Skip to main content

Education and Training (Welfare of Children) Bill

Volume 690: debated on Friday 12 March 2021

Consideration of Bill, not amended in Public Bill Committee

Clause 3

Extent, commencement and short title

I beg to move amendment 1, page 3, line 3, leave out from “force” to end of subsection and insert “on 1 October 2021”.

This amendment will incorporate into the Bill the guidance for policy makers issued in August 2010 that there should be two common commencement dates each year, one of which is 1st October, for the introduction of changes to regulations affecting businesses.

Amendment 1 is a short amendment, supported by my hon. Friends the Members for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) and for Shipley (Philip Davies), but it has a deeper purpose, which is set out in the explanatory statement. It means that the regulations under the Bill would come into effect on 1 October 2021.

In thinking about all this, it occurred to me that over the years we have lost sight of an important deregulatory policy of the Government, introduced, I think, in 2010: that, to reduce the burdens on business, regulations passed by this House should only be implemented on two implementation dates each year. One was, I think, 1 April and the other was 1 October. The idea behind that was that people in business should not have to keep an eye on when another regulation was going to be implemented or when those regulations that had been passed would be commenced. I thought it would be useful to try to tease out from the Government what their thinking is.

This Bill, in particular, contains an enormous amount of regulatory burden affecting the providers of important apprenticeships and training for youngsters. I do not disagree with the substance or the idea of what it is doing, but we must not underestimate the fact that what we are talking about is creating an additional burden. It would be better, in my view, to say that instead of its coming into force at the end of two months beginning on the day on which it is passed, it should come into force on 1 October and we could then re-adopt the practice that was begun, that there should only be two days each year when we commence these regulations.

That is quite a short point, and it will not be made any stronger by repetition, but I hope it will be taken seriously by the Government. I imagine the Minister, having received notice of this amendment, will be able to give me a definitive response from the deregulation unit, or whatever the equivalent body now is that deals with these matters on behalf of the Government and tries to ensure that this is a business-friendly Government.

Years ago, I was on a deregulation taskforce that made many different regulations. I wish this suggestion had been one of the ones that came out of our particular taskforce. It was not, but I think it was a sensible suggestion, so I am trying to use the vehicle of a Friday private Member’s Bill day and the opportunity of the Report stage of this Bill to ventilate the matter and try to engage the Government in a dialogue about it.

I will be speaking against the amendment, and I will keep my remarks brief out of consideration for my colleagues whose Bills follow my own.

The intervention by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) is not, in my opinion, needed for several reasons. First, the guidance he refers to in the amendment was intended to give time for businesses to prepare for costs associated with changes in legislation or for any significant changes in their practices. As this Bill does not result in any increased costs for education providers or any significant burden for business, I would argue that this extra time is not needed.

Secondly, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that many designated safeguarding leads in further education are aware of the potential change in legislation, so again, I do not believe that further time is needed for providers to prepare for the change in law. Finally, as the Bill relates to education and aims at simplifying the safeguarding process for providers of post-16 education, it would make more sense for this legislation to come into effect for the start of the academic year in September. In fact, a change in legislation mid-term would arguably be more burdensome to business.

I wish to speak against the amendment that has been proposed. I believe I have been listed to speak in the Third Reading part of the debate on this Bill, so I am happy to contribute my opposition to this amendment and be called in the second part of the debate as well.

I have really nothing further to add to the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy). I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response and to moving on, hopefully promptly, to Third Reading.

I would like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) for his interest in this Bill and for raising his concerns on behalf of businesses and training providers. However, I do believe the amendment he has put forward is unnecessary. This Bill does not place any new or additional burdens or costs on education and training providers. It is a technical change to put all Government-funded providers of post-16 education and training on the same statutory footing.

As I made clear in Committee, all children in post-16 education or training are currently protected by safeguarding arrangements. If a provider is already properly discharging its safeguarding responsibility, the change in this Bill will make no practical difference to it. It is not anticipated that this will add burdens or costs to businesses and training providers. As I am sure my hon. Friend is aware, safeguarding duties on providers can come from a variety of sources. This Bill simplifies a situation that is more complex than it needs to be.

The Bill, as currently drafted, will come into force two months after it is passed. Amendment 1 would add several months to that period, going beyond the start of the academic year, as the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) said. I do not think it is in the spirit of clarity and simplification that has characterised the cross-party support of this Bill, and I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch to withdraw his amendment.

