HL Deb 21 March 1991 vol 527 cc759-72

5.37 p.m.

The Paymaster General (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about the Government's plans for the reorganisation of further education in England.

"We are determined to achieve better standards throughout the education service. The national curriculum is improving teaching and motivating young people in schools as never before. Parental choice is being exercised in more and more schools. A new and clearer system of vocational qualifications is beginning to open up exciting opportunities for school-leavers. The proportion going on to higher education has nearly doubled since this Government took office. But we still lag behind our competitors in the participation of our school-leavers in further education and training and their achievement of useful qualifications.

"I believe that the further education colleges have a vital role in providing education and training for both school-leavers and adults. They have never in the past been given the attention that their importance in education policy would justify. Through links with business they are well placed to provide the knowledge and skills needed in the workplace. The Education Reform Act has given them greater managerial autonomy and they are recruiting more students. But they are still subject to bureaucratic controls from local authorities. They lack the full freedom which we gave the polytechnics and higher education colleges in 1989 to respond to the demands of students and of the labour market. The polytechnics are demonstrating quite spectacularly the gains in increased student numbers and increased efficiency without any loss of academic standards which can be achieved with full independence.

"The Government therefore propose to introduce legislation at the earliest opportunity to form a new sector of post-16 education from April 1993 by taking all further education colleges offering full-time education and all sixth form colleges out of local authority control. They will be funded directly by the Government, through a council appointed by and responsible to me. The funding regime will consist of a basic annual budget together with an element dependent on the numbers actually enrolled. It will be designed to provide a powerful incentive to recruit additional students and reduce unit costs. The further education colleges will also assume responsibility for some adult continuing education.

"Spending by local authorities on further education colleges and sixth form colleges in England currently totals over —2 billion of current spending and —100 million of capital. That will become central government spending, with a corresponding reduction in grant to local authorities.

"The colleges will work closely with the training and enterprise councils. The Government attach great importance to the developing partnership between TECs and other local interests in education and training. We have already given TECs specific responsibilities in work-related FE. They and the new independent colleges will have much to gain from close co-operation. The colleges will own their assets and employ their own staff. They will provide for an ever-increasing proportion of our young people the preparation they need for their working life in the rest of this decade and in the 21st century.

"I have a duty to ensure that the interim period before the establishment of the new independent sector is as smooth as possible. We must place the interests of the students first and ensure that the work of colleges continues undisturbed. I intend to give the right of transfer of employment to the staff of the colleges which will form the new sector.

"I intend to vest the institutions, which I propose being free-standing corporate bodies, with the land, buildings and plant which they currently use. I intend to seek Parliament's approval in the legislation which I shall introduce for a measure which requires my specific consent for all disposals by local education authorities of land or interests in land, including buildings, used or held or obtained for or in connection with the purposes of the institutions.

"I am concerned that local authorities should not enter into contracts which bind the colleges beyond 1st April 1993, when they begin to manage their own affairs. Such contracts should be entered into only with the specific consent of the governing bodies of the institutions affected. Contracts for a consideration having a value in excess of £50,000 will in addition require my consent. The forthcoming legislation will seek Parliament's approval to a measure having this purpose. I shall also seek Parliament's approval for appropriate sanctions where consent has not been obtained in advance.

"I shall seek Parliament's approval for these measures to have effect from midnight tonight. In this way, I intend both to put beyond any doubt the long-term future of the colleges and to enable the transition period to be as smooth and trouble-free as possible. I am placing further details of these measures in the Official Report. My department will be writing to all LEAs to explain how these measures will be applied.

"These developments will still leave much of the education of young people with school sixth forms. I should like to assure the House of my determination to see good sixth forms continue. Whether under local authority control or in the grant maintained sector, proposals for the opening of new sixth forms and the closure of existing sixth forms already have to come to me for approval. I shall use the powers available to me to see that sixth forms thrive and to encourage choice between schools and colleges wherever possible.

"This new sector of education will have a great deal to offer our young people. Indeed it is the education and training of our 16 to 19 year-olds which will be at the heart of a White Paper which will come jointly from my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment and myself. That White Paper will contain further details of the proposals I have described. I believe that these proposals will be widely welcomed by all sections of the community. I commend our proposals to the House."

