House of Lords
Tuesday, 10 June 2008.
The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of St Albans.
My Lords, on average 55 per cent of people come into prison with a serious drug problem. Drug misuse in prison, as measured by random mandatory drug tests, has, however, dropped by 63 per cent since 1997. Drug misuse is a chronic relapsing condition that can take many years to address successfully. The time spent in prison often represents only a small part of the treatment process, so there are no measures in place to determine levels of drug dependency for prison leavers.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer, although it is rather disappointing. Given that drug dependency lies at the root of so much crime and so much reoffending, is he aware of the constant transfer of prisoners within the system undermining the effective treatment of prisoners? Will he undertake to consult the prison doctors in the British Medical Association on how to co-ordinate the better treatment of prisoners in prison with the treatment of prisoners on release back into the community?
My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate. I understand the concern about prison transfers. When the prison population is under pressure, there is concern about the impact that it can have on drug treatment programmes. Clearly, the Prison Service does all it can to ensure that that does not happen, but the integration of services and the collaboration between the health service, the Prison Service and through care services is very important indeed. As far as the BMA is concerned, I am ever eager to talk to that organisation.
My Lords, the noble Lord can tell us how many people are drug dependent when they go into prison, but he is not prepared to tell us how many are drug dependent when they come out of prison. Is not the obvious implication of that that the Government do not want to know and do not care about this issue?
My Lords, the answer to that is no and no. As I have already said, the average length of stay in prison is about nine months. But to determine that someone is completely free of drugs when there has been chronic dependency cannot be done in that time. The mandatory drug testing regime shows that over the past 10 years there has been a big reduction in the amount of drugs taken by prisoners, which shows some measure of the success of the programmes.
My Lords, I should declare an interest as the chair of the National Treatment Agency for substance misuse and I have just come straight from a prison where I was looking at substance misuse in prison. Does my noble friend agree that treatment services outside prison in the community have improved dramatically in the past few years due to the hard work of professionals and that in prisons, with the integrated treatment services that are now in place, those services can be expected to improve dramatically? Key to all this is the resettlement of prisoners outside prison. In other words, we need through-care and after-care to be successful.
Yes, my Lords, and I pay tribute to my noble friend and to the NTA. There is no doubt that it is very important that the kinds of programmes that have been developed are developed in parallel in prisons, which is happening in a number of prisons. We expect to see expansion of that in the future. Through care and proper integration between prison drug treatment services and care after the person leaves prison are critical.
My Lords, are the problems in prisons not inevitable when both the Government and some senior police officers appear to have an ambivalent attitude to drugs on our streets? Do the Government not consider that it is now time for much longer and much more severe sentences for drug barons and pedlars in a dedicated secure prison where they cannot influence supply and corrupt other inmates?
My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right to draw attention to the dreadful harm that the pedlars of drugs can cause to individuals and to our society as a whole. I certainly agree that the case for vigorous sentencing is very clear. There is no ambivalence from the Government in relation to their attitudes towards drugs. We have made it consistently clear that these drugs are illegal and should not be taken.
My Lords, following on from what the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said about the reluctance of the Government to share statistics, perhaps I may be helpful and give some statistics to the Minister. Drugs worth £100 million are estimated to be traded from prison cells and SOCA estimates that up to 30 high profile prisoners run their empires from behind bars. We know that the Government have commissioned a report from David Blakey, which apparently was given to Phil Wheatley, the director-general of the Prison Service, last month. When will the Minister agree to share the contents of that report with the rest of us so that we can see the true scale of the problem?
My Lords, there is no hard evidence behind the £100 million on which there has been speculation. Because it is an attempt to quantify illicit dealing, it is very hard to come to an accurate figure. My understanding is that research undertaken in 2001 estimated that the sum was up to £24 million. This House should not ignore the major efforts made by the Prison Service to improve security. Ministers received Mr Blakey’s report about three weeks ago. Understandably, we wish to consider it before we make known our recommendations in due course.
My Lords, that is not as easy to answer as the noble Lord might think, but my understanding is that on 30 April 2008, the prison population in England and Wales included 10,817 offenders serving sentences for drug offences and a further 1,947 remanded in custody for such offences. There is of course a wider relationship between drug use and crime, but those are the figures I have.
Transport: Overseas Lorries
My Lords, traffic regulations must apply equally to all road users, regardless of nationality. The onus is on individuals to familiarise themselves with the law of the state in which they are driving. The Vehicle and Operator Services Agency will be provided with an extra £24 million over three years to enforce the rules on roadworthiness and driver hours. This will fund 97 additional examiners, a rollout of 24/7 work, more sites and an additional 30,000 checks per annum.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer and I am glad that there is to be increased investment. I live on the A55 in north Wales, and each day around four foreign drivers are arrested for breaching regulations. The situation has been described as a catastrophe waiting to happen. When will the UK road traffic Acts be applicable to foreign-registered vehicles?
My Lords, as I made clear, they already are applicable. Perhaps the noble Lord will be pleased to learn that part of the £24 million funding that I described means that there will be two additional checking sites, one on the M6 and, more particularly, one in north Wales.
My Lords, while welcoming my noble friend’s statement about law enforcement, two sites for the whole of the UK is hardly going to solve the problem. Does he not agree that at the moment action against foreign lorries is effectively not being enforced in respect of speed cameras, vehicle weight, driver hours or mechanical problems? Surely a much more comprehensive and nationwide enforcement policy is needed to ensure that these vehicles and their drivers obey the law in all respects?
My Lords, we do have enforcement and, as I have described, we are putting a great deal more resource into that. I do not think that my noble friend should be distracted by two additional sites I referred to. We are taking powers in the Local Transport Bill to enable us to enforce more rigorously action against foreign drivers. I just hope that noble Lords will support that, and certainly the statistics indicate that we are being vigorous in our efforts.
My Lords, some 12,000 foreign lorries are on our roads every day, and of the 30,000 lorries that were tested a couple of years ago, around 12,000 were found to be defective in some way. The Government have said that they might introduce a system of fixed penalties, but we have not heard any more about it. Surely something needs to be done to protect our own haulage industry.
My Lords, we are indeed introducing fixed penalties. However, it would help greatly if the party opposite were to support the Local Transport Bill in another place; as I understand it, there appears to be strong opposition to it. An important part of that legislation will aid us in our enforcement work.
My Lords, while we are on the subject of the foreign drivers of heavy vehicles, one of the problems at the moment is the prolific use of satnav systems by these drivers, who often get stuck in inappropriate places. Because they do not have English, they cannot get unstuck. Does the noble Lord agree that a solution might be for his department to erect easily identifiable signs making it clear that such and such a route is unsuitable for certain types of heavy vehicle?
My Lords, it is interesting that the noble Viscount raises this issue. I am not unfamiliar with it. The department has recently designed a new sign to advise large and heavy vehicles not to take unsuitable routes. The issue of satnavs relates to that. The new design uses a truck pictogram with a red diagonal line through it to indicate “not for heavy goods vehicles”. I think that it is clear enough.
My Lords, what further thought has been given to the European proposal for better cross-border enforcement? Also, has any thought been given to a bonding system that would apply to foreign vehicles, whether lorries or cars, arriving in this country?
My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister read the Daily Telegraph yesterday. I doubt that he did. There was a very good letter from the Freight Transport Association, saying that the proposals from Europe are that we should allow foreign lorries not just to go backwards and forwards, but to do business here. Does the Minister have any proposals to extend cabotage? Also, will he do it before he implements the arrangements for foreign lorries to pay for the use of British roads, which they do not?
My Lords, discussions on cabotage are going on. I know that this is an area of concern and controversy. As I understand it, a consultation is being conducted and discussions and negotiations are continuing in Brussels. No doubt the noble Lord will make known his views on them. I shall certainly ensure that they are.
My Lords, my noble friend will not be aware that I wrote a letter to the then Secretary of State about nine years ago, drawing attention to foreign vehicles on our roads. The Minister replied by saying, “I am not aware that there is a problem”. This problem has now increased dramatically. I am pleased to hear that there will be more VOSA inspectors. Can my noble friend advise the House how many will be available throughout the country when the additional ones are in post?
My Lords, I gave statistics at the outset. I will repeat some of them. There will be two new enforcement sites, in addition to the current ones, in high-volume areas. There will be a 50 per cent increase in the number of HGV checks. There will be a doubling of prohibitions. There will be 97 additional enforcement staff and this will guarantee a 24/7 service. That is a pretty good record.
My Lords, I confess that I am not familiar with the 2006 EU directive. However, my understanding from working with Transport for London is that there is a problem with enforcement—first, in getting information about foreign drivers and, secondly, in enforcing traffic and parking penalties, because the offences are neither civil nor criminal. There are administrative penalties for both of those in the EU. What are the Government doing to advance the enforcement of parking and traffic fines on other European drivers?
My Lords, the noble Baroness, because of her experience, knows much more about this than I do. I accept that there is an issue here. We are trying to work with our colleagues in the EU to ensure that we bring people to book. We recognise the importance of these things. Fixed penalty payments are an issue. We need to ensure that we can enforce criminal penalties. Of course, when a crime has been committed, the driver is taken out of circulation immediately. However, there is more to be done, and it requires a high level of European co-operation.
House of Lords: Oral Questions
asked the Leader of the House:
Whether she will remind Ministers of the guidance in the Companion to the Standing Orders that they need only answer two points in response to each supplementary oral question, and of the case for keeping supplementary answers short.
My Lords, Ministers and departments are fully aware of the helpful advice contained in the Companion. However, I am always happy to remind them of it. It helps Ministers to adhere to this guidance when noble Lords also follow it and ask no more than two supplementary questions at a time.
My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that my Question was partly aimed at noble Lords who ask supplementary questions and who are strictly limited by Standing Order to two points but all too often offend? However, if Ministers, who are not so limited and are only excused from answering more than two points, would stick voluntarily to that limit, questioners themselves would be more selective and therefore shorter.
My Lords, I was indeed well aware of what the noble Lord was getting at with his Question. However, Ministers often try to be extremely helpful to your Lordships. Where we are able to give answers to lots of questions, we try to do so. It is more helpful to us if noble Lords adhere to the Companion and merely ask the two.
My Lords, as one who has answered my fair share of Questions in my time, may I ask the Leader of the House whether she will remind Members of the House asking supplementary questions that, if they ask more than two, the Minister responding has the opportunity to pick and choose, which makes it easier for the Minister? I heard what she said about being helpful, but will Ministers refrain from answering questions that bear no relation to the Question on the Order Paper?
Indeed, my Lords. My noble friend attempts to be helpful, but I am not sure that my colleagues on the Front Bench thought that reminding noble Lords of the ability to pick and choose was necessarily the best thing. Of course, I agree with him: if a question is wide of the mark, noble Lords must accept that we will not be answering it.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness find as irritating as I do Ministers who start everything off with, “Well, my Lords”? Are they telling me that they are well? Are they asking me whether I am well? In either case, I hope that she will agree that it is incorrect.
My Lords, does not the high incidence of rambling multiple questions suggest that self-regulation does not work at Question Time? Who is responsible for enforcing our Companion? Perhaps I may whisper the solution: the Lord Speaker should be allowed to intervene.
My Lords, it will be for the House to decide how it wishes to be regulated in the future. I have no difficulty with the Lord Speaker performing more functions. If that is what the House and the Lord Speaker wish to do, it would be perfectly acceptable to me. For the moment, the House has chosen to self-regulate, perhaps with an occasional nudge from me at Question Time.
My Lords, it is my turn: self-regulation at work. Does the Lord President agree that this House has a great reputation for innovation? Is it not unfair that only the government side of the House has the chance to explain its policy? Would it not be a great innovation if we were given time—the Liberal Democrats would certainly welcome it—to explain our policy in a question-and-answer session?
My Lords, there are a number of ways in which Questions could be asked in the House for which I would pay good money. Again, however, it is for the House to determine. I have had plenty of opportunities of having the joy and benefit of listening to Liberal Democrat policy.
My Lords, to get back to the Question on the Order Paper, is the noble Baroness aware—I am sure that she is—of the useful book Procedure & Practice? It is pocket or handbag-sized; I carry mine in my handbag all the time, as noble Lords know to their intense irritation. It is easy to read and clears up a whole lot of points on House of Lords procedure. Would the noble Baroness recommend it to noble Lords who have difficulty?
My Lords, will the Leader of the House yet again remind those dilatory Ministers who fail to answer Written Questions within the statutory two weeks of their obligation to do so? Will she explain why the poor noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, is still waiting for an Answer to a Question tabled in January? It is still unanswered in June.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, has waited since 24 January; the reply was due on 7 February. The culprit is Mr Liam Byrne, whose office I rang yet again today. I also rang his Permanent Secretary. I remind Ministers of these matters and my office does so on a regular basis. The noble Lord has been extraordinarily helpful in supporting me in so doing, as he well knows.
asked Her Majesty’s Government:
Whether they will propose at the United Nations the installation of impartial observers of the forthcoming election in Zimbabwe without delay.
My Lords, we have already raised the need for an urgent deployment of international observers to Zimbabwe at the UN and with the UN Secretary-General. We note that some observers are beginning to deploy, but we continue to emphasise in our contacts with African and other international leaders that many more are needed and quickly.
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of the report that the Americans and the European Union are proposing to send a message to the United Nations calling on it to send representatives to Zimbabwe? Can he confirm that that is the case and whether the message has gone? If it has gone that is certainly a very good thing, bearing in mind that many countries and organisations with great knowledge of the task have been refused admission to Zimbabwe. Is it not important that those who send monitors to Zimbabwe should have them remain there after the forthcoming vote to prevent a repeat of what happened after the previous vote? They would need to spend a long time there after the forthcoming vote to prevent what is happening now.
My Lords, President Bush has called for observers, as have many European leaders. We are pressing the European Union to make the case again, as we have, to the UN and the UN Secretary-General, who has established a trust fund to support observers. Every step is being taken through the UN and the AU to get as many observers there as possible. Certainly, they should stay after the elections until the results are clear.
My Lords, has the noble Lord had a chance to read the reports in today’s newspapers that a six year-old boy was burnt to death yesterday when soldiers attacked the home of an opposition local councillor just outside Harare? What assessment have the Government made of the reports that real power in Zimbabwe has now passed from the hands of Robert Mugabe into the hands of the military?
My Lords, I saw that tragic report, as I am sure all Members of the House did. This is not the first child or old person to have died in recent weeks in Zimbabwe, caught up in massive electoral violence intended to prevent the people of Zimbabwe exercising their democratic free choice. We continue to press to get to the bottom of this electoral violence and we will do all we can to contain and prevent it through international pressure.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that in his lecture last night to the MCC on the spirit of cricket, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said that Zimbabwe should not be allowed to tour England while the current regime is in place? Although I recognise that it might not be easy for the Government to ban the tour, are there any plans afoot to ensure that the Zimbabwean team does not receive visas to enter the United Kingdom?
My Lords, the Government’s reluctance to engage in sports boycotts is well known but it would be a complete travesty if a Zimbabwean team were to tour this country under the present circumstances. However, we very much hope that by the time this tour arrives a democratic Government will be in office in Zimbabwe.
My Lords, is it not clear from the story related by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, concerning the tragic death of not only a six year-old boy but his pregnant mother in an arson attack, and from the many other similar events happening up and down the country, that no matter how many election observers are deployed by the African Union, SADC or the UN, the result will be fixed by the military for its own purposes? Does the Minister not therefore endorse the advice given by the Kenyan Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, that we should tell Mugabe that his time is up and that, whatever the results of the election, a strategy shall be developed to ensure that the will of the people prevails?
My Lords, there is no doubt that if this election were to result in a stolen result, not just the people of Zimbabwe but the international community would say, “Enough is enough. This cannot be allowed to stand”. However, the evidence we are receiving is that, far from being cowed by this violence, the people of Zimbabwe are being spurred by it to turn in ever greater numbers to the opposition. I suspect, therefore, that we may still see the spirit of democracy prevail in this barren, difficult, oppressive environment.
My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Government have protested in the strongest possible terms to the Government of Zimbabwe about the intimidatory treatment accorded to Dr Pocock, the British Ambassador to Zimbabwe, and other diplomats? Will he acknowledge the extraordinary physical courage shown by our diplomats in that country as well as elsewhere?
My Lords, I have no doubt that the noble Lord’s words will bring much comfort to Andrew Pocock and to other British diplomats who are subjected to this kind of harassment. However, I suspect that if Her Majesty’s ambassador were standing here today, he would say that what he was subjected to—in this case what his diplomats were subjected to, because he was not personally involved in the incident last week—is nevertheless mild compared with the terrible violence that ordinary Zimbabweans are subjected to. We have protested about the treatment of him and his colleagues, but we have also protested repeatedly about the violence every Zimbabwean faces at the moment.
