HC Deb 26 July 1988 vol 138 cc355-67

Lords amendment: In page 115, line 34, at end insert— (3A) Before exercising their discretion under section 115(6) or (as the case may be) section 116(7)(a) of this Act with respect to the terms and conditions to be imposed in relation to any grants each of the Funding Councils shall consult such of the following bodies as it appears to the Council to be appropriate to consult in the circumstances, that is to say—

  1. (a) such bodies representing the interests of relevant institutions as appear to the Council to be concerned; and
  2. (b) the governing body of any particular relevant institution which appears to the Council to be concerned.
(3B) References in subsection (3A) above to relevant institutions are references—
  1. (a) in relation to consultations required to be carried out by the Universities Funding Council, to universities; and
  2. (b) in relation to consultations required to be carried out by the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council, to institutions within the PCFC funding sector."

Read a Second time.

10.16 pm
Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

I beg to move, as an amendment to the Lords amendment in lieu, at end of subsection (3A) insert— '(c) such organisations representing staff as appear to the Council to be concerned, and (d) in relation to consultations to be carricd out by the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council, such local authorities or their associations, as appear to the Council to be concerned.'. We all thought that we had had our last debate on the Education Reform Bill last Tuesday, but some of us at least are happy to be back again.

I was very sorry—as, I am sure, many other hon. Members were—to learn yesterday evening of the departure of the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) from the post of Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science. I should like to place on record our tribute to his unfailing courtesy and good humour throughout the passage of the Bill.

I offer the Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues my commiserations for having had wished on them—without consultation or agreement, I understand —the hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher). I only hope that his strike record in offering advice to his senior Ministers is slightly better in future than it was at the Department of Trade and Industry. I have a cutting from The Times in which, only a few months ago, the hon. Gentleman was reported as having promised: Extra cash may be made available for the HOTOL space plane project. One can be wrong sometimes. In the case of the hon. Gentleman, one can be wrong most of the time. He wrote in The Times on one occasion: I'm no deadbeat, and you can quote me.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words about my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford. I should like to echo his words, because my hon. Friend has made a signal contribution to the work of the Department and to the formation of the Bill and its passage through the House.

The hon. Gentleman's comments about my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West are absurd. I am pleased to welcome my hon. Friend aboard. He worked for me some years ago at the Department of Trade and Industry on improving technological education. If one thinks of the rather lacklustre and humdrum performance of the Opposition team during the passage of the Education Reform Bill, it seems that it is not only the Government Benches "that need a reshuffle" but the Opposition Benches as well.

Mr. Straw

That was poor, even by the standards of the Secretary of State. I was going on to say that part of the problem of the hon. Member for Dartford was that he mocked the excessive bureaucracy in the Secretary of State's Bill. He mocked the national curriculum and called it a three-wheeled bicycle and a fairy tricycle, and he paid the price for that. His departure serves to remind the House of something which is central to the issues raised by the amendment—the transient nature of Ministers.

Throughout the proceedings on the Bill, when we have suggested the powers of the Bill could be misused, the Secretary of State has stood up and said, "Trust us." Some of us may be willing to take the Secretary of State, or even the Under-Secretary of State, at his word, but the problem that we all face is that Ministers are transient.

That point was made by Lord Swann in the other place, when he explained the importance of amendments that have now been accepted in the other place requiring consultation. He said that the Secretary of State is to be congratulated on those promises; they have gone down very well. But—and we believe it is a serious 'but'— Secretaries of State do not last forever; far from it. Their words are not binding on their successors. Therefore, while higher education can feel more confident about the immediate future, there can be no certainty whatever about what will happen as the years go by. Ministers, Governments and financial crises will no doubt come and go. Bureaucracy has an alarming tendency of escalating without anyone realising what is going on except its victims."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 25 July 1988; Vol. 500, c. 36.]

Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

Will the hon. Gentleman note that the Education Reform Bill has gone through, after nine months or so, virtually unamended? Does he put that down either to the inspiring quality of the legislation or his uninspiring leadership of the Opposition?

