HL Deb 27 October 1983 vol 444 cc364-6

3.21 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when they will make a Statement on The Legal Basis of Further Education and a successor body to the Advisory Council for Adult and Continuing Education.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, on the first part of the Question, my right honourable friend believes that priority should be given to the increased efficiency and effectiveness of the further education system, notably in the case of advanced further education through the work of the National Advisory Body. Other measures are being directed to non-advanced further education. Against this changing background consideration will continue to be given to The Legal Basis of Further Education, and local education authorities are free to propose modifications to their existing schemes of further education if they consider this necessary.

As regards the second half of this Question, the advisory council was appointed by the Government of the day for a limited term only, and the present Government have already made it clear that they would not be extending the term of appointment. My right honourable friend is considering how developments in this field of adult education can best be achieved within the current financial constraints, but at present he is not persuaded of the case for a new body to undertake developmental studies.

Baroness David

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very full reply, but it leaves a good many questions unanswered. The Legal Basis of Further Education demanded legislation to clarify a lot of unclear areas of the law of the Education Act, and I do not believe that the Answer which the noble Earl has just given really deals with that question. As regards the advisory council, is the Minister aware that this very day the council finishes its work, that it is the end of six years of real commitment—voluntary commitment—by members of the council? Are the Government and the Minister aware that those working in adult and continuing education feel very distressed and, indeed, insulted that a great deal of the work that has been going on—for example, the Continuing Education from Policies to Practice, one of ACACE's documents, and Education for Unemployed Adults—has been waiting for a year or 18 months on the desk of the Secretary of State? Will the Minister please inform the Secretary of State that there is great distress among all those working in this field that so little interest appears to be taken in it, or that there is so little realisation of the commitment which has been given, voluntarily in the case of the council?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I find it difficult at all times to answer the noble Baroness because she puts a lot of questions at once. Indeed, on this occasion her original Question is really two questions in one, anyway, but I shall do my best to answer. As regards the illegality of parts of further education, only the courts can say definitely whether or not a thing is illegal. Any local authority which considers that its scheme of further education made under Section 42 of the 1944 Act is now unsatisfactory may propose modifications to the Secretary of State. This has always been the position, and remains so.

I should like to join with the noble Baroness, Lady David, in paying tribute to ACACE, and I can confirm that this is its last day. The Government and many other people are well aware of the important work that it has done. But the council itself was in fact an advisory body, and it produced many reports embodying a great wealth of wisdom and advice. It is now for the bodies concerned to take account of the various recommendations. There is no point in carrying on with a body that is there purely to advise. I think that now is the time for action.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, does the noble Earl recall the Answer that he gave to my Unstarred Question on this very subject on 28th March 1983, in which he said, at column 1448: Experience suggests that some of the most successful development agencies have been those with more clearly and specifically directed remits, often over a fairly narrow range of priority areas"? Would he not agree that there is a clear implication here that the Government had in mind some replacement for the ACACE, and is he now seriously telling the House that the Government will take no action whatever to promote adult and continuing education?

The Earl of Swinton

No, my Lords, that is certainly not what I said, and I hope that when the noble Lord reads Hansard he will see that that was not what I said. What can be done depends to some extent on the resources available, and that, as noble Lords will be aware, is currently under discussion. The Government hope that it might be possible for the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education to take on a rather more prominent role in advising central Government and local authorities. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is also considering what other developments might be encouraged.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, can the Minister say what consideration the Government are giving to the legal rights to further education of children and young people who were the subject of special orders under the Education Act 1981 because of mental and physical handicap, and who may need specialist assistance in pursuing their rights to further education?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I think I shall have to write to the noble Baroness on that particular point. There are at the moment a few appeals from parents of handicapped children in front of my right honourable friend, who is considering them very carefully.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, when the Minister says that the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education is to take over some of the functions of ACACE, will he acknowledge that ACACE was set up six years ago because of the inadequacy of existing institutions to fulfil the role which ACACE has so splendidly fulfilled over these six years? Will he tell the House, and will the Government tell the country, what action will be taken about the positive and urgent recommendations of ACACE, rather than just putting it on to the back burner in the way the Government have?

The Earl of Swinton

No, my Lords, I do not think that I said that. I said that my right honourable friend is considering the possibility of this being one of the solutions.

Baroness David

My Lords, as regards that point, is the Minister aware that, according to The Times Higher Educational Supplement last Friday, the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education seemed very uncertain about what it could do and what it was expected to do, and has made absolutely no plans at all at the moment because it does not know what its budget would be if it were given a further job?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, these are all matters that are being looked at.