My Lords, as I understand it, the date of the next round of Zimbabwean elections coincides with the 90th birthday of Nelson Mandela, for which there will be celebrations here in London. Could an approach be made to Nelson Mandela to speak out about conditions in Zimbabwe?
My Lords, I think that Nelson Mandela, like Archbishop Tutu and other southern African leaders, is in no doubt about the situation. No doubt they are taking counsel about when is the most effective moment to speak out against a Government whose leadership is prickly, nationalistic and deeply resistant to criticism even from their immediate neighbours and, if you like, spiritual and intellectual peers, such as Mr Mandela and Archbishop Tutu.
My Lords, over and above the point rightly made by my noble friend Lord Blaker about keeping on the monitors afterwards, does the Minister agree that, right from the start in this tragedy, HMG and indeed the whole of this nation have sought to do good and to have a positive policy for the people of Zimbabwe, and yet the most horrible rumours and anti-British propaganda continue to circulate throughout the whole region? Bearing in mind the difficulty of the excellent high commissioner in Zimbabwe, who has had great difficulties getting anything out in the media at all, would there be a case for our high commissioner in Pretoria being able to speak a bit more vigorously, and possibly with less quiet diplomacy, making the case we are trying to make, which is for liberty and the rule of law and not for any sort of backward-looking ideas about colonialism? Can we have a better and more vigorous case to put to the people of South Africa and Zimbabwe?
My Lords, I think that the people of South Africa are in no doubt about the regime that immediately neighbours them. The tragic incidents involving Zimbabweans and other immigrants in South Africa is the most violent expression of a much greater unease in the country about how this issue of Zimbabwe has been handled. We are seeing in the words of the ANC president Mr Zuma and other South African leaders an increasingly robust and forceful determination to ensure that democracy does prevail next door. Certainly we as British spokesmen need to contribute to that while ensuring that we do not overstep the mark and provide evidence that somehow we are thought to be inappropriately intervening in the affairs of Zimbabwe.
Health and Social Care Bill
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing on the Order Paper in the name of my noble friend Lord Darzi.
Moved, that the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:
Clauses 2 and 3
Clauses 4 to 48
Clauses 49 to 62
Clauses 63 to 91
Clauses 92 and 93
Clauses 95 to 106
Clauses 107 to 119
Clauses 120 to 122
Clauses 123 to 125
Clauses 126 to 135
Clauses 136 to 141
Clauses 142 to 154
Clauses 155 to 160
Clauses 161 to 167.—(Baroness Thornton.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
My Lords, with permission, I should advise the House that if Back Bench contributions to today’s Second Reading of the Education and Skills Bill are kept to 12 minutes, then we should be able to rise tonight around the target rising time of 10 pm.
Sale of Student Loans Bill
Read a third time.
Clause 2 [Sales: supplemental]:
1: Clause 2, page 3, line 4, at end insert—
“(5A) In subsection (5) the reference to loan regulations includes a reference to regulations under section 186 of the Education Act 2002.”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this group of amendments completes the drafting of provisions relating to the possible future change to terms and conditions and to loans. As I stated on Report, the drafting of two amendments accepted into the Bill at that stage required an addition. The power to give undertakings in Clause 2(5) as currently worded encompasses only undertakings about loan regulations as defined in the Bill. However, just as Clause 2(4) enables compensation arrangements about both loan regulations and Section 186 regulations, so we need also to enable the Secretary of State to give undertakings about the power to make or amend regulations under Section 186 of the Education Act 2002. Without this power, the Government could give undertakings not to amend various repayment terms and conditions but would not be able to guarantee that they would not cancel the loan outright—a power included in Section 186. Amendment No. 1 would rectify this.
Amendment No. 3 makes the equivalent addition to Clause 4(6). This will mean that when making or amending regulations under Section 186 of the Education Act 2002 as well as in amending loan regulations, the Secretary of State must seek to ensure that borrowers will not be in a worse position as a consequence of their loan being sold. Amendment No. 4 is consequential on Amendment No. 1. Welsh Ministers do not have the power to make or amend regulations under Section 186 so the Bill cannot give them the power to make undertakings on that subject.
The amendments to the drafting in this group of amendments are important in that, were a government to be using undertakings in a sale transaction, it would be essential to cover the Section 186 regulations as well as the loan regulations. I believe I flagged this up on Report and hope the noble Baronesses opposite will understand. I beg to move.
2: After Clause 3, insert the following new Clause—
(1) After entering into transfer arrangements the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament a report about the arrangements.
(2) The report must include information about the extent to which the arrangements give good value; and for that purpose the report must reflect any guidance given by the Treasury about assessing value for money (including guidance to the accounting officer of the Secretary of State’s department).
(3) The report must be laid during the period of 3 months beginning with the date on which the Secretary of State enters into the transfer arrangements.
(4) This section does not apply to further transfer arrangements (despite section 3(2)).”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 2 deals with value for money, which has rightly been at the centre of our debate. We have listened carefully to the arguments put forward by the noble Baronesses, Lady Verma and Lady Sharp, on this matter and have been persuaded that we should strengthen the commitment we have already given in debate.
Amendment No. 2 places a statutory obligation on the Secretary of State to report to Parliament within three months of each transaction. That report must inform Parliament about the assessment of value for money his department has made leading to the transaction going ahead. It should also reflect any guidance the Treasury had given to his department to ensure the required procedures used across the public sector for assessing value for money are adhered to.
The amendment would ensure that, throughout the long-term programme of sales, Parliament will receive prompt and transparent information to help it to exercise scrutiny over the sales. As I have said at earlier stages of the Bill, the Government will welcome that parliamentary scrutiny, and that of the National Audit Office, as it will help to ensure that the programme of sales develops over time and yields good value for money over the long term. At the same time, the process will preserve the essential flexibility that we need to retain to alter or supplement the exact criteria applied to each sale, for which we have argued in your Lordships’ House.
Amendment No. 5 ensures that the obligation to report to Parliament is confined to the Secretary of State and to sales for which he is responsible. Welsh Ministers and the Welsh Assembly Government, should they go ahead with sales, will be determined to fulfil their obligations to obtain good value for money and will account appropriately to the National Assembly for Wales.
I am extremely grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Verma and Lady Sharp, for their thoughtful and constructive approach to value for money. I am pleased to be able to move the amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, the amendments are a version of something that we called for on Report, and it is pleasing to see the willingness of the Government to listen to this side of the House. Indeed, that has been a marked feature of every stage of this process, for which the Minister deserves our gratitude. The willingness of the Minister to respond to our scrutiny is testament to her open-mindedness and is an example of the way in which the parliamentary process is meant to work. I still feel that there are a few questions that need to be answered, and I will get straight to the point.
First, this is a minor point, which I hope will be taken up in the other place if I cannot get an adequate answer today. How will the independence of the report be guaranteed? Is there any way to ensure that the Treasury does not give guidance to make a sale look like there is value for money, when a more independent source would have disagreed? What is the precise nature of the guidance that is expected?
This morning, I listened to the segment on the “Today” programme about the sale of QinetiQ to the Carlyle Group, which the National Audit Office claims lost the taxpayer £90 million. The Government seem to defend the sale to the hilt, claiming that there was in fact value for money for the taxpayer, despite independent evidence to the contrary. That seems to me to be a gloomy foreshadowing of where we might be with the student loan sale. In fact, what I heard on the radio was precisely what I warned against on Report.
I repeat for the record that, if the report intimates that the taxpayer has lost out in any way and the Government try to persuade the public that this was the best deal in the current climate, or that in fact it was better than expected, that would be wholly unacceptable and deeply discouraging. It would annihilate any trust that taxpayers may cling to when it comes to safeguarding their money. I do not want to be the student loan Cassandra, but I have grave suspicions that I will be hearing a similar argument on the radio about the student loan book in the all-too-near future.
That leads me to my second question, which is about the fact that the Government have already spent the £3.4 billion that has been budgeted. It is my understanding that the sale of student loans this year must yield something near to that amount. Is that inaccurate? Was the projected revenue just a guess appended to the Comprehensive Spending Review, or was it factored into government spending? Will the Government have to sell more loans to generate this sort of money?
The assurances have been in the form of the repetition of the claim that the Government are committed to a vigorous value-for-money framework. My overriding question is how, considering the current market, it would be possible to give such a guarantee. Are there any investment analysts who think that now, or even soon, would be the best time to sell? I understand that the Minister took advice from Deutsche Bank regarding ways to make the loans more commercially attractive. At any time in the discussion, did it indicate that this was the best possible time to sell the debt? The answer to that question is extremely important.
In the interest of establishing how ready the Government would be to wait to sell the loans to guarantee value for money, I should like to hear the answer to a final question. What would happen if the Government waited two years to sell the loans? Would the Government have to find the £3.4 billion from somewhere else? While a report is a welcome step in the right direction, it is by no means close to the destination—real confidence that the taxpayer is not going to be hurt.
My Lords, I should like to echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, in saying how much we welcome the co-operation we have had from the Government Benches, particularly the attitude of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, to the Opposition Benches. We are very grateful to her for bringing forward various amendments, a number of them at our behest.
I too have a few reservations. I was slightly surprised that the Opposition accepted this amendment without question although I realise now that the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, is asking a few questions. We are now getting a quick report after the transfer arrangements have been put into effect. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, explained to us, these transactions have to be simultaneous so that the sale takes place simultaneously with the clinching of transfer arrangements. Inevitably, the report is ex post rather than ex ante, whereas we were asking for an assurance that procedures would be gone through that meant that the Treasury and those involved in the sale were having to ask questions before they entered into these transactions to make sure that they were succeeding in getting value for money.
We were all agreed that there was a Catch-22 in this. In so far as the Government revealed their hand as to how they were going to proceed with the sale, it made the commercial transaction itself difficult to carry through because they would, to some extent, be revealing their hand. In some senses this is a second best. Again, we were agreed that the process of the National Audit Office and the report to the Public Accounts Committee—as happened with the sale of the Defence Research Agency and Carlyle—can point up where value for money has not been obtained. The difficulty is that by that time the deal will have been done. If it is bad value for money, the taxpayer suffers. Although there will be a quick report to Parliament here, the very fact that the Treasury guidance has to be revealed makes it the more likely that we shall see the Treasury looking for and wanting to gain value for money. Nevertheless, we are looking at whether we are succeeding in getting value for money after the event rather than before the event.
My final point, which I made again at Report, is that the present time is not a good time to try to securitise any loans. The noble Baroness was talking about listening to the “Today” programme this morning. I was listening to the “Money Programme” over the weekend and it was talking about the complete collapse of the securitisation of loans on both the American stock market and our own stock market. This is not a good time to try to securitise any set of loans. As I said last time, I wonder why the Government are determined to go ahead with the sale of a £3.4 billion tranche of the loans in the year 2008-09 rather than going for a smaller tranche of the loans to see how things would proceed, or even leaving it completely this coming year and proceeding when the market is more likely to be a good one. It seems to me that it would be sensible for the Government to begin by piloting a relatively small sale rather than going straight into a very large sale of £3.4 billion of the loans.
My Lords, I shall do my best to respond to the questions of the noble Baronesses. I shall start with the question of the valuation of the student loan book. We have consistently said that the valuations that we referred to, including the £3.4 billion that was alluded to as a first tranche of the sale programme, were estimates for preparation for the CSR—the figures are not anything other than estimates for budgeting purposes. I make it absolutely clear that we have said all the way through the passage of this Bill that if the conditions for sale are not right, the sales will not be made. There are very strong duties on the accounting officer—in this case, the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills—to ensure that value for money is obtained on behalf of the taxpayer.
The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, asked about the independence of the report and the nature of the guidance. There will be a government report on value for money, as we have discussed. We expect the National Audit Office to report on the initial sale or sales and, I would imagine, perhaps on further sales thereafter. The guidance involved covers all government expenditure and asset sales and will rightly apply to the sale of student loans portfolio.
I want to clarify the situation regarding the stories on the “Today” programme. As I said, the Government will welcome scrutiny of the sale of student loans by Parliament and the National Audit Office. That will help us to ensure that the programme of sales develops over time and yields good value for money over the long term.
I do not wish to comment particularly on the QinetiQ sale but that has created a leading FTSE 250 company. As the Public Accounts Committee highlighted, it has raised significant proceeds for the taxpayer and protected the viability of a business of strategic importance to UK defence. I understand why the noble Baroness drew attention to this question. The sale of student loans is very different from the sale of a defence company; it involves a long-term programme and the Government will seek to build on the advice that they receive, including that from Parliament and the National Audit Office. We are taking expert advice—the noble Baroness asked about this—from our sales adviser, Deutsche Bank, and are working very hard to make the most of that advice.
The noble Baroness generously accepted that we have tried to make practical sense of the concerns raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Verma and Lady Sharp. We will bring forward what we see as a workable option for a report for the very long term.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 4 [Loan regulations]:
3: Clause 4, page 4, line 30, at end insert—
“(7) Subsection (6) also applies to making or amending regulations under section 186 of the Education Act 2002.”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 8 [Wales]:
4: Clause 8, page 6, line 27, after “2(4)(a),” insert—
“(aa) section 2(5) in so far as it has effect by virtue of section 2(5A),”
5: Clause 8, page 6, line 33, at end insert—
“(6) Section (Report) does not apply to Welsh transfer arrangements.”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.
I want briefly to thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Verma and Lady Sharp, for their positive contributions to our debates. I also thank all noble Lords who have taken part in debates on this important Bill and the officials and the Bill team, who have worked with me very professionally throughout the Bill’s passage through your Lordships’ House.
Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Baroness Morgan of Drefelin.)
On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.
Education and Skills Bill
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
The Bill legislates in five main areas to improve education and skills. First, it will make it compulsory by 2015 for all young people to participate in some form of education or training, at least part time, until they are 18 years old. Secondly, it will make various provisions to encourage, enable and assist young people’s participation. Thirdly, it will give adults certain rights to expect skills training and enable analysis to take place of the quality and value of such training. Fourthly, it will make a number of changes to the inspection and regulatory regime for independent schools and non-maintained special schools. Fifthly, it will help to ensure a fair and transparent admissions system to schools both pre- and post-16.
The most significant provisions raise the education and training leaving age to 17 in 2013 and 18 in 2015. The Bill’s first clause places on all young people resident in England a responsibility to participate in education or training up to their 18th birthday from those dates, provided that they have not first achieved a level 3 qualification. Clauses 2 to 9 describe and define the range of ways in which young people can participate. These include: full-time education or training, including school, college and home education and informal learning programmes designed to re-engage young people; work-based learning, such as apprenticeships; and, for those who are employed, self-employed or volunteering, part-time education or training, provided it leads to an accredited qualification and takes up the equivalent of at least one day a week.
Clauses 10 to 35 place duties on local authorities, employers and parents to support young people in fulfilling their duty to participate. Clauses 40 to 48 set out the implementation process. Raising the education and training participation age will work only if the appropriate education and training is on offer and young people can access it effectively. However, if a young person refuses to engage, despite a local authority’s best efforts, it will have recourse to appropriate sanctions—a formal last chance to engage voluntarily, an attendance notice, a fixed penalty notice and ultimately, an appearance before a youth court, which could lead to a fine. However let me stress that these are ultimate sanctions. If at any point, even after sanctions have been sought, the young person starts to engage voluntarily, proceedings would be stopped. We expect that only a very few cases will get this far.
Clauses 54 to 60 transfer responsibility for the Connexions service, which encourages and supports young people’s participation, from central government to local authorities. They allow for its inspection by Ofsted and for guidance and some level of direction from the Secretary of State over its core functions. They also allow for Connexions services to gather records about young people’s activities, to enable them to provide effective advice.
Clause 66 puts a duty on schools to offer full and impartial information and careers education, especially to students approaching GCSE. Clauses 71 to 75 establish for adults a right to intermediate and basic skills training in certain circumstances and, for those aged between 19 and 25, to their first full level 3 qualification. To enable analysis of the effectiveness and economic value of adult skills training, they also provide for sharing anonymised information between the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the Department for Work and Pensions, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the devolved Administrations.
Clauses 80 to 130 streamline the registration and regulation of independent schools. They transfer registration of these schools to Ofsted; they strengthen the independent schools standards by adding a new standard on leadership and management; and they repeal previous legislation creating a now unnecessary bureaucratic requirement for independent special schools to be formally approved by the Government for the purposes of accepting children with special educational needs. I should add that while the raising of the education and training age in the Bill applies directly to England only, at the request of my Welsh colleagues, I expect to move an amendment at a later stage to enable the National Assembly to apply similar provisions in Wales in future, should it so desire.
Why are we raising the education and training participation age? The high number of people who drop out of education and training after the age of 16 represents a long-standing weakness in our national education system. We are currently placed 24th out of 29 in the OECD on participation in education or training at 17. Young people who drop out of education and training so early suffer serious loss in terms of their economic and social prospects, and their individual losses aggregate to a serious national weakness in terms of social cohesion and prosperity.
