HL Deb 09 December 1991 vol 533 cc533-84

House again in Committee on Clause 1.

[Amendments Nos. 9 to 11 not moved.]

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 11A:

Page 1, line 26, after ("education") insert ("of the types listed in Schedule 2 to this Act").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment I shall, with the leave of the Committee, speak also to Amendments Nos. 13, 128 and 230. I am afraid that again the amendments are about membership of the funding councils, the regional councils and the quality assessment committees. The aim is to include those who have direct experience of the issues facing adult learners. We move to a slightly different field.

Amendments Nos. 11A and 13 would ensure that members of the funding councils have relevant educational experience, including experience of certain types of adult education. The Bill transfers responsibility for funding and planning of quality assurance in large sectors of adult education from LEAs to the funding councils, regional advisory committees and quality assessment committees. It is essential that their composition reflects the full range of their new duties. Only if adult education interests are fully represented throughout the new structures will the transfer of responsibilities for Schedule 2 work be successful, and the current quality and variety protected and, it is to be hoped, enforced.

Amendment No. 128 refers to the quality assessment committee and Amendment No. 230 to the regional advisory committees. I think that what I have said is sufficient, in view of earlier discussions. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

There is a problem here, to which I made brief reference earlier, about the intention behind the amendments. They would reduce the breadth of educational experience on the funding councils by excluding any type of education which is not listed; that is to say, any type of education for which the council is not responsible falling outside Schedule 2. Such a restriction would make the council less effective in carrying out its responsibilities. While those responsibilities will concern only those types of education listed in Schedule 2, the council will not be operating in a vacuum. In other words, by including in the amendment that there must be Schedule 2 representatives, the implication can be taken—I understand that it is taken—legislatively that the types of education that are not so mentioned would not therefore be favoured. It would be tedious of me at this hour to give examples of the other kinds of education which should probably be included on the funding council, and so I leave it at that. That is the problem.

In the other amendments there is the issue of appointments to committees. The amendments would ensure that all the councils' committees included at least one member who has expertise of or experience in all types of provision for which the funding council is responsible. I imagine that the council would want to keep to that in spirit, wherever possible, when it is setting up its committees.

There are two problems here. First, as far as possible, the Government intend to leave the council free to establish its own methods of working, and the amendment would go against that principle. Secondly, in practice, it could be difficult for the council to comply with such a requirement, or in some cases it might be inappropriate. I can imagine that the number of individuals who have expertise in or experience of all types of educational provision listed in Schedule 2 are few and far between. That could mean that the council would have to appoint two, three, four or even more members merely to meet such a requirement and regardless of the size of the committee that it wanted to set up.

The noble Baroness might like to think about what I have said. I am not opposing the amendment merely for the sake of it. There are problems with the two limbs of the matter to which I have been replying.

8.30 p.m.

Baroness David

I listened to what the Minister has just said and what he said in reply to the earlier debates which covered some of the same ground. I should like to make one comment about adult education. The Minister responded to the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lady Blackstone about including further education, and "further" of course embraces adult. I should like to consult the National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education which is responsible for me tabling the amendments. I shall discuss the matter with it when it has read what the Minister has said and possibly come back with something at the next stage of the Bill, or I may rely on the amendment about further education tabled by my noble friend Lady Blackstone. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 12 and 13 not moved.]

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 14:

Page 1, line 28. after ("education") insert ("and such persons shall constitute a majority of the Council").

The noble Earl said: The effect of the amendment is to provide that a majority of the further education funding councils should be persons having experience in the provision of education. The immediate point to make in favour of the amendment is to ask simply: why not? That question was asked in 1988 during the debates on the Education Reform Bill. I never entirely understood what the answer was. I should be grateful if it could be made a little clearer tonight, because I cannot say that it has become entirely clear since 1988 what the arguments for that were.

There is an obvious advantage in having people managing any business of any type who know what they are doing and who understand what it is that they are managing. I become rather more suspicious as time passes of the notion that there is a separate art called "management", independent of knowledge of the thing that one is managing. One has to know the strengths and limitations of what one is handling before one knows what to do about it.

It may be of course that what we are dealing with here is the anti-professionalism which one occasionally finds at present. I recall, for example, one Member opposite—I shall not quote him because he is not here, and I have not given him notice of it—quoting Dr. Johnson to the effect that professions are conspiracies against the public. It is all very well saying that there should be limits to the power of the professions; up to a point that contains obvious sense and justice. But in whichever profession we are discussing they are the only professionals that we have. Their standards may not always be acceptable to those in high office, but again they are the only professional standards that we have.

I am not convinced—this is a point that comes up in a wide variety of contexts—that it is possible to change professional standards or a culture by legislation. People working in any profession have learnt standards over a long time. If they are forced to abandon them they do not thereby immediately take on new ones which might be more pleasing to the authorities of the day. They are left without any, and are about as dangerous as a ship at sea without a compass is to navigation.

Perhaps I can best make my point by referring to the management of Parliament, which is something upon which members of my profession from time to time express themselves freely and with great confidence. I used to wonder whether it was quite that simple. Now I know perfectly well that it is not. This Chamber would view with misgiving having its procedure and its business managed by a committee with a majority drawn from without its walls. In that we are not alone. I beg to move.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

The noble Earl is always attractive in his arguments, but my reaction to what he said is not that there is a hostility to professionalism—I hope that my noble friend the Minister will not feel moved to accept the amendment—on the contrary, I regard the professions and professional standards as important in the whole scheme of things, and not least in education. My suspicion centres around a different word—the "providers". Over the years we have tended to accept what I regard as a fallacy: that what the providers believe is good for them must be equally good for those for whom provision is made.

I shall not take the Committee down too many byways, but one has only to listen to the doctors sometimes. They believe that what is good for the doctors must be good for the patients and for the health service. That is not necessarily so. I speak as a former Secretary of State for Social Services. People have a tendency to convince themselves, completely honestly—there is no element of wilful self-deception in this—that if they are looked after properly, their clients—the students or whoever it may be—will be equally properly looked after.

One of the threads that has tended to run through some of the reforms which the Government have instituted in health, education, the social services, community care and local government is the attempt to break that belief and to make the providers more answerable to the people for whom provision is made. That is wholly to the good. It is what lies behind much of the Citizen's Charter.

If the committee turned out to be just another committee with a majority of educationists on it, people would say that it was a bit rum against the background of everything else that is going on. Of course there must be people on the committee who are knowledgeable about education. I welcome what my noble friend said about people who are knowledgeable about and have experience of further education. That must be right. I should be unhappy, and I believe that others would be, if I thought that they were to be a majority on the committee. There are other interests which should be taken into account, not least the interests of the people for whom the whole exercise exists.

Lord Belstead

I expected that the amendment would come up and the noble Earl has moved it with his usual felicity. First, I wish to repeat the point made by my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding that the mind is very much on the providers when setting up a committee of this kind. There is the obvious thought in the mind of the layman that a funding council on which the providers are in the majority may be looking after itself in too cosy a fashion. I do not say that from the Front Bench for this reason. The Government have not gone out of their way to say that there will not be a majority of people from the world of education on the funding council. We are simply silent on it so far as the Bill is concerned.

However, I chime in with what my noble friend said. Yes, we usually think of providers when such a committee is being set up, but what about the users? It may well be, particularly with those mentioned in subsection (5) (b), that my right honourable friend will be considering representatives of the users of further education on the funding council.

Secondly, let us not forget a point which has been made endlessly but is worth making again on the amendment that a sensible balance needs to be kept. The Government have undertaken again and again that we shall endeavour to do so in this case.

One of the successes which I claim for the Government over the past 10 years or so is to have made some advances in bringing the worlds of education, industry and commerce closer together. That is why we find mention of those interests in paragraph (b) of subsection (5). persons who appear to him to have experience of, and to have shown capacity in, industrial, commercial or financial matters or the practice of any profession". People from industry will need to be represented on the committee.

Thirdly, I reiterate a point that I made on an earlier amendment. We have debated this afternoon amendments which would bring in, by way of representation on the committee, no fewer than 15 or 16 additional people. This creates problems of sheer numbers.

One sector of interest which no one has mentioned is the diversity of colleges which will be funded. I believe that we will have to keep in mind that diversity and consider how the colleges ought to have some feeling that their interests are being looked after at first hand when the committee is set up.

Finally, there is the artificiality of quotas. I come back to where I started, I do not attach much importance to a majority on such a committee. I know that my right honourable friend hopes and intends that it will be a committee of people mainly and primarily chosen for personal qualities, but keeping in mind the interests mentioned in subsection (5) paragraphs (a) and (b). Basically for those reasons, we do not believe that the Bill is silent as concerns the majority.

8.45 p.m.

Earl Russell

I thank the Minister for that reply. I was not going down the road of representatives, but simply arguing that the majority of the council should consist of people who know what they are doing. I listened with a great deal of interest to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. I was grateful to the Minister for saying that he would not repeat that argument from the Front Bench. However, since the argument has been put forward, I must join with it.

I have always felt a profound suspicion of anyone who announces that they are using a model. It is a phrase that I used to associate with the Left. Now I more commonly associate it with the Right. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, was using a model drawn from industry. Suppose I take part in a debate on industry and I thought that the arrangements of industry ought to be altered because it was necessary to diminish the power of the tutors at the expense of the pupils. Peers with experience of industry would feel a certain bewilderment. That is the bewilderment which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, made me feel.

There is a big difference between this and the ordinary business of servicing a customer. With the latter the question normally is: what does the customer want? One has to attempt to provide that and the customer, necessarily and rightly, acquires a certain authority from it. Since the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, introduced the example of medicine, it is peculiarly clear that what is the best medical treatment does not depend on what the patient thinks. Patients have thought some remarkable things in that field. They used to think, for example, that a live sheep on the bed was the appropriate cure for measles. Similarly, in education, whether it is right does not depend on whether the alleged consumer believes it is right. There are certain objective questions involved.

We are getting the imposition here of an alien code of values from people who do not understand what they are doing. The effect is becoming a little like that of telling one's garage mechanic that one thinks he is spending too long mending the car and he had better not tighten the wheel nuts because it is a waste of time. The level of ignorance with which this is done is occasionally going beyond that level. Having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, I have no alternative but to commend the amendment to the Committee and press it to a Division.

8.46 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No.14) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 22; Not-Contents, 73.

Division No. 4
Addington, L. Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.]
Airedale, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Grey, E.
Blackstone, B. Hamwee, B.
David, B. Hylton, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Kirkwood, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Lockwood, B.
Dormand of Easington, L. Longford, E.
McCarthy, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Mulley, L. Russell, E. [Teller.]
Ogmore, L. Seear, B.
Peston, L.
Ailesbury, M. Jenkin of Roding, L.
Aldington, L. Johnston of Rockport, L.
Annaly, L. Lawrence, L.
Astor, V. Long, V.
Belstead, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Bethell, L. Lyell, L.
Blatch, B. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Blyth, L. McFarlane of Llandaff, B.
Boardman, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Borthwick, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Mountevans, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Norfolk, D.
Caithness, E. Norrie, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Park of Monmouth, B.
Cavendish of Furness, L. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Coleraine, L. Perry of Southwark, B.
Cox, B. Radnor, E.
Craigavon, V. Reay, L.
Cumberlege, B. Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Renton, L.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Seccombe, B.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Elton, L. Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Ferrers, E. Stockton, E.
Flather, B. Strange, B.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Strathclyde, L.
Glenarthur, L. Swinton, E.
Gray of Contin, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Gray, L. Trefgarne, L.
Gridley, L. Trumpington, B.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Ullswater, V.
Henderson of Brompton, L. Waddington, L.
Henley, L. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Hesketh, L. [Teller.] Wynford, L.
Hooper, B. Young, B.
Howe, E.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

8.54 p.m.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth): moved Amendment No. 15:

Page 2, line 3, at end insert: ("(c) persons who have experience of, or knowledge of the requirements of students with learning difficulties").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 15 I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 98, 129, 223 and 269. The purpose of these amendments is to ensure that at least one member of the funding councils and the quality assessment committees will have some experience or knowledge of students with learning difficulties. Amendment No. 98 to Clause 6 would ensure that funding decisions would also be made in consultation with someone who had such experience.

We have already had quite a debate on representation so I shall try not to go over the same ground again. As my noble friend Lord Henderson pointed out, these amendments are concerned with people with experience of students with learning difficulties, not representatives. They could also encompass users of education. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, referred to that matter. Why do we need people with experience of learning difficulties? We need them, for example, to judge the value of courses on social skills for people with a mental handicap. Such courses are vital if those people are to play an active part in society. However, those courses require a higher level of funding than other courses for possibly a limited number of people.