Unfortunately, I do not seem to have achieved my purpose, which was to try to draw out a response from the Government the issue of having two separate days each year when regulations are implemented to reduce the burden on business. The promoter of the Bill, the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy), and the Minister have said in response, “Well, not me, guv”—this legislation does not impose any fresh burdens, and therefore the point I was making in my amendment and the remarks I made in addressing the amendment are really of no relevance. I think that is really the point that my hon. Friend the Minister is making. I shall have to explore other ways of developing the idea that we should reintroduce the practice that was first introduced in 2010 of having a maximum of two days each year when we introduce regulatory burdens on business, and hopefully many more days when we deregulate. I am grateful to those who have participated in this short debate for explaining that the Bill is not in the least burdensome and that everyone is absolutely hunky-dory about it so we should be content. In those circumstances, I seek leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Third Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

While technical, this Bill is relatively simple. I am conscious that a number of hon. Members are keen to ensure that their Bills are also heard, so I will keep my remarks as brief as possible, especially as the contents have been well covered in previous stages.

Legal safeguarding duties do not apply to independent providers in the same way as they do for those educated at school or in sixth form or further education colleges. The Education and Training (Welfare of Children) Bill aims to ensure that all young people are protected by the same safeguarding duties in the law, irrespective of the education or training provider that they choose.

The Bill contains two substantive clauses. Clause 1 amends the Education Act 2002 to extend the existing safeguarding duties that apply to further education colleges, schools and sixth forms to post-16 academies. As more sixth forms convert to academies, the requirement for this change becomes more pressing. Clause 1 also brings independent learning providers and specialist post-16 institutions into scope by imposing direct responsibilities on the Secretary of State for Education, requiring them to include the safeguarding duties as a condition of any agreement with those institutions. The Bill would also compel providers to have regard to any guidance on safeguarding issued by the Secretary of State such as the document “Keeping children safe in education”.

Clause 2 will amend the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 to ensure that apprenticeship providers, as well as those who assist with the training or education of T-level students that is funded under the Act, must follow those safeguarding duties, while having regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State. Again, the duty is on the Secretary of State to include those requirements in agreements, while the duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children at the institution falls on the provider.

I introduced the Bill because in the City of Durham I am privileged to represent a constituency that contains a number of top-class further education providers in both academic and vocational subjects. There is the leading further education college, New College Durham, one of the first education providers to offer T-levels, as well as the excellent Houghall college, part of East Durham college, which I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris). We also have a number of brilliant sixth forms as well as a number of independent providers. I place on the record my gratitude to the staff, students and family members who have put so much effort into ensuring that there has been as little disruption as possible to education during the pandemic.

While I welcome the diversity training and education courses available to my constituents, I do not welcome the potential for variation in safeguarding requirements. As a parent, I know how important it is to be secure in the knowledge that children are kept safe in education. For many, further education is a new experience, full of different challenges for young people and their families. Between further education colleges, sixth-form academies and independent providers, there are a variety of options for how young people are educated, which can be confusing for parents. We could debate in the House all day how education should be provided, but I think we all agree that every child and young person, regardless of their background or education provider, should be subject to the same safeguarding requirements as their peers. By closing this loophole, we can help protect young people while giving parents the reassurance and peace of mind they deserve when it comes to their child’s education.

However, this Bill is about more than protecting young people and reassuring parents; it is also practical for education and training providers. Currently, the system for post-16 academies, independent providers and specialist institutions is somewhat complex and inconsistent. By extending legal safeguarding duties to cover all publicly funded providers of post-16 education, safeguarding requirements for institutions will be simplified, making the whole process easier for educators. The Bill will also benefit providers to which these duties already apply by ensuring that there is a level playing field when it comes to safeguarding requirements, meaning that schools, colleges and sixth forms will operate on the same terms as the independent sector.

This is a good, simple Bill aimed at addressing an anomaly in safeguarding legislation that we all recognise must be fixed, and it does so in a way that benefits providers, parents and young people. I hope that we can continue the fantastic cross-party work so far on the Bill, to help me close this anomaly in law.

I thank the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) for her work on this Bill, and I congratulate her on introducing it and steering it through the House. Safeguarding, and particularly protecting children from online harm, is a subject that we are passionate about, and I am privileged to lend my support, and the support of a Government, to the Bill.

Cross-party support and co-operation have characterised the passage of the Bill, which is testament to the hon. Lady and to the importance that the House places on safeguarding children. I am extremely grateful to all hon. Members who have taken time to contribute during debates at each stage of the Bill. I know that, in many cases, these interventions have been informed by personal experience or the experience of constituents or training providers and other educational institutions.

It is vital that, at this challenging and important time in their lives, children feel safe; it is vital that parents can trust education and training providers, however these are constituted, to keep the children in their care safe; and it is vital that providers are clear about their duties and responsibilities to these children. I put on the record my thanks to all those in the sector who have worked so hard to welcome students back so successfully this week.

Let me be clear: all children in post-16 education and training are currently protected by safeguarding arrangements, but the duties that determine these arrangements come from a wide variety of sources, depending on the nature of the education or training provider. The post-16 landscape is diverse, to meet our diverse education and training needs, but the safeguarding duty does not need to be different. It should be clear and it should be universal. The changes in the Bill are important, but they are technical. They should not lead to additional costs or burdens on education or training providers. A provider that is already fulfilling its safeguarding duty would not need to make any practical changes.