There is overwhelming evidence of the negative consequences of dropping out of education and training at the age of only 16. There is a strong correlation between becoming NEET—not in education, employment or training—and other risk factors. NEET status is proven to be a major predictor of poor health, depression and low income. Furthermore, young people with a level 2 qualification earn, on average, 25 per cent more than those without, or the equivalent of £100,000 over their lifetimes, at present values.
It is an important national priority that, whatever employment they enter, all young people have the transferable skills and gain the qualifications they need to prosper and to be able to adapt to the changes of employment that they will face during their lifetime. This imperative is set out graphically in the report on skills produced by my noble friend Lord Leitch, which predicts that the number of low-skilled jobs will decline by 81 per cent by 2020. Moreover, we know that those who leave education or training at 16 are disproportionately from poorer families, so making sure that all young people stay on until at least the age of 18 is also a matter of social justice.
What progress are we making on reducing the proportion of those not in education, employment or training beyond the age of 16? Our latest indicators show recent progress: the Labour Force Survey covering January to March this year showed a 0.9 per cent reduction in 16-18 year-old NEETs and, specifically, a 1.9 per cent reduction at the age of 16, and latest Connexions data from local authorities show a 1 per cent reduction in 16-18 year-olds not in education, employment or training over the past year. However, we have got much further to go. Prior attainment is one of the strongest indicators of whether a young person will stay on beyond 16, so it is vital that we continue our focus on raising standards in our schools. More young people than ever are now achieving the level 2 standard of five or more grades A* to C at GCSE or equivalent at age 16, and 2006 saw the highest numbers ever continuing in full-time education when they completed Year 11.
However, we need far more young people to achieve at GCSE and to stay on beyond that. This is why the Government are today publishing the National Challenge strategy, which sets out the next phase of our programme to improve underperforming secondary schools. National Challenge is targeted on the 638 secondary schools nationwide where fewer than 30 per cent of pupils gain five good GCSE passes, including English and mathematics, and it is supported by £400 million of targeted investment. Where schools are stuck below the 30 per cent threshold, and self-improvement is not sufficient to raise them above it by 2011, more radical solutions will be implemented. They will include a large number of additional academies by 2011, so that we close more low-attaining schools and replace them with independently managed academies resolutely focused on raising standards and extending opportunity.
We are therefore fully alive to what needs to be done to improve standards at school level. I could talk equally about the changes that we are bringing about in the teaching profession and what we are doing to see that every child masters the 3Rs in primary school. However, over and above school improvements, we also need a more relevant work-related curriculum for teenagers who would benefit from it; we need new and better vocational courses and qualifications to lead on to more and better apprenticeships; and we need better advice and guidance for young people as they make decisions about the choices available beyond the age of 14. Together with higher school standards, it is on this basis that it is right and credible to raise the education and training participation age. Let me, then, take these three elements in turn—work-related diplomas, apprenticeships, and advice and guidance.
First, on work-related diplomas: for students beyond the age of 14, we are developing new diploma qualifications, which combine the best of theoretical and practical learning with educational rigour and extensive work-related experience. The diplomas will appeal to young people with all kinds of ambitions, giving them the opportunity to select from different units and options. The first diploma students will begin studying this September. The new diploma has three elements: generic learning, including English and mathematics, which is common across all diplomas; principal learning in a broad subject or sector; and additional or specialist learning that can be selected according to the interests and aspirations of individual students.
The diploma will be available at three different levels: at foundation level, it will be equivalent to five GCSEs at grades D to G; at higher level, equivalent to seven GCSEs at grades A* to C; and at advanced level, equivalent to three and a half A-levels. It will be available in 17 disciplines, including engineering, construction, information technology, health and other service sectors. All diplomas will require a student to achieve a minimum standard in English, Maths and ICT, to complete a project and to do a minimum of 10 days’ work experience. Diploma students will, therefore, acquire the skills and knowledge essential for a particular sector of employment, while they are also given the broader skills and aptitudes that employers require, including teamwork, independent learning and problem solving.
Secondly, on apprenticeships, we are transforming the quantity and quality. Apprenticeship starts increased from 65,000 in 1997 to 180,000 last year. Completion rates are rising just as radically, from 24 per cent in 2001 to 63 per cent last year. We are building on this progress, so that by 2013—when this legislation first takes effect—a further 90,000 apprenticeships will be available, alongside an entitlement to an apprenticeship for every suitably qualified young person who wants one. These are employer-led places and every apprentice will be employed under either a contract of employment or apprenticeship. Clause 67 is an important step in extending apprenticeships. It makes it explicit that the LSC is under a duty to provide apprenticeships on an equal footing with other education and training options beyond the age of 16.
However, I know that as well as wanting to be assured that enough apprenticeship places are available, noble Lords will be concerned whether the apprenticeships on offer are of high quality. We will strengthen the quality of apprenticeships by improving the apprenticeship blueprint against which all apprenticeships will be quality assured; by integrating apprenticeship component qualifications into the qualifications and credits framework; and by introducing new national completion certificates that will incentivise more apprentices to complete their training, give them the recognition they deserve, and provide future employers with clear statements of an apprentice’s achievements.
The role of sector skills councils in articulating employer demand will be central to extending apprenticeships. The new national apprenticeships service will work in partnership with the sector skills councils. We have also agreed a set of new functions for those councils, including: to promote the take-up and spread of apprenticeships, to brand national completion certificates, and to maintain a bank of qualifications from which apprenticeship frameworks will be formulated.
Some young people will want to work for employers without the capacity to provide apprenticeships of sufficient quality, and we certainly do not wish to stand in their way. Employment can give young people invaluable skills and experience from the age of 16. However, we believe that all young people should have access to high quality, accredited training for at least one day a week alongside their employment to make sure that they can continue to develop their skills and careers. That is provided for in the Bill.
Thirdly, I come to advice and guidance. It is essential that all young people receive the support they need to make the right choices about their education and training beyond the age of 14. At the moment, information, advice and guidance are provided by the Connexions service, which is the responsibility of the Secretary of State. The Bill will transfer the legal responsibility for delivering the Connexions service to local authorities. Through their children’s trusts arrangements, local authorities will be able to integrate the Connexions service into their wider youth support services. Local authorities are uniquely placed to tailor the service to meet the needs of young people in an area by working with schools, colleges and other local learning providers.
That will be vital to support some of the most vulnerable young people, who have complex needs which may act as barriers to participation. For some, that will involve targeted youth support, which will provide a dedicated lead professional to help to organise support across a range of services including education, social services and Connexions, drawing in what they need from the most appropriate services. That transfer will also support high-quality delivery by requiring local authorities to have regard to the information, advice and guidance quality standards, which were launched in July 2007 and have been widely welcomed by the sector.
Let me also say a word about a key incentive to encourage young people to stay in education beyond the age of 16: education maintenance allowances. For some young people, financial considerations can be the major barrier to learning. Through the new education maintenance allowance, the Government have already made significant progress in encouraging young people to participate after the age of 16, and we are committed to maintaining that progress. EMAs will continue as the participation age rises, although we will look at the structure of financial support to ensure that it is as effective as possible. More than 540,000 16 to 19 year- olds are now in receipt of EMAs at a cost of about £500 million per year. That is a wholly new investment and policy development under this Government.
This brings me, finally, to the issue of compulsion. Those who oppose the raising of the participation age argue that improving education and training is alone sufficient to improve participation. They argue that putting a legal duty on young people is heavy-handed; that it will lead to the criminalising of young people who face challenging circumstances often beyond their control; and that it will only increase the disengagement of young people.
The noble Baroness sitting opposite me may, in the nicest possible way, be about to make those arguments, so let me get my retaliation in first. Let me first say a word about enforcement. I cannot overemphasise that enforcement is a last resort. Making a success of this policy requires that we motivate more young people to continue beyond the age of 16 because they positively want to do so, taking advantage of all the new opportunities, including diplomas and apprenticeships, which I described earlier.
However, we cannot will the end without willing all the means required to achieve it. The experience of some other countries suggests that where a requirement to participate has been introduced without a means of enforcing it, it has had little effect, whereas those countries which have introduced a means of ultimately enforcing the requirement have seen a significant increase in participation—the most recent example being Western Australia. If participation in education and training really matters, it should be enforced, just as school attendance is currently enforced. I assume that those who do not wish to enforce this higher education and training participation age are not in favour of making school education voluntary simply because of the existence of truancy.
We also need to look at who loses from non-enforcement. Without compulsion, a hard core of young people who come from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, and who have so much to gain from continuing their education and training, will be less likely to participate voluntarily, and may be left behind in a continuing underclass. However, with compulsion, we believe that participation will soon be seen as the normal and expected option for all young people—just as was the case when the Victorians made primary education compulsory for all and when the school leaving age was raised to 16 a generation ago. This is why the Bill necessarily sets out in detail the process that would be followed in cases of non-compliance. In doing so, it imposes duties not only on young people but on parents, schools, colleges, employers and local authorities, and all have their part to play in this fundamental social reform.
In conclusion, let me set this reform in a broader historical context. Precisely a century ago, in 1908, no less a figure than Winston Churchill—then in his Liberal phase—proposed a reform similar to the one we are bringing to the House today. His intention, he said in an impassioned letter to Prime Minister Asquith, was to,
“thrust a big slice of Bismarckism over the whole underside of our industrial system”.
A key element of that, he argued, was to make education compulsory until the age of 17. This did not come to pass, not least because of the rapid approach of war with Germany. However, there continued to be strong political and industrial support for the change, and as the First World War drew to an end, HAL Fisher, president of the Board of Education in Lloyd George’s Liberal-Conservative coalition, included in the Education Act 1918 a requirement that every young person should be in at least part-time education or training until the age of 18. Fisher argued that:
“The compulsion proposed in this Bill will be no sterilising restriction of wholesome liberty, but an essential condition of a larger and more enlightened freedom, which will tend to stimulate the civic spirit, to promote general culture and technical knowledge and to diffuse a steadier judgement and a better-informed opinion through the whole body of the community”.
Alas, because of post-war economic uncertainty and cuts in government funding, the Fisher Act was never fully implemented. But Fisher’s words ring as true today as they did in 1918. This Bill is no restriction of wholesome liberty, but an essential condition of a larger and more enlightened freedom for our people. I commend it to the House.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Adonis.)
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his customarily clear introduction and thorough explanation of what the Bill sets out to do and for his interesting history lesson. I think that everyone in your Lordships’ House will join me in admiring the Bill’s laudable aim to raise the aspirations of our young people and equip them with the necessary education and skills for a fulfilling future. Those of us who believe that education is a good in itself share the Government’s hopes that the Bill will go some way towards improving the approach that we in this country take to learning and acquiring skills. If that ideal is spread as widely as possible, so much the better. We can all agree that the improvement of basic skills and the acquisition of new ones are to be welcomed.
However, in case the Minister thinks that I am getting carried away in my support for the Bill, I will add that, just because we can all sign up to the same goals, that does not necessarily mean that we think that the Government have found the right means of achieving them. However charmingly the Minister may try to pre-empt my arguments, I am still going to make them.
There are serious flaws in the Bill and I know that I will not be alone, both inside the House and outside, in raising them. Not least of these is the way in which the Government legislate, although sadly that problem is not confined to this Bill. Large parts have been added without proper debate or scrutiny, making our job here all the more important, and the consultation process is open to question, although I shall come back to that. The Bill, like so many before it and like the education Bill that we will see in the next Session and on which, bizarrely, this Bill depends for its full implementation, will once again bring in more structural changes to a sector that is heartily tired of tinkering and tampering.
Part 1 of the Bill deals with raising the participation age in education and training. Part 2 lays out the support that will be provided to enable this to happen. The Bill creates a duty on all young people to participate in education or training up to the age, ultimately, of 18 and places further duties on parents, local authorities and employers to facilitate this. I am sure that I will not be the only person to lift my hands in despair at how the Government are going about achieving this worthy ambition. A breach of this duty will result in sanctions. The Minister assures us that this is the last resort, that it will affect only a tiny number of people and that the sanctions are there simply to send out a message, but we have serious concerns.
The young people at whom these measures are aimed are already disaffected with the education system. I realise that we are now talking about the cohort of year 6, but the children are similar. In many cases, they have in effect dropped out before they turn 16. Truancy rates are at their highest for 10 years, so if the Government cannot keep in school all our children who should be there now, how do they think that we will cope with thousands more disaffected young adults who are suddenly being told that they must stay on in a system that they feel offers them nothing?
The Government have looked at this problem and have typically come up with the wrong solution. Instead of compulsion, with the threat of being slapped with a fine and hauled in front of the youth courts, we should look at how to engage and excite young people so that they have a desire to keep going, to maintain enthusiasm and to be informed and educated enough to make up their own minds without the Government bossily telling them what they can and cannot do. Surely that would be a better long-term approach than creating this raft of regulations, rules, penalties, duties, parenting contracts, threats, sanctions and the masses of attendant bureaucracy that these measures will inevitably create.
I had an interesting meeting with the Institute of Directors, 70 per cent of whose members are from small and medium-sized enterprises—the very employers on whom the burden will fall most heavily and who have the least resources to cope. They are extremely concerned about the extra paperwork, the extra time and the difficulties that the Bill will create for them; they are concerned about falling foul of the law should they miss something or make a mistake. The Government talk of sending out a message, but it would be just awful if the message that went out to employers was to avoid young people because, with all these new rules, they are too much trouble. We have real unease about the practicalities and the principles of compulsion and we will press the Government on this issue.
When we look at the training and education that will be made compulsory, we must be wary of allowing the Government to set targets in the heedless pursuit of just any qualifications. As my honourable friend Michael Gove said in another place, we should do everything that we can to harness every individual’s intellectual talent. I wholeheartedly agree, but would add practical talent. However, this is not only about acquiring a piece of paper. That piece of paper has to mean something.
My mother left school at 14 and worked until she was 67 without any formal qualifications. Yet you could not have met a better educated, better informed person, who was exceptionally good at what she did. There must be thousands of people like her; otherwise, our economy would not be as strong and robust as the Government assure us that it is. We must not have qualifications simply for qualifications’ sake. The skills that are to be acquired must be meaningful to the young person and useful to their work. This may well take the guise of informal education, where appropriate, which can help to provide young people who have chaotic lives with the self-confidence, resilience and skills that they need to make the most of formal education and their personal development.
A lot of these young people will move into jobs in service industries such as catering and retail, where perhaps the most useful skills are simple ones but ones that they simply have not been taught: the importance of time-keeping, personal presentation, being pleasant and looking at people when you speak to them. These things might seem minor to us but they can do so much to improve the attitudes and prospects of young people in that kind of workplace, or indeed in any kind of workplace.
Much of what the Government are trying to achieve would be unnecessary if only standards in our schools were better, as the Minister acknowledged. The Government announced today that they have given local authorities 50 days to come up with a plan of action for their worst-performing secondary schools, although I am slightly at a loss as to why the possibility of their becoming academies is seen as a threat. Nevertheless, it begs the question: why 50 days when the Government have had 11 years?
It is what happens before the age of 16 that will have the most impact. Our children should get the best start that they can. We simply must not tolerate a situation where four out of 10 children cannot master the basics. Without the ability to read and write, and without a grasp of numeracy, all the exciting and wonderful things that education has to offer are lost. We should not be surprised when children become disengaged and disruptive. Tackling underachievement early must be a priority before it has a chance to have a knock-on effect and handicap a child’s future.
We also need a proper route to vocational training through diplomas and modern apprenticeships, but that must mean suitable, hands-on experience, not someone just sitting behind a desk ticking boxes. Vocational qualifications must be rigorous and they must be valued by our young people, which means that they must be valued by employers. We will ask the Government to show that they have properly thought through the practicalities, logistics, funding and organisation required to provide flexible, meaningful and desirable training courses for all these young people. That includes proper support for young people with learning difficulties across the spectrum to help them to overcome the barriers to employment. We must also be mindful of the distressingly high number of young people who suffer from mental health problems. Unless we ensure that we make adequate provision for them, they will continue to fall through the cracks of the new system, as they have done in the old.
In addition, we should have better advice available for young people so that they know their options for the future and can make informed choices. Career guidance needs to start earlier and should be geared specifically to providing detailed information on the skills requirement of particular occupations. In two-thirds of schools in England, careers advice is co-ordinated or delivered by staff without any formal qualifications in this field. Moreover, wearing my shadow Minister for Women’s hat, I believe that careers advice should robustly challenge gender stereotypes. According to excellent research by the YWCA, the five lowest-earning apprenticeships are dominated by women, while—surprise, surprise—the top-earning apprenticeship is almost 100 per cent male. This is so important because women in poverty find it much harder to pull themselves out of it and a woman in poverty at the age of 16 is twice as likely as a man to be trapped in poverty at the age of 30.