In the case of deaf students, the Royal National Institute for the Deaf states that the differing needs of people with different types of deafness will require different kinds of support. The RNID states that without some expertise in this area planning can be little better than guesswork. The Royal National Institute for the Blind states that within the past 10 years the number of blind and partially sighted students attending higher education institutions has increased by 200 per cent. In further education the increase has been even more dramatic.

Although opportunities and support for blind and partially sighted students are still not totally satisfactory, there has been some improvement brought about by an increase in understanding on the part of those responsible for further and higher education. The RNIB has commented that it would be extremely unfortunate if this impetus were to be lost. These amendments would prevent that impetus being lost.

In 1970, 21 years ago, various sections of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act introduced representation on committees in the form of people with knowledge of disabilities. I remember that Act well as it was the first occasion I moved an amendment. I added my name to the amendment and I happened to be the only person to do so who had returned from dinner when the amendment was called. I did not have a clue what to do, but the Minister on the Front Bench—I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick—sent me a note with the words "I beg to move" written on it. The amendment was accepted. These amendments are sensible and they have the support of disability organisations. They also have all-party support. I remain an optimist as we have not long returned from dinner. I beg to move.

Lord Addington

I wish to add to what the noble Baroness has said. We are discussing difficulties that are experienced by a wide group of people. Therefore we need people with experience of these problems to tackle the difficulties. Such people will at least know where to start. The range of learning difficulties is wide. Therefore we need someone to tackle those difficulties who at least knows his way around the system. We have already heard about people with different types of deafness and about people who have impaired eyesight. I am most familiar with the problem of dyslexia. I know there are different kinds of dyslexia that require different kinds of help. We should also consider those people who have difficulties with movement. At the very least we need people who can get round these problems and who know the relevant people to contact. I suggest that the Government look favourably at this amendment. It is important that we should not accidentally exclude from the provisions of the Bill a considerable percentage of our population.

Lord Renton

I support the amendment that was so briefly but persuasively moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth). It will not surprise the Committee to learn that I wish to refer mainly to the mentally handicapped. I remind the Committee that there are roughly 400,000 mentally handicapped people in this country at any one time. There are probably more, but there are at least 400,000. Many of those people die much younger than three-score years and ten. I would say there are probably as many as 100,000 such people who are of school age or of an age where they can receive further education. It so happens—it has worked out like this by chance—that teachers of normal children do not gain experience of the provision of special education, as it is termed, for those of school age.

Clause 1(4) states that the Secretary of State, shall have regard to the desirability of including— (a) persons who appear to him to have experience … in, the provision of education". That measure stated in that bald and general way, will not cover the experience that other people have gained in the provision of special education for mentally handicapped people. It would be regrettable if we did not invite the Government to consider very carefully the need for an amendment on these lines.

There are many causes and types of mental handicap and varying degrees of learning difficulty among mentally handicapped people. With that in mind, it is very interesting to note that within the field of special education a tremendous amount has been done for mentally handicapped people, including discovering unexpected skills in particular people. Therefore, in making this new provision for further and higher education—and particularly further education in this context—if we are to do the job thoroughly we must make sure that the needs of the mentally handicapped and the people who have knowledge of those needs are properly dealt with.

9 p.m.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

I should like to support what the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), said in her charming and persuasive speech. There is very little that needs to be added.

I thought that the battle had been won long ago. The noble Baroness said that she won the argument as long ago as when Lord Beswick was a Minister. It must be an oversight that the provisions set out in the block of amendments which we have moved tonight have not been included in the Bill. I believe that the principle has been conceded by governments, and I feel sure that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, will concede tie principle underlying the amendment.

Unless the councils and the assessment committees include people with the specialised knowledge which the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said is required in order to be able to understand the needs of the mentally handicapped and many physically handicapped people, those people will be neglected. Therefore, I ask the Government to honour the undertakings which they have given for many years. I hope that if our amendments are not in precisely the form which the Government would like, they will return to the matter at a later stage, perhaps themselves initiating amendments in a form of which they approve.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, has added his name to the amendments but cannot be here this evening. One has the happy feeling that the amendments express a view held unanimously in all parts of the Chamber.

Baroness Young

We have all been very impressed by the speech and the arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth) and those of my noble friend Lord Renton and the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. I do not know what my noble friend Lord Belstead will say in reply, but I can imagine that he will feel that the amendment falls into the category of those we have already discussed in relation to representatives of those involved in further education.

Lord Renton


Baroness Young

Perhaps I may continue with my argument and then I shall give way. What is being asked for is to include people who would represent those with handicaps.

Lord Renton

With great respect to my noble friend, speaking for myself, and I am sure for others who support the amendment, I do not suggest that there should be, for example, a representative from MIND or from MENCAP or from any particular body which looks after the mentally handicapped. I say merely, as with the earlier paragraph at the bottom of page 1 to which I referred, that the funding councils should include people who have knowledge and experience of the requirements of the mentally handicapped. That is quite different.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

I hope that the noble Baroness will permit one more intervention. The amendment has been drafted specifically so that it does not import the meaning of representatives. It is not intended that there should be representatives who are in the pocket of the organisations which lobby us with such persistence.

Baroness David

I rise only to make it quite clear that we on these Benches support the amendment which has been moved so attractively and which has all round support.

Baroness Young

I accept what my noble friend Lord Renton has said. I am not responding to the debate; that will be for my noble friend the Minister. I am not a lawyer, but I can see that the amendment could be read either in the way that has been suggested or as meaning somebody who would be a representative.

What I was going to say, because I hoped that it would be of some encouragement, was that Clause 4(3)—which makes the matter plain by placing a new duty on the further education funding councils to have regard to the needs of people with learning difficulties—includes the same definition as that contained in current legislation. I hope that that may be of some help because it is an important point.

I also hope that my noble friend may be able to say what happens to those over the age of 16 who have handicaps of one sort or another. That is a matter of anxiety because there have been some well-known cases in which young men or women have been unable to continue their education for one reason or another because of their handicaps. It is very important that we should be assured that the very best arrangements are made for them. It would be helpful if my noble friend, in responding, could say something about that point because it is an important one.

Lord Renton

Before my noble friend sits down perhaps I may ask her a question. We welcome Clause 4. We were conscious of it when the amendment was moved. But does she not think that a funding council would be in a much better position to exercise its functions under Clause 4 if there were someone on the council who, in the words of the amendment, had: experience of, or knowledge of the requirements of students with learning difficulties"?

The Earl of Radnor

I too should like to support the amendment. I shall start with Clause 4. Clause 4 is all very well, but we have not debated it yet and it would be a great deal better if it were altered and strengthened on the lines of the amendments that have been tabled for discussion when we come to it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, recently initiated a debate on this subject. It was apparent from that debate that a number of people who left school at 16 were illiterate. There is a problem here whether it is caused by mental troubles, dyslexia, deafness or anything else. One might have hoped that the problem would have been rectified for most of those children by now, but it has not been. Indeed, we are becoming more illiterate. We must remember that literacy is the very beginning of education. If you cannot read or write, you are in serious trouble. You will go out into the world and will not be a great deal of good to society, you are more likely to absorb taxes than pay them and you will be a perfect nuisance to everyone and a great sadness to your relations and probably yourself as well.

It is almost inconceivable that there should not be a proper proportion of people with the appropriate knowledge on those councils so that they can advise. I agree with my noble friend Lord Renton that that is important, as is a strengthened Clause 4. It is the last chance for those people. They have rumbled through school and something has gone wrong. Further education is needed, not to make them bright but to make them capable of living a reasonably pleasant life. I strongly support the amendments.

Lord Skelmersdale

I too should like to support the principle behind the amendments. Like my noble friend Lord Renton, I am not sure that the amendment that we are discussing is in the right place in the Bill, but I say that for a rather different reason; namely, that my experience has led me to believe that disabled people in the widest sense do not like to be singled out. They like to live, as we all do, to the limits of their particular capacity, or perhaps in this context I should more rightly say incapacity. I should therefore like reference to provision for those with learning difficulties to appear in subsection (4) (a) rather than on page 2.

Lord Renton

With great respect to my noble friend, I must apologise to him. I cannot have made myself clear. I had hoped to suggest that we needed the amendment to Clause 1. I am not wedded to the drafting, but I am sure that it comes pretty close to what we require.

Lord Skelmersdale

I must have misinterpreted my noble friend, but nonetheless I stand by my view, with or without his support, that it would be far better to amend Clause 1(4) rather than to add a new paragraph (c) towards the beginning of page 2.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

We have this evening on the Marshalled List a series of amendments relating to education for students with disabilities and learning difficulties. This is the first and I hope that it will be helpful to the Committee if I offer one or two general comments at this stage. I shall try not to be too long and come quickly to the amendments that we are debating.

As the Committee knows, the Government's intention in the Bill is to make changes in the structures by which further education is delivered. We are not here setting out to change the nature of the further education activity that happens through those structures. That general principle holds true for students with learning difficulties as much as for any other student.

The amendments that have been tabled relating to students with learning difficulties can be separated into two kinds. Some seek to ensure that in the transition to the new structures the arrangements for students with learning difficulties are not accidentally weakened or harmed in some way. That is also the Government's aim. It is the Committee's job to check that the Government have thought of all the potential difficulties and I look forward to that kind of constructive probing. I hope that I shall be able to demonstrate that we have not overlooked anything.

The second type of amendment relating to students with learning difficulties has a different purpose—to secure improvements on the present arrangements. I have great sympathy with that motivation. Who does not? The Committee will not hear me arguing that it is undesirable to attempt to improve the educational opportunities available to students with learning difficulties. However, I may need to argue in some cases that the amendment would not produce an improvement, and in other cases that the aspiration is unrealistic.

We do not believe that our record on education for people with disabilities is discreditable. On the contrary, we brought forward and have now implemented the 1981 Education Act which transformed the system for children with special educational needs. For students in higher education the major extension of the disabled students' allowance at the start of the last academic year has opened up a new range of possibilities.

We are as keen as anyone to secure real improvements. However, as a responsible Government we are also prepared to say that there are limits to what can be done. We shall not try to court popularity by promising more than the nation can afford. [shall be unashamed in arguing where necessary that an amendment that seeks to create a new duty in relation to students with disabilities would give that group undue priority in the many and various calls on the taxpayers' resources.

On these amendments, first, we do not underestimate the needs of people with special educational needs. The amendment requires the Secretary of State in making appointments to a further education funding council to have regard to the desirability of including persons who have experience or knowledge of the requirements of students with learning difficulties. The Government consider that there is no necessity to put that specific requirement on the face of the Bill. As has been said, the further education funding councils are not intended to be representative bodies. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, and others have suggested that the amendment does not involve representation of bodies. However, I believe that it amounts to very much the same thing.

The Bill requires the Secretary of State to have regard to the desirability of appointing persons with backgrounds in education, industry, commerce and the professions. But members will be chosen primarily for their personal qualities. That must be the right approach, given the enormous responsibilities that would be laid on the councils.

For a council of 12 to 15 people, it is important that the Government should have maximum flexibility in the choice of people to serve. The Secretary of State is required under the Bill to have regard to the desirability of including people with experience of, or who have shown capacity in, the provision of education The word "education" must include education for those with special educational needs. Any special provision for the appointment of persons who have experience of, or knowledge of, the requirements for students with learning difficulties is therefore unnecessary.

The Committee can be sure that the Secretary of State, in making appointments to the councils, will wish to maintain a sensible balance in the experience, skills and expertise that council members can bring to bear. The funding councils will have a range of specific duties, one of which relates to students with learning difficulties. That is the subject of Clause 4. When the Secretary of State makes appointments, I give the Committee: an assurance that he will choose people in the light of the specific duties that will be required to be discharged.

My noble friend Lady Young asked about people over 16. The Bill is intended to ensure that the possibility of continuing their education is available. The present requirement to ensure that that provision is available is continued by the Bill. Clause 4 may be the best place to debate that matter.

As I understood the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, he stated that the principle was conceded of having people with such experience available for those councils. We cannot yield on the principle of representation, about which I have spoken. He suggested that we bring forward a government amendment. I have been impressed by the force of arguments. Yielding nothing on the principle of representation, I shall naturally reflect on everything that Members of the Committee have said today. In the meantime, in the light of my arguments, I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.

Lord Renton

Before the noble Baroness decides whether to withdraw the amendment, perhaps I may say how splendid it is that my noble friend on the Front Bench will consider the matter further. In order to embody the arguments that he has already used, and to meet the purpose of the amendment, will it help him if, after the words, at line 26 on page 1, "the provision of education", there were added, "including special education" or such words as, "the education of students with learning difficulties?" That would appear to be a good way of reconciling the argument with the needs of the amendment.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My noble friend is trying to be helpful. Such a solution occurred to me but without the benefit of expert advice I cannot consider it. I shall study the matter carefully and I thank my noble friend for his suggestion.

