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Adult Education

Volume 489: debated on Tuesday 17 March 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills what assessment he has made of the effects of age discrimination legislation on the numbers of people from each age group taking part in adult education courses. (261829)

Adult learning is crucial in helping people to fulfil themselves as active citizens and as members of their families and communities. We are committed to ensuring that everyone, whatever their age or background, can lead healthy and fulfilling lives by participating fully in work, education and society as a whole. Building on the findings of our recent consultation, we are now working with partners to develop our strategy for Informal Adult Learning in the 21st century, which we shall publish shortly.

The Department does not routinely monitor or enforce the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 and has no express remit to do so. The regulations apply to providers and they must make decisions based on their own circumstances, the courses they run and their own legal advice. Ultimately, interpretation and enforcement will be for the courts to decide. Detailed guidance for the benefit of providers and learners alike is set out on the website of the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

I am aware that a number of providers, including further education colleges and local authorities, have been withdrawing fee concessions for older learners in the belief that the Regulations prohibit such positive action. The guidance makes clear that age-related practices like fee concessions may be objectively justified where they are a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim and it will continue to be the learning provider's decision as to whether or not they wish to offer these subsidies to individuals. I refer the hon. Member to the reply given on 28 October 2008, Official Report, column 990W.