Mr. Straw

In so far as the legislation is unamended, I put that down to the bone-headedness of Conservative Members, and I express my commiseration to the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) for the fact that he was not offered preferment in the reshuffle yesterday.

Mr. Pawsey

At least I do not wear white jackets.

Mr. Straw

At least mine is clean, unlike that of the Secretary of State.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

While we are on the subject of amendments, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will recall that, far from the Bill being unamended, as the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) suggested, I believe that 500 amendments were tabled by the Government alone.

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman is exactly right. There were 569 amendments made in the House of Lords, and, as we all recall, hundreds were made in the House of Commons because, as I have explained, the Secretary of State fails to think things through or to think ahead. There are a whole series of time bombs within the Bill. Again, we commiserate with the Secretary of State that he was not offered a chance to escape in the reshuffle.

The importance of the amendment is to tie down the Secretary of State and the funding councils to ensure that there is proper consultation. Paragraphs (a) and (b) require that the consultation should take place with such bodies representing the interests of relevant institutions as appear to the Council to be concerned; and … the governing body of any particular relevant institutions which appear to the Council to be concerned. Obviously, that can include the council and the senate of the university or the governing body of the polytechnic and their representative national bodies, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and the Committee of Directors of Polytechnics.

The amendment is unexceptionally worded, so I hope that the Under-Secretary will accept it. It seeks to add a requirement that the trade unions or other staff organisations be consulted. I make it clear to the House and to the Under-Secretary that that is at the discretion of the council. It is to ensure that there is a clear limit, obviously to the extent of consultation as is relevant, and, in relation to consultations carried out by the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council, to such local authorities or their associations as appear to the council to be concerned.

The consultations take place in circumstances in which terms and conditions are imposed upon the award of grant by the relevant funding councils. Such terms and conditions have not before been imposed within a statutory framework. Local authorities do and will continue to have an interest in what polytechnics are doing, even though polytechnics may no longer be part of their estate. There is a clear relationship between the courses that will be offered in many local authority colleges, the way in which local authorities have been planning provision at further and higher education level, and what polytechnics are doing. Therefore, it is important that there should be laid down a requirement for consultation with local authorities and their associations, but only in respect of polytechnics.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Robert Jackson)

This debate represents what will be the last work in the parliamentary debate about the Education Reform Bill. It is entirely in keeping with the way in which they have conducted themselves throughout the debates that Opposition Members should have made their last word the whimsical persiflage of personalities of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). I do not bear the hon. Gentleman any ill will. We are all grateful to him for the way in which he and his colleagues have let us off so lightly. It is entirely in keeping with the whole tenor of the Opposition's policy, or lack of it, that the hon. Gentleman's words should have fallen so far below the level of the issue.

The issue is whether the new higher education funding councils, in consulting as they think appropriate, should be obliged to consider consultation not only with institutions in their respective sectors and their representative bodies but with trade unions and, in the case of the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council, local education authorities.

I have two observations to make about the proposals. First, as a matter of course, there will be widespread consultation between funding councils and all relevant bodies. Indeed, one could say that consultation is inscribed by definition in the idea of contract funding, which is necessarily reciprocal in character. To meet the concerns that were expressed in another place, the Government have amended the Bill to give explicit recognition to the inevitable necessity of consultation. To do so, we must define the bodies with which consultation must necessarily be considered, but to include some bodies by mentioning them in the Bill does not mean the exclusion of others by failing to mention them.

Therefore, the Opposition's amendments are unnecessary, and are based on a logical fallacy. Moreover, it could be said that they are not only unnecessary but damaging to the interests that Opposition Members have at heart. The longer the list of bodies that the list specifies must be considered, the greater is any presumption that bodies that are not mentioned should not be consulted.

Mr. Straw

The Under-Secretary of State must know that that argument simply cannot wash in circumstances in which he and the Secretary of State have already agreed to two categories of bodies. His observation is nonsense. Does he agree with the purpose of the amendment, which is to ensure that it is clear that the two bodies should be under an obligation to consult, among others, trade union staff associations and, in the case of the PCFC, such local authorities or their associations as appear to the relevant councils to be concerned?