Baroness Seear

I do not wish to prolong the discussion. However, we are constantly being told that these people will be appointed on the basis of their personal qualities. Will the Minister tell us what the personal qualities are and how they will be assessed? It is a serious matter of selection and one that has defeated many expert people. How will the Secretary of State decide?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

I cannot prejudge what is in the mind of my right honourable friend. I imagine that people such as the noble Baroness will be selected for their personal qualities.

Baroness Seear

That is absolutely no answer to the question.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

Will the Minister kindly agree to consult those of us who have an interest—that is, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, as well as the noble Baroness and others—before making up his mind for the next stage of the Bill?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

I value the noble Lord's suggestion. Perhaps on this occasion the best way forward would be to consult.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

I thank all Members of the Committee who have joined in the debate and given their support. Many have experience of people with special needs. I believe that the amendment is in the right place. The funding councils must make major decisions for which they will need background knowledge. The assessment committees need the knowledge to judge what provision is appropriate.

At first I was disappointed with the Minister's reply and was becoming gloomy. Suddenly there was a ray of light and after being pressed by my noble friend Lord Henderson we appeared to be getting somewhere. I am grateful for that. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for her initial kind comments. The amendment does not relate to people who are representative of organisations but to someone with a basic background knowledge of special needs. As was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, one cannot have people who have experience of being blind, deaf or mentally handicapped but people with a little knowledge in those fields. It is a complicated area and at least someone with a little knowledge will know where to start. That is the important point. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, said that in his experience disabled people do not wish to be singled out. However, special education is different and one needs someone with knowledge of it.

I am grateful to all Members of the Committee who have joined in the debate. I thank the Minister for the latter part of his reply and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 16 not moved.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Full-time education for 16 to 18 year-olds]:

[Amendments Nos. 17 to 19 not moved.]

Lord McCarthy moved Amendment No. 20:

Page 2, line 19, after ("provision") insert ("as determined by local education authorities").

The noble Lord said: We return to the question of why the Government are excluding all influence of local education authorities from further education. We are doing so on the basis of Clause 2. In Clause 1 we tried several times to make them advisory, to put them in the regional structure, to make them consultative and so forth. The Minister who spoke previously, the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, gave the Committee three reasons for not doing so—plurality of methodology, which the Government are against; the sovereignty of college principals, of which they are in favour; and the principle of the generality of ministerial creatures who cannot be specified except that they must be acceptable to Ministers. Those are the three principles which we have had so far. I hope that if this amendment is not accepted by the Government, at least they will give another reason for not accepting it.

We are now dealing with functions rather than individuals. That is what Clause 2 is about. This amendment proposes that we should keep the councils with their present proposed personnel and retain the sovereignty of college principals, and the money and the accountability should be retained. However, when deciding how to use the money one should take into account, on the demand side, the views of the local education authorities. That is the effect of the amendment.

By this time one is able to anticipate the answers which the Government may give. I suppose the best answer for them to advance is that there is nothing to be learned from local authorities and that in effect they have no knowledge, experience or good will. There is nothing to be discovered from them and, therefore, there is no way whatever in which they need to be involved at any stage in the further use of facilities for further education because they have nothing to tell us.

We have not been told that. That has not been said today. The nearest to that was an example given by a Member on the opposite side of the Committee that frequently college principals wish to innovate, to produce new courses and to take new departures and the old local education authorities will not allow them to do that. If we had time I am sure that we could give as many examples of principals of colleges not wishing to innovate, to advance or to produce new courses in new skills; for example, word processing. We know what academics always say when they are asked to do something new. They say that they will have to change their lectures, that there are not enough people available or that it will take a great deal of effort and there are no facilities. We know that local education authorities, governors and people who are not academics are sometimes required to persuade professional people to move.

Any balanced account of the past or present will show that those who come forward from local education authorities sometimes make the most innovative, progressive and advanced suggestions. Therefore, they should not be excluded totally from the process. This amendment suggests a way of involving them. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

Listening to the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, it sounds as though there would be a gentle form of consultation in which the local education authorities could have their input and then there would be some sort of decision. It is not made entirely clear who would take the decision.

This amendment is about local education authorities making a decision as to what should be the provision for education in a particular area and sector of education over which they no longer have control. On those grounds, I resist it.

Lord McCarthy

There is only one answer to that. Will the Minister favour an amendment on Report which provides for gentle consultation?

Lord Belstead

The answer to that is no.

Lord McCarthy

I am not surprised. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 21 not moved.]

Lord Peston moved Amendment No. 22:

Page 2, line 20, after ("facilities") insert ("free of charge to the student").

The noble Lord said: I hope that the Minister will be able to deal with this amendment by telling me that I do not understand the Bill and that the worries which I am about to express cannot possibly arise.

Education for 16 to 19 year-olds in this country is currently free. It is free in sixth form colleges, sixth forms and tertiary and further education colleges. Everybody believes in all sections of education and on all sides of the Committee that we should do a great deal more to encourage young people in that age group to stay on in education and we must improve the education which they receive. There is no argument whatever about that.

To put it at its mildest, it would be slightly odd if charging were possible in any form for that age group. To introduce any disincentive for that age group to be in education would be crazy. I hope the noble Lord will be able to say—and this is the reason for my opening remarks —that there is nothing in the Bill which could allow charging to be introduced for education for that age group. It may be noted that I use the word "could", not "would." I do not wish to be told that it could but the Minister will not do it. I am asking a straight question and wish to be told that it cannot happen.

My problem concerns Clause 12(9) (a) where a section of the 1988 Act, which states categorically that no charges can be made for admission to maintained schools, seems to be repealed. It is said that that section will not apply to, part-time education suitable to the requirements of persons of any age over compulsory school age". Any age over compulsory school age includes 16 to 19 year-olds.

I wish to be told that I simply do not know how to read the Bill. But that paragraph seems to state categorically that charging can be introduced. I wish to be told that I do not understand the Bill and that there is not the slightest possibility that charging can be introduced. That is my point. I beg to move.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale

If the section to which the noble Lord, Lord Peston, refers has been repealed, I would hope to find it included in Schedule 9, the repeals schedule. I cannot find it.

Earl Russell

I am extremely relieved to hear that. However, as the question has been raised, it requires a ministerial answer. The principle of free education is one of great importance. When one increases the price of anything one is liable to reduce the demand for it. I do not see how a free market government can easily deny that. The effect is particularly intense in the 16 to 19 age group with which we are at present dealing. When those in education and still being maintained by their parents see contemporaries going out into the world and earning what appear to them big wages, intense financial pressure is created. I have watched my children subjected to that pressure in recent years and so have some awareness of its intensity. It seems to me that. the introduction of charging in that age group would have a double disincentive effect. Like the noble Lord, Lord Peston, therefore, I hope to be told that it cannot happen here.

Lord Belstead

The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, is an important one. At the moment of delivery further education should be free of charge. The noble Lord said that he wished to hear that in this Bill that was something that could not possibly be other than the case. However, I must say to the noble Lord that as a matter of practice now, as the law stands, further education is free and tuition costs for young people aged 16 to 18 in full-time education are met. As I am advised, there is nothing in the law to say that, but it has always been a matter of practice that there are no charges for tuition at the point of delivery; that further education shall have no further charges made.

They are not made; they are never made. If I may go a stage further, there is no intention that the establishment of further education funding councils should lead to any change in existing practice. Tuition for full-time education for 16 to 18 year-olds will continue to be free both in colleges of further education and in former sixth form colleges. A requirement that all full-time education should be free of charge to the student would, however, have implications for the colleges. That is where the situation that exists now becomes more difficult. Under present legislation further education colleges are not prevented from making charges to students, as I have said. For example, students on catering courses meet some charges for materials. The amendment would prohibit that. It must be for the further education colleges to judge, as they are able to do under existing legislation, the priorities for the funds available to them. I am sure that Members of the Committee seeking this amendment would not wish to remove that flexibility which is already available to further education authorities.

There is very little that I can add to that. The subsection which the noble Lord read out is to allow maintained schools to charge fees for the provision of, part-time education suitable to the requirements of persons of any age over compulsory school age; or full-time education suitable to the requirements of persons who have attained the age of nineteen years". That does not change the situation which I have been trying to put across to the noble Lord. When he says to me that he wants an undertaking that there could be no charges made in further education, that simply is not the law at the present time. It is a matter of practice. I give an unequivocal undertaking that there is no intention that the establishment of further education funding councils would lead to any change in that existing practice.

Lord Peston

This is now a very serious matter and the noble Lord has made me more upset. There is no shadow of doubt that the subsection in the Bill that I have quoted uses the words "no charges for admission". It does not refer to charging for the use of materials in a catering course. I am absolutely certain that there have been no fees for admission to schools, colleges or any of these other bodies for the 16 to 19 year-olds since the 1944 Act was passed. What the noble Lord has said will certainly come as news to almost everybody in education that charging was in some sense a serious possibility.

The noble Lord has not answered my question. Why has this subsection been put in? No charges for admission are included in the 1988 Act. But that is now amended to allow charges for admission to maintained schools. That is a matter of the utmost seriousness. The matter cannot be allowed to stand on the basis of an assurance that the Secretary of State is not thinking of doing that because it is a fundamental matter of principle. To go back to our earlier debate, it is one of the unfortunate consequences of what the Government are doing about schools in endeavouring to unify in a peculiar way the FE sector. I cannot let the matter go just like that. As far as I am concerned this is about as fundamental a principle as we could possibly debate in this Bill.

Lord Belstead

I do not believe that there is anything sinister in this at all. As the noble Lord knows, in the Bill there is provision for schools to be able to have part-time further education. There are restrictions that those who come in to further education schools shall not receive further education in the same places as the pupils who are in the schools. I shall certainly undertake to write to the noble Lord if I am wrong in this matter, but as I understand it as regards the schools taking in further education students, that would put the law in exactly the same position as it is for further education colleges. I do not believe that I can explain the matter better than that this evening. If I am wrong I shall most certainly write to the noble Lord and see to it that a copy of the letter goes into the Library.

Lord Peston

I thank the noble Lord. I am in great difficulties. There is no doubt what the Bill says. As the noble Lord rightly says, it refers to charging for part-time education in schools but for the 16 to 19 year-old group. I do not believe that is sinister. I assume that the Government are doing it on purpose, but I regard it as an outrage that they should be introducing the possibility of charging in schools for that group whether it is part time or full time. It may be that the noble Lord is still telling me that I do not understand what is being said. As I regard this matter as so important I just cannot let it go. Before I make my final decision can the noble Lord tell me that I do not understand and that there is no possibility of charging in schools for 16 to 19 year-olds? Can he tell me that that possibility does not exist?

Lord Belstead

I do not think that I can yet again repeat what I have said. I went over the ground that under the Bill it is possible for further education to be delivered in main line schools. The noble Lord is no doubt familiar with that point. Restrictions are put in the Bill on the way in which that can be done. I am saying that my understanding of that particular subsection which is troubling the noble Lord—and, indeed, is troubling me—is that it puts the law as regards further education in schools on a par with the way in which the law stands at present. However, it does not alter the fact, which I should emphasise, that the position for further education is that there will not be charges under existing legislation (even though there could be charges). I give an unequivocal undertaking that it is not intended to charge for tuition in further education.

I reiterate the point, which I think we have lost, that this is a more complicated area than it may seem. I gave one example of why it is a complicated area in regard to catering colleges.

Lord Peston

I appreciate that this is a complicated area. I understand fully the logic that essentially these schools are going to admit further education pupils along the same line as the FE colleges. Since I did not know that, I accept the noble Lord's remarks that the FE colleges can in theory charge part-time pupils in that age group.

The Government—for reasons completely beyond me—think that, for logical purposes, in theory the schools ought to be able to charge even though they are not going to. I have to say that I still regard moving into charging in schools as so appalling that I cannot emphasise too much to the noble Lord what an important departure from principle that is. To use his earlier words, it is nothing to do with his bona fides or the bona fides of the current Secretary of State. It is a matter that is almost of more importance than any other matter connected with education that I have debated in your Lordships' House in all the years I have been here. On that basis I have to go on record—at least for me—of insisting on my amendment to ascertain the view of the Committee.

9.42 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 22) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 23; Not-Contents, 59.

Division No. 5
Addington, L. Hatch of Lusby, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Henderson of Brompton, L.
Blackstone, B. Kirkwood, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Lockwood, B.
David, B. McCarthy, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Monkswell, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Mulley, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.] Peston, L.
Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Grey, E. Russell, E. [Teller.]
Hamwee, B. Seear, B.
Aldington, L. Johnston of Rockport, L.
Annaly, L. Long, V.
Astor, V. Lyell, L.
Belstead, L. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Bethell, L. McFarlane of Llandaff, B.
Blatch, B. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Borthwick, L. Norfolk, D.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Norrie, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
Caithness, E. Perry of Southwark, B.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Radnor, E.
Cavendish of Furness, L. Reay, L.
Coleraine, L. Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.
Craigavon, V. Renton, L.
Craigmyle, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Cumberlege, B. Seccombe, B.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Skelmersdale, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Stockton, E.
Ferrers, E. Strange, B.
Flather, B. Strathclyde, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Swinton, E.
Glenarthur, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Trumpington, B.
Grey, L. Ullswater, V.
Henley, L. Waddington, L.
Hesketh, L. [Teller.] Wade of Chorlton, L.
Hooper, B. Wynford, L.
Howe, E. Young, B.
Jenkin of Roding, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

[Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 not moved.]