That ends the Statement of my right honourable friend. Following is the statement referred to above: The details of the measures for which I intend to seek the approval of Parliament are as follows. The Government propose to introduce legislation this autumn to form an independent sector of post-16 education from April 1993. All further education colleges, maintained or assisted by a local education authority, offering full-time education, including tertiary colleges, and all sixth form colleges—that is, maintained schools which normally only provide education for pupils who have attained the age of 16 —will be taken out of local authority control. They will be funded directly by the Government through a new council appointed by and responsible to the Secretary of State. New sixth form colleges and further education colleges, including tertiary colleges, which are established after this announcement will also be funded through the new council, including any grant-maintained sixth form colleges. Institutions in the new sector (apart from voluntary sixth form colleges) will be free-standing corporate bodies and will be vested with the land, buildings and plant which are currently used by them. I intend to seek Parliament's approval to legislation which requires the specific consent of the Secretary of State for all disposals by local education authorities of land or interests in land, including buildings, used or held or obtained for or in connection with the purposes of the institutions. I shall seek similar powers to ensure that the LEA's interest in any land, including buildings, used or held or obtained for or in connection with the purposes of a voluntary sixth form college are not disposed of without the specific consent of the Secretary of State and that the LEA conveys its interest in these to the trustees of the school. The disposals of land or interests in land requiring the consent of the Secretary of State will include outright sale, granting or other wise disposing of any leasehold or other interest in land, direct sale and leaseback, any mortgage or other charge designed to raise capital on the security of the land. It will also include any disposal which is made in return for the supply of goods or services. In referring to disposals I include entering into any binding obligation to make a disposal of the kind in question. To ease the interim period before the establishment of the new sector, I am concerned that local authorities should not enter into contracts which bind the colleges beyond 1st April 1993 when they begin to manage their own affairs. Such contracts should be entered into only with the specific consent of the governing bodies of the institutions affected. Contracts for a consideration having a value in excess of £50,000 will in addition require the consent of the Secretary of State. The forthcoming legislation will seek Parliament's approval to a measure having this purpose. I shall also seek Parliament's approval for appropriate sanctions where consent has not been obtained in advance. With the disposal of land or interests in land without the consent of the Secretary of State, there will be a power of compulsory purchase with a right of recovery from the local authority of any compensation payable. In the case of contracts, including contracts for disposal, entered into without the consent of the governing body concerned or, where applicable, the consent of the Secretary of State, there will be a right of repudiation, and such repudiation will be deemed to be a repudiation by the relevant local authority, so. that any liability in damages will remain with the relevant local authority. I shall seek the approval of Parliament for these two measures to have effect from midnight tonight. This statement does not affect enforceable obligations entered into before midnight tonight.

5.43 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Minister for the Statement. I welcome the fact that the Government have at last recognised and admitted that after 12 years of Conservative rule we still lag far behind our competitors in the participation of our school-leavers in further education and training and in their achievement of useful qualifications. What saddens me about the Statement is that it is driven by panic measures to get out of the appalling mess created by the poll tax and not determined by genuine educational considerations in relation to the future of further education. Moreover, the Statement suggests that the problems of further education can be solved merely by structural changes relating to whether they are under local authority control or under a funding council which is controlled and funded centrally.

The problems of FE concern standards, quality and the participation of young people and adults; they do not concern structures. The Government have lamentably failed to improve post-16 opportunities. They have under-funded national vocational qualifications and, above all, done little about the confusing jungle of qualifications and courses—confusing to parents, teachers and young people.

The Statement represents a massive U-turn in the Government's thinking less than a year after the last major reorganisation of FE, with the introduction of local financial management and restructured governing bodies in further education colleges. When these measures were being debated in Parliament in another place the then Minister of State in the Department of Education, Mrs. Rumbold, praised the role of local authorities in running further education and rejected proposals for change and centralisation. What has happened since then to alter the Government's view? What new educational arguments are they deploying? The main argument for these proposals is that they take £2 billion out of local government spending rather than that they are based on any proper, thoughtful and considered analysis of the likely educational benefits with respect to the quality, standards and participation to which I referred earlier.

I wish to ask a number of specific questions in regard to the Statement. Am I right in assuming that a new Bill is intended rather than simply amending the 1988 Act? What consultations are taking place or will take place regarding the composition of the new council? The Statement suggests that members will be appointed by the Secretary of State. Are we yet again to increase the powers of the Secretary of State for Education to determine what happens in our education system without involving the many other partners in the system?