Mr. Jackson

No, I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's proposition, and I am about to explain why. The proposition and the amendment are typically ill-conceived and backward-looking. Hon. Members should note how ill-conceived is the idea of an obligation on funding councils to consider consulting unions. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have considered, even for a moment, the implications for the autonomy and self-direction of our higher education institutions if funding councils consider themselves obliged to intervene directly in their internal affairs and to establish direct contacts, bypassing the constitutional structure of the institutions, with selected interests inside that institution. That is the problem raised by the first branch of the Opposition amendment. It is a thoroughly ill-considered proposal. The only excuse for it is that we know from the Opposition's form throughout the debates on the Bill that it was probably hardly considered at all.

10.30 pm

Then there is the backward-looking flavour of the Opposition proposal to oblige the PCFC to consider consultations with the local authorities and their associations. This shows that Opposition Members have not come to terms with the reality of what is happening in the polytechnics and colleges. These institutions have outgrown the tutelage of the local education authorities.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the local authorities for what they have done to bring the polytechnics and colleges to maturity, but they have grown up now, and the Opposition's emphasis on local authority interest in this matter is thoroughly out of date.

Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

Does the Minister acknowledge that the local education authorities will continue to have an important role to play in adult education, that the polytechnics will be a crucial part of that, and that consultation, if only at that level, will be essential to achieve the flexible arrangements that we discussed at length in Committee?

Mr. Jackson

There is no need to make extra provision for that, because consultation is specified in the legislation at various points in the circumstances mentioned by the hon. Lady.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

In the past, local authorities have had to sanction even the smallest appointments—for example, for colleges of higher education. We need a clean break from that system, which tied the colleges absurdly closely to the local authorities. The Bill will provide that change, and that is to be welcomed.

Mr. Jackson

My hon. Friend describes accurately the sort of world Opposition Members hanker after. It is the world they wish to restore. It is the world from which we are breaking by this Bill.

As this is almost the Government's last word in the parliamentary debates on the measure, I will make a few comments which try to aspire to the level which is appropriate to this historic piece of legislation.

Mr. Pawsey

Would my hon. Friend agree that the Bill can truly be called great and that it will take its place——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Waiker)

Order. We are debating a narrow amendment about consultation. Let us stick to that.

Mr. Jackson

My hon. Friend is right, in that the philosophy of this measure has throughout been to release new energies and a new dynamism in our public education by devolving power and by calling in interests to which not enough weight has been attached in the past.

Whether in our schools or in our institutions of higher education, the philosophy is the same—to strengthen choice and competition and enhance institutional self-determination on the basis of wider accountability. History will recognise, as have both Houses, the seriousness and significance of these commitments on the part of the Government and embodied in the Bill.

Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

My hon. Friend the Minister has left me little to say, but there is something to add—in a way to contradict him—because the tone of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) was appropriate to the subject, so I would not upbraid him as my hon. Friend did. I detected a tone of levity in the hon. Gentleman's speech which spilled over into the amendment. It is not entirely serious of him to introduce such an amendment now.

It is inconceivable, although the hon. Member for Blackburn may contradict me, that he has consulted the directors of polytechnics or that he has gained a majority of their support for the proposal that local authorities should be consulted according to statute. I say that not out of primitive hostility to local authorities but because polytechnic directors to whom I have spoken realise that their institutions will remain in the middle of local communities. We all know what that implies commercially.

Directors will continue to be rational men and women and to have such contact as is necessary with local authorities to ensure that their policies coincide with local interests. It is indeed rather backward-looking to try to force the PCFC into a duty which directors of newly freed polytechnics will carry out of their own accord.

The hon. Member for Blackburn is wearing a white jacket. He is appropriately attired to take himself, and the amendment, away.

Mr. Ashdown

I had not intended to speak, but——

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West)

But the hon. Gentleman just could not resist it.