9.50 p.m.

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 25:

Page 2, line 23, at end insert ("and all such persons up to the age of 25 who have a learning difficulty.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 30. It is a very important amendment. Its purpose is to allow students with learning difficulties to receive education beyond the age of 18 on the same basis, especially as regards costs, as those under 19 years of age. Many people with learning difficulties are leaving school and college at the age of 18 or 19 very much under-qualified. There are a variety of difficulties which they face and needs which they have. By the age of 19, many of these students have not had the time to catch up with their more normal contemporaries. They desperately need the opportunity to continue to learn after the age of 19 so that their chances of going on to higher education and into the job market are in line with those of their peers.

Of course not all students with learning difficulties would need extra time. Indeed, some at the age of 19 will have grades sufficient for them to go on into higher education or into work where their needs may be catered for by the disabled student's allowance in higher education or the Disablement Advisory Service. Others, in the hope of qualifying for higher education or gaining a better job, may try to continue in further education beyond the age of 19. A small number of them are successful in applying for discretionary grants from their local education authorities. These may cover the costs of fees but they seldom cover the full costs of a student's support needs.

Sadly, with current funding pressures, fewer authorities are able to afford discretionary awards. Few students can pay their own way at this stage for they will be looking not only for course fees and the costs of maintenance but also for the costs of whatever support they use as a result of their disabilities. For deaf students that might include an interpreter, a note-taker or extra tutorial support. There are other needs for the blind, and so on. The costs become prohibitive for all but the very richest families.

I should like to give the Committee one example of a deaf student called Adam. He was doing a two-year City and Guilds course. His 19th birthday fell in his second year. His LEA refused to fund beyond 18. He left college in the middle of the course without any qualifications. His story is not unique; indeed, we have heard about many other students who have had their grant withdrawn on their 19th birthday. The situation is monstrous.

An extension in the age limits for students with learning difficulties is not intended to give privileges to the group but to redress the imbalance which arises during compulsory education because of problems with language, communication or other needs. I believe that this is an important matter. It is something about which many people have been worried for some time. I hope that the Government will be a little more sympathetic this time. I beg to move.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

I should like to express my support for the noble Baroness, Lady David, and echo two things that she said. First, what this really amounts to is the catch-up factor. If someone is disabled he can get left behind his mental peers. He will not reach the attainments of his peers at the same age because of his disabilities. I do not need to be specific because the noble Baroness gave us a very good example. Clearly, if someone has such disabilities he will not reach the same entrance standards as his non-disabled peers. Therefore, an extension of time is needed. That is what the amendment would provide. That is the first way in which I should like to support the noble Baroness.

Secondly, I should like to refer to what the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish of Furness, said in reply to Amendment No. 15. I think that the answer came from his brief and not from his heart, because he said that the amendments were designed to give some kind of privilege to disabled people at the expense of the general taxpayer. That is not the case. The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), said that it is not so. It is not a privilege we are seeking; it is equality of treatment. The Minister will find that mentioned in the Prime Minister's foreword to the White Paper. The amendment is doing no more than implement what he said: there is to be equality of opportunity. Unless there is an extension of time there will not be equality of opportunity for disabled people with learning difficulties and special needs. I need say no more. It is an important amendment which I support wholeheartedly.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

I add my support to the amendment. The case was made strongly by the noble Baroness, Lady David, and by my noble friend Lord Henderson. I shall go a little further than my noble friend in talking about equality of opportunity. It is a false economy not to extend provision beyond the age of 19 when, by doing so, we could enable students to improve their job opportunities. They could then make their way in the world and pay taxes or merely survive in the community when they have acquired the life skills necessary to enable them to live independently.

Lord Addington

People with learning difficulties will be at a disadvantage until they have acquired the skills necessary to overcome those difficulties. That almost certainly means that they will have a period of catching up. All the amendment does is to prolong the period during which they will be given the opportunity to acquire life skills, as the noble Baroness said. As she also said, if we do not give them the extra period of time, we shall be condemning them—that is the best way to put it—for the rest of their lives to being unable to compete in the job market. Surely to allow them a little extra time to train and acquire the skills necessary will benefit society as a whole and not just those with special needs.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

The two amendments would add a new duty in relation to students with learning difficulties. In our debate on Amendment No. 15, which has been referred to, I explained that prudence would not allow us to accept every amendment that added to the present substantial duties relating to students with learning difficulties, however desirable that principle may be. That applies to these two amendments against which I must argue.

It may be helpful if I first explain what the existing duties are and how the Bill carries them over into the new structures. Existing legislation distinguishes between students in the 16 to 18 age group on the one hand, and those aged 19 plus, or adults, on the other. For 16 to 18 year-olds, the 1944 Act requires that there must be sufficient further education. For adults, that Act requires that there should be adequate further education. Those two requirements are replicated in Clauses 2 and 3 of the Bill.

The requirements apply to all students, including those with disabilities. There is however an additional requirement in relation to students with disabilities. The 1944 Act requires the local education authorities, in securing the provision of further education, specifically to have regard to the needs of persons having learning difficulties. That requirement is replicated in Clause 4 of the Bill where it is applied to the further education funding councils. Clause 11 also maintains the existing requirement on the LEAs where they retain the responsibility for securing the educational provision.

Those are real and substantial duties with regard to students with disabilities. The Bill maintains them, and applies them in addition to the FEFCs. The amendments would extend those duties by extending the age up to which sufficient provision must be available from 18 to 25. At present, for students aged 19 or over, there is a discretion to be exercised as to the provision to make. These amendments would remove the funding council's ability to balance priorities. We do not believe that constraint to be helpful. Where adults are concerned, it is essential that councils are able to judge how their resources are best employed to meet the needs of all students including those with learning difficulties.

I understand the argument that some adults with learning difficulties may take longer to reach a given standard of achievement than other adults, but the Bill does not put an age limit on the entitlement to further education. The statutory duties apply to adults of all ages. It is important that they should do so without any artificial cut-off at 25, as the amendments propose. It is important and worth repeating that the duty in the Bill in relation to students with learning difficulties contains no upper age limit.

I have heard it argued that there is a risk that students will be excluded from courses when they reach their 19th birthday. The existing legislation will certainly not permit a systematic policy of age-based exclusions. It will not permit that when carried over to the FEFCs.

The duty towards students with learning difficulties in Clause 4 will ensure that students are able to remain in full-time further education beyond 18, if that is what they want and if the further education funding council judges it to be appropriate. But I repeat that it is essential that judgment can be made. We cannot tie the funding councils to an open-ended commitment to provide for adults on demand. In the light of that, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness David

I do not find that at all a satisfactory reply. In the end, "having regard to" means nothing. It can be disregarded. From what the Minister said, there is nothing which will help the people I mentioned who have their funding quickly cut off at their 19th birthday.

It is late and I shall not divide the Committee but I am not satisfied with the answer. I shall certainly come back at the next stage. I have noted what the Minister said about the age and will have discussions with my fellow Peers who put their names to the amendment. However, I can promise the Minister that we shall return to the matter at the next stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10 p.m.

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 2, line 23, at end insert: ("( ) If it appears to either of the Councils that the funds placed at their disposal are not sufficient to permit them to discharge their duties under this section, they shall inform Parliament accordingly.").

The noble Earl said: The purpose of this amendment is to give the further education funding council power to inform Parliament that the Secretary of State has not provided it with enough money to carry out the duties he has imposed upon it. This is not the same as simply saying that it is entitled to ask for more money. It is to say that there is a mismatch between the duties which are imposed upon it and the money given it to discharge those duties.

Parliament and the Secretary of State, were they to believe the funding council on this point, would be able either to increase the funding or to reduce the duties. The amendment does not usurp any constitutional prerogative of deciding how much money shall be spent. But it happens from day to day that people believe that the Secretary of State has not provided enough money for his purposes. The Secretary of State will of course say that that is an ex parte view. So it is. But so equally is the view of the Secretary of State that that is not the case.

When two completely contradictory ex parte views are held, both of them with growing passion, and in some casts with increasing desperation, it is important that the conflict between them should in some way be justiciable. Where we are arguing about whether the Secretary of State has discharged his duties in a satisfactory manner, surely under present arrangements the. competent body to do that is Parliament. That is why the amendment provides that it should be the duty of the funding council to notify Parliament that the funds that the Secretary of State has provided are insufficient.

The Secretary of State is not infallible. He is capable of making mistakes. So are we all. There has to be some means to control the exercise of his power when he does. The provision of insufficient funds year after year has a cumulative effect which may become serious.

I hope the Secretary of State is not above the law, but I do not know whether his powers in this respect are subject to judicial review under the Wednesbury principle. I should imagine that the answer to that is no. However, I should be interested to hear the answer. This provision is the best way of dealing with the matter because at present one may say that the Secretary of State has not provided sufficient funds but there is no appropriate action to take other than abandoning one's profession. That is a somewhat desperate remedy. It appears that the number of people who would need to do that before the Secretary of State would listen would constitute a great many more people than the profession could spare and retain a power of survival.

Parliament also has a legitimate interest in this matter. Parliament occasionally considers such arguments as the one I am putting forward now. Parliament may wonder whether those arguments are soundly based. It knows the argument on both sides is ex parte. It could be to the advantage of Parliament to have a rather more judicial—if one may call it that—assessment from a body selected because it commanded the confidence of the Secretary of State. That would perhaps enable this Chamber to bring its mind to bear on this question in a rather more practical way. If we do not tackle this question this way, I should like to know how it can be brought home to the Secretary of State very strongly, by someone who believes the argument, that his funds are not sufficient. If one cannot do it that way, how can one bring it to a point of issue? I beg to move.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Can the noble Earl, Lord Russell, envisage a single occasion when the funding council would consider it had adequate funds?

Earl Russell

That depends how one defines the purposes for which those funds are provided. I do not envisage a continuing rising standard of provision. I envisage the standard of provision which the Secretary of State himself envisages. In this Bill it is proposed to set up quality assessment committees to enforce a standard of provision. It is that standard, which the quality assessment committees would enforce, that I should imagine would be the standard the funding council would use. However, that is a question best left to that body's expert judgment which it is presumed to have. Otherwise the Secretary of State would not have appointed the members of that body.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, suggested that a dispute as regards the adequacy of funds for the performance of duties might in some way be justiciable. However, I believe he also recognised that it is exceedingly unlikely that such a dispute could be justiciable before the courts. As the noble Earl said, the dispute would have to be tested on the Wednesbury principle that the decision that had been made was so unreasonable that no reasonable Minister could have made it. That is a difficult burden of proof.

The rest of the noble Earl's speech indicated the outcome of such a dispute; namely, that it must be a matter for Parliament. The amendment of the noble Earl suggests that this matter should be referred in some way to Parliament. I have held a succession of ministerial offices in which I have had access to substantial spending powers and it has been my experience that the arrangements are not lacking to enable people to inform Ministers that they have not received enough money. Quite apart from the fact that we live in an open society with a free press and that Ministers are subject to questions in Parliament at frequent intervals, Parliament provides a machinery for bringing these matters home to roost to the Ministers concerned.

The work which is now done by the Select Committees in another place, where Ministers now appear not just in private committee but before the television cameras and can be questioned for two or three hours on end by Members of Parliament who are very thoroughly and carefully briefed, puts Ministers under the spotlight in a way which does not happen in many other democratic countries in the world.

Ultimately it is for Parliament to decide how public money should be spent. The procedures are elaborate, and they are pursued. The result of the annual public expenditure round is published in the public expenditure survey report and is debated. It is open to anyone to move that the House should reject it and there are opportunities to review individual parts of that report. The Opposition has its Opposition days. We do not debate expenditure to such an extent in this Chamber because we are not responsible for raising taxation. However, it is an astonishing proposition to suggest that our democratic procedures are not already adequate to allow people who feel that provision is not sufficient for the duties which have been placed upon them to bring that to the attention of Parliament and the public through the press and all the media which are available.

I do not know what else would happen. There is nothing to prevent the secretary of the funding council being instructed by his council to write a letter to the chairman of the Select Committee on education saying that the council considers that a good subject for study would be the adequacy of the report. I do not see why he should not do that.