Could the Minister say how these massive changes of the kind entailed in the Statement could be introduced in a period of not much more than 15 months? We are told that the legislation is planned for the autumn and implementation by April 1993. By the time the legislation is enacted, if indeed it ever is enacted, we shall certainly be to Christmas, leaving a very short period to plan a totally new system.

The Statement suggests that the budget of FE colleges will be based in part on the numbers recruited and that there will be incentives to recruit more students and reduce the unit costs of the institutions. That must give rise to two very major anxieties. First, the FE system was described by a recent Secretary of State for Education, Mr. Baker, as the Cinderella of the education service. Funding is certainly not generous at present. How can we ensure that yet lower unit costs will not lead to lower standards?

Secondly, pressures on institutions to recruit more students must mean a threat to the sixth forms, which remain in the secondary schools under local authority control. I always thought that the Government were attached to maintaining the sixth forms. Is this no longer the case? The method of financing the colleges will encourage poaching by the colleges from the sixth forms in the local authority sector. The Statement refers to an ever-increasing proportion of our young people being catered for by the colleges. Today many sixth forms are barely viable in terms of numbers. That surely will kill them off in spite of what the noble Lord said in the Statement.

I welcome the fact that staff will be transferred by right to the colleges in the new sector. I am concerned that these institutions are to be vested with the land, buildings and plant which they currently use. Are the local authorities to be compensated for the loss of the land, buildings and plant? We must remember that FE colleges, tertiary colleges, sixth form colleges, land and buildings have multiple uses. For example, many adult education classes are held in these premises. I assume that adult education will remain a local authority responsibility, though nothing was said about that. Where are those classes to take place in the future?

I understand from the Statement that voluntary colleges will be affected. I wonder whether the Churches have been consulted about that.

This Statement also says nothing about part-time study and whether the new council and its institutions will be fostering part-time study to take place alongside full-time study. It says nothing about ways of combining academic and vocational study and allowing young people to mix the two in a desirable way with a simpler system of qualifications which is at the centre of the Labour Party's policies in this area. I fear that these proposals will disrupt the good work that has been done by LEAs in linking work in FE colleges and work done at the top end of schools.

There has been no national planning of FE in the same way as there was a system of national planning of higher education under the national advisory body before the polytechnics were taken out of local authority control. The new system of planning will have to he invented from scratch. It is most unclear to me how a national body will be able adequately to take into account the needs of local areas, local industries and local employers which are such a central part of the function of further education.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate has frequently reported favourably on the planning and management of FE by local authorities. I wonder whether the Government have given up listening to their own advisers. Unfortunately, this Statement misses the opportunity to improve the quality of education at the post-16 stage. Instead it plays around with structures at the expense of genuine education reform to get the Government off their own poll tax rack. There will be further massive disruption to the education system with little foreseeable educational benefit.

Fortunately, with the Government's timetable to bring the proposals back to the House in the shape of a Bill, by then we shall hopefully have had a general election. In that case the Government will have been replaced by a Labour Government which will not determine the shape of education by panic measures to get out of the problems caused by the poll tax.

Earl Russell

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, is an optimist. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, for repeating the Statement made in another place. The commitment of the Liberal Democrats to improving training in skills and vocational education is deep and long-standing. I do not think that any noble Lord who has listened to my noble friend Lady Seear on this subject will doubt that for a moment. That is why, when I have read previous statements by Mr. Eggar on this subject, I have been inclined to respond warmly to them. When I read the advance press release which forecast, with a fair amount of accuracy, some of the points in the Statement, I responded warmly to that also.

Now we have the Statement I cannot help feeling that it is really something of a damp squib. There are some rather Panglossian notes in it. I do not think that I know of any teachers, even those most enthusiastic for the national curriculum, who believe that it is improving teaching and motivating young people in schools as never before. It is rather an extreme Statement. There is nothing in this Statement about what appears to us on these Benches to be the greatest weakness in arrangements for vocational training. That is the grave lack of funding which has been affecting the Training and Enterprise Councils as many others. At the moment Training and Enterprise Councils are in a very difficult situation indeed. When I heard that this Statement was coming I had hoped that it was going to indicate the commitment of some additional funds to solving these problems. I am deeply disappointed that it has not done so.