Mr. Ashdown

The hon. Gentleman may be right—or perhaps the sheer bankruptcy of the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) and the Minister have induced me to speak.

As has been the case throughout——

Mr. Walden

Where was the hon. Gentleman last week?

Mr. Ashdown

The record will show that I was here last week. The hon. Gentleman's absence and his ignorance on these matters are betrayed by his comment.

Mr. Walden

I wish to pick the hon. Gentleman up on a substantive point. He says that he was here last week. If he had been here last week, he would have heard his colleague contradict him on an absolutely fundamental matter in this Bill—tenure. I wonder what the hon.Gentleman has to say about that——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) will not respond to that point, but will confine his remarks to the amendment.

Mr. Ashdown

The record shows that I was here during that debate.

The Minister and, to an excessive extent, the hon. Member for Buckingham have followed the classic Government technique, which has been employed throughout our proceedings on the Bill. They do not argue the case of the amendment but set up straw men the better to knock them down.

I hold no brief for the amendment, but it suggests nothing more than that reasonable consultation might take place. It does not provide, as the hon. Member for Buckingham said, that consultation must take place. The Minister suggested that the amendment would impose a duty to consult, but it would merely give discretion to consult.

We have had ample evidence of the fact that the Government have no concern for, or any belief in, consultation. They have shown that from the moment the Bill was introduced. All they are concerned to do is to ram through their ill-thought-out proposals, using the procedures of the House as undemocratically as possible.

The amendment is perfectly reasonable. It suggests merely that, if grants affect staff or the local community, both might be consulted. What an outrageous proposal. The Government have turned their face against reasonable consultation and have sought to introduce a huge structure of compulsion.

In this small and perhaps insignificant debate, the Government's arguments have not been untypical of their approach to the Bill, which has been inappropriate, muddle-headed and wrong.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffleld, Hillsborough)

The essence of democracy is consultation with the appropriate organisations, so that democracy rules rather than dictatorship. When my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) tabled the amendment, he was not giving voice to an isolated argument late at night. It was the continuation of a huge debate that had occupied the House of Commons for nearly 250 hours in the Chamber and in Committee. That debate has focused on a vast Bill, the contents of which are sufficient for five major Bills. It reflects the haste with which the Prime Minister has forced the Secretary of State to bulldoze the Bill through the House. This short debate reflects the continuation of democracy and consultation.

The Government are feeling slightly drunk with power. They are feeling dizzy with success. That is the result of the Bill being pushed through Parliament against the wishes of many Conservative Members. We are all fearful of what the Bill will mean when it becomes an Act after it receives Royal Assent on Friday. We are worried about the effect that it will have on an education system that took well over 100 years to build in a democratic manner. The system is now to be violated by an elected dictatorship.

The Government's majority is huge, for reasons that will be set out in future history books. An ex-Foreign Secretary—Lord Pym—once referred to the danger of misusing such a huge majority. He was promptly sacked by the Prime Minister. Lord Pym was merely referring to the very dangers to which we are now exposed by the enactment of the Bill. We wish to ensure that the teachers, their unions and the local education authorities—the authorities represent a democratic system that was carefully constructed over a long period—are consulted.

The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) was a member of the Select Committee on Education and Science, but he rarely attended its meetings. He then became a Minister and showed himself to be a failure, as he was as a member of the Select Committee. The hon. Gentleman was kicked out of the Department of Education and Science, and let him face that. He should stop lecturing us about democracy, of which he knows nothing. We, the Opposition, are democrats, and we are struggling for democracy against this appalling Bill.

Mr. Walden

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Flannery

I am still on my feet, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Walden

I do not normally fuss about these trivial incidents, but I wish to introduce a small matter of fact. I was not kicked out of the Government; I resigned.

Mr. Flannery

As a matter of fact, the hon. Gentleman is a trivial incident.

That for which my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn is asking is surely entirely reasonable. I am sure that the hon. Member for Buckingham and the hon. Lady, who has just entered the Chamber, will allow us to have it.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)


Mr. Flannery

I apologise to the hon. Lady, who has been in her place throughout the debate. I was referring to the Minister of State.