Earl Russell

There is a provision in the Bill that advice to the Minister shall be given in private. That is the subject of a later amendment.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

Advice can be given to the Minister in private. I am suggesting that if the secretary of the funding council wanted to write a letter to the clerk to the Select Committee on education asking him to bring the matter to the attention of the chairman of the Select Committee there is nothing unconstitutional or improper about his doing so. However, some people might raise their eyebrows and suggest that he might have followed other avenues first. One certainly does not need an amendment such as this one to enable him to do that. In the end it must be for the other place to decide, and there is ample machinery for that. I do not see that anything new is needed.

Earl Russell

I am sorry to reply to the noble Lord again, but he should study the report of the Public Accounts Committee of last January. The Committee drew the attention of the chief executive of the Universities Funding Council to the deficits of the University of London. It asked him why he had not brought that to the attention of Parliament. The chief executive replied, in my opinion perfectly correctly, that the Education Reform Act did not legally allow him to do so.

The forms of words in that Act are repeated in the Bill now before us. I have an amendment down to deal with it later. I very much look forward to the support of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, when I move it.

Lord Belstead

Despite what the noble Earl said, I think that my noble friend Lord Jenkin is right. As a former Chief Secretary to the Treasury it is not entirely surprising that he is right.

Under existing legislation, no duty is placed on local education authorities to inform Parliament if it appears to them that the funds at their disposal are insufficient to permit them to discharge their duties. I see no reason why the new funding councils should be subject to a duty which is not applied to local education authorities.

I cannot possibly better the intervention of my noble friend Lord Jenkin, who ended his quick tour d'horizon of the powers of another place in these matters and particularly the scope of the work of the Select Committees, which has increased enormously over the past 10 years or so, by saying that in the end it is for the House of Commons to decide. With respect to the noble Earl, I believe that is right.

I understand that it is time-honoured practice that there is no judicial review in these matters because it is for Parliament to vote the money. That shows that at the end of the day it is for Parliament, in the shape of the House of Commons, to decide such matters which concern the raising and spending of money.

Under Clause 8 the funding councils will be under a duty to provide such information or advice relating to the provision of further education as the Secretary of State may from time to time require. Again under Clause 8 the funding councils will also have the power to provide the Secretary of State with such information or advice relating to such provision as they think fit. It is perfectly true that that is not done publicly, but it means that the councils have ample scope to convey their advice or information about funding or other matters as they think fit.

With respect to the noble Earl, I do not think that the amendment gets us very far for the reasons given by my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding in the sense that the House of Commons has the available information and is able, if it feels that it needs to do so, to conduct inquiries and investigations. At the same time the new councils will be able to tell the Secretary of State what their views are about the level of funding.

10.15 p.m.

Earl Russell

I had not intended to say anything that would in any way diminish Parliament's authority in the matter. If I gave that impression, I withdraw it absolutely and unreservedly.

It seems to me that the argument between us has boiled down to one thing. I should be completely happy if the Minister would give me an undertaking that if there is anything in the present legislation—either the Bill or the Education Reform Act—that inhibits a funding council from making its views known to Parliament, an amendment will be brought forward on Report to remove that restriction. Perhaps I may ask for that undertaking.

Lord Belstead

I am sorry. I cannot give the undertaking in exactly the way that the noble Earl seeks, but I shall reiterate what I said; namely, that the funding councils will have the power to provide my right honourable friend with such information or advice relating to the provision that he makes as they think fit. The councils will therefore have ample scope to convey advice or information about funding or other matters as they think fit. It seems to me that they have plenty of power at their fingertips.

Earl Russell

I am sorry to ask for more clarification. Is the noble Lord saying that the funding councils may convey advice direct to Parliament or that it must go through the Secretary of State?

Lord Belstead

I am sorry. This is becoming slightly tedious. I did not say that at all. In my original remarks I referred specifically to Clause 8. If he cares to glance at it, the noble Earl will find what I have been talking about. I merely said that if the Bill goes on the statute book it will be open to the funding councils in future to be able to convey advice or information to the Secretary of State.

Earl Russell

The point has arrived at which I must withdraw my amendment, have a look at my papers and consider what happens further. I should like to thank the; Minister for his care and courtesy in responding to the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 27 not moved.]

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 28:

Page 2, line 25, after ("education") insert ("and are capable of benefiting from it").

The noble Earl said: This is a much smaller amendment. It simply seeks to insert the words, capable of benefiting from it". I hope to be told that this is an unnecessary amendment and I should be glad to be told so.

The amendment arises from recalling the experience of an American colleague who was teaching in the 'sixties in a university with a peculiarly liberal view of an open access programme. He found that he was teaching his pupils to read. That is an extreme case. I should like to think that there will be some test of quality. Presumably that is understood and, if the Minister tells me so, I shall be happy to withdraw my amendment.

Lord Belstead

I do not think that I can satisfy the noble Earl, but I am surprised that he wants to be satisfied on this matter. It is a rather surprising amendment in that it appears to wish to restrict opportunities for further education for 16 to 18 year-olds.

As Clause 2(1) is drafted, the funding council's duty extends to all young people aged between 16 and 18 years who want full-time education suitable to their requirements. That is a less restrictive test than that put forward in the noble Earl's amendment. The subsection in the Bill provides for young people of all abilities to benefit from education and training provided within colleges in the new sector. I hope that the noble Earl, who has much more experience than I have in these matters, will say, "And as a matter of fact surely there is no young person who is not capable of benefiting from further education". However, to put the need to benefit into the legislation would restrict the opportunities of 16 to 18 year-olds. I can only say that that is the case; and it is not what we aim to do.

Earl Russell

I did not mean to make a big issue of this. I wished only to bring the point to the Committee's attention. Having done so, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 29 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendment No. 30 not moved.]

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge moved Amendment No. 31:

Page 2, line 25, at end insert ("but does not include those covered by section 116 of the Education Act 1944 as amended.").

The noble Lord said: This is a probing amendment because the Bill makes no mention of the national duty to provide some education in prisons. We are hoping that the Minister will satisfy us that the new arrangements under the Bill will not interfere with the present scheme under which the local education authorities co-operate with the prison department in providing education to prisoners.

It is not a big item. However, about 46,000 men and women are involved. Of those, about 7,500 are on remand and unconvicted. Many have to wait long months and sometimes years before they come to trial. The provision of education in prison service establishments is a Home Office responsibility. That will be no surprise to the Committee. Traditionally the Home Secretary has discharged that responsibility by inviting local education authorities to provide teaching staff and the related professional administrative advice, support and supervision that those staff need. In fact, that responsibility encompasses more or less the whole task.

Section 116 of the Education Act 1944, to which my amendment refers, as amended by the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1948, empowers LEAs to accept that invitation. LEAs have discretion as to the arrangements for managing staff engaged in prison education. In recent years most of them have decided that the best arrangement is to devolve the responsibility for providing education in prison to a college of further education. But the LEA continues to be actively involved and to provide support and advice. We are anxious that the arrangement should remain. We therefore seek to encourage the Minister to tell us that it will.

In a recent report, the Home Office stated, The partnership between the Prison Service and LEAs has generally worked well both at national and at local level". For once we agree. The scheme has worked well and is in no way responsible for the serious shortcomings of prison education which result from the disorganised state of many prisons due largely to overcrowding. Most Members of the Committee have heard of events that give rise to trouble. I wish to speak about education and not about prison disturbances. However, roughly speaking, classes are frequently postponed for lack of supervisory staff, who have to act as escorts to different towns and courts. Allotted rooms are suddenly not available for a number of organisational reasons. We hope with confidence that Lord Justice Woolf's recommendations will lead to a rapid improvement in those management problems. We also hope to see a real expansion and steady advance in the quality and quantity of prison education. While we hope for improvement in the aspects which are wrong we are nervous that the Bill may interfere with some of the aspects that work well.

I shall not waste the time of the Committee by explaining the vital importance of education in prisons as an antidote to boredom and the feeling of absolute uselessness which loss of liberty involves. It is almost the only way in which an active-minded man or woman can face a long sentence without despair. I could give many instances but I shall spare the Committee because it is obvious to anyone who thinks about it.

The Bill deals with further and higher education. Schedule 2 makes clear that many of the subjects listed are such as are required in almost any prison. Prison education is concerned with all kinds of education for all kinds of people. However, it is certain that vocational courses, courses of basic literacy or even the principles of mathematics would be welcome. All appear in Schedule 2 and are just what are needed. At present the local education authorities supply about 130 education officers. The prison department spends more than £20 million per year on education. That is about 3.5 per cent. of its total expenditure—not a great deal. To improve it will cost more but the money will have to come from the prison department and not from the newly-founded funding body. Will the Minister confirm that it is the Home Secretary whom we must still chase rather than the Secretary of State for Education? In other words, the duty to supply education officers remains with the LEAs on request with reimbursement from the prison department and the new funding councils will not undertake that responsibility.

I am sure that we shall be told that it makes no difference. Our view is that it makes a considerable difference. The system has worked well for 44 years. It is one of the few aspects concerned with finance that ever has worked well for 44 years and is not easily to be cast aside. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

This is complicated issue. Perhaps before looking at my brief it would be helpful if I said that the noble Lord certainly has a point. Responsibility for prison education rests firmly with the Home Office under existing legislation. It is the Government's intention that the responsibility should be unaffected by the Bill currently before the Committee. Decisions about what education should be made available for prisoners and the responsibility for funding such education should continue to be a matter for the prison service.

Section 116 of the 1944 Act gives local education authorities a power to make arrangements for prisoners to receive the benefit of educational facilities provided by them. The scope of that power is unaffected by the Bill. Local authorities will continue to be able to provide education for prisoners, although I confirm that they will still need to be invited to do so by the Home Office. It will also be open to the Home Office to invite colleges in the new sector to provide any such education.

As a result of the noble Lord's amendment, we are looking again at the wording of Clauses 2 and 3. They place duties on the further education funding councils to secure the provision of sufficient facilities for certain types of education for the population of their areas.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

I thank the Minister for that hopeful reply. At present the Home Office makes requests to the local education authorities but not to the further education colleges. The noble Lord said that the Home Office could make a request to the further education colleges. As I understand it, that is not the present system. It is done through the LEAs.

10.30 p.m.

Lord Belstead

I take that on board when considering that there may be some possible misdrafting in Clauses 2 and 3. I return to my starting position. The noble Lord has a point which we should like to meet. That point is that the existing statutory position in relation to the education of prisoners should be preserved and we are not sure that we have preserved it by the use of the existing wording.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

I am most grateful and extremely pleased with that reply. It is the first answer for a long time which has given satisfaction in the Chamber. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 32 to 35 not moved.]

The Lord Bishop of Guildford moved Amendment No. 35A:

Page 2, line 31, at end insert: ("(c) to have regard to the desirability of maintaining a significant number of institutions which arc of a denominational character and to ensure that an appropriate balance is maintained in the support given by them as between institutions which are of a denominational character and other institutions.").

The right reverend Prelate said: I recognise that the place of the denominational institutions is referred to in Clause 6(3) which states that in exercising their functions the funding councils shall have regard to those denominations. In view of that, it seems appropriate that the duties of the council set out in this clause should include having regard to the desirability of maintaining a significant number of denominational institutions.

The amendment proposes that what is already in the Bill at Clause 6(3) should be strengthened and added into the duties imposed on the council. The institutions in mind here are not only those which exist at present but any which come into existence through reorganisation as indicated in Clause 56. This is not primarily of Church of England interest. I believe that the Roman Catholic Church has more voluntary colleges in the category with which we are concerned. Therefore, it is in their interest as much as that of the Church of England that the council should have that duty laid clearly upon it in Clause 2. I beg to move.

Lord Peston

Speaking on behalf of these Benches, I thank the right reverend Prelate for introducing the amendment. Originally, I did not believe this to be a matter of great importance but various denominational bodies - not only Church of England but also Roman Catholic - have contacted me. Clause 6(3), to which the right reverend Prelate has drawn our attention, states: so far as they think it appropriate to do so in the light of any other relevant considerations". Various people have asked me what that means. I took a rather cynical view and said that it meant nothing but I would ask the Minister whether it has a meaning which anyone should worry about. Broadly, we support the amendment.

The Duke of Norfolk

I support the amendment. One of the principal effects of the Bill is to transfer a certain number of institutions from the schools sector to the further education sector. They will cease to be governed by the legislation which previously applied to them; they will be governed by the new legislation. The institutions involved are the sixth form colleges. The majority are legally county schools but a certain number are voluntary schools; they are mostly Church schools and largely Catholic.

Legislation relating to schools has been developed over many years and makes careful provision for the position of voluntary schools. They may not be changed or closed without public notice and the approval of the Secretary of State. They are entitled to financial support. In recent years that has been in accordance with the local authorities' published and approved scheme for financial delegation to schools and largely on the basis of pupil numbers.