Part 3 deals with improving adult skills, an aim that no one could criticise. Demographic change means that it is becoming increasingly important that we improve the skills of our existing workforce. We welcome moves to a more comprehensive, single careers service, but we fear that the Government are in danger of repeating the mistakes that they made in the establishment of Connexions. It would be a great pity if the objective of universal and impartial careers advice were overshadowed by the urgency of targeted programmes.
The Conservative Party believes that lifelong learning and acquiring new qualifications—either to help with better employment prospects or for general well-being—are worthy goals, which is why we have deep concerns about the Government’s policies on equivalent-level qualifications. The University of Bolton—an institute close to my heart—has 9,000 students, half of whom are mature students and many of whom are working and studying for their degrees on a part-time basis. The Government’s actions will cost Bolton £1.5 million next year, but the university is so committed to those students that it will bear the cost, which will not be easy. Universities all around the country will be facing the same problem.
Part 4 causes us great concern. I declare an interest as a governor of Bolton School, my old school, and as a member of the executive committee of AGBIS. The Bill will transfer the regulation and registration of independent schools from the DCSF to Ofsted. If there was ever a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, this surely is it. Our independent schools are recognised by the OECD as the best schools in the world. I have been enormously encouraged by the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, to encourage understanding between the state and independent sectors, to foster excellent working relationships and to share best practice. Independent schools have a good working relationship with the DCSF but are upset and worried that it will be ruined by these changes.
I should have thought that the Government would welcome and encourage a good rapport between one of their departments and a sector for which it has responsibility. Perhaps Ministers are so unsettled by such an unusual occurrence that they were not thinking entirely logically. It is such a shame that, at a time when barriers, real or perceived, are being broken down between the independent and other sectors, the Government would jeopardise that by injecting confusion and difficulty into the situation. The Government tell us that they consulted on the issue, but the Bill was written and published before the consultation was complete. This is a reform—I use that word loosely—that the independent sector did not want, that Ofsted did not ask for and that will place the Secretary of State further away from what was and should continue to be a good working system. We will seek to have this part removed from the Bill.
I also hope that the proposed changes to Section 347 schools, of which there are only 75 in the country, will be considered carefully so that we do not end up with a fearfully bureaucratic scheme where none is necessary and serves only to hamper the excellent work that the schools do. Two other areas that we will want to explore further are the changes to the admissions code that were added so late that there was little time for debate in the other place and—I am sure that this will come as no surprise to the Minister—the protection of personal and sensitive information, on which we will be seeking reassurance.
In conclusion, I quote the words of the educational charity Edge:
“Who wouldn’t support more young people becoming engaged in education, employment and training?”.
I look forward to hearing the contributions of other noble Lords. My noble friend Lady Perry of Southwark, who I am glad to see is in her place, unfortunately has had to withdraw because she cannot stay for the closing speeches, but she will be taking part in the further stages. Throughout the Bill, we need to think about imaginative and positive schemes. Over the past few weeks, I have been heartened after speaking to some of the truly remarkable organisations that we are so lucky to have in this country, such as the Prince’s Trust, Edge, Barnardo’s, Rainer, the YWCA and countless other voluntary bodies that do so much excellent work in helping our young people to realise their potential. I place on the record my thanks to them and to all the other organisations that have taken so much time and trouble to brief us. There is so much opportunity for noble Lords on all sides of the House in this Bill. We have the chance to make a real difference to the hopes and prospects of young people in this country. We must ensure that we deliver the best that we can, because they deserve the best that we can give them.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for setting out the Government’s intentions in bringing forward this important legislation. We on these Benches are at one with him in his intention to ensure that as many young people as possible participate in learning, at least until they are 18. All the statistics show that the qualifications one obtains by the age of 18 are a good predictor of future life chances and income prospects. However, the Minister will not be surprised to learn that we take issue with him on some of the ways in which the Government propose to achieve this desirable outcome. To be 24th out of the OECD list of 29 countries for staying on in education or training is a terrible indictment after 11 years of a Government who try hard but often choose the wrong systems in order to achieve their outcomes. We are also in serious doubt about whether some parts of the Bill are necessary at all. Despite the consensus about the desirability of the outcomes, this has already been a very contentious Bill in another place.
I turn first to Part 1, which addresses the duties on young people, their parents, LEAs, education institutions and employers, in relation to participation up to 18 and the framework of penalties proposed. When looking at measures proposed by the Government, I usually ask myself five questions. Is the outcome desirable? Are the means proposed right and proper? Are they the most appropriate means for achieving the end? Have the Government assigned the necessary resources? Is the timescale appropriate?
The first question is easy: of course the outcome is desirable. All the indicators show that, so there is no need to dwell on it. As to resources, only time will tell. Are the means right and proper? Well, some of them are and some of them are not. The proposals to widen the range of educational and training opportunities and support arrangements are much needed. Many young people who leave education at 16 do so because they have already become disengaged from school; turned off by the curriculum and perhaps by the style of teaching; demoralised by failure; possibly even bullied. Some of them with special educational needs or physical or mental disabilities find the world of school so difficult to cope with that they are only too glad to leave at 16. Some of them have already voted with their feet and failed to attend for years.
We all have great hopes for the new national diplomas, although some of us have considerable reservations, in particular about whether they contain relevant practical experience. We welcome proposals to increase the number of apprenticeships and of pre-apprenticeship courses that will make them accessible to a wider range of young people. However, we are unhappy about the compulsion element in the Bill and the penalties for those who refuse to participate. Enforcement may be a last resort, but so, we are told, is imprisoning children. We have 3,000 children in custody at the moment, so pardon my scepticism about that.
On the question of a timescale, the Bill puts the cart before the horse. There is a strange tension in it. On the one hand, the Government introduce an entitlement for every young person to study a diploma or take an apprenticeship by 2013. They also introduce two adult entitlements, which Liberal Democrats have long supported: a lifelong entitlement to free level 2 and basic skills tuition, and a similar entitlement to level 3 tuition up to the age of 25. Hurrah for all that. However, they spoil it by saying that in the same year that these entitlements come into force, young people must participate up to 17; and, two years later, up to 18. This timing is inappropriate and I shall table amendments to put these things in the correct order. We should try entitlement and support first before we resort to compulsion.
I also question whether we are on track to have the quantity and diversity of provision in place by then. I will table an amendment to ensure that this is audited before the implementation of compulsion. I believe that compulsion is inappropriate and possibly self-defeating, and I will seek to overturn it. At a time when the Government are considering giving young people of 16 the right to vote, it is wrong to force them to spend their lives in a certain way. They can go to work and pay taxes, get married and have children, join the Army and possibly vote; and the Government believe they have a right to tell them what to do. No, I do not believe that Governments have that right. Staying on after 16 should be an entitlement, not a legally enforceable duty.
We should help and encourage young people, so let us look at those who are most likely to resist the duty to participate up to 18 and see whether the Bill contains enough support for them as the system will work only if it adequately identifies and addresses the reasons for their exclusion. They are the disengaged ones, and the ones with physical and mental disabilities and special needs. There is often an overlap here, because their special needs were not addressed earlier. The reasons for disengagement are complex and will not be solved by compulsion. If you look at the options available in Clause 2, you will find the clause lacking. The main focus should be to ensure that there is flexible, varied and high-quality provision for all young people, whatever their circumstances. I will table an amendment to add to the list in Clause 2 a package of learning and support tailored to the needs of those who find it most difficult, which will widen the limited range of learning experiences to include more informal and community-based options. This should help the most vulnerable young people—teenage mothers, young carers, those with health or addiction problems, Traveller communities, young people in custody and others with special needs.
It is a pity that the Government are spoiling what could be a good Bill by trying to insist on the penalties and I shall seek to change their minds. The Joint Committee on Human Rights also expressed its concern that,
“relying on criminal coercion for … enforcement is potentially disproportionate”.
I will table an amendment to give an LEA a duty to assess the young person’s specific barriers to participation and provide a tailored package of support and appropriate learning experiences before it can embark on the enforcement process. It is just not good enough to accept caring responsibilities or a young baby as a “reasonable excuse” for not participating and let the person opt out. That could just be a let-out for the LEA from providing the help and support that would allow these young people to take up their entitlement to education beyond 16.
Despite the Government's assurances about criminal records, I am still concerned about the duty in the Bill to disclose the offences and the effect it might have on a young person's future prospects. I am also concerned about all the data protection issues in the exchange of information. As for fixed-penalty fines, there should be a much lower cap than has been discussed in another place. Of course, I welcome the expansion of the EMA to a wider range of courses, but the rate has not increased since 2004. A fine of up to £200 for someone whose only income is EMA is completely disproportionate. It will, of course, fall on the parents, who probably have not got much money anyway.
There are particular concerns among those who work with young people with special needs about the arrangements for good quality and timely assessment. We would like to see this done for all those with special needs, not just those with statements, especially given the wide range of attitudes of different authorities to statementing and the general move away from reliance on it anyway.
I have concentrated on Part 1 of the Bill as my noble friends on these Benches will deal in more detail with Parts 2 and 3. However, careers guidance is a vital part of the jigsaw. Since this function was handed over to Connexions, careers guidance in schools has almost disappeared and will need to be completely recreated. Although there is much good quality careers advice on the internet, young people will need knowledgeable guidance to find their way through it before they make their GCSE choices. That will require a great deal of training in the teaching force, and this is one of many places where we are not yet ready to implement these changes and will probably not be for five years. It is vital that the opportunity is taken, with a major shake-up of careers advice, to address the gender, race and other stereotypes on the labour market, and ensure that all young people have all options available to them. In my convent school, if you were any good, the nuns would suggest that you become a teacher; I did. However, that was the extent of their ambition for us. Things are quite different now, but we have a long way to go to achieve wage equality between men and women and between the various races that make up our population.
On Part 4, I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton. I, too, believe in the old adage, “If it ain't broke, don't fix it”, which applies in this case. Whatever you think of independent schools, there is no good reason for changing the registration and regulation arrangements for them. Transferring them to Ofsted is unjustified and unnecessary, and the consultation was sadly lacking. No one has called for it. There has been no major issue about quality or inspection needing to be addressed. If the system needs streamlining, there are other ways of doing it that do not upset a system that is working well. I, too, will be seeking to delete this part from the Bill.
On Clause 129, which abolishes the “approved” status for independent schools taking SEN pupils—the so-called Section 347 schools—this, too, is unnecessary and undesirable. At a time when we are desperate for more expert and high quality provision for such young people, it seems to me nonsense to dilute their expertise and specialism. For what purpose? Is it in order to save money? I challenge the Minister adequately to justify these measures and, if she cannot, I will seek to delete them from the Bill.
In Part 5, I welcome the tightening up of the admissions system—which we will of course scrutinise in detail—and thank the Bill team for their assurance in an e-mail this morning that all this will apply to all academies. However, I have concerns about Clause 138 on the powers schools will be given to allocate alternative provision. I am concerned that this may have a disproportionate impact on groups already over-represented in school exclusions. I ask the Minister for an assurance that there will be a thorough equality impact assessment of this measure as soon as possible. Some PRUs do an excellent job although the quality is patchy across the country. I am again grateful to the Bill team for their assurance that the place of good PRUs in post-16 provision will be seriously considered.
I will be taking the opportunity to fill in gaps in legislation and to table amendments on the voice of the child, statutory PSHE and on the gap in promoting well-being in FE colleges. I have raised all these issues before and I will do so again.
Finally, I should like to say a word about Wales. I understand that the Minister may bring forward a single framework clause to allow Wales to make up its own mind about these issues. He will be aware that the nearer we on these Benches can get to letting the Welsh people make their own decisions, the happier we will be. Much progress has been made on Welsh education since devolution and matters relating to 14 to 19 year-olds are in hand. We should like to ensure that there are no barriers here. Having said all that, I assure the Minister that we shall adopt our usual level of constructive engagement as we take forward our detailed debates.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his characteristically clear and cogent introduction to the Bill’s issues. I listened with great interest to the other two opening speeches and look forward with equal interest to seeing amendments being tabled, which I shall assess dispassionately from the Cross Benches.
The good news for the Minister is that I welcome the extension of educational opportunity and aspiration. That is the clear intention of the Bill, for which it must be praised. Its direction of travel is one that we all believe in, as has been said more than once. The more sombre news is that some have said in my hearing that, if the pre-16 system were adequate and performing as it should be, the Bill would not be necessary and that, if it is not adequate and is not performing as it should be—many of us see the difficulties in that regard—the Bill will not solve the problem. However, that analysis is too simplistic; the matter is more complicated than that.
I take heart from the Minister’s points about the various developments, not least as regards diplomas, which seek to change pre-16 and post-16 education. However, the critical question is whether the Bill comprises a new start for 16 year-olds or whether its provisions can be built into the existing system. The proposed improvements add to the strength of the Bill and the possibilities that it lays out will be an incentive to improve the existing system. I hope that at later stages I shall be able to return to questions that I cannot deal with now, such as inspection, which has been mentioned, and adult education, where the Bill is too timid. There are great possibilities in that area, which we ought to address—if not in this Bill, on a future occasion.
The Bill embodies a new form of encouragement but also a new principle of compulsion in post-16 education. This will be a major issue in our debates. It is not quite as significant as the raising of the school leaving age that was introduced 30-odd years ago, but it none the less constitutes a significant compulsory extension. My mind is open on compulsion, as I accept that some may not respond to encouragement in this area. If a large number do not respond to encouragement and that number grows beyond what can reasonably be predicted, the question arises of what is to be done with and for them. I shall come back to that complex point, on which I have reservations.
The Bill takes the right direction but the fundamental question is whether it will work. Is it a practical solution to a specific problem and a clear answer to a clear question? It proposes a single solution for two rather different problems and two rather different questions—that is both a strength and a weakness—which may be overoptimistic. I realise that these days Ministers have to be optimistic—I accept that that is part of the trade—but I do not always share the optimism. I shall return to that in a moment.
The two issues, problems or questions that the Bill tries to deal with, are, first, the need to develop further our national skills base, for all the reasons that the Minister properly laid out, and, secondly—this is the emphasis in the Bill’s detail—the need to provide further opportunity for a wide group of young people. The dangers lie in the width of the group of young people. It will include young people who have done well in the pre-16 system and who will enjoy and benefit from the opportunities that will be provided if the Bill goes through. However, as has been said, many have drifted out of education. How in a realistic and practical way does one target those who have joined the ranks of the NEETs—those not in employment, education or training?
The proposed legislation is based on the assumption that a solution to the real range of problems encompassed in the second question—the needs of young people—might well be met in a way that simultaneously deals with the issues in the first question, enhancing the national skills base. That may be overoptimistic and may have led to some of the details being generalised rather than being made more particular. In other words, it suggests that there is a demand and that we have a potential source of supply.
There will be a series of questions that I hope I can be reassured about during our debates. My first question is whether legislation is the solution to all the problems, especially to the second group, when what is certainly needed is a change of culture—with a small “c”—in the widest possible sense. We need a change in aspiration—the Government and the other parties have paid due attention to this—among our young people and a change in the culture of the playground, so that particularly boys are not put off further education and further study. These will be the difficult cases.
A change of culture is required. Legislation can help that, but it cannot guarantee it. It can, however, hinder it. I will raise that point in a few moments. Parliament and legislation alone will not win the battle. There are other players: the schools and colleges, the employers, the local authorities, the young people in question and their parents. All have a significant part to play if the aspirations of the Bill, which I think we all share, are to be met.
I am enthused by the vision, but the range of players leads me to want to examine in greater detail, as I am sure we will in our deliberations on the Bill, how those who have an important part to play can be encouraged and supported. The colleges are primed. They are enthusiastic and ready to go. They properly see opportunity in this. That is marvellous, because they have a role to play that is not sufficiently well developed in our education system.
In many cases, the need for the Bill, as I suggested, arises from the failure of the early school system in basic literacy and numeracy. Will the provision include what we might otherwise call remedial education in the basics of literacy and numeracy? If these skills are not there very early in the process, the process will not carry through to successful conclusion.
The employers’ record is not always good. The Minister has given us some encouraging statistics, but I have recently seen some others about the building and construction industry, which one would hope might be an important player among the group of employers, that are not encouraging. The number of apprenticeships being created is certainly not near the target for that group. The worries that the industry has, which the CBI has flagged up, include the possibility that there could be unintended consequences—for example, 16 and 17 year-olds, who might have a job at the moment, not being offered jobs for fear of the bureaucracy and regulation that will descend particularly on smaller employers. The consequence of fewer jobs for 16 and 17 year-olds cannot be a good outcome.
What help will be given to the local authorities? Again, we have had some outline of this, but how far were they consulted on the onerous and complex responsibilities that will be given to them? What was their response? On policy—this matter will fall under the purview of local authorities—at what point will avoidance become a criminal offence? This is a key question. I read what is in the Bill but when in the process will this occur?