I share the suspicion of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, of the funding arrangements proposed under this measure; namely, the incentive to take additional students and thereby decreasing unit costs. This pressure to increase so-called efficiency by decreasing unit costs is one which signals a hidden danger. There is pressure here to cut quality. I do not see how greater efficiency can be achieved without cutting quality. If we cut the quality of our industrial training that is not going to enable us to catch up with our international competitors, which I thought was one of the major objects of the exercise.

I agree with the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, about fiddling with structures and finding a measure for opting out, which is yet another proposal against local authority. Coming from this Government it has a certain knee-jerk quality. There may be a case for this measure, but I do not believe that this Government are the best people to convince us of it. My noble friends will scrutinise the White Paper with a great deal of care to see what kind of a case is made out for the measure. The only one we have made out in the Statement is that local authorities are bureaucratic. No doubt they are, but are they the only bodies in the world that are bureaucratic? Is the council to be set up under this measure not to be bureaucratic? If it is not, how is it to function? We shall need a good deal more information about the role and function of this council.

There is a point I wish to raise because we shall have to return to it. Unlike the Universities Funding Council, and the Advisory Board for the Research Councils, I very much hope that the council will be able to give advice to the Government in public. The difficulties caused by the inability of the Universities Funding Council to do that emerged very clearly when Sir Peter Swinnerton-Dyer last gave evidence to the Public Accounts Committee. That is the kind of difficulty that we do not want to see recurring.

There are a good many difficult problems which will need clarification. I understand the purpose of the point made about the disposal of assets. But the word "contracts " in the Statement is rather vague. I am not at all sure how far it extends. For example, does it extend to preventing a college from taking on a major building repair contract some of which now cost over £50,000? The effects of deferring these projects can make them cost a lot more than that. We need a great deal of clarification on that matter.

We need a lot of clarification on what is going to happen about the role of sixth-forms, which will remain a very important part of our education. We need to know whether anything is to be done to enable those who do not leave school to do things enabling them to develop vocational skills.

Speaking as an academic, we must recognise that, valuable though academic education is, it is not the only valuable form of education. We also need to know whether this measure is to apply to Scotland, where in many ways arrangements are extremely difficult. Finally, when dealing with local government, we should remember that we are not dealing only with efficiency. Local government is not only about efficiency, but about consent; and consent is something which matters in our political system.

5.58 p.m.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, though the questions that they have asked me may cause some difficulty, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for their response to my right honourable friend's Statement. The noble Baroness began by making the point that what is important in these matters is educational considerations and not structures. The aims of my right honourable friend's Statement are to try to increase participation in the further education sector; to increase the freedom of colleges to manage and to try to have a greater responsiveness to the demands of the student population for the courses which they not only want but also need.

The noble Baroness was perhaps a little brusque —indeed, her remarks were echoed by the noble Earl —when she said that this matter was really about transferring resources from local to central government. There is a little more in it than that. The noble Baroness upbraided the Government for not listening to the inspectorate. Perhaps I may remind her that Her Majesty's Inspector, the Chief Inspector no less, made absolutely clear in a recent report that the institutions which are now completely independent, which is exactly what this Statement is attempting to achieve —namely, the polytechnics and colleges which have become independent under the Education Reform Act —have responded enthusiastically to their new status. The report also said that independence has resulted in better planning mechanisms and clearer objectives. That is precisely what we want now to achieve with the FE colleges.

With that as the basis for what I am saying, I shall try very quickly to cover the other questions which the noble Baroness asked me. She asked about a new Bill. Yes, indeed, legislation is flagged up in the Statement. I am afraid I cannot answer her specific question on exactly the form it will take. We will have to wait to see how we attack the drafting.

The noble Baroness referred to consultations. She will not he surprised when I say that many college principals have been saying that they would welcome the opportunity to exercise greater control over their own affairs. I give the assurance that my right honourable friend will be taking account of the views of interested parties as the legislation is being drawn up. The noble Baroness and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, asked what would be the effect on sixth forms. It is very important that I should remind your Lordships that a specific passage in the Statement makes clear my right honourable friend's adherence to thriving, good sixth forms.

