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Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his clear explanation of the two orders. Last Wednesday the consequential modifications order was presented to me with the suggestion that it should be debated last Friday. The order is some 54 pages long. It amends an 111-page Act which contains 131 clauses and nine long schedules as well as diverse other Acts and regulations which I have not managed to count.
Therefore, I was most grateful to the Government Whips' Office staff for immediately agreeing to postpone our consideration of the provisions until today. Even so, I must confess that I have not had sufficient time to do a thorough job of examining and doing justice to the provisions. Perhaps the Minister is more than happy that I have not gone into the detail and crossed every "t" and dotted every "i".
The Government will recall from their long time in opposition that the Opposition do not have the same resources as the Government to cope with a torrent of legislation. I do not complain about that, except very mildly, because that is the way that it is. I trust that on future occasions the Government will do Parliament the courtesy of ensuring that far longer notice is given.
These orders amend an Act passed only nine months ago after extensive debates in both Houses. The Act contained powers for the Secretary of State to amend it and any other primary legislation by order. We warned Parliament that by legislating in this way enactments would not receive the full scrutiny that they would get if they were primary instead of secondary legislation. This instance where these orders have come before Parliament at very short notice is clear proof that happens. It is happening far more than it should if we are to do justice to these Acts.
The principles of the Act were supported by the Opposition. During the passage of the Act though Parliament, we sought only to make constructive amendments. I understand that the Minister in the other place told honourable Members that the amendments were drafting or consequential amendments. On first sight, that appears to be the case--for example, substituting "postal provider" or "universal postal provider" for the words "post office" in various Acts and regulations, as described by the Minister, when he presented the order just a few moments ago. We accept the good faith of the Government's description of the contents of these orders. We agree also that they are simply highly technical. In those circumstances, we shall not oppose the making of these orders.
I turn to the second order, which deals with the determination of turnover for penalties. Among the provisions that we supported during the welcome passage of the Act was the very important appointing of a regulator. To be able to perform his duties, the regulator needs strong powers. That in turn necessitates his having strong powers of enforcement.
My honourable friend the Member for Hertfordshire South West, while discussing these same orders in the other place, described the penalty of 10 per cent of turnover as draconian. The Minister simply dismissed the matter by saying, "Well, it is in the Act". That is a little rich coming from the Government, given that the Bill, as presented, did not say "10 per cent" but "unlimited" penalties. The Minister will remember that I tried to curtail the "unlimited" element by proposing an amendment that followed the words in the Government's own Competition Act 1998, which would have capped the penalties at 10 per cent of turnover. As the Minister will recall, that was not accepted by this House, but I see that it now appears in Section 30(2) of the Postal Services Act. So draconian it may still be, but not as draconian as it might have been if the Government had not decided at a later stage to take my suggestion on board.
Considering the potential size of the business, the fines will possibly run into millions of pounds. If the offending company's profit is just a minimal percentage of turnover, such draconian fines could easily, to the extreme prejudice of not just itself but also its customers and suppliers, wipe it out.
I find the definition difficult to follow in two respects. I apologise to the Minister for that, because I know that he tried to explain the matter a few minutes ago. I am still not very clear. Therefore, I shall ask him to answer a couple of questions. The maximum fine is up to 10 per cent of turnover for a simple breach of the terms of the operator's licence. If the offence continues for two years it will be 10 per cent of two years' turnover. What is not clear is whether the 10 per cent includes the whole of the second year's turnover.
I have a second question. If the offence lasts for 364 days and the fine is 10 per cent, what would happen if a second year lasted for only a year and a day? Would the offender still be subject to a fine based on two years' turnover for an overrun of an extra two days? That would be double the penalty, possibly running into millions or tens of millions of pounds, for just two extra days. I should be grateful for an answer to that question. My honourable friend the Member for Hertfordshire South West asked a similar question in the other place. Unfortunately, he did not receive a clear answer. Therefore, can the Minister give me some clarification?
It also seems that the offender will have the right of appeal. However, will the Appeal Court interfere with the regulator's exercise of its discretion about the level of a fine, or will it insist that it will deal only with issues of fact? I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify that point as I find it quite complicated.
I wish to raise one other matter. I had not intended to raise it but I shall do so now. The Minister referred to a glitch. Has an amendment been brought forward to put the matter right? I note that the Minister is
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I think that the noble Baroness should actually have thanked me for not giving her the time to read all the consequential amendments, because exciting reading they are not! However, I take her point that even when amendments are rather technical and consequential, it is important that every noble Lord should have enough time to peruse them. It is perhaps unfortunate that the mistake occurred not in the 54 pages but in the two pages of the determination of turnover penalties.