Worries have been expressed about the legislation being overenthusiastically interpreted in the years to come. There is a clear risk of that. Is there not a better way? That is the question being asked. I have not ruled out compulsion in the extremes, but one reassurance is the possibility that young people might work off any criminal record. With a future of successful employment in their early 20s, within a period the offence might be annulled from the record. That would make me rather less concerned than I am about the possibility of young people being given criminal records for something that I confess I did when I was 15 to see Australia playing cricket: missing classes and school. I dare say that I did not reach the criminal offence stages, but it is a worrying prospect that that habit could lead to a criminal record, given the impact of that on the rest of the lives of these young people. My other question on this is whether, if this is a criminal offence, DNA samples will be taken from these young people. If so, will those samples be kept on record? That is a serious question. Both these points could be dealt with within current legislation if there were a way of, in due course, working out one’s term and having the record annulled. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say on that.
Some parents will rise to the opportunity and some are already semi-detached from these young adults, who in some cases will be parents themselves. How is the term “parent” defined? If I were in a local authority I would want to ask this question forcefully. Is it the two adults who happen to live in the same house as you? Is the father the individual whose name is now by regulation put on the birth certificate? Who are the parents? This a real question. If one wants the details, one can talk to any head teacher or teacher in a school working in a difficult area. They will tell you in some detail that identifying parents and getting a decent discussion going with them is possibly the most difficult thing that they have to do. However, the Bill has one solution, which is that in the end they might be legally responsible.
In summary, I support the direction of travel implied in the Bill but I wish to be reassured on some of the practical questions that I have raised.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for his clear exposition of the Bill. I am glad to be able to continue the debates that we began last year, during passage of the Further Education and Training Bill in this House, on the well-being of young people aged 16 to 18, particularly those in FE colleges or on skills or vocational courses. I know that over the past few months Ministers have discussed some of these matters with my noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, who is unfortunately prevented from being present to speak on this topic today because of an unbreakable engagement. As noble Lords will be aware, this is a topic on which he has spoken with characteristic panache and what I can only describe as a form of Scottish and Danish eloquence that is unique.
First, I say again, in common with many Members of this House, how much I welcome the Government’s commitment in the Bill to make available to all young people up to the age of 18 the entitlement to programmes of education and training, whether in schools or colleges, in training schemes or in employment. We recognise the Government’s emphasis on the economic necessities that underpin much of the legislation and the potential wider benefits to society. The comprehensive and penetrating report on skills by the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, has alerted us to the skills gap between employees in many sectors in this country and those in many of our European partner countries. We are delighted to support the measures, which will enable the development of an extensive range of skills programmes for adults as well as young people.
Perhaps most importantly, we have also emphasised from these Benches throughout these debates the importance of a broad and deep education for all; a good foundation not only in skills but in that knowledge and those human qualities that make for a whole person who is then able to contribute their very best to society. As is set out in the Education Reform Act 1988, which I know applies only to 16 to 18 year-olds in schools, that necessarily involves “spiritual, moral, cultural … development” to prepare young people for,
“the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life”.
I underline and repeat that it is to prepare them for adult life. The young people at whom the Bill is addressed are not necessarily full adults, but nor are they children. In the discussions that have been held over the past year, Ministers have expressed the view that 16 to 18 year-olds deserve to be treated more as adults and to have more of the freedoms that are accorded to university students of 18 plus. There is to be much said for that view, at least in the way that young people in colleges, and indeed in many schools, are able to plan their learning and are not confined all day in school or college buildings. I wish a few of them would cease meeting outside my front door, but that is another matter.
We welcome the emphasis on listening to the learner’s voice. FE students are learning the responsibilities and duties of adult life—to attend when they are required to on different sites and on employers’ premises. We also need to recognise that this is a learning process requiring support and guidance, as young people develop the values, beliefs and attitudes that will determine their future as husbands or wives, as employees and employers and as responsible members of society. We also need to recognise, as I am sure we do, that some of these young people are at an age when they are most vulnerable to pressures whether of drugs, excessive drinking, sexual exploitation, or of different forms of violence such as gang affiliations and gun and knife crime of which we have, tragically, had too many examples over the past few months.
Noble Lords will be aware that the United Nations report on youth placed Britain at the bottom of a list of 21 OECD countries in terms of young people’s well-being. That report shows something of which many of us are aware—that all is not well with some of our young people. What I propose is simple: all young people, not just those who are gifted or lucky enough to be pursuing A-level studies in schools, should be entitled to provision for their moral and spiritual development and should be faced with those moral and spiritual challenges that go with adult life. Human flourishing is not solely dependent on the acquisition of skills.
We welcome wholeheartedly the initiatives that the Government have taken to support the provision for the development of moral and spiritual development in this sector. A report last year entitled Making Space for Faith demonstrated enthusiasm among FE students for exploring issues of values, belief and faith. The LSC handbooks on multi-faith chaplaincy have been enormously helpful to colleges, as has the current DIUS initiative “All Faiths and None” which explicitly addresses the big questions of meaning and purpose in life. We commend the excellent work already going on in many colleges encouraged by chaplaincies and the National Council for Faiths and Beliefs in Further Education. I could name examples of excellent practice in colleges in my own diocese where there have been some imaginative and innovative programmes to engage with different faiths and encourage greater social cohesion. I am also aware of colleges where the post-16 citizenship initiative enables young people to explore social and political issues and explore voluntary activities in the community.
I draw the House’s attention to the fact that only half of FE colleges have chaplaincies while other colleges that argue that they are not funded to provide for students’ spiritual and moral development and yet others that insist that these issues are purely a private matter. But they are not a private matter; they affect public life at every level of society. In further education where a higher proportion of students are from black and ethnic minorities and from white working class estates where gang culture can be prevalent, these young people deserve above all an education that,
“prepares them for all the responsibilities and experiences of adult life”.
I add a tiny post-script. I wish that the word “vocational” was used not only about education in the FE sector but that it could be used in all sectors in education, in the independent sector and in schools. The very word “vocation” contains within it spiritual and moral values which should be at the heart of all learning in schools, FE colleges, HE institutions and so on.
While I welcome these initiatives, they seem to me to fall some way short of the underpinning which a statutory entitlement would give. Last week my noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth discussed with officials from the DIUS a new non-statutory framework for the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of young people. I should be interested to hear the Minister’s view on this important suggestion which I believe could be of great benefit to the many colleges that struggle to identify how these deep and important issues can be addressed within vocational curricula. I remain convinced that a legal entitlement is the best way to ensure that all young people have opportunities to be prepared for the responsibilities and challenges they will face in their adult lives.
There is no doubt that the Bill is a major step forward for this country in providing an equal entitlement to education and training for all young people up to the age of 18. But is it right that in this one particular segment of education which should cover citizenship as well as spiritual and moral issues, the 43 per cent of young people in FE who are largely from the less-advantaged sections of society are denied this full entitlement? It will not surprise your Lordships’ to know that we in the church believe that these spiritual, moral, social and cultural values are among the most important elements of anyone’s education. We should like to ask the Minister to think again and to find a way, if possible, by which an amendment to the Bill could be included to correct the anomaly and to give that entitlement to all young people for their own personal good and the well-being of the whole of society.
My Lords, it does not seem long since our last education Bill but this one covers some very important territory. The direction of travel is welcome and I am sure that many of us will spend many more hours considering it and getting properly into the detail.
The Bill continues to push against the ceiling on expectations, about which we can never be complacent. We know what we want from our schooling—we have talked about this many times in this House. We want every school to be a good school and every student to be able to fulfil their potential. We want no child to be written off at any stage of their schooling and, particularly, we need to focus on the transition points at 11 and 16. To deliver an education system that truly delivers for 100 per cent of pupils is a major undertaking and requires sustained commitment. A huge shift in expectations is still needed.
We should remember that, a generation ago, the top one-fifth or so of school leavers gained good school-leaving qualifications and that less than one in 10 went into higher education. The other four-fifths left school with only a basic education and few qualifications, and the bottom 10 per cent lacked even basic competence in literacy and numeracy.
We have moved a long way from that, and quite quickly, but no one who believes that education is the key to equality of opportunity can feel that we have yet gone far enough. Some of the proposed changes that we are talking about today are controversial, but education reform is never easy and is not necessarily popular at the time.
I looked back over comments on recent reforms and found that literacy and numeracy hours were ridiculed as some sort of Stalinist measure that would knock inspiration out of teaching. The tune changed when the levels of achievement went up. We were warned that city academies would extend provision for the privileged few but they have instead started to deliver improvements in results that are well above the average in the most disadvantaged communities whose children were written off for too long. Of course, tuition fees were savaged by commentators and opposition parties and, I admit, by more than a few in my own party who thought that it was fine to continue a system that limited the number who could go to university to those who always had gone and who were subsidised by those who never had a chance to go.
It is always tempting to sit still and consolidate and it is understandable why many in education with the best of motives say that enough is enough. Reforms are always difficult to implement for those at the sharp end.
We have a great deal to celebrate and build on today. Let us look at the 2007 results achieved in our schools. We now have 80 per cent achieving key stage 2 at level 4 and above; that is up 17 per cent since 1997—the figures are 77 per cent in maths and 88 per cent in science, up respectively 15 per cent and 19 per cent. With key stage 3 in English, 74 per cent get to level 5 and above; that is up 17 points since 1997. In science, the figure is 73 per cent, which is up one point; 76 per cent get maths, which is up 16 points since 1997. Big, big improvements have already been made. Sixty per cent now get five or more good GCSEs, with 47 per cent getting maths and English as part of that.
Today's announcement on failing schools—in which less than 30 per cent of pupils get five GCSEs—is welcome. Although I know that that will be controversial in some quarters, I confess that in time I hope we can go further. It is right that we are rigorous in our efforts to turn round these schools in as short a time as possible. Those who say that it needs longer must recognise that generations of pupils are failed in this way. Personally, I confess that I am also concerned about that group of somewhat coasting schools in the middle—the ones that get along quite happily but whose value-added scores tell the real story: that those pupils, too, are not being challenged sufficiently to reach their full potential.
While pupils living in the top quartile of affluent areas have a more than 70 per cent chance of gaining at least five good GCSEs, those in the bottom quartile still have only a 30 per cent chance; we cannot afford to sit still. Of course, we know that it can be done. Most of us here today have visited many schools that are bucking the trend. Much of our focus has been on secondary schools and beyond, but we also need to be increasingly concerned about primary schools and keeping up the pressure there, as well as on the transition from primary to secondary schools.
Too many children are still behind grade at 11, and stand still or worse in year 7. Literacy is the tool that opens up education, and without it we see underachievement, disillusionment, poor behaviour and wasted future lives. I strongly welcome the additional resources being put into individual literacy schemes by the Government. I have seen the evidence, on paper and in person, in various primary schools around the country. Last year I visited Maryland primary school in Newham, which had increased its skill level in two years from 59 per cent to 87 per cent of children achieving key stage 2 at level 4 or above. It was running the Read Write phonics scheme. Similar schemes are being run by different LEAs around the country, but Maryland had an amazing scheme. Every adult was involved, from dinner ladies to lollipop ladies, from every teaching assistant to the head teacher. The whole school was divided into very small groups doing intensive literacy support, with amazing results.
There are other schemes with equally great results. For example, Wigan is producing phenomenal results with normal funding as well. So there is a lot to look at and learn. I urge renewed energy on literacy or there is a real danger that we will stand still and make later opportunities so much more difficult to access.
I turn to another area of concern, which is the transition from school at 11. It is little wonder that many pupils never recover from this change as it is traumatic for too many. Recently I have seen three interesting actions to try to improve that transition. The first is nurture classes—intense classes in year 7 in primary schools in an attempt to bring pupils up to standard within year 7. It is obvious stuff, but it is not done enough. It is very intensive and focuses on very few teachers and a smaller curriculum. But by the end of year 7, there is an amazing transition and those children are ready to access fully the national curriculum.
The second experiment worth looking at are all-age schools, which can ease or virtually eliminate the transition from primary to secondary, which is particularly important in disadvantaged communities. I advise a charity, Ark, which has two such schools under way that will offer education from three to 18. We should follow this important experiment with interest.
The third approach refers to small schools focused on year 7, so that within secondary schools there is a school that is almost separate, where pupils can be separated at play and lunch times and the focus is much more on developing ethos, belonging to the school and setting clear expectations of behaviour and achievement. When those pupils go into year 8, they are ready to learn in greater depth.
There is so much that we all agree on in this and previous Bills on education, but I know that the big controversy will be the change in the leaving age for education and training to 18. I confess that if the change were to be brought in immediately I would oppose it. The curriculum would not be ready; the apprenticeships and training opportunities would not be there in sufficient numbers; and the organisation would not be ready. But this change will happen in stages between now and 2015. Above all, this change must build on continuous improvements through the school system from five to 16.
We know that the enlarged numbers entering higher education have not yet truly widened opportunities for the most disadvantaged pupils whose numbers at university have barely changed. Young people who leave education and training at 16 are disproportionately from poor families. Less than half of those with no qualifications are in work compared with nearly 90 per cent of those with graduate level qualifications. Raising the education participation age in stages from 2013 to 2015 is about social justice, provided of course that the right building blocks are in place to make a success of it. The onus will be not only on government, but on employers, who want skilled workers, and on schools to ensure that the building blocks are in place well in advance of those stage dates.
Some will argue that this is in some way illiberal. I do not understand the arbitrary nature of that argument. If it is illiberal to educate to 18 it must have been illiberal to raise the school-leaving age to 16. It would be great if the change to 18 could happen without legislation—in many ways, all of us would like that—but it has not happened and there is no reason to presume that it will. The UK needs to realise the potential of all its children, and I believe that this measure can help us to do that. It is the obvious next stage of the UK’s long history of increasing participation in education.
My Lords, in his briefing notes, the Minister reminds us that this is a landmark piece of legislation. In particular, he tells us that for the first time in over 30 years, we are changing the education leaving age. He looks to history, as an historian would, and calls to mind that in 1918 HAL Fisher considered keeping children in full or part-time education until 18. That was never implemented, not only because of post-war austerity but because even then there were strong differences of opinion about the best method of vocational education: work apprenticeships, school training or a mixture of the two.
The Bill and future decisions will have to resolve those problems, which Fisher failed to do in 1918. They must resolve them if the extension of the leaving age is to work. The Minister knows as well as I do that problems related to vocational training have bedevilled English education for more than a century. If we are to resolve those difficulties, we must first establish, absolutely and completely, dedicated technical colleges devoted to serving respected—I underline that word—vocational qualifications. I have bored this House too often on this, but those colleges should be modelled on those that exist on the Continent, particularly in Germany and Holland.
We must not be under any illusion—this should govern all our discussions—that this will be an easy task. Such colleges will be expensive. Technical vocational education is very expensive. In my last years as headmaster of St Paul’s, we offered a technical qualification, even though it was an academic school, and it cost more than pure science. We are talking about large amounts of money. For that reason, state support will be needed. It is not enough for my party to talk about industry or parents doing it because we are talking about large sums of money.
If we establish these colleges, it will be crucial to appoint staff who have the confidence of industry and, possibly more important, of the pupils. I stress that it will be necessary for the department to avoid temporary solutions to the difficulties—which departments and Governments are prone to—by bussing pupils to a variety of schools over a wide area in order to offer a range of courses. As an ex-headmaster, I assure the Minister that that will not work. It would be time-consuming, difficult to administer and, knowing pupils of that age, a lot of them will be lost in the passage. If not run properly, or at all, it could bring the project into disrepute.
Further—and this has eluded us for a long time—we must define precisely the object and nature of vocational education so that it gains massive respect, such as it enjoys on the continent, from society, industry and, more importantly, the pupils themselves. At this point, I must pay respect to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and my noble friend Lord Baker in providing pilot schemes for vocational colleges in Birmingham and the West Midlands. I must also add my respects to the Minister himself, who has given enormous support to these schemes. Therein lies the hope for applying them to the whole country.
I turn to the vocational diplomas, another pillar of this project, and here I enter areas of controversy—as is the nature of my life. I maintain, and I hope that the Minister can find a certain agreement here, that the prestige of these new diplomas will be weakened if they are designed so as to satisfy not only the needs of vocational learning but those of traditional courses based on book learning and the traditional university processes. It has proved very difficult to have one diploma satisfying two masters: that has failed on a number of occasions. Of course, this business of trying to combine diplomas that satisfy vocational education and traditional university courses is not followed anywhere in Europe, where these vocational diplomas enjoy substantial prestige.
This landmark legislation—and I agree with the Minister that that is what it is—will fail unless we get the issues of the colleges and diplomas right. Making education part or full-time to the age of 18 is a risky business. It is crucial to provide a structure that works well—that is important, and I support the Bill to that extent. If we fail in that, the ramifications will go on for many decades. Let me assure your Lordships that pupils aged 16 to 18 are not the easiest; I taught them for 30 years of my life, and they included quite a number of Members of this House. If they are being bussed from place to place, they can also be rather elusive. If we do not provide the right patterns for these diplomas and colleges, the young people will not accept them. At 16, they are old enough not to accept that. They will vote with their feet and the whole edifice will fall to the ground.