Further education institutions under the Bill will not have such specific guarantees and assurances. The new funding councils for further education will no doubt be technically able but will be bodies of a technocratic character which may not always be the ideal judges of the support to be given to a religious institution.

It is important that the legislation should state the importance of provision for religious institutions, and I realise that Clause 6(3) refers to that. It is better that reference should be included in Clause 2 under the heading of "Duties" along with the definitions and other miscellaneous matters. However, it should take the fuller and more straightforward wording of the amendment of the right reverend Prelate.

Lord Belstead

The amendment requires each further education funding council, in exercising its duty to secure the provision of sufficient facilities for full-time education for 16 to 18 year-olds, to have regard to the desirability of maintaining a significant number of denominational institutions and an appropriate balance in the support made available as between denominational and other institutions. I am sure that it is the intention of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford in moving the amendment to safeguard the future of denominational sixth form colleges in the new sector. Indeed, he was good enough to mention the matter generally and approve it with regard to the right balance at Second Reading. The Government have made their views clear on that point and I do not believe the amendment is necessary.

I say that because we have exactly the same wording in the Bill as was contained in the Education Reform Act 1988 in relation to the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council sector. It means, for example, having regard to overall provision in an area. Thus if there were overcapacity, that would need to be taken into account, and vice versa. As I understand it, the voluntary colleges have not felt themselves to be adversely affected in the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council sector.

The Government recognise that denominational sixth form colleges have a distinctive ethos and atmosphere and we value their contribution highly. The Committee will see evidence of this in the subsection mentioned, Clause 6(3), which places a duty on the funding councils similar in scope and effect to the amendment now proposed. As I said, that subsection is totally modelled on the Education Reform Act 1988.

I should like to examine the point again between now and Report stage without any commitment. Perhaps I may put it this way. Having gone out of our way to include Clause 6(3) in the Bill, if we feel that it is not doing the job correctly and the provision needs to be included in another clause—Clause 2 as suggested by the right reverend Prelate and my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk—then we would seriously want to consider taking action on the matter. However, if the right reverend Prelate is prepared to accept from me that I shall seek advice on the matter, perhaps have a word with him before the next stage of the Bill and seriously consider whether we feel that there is a lacuna here, then that is the way I should like to leave the matter. I hope that will satisfy him this evening.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

I am grateful to the Minister for the assurance that he will look at the matter again. In the light of that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 36 to 39 not moved.]

Lord Kilmarnock moved Amendment No. 40:

Page 2, line 35, leave out ("their") and insert ("its").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I beg leave to speak also to Amendments Nos. 51, 61, 63, 75, 113, 115 to 117 and 122 to 125. That is a raft of amendments that we shall not have to discuss on other occasions. These amendments relate to a purely linguistic point that I raised at Second Reading. With so many substantial matters to be discussed, obviously I do not want to take up the time of the Committee with what some Members may consider to be trivia. But there is no reason why we should not get the trivia right, too. Indeed, it is our duty to do so.

I contend that we should not leave in the Bill at page 2, such phrases as the following in Clause 2(5), A council shall discharge their functions under this section", when we have a perfectly good singular possessive adjective to do the job, which is "its" (functions). I can see no good reason why a single body corporate should take a plural possessive adjective, or in other places which are addressed by other amendments in this group, a plural verb or a plural possessive pronoun. I am aware that we have all become accustomed to treating "Government" in the plural with the Government taking a plural verb. The Government is a hydra-headed or many-faceted organisation which may seem to justify that, although I do not like it. It still does not appear on the face of legislation because the Government as such does not appear on the face of a statute. The Government's standard bearer is always the Secretary of State, who naturally appears in the singular.

The councils referred to in the Bill are small bodies limited to 12 to 15 members, which is the limit of the main council. The fact that they are corporate bodies does not mean that they acquire some mysterious pluralism thereby. If one looks at the prospectus of any large corporate body (I have one here from British Telecommunications—BT) one finds that it refers to itself quite correctly in the singular in phrases such as "BT is determined" or "BT has also recently announced" or "BT attaches much importance to" or phrases of that nature. That is a huge corporate body with many divisions and ramifications. Incidentally, it also refers to the Government correctly because on the front page it says, The Government is planning to offer for sale to the public this November part of its remaining shareholding".

If BT can use the language correctly, I do not see why legislation should be absolved from so doing, particularly in an education Bill. I am aware that I have omitted quite a number of instances in which this abuse of the language occurs in the Bill. In fact, the virus creeps in in Clause 1 which I have overlooked. It is also present in Schedule 1 and at the beginning of Part II of the Bill when referring to higher education. If we can accept the principle that the Bill should be properly written in relation to these small details, then I do not believe that there will be any great difficulty at a later stage between myself and the Government in producing a series of amendments which would clean up the Bill in that respect and remove the virus from it.

I hope I have support from all sides of the Committee. I see that I have a distinguished Fellow of Nuffield College who is anxious to get to his feet. Unfortunately, the distinguished professor of economics on the Opposition Front Bench is no longer in his places. On the other hand, I also have a distinguished publisher looking at me from the other side of the Committee. Therefore, I hope very much that we can get a general feeling of agreement on the matter and that the Government will accept the amendment. We can then get to work and do what is necessary to clean up the Bill. I beg to move.

10.45 p.m.

Lord McCarthy

It gives me pleasure to support the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, in this amendment. It seems to me that if the policy cannot be got right, and the arguments cannot be got right, that is no reason why the grammar should be wrong. Singular is not plural and there is no reason why they should be mixed up. The only problem is that if we accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, how far back do we go? I asked him earlier if he knew whether Gladstone did it like this, and he did not know. But certainly there is no reason why we should continue to do so just because Gladstone did. I hope that the Government will accept this amendment.

Lord Belstead

These amendments would change the number of the verbs and pronouns in the Bill, of which the subject is a noun of multitude, from the plural to the singular.

The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, said that he does not know how far back we are going in these matters. I should like to read out a short passage from the second edition of Fowler's Modern English Usage. It states: [Nouns of multitude] arc treated as singular or plural at discretion—and sometimes, naturally, without discretion. `The Cabinet is divided' is better, because in the order of thought a whole must precede division; and 'The Cabinet are agreed' is better, because it takes two or more to agree. In general it may be said that while there are always a better and a worse in the matter, there are seldom a right and a wrong, and any attempt to elaborate rules would be waste labour. That, of course, is inconclusive. But I am bound to say that contrary to the way in which I was brought up—which was to believe that a collective noun is a singular word with a plural meaning, which would agree exactly with the noble Lords, Lord Kilmarnock, and Lord McCarthy—I am advised that it has long been the practice in the drafting of statutes that collective nouns should be followed by a verb in the plural. In the absence of certainty from the grammarians, I suggest that we exercise our discretion and follow the established precedents.

Lord Kilmarnock

It is difficult when the Government take refuge behind Fowler. We ought to have a very great respect for Fowler, but he was writing a very long time ago and, as the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said, his conclusion on the matter is inconclusive.

I must say I rather regret that this tendency should creep right through the legislation in our country when in fact we are lucky to have these useful neutral singular pronouns and possessive adjectives which we could use. I find that a matter of regret. I am also conscious of the absence of the vice-chancellor's lobby here this evening. I think, therefore, that I should like to read the debate and perhaps bring it to the attention of one or two other people who might feel as strongly as I do on the matter. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 41 and 42 not moved.]

Lord Henderson of Brompton moved Amendment No. 43:

Page 2, line 37, at end insert ("but only after appropriate expenditure has been made for students with learning difficulties").

The noble Lord said: This amendment, too, might benefit from the wisdom of Fowler, because it is about the use of the word "disproportionate" which appears in Clause 2 (page 2, line 37) and in Clause 3 (page 3, line 16)—the subject of Amendments Nos. 43 and 65. As the Bill is drafted a council has to avoid a provision which gives rise to the words "disproportionate expenditure". But nowhere in the Bill is "disproportionate" defined. One wants to know what it is disproportionate to.

It looks to me, and to those of my noble friends who support the amendment, that the Bill as drafted means that councils are bound by these words. If the words are binding then councils may not be able to support disabled people, whose expenses are much greater than those of ordinary non-disabled students. That would be a regressive step. It would be going right against the trend of educational provision for those with special needs. That is why we have tabled the amendment.

Perhaps I do not need to labour the point that a great number of disabled people need to spend a great deal more than ordinary people. I suggest that the special expenditure, involving a few thousand pounds for a blind, a partially sighted or deaf person, or for those in a number of less obvious categories of disablement, may well he an investment in the future and not a drain on the taxpayer. Enabling a passive and dependent disabled person to become an active wage earner benefits the taxpayer in two ways; first, in the tax that he will pay on the income which he is enabled to earn and, secondly, in terms of benefits not claimed.

I particularly underline that argument in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish of Furness, said in reply to an earlier amendment. He said that we were appealing, through our amendments, for some kind of advantageous position for disabled people. In view of that remark I have to reiterate that we are not seeking advantages. We are seeking to gain equality for physically, mentally handicapped or disadvantaged people. I hope that I can put to rest once and for all the argument that the Minister was briefed to advance. I trust that it will not appear again.

If the words "disproportionate expenditure" remain in the Bill without the saving I propose, the people I have in mind will not be considered for the extra expenditure which they need to enable them to compete on equal terms with their mental peers. I am not arguing, and never would argue, that people who are not able to benefit from higher education, and possibly also from further education, should be entitled to that education. I am arguing that those who have been handicapped and have not reached the starting point, so to speak, should be enabled, when they get there, to enjoy the same privileges as those of their peers who are not so disabled. They should be enabled to gain equality, not an advantage.

That, in a nutshell, is what I have to say. Without this amendment disabled people will not have the funding that they need. I should like to quote from the Warnock Report, which states: It is in society's own interest to invest more in opportunities for education, training and other forms of support for these young people in order to minimise their disadvantages". I shall just reiterate what I started with. It is not merely in the interests of those young people; in the words of the Warnock Report, It is in society's own interest".

I beg to move.

Baroness David

I should like to support this amendment. It is very much along the lines of Amendments Nos. 25 and 30 with which we dealt earlier where help was requested for those with learning difficulties after the age of 19. Indeed, this is very much the same line of country. As the noble Lord said, it is in society's interest that this expenditure should be available at that stage. I say that because it may save a great deal of expenditure later on for society as a whole and would make the individual very much happier and more able to cope with life thereafter.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My name is attached to this amendment and I warmly support it. It is indeed all about enabling students to achieve their full potential. The RNIB says that it has a long waiting list of students who require equipment to enable them to study effectively. The institute is aware of many colleges which have no equipment and which actually deter blind students. It sees these amendments as encouraging the councils and colleges to reconsider their priorities in allocating present funding.

Lord Addington

Can the Minister give the Committee an assurance that someone who has special difficulties or who is disabled does not constitute "disproportionate expenditure"? That is effectively what is being asked by way of these amendments. In other words, are the educational needs of a person with special needs somehow to be considered to constitute something which is disproportionate?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

The effect of these amendments would be that the further education funding councils would be under no obligation to make the most effective use of their resources in discharging their responsibilities in relation to the provision of further education for students with learning difficulties. The councils would, however, be under such an obligation in discharging their functions in relation to other students. The Government do not believe that such an attitude is acceptable. Perhaps that hinges on what we would define as "disproportionate expenditure". That point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. I can say that the meaning is expenditure which is out of proportion to what is being provided for. I refer the noble Lord to Clause 2(3) (a) where provision is made for "reasonable needs".

I appreciate that the amendments may be based on a concern that the particular requirement on the councils to avoid provision which might give rise to "disproportionate expenditure" may restrict them in making provision for students with disabilities. However, that is not a new requirement. Under Section 76 of the Education Act 1944, local education authorities are required to discharge their functions in a way which is compatible with the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure. Provision for students with learning difficulties is not excluded from that requirement. The Bill carries forward that existing principle to councils and of course leaves the existing requirement in place for local education authorities.

I acknowledge that provision for students with disabilities can be expensive. But the Bill does not require the further education funding council to avoid expensive provision. I hope that that answers the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. It is disproportionate expense that is mentioned. If expensive provision were ruled out, that would also eliminate subjects like engineering which require expensive equipment and laboratories. I believe that that very subject was mentioned previously as a comparison. That would be nonsense. It would be similar nonsense to rule out expensive provision where it is needed for students with learning difficulties, and the Bill does not seek to do so. What the Bill requires is that a council should not build an expensive engineering laboratory for a handful of students when there is another laboratory just down the road. But if the provision is proportionate to the need, even if it be expensive, this clause would not rule it out. There is no threat here to students with disabilities.

The Bill ensures that resources will be allocated for provision for students with learning difficulties. It provides for the councils to be under a specific duty to have regard to the requirements of those students in discharging their functions in relation to the provision of further education. That means that they will need to allocate resources for those students. However, the resources available to the councils will not be limitless. They will need to use them efficiently in making provision for all students, including those with learning difficulties. It is only prudent to retain that qualification. The amendment, however, seems to be an invitation to profligacy.