The 10 per cent ceiling was suggested by the noble Baroness. While we did not immediately accept it, I accepted it at a later stage of the Bill's passage through the House. I shall explain how it works. For the first year, it applies to the turnover of one year. Between one year and up to two years--it was framed as "up to two years"--it is on the one year multiplied by two. That is done in order to make this as simple as possible and not have accounts for shorter periods. For up to two years it is double the first year, but for just the precise moment of two years, that is not included. We shall introduce an amendment--we have not yet done so--so that up to two and including two is doubled. Only if it goes over two years and above is there a possibility of it going to three times. I am afraid that it is quite complicated in that sense, but the way that we will be expressing it is the right way. In the very unlikely circumstance that it did fall on two, it operates to the advantage of the company, because it then reverts just to the turnover for one year.
The penalty is set by the commission and the order provides a ceiling to it. The penalty set must be reasonable. Therefore, in the Appeal Court the reasonableness of the decision can be queried. So it is not simply a question of judicial review. No amendment has been put forward, but we shall do that to cover what is a very remote possibility, which, of course, could not happen for two years.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the regulations are purely technical and present amendments to two existing regulations only: Jobseeker's Allowance Regulations 1 and 11. Both amendments are consequential to the Learning and Skills Act 2000.
The core of the Act is the establishment of a new non-departmental public body, the Learning and Skills Council in England, which will be responsible for post-16 learning, other than higher education. Noble Lords will be aware that the Learning and Skills Council will assume responsibility from April 2001, and will take over functions performed by the Further Education Funding Council in England and the functions currently contracted by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to Training and Enterprise Councils. The Learning and Skills Council will operate through a network of 47 local councils.
Noble Lords will know that the Act also brings about changes in Wales. It creates a new National Council for Education and Training in Wales with broadly similar functions to the Learning and Skills Council in England, but with some variations to reflect Welsh circumstances. Responsibility for the delivery of training for unemployed people in England will transfer to the Employment Service.
The Act also enables the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to establish a new youth support service in England, to be known as the Connexions Service. The aim of the new service will be to work with young people of all abilities to give them advice, guidance and support to participate effectively in learning. In Wales, the Act empowers the National Assembly for Wales to enhance local youth support services for all 11 to 25 year-olds through local authorities, voluntary organisations or others.
The arrangements in both Scotland and Northern Ireland relating to the provision of post-16 education, training and support services for young people are devolved. In Northern Ireland, social security matters are also devolved. The Learning and Skills Act therefore does not affect either Scotland or Northern Ireland.
Amendments are required to two of the jobseeker's allowance regulations. The first is Regulation 1 as it defines "full-time course of advanced education" and "full-time student". In both definitions, reference is made to courses funded or part-funded by the Further Education Funding Council as being subject to the 16-hour study rule. We propose to amend Regulation 1 to refer to the Learning and Skills Council, which will assume the functions of the Further Education Funding Council in England. Reference has also been made to the National Council for Education and Training, which will perform a parallel function in Wales. The amendment is technical and does not reflect any change in policy.
The second amendment is required to Regulation 11, where it defines "training" as that provided directly or indirectly by a Training and Enterprise Council pursuant to its arrangements with the Secretary of State. We propose to amend Regulation 11 to reflect the fact that the Learning and Skills Council in England and the National Council for Education and Training in Wales will assume the functions of Training and Enterprise Councils when the TEC contracts end on 25th March 2001. Once again, this amendment is purely technical and does not alter the policy intent of Regulation 11, which is concerned with the treatment of people studying part-time whilst on JSA.
There are other technical amendments to be made to the jobseeker's allowance and other income-related benefit regulations resulting from the Learning and Skills Act; however, those are subject to negative resolution and have been laid before the House as a separate set of regulations. But these two amendments are being presented to the House today because they are subject to affirmative resolution, as determined by Section 37 of the Jobseeker's Act 1995.
In conclusion, I repeat that these are purely technical amendments which are necessary to reflect the assumption of responsibility by the Learning and Skills Council. I commend the regulations to the House.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his clear exposition of the meaning of these regulations. We certainly agree that they are both technical and necessary. We accept the regulations.
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