Having said all of that, I am jolly glad that I am not a Minister. I am too old to even think of it, but I congratulate the Minister on this bold step and hope that he succeeds where that great Liberal historian, HAL Fisher, did not even dare to go. I hope that he avoids the fate of HAL Fisher, who lost office two years afterwards—I am sure that he will.
My Lords, the three Front Benches have promised us a challenging summer and autumn in their admirable contributions. Those Back-Bench speakers who preceded me have also set the rest of us a standard in coming forward with ideas. The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, had a crafty idea to deal with and expiate the problem of criminality. The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, has just spoken on the technical college proposal. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans introduced the moral and social dimension of education. The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Huyton, introduced something which, for a moment, seemed not concerned with the Bill but is relevant to its purposes: how to better the transition from primary to secondary. I regard that as utterly fundamental.
In welcoming the Bill and its purposes my concerns will be over how it responds to a fundamental need to invest in the intellectual and skills capital of our people and how it addresses a moral and social issue of great weight: how to engage those who have not been successful in education and who feel to an extent rejected by society. They in turn reject society, with sad consequences for their lives and for the quality of our civilisation.
I have four issues to raise, the first of which is the imperative to raise the standards in skills and education. The second is the motivation to do that. Thirdly, related to motivation is creating a perception in the minds of employers and students that what is on offer to them is relevant to them and of high quality. Finally, we must be careful to ensure that in perfect administration we do not create so much red tape that we cause people to back out of our good intentions.
I start with the economic imperative. References have been made to the report by the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, and his finding that we need to lift the proportion with a level 4 qualification to 40 per cent by 2020, compared with 29 per cent at the time of his report. It is a big increase. I have said before, and I say again, that talking of at least 40 per cent can be misleading, because the Germans and the Americans are there already. We are talking about where we will be in 2020. In other words, in 2020 we will be as far behind as we are now.
On how far behind we are now and the prospect that the Germans will advance, our Select Committee on Economic Affairs, in its report on apprenticeships, told us that, by their early 30s, 78 per cent of Germans are at level 3, compared with our 42 per cent—a gap of more than 30 percentage points at the moment. If you dip down, there is still a big gap at level 2. It is not only the Germans who are 20-odd percentage points above us, the French are too. So they are at a higher level to move up beyond their high levels in excess of ours already. That is a tremendous challenge and there is an imperative need to make a success of what is intended in the Bill.
That brings me to the important issues. The first proposal on my agenda is to increase the entitlement to free level 3 qualification up to the age of 25. Bearing in mind how far we are behind, surely it must not be limited to that. People between 25 and 35 are still raising a family and getting the money together for a first home. Our problem is so great that we must be a touch more generous than 25. I am pushing it up not just for their sakes, but for all our sakes.
Then there is the statutory provision for free courses for a level 2 and for those at the most basic levels of mathematics and English. Great, but if you can look at the sums in the impact statement, you see that the extra expenditure and, through that, the extra places must be very few. I have looked into that with the help of officials and it is an issue that we ought to go into further as we proceed. The ideas are good, but I am concerned—this is my only concern about the Bill—that we use the opportunity that it gives us to do what the Government and all of us want. I am concerned that we shall not adequately exploit the opportunity.
That brings me to the question of motivation, my second point, which the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, raised. Compulsion is one approach. The successful approach is: “I want to do it” and, from employers, “I want to be engaged in this” rather than being forced and driven by laws, requirements and penalties. We need some new thinking on what will motivate young people, especially those who have been least successful in education, and have left it and shaken the dust of education off their sandals—I am talking about adults now—to come back in to remedy what they have missed in the past. I wrote to the government department concerned, the DIUS, about a month ago suggesting the need to bring together people with a wide range of experience and expertise to consider the issue of why those people do not come back and how to entice them back. It is not the kind of committee I want, but this layman is saying: “Offer them something they want—it may be studying Spanish to go on holiday, just to get them going and back into learning. It may be learning how to play rock music. Get them engaged in something they enjoy doing and you can develop from there”. You have to get them through the door to get them started. That is the big problem.
Perhaps government departments can be helpful in getting people to move up from level 2 to level 3—where the Germans have been so immensely successful—by laying down job specifications. For example, languages are very important in the health service and the police, and such a specification would stimulate some people to do things they would not otherwise want to do. Motivation is the key issue behind everything we hope to achieve.
One piece of brilliant new thinking from this Government, in which I played a small part for a time, was the creation of Learn Direct. This system made it easy to learn from home by providing first-class learning materials and allowing you to use modern technology to do it when you wanted, how you wanted and wherever you were at any time. It has been a great success. About a quarter of a million people are engaged in programmes at level 2 or, if they are not at level 2, they are ready to lift their attainment in the basics or a vocation. This kind of approach could also be relevant in schools education as a back-up to teachers. I may, if I remember, come back to that if I have sufficient time.
The Government have been innovative in qualifications and opportunities. That is great. One such opportunity is the young apprenticeships scheme which now involves 9,000 young people, I think, in extended pilots. They are going well and had a very successful report by Ofsted. However, it is one thing to do it when it has been carefully nurtured, managed and helped for 9,000, but to go national is a very different business. We need a huge investment of mind in how to achieve that and how to motivate and encourage employers to want to offer the opportunities. There have to be schools which can provide the back-up.
When schools move to the 14 vocational diplomas they will be the biggest challenge that secondary schools have faced for decades. They will be dealing with 14 diplomas at three levels in addition to what they do already and the three new “academic” diplomas. How on earth can we do that? We have to invest in teachers in order to have the capabilities to offer this to a high standard. If it is not to a high standard and if it is not seen to be relevant by employers then it will not succeed. People will have to want to do it and see value in it. There is a big challenge not in the concept but in the implementation of the policy.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, for raising the question of technical colleges. I have worked with the noble Lord, Lord Baker, on this and have made tentative enquiries in various parts of the country about offering to 14 or 16 year-olds the opportunity of diplomas that require highly specialised and costly equipment and facilities that have continually to be updated. Those should be offered by specially built, designed and equipped technical colleges of high standing, perhaps sponsored by universities and major employers. The initial response we are getting is encouraging. These are very early days. However, just as there has been creative thinking about the options offered in secondary schools—the young apprenticeships and the diplomas—we have to be prepared to open our minds, while accepting the comprehensive as the basic rock of the system, to develop our minds and reach out to new ideas. I am glad, incidentally, to hear that government is opening the door to all-through schools. There may be an issue here about the age of transition from primary to secondary, but perhaps we will discuss that on another day.
There is provision, which I welcome, for the local authority to be responsible for seeing that the lads and the lasses do their stuff, but there is no responsibility in the Bill to provide the resources. I do not see how you can do one without simultaneously doing the other, and one must not assume that if you have done one, Parliament will approve the other.
My time is up. In conclusion, the key issue behind all this is that, having created an excellent framework and highly desirable objectives, we must provide the underpinning in terms of teachers who are well qualified to teach and the capability in specialist colleges, where they are needed, to offer highly technical subjects. We must also be sure that the employers want to engage because they can see that this is what they want and that it is not bound up in red tape. It is being made easy for them and it is so relevant. On that basis, the Bill can be a great success.
My Lords, this is the Bill that many of us have wanted for decades. I suppose that, if we were old enough, we would have wanted it since 1918. The Minister and others have mentioned that, but they have not mentioned the fact that the requirement for education to 18 was repeated in the Education Act 1944 by the Conservative and Labour Government. The only proviso was that it would not be implemented until resources permitted. It is extraordinary how many things resources have permitted since then, but not apparently this. The result has been one of the most unequal education systems in the advanced world. It is bipolarised, with many people leaving at the minimum school leaving age, which is low, and many people going on to a good higher education system. Associated with that has been a very unequal distribution of earnings, which we all deplore.
We have seen huge advances in A-levels and university education, but for the other half of our children there has been far too little progress since the raising of the school leaving age to 16 in the early 1970s. Now, at last, we have a Bill that is almost entirely devoted to that group of children. It is extraordinarily unusual to have an education debate that is confined to this group of children. I totally welcome it and I congratulate the Government on having proposed the Bill.
I have two important questions about the Bill. First, will it actually deliver the quality that one hopes for for the people who will get more education because of it? Will the education be good enough? Secondly, can we achieve the quantity that is implied by the universal requirement in the Bill?
On quality, how much education will people have to have, and of what kind? The Bill says that a person must be either in full-time education or apprenticeship or in part-time education or training while in work. What is the definition of part-time education or training? The Bill says that a person must be working towards a qualification accredited by the QCA and be getting 280 hours a year of guided learning. That is wonderful, but there is a proviso. If he is not getting 280 hours of guided learning, he must be working for a qualification for a which 280 hours that are assigned by the QCA. This is a most awful weakness. Surely we should specify that people should get some education, not be signed up for something for which they will have to do some education if they want the qualification.
I understand the thinking, but let us suppose that the employer thinks that a person could get the qualification with less than the 280 hours of guided learning. Obviously, such a person should be doing a higher qualification or aiming to achieve more than a bare pass. We do not want people to be signed up just for a qualification; we want them to get education. Equally, another employer might sign up a person knowing that he or she was not likely to get that qualification. We must have a specification of how much education a person should get, not just what they are signed up for. I hope that the Minister can look again at this weak link in the description of extra education.
Another aspect of quality is where this education is provided. Where will the guided learning happen? The Labour Party used to talk about off-the-job education and training. I do not think that these words appear in the Bill, although I may not have read every word. However, in general, that is not said. The Bill should refer to education away from the individual’s workstation, although it quite possibly could be on the employer’s premises. People can learn a lot at their workstations, but the basic purpose of the Bill is to stop people spending all their time at their workstations. They need to be able to think about what they are doing, as well be able to do the job in front of them. We are concerned about getting an educated workforce with the ability to analyse what it is doing as well as just being able to perform rote operations. That is lacking in parts of the British workforce, which is why we have an Education and Skills Bill and not just a skills Bill. We want an educated workforce whose members learn and think about their jobs. I urge the Minister to think about a requirement for most guided learning to be away from the workstation. If that does not happen, we can easily see in what direction this will lead.
On quantity, could we get everyone up to the age of 18 into education by 2015? As things are, I very much doubt whether we could do that. It would not be for the reasons of penalties that have been discussed; it would be to do with what is required from employers in order to make this possible. No one thinks that we will have everyone in full-time education. A great part of this expansion will have to be in part-time education and apprenticeships.
A striking feature of the Bill is that, in order to satisfy the law, young people will have to be not just in part-time education but in employment for more than 20 hours a week or on an apprenticeship. This will require a huge response from employers. My sums suggest that there will have to be something like a doubling in the number of young people on apprenticeships or in jobs with training, which would require at least 250,000 extra places of that kind. Can that happen? Some existing employers who now do not provide training will provide training, but others will say, “If we have to provide training, we are not going to be bothered with young people”. We need to find an additional incentive to get them interested.
I see that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, is no longer here, but the report on the apprenticeship system by the Economic Affairs Committee, which he chaired and on which I serve, addressed the question of how we could get enough employers to provide enough apprenticeship places to satisfy the Government’s undertaking that any young person with adequate minimum qualifications should be guaranteed access to an apprenticeship in the same timescale as that in which we are raising the age of participation in education. That is an important question. It is clear that increasing the number of people on apprenticeships will be the single biggest factor in making it possible to engage everybody in the extended educational experience, so we considered how it could be done. We came to the conclusion that, unless we pay employers something for taking on apprentices, it is unlikely that it will be possible.
That costs money, but we need also to think about the implications of moving to a system of compulsory education. Currently we are trying to increase participation in education and to encourage more young people to demand it by bribing them with education maintenance allowance and through child tax credits. However, if education is compulsory, those become less important. What will be absolutely crucial is a sufficient supply of places of a kind that people will want to take up if they are all going to be engaged in education up to 18. We should be spending significant sums of money now on generating an adequate supply of places to ensure that young people aged between 16 and 18 can have their meaningful educational experience.
I am not sure that I can make a specific suggestion but I believe that, without any mechanism for generating a supply of opportunities, in a way the Bill lacks conviction. It is no good saying that young people have to remain in education without showing what will be in place to ensure that there is something for them to do. The education maintenance allowance was a simple way of encouraging young people to remain in education, but now we should use at least some of that money or other funds to ensure that there is something for them to go to. That is a thought worth pursuing. Of course it could be too complicated to tie the provision of places to whether someone is entitled to EMA. As has been said, most of the people whom we are talking about come from deprived backgrounds, in which case we could make a lump-sum payment to every employer who takes on an apprentice or an employee aged under 18 with training needs. Sensible sums of money would go a long way towards motivating employers. Unless we have something like that, in enforcing the Bill we will be marching young people unwillingly into full-time education because there will not be the part-time opportunities to make them, as the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said, get up and go.
The Bill is very welcome, but I hope that the Minister can make it more ambitious in terms of quality. We should be talking about what is actually going to happen—the actual provision of education, not the qualification that someone signs up for. We should ensure that most of the education takes place away from the workstation and we must have a realistic strategy for making available enough of the kind of places that young people will want to take up. It is wonderful that the Government have grasped the nettle of undereducation, but let us really root it up.
My Lords, your Lordships will be relieved to hear that in Committee I hope to address a number of issues beyond those I shall speak about this afternoon. There has been for years a crying need for some change for this age band in education, so those who listened to the then Chancellor of the Exchequer making his Budget speech on 21 March 2007 were delighted to hear him say that it was the Government’s intention to,
“for the first time in our country’s history make education a right for every young person until the age of 18”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/3/07; col. 827.]
It was a surprise, therefore, to find that page 1 of the Explanatory Notes said with absolute accuracy:
“The purpose of the Bill is, first, to change the statutory framework to put a duty on all young people to participate in education”.
I wish that I knew what happened to change that opinion. I cannot believe that the choice of language was fortuitous in either case.
So we come to the question of whether compulsion will achieve the admirable aims that the Government have set themselves. I think that it is not the right approach. We are talking about what is now the end of compulsory education and the carry forward from that—the point at which children fully engaged in good education should have a momentum towards more learning, which would carry them into it when it was readily available, of good quality and free to their use. What concerns me is the failure of the secondary system to deliver that momentum. Attention should be paid to that and I am glad to see that the Long Title of the Bill addresses that. What is needed—this is not entirely amenable to legislation—is to get what, years ago, was called the behaviour of the children right in school, so that they actively engage with their education. That is done by confirming every child’s value as an individual, however handicapped they may be and whatever their SEN, by welcoming every little advance in behaviour and learning with congratulation, not brushing it aside or ignoring it if the pupil is difficult.
At my first school, this was practised very well. I remember one youth who definitely had SEN being led by the hand round the football field by one of the teachers, to get him involved in the game. What struck me was that, at the end of the summer term of his first year, everybody was getting prizes and one thought, “Poor David, he will not get a prize”. However, he had developed an enormous interest in the mowing machine that cut the grass on the playing fields. He became skilled in maintaining the mowing machine; he got a prize for doing so and was promoted back into the body of the school and the esteem of his friends. Similarly today, there are children who will not do mathematics beyond a fairly elementary stage, but if you engage them in building working scale models of Formula 1 racing cars, you get them very quickly discussing the flow characteristics of air and fuel and doing the most advanced calculations because they want to. That is what this Bill ought to be doing: getting the children to want to do what they need to do.
The next thing we have to do is to engage them in the activity of running the school, so that the way the school is run belongs to them and those who disrupt it are actually acting against them. I have seen examples in this country and in Norway that are quite breathtaking. I remember doing this myself when I was leading a youth club. I had a desperately difficult child who was always breaking the rules of indoor football until I made him referee. After that, he became a model. We ought to do more of this. You can carry that into the management of schools. Years ago, a committee that I chaired looking into discipline in schools recommended serious consideration of the use of school councils to engage children in exactly this way.
When the Minister of State for Schools and Learners addressed the Parliamentary All-Party Group for Children, he was minuted as saying that,
“the government believes that it is right to have compulsion in place because it knows of no other way to get beyond the 90% participation rate”.
I ask the Government to try a bit harder. I know there will be difficult cases. However, to criminalise them, even if it is only for two years, for having failed to complete their duties—how are they going to get jobs? How are they going to build the first slice of their CV if, to every employer, they have to say, “Yes, I have a criminal record, I have been done for truantism”—or whatever it is going to be called. No doubt it will have a more advanced and important name, but that is what it will be. That handicaps them off the starting block. Everybody else is halfway round the first lap before they begin.