I hope I have given some comfort by providing those definitions and interpretations. In those circumstances, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

11 p.m.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

I do not invite the department to be profligate. That is the last thing I wish to do. I realise from what the Minister has said that the amendment will not do, although he appreciates why we tabled it. I am grateful to him for that. Nevertheless, I am not satisfied with his answer. If the word "disproportionate" is to be included, would it not be a good idea to define it in the Bill?

I merely offer the Minister his own words and commend them to the Committee: that in the definition clause "disproportionate" should be defined as expenditure which is out of proportion to what is being provided. Those were the Minister's words. It would give comfort to all of us interested in the extra expenses incurred by disabled people if those words were in the Bill. That would secure their future. We were given to understand in no uncertain terms by the Minister what the Bill's purport is. That would spell it out, and we should be grateful if the point could be considered.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

I understand that noble Lords who have put their names to the amendment are not trying to introduce, as I suggested, the mischief of profligacy. I can see no objection to the definition being included, but the noble Lord will appreciate that I need to consult. One naturally wants the Bill to be as clear as possible.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

With that kind assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 44 to 48 not moved.]

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Part-time education, and full-time education for those over 18]:

[Amendments Nos. 49 to 53 not moved.]

The Lord Bishop of Guildford moved Amendment No. 53A:

Page 3, line 3, after ("course") insert ("or programme of study").

The right reverend Prelate said: The amendment is small but it may be significant. I have in mind the needs of some ethnic minority students who wish to learn English, or some adults with low literacy skills who want to improve their basic attainments. It might be difficult to think of those programmes of study as courses as defined in Schedule 2. For example, language support is often more appropriately given during a course of other study than as a separate subject before embarking on the course aimed at. Similarly, those with reading difficulties may be helped by specialist support while studying another subject. The amendment merely loosens up the wording to make provision for that kind of student with special difficulties. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

The right reverend Prelate is on to a good point, but I believe that it is covered in the Bill. The amendments extend the description of the activity which goes on under Schedule 2 by adding "programme of study" to the term "course".

The right reverend Prelate considers that the term "course" is too restrictive and would not include a range of activities which would achieve the Government's purposes under Schedule 2. I am advised that the term "course" can be regarded as subsuming "programme of study" and therefore includes the kind of activities which the right reverend Prelate has explained he had in mind.

However, may I also make clear that the funding councils have powers under Clause 5(1) to: give financial support to the governing body of any institution within the further education sector", not only for, the provision of facilities for further education but also for, the carrying on of any activities, which the governing body … consider necessary or desirable to be provided or carried on for the purpose of or in connection with the provision of facilities for further education". This means that the funding council has powers to fund ancillary activities related to the provision of courses. I suggest that that would cover the worry of the right reverend Prelate. For those reasons, I do not think that the amendment would be needed. I ask the right reverend Prelate to consider what I have said and once again if either he or I feel that there is a lacuna, we could come back to it, but I think that that is not the case on this occasion.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

I am grateful to the Minister for that clarification and reply. Although I would like the opportunity of looking again at what he said, on the basis of the assurance he gave, I wish to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments nos. 54 to 57 not moved.]

Baroness Lockwood moved Amendment No. 58:

Page 3, line 10, at end insert ("and ( ) to ensure that the contribution of the Long Term Residential Colleges and similar specialised institutions is maintained;").

The noble Baroness said: With Amendment No. 58 I should also like to take Amendment No. 165. These two amendments refer to a small but important section of our educational system which is somewhat suspended between further and higher education. But it is a section whose important contribution to education practice belies the small numbers involved. I refer to the long-term residential colleges and in doing so I must declare an interest first as President of Hillcroft College and secondly as a former student of Ruskin College. Hillcroft College is the only women's college in the group and it plays an important role in the provision of long and short-term residential courses, in innovation and in access courses for women seeking to return either to education or employment.

Ruskin College has special skills in turning, for example, a not very articulate blue-collar worker into an advanced university undergraduate in two years' time. The undergraduate could enter a course at the second year. The work experience of this type of student brings its own contribution to education and is worth preserving.

All seven of these colleges provide a high quality of full and part-time residential education for adults who have had little opportunity to pursue study or training since leaving school at the minimum school-leaving age and for whom a residential learning environment is necessary in order for them to realise their personal and intellectual potential.

Furthermore, the colleges are involved in research work, and through this research they contribute in both an academic and in a practical way to the process of teaching and learning in the education system. There is a danger that the role of the colleges will be lost in the Bill. The long-term residential colleges have a national and an international role as part of the system of adult learning in the United Kingdom. It would be sad if we were to allow their contribution to disappear through the financial and institutional reforms of this Bill which does not have their demise as its intention. Britain would also cease to contribute internationally when other countries are maintaining and developing residential adult education.

It would seem that although the contribution of these colleges is small in relation to the total area of responsibility of the further education funding councils' remit, nevertheless it is significant in terms of the work they do. Therefore it is necessary to entrench the colleges in legislation. These two amendments seek to do that. Amendment No. 58 seeks to put a measure on the face of the Bill to ensure the future of the long-term residential colleges. Amendment No. 165 seeks to protect the colleges from the calculations set out on page 67 of the Bill which are not appropriate to the long-term residential colleges. I beg to move.

Lord Dormand of Easington

I strongly support the amendment. Unlike my noble friend, I have no direct interest to declare in this matter. However, as a former education officer, one of the great satisfactions I obtained was in directing older students to long-term residential colleges. The persons concerned derived immense satisfaction from that process and I derived satisfaction from that in turn. Recently I had the pleasure of advising a 52 year-old miner friend of mine to attend an adult college. He is lapping it up, to coin a phrase from the North East. Without doubt he will achieve a considerable level not only of self-fulfilment but also of academic standing.

The fact that the colleges are long term and residential is of great importance. In providing studies of a high academic standard, they perform at least two functions. First, they stretch the ability of students who usually obtain a qualification of university standard. I am thinking in terms of a diploma in economics, public administration or related subjects. As the courses usually last two years, they call for sustained effort of a high order. A successful conclusion gives immense personal satisfaction to the student concerned.

Secondly, the qualification is usually accepted by universities as an indication that the student can proceed to a degree course. I hope I am not placing undue importance on the matter of linkage to university courses. I am simply saying that the courses are of a high academic standard and they call for great concentration, diligence and effort on the part of the individual concerned. Those qualities have great relevance to the educational process.

What is fundamentally important about the long-term residential colleges is that they do not ask applicants for formal educational qualifications. Many people who thirst for an educational opportunity—they may have lost their first chance for such an opportunity at school for whatever reason—regard entrance qualifications as an insurmountable obstacle. Therefore, colleges such as Ruskin, Fircroft, Coleg Harlech and the others present a golden opportunity for them.

That is reflected in the huge demand for entrance to those colleges. There are many more applicants than there are places available, despite the problems that long-term residential education brings for many of the people concerned, not least the fact of being separated from their families.

Instead of adopting such a negative stance on the matter, the Government ought to be proposing additional long-term residential colleges. After all, we are not just considering self-fulfilment, important though that is. We are dealing with a great source of untapped talent from which society as whole would benefit.

Anyone who knows anything about the adult education colleges realises that their students have one outstanding feature—motivation. This Government frequently remind us of the need to obtain value for money. I say that they get value plus from those colleges. Tory Governments have failed to recognise that. I do not want to be too political at this late hour, but the reason is partly that that sector of education is so far removed from their avenue of public school and older universities. However, it is a factor in modern society which they ought to recognise energetically.

The Secretary of State said in another place on 20th May this year, at cols. 644 to 645 of Commons Hansard: My right hon. Friends and I are committed to open access to higher education for everyone who has the ability and willingness to take advantage of it. We shall not put financial obstacles in their way". That view probably applies more to the long-term residential colleges than to any other part of education, but the Bill before us does not reflect that promise. That is why the amendment is not only welcome but essential if the Government mean what they say.

11.15 p.m.

Baroness Seear

I support the amendment very strongly. I was for some years president of Hillcroft College. During that time there was very grave anxiety in the college about pressure in respect of funding. There is no doubt that, per head, residential colleges are expensive. That has always been challenged on the grounds that the work could he done part time, through evening courses, and so on. A full-time residential college provides a quite different experience. Speaking from the Hillcroft experience, I know that only women with great determination to make up for their absence of previous education are prepared to undergo a full year of intensive study. The failure and drop out rate is very low. If one considers the jobs of former Hillcroft students, there is no question that they make a great contribution after they leave. By definition they are exceptional women. It costs more, but the return is infinitely worthwhile.

Lord McCarthy

Like the previous speaker, I must begin by declaring an interest, and it is the first time I have done so. I speak as a former student of Ruskin College, a present lecturer at Nuffield College, an economic adviser to, and a governor of, Ruskin College and someone who, as everyone in my family knows, were it not for Ruskin College, would still be packing books because I had no academic qualifications. In those days the only way one could get on to the academic ladder if one had no academic qualifications was to go to Ruskin College. That is the case with all long-term residential colleges.

I should like to explain the position of the long-term residential colleges. They feel threatened because over the years—in some cases over 90 years and in some cases less —they have built up an extraordinarily good relationship with the Department of Education and Science. It is a tough relationship, and frequently a rumbustious relationship, but it is a good relationship. They know where they are with the Department of Education and Science. It gives them advice; it gives them essential core funding; it gives them an inspectorate, and they have come to welcome the visits of the inspectors. They know where they stand in their relationship with the Department of Education and Science. Now it is suddenly being taken away and they believe that they are being thrown not into an existing body which they can learn about and study but into an as yet unborn body - the funding council for further education. That body does not as yet exist and if an when it comes into existence it will deal with them.

It would be reasonable for many of the colleges to say that they would be more compatible with the funding council for higher education. They are somewhere in the middle. That is their problem. They have also been told that many of their existing practices and courses—some of the features that they regard as the jewels in their crown, including, in the case of Ruskin College, the two-year diploma course —will be kaput. Such courses are expensive and the most that the college can expect in future is a one-year programme despite the fact that it has an almost non-existent fall-out rate, as the noble Baroness said, and the fact that many Ruskin students are capable of doing a two-year degree course rather than a three-year degree course. Nevertheless, it has been told that there is no future for its two-year diploma course. In addition, the future of many other courses that it runs is in doubt.

I am not trying to suggest that all long-term residential courses and colleges are the same. They are all special and different, but they all have that one, central mission. If I were to ask the Minister one thing today, even if he does not accept the amendment, I would ask him to make a reassuring statement about long-term residential colleges. The most important thing that he could say is that the Government accept their historical mission; namely, to discover adults who are involved in the community and who have an intellectual potential to benefit from higher education, especially if that higher education is of a residential character, knowing that those adults will, as the noble Baroness said, return to the community. That is what the great majority of them do in one way or another.

That is the job of the staff of the college. That is why it is expensive to find new adult students each year who have the intellectual potential to benefit from higher education, who are involved in the community and who will return to the community but who have no academic qualifications. It is a complicated business and it takes weeks and weeks of reading their work and talking to them to discover the right people.

Above all, I should like the Government to say that they accept the continued relevance of that historical mission. If they do, the colleges would like to know how they are to fit in. They would like the Government to accept their willingness to adapt and to change the balance of their work within the acceptance of their historical condition. Finally, they would like a special replacement of the excellent institutional arrangements that they have developed with the Department of Education and Science. That may take the form of a sub-committee of the FE council. It may be the specification of the criteria that they are expected to meet. It must give them some idea of how they are to fit into the appropriate policies of the Government; in other words, some uncertainty in an uncertain world.

Earl Russell

The point that the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, makes about people with no academic qualifications is of considerable importance. I cannot help finding it persuasive as in no post where I have ever taught have I ever been qualified to be one of my own pupils.

Baroness David

I too put my name to the amendment. My noble friend who moved the amendment and many other noble Lords who have spoken have made the case extremely well, so I shall not follow up the general case. However, I want to ask particularly whether student numbers will be able to increase. I raised this matter on Second Reading. The Minister kindly wrote to me and said: I can reassure you that the colleges will be able to apply to the Further Education Funding Councils for funding for increased student numbers in just the same way as other colleges". I sent his letter to the warden of Coleg Harlech. He is not convinced that that will be the case. He says: We have been told firmly by the Welsh Office that our student numbers will he held at 140 full-time equivalent students. This will be achieved by the device of limiting to 140 the number of adult bursaries available to our students. It will be on the basis of these numbers that we will be funded by the further Education Funding Council for Wales". I wish to know from the Minister whether the number of adult bursaries available to the colleges is being capped. What is the implication? Will they be able to increase t heir part-time student numbers? We ought to be able to have the matter cleared up today.

