeated the assurances that I have given on behalf of the Government. I hope that that will put the noble Lord's mind at rest and that he will withdraw his amendment.

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