The noble Baroness asked about three other areas. First, she asked me whether compensation would be paid to local authorities so far as concerns the transfer of land, buildings and other assets. These assets have been paid for by local taxpayers and community charge payers. Local people will continue to have access to the facilities for which they have paid, which in a sense covers another point made by the noble Baroness. Under the new regime colleges would be even more responsive to local needs and demands. Therefore, I do not think we are in a compensation paying situation.

Secondly, the noble Baroness asked about adult education. I know that, in the White Paper which is to come, it is the intention of my right honourable friend to make a detailed announcement of policy on the area of adult education.

Finally, the noble Baroness raised the most important question of voluntary colleges. There will be consultation, for instance, with the churches, as the legislation is drawn up to ensure that interests of the voluntary aided sixth form colleges are taken into account. The point I should particularly like to underline is that their status as voluntary aided colleges will continue to be protected.

The noble Earl made the point that it sounded as if the Government intended that there should be cuts in funding. I think I have paraphrased him reasonably accurately. Perhaps I may just make the point that it is possible to achieve increases in participation without constantly having to increase expenditure so far as concerns unit costs. That, I put to the noble Earl, is something on which the polytechnics, in their independent status, have proved him wrong.

The noble Earl said that more information would be needed on the new council. I entirely agree with him on that. I must ask him, if he will, to await the publication of the White Paper.

The noble Earl also, I think quite predictably and understandably, asked exactly what was meant in the Statement by contracts. In the interests of brevity, perhaps I may say that the Statement does include a reference to the fact that there is a Written Statement which is to be printed in Hansard at the same time. That would repay a reading so far as concerns the meaning of contracts and the intentions on contracts of my right honourable friend.

Finally, the noble Earl asked whether this was a Statement simply for England. It is, and we must await the intentions so far as concerns the Secretaries of State for the different territorial parts of the United Kingdom.

6.5 p.m.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, perhaps I may ask my noble friend one general question. I congratulate him wholeheartedly on what I believe is a step very much in the right direction. I have never wholly reconciled myself to what happened under populist pressure in the years 1963 to 1964, whereby there was an almost total amalgamation between responsibility at the top for schools and responsibility at the top for scientific research at universities and in higher education generally. Will he, even at the back of his mind, contemplate the possibility of bringing together the polytechnic section, scientific research and university education, not of course in an identical body in every case, but at any rate in such a way that they are not starved of funds and there is not this competition between schools and higher education research which has resulted from the 1963 and 1964 changes? I ask him that simply because I believe that, in the end, we shall be driven in that direction.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, my noble and learned friend, with his enormous experience of education, asks an interesting question. He would not expect me to try to follow him down that road. I am very glad that my noble and learned friend took the opportunity to ask his question, but it does go wider than the Statement which I am making this afternoon. I give my noble and learned friend an assurance that I shall draw the attention of my right honourable friend to his comments.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, we all welcome the attention the Government are giving to the post-16 sector in education. Unfortunately, we come back to the state we were in earlier this afternoon in welcoming the interest but not agreeing with the end result of the analysis. It points at one of the difficulties of not having two tiers of local government. The alternatives appear to be either local government control or national government control.

Perhaps I may touch on two specific questions. First, will the colleges inherit the liabilities as well as the assets involved in their operations? That is a fairly simple question. Secondly, under local authority administration—I describe it as administration rather than control, because even there FE colleges have a certain amount of independence —the FE colleges are structured in such a way as to provide an integrated range of services, if I may use that word. But if they have to stand alone in a national arena the circumstances of their existence will be completely different. Will the Government permit local authorities to reorganise the colleges within their boundaries in such a way as to provide a more sensible arrangement for groups of buildings and for the provision of services when they come under national administration rather than local administration?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord's last question is almost certainly no, because what he is really saying is that the local authorities should be able to step in and pre-empt the proposals of my right honourable friend. What is more specifically the answer to what the noble Lord has said is that, as from midnight tonight, my right honourable friend is saying that there cannot be disposals of or changes in land holdings and other assets without his agreement, an agreement which I think he would not wish to withhold unreasonably. However, he feels very strongly indeed that when the colleges become independent, as he intends on 1st April 1993, they should have the assets which they will need not for their own glorification but for the service of the people of the locality. The noble Lord first asked me whether the colleges would inherit the liabilities as well as the assets. I must seek refuge from that particular subject. It is of course a very good question, but the noble Lord will have to wait for the publication of the White Paper.