These children are too often those who start with a disadvantage. This brings me to my third and final point, which goes back to the secondary system. Recently, it was discovered by a reliable body—I cannot remember which, but I assure your Lordships that it is a good one—that 55 per cent of the children who fail SATs are dyslexic. In the Bill there is a provision that allows local authorities to provide for the assessment of children in what is now their last year of compulsory full-time education. That is like examining a hospital case just before they go into the mortuary. This should be done at the beginning—the saving would be startling.
I was recently at a seminar and will give the example provided by an organisation called Xtraordinary People of two schoolboys from Southwark. The names, no doubt, are fictitious. Lenny failed key stage 1 SATs at the age of seven. A teacher at his school had just finished training as a dyslexia specialist and picked up that Lenny was dyslexic. Between KS 1 and KS 2, this teacher supported Lenny for just one hour a week and he passed KS 2, scoring the highest level, 5, in English, maths and science. Calculated at an hourly rate, this support would have cost a total of £2,250. Kirk failed KS 1 SATs aged seven, too. He was given a statement for dyslexia, which provided him with 20 hours’ support per week from a learning support assistant. He failed KS 2 SATs despite the support from the statement, which had cost the local authority a total of £27,000. Xtraordinary People provided Kirk with a dyslexia specialist for 20 hours of specialist support when he started at secondary school in Y7. In one term, Kirk improved by two years. This support cost £600.
The mathematics is unanswerable. We must have screening for all children early in their careers, and appropriate support for them—not the blanket of any adult who has goodwill and will help them, but somebody who knows how to treat this condition. It is an increasingly common condition; or at least, it is increasingly commonly diagnosed. Now we have that knowledge, we can act on it. That will feed through the whole school system, because nothing makes pupils more disruptive—and impedes the learning of others, as well as stultifying their own—than frustration at being unable to achieve high academic ability because of dyslexia. This is one way into crime and prison. If your Lordships doubt me, ask the Prison Service what percentage of prisoners are dyslexic. You will be amazed.
We have the cure for two difficulties here: a cure for disruptive behaviour in school and a cure for the rising or unsatisfactory incidence of juvenile offending, and eventually adult offending, too. I do not think that is an exaggerated claim; it is something that we have not picked up on and I hope that, during the Bill’s passage, I will be able to encourage the Government so to do.
My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest, not just as chairman of RNIB but as incoming president of Skill, the national bureau for students with disabilities, which is also much concerned with the issues in the Bill. I take up this position in succession to the late Baroness Darcy de Knayth, whose memorial service many of us attended earlier today. It is of course a great honour to be asked to take over from the late Baroness in this work to which she attached so much importance, but your Lordships will understand why it will also be both a poignant charge and a hard act to follow.
The Bill is welcome. It begins to put in place the framework for realising the vision in the Leitch report for up-skilling the UK's workforce so that it can remain competitive in a rapidly changing global economy. The problem to be addressed is deep seated and wide ranging. In 2006, more than one-fifth of 16 to 18 year- olds in England were not in education or training, including one in 10 who were not in education, employment or training. However, in debating the report of the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, last year, and also the Further Education and Training Bill, we took particular cognisance of the deep and persistent inequality which continues to dog the lives of many disabled people and the key part played by the education system in both perpetuating and alleviating it. I shall therefore devote my remarks to seeing that the Bill is fit for purpose in this regard.
That is well worth doing. As the Raising our Ambitions report by the Social Market Foundation found last year, improving the skills of disabled people would not only significantly improve their employment prospects, but also realise major economic benefits for the country as a whole, adding up to £35 billion over the next 30 years. There is a raft of statistics to show the close association between disability, employment and skills. At 16, young disabled people are twice as likely to be in no form of education, employment or training as their non-disabled peers. This increases to three times by the age of 19. Disabled people are half as likely to have a degree and 40 per cent have no qualifications at all. Of all those in Britain with no formal qualifications, more than one-third are disabled. It is estimated that, by 2020, there will be only around 600,000 jobs in the economy for people with no qualifications.
As a result of all this, disabled people and people with long-term health conditions face significant disadvantages. They are far less likely to be in employment than non-disabled people. Their employment rate remains some 25 percentage points below the national average. This global picture masks particular deficits in employment opportunities for people with particular types of impairment: only one in 10 people with severe learning disabilities and two in 10 with mental health problems are in work. Disabled people in work are far less likely to be skilled and are disproportionately in low-paid, low-status jobs.
The compound of low skills and unemployment means that disabled people and those with long-term health conditions are also more likely to be socially excluded and live in poverty. Disabled adults are twice as likely to be living in poverty as non-disabled adults. Young people aged between 16 and 18 who are not in education, employment or training are at a much higher risk of experiencing poor outcomes in adult life and passing on this disadvantage to the next generation. The equalities review set up to identify the deepest and most persistent causes of disadvantage found that not being in education, employment or training for six months between the ages of 16 and 18 was the single most powerful predictor of unemployment at age 21.
Given that, to raise the age of participation in education or training to 18 makes good sense. It provides a major opportunity to improve provision for the many young people who leave school at 16 with few skills and poor long-term prospects. However, young people who have rejected or been excluded from school do not just want “more of the same”. More vocational pathways for 14 to 19 year-olds are needed, particularly an expansion in work-based learning, including apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships for the many young people who are not motivated by the traditional school environment—work-based learning opportunities have more than halved in the past two decades. Also needed are alternative and transitional provision, including entry to employment and foundation learning tier programmes, funded on a stable basis, to re-engage young people and support their return to mainstream learning; and provision for young people with learning difficulties and disabilities, with meaningful opportunities for progression.
Employers are obviously key to delivering these opportunities, but serious questions have been raised as to whether work-related training provision will be up to the job without radical change. First, there is just too little of it to meet demand from young people, and recruitment to the opportunities that exist goes along highly stereotyped lines, with better paid apprenticeships going to the traditional white male client group. A particular effort must therefore be made to ensure that the drive to increase the number of apprenticeships is not at the expense of quality, so that young people at the greatest disadvantage end up in apprenticeships that do little to unlock potential or create a route out of disadvantage.
Similarly, the role of employers in addressing inequality in in-house training provision needs attention, with support for positive-action “train to gain” initiatives, targeting 16 to 18-year olds for non-traditional skills and progression opportunities in traditional jobs. I was reassured by what the Minister said on quality in work-based learning, but the fact that he had to say it indicates the low base from which we start.
To drive expansion, the Bill should be strengthened to require local authorities to audit the sufficiency and diversity of provision, encompassing both learning and support services. Ofsted should report to Parliament on progress towards an appropriate learning place for every young person and provision of appropriate support services. Barnardo’s alternative education and training services work with young people who have been excluded from, or have rejected, school. They report that these young people say that being free to choose is critical to their motivation to attend and achieve. However, Barnardo’s accepts that if steps are taken to find the right course for a young person and to put in place the necessary support, it is reasonable to expect them to participate—through some system of enforcement, if necessary. However, I concede that this is controversial. Safeguards are necessary and I hope that these can be built in as the Bill passes through your Lordships’ House to ensure that the level of the penalty notice is set at an amount reflecting the financial support available to the poorest young people; that a young person can pay in instalments; that the young person can make representations to the attendance panel at every stage in the process, not just when it is deciding whether to commence court proceedings; that the young person can nominate someone to speak on their behalf and that advocacy is available where needed, to support those with learning and communication difficulties, for example; that young people failing to participate and receiving a court-ordered fine or subsequent penalty for breach are not left with a criminal record which could jeopardise their future employment prospects; and that breach for failure to pay a court-ordered fine should never, in any circumstances, result in a custodial sentence. I welcome the assurances given by the Minister in the other place on the last two points, but it would be helpful to have them somewhat more firmly anchored in the structure of the legislation.
Some young people face significant barriers to participation in education and training, such as poor basic skills, low self-confidence, financial hardship, early parenthood, mental health problems, substance abuse or homelessness. The Bill needs to make clear that, in assessing whether a young person has a reasonable excuse for not attending, attendance panels must consider the extent of support provided by the LEA. The types of support expected to be available, such as transport, childcare and learning support, should be set out in guidance and take account of existing best practice.
While the Bill places clear duties on young people to participate, it is less clear about the responsibilities of others such as schools, colleges and employers as regards enabling participation. I should like to see the Bill provide for learning and support contracts, particularly for young people whose unmet support needs might constitute a reasonable excuse for not participating. These would constitute a commitment for the young person, and thus an incentive for participation, and would not be just a burden on providers. The Secretary of State gave a commitment on Report in the other place that learning and support contracts would be included in guidance to local authorities. This is welcome but I believe they are of sufficient importance to warrant being placed in the Bill.
The requirement to participate in full-time education or training must not result in any young person living in poverty. Financial incentives are a key lever to encourage participation. Conversely, financial hardship is a key reason why young people drop out. The proposed restructuring of financial support for young people must ensure a minimum income guarantee for those aged 16 to 18 living independently who are particularly vulnerable to financial hardship, parity of financial support across different routes so that learning choices are not influenced by differing levels of benefits and allowances as at present, and more efficient processing and payment of the education maintenance allowance. There are other respects in which the Bill needs further disability proofing but they are of a comparatively detailed and technical nature. I have already spoken about some of them with the Bill team and will be happy to follow that up in writing. For today, it would be helpful if the Minister could give me comfort on some of the more strategic matters that I have raised.
My Lords, I join other speakers who have recognised the skill and the clarity with which my noble friend the Minister outlined the Bill. I am not sure that the Bill is ambitious but its direction of travel—where it wants us to go—is extremely ambitious. The goal of having all our young people stay in education or training up to the age of 18 was aspired to in 1917, as we have been told, and we will be the generation which achieves it. However, this Second Reading debate is one of the most unusual that I have come across. I respectfully say that I have never known so many speakers talk about matters that are not included in the Bill. However, I am about to do the same. I say gently that the Minister did exactly the same. For about a third of his speech he talked about things that were not in the Bill. That is what is strange about the Bill; it makes sense only if you look at it in conjunction with all the work that has been done on raising standards, the EMA, the changing curriculum, the diplomas and improved staff skills. If it never passed into law, education for 14 to 19 year-olds would go on improving. It is an unusual Bill but its direction of travel is ambitious when considered in conjunction with other work that is being done in this area.
The Bill’s main provision concerns compulsion. I suspect that if the Government had not decided to make that a central part of their strategy for 14 to 19 year-olds, the Bill would not have been introduced this year. There are two points of view on the matter. Some noble Lords say that enforcement may be the only thing that will work for some people whereas others say that everything may work apart from enforcement. Therefore, the debate on enforcement is very polarised. Both arguments have merit. There is no doubt that persuasion is better than compulsion. However, imposing criminal sanctions on 16, 17 and 18 year-olds who do not attend school is a strange notion. It is nonsensical to introduce a law without providing a means of enforcing it. However, if people do not engage with this measure despite all we have done and you want to keep 16 to 18 year-olds in school, the administrative solution is to introduce compulsion. Therefore, I can see both sides of the argument and why people arrive at the conclusions that they do.
I am not convinced that easy answers can be found by changing the curriculum. I do not think that an easy solution can be found as regards vocational work, diplomas, the quality of teaching or anything else. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, that the matter is far more complicated than that. However, I have concerns about the details of compulsion. I am concerned not so much about whether this is an illiberal Bill but about whether it is workable. I am concerned about the shift from attendance being the parent’s responsibility at the end of year 11 to it being the student’s responsibility at the start of year 12. That is a huge shift in a six-week period. I am not sure how you prepare the type of young people we are talking about to face up to and come to terms with that responsibility.
I am in favour of criminal sanctions being imposed on people who do not send their children to school. Your actions should not jeopardise your child’s ability and right to succeed. However, I am less convinced about the imposition of criminal sanctions on people when their actions affect only their own chances. That is a confusing issue but the thing that causes me most concern is the procedure for enforcing this measure. If we wish to be fair, to impose a sanction as a last resort, and, we hope, never to have to impose it at all, there should be opportunities to get the young person back on board at every stage of the process. We are dependent on teachers informing the Connexions service if there is a problem. That service informs the local authority and therein lies a story and possible delay. The child has to be warned, notice has to be given about attendance and an appeal panel has to be set up. If that does not resolve the issue, notice has to be given that a penalty may be imposed. Then notice has to be given for an appeal. At the end of that process the Youth Court may become involved. There is nothing wrong with that. It is a perfectly respectable process whereby we ensure that the measure is implemented. However, my difficulty is that the aim of staying in education or training between the ages of 16 and 18 should be to route a young person into lifelong learning. It is not just about education and training between the ages of 16 and 18 but about not letting young people drop out in those years and never getting back throughout their adult lives. However, as regards the robustness of the enforcement process, I am not sure that if you get young people back into education or training between the ages of 16 and 18 you will necessarily help them to commit themselves to lifelong learning beyond the age of 18.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, I am very undecided on the matter. The Minister said that if you want the end you have to will the means, but both sides of the argument that have been put forward have strengths and weaknesses. However, we might look at two or three other matters before we make a decision on which avenue we go down. I wonder whether we fully understand what goes on in the minds of 16 to 18 year-olds who choose to disengage with learning. It has been said that in the past few years we have made tremendous progress in encouraging people to stay on in education or training beyond the age of 16. However, we are still nearly at the bottom of the OECD table so there is nothing to boast about. The NEET tables show striking regional variations. In the south-east 5.6 per cent of 16 to 18 year-olds are NEET. In Yorkshire and Humber the figure is 9.2 per cent. In the north-east, which has the highest percentage of NEETs, the figure is 10.5 per cent. In the north-east twice as many young people are NEET than in the south-east. If the performance of the worst-performing region could be made to match that of the best-performing region, 6,000 fewer students in the north-east would be in the NEET category. Nationally that would mean a rate of something like 94 or 95 per cent, which on my calculation puts us in the top 10 to 15 per cent of the OECD range. So, if we could get the worst performing region to be at the level of the best, we would have a take-up rate of 95 per cent.
On the difference between the south-east and the north-east, I do not for a minute think that teachers are better in the south-east than in the north-east, that there are better and more motivated 16 to 18 year-olds, or that there is a more exciting curriculum or a more engaging support system. The difference is that in the north-east there is a higher level of unemployment, more jobs with fewer skills and more parents and adults who have not been to university. Surely that has something to do with it. In the north-east you are not surrounded by people who talk about jobs needing a high level of skill; people in the north-east, Yorkshire and Humberside are more recently in touch through their parents with the death of the old manufacturing industries and less in touch with the birth, growth and expansion of the new industries that need a high skill. I should like the Government to look at that.
Perhaps that is not an enforcement issue; perhaps it is a regional economic issue. Because of that one thing, what very much surprised me is that the department does not publish or collect NEET information on either a regional or a local authority basis. It has to rely on the Connexions data, which uses a different set of criteria from the Government in the Labour Force Survey published in the Statistical First Release. Therefore, is this not a regional economic issue, and how can the Government address it without having to hand regional figures on what NEETs are? We could do more in our school system to give a very clear signal that children do not leave school at 16. Why do we have GCSEs? GCSEs were a school leaving examination. That is why they are published in the tables. That is why mums and dads are very keen on what their kids do. That is the history of them. As long as we have at the end of year 11 the biggest, most important exam that a child has taken since the day they were born, children will get the message that they can leave school. Indeed, we still talk about whether a 16 year-old will stay on whereas the Americans talk about whether a 16 year- old will drop out. While we have an important school leaving exam and while we have education from five to 11, 11 to 16 and 16 to 18, we will have a structural problem in giving that message to young people.
My Lords, I realise that it is not etiquette to say this, but, as a product of the north-east where I was brought up and educated, I have to say that from a family that had never gone to university, five of us went to Oxford and Cambridge. I am talking about the early 1950s. I have to defend my locality; it was not as bad as the noble Baroness says.
My Lords, tomorrow I shall be going to the north-east, to Sunderland university, where I do some work. I am very aware of the skill of the people of the north-east, but I am also aware of the chronic educational underachievement in that area. We should not ignore that.
I conclude by saying that the Bill is ambitious. It sets an agenda for trying to yank ourselves off the bottom of the OECD table. I am ready to be persuaded that the Bill is the right way forward. However, after the speeches we have had today, I very much look forward to the debates that I am sure will ensue.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I welcome the Bill’s commitments to extend education and training beyond the age of 16. Evidence shows that the economic well-being of a country is increased by higher rates of literacy and numeracy, and that continuing learning after compulsory schooling brings rewards financially and in personal fulfilment. However, it is apparent from the debate, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, set out, that we are disputing whether it is better to have entitlement and encouragement or compulsion and even criminalisation for the post-16 age group. In extending the education leaving age, it may well be more complex to motivate and engage young people and to win hearts and minds, but it would reap dividends in comparison with a cohort of the press-ganged.
The current years of compulsory education provide a unique period of opportunity. Of course, the fact that that is compulsory can be a deterrent to some young people who are impatient for independence. If school does not seem relevant to them and it is associated with failure and boredom, they will be unwilling to continue to learn. So, as other noble Lords indicated, it is particularly important to have a choice of learning programmes leading to appropriate accredited qualifications. That full range of options is not yet fully developed and embedded.