Amendment No. 165 states: The above table"— —in Schedule 3(2)— shall not apply to courses of residential education for mature adults". I have had a letter from someone at Ruskin College who says: If the formula of 0.1 for part-time (evening only) study were to be applied to the Residential Colleges, then this would mean that we would need to have 10 part time students in this category for every 1 full time student. Similarly we would need to have 5 part time day students for every 1 full time student. But in reality the colleges typically spend proportionately more not less time on part time adult students who have been educationally disadvantaged. For example, to run an effective part time course for workers who have been made redundant requires considerable staff time to do the necessary outreach work to recruit the students"— as my noble friend Lord McCarthy said— then to plan a course which is really appropriate to their learning needs. The type of formula which is proposed…would not reflect that staff time adequately. It would therefore be disadvantageous if such a formula were used for funding purposes".

I hope that the Minister will be agreeable that this table will not apply to students at residential colleges.

Lord Belstead

I have been impressed by what has been said by noble Lords opposite about the merits of the six long-term residential colleges in England which were reviewed earlier this year by the Department of Education and Science. In the light of that review, the Government recognised the unique place that those colleges hold in providing residential education for adults who have missed out during their school years. The Government also decided that it would be appropriate for the colleges to enter the new further education sector. This would enable their needs for capital funding, for example, to be considered alongside those other colleges. Similar decisions were reached in respect of Coleg Harlech in Wales, which the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, referred to.

The mechanism for that is that Clause 28(2) (c) gives the Secretary of State power to designate as being within the scope of the new funding councils, an institution which is grant-aided or eligible to receive aid by way of grant". That refers to the residential colleges.

The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, said that nonetheless this debate would not be complete if I did not give some indication as to where the long-term colleges fit in so far as concerns the future. They were unsure and wished for reassurance. At the same time that the decisions were reached as a result of that review, Ministers in the Department of Education and Science believed that there was scope for sharpening the focus of the colleges' work, and since these colleges first became established many more routes into education for adults have come about. There are over 600 dedicated access courses, mostly in further education colleges. There are many opportunities to undertake study in vocational or academic areas and if necessary in basic skills and study skills before that. Entry to higher education for adults has become easier.

We therefore believe that the long-term residential colleges should make the best use of their specialist strengths. That is why the colleges have been asked to concentrate on assisting the access to higher education of disadvantaged students who are most in need of residential education. The colleges have also been asked to provide courses in which the residential element generally lasts no more than one year and a greater number of short courses in order to increase the number of students who benefit from their facilities.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, cross-questioned me about that. It is open to funding councils to consider any requests from long-term residential colleges to increase their student numbers. We are looking into the question of student bursaries and how they will apply under the new arrangements.

All this should be seen for what it is; a vote of confidence in the long-term residential colleges. The Government firmly believe that the colleges have an important role to play in the new sector. As I said on Second Reading, we shall be making clear in guidance to the funding councils that the distinctive characteristics of these institutions must be taken fully into account.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, will forgive me if I say that it will not be appropriate to make the amendment which has been put forward. It will single out these institutions which, important though they are, form only a small part of the further education sector. The Government most certainly expect that the funding councils will deal fairly with all the institutions in this sector and will ensure that they do so. I hope that Members of the Committee will consider that my comments amount to a ringing vote of confidence from the Government.

As regards the second amendment, there would appear to be a misunderstanding. It is intended to secure that Schedule 3 shall not apply to courses of residential education for mature students. The first misunderstanding is that Schedule 3 has no application to the long-term residential colleges. It concerns the institutions which will be incorporated under Clause 15 of the Bill. The long-term residential colleges will be designated under Clause 28. Secondly, Schedule 3 has nothing to do with the funding of further education; it is about the tests of being able to get into incorporation under Clauses 15 and 16. It will be for the funding councils to decide how to fund the institutions in their sector. They will not have to use the weightings in that schedule which the Department of Education are using only for its statistical purposes. In funding the LTRCs and other special institutions the funding councils will take full account of their specialist characteristics and their costs. I hope that those last words are yet another encouragement, which they are meant to be as regards these important colleges.

11.30 p.m.

Lord McCarthy

I thank the Minister for his comments, but I wonder whether he has understood my point. He said that the colleges should in future focus on their specialist strength which is to take in disadvantaged students. So far the Government have not yet defined their meaning of disadvantaged students. Even if they did (and I hope that they will, although perhaps not tonight) it would not appear to be the same as the historical mission of the colleges. I am in danger of repeating myself but I must say that the historical mission of the colleges is expressed in terms of a special concern for academic potential, plus a special regard for absence of academic qualifications, plus a particular preference for those involved in community work. Those are the historical advantages and specialisms of the colleges. That is not the same as disadvantaged.

Lord Belstead

The noble Lord is taking the plural and putting it into the singular. I said that the colleges had been asked to make the best use of their specialist strengths, in the plural. I went on to say that is why the colleges have been asked to concentrate on assisting the access to higher education of disadvantaged students. That is a single example. Perhaps I should have said, "For example", because that is what I meant. It is important that the noble Lord has put his view on the record and I shall undertake to draw that to the attention of my right honourable friend.

Baroness Lockwood

I am grateful to Members of the Committee who have contributed to the debate. I am grateful also to the Minister for the sympathetic way in which he dealt with the amendments. Those of us who are concerned about the future of full-time residential colleges still have a little doubt in our minds about their ability to continue with some of the work they are doing at present.

The final reassurance from the Minister was helpful. We shall look carefully at what he said to see whether we need to take the matter further. I am grateful too for his helpful remarks on the second amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 59 to 65 not moved.]

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 66:

Page 3, line 19, at end insert: ("( ) Where a maintained institution is already satisfactorily providing courses as described in subsection (1) above, as part of a comprehensive adult education service, a council shall discharge its responsibilities for the population of that area through that institution.").

The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendment No. 86. Amendment No. 66 is designed to enable institutions which have shown themselves to be efficient to carry on providing courses leading to qualifications such as in Schedule 2 as well as the so-called leisure courses in Clause 11.

Clause 3(5) states: In discharging those functions a council shall have regard to any education to which subsection (1) above applies provided by institutions outside the further education sector or higher education sector". That is fine in principle but "having regard to" is not sufficiently firm or specific. We ask that where an adult college or institute is already doing a sound job of providing its particular public with the Schedule 2 courses, then that institution is the proper place for the FE funding council to discharge its functions for that part of the population.

The amendment does not say that the institution is thereby taken into the new further education sector. It stays under the aegis of the LEA and continues to draw its leisure course funding from that body as well as receiving funds from TECs, the EC, government agencies, business and so on, for courses commissioned by them. Nor is the FE funding council constrained to discharge all its functions through that institution. It remains free to provide full-time courses and so on through a full-time FE college in the area. The amendment aims to give greater flexibility. I know that many of the adult education colleges are extremely anxious about the matter. I hope that the Minister will look kindly upon the amendment.

I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, whose name is attached to the amendment and who knows Richmond College, which is greatly exercised about the Bill as it stands, will be able to make out a more potent case than I have. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee

I wish to support the amendment. Last week during our debates about provisions for local government we talked a lot about service. I can think of no more important service to the community than education.

It seems to me—and, I believe, to my noble friends on these Benches—that to work properly the service must be provided coherently, from cradle to grave. In my local authority the education service is highly regarded. I am a governor of both primary and secondary schools. I know that the service, through further, higher and adult education, is a coherent process.

Why should we change a system which works well? Why should we impose what is feared to be a cumbersome new structure? The adult and community college in my community fears that it will need to use the neighbouring college, which provides for 16 to 19 year-olds, as a post office for the dispatch of funding bids for Schedule 2 just because the education of adults is apparently given a low priority. The arrangements seem fraught with difficulty and, above all, unnecessary.

If the service can be provided as it is now, then, apart from the educational advantages, the council, as provided by subsection (4), would be able to discharge its functions in the most cost-effective manner and, indeed, to avoid disproportionate expenditure. Like Members of the Committee who have spoken this evening, I find some difficulty with that term.

The distinction between vocational Schedule 2 courses and level two courses is false. The courses which are not vocational still enhance an individual's value to society and to potential employers. They equip the student for a richer life both within the world of work and, indeed, beyond it. The Bill does not seem to recognise that any student on almost any course may make vocational use of whatever he or she learns.

Who will be the casualties? I fear that one group will be women students. Employers rely on recruiting well-trained, mature women workers and put a high premium on their skills. Those are just the students who benefit from the good courses that are presently run.

I hope that the Minister will agree that the amendment is consistent with Clause 10 of the Bill and that the planning of the service and the organisation of the provision will not be made so much more difficult. This is not a minor issue to the colleges concerned. The college which I know best—the Richmond Adult and Community College—is open for six days a week for 48 weeks a year. Its programme involves more than 2,000 courses targeted for adults. It allows full community use of its building. It provides educational advice and guidance, creche support and—what I regard as particularly important—a very valuable open learning service.

The most important words in the amendment are, "satisfactorily" and "comprehensive". I am not suggesting that institutions which do not satisfy those criteria should somehow be given the green light to continue, but there are many colleges which provide the services we all want to see. We all know that the system should adapt to local circumstances and that we should not require the local situation to force itself into the mould of a system. I support the amendment.

Lord Belstead

Although both noble Baronesses who spoke did so with considerable feeling, I am worried about the amendment. It would constrain the funding councils to discharge their duties to secure adequate facilities for Schedule 2 education in further education colleges and local education authority maintained institutions which are currently providing that provision.

I have two specific reasons for feeling unhappy. First, the amendment sets conditions which place awkward constraints upon the councils in discharging their functions. Before their duty bites they must be assured that a maintained institution is already satisfactorily providing Schedule 2 courses. The provision must also be part of a comprehensive adult education service. Such conditions would present considerable difficulties of interpretation and judgment and could introduce unnecessary complications into the councils' functions.

My principal anxiety is the amendment's implications for the range and quality of local provision. The amendment suggests that institutions which are already providing satisfactorily should continue to do so in perpetuity. Towards the end of her remarks the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, spoke of recognising that we do not want provision to congeal in an area. However, the amendment does not allow for local developments in provision, or for sensible reorganisation of the locations of further education in the interests of the adult students.

I ask both noble Baronesses how they think the amendment would work in a developing area where LEA and FE colleges between them might want to propose a reorganisation of provision for adults to reflect the needs of a growing population. The amendment would mean that provision would continue to have to be provided in existing institutions, irrespective of the needs of the area, and I know that that is not intended. That would not do. We would then have a fossilised system incapable of development.

The noble Baronesses have sought to ensure that provision falling within Schedule 2 which is currently provided in adult colleges and centres will continue to be funded. Although the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made it quite clear that she did not approve of this, Clause 6(5) of the Bill is drafted in such a way that it does not in any way prevent sensible local developments in provision. Under Clause 6(5) adult colleges and centres maintained by LEAs can ask the FE colleges to forward to the funding councils an application for funding for Schedule 2 provision. The FE colleges must forward that application where the provision in question would otherwise be inadequate in the locality.

That is a strong provision. Incidentally, it would be backed up by the Secretary of State's powers under the Education Act 1944 if the forwarding college did not do its stuff and forward the application provided that it ought to do so. Having gone through those problems, I must ask the noble Baronesses whether they will consider withdrawing the amendment. The Government are being accused by both noble Baronesses of putting in Clause 6(5) a rather unwieldy provision for the ability to make an application for funding. But my goodness me, I believe that the amendment would be unwieldy in the conditions that it sets. It would have the unwelcome effect of causing local provision to stagnate, although I realise that that is entirely unintended. For those reasons I regret that I must resist the amendment.

Earl Russell

I listened with very great interest to the Minister. He said that the amendment might be inconvenient because it might constrain the funding councils to discharge their duty. That sounded remarkably like an admission that this amendment is necessary. I take his point about congealing and about the need to freeze existing institutions and possibly getting into problems with Henry VIII clauses or primary legislation to change the list. If the Minister was satisfied on that point, would he accept the other point that there can be a case for constraining funding councils to do their duty?

Lord Belstead

Very briefly, I am afraid that the answer is no because we have provided Clause 6(5) as being the right route forward.

Baroness David

I am disappointed with the answer that the Minister has given. Here we are really getting to the heart of the debate about adult education and what the adult education colleges can do. I am quite prepared to believe that the wording of the amendment is not satisfactory and that in effect it is doing something that we did not intend it to do. I shall read extremely carefully what the Minister has said and send Hansard to those who are involved with adult education and who are very interested in all these amendments and then hear their comments. We shall certainly come back to this issue. It will probably be very important in a number of the amendments that we have to consider tomorrow.

Although I shall withdraw the amendment tonight I can assure the Minister that we shall be back at the next stage of the Bill and tomorrow when we shall be moving a great many amendments to do with adult education. But for tonight I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.