Lord Elton

My Lords, in view of the anxiety expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, and others about central government control, will my noble friend accept that our experience in the secondary sector in the past has shown that what is proposed does not provide central government control; it provides an enormous incentive to excellence. Will he take it from one who taught for 10 years in the secondary sector, partly in direct-grant institutions and partly in local authority funded institutions, that the direct grant system, which appears to me to be analogous in some respects to what is now proposed, singles institutions out into a position where they are given funds which are finite and are charged to do their best with them? The resultant determination of the staff and their perception of the true interests of the institutions are highly beneficial. In the past, it led to a performance which meant that most of us on this side of the House deeply regretted the abolition of the direct grant schools. Moreover, the rightness of our regret was borne out in the event in that we were in time in 1979 to prevent the abolition of direct grant grammar schools in Northern Ireland. The performance indicators invented by the Government which abolished direct grant schools in this country have shown ever since that those schools produce the best results.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I agree with a great deal of what my noble friend said. However, at the risk of being repetitive, perhaps I may simply refer to the HMI report by the Senior Chief Inspector which stated clearly that the institutions which have become independent under the Education Reform Act have begun to show that they have clearer objectives than before and better planning mechanisms to achieve them. That is not a government statement; it came from HMI. Without wishing to be combative, I believe that there are local authority controls which can arguably be removed. The proof of the pudding is to be found in the words from that HMI report.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, when we were discussing the setting up of the UFC, it appeared that probably the majority of academic and senior academic opinion in Scotland was in favour of the funding of universities under the same system as existed in Great Britain; that is, without a separate UFC. However, I understand that there has been a change in the position. I merely ask the Government—I hope that they will agree—to take full consultation in Scotland about the special needs of that country. Scotland will of course have special needs and some supervision will be required. Such needs must be taken into account. I believe that there is a growing belief in Scotland in academic and other circles that separate funding in Scotland would probably be a good idea.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I should just like to emphasise the fact that the Statement I repeated extends only to England.

Lord Grimond


Lord Belstead

My Lords, in the circumstances, therefore, it will be for the Secretary of State for Scotland to make the pronouncement of what he intends to do as regards the general context of today's Statement; that is, if that is what he wishes to do. In the meantime, I can assure the noble Lord that I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my right honourable friend.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, can the noble Lord say what difference the proposals will make to the status of the academic staff of polytechnics? For example, will it bring them into a different field of analysis and comparison with the academic staff of universities? I raise this issue because when I undertook the inquiry into teachers' pay many years ago I was astonished to find that, as polytechnics came under the control of local authorities, the pay of their academic staff came to be reviewed as part of the area of teachers' pay under the Burnham umbrella. That not only caused difficulties; it also created a sense of being second rate in the minds of the academic staff of the polytechnics. Moreover, it eventually led to quite serious difficulties. We had the job of relating the pay and conditions of the academic staff to those of the teachers whose status was being quite significantly upgraded, especially as regards the top posts.

When we had completed that task, the university teachers and others concerned who had been waiting for us to finish then had a strong complaint that new relativities had been created which had to be rectified as part of their outlook on the economic value of their academic qualifications. That was quite a nuisance at the time and gave rise to serious difficulties when the pay of university teachers was considered immediately after my review of teachers in polytechnics. I should like to know whether the position has changed or whether it will be changed under the new scheme. Where will the polytechnic staff go for the adjudication of their remuneration under the new funding arrangements? I should be very glad if what is proposed removes the problem to which I referred.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I genuinely wish that I could help the noble Lord. However, I do not believe that I can this afternoon. That is partly because I do not think that I am competent to do so and partly because the Statement is not about polytechnics; it is about further education colleges. I must rest my case on the fact that in his remarks the noble Lord has gone very much wider than the content of the Statement. However, if I can help in any way by writing to the noble Lord I shall endeavour to do so.

Baroness David

My Lords, I should like to make a few comments and ask several questions. My remarks directly relate to the Statement; they are not about something quite different, as has been the case with some of the previous points which have been made. I was most surprised to read in the third paragraph of the Statement that further education colleges, have never in the past been given the attention that their importance and education policy would justify ".