I also support the Bill’s intention that all providers should have regard to the statutory guidance, “Keeping children safe in education”. Having one set of guidance that covers all providers will simplify safeguarding, make it more transparent and help ensure that safeguarding requirements remain relevant and up to date. As a result of this Bill, “Keeping children safe in education” will need to be amended, and we have undertaken to consult openly and widely with the sector to ensure that the guidance will be appropriate and proportionate.

In closing, let me once again thank the hon. Member for City of Durham for bringing forward this important Bill, which the Government are pleased to support.

It is a pleasure to speak in support of this Bill on Third Reading. As the Minister will know from the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins) in Committee, the Bill has the Opposition’s wholehearted support. Of course, there are very few responsibilities as important as safeguarding and protecting the welfare of children and young people. The Bill, as we have heard, moves to level the playing field for all providers of publicly funded post-16 education and training.

All that is left for me to do is wish the Minister a very happy birthday this weekend, and I will also say something about my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy). She has been a Member of Parliament for barely 15 months. Many Members serve in this House with distinction for decades without ever managing to put their mark on the statute book in the way that she has. Her constituents ought to be very proud of their MP for how she has diligently and consistently represented their concerns and interests in these most challenging times. The passage of this Bill will be a meaningful step towards ensuring that all children and young people, wherever they are studying, learning or training, are safe, and I think that is something of which she and the people of Durham can be immensely proud.

May I, too, wish the Minister a most enjoyable, productive and lazy weekend, bearing in mind that Sunday is also Mother’s Day?

I support the Bill. Obviously, it is desirable that we should maintain the highest standards of looking after our children when they are in the care of others, as they are when they go on training courses, whatever institution that happens to be in. I am lucky to have in my constituency some really good providers of specialist training for apprentices, which is now so popular and effective. I have visited those organisations and met the youngsters who have been through the process and then come back to instruct those currently in training, and it works extremely well. I am sure that the particular training academy that I have in mind will have no problem complying with the provisions of the Bill.

I had not really appreciated—and this has probably not been highlighted enough—that the Bill is arguably deregulatory. Perhaps it does not fit in with their current agenda, but if the Government are still interested in deregulation, they should be putting forward this Bill as an example of deregulation, simplifying the statute book and making it easier for those affected to know which regulations apply to them and which do not. That is just an observation of mine, based on having listened to today’s debate. I have no hesitation whatsoever in supporting those who believe that the Bill should receive its Third Reading.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) on her perseverance in moving this important Bill forward, particularly during these difficult times, when the pandemic has constrained our ability to debate and pass legislation. It has been a pleasure to be a co-sponsor of the Bill.

On Second Reading, almost exactly a year ago, drawing on my experience as a governor of Luton Sixth Form College, I made the point about how important the extension of the statutory safeguarding arrangements was to ensuring that all young people in post-16 education and training were protected by equitable safeguarding protocols. That is to ensure that they receive the support and have the best possible chance of succeeding in their studies and training. At that time, I particularly focused on the increasing level of mental health issues among our young people. I just want to reiterate the importance of that now more than ever, given the impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on our young people, who face such a difficult year and such disruption to their education.

Just yesterday, I picked up a poll by Network Rail and the charity Chasing the Stigma, which reported that 69% of 18 to 24-year-olds had said that the coronavirus crisis had had a negative impact on their mental health; that compares with just 28% of the over-65s. The impact on our young people’s mental health will continue over the coming months, particularly with regard to dealing with assessed grades in the absence of exams and any impact that may have on progression choices for our children and young people.

My final point is that it is hugely important that all providers of post-16 education and training, including private providers, have that statutory duty for the safeguarding of our young people. I support the Bill and hope to see it pass its Third Reading today.

I praise my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) for the work that she and others across the House have done to bring forward this important private Member’s Bill. I am happy that it has received cross-party support; keeping young people safe in further education should never be a party political issue.

It is surely common sense to ensure that the same safeguarding guidance should apply across the sector. It is also pleasing to see that the Bill simplifies safeguarding requirements for education providers. The Bill will bring 16-to-19, academies, specialist post-16 institutes and independent learning providers in scope of the duty to follow the statutory guidance note, which will ensure that our legislation goes further to keep children safe in education.

As the parent of a child who has been through further education and of another who will be entering it in the near future, I am pleased that the Bill will reassure parents that, no matter how their child’s education is being delivered, their child is being kept safe to the highest standards. Any improvements to the safety of our young people need to be welcomed. For that reason, I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham on bringing the Bill, which I fully support, to the House.

With the leave of the House, I would like to make some brief final remarks. I pay tribute to every Member who has set aside party politics to speak in favour of the Bill in the interest of strengthening safeguarding for further education. The Bill is a fantastic example of that and I hope that Baroness Blower receives as much support for the Bill in the Lords as I have here.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.