In the interests of democracy, I hope that Conservative Members will accept the gentle amendment that we have introduced. It merely asks for the proper democratic process to be completed. Surely the Government can easily concede that.

All that we are asking is that those organisations that represent teachers who have spent their lives in the education system should be allowed to participate in a proper democratic consultation process. If there is something wrong with that suggestion, the Secretary of State should say so and explain why. He should also explain why he would not agree to proper consultation with the long-established local education authorities, which are elected.

10.45 pm

When the Secretary of State destroyed the negotiating rights of the teachers—we shall debate that again tomorrow night—his action was condemned by the International Labour Organisation, which is an agency of the United Nations.

The Minister is aware that we are struggling against anti-democratic processes. We want the democratic process of consultation to be undertaken with the proper democratic organisations. The Minister must explain why we are wrong to ask for that. If he does not, we shall be forced to believe that he is not interested in democracy and that neither his party nor the Prime Minister, who kicks Ministers from pillar to post and sacks them if they disagree with her, is interested in democracy.

Ms. Armstrong

We are here again to discuss the Education Reform Bill, having thought that we had finished with it. Why?

We are discussing yet another amendment that has been forced on the Government by the Lords. It is clear that the Lords insisted upon that amendment yesterday because they do not trust the Secretary of State. All his smooth words to the vice-chancellors have not reassured them.

The Lords thought that they would simply have to ratify what we agreed last week, but they have pressed yet: another amendment, which insists on consultation. They do not trust the process that the Secretary of State has set in train regarding the arrangements between the Universities Funding Council, the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council and the universities and polytechnics.

The right hon. Gentleman appears to be much more frightened of vice-chancellors and bishops than he is of any Member of the House.

Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

He is frightened of the Prime Minister.

Ms. Armstrong

Yes; I suspect that he is aware of the Prime Minister's influence.

The Lords were not happy with the consultation process and felt it necessary to identify particular groups that should be consulted. The amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) extends that argument.

In uncharacteristic form, the Minister dealt with my hon. Friend's amendment in a cavalier manner and he re-emphasised the impression held by many of us, namely, that the Government hold teachers and their staff organisations in contempt and that they also have contempt for democratically elected local education authorities.

That is the tragedy of the Government's response tonight. If the Minister had been his normal self when replying to my hon. Friend we would not have been so suspicious. However, because of the manner in which he rejected our amendment, I am concerned that, once more, the message from the Government to teachers and to LEAs is that the Government are sick to death of them and would like them to disappear. We cannot continue an education service without the enthusiastic support of staff at schools and institutions of higher and further education. Our amendment, meek and mild as it is, would reassure them that the Government were not contemptuous of them and were prepared to consult them when appropriate.

We raised the issue of education authorities several times in Committee. We told the Government that the message going out from them was that they had no faith in local education authorities. The Government kept telling us that we had things wrong and that they saw a major role for the authorities in the future of education. But the Government are destroying any attempt to give local education authorities a role in the Bill.

I was surprised by the Minister. I know that he has been seeking ways of providing wider access to higher education. We agreed in Committee that a flexible intermingling of local education authorities, voluntary organisations and the institutions of higher education was essential to opening up access. But again the Government reject the opportunity to provide such co-operation. We can ensure that consultation takes place, if we have a good group of people who continue to be concerned. But, with the last breath of this Bill, the Government are sending out signals yet again to teachers and local education authorities, telling them they are not prepared to write their role into the Bill. That is sad, but is probably a true reflection of the mood of the Government.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

The ship is almost in harbour. This is the last little bit with which we have to deal. Tonight's debate has been typical of others that we have had on the Bill.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) got hold of the NUT brief yet again and read it right through. The only original part of his speech was his calling me drunk with power and dizzy with success: very original. There is much to be proud of in the Bill, and there has been a great deal of success. As the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms Armstrong) said, we are in the final minutes of debating the Bill in the House. Now it will be discussed, debated and implemented in the country over the coming months and years.