That indicates to me the most abysmal ignorance of the education system by the Secretary of State. Further, from various remarks which have been attributed to him recently, it seems that he has much to learn. Further education colleges have been doing a good job. Indeed, they have very often taken on young people who did not progress very well in the ordinary school system but who have subsequently done very well indeed. They have also been extremely flexible in responding to business needs in the community. Those words made me feel very angry. I hope that the Minister will recognise that the colleges are doing an extremely good job.

The other sentence which surprised me is to be found at the end of the first paragraph on page 2 of the Statement. It reads: The further education colleges will also assume responsibility for some adult continuing education ".

I must point out that these colleges have been dealing with many adults for a long period of time. They will not "assume " this responsibility; they have already done so. Those words also irritated me.

I have a question to ask about buildings. Where huge building operations are planned or where they have already been started, who will have responsibility for looking after them between now and April 1993? Then there is the question of governing bodies. Will they be constituted just as they are at present? Will parents be involved? Of course parents are very much involved with sixth form college governors and tertiary college governors. I should just like to know whether they will still be involved in governing bodies.

Finally, would it not have been more rational to issue a White Paper and then hold consultations, after which time legislation could have been introduced? The Government seem to have got the process the wrong way around. Of course we know the reason why: they want to get rid of some more money from the poll tax. In conclusion, can the Minister say when we can expect the publication of the White Paper?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I hope that the White Paper will be published shortly. The noble Baroness chided my right honourable friend on his ignorance of the further education sector. I do not believe that he would in any way disagree with what she said about the good job that further education colleges have been doing for a long time. However, he feels—this is on the statistics available—that greater participation rates are needed and that—I am repeating this point for a second time—in the light of HMI's views, the probability is that we can do something about increasing participation rates by allowing the colleges greater freedom to manage, thereby making them more responsive to student wishes and demands. We may not agree on that point, but I thought that I should set out again my right honourable friend's thoughts.

Again, the noble Baroness will not expect me to say anything about adult education. With respect to buildings, the existing colleges and the local education authorities will be responsible for them until 1st April 1993—at least that is the philosophy of the Statement that I have repeated —when they will become independent. The contracts will contain measures to take account of the new situation. If there are contracts which extend beyond 1993, those contracts are called into question by my right honourable friend's Statement.

On governing bodies, I ask the noble Baroness to await the White Paper. There was nothing in the Statement to suggest that there would be a change in the composition of governing bodies.

Lord Annan

My Lords, as I am sure the Minister will be aware, a number of noble Lords from these Benches have been talking about the further education sector over the past months. It is a great pleasure to see that the Government are taking it seriously, although no doubt what the noble Baroness said about the Government's motives is true.

Perhaps I may ask the Minister two questions. First, will the further education council concern itself with what the noble Baroness referred to as the jungle of qualifications and the relationship of the numerous industrial training bodies which have been set up? I hope that attention will be paid to that issue, and also that the council will see that the further education colleges maintain their existing strong contacts with the businesses in their areas and with their needs.

Secondly, will the further education council consider the curriculum, in particular A-levels and the qualifications required to enter the colleges? I shall be grateful if the Minister will say whether any oversight of the school's curriculum will fall within the remit of that council. Lastly, is the Minister aware of what a pleasure it is to see him answering for education again after 20 years?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, that is kind of the noble Lord. It came as a slightly unexpected pleasure this afternoon. The answer to his last question is that the council will be responsible for funding provision. Once again, I am afraid that only the bare bones of the proposal have been included in the Statement. The council will not be running A-levels, as suggested by one newspaper today. The Schools Examinations and Assessment Council is the body responsible for overseeing and advising on all assessment and examination matters, including A-levels.

The noble Lord kindly welcomed the fact that we were making the Statement today. He referred, as did the noble Baroness, to the jungle of qualifications. The Statement does not propose that the council will become involved in such matters. It is a subject in which the National Council for Vocational Qualifications is immersed at present. It is endeavouring to classify them and is making some progress.

Finally, the noble Lord made the point to which I believe we would all say, "Hear, hear! "—that he hopes that the colleges and local businesses will come closer together. The Government hope that the TECs, as they are called, will, probably through the aegis of the council, be able to increase their input in that area.