I suppose that this is positively the last appearance by the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) as education spokesman for the Liberal party. In Committee and on Report we discovered that he was the master of the passing brief. He immediately mastered and spoke to any brief that passed across his desk——

Mr. Ashdown

The right hon. Gentleman has said that three times now.

Mr. Baker

This is like the Bellman: What I tell you three times is true.

Mr. Ashdown

I congratulate the Secretary of State on getting that little speech well laid off. This is the third time that he has repeated it almost word for word. I am interested in hearing whether there is any variation by the end.

Mr. Baker

I shall add to it. The one thing that the hon. Gentleman showed in Committee was that he had no profound philosophical view on education, or any ideas.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the Secretary of State will have regard to what I said earlier, and address himself to the amendment. We have had Second and Third Reading debates. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will stick to the amendment.

Mr. Baker

I stand chastened. I was trying to reply to the speech made by the hon. Member for Yeovil and show that it was superficial and characteristic of the hon. Gentleman. The shallowness of the hon. Gentleman runs very deep.

My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) supported the views expressed by our hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, who handled the higher education part of the Bill outstandingly well. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham said that these amendments are inappropriate. I am staggered that the Labour party has suddenly stumbled upon consultation with the unions, because, when the other place debated the amendment yesterday, the Labour party was very content with the amendment as it came back. The Opposition are engaged in last-minute thinking, dredging around to have a little three-quarter-hour debate late at night. The Opposition did not move the amendment and the Labour spokesman, Lord Peston, expressed complete contentment with the amendment moved by the Government.

The first of the two proposals is that the Universities Funding Council and the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council should consult the unions. That would be inappropriate, because the right process of consultation is between the UFC and the PCFC with the universities and the polytechnics.

Mr. Straw

Once again the Secretary of State has not done his homework. Lord Peston did not express complete satisfaction with the amendment, but said only that it was an improvement and better than his worst fears. That is a very different way of putting things. Lord Peston helped me draft these amendments, as did other peers who had been concerned with the matter. Why are the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary so resistant to the "dangerous" idea of consulting trade unions or local authorities, when in each case the council—the PCFC or the UFC—is given a discretion about whether to hold such consultation? It will take place only when they feel it is appropriate. What is the Secretary of State scared of?

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman should read Lord Peston's speech more carefully.

Mr. Straw

I have.

Mr. Baker

So have I. Lord Peston clearly said that he did not have any of these ideas. This was debated yesterday in the House of Lords. He may well have consulted the hon. Gentleman this morning about these amendments, but why did he not put them down in the House of Lords? He did not table them yesterday, so clearly they were a matter of no great concern to him less than 24 hours ago.

Mr. Straw

That is the fault of the Secretary of State, who gave the House of Lords no time whatever to put down any amendments. He knows that the amendment was moved as a manuscript amendment in the House of Lords.

Mr. Baker

The amendment was tabled yesterday morning in the House of Lords, and if Lord Peston had wanted to put down the amendment he had plenty of time to do so. Plainly, he had not thought of it.

I shall now answer the hon. Gentleman's substantive point about consultation with trade unions. At present the UGC does not consult the different unions where it is determining the grants given to universities. That is right. [Interruption.] It is the terms and conditions of the grant. It does not do that now and it would be entirely inappropriate for it to do so. The right relationship is that the UFC, replacing the UGC, should consult the university concerned. That is right, because the university is the employer of the people represented by the unions and it would be constitutionally improper for it to consult the unions behind the backs of their employers.

We have already committed ourselves to setting up a consultative committee for local authorities and the PCFC, and it will deal particularly with the divide in those institutions inside and outside the PCFC. The proposal, like many of the proposals put forward by the Opposition about the Bill, is badly thought out, inappropriate and unnecessary. I invite the House to reject the amendment.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

We have just had an amazing performance by the Secretary of State. He congratulated the Under-Secretary of State, his hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), on the way in which he dealt with the higher education part of the Bill, but did not trust him with a little winding-up speech. Five minutes before the Secretary of State started, he whispered to the Under-Secretary of State that he could do the winding-up speech, by leave of the House. He then snatched the brief away and dealt with it himself. We saw that happen time after time in Committee. We remember how he sat through the account of the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) of the national curriculum and then insisted that he had to jump in and save the ship on that occasion.

I should like to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Dartford for his long service in the Department and for enlivening the Committee proceedings. It is a little sad that he should get his cards before the Bill is finished and without any holiday pay. I hope that the hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher) will deal as effectively with school closures as did the hon. Gentleman. It is a difficult task and any hon. Member who had to deal with the hon. Gentleman on the subject would pay tribute to the thoroughness with which he tackled the matter. It is interesting to note that the Secretary of State, in his knockabout performance, did not confirm or deny the fact that the hon. Member for Coventry, South-West had been imposed upon him, rather than chosen by him.

However, what is most interesting is why we have had such an ill-tempered debate, in which the Government have protested so much about what they claim to be our incompetence. I assume that, if we were really incompetent, they would not have to draw attention to the fact. Their claims that we are incompetent are an attempt to cover up the real problem, that the Secretary of State has once again had an amendment forced on him that he does not want. As I understand it, there was pressure in the House of Lords for further concessions, and the Lord Chancellor told him that he would have to come up with the amendment. The amendment was produced and he is now pretty peeved about it, and he has shown his peevishness tonight. Instead of setting out to the House clearly how the Secretary of State envisaged the consultation process taking place, he has tried to criticise us for suggesting some of the people who should be included in the consultation process.

This would have been a last opportunity for the Government to clear up how they will co-ordinate funding between the universities body and the public sector body and how far the consultation process will go. It would also have been an opportunity for the Government to throw in the missing part of the equation; they have still not said what they will do about student fees, which are clearly fundamental to those institutions. We realise that the Government have got themselves into a further muddle and have had to delay that matter, but anyone who wants to see a rational process for the funding of those bodies must know what will happen to the fee process.

If the contracts are to be developed, it is important that the proper consultation takes place. Will the Secretary of State tell us now who should be involved in the consultation process? What will be the position of students? Will they be involved in the consultation process? They will be one of the groups most affected. Will the Government talk to the unions representing the employees, whether the professional academics or the non-academics, as they will be considerably affected by any contracts undertaken? It is all right for the Secretary of State to say that it is up to the institutions, but he knows perfectly well that, in all those areas, there are national negotiating bodies, and that any contracts negotiated between the funding bodies and the individual institutions will have to take into account those national contracts that apply in terms of conditions of service.

It seems absolutely logical that the Government should include in their consultation both the academic and the non-academic unions on the campuses. Why on earth should the Government attack the idea of consultation with local education authorities? As my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) has pointed out, access courses are important. If we are to have co-ordination between further education and higher education, as has happened in many of our polytechnics and colleges of higher education over recent years, it is important that there is a link between the access course and the course that students will pursue later. If the course that they go on to is being funded by the funding body on a contract basis, that must be properly established. It is fundamental that the two funding bodies should carry out consultation.

We must also remember, when the Government so readily denigrate local authorities, just how substantial local authorities are as employers. Many qualified planners, architects and so on go directly into local authority employment. Again, it is logical that in working out contracts for developing courses in such areas there should be consultation with the local authorities.

As so often, the Government have missed the opportunity to use time in the House of Commons to inform people outside how they see the consultation process going along. The Government do not believe in trying to obtain consensus as a result of consultation; they believe in dictatorship. Time after time, in the other place and as a result of all the pressure groups outside, the Government have been persuaded—almost forced—to change their mind and put consultation into the legjslation.

The Opposition believe that the Government should not only have consultation in legislation, but should carry out its spirit and aim for consensus in higher education rather than operate by Government diktat. I ask the House to support the amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Question, That this House doth agree with the Lords in their amendment in lieu, put and agreed to. [Special Entry.]