A-levels have been around for over 50 years, long enough to be a familiar concept, but they have changed and developed over the years—changed in subjects and assessment methodology, and even in the numbers of passes, moving from a pre-set percentage of pass/fail to criterion assessment where all those who meet the agreed standard are awarded a pass. That in itself has led to increased numbers of passes with higher grades, causing ongoing problems for universities and institutions in delineating the best from the excellent. There is also the international baccalaureate, which is gathering champions in independent and state sectors.
To balance that provision, practical alternatives have to contend with the familiarity and status particularly of the A-level. It may be a mere 90 years since the Fisher Act failed to be implemented, but I think we can go back generations in seeing the disregard for practical skills as against academic achievement. We have suffered as a country and as individuals from the undervaluing of the practical crafts and technical skills that are now represented in the diploma. But it is a real challenge for apprenticeships, vocational qualifications and now for the diploma. For the diploma to succeed—and too much is at stake for young people for it not to succeed—we would do well to look at past initiatives.
Rather more recently in history, in the 1990s, I was involved in developing the general national vocational qualification. GNVQs were introduced as the main alternative to A-levels, to be of equal esteem based on practical work-related achievement. They were developed at some speed to a political rather than an educational timetable. They came under attack from the start by the media. Their undoubted value for a great many students was undermined by lack of external confidence in them. After various rebrandings and reforms they disappeared last year. The diploma must not be allowed to go down that route.
Diplomas need a simplicity and clarity of purpose to attract young people, parents and employers. There is a danger that in the rush to have a full range available, they may be rolled out too speedily at the expense of thorough piloting, good resource materials and, above all, full engagement from teachers and assessors. They also need some inspiring case studies. It is early days but there are examples around. We hope that some exciting publicity will be generated when the World Skills Competition comes to London in 2011. It will provide real visual examples, incentives and enthusiasm, and show the achievements possible in the craft and manual skills: catering, hairdressing, construction and engineering—the range of topics covered by the diploma. Meanwhile, skills competitions provide real incentives for young people to see what can be achieved.
Perhaps I may turn to Chapter 3 of the Bill and touch on the duties placed on employers. As other noble Lords have said, those duties are onerous. Many organisations and, indeed, other noble Lords have urged a close look at these clauses. With respect to 16 to17 year-olds, as we mentioned, some 100,000 young people are NEETs and not fulfilling their potential. That number would be greater but for the fact that many with few or no qualifications have left school with sighs of relief and found work, often with small employers in garages, restaurants, hairdressers, shops and offices. Professor Alison Wolf from King’s College, London, states:
“Most young employees work for small firms. As a result of this legislation, many such firms are likely to stop employing any 16 or 17 year olds. This will have a devastating effect on the youth labour market and on the skills and future employability of many young people”.
If it is easier to employ those over 18, many employers will choose that option. As the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, said, in the process, disaffected 16 year-olds may be lost to the job market and, perhaps more importantly, may not be willing to try again or have the confidence to acquire new skills.
That adds to the case for adult skill training. There are currently 6.2 million economically active adults without a full level 2 qualification and even more who lack numeracy and literacy skills. This figure will not change by itself. As we know, well over 70 per cent of the 2020 workforce have already completed compulsory education. They are beyond the reach of diplomas, although not now, thankfully, of adult apprenticeships. Training for adults becomes of greater importance as demographics show fewer young people entering the workforce but an increase in skilled jobs. Some jobs previously considered low-skill now have higher skill requirements. Sectors such as care and cleaning have not been rated as highly as they deserve. They require considerable skill and knowledge, and they play key roles in society. Both are dominated by women and that gender imbalance may be an added hurdle to full recognition of the commitment involved and the need for training.
Training also makes demands on the individual. The impact assessment assumes that Skills for Life participants forgo £2,500 in earnings and incur course costs of £250 while studying. The implication is that this is a good thing, but however well motivated adults may be, they will also have other commitments. Women are likely again to be disproportionately affected through their lower earnings and by bearing the greater load of domestic and family responsibilities. We therefore welcome the encouragement and financial support for adults to acquire new skills, currently up to level 2. Like the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, we would like to see those plans extended so that they fund tuition fees up to a greater age than 25, as currently planned. I also share my noble friend Lady Walmsley’s concern about the disclosure of data and sharing of information. We shall seek reassurances on those clauses in the Bill.
The opportunities for adult training should be as flexible as possible. Ideas such as spreading the entitlement over a period of time or ensuring that unit and module accreditation can also be transferred will help to attract and retain learners. As ever, FE colleges are key players in all of this. They have the expertise to respond to the changing requirements of government, employers and individual learners. Their full involvement is essential in ensuring that adult learning is accessible and deliverable. When the Learning and Skills Council gives way to the Skills Funding Agency in 2010, as planned, we hope that its £4 billion budget will allow a more generous view of adult training and that the changeover in institutions will not cause additional red tape.
The Bill sets out aspirations which we welcome. Although legislation can change the climate of opinion and do much to promote good practice, the measures set out rely on enthusiastic participants, wide-ranging opportunities and the active involvement of employers. There is work to be done on all these fronts. Meanwhile, we welcome the direction of the Bill and look forward to working on the detail in Committee.
My Lords, this Bill threatens to become the Terminal 5 of the education world: wonderful in every way except that it does not work. It does not work because the people have not been trained and the systems are not in place. Although it will not be baggage being lost, it will be children who are failed, or continue to be failed as they are at the moment. An illustration of the problem is what the Minister said about diplomas: that they will offer extensive work-related experience which turns out to be 10 days. That is what students doing GCSE and A-level get at the moment. This is not a successful vocational system because it is not being taken carefully enough. We have not put the employer side of it properly into place. We have got to take these things at the pace at which they naturally develop if we want to make a success of them.
The Bill has been written from a centralising, symptoms-focused, punitive point of view when it ought to be flexible, local, imaginative and supportive. Above all, it ought to recognise that in 16 to 18 year- olds we are dealing with people who are becoming responsible for their own lives and ought to be treated as responsible people. Among the people we are most focused on will be the likes of teenage mothers, Travellers and people who have been failed by the educational system. All these groups require specialist, focused and understanding provision. You cannot try to hit them with more of the same that they have fallen out of or lost interest in or that is not focused on them.
I have seen examples of how this can go wrong in the prison system. Some while ago prison education was taken over by DCSF. The department has no one in it who has any experience of working in prisons. It has subcontracted a lot of the work to the Learning and Skills Council, which is similarly ill-equipped to understand what goes on in prisons. A lot of specialist work has been done on how to re-engage prisoners. As has been said, many of them have completely dropped out of the education system, hate the idea of sitting in a classroom and require to be remotivated. Much of that specialist work, a lot of it done by the voluntary sector—my wife is involved in this side of things—has gone by the board because the LSC will only fund standard qualifications aimed at employment. If you have a criminal record, employment is immensely difficult to get. Prison is an immense impediment to overcome when you are looking for work. You need a strong motivation and an understanding of your own abilities to get through that. Not to equip prisoners with that—not to give them back a basic place within their own family and society—is a fault that is developing in prison education because of a centralisation, a lack of understanding and a lack of appreciation about what can be done at a local level.
A lot of these people who end up outside education are just teenagers. They got bored with it and want to do other things. They are not focused on education. They need space and time. That is what the gap year evolved for, to give pupils a breather, but some kids need that earlier on. We ought to be allowing these children to come back to education at their own pace—looking after them, keeping in touch with them as the Bill proposes, but giving them space. It should be enough to get where they ought to be in education by the age of 25 if they have been doing useful things before that. By extension, we ought to be happy to see people taking several years out before university so that when they come back to education they come back to a course that they really want to do, are motivated to do and are actually going to work at, rather than spending time in the bars and clubs, as is advertised by many universities at the moment. There is a lot to be said for taking this whole business more gently.
In Committee I will focus on trying to find ways of making the Bill more flexible and allowing room for the voluntary sector to get involved and to be innovative. I will try to make sure that the local authorities’ role is supportive and that we do not let them get back into running things, as the Government have rightly had as a policy aim. The local authority should be there as a friend of the pupil, trying to make sure that he develops his life right, rather than as a provider itself. The idea of individual budgets is constructive in that respect. Money should be attached to the pupil and spent in any way that the local authority considers useful taking regard of the requirements of that pupil. Why should the local authority’s options be restricted by what some central body has said is appropriate for children in general? These will often be specific cases.
I will certainly oppose making non-attendance a criminal offence. There are lots of things that are good for us. It is good for us to play sport, and you are supposed to play sport at school; but once you are an adult, I am jolly glad to say that you are not criminalised if you do not do so. It is entirely inappropriate that we should seek to criminalise not doing something just because it is good for you to do it. Again, this comes back to the DCSF’s lack of experience in these matters. It does not realise how problematic it is to get employment once you have a criminal record. It will absolutely blow a hole below the water line in those kids’ prospects if they have a criminal record. That is not the way to help people under any circumstances whatever. I shall join my noble friends on the Front Bench in opposing that.
I do not know whether I shall be as enthusiastic as those on my Front Bench about removing Part 4 but I want to understand what it is about. I have not seen anything anywhere that explains to me what advantages the Government see in the changes that they are proposing regarding independent schools. As has been said, the system seems to be working well at the moment, and the changes are not in themselves obviously logical. I do not necessarily believe that independent schools are perfect in all respects, but the Government need to show the benefits of the changes that they are proposing to themselves, to the wider community and to independent schools.
I shall look carefully at what is being proposed for the Careers Service, which frankly has been a laughing stock for many years. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said that she wants it to break gender stereotypes; it does that to a certain extent. My son went through one of the processes to be told that he should be a beautician. He is a great deal larger than I am and would make an imposing person behind the nail varnish.
Most of all, I hope that we—particularly my Front Bench, but perhaps also the Liberal Democrats, who might hope that in 2010 this endless game of piggy in the middle that they have been playing will end and they will catch the ball at last—will recognise the importance of getting this right and that we will learn through the discussions that we have in Committee and later what it is that we would do if we were given the chance.
I absolutely support my noble friend Lord Pilkington in talking about specialist vocational colleges. They would be centres of innovation and centres of excellence that would be able to do far more in advancing the cause of vocational education than could ever be done by central diktat. We always suspect what comes out of the centre, but where we have individual schools and colleges leading the way, we are prepared to admire and to follow. They would fit so easily in the academies programme. As happened in West Dunbartonshire, once you have some real examples of what can be done for children to inspire them and to lead them in that direction, there would be a large number of people who wanted to follow. That would solve a problem that we have all faced unsuccessfully for a very long time.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I readily acknowledge that the logic and the timing of raising the school leaving age, some 30 years after it was last changed, makes sense. Ironically, I have a particular affection for the Education Act 1944, one of the two education Acts that have been mentioned, which had the same purpose of raising the school leaving age. That Act also put to an end the pernicious practice of requiring women teachers to retire on marriage. That was one of the UK’s earliest anti-discrimination legislative steps for equalising opportunities for women, even if it was a shortage of teachers, rather than any passion for equal opportunities, that was the real motivation behind putting that provision in the Act.
Like many noble Lords who have spoken, and like many of the experts in this field, although I welcome the Bill I wish that the Government had decided to give the first generation involved the choice of whether to continue in education—suitably accompanied by the maximum number of carrots—rather than going straight down the compulsion route. It is surely significant that the Government’s consultation with young people showed that 47 per cent were against the compulsory duty imposed by the Bill, with only 30 per cent backing the idea. It would certainly have helped to make a stronger case for entering the dangerous and potentially counterproductive route of applying sanctions if that was to happen only after the duties imposed on the parties concerned—parents, schools, colleges, the LEAs, employers and, above all, the young people themselves—had not been met.
Be that as it may, I am glad that the legislative framework that your Lordships are asked to approve in this Bill tries to ensure that the right choice for each individual’s extra years, once made, is adequately supported and that the individual young person’s wishes are taken into consideration. That is required by Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child—it has not been mentioned so far, but it is an important provision—which also requires that due weight should be given to their views. I hope that the Minister will confirm that that will indeed happen.
I welcome, too, the Government’s commitment to improving the quality of careers advice to ensure that stereotypes about gender, disability, race and employment are challenged in schools and elsewhere. A number of noble Lords have mentioned that. The Equality and Human Rights Commission and the YWCA particularly stressed in their evidence the need to challenge gender stereotyping. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, made that point forcefully. We are seeing many more men in well paid apprenticeships and so on, while women are still going for low-paid areas. That has to be challenged. This commitment is key to the future. It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that this is the intention.
It is good news that this is only enabling legislation. The school leaving age will rise to 17 by 2013 and to 18 by 2015. There are a number of years to prepare the young people concerned. That should enable most students by that time to become alert to the advantages, both to the economy and to their own future prospects in the global nature of the world in which we live, of the extra years of compulsory education and training. I also find it encouraging that considerable flexibility is built into the legislation as to how those years can be spent. Particularly important will be the ability to combine employment with part-time education and training, which is far more likely to attract those who feel that they have nothing further to gain from school. We have heard a lot about them and I am concentrating on them still further.
There are, of course, some large dark shadows across the scene. I have in mind, for example, the announcement about the 638 secondary schools that have a struggle ahead if they are to get back into their own ownership rather than becoming other forms of school. That clearly illustrates the concern that many schools are failing a considerable number of young people, a large proportion of whom will come from the poorer sections of the community, as was illustrated by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley. We should note, of course, that it is those children who this autumn move from primary to secondary school who will be the first to be affected by the school leaving age hike.
I return to the unease that is felt about the compulsion to participate. We already know that the enforcement process will create particular problems for some groups. Some of your Lordships heard at a useful meeting that we had with the Bill team last week that considerable attention has already been given in the other place to some of these groups, such as young people with special educational needs and other disabilities. They and perhaps particularly young carers, who have additional problems to cope with, will certainly need that extra individual attention and support to ensure that the appropriate package of learning is planned, supported and available. There is no doubt that this group will receive similar attention in your Lordships’ House, not least when we have such experts as my noble friend Lord Low participating in the debate. We will need, too, to be reassured that as well as the necessary human resources—I agree about the need to involve the voluntary sector—we will also have available realistic financial backing.
I have a special anxiety about whether the five years before these plans become operational will be enough time for sufficient progress to be made, particularly for those disaffected young people from deprived, often chaotic, home backgrounds to feel content to remain within the education system for yet another two years. After all, despite some excellent government initiatives such as Sure Start, that cycle of deprivation—identified many years ago by Keith Joseph—is sadly still with us. We have not yet found the solution. It can hardly help youngsters from such backgrounds if, on top of these handicaps, they risk acquiring a civil and, ultimately, some form of criminal record as a result of breaching these new educational requirements.
In many debates and particularly during the passage of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill and the Children and Young Persons Bill, a number of your Lordships have urged the Government to concentrate resources in two areas: first, in supporting families immediately that they show the signs of dysfunction; and, secondly, on efforts to reduce the almost immediate reoffending records of the high proportion of such disaffected youngsters who end up in the criminal justice system.
How can we prevent the compulsory requirements of this legislation from adding to that risk? Will the Minister, when she replies, tell us how this Bill will affect this group positively? How exactly—this is a rather different but not unrelated question—will it affect the education and skills training requirement for 17 and 18 year-olds who are in custody? Following up on an Oral Question that I asked in your Lordships’ House recently, I ask whether education and training will in future take precedence over paid prison jobs throughout the country. Will there be skilled teachers for ensuring that young offenders acquire those basic literacy and numeracy skills that they have clearly missed out on for so long? At least as important, is it intended that apprenticeships and some of the new diploma courses can be begun while the young people are in custody?
I am getting towards the end of my time, but the other aspect of the Bill that I want to welcome is those clauses that seek to implement the recommendations of the Leitch report. It is important to be reminded that some 74 per cent of our working age population in 2020 are already over 16. Therefore, the opportunity to acquire the necessary level 2 qualifications at no extra cost throughout adulthood is a welcome initiative. Sadly, the level 3 opportunity is to be limited to 19 to 25 year-olds. I support my noble friend Lord Dearing’s suggestion that, in any event, this age limit should be moved up to 35. More than that, I prefer to take the hint from the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, that lifelong learning should be here to stay. That should be emphasised. It really does not matter when you take the next course; with almost every job that you do, it is necessary to have further education and training to keep pace. With that in mind, I hope that this Bill, when it gets to the second stage of having something to implement, will be rather changed by the processes that it will go through in your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I want to be rather more positive about this Bill than was my noble friend Baroness Morris of Yardley, my former ministerial colleague. I give this Bill a very warm welcome, especially Part 1, on which I want to focus my remarks. The duty that it imposes on young people aged 16 and 17 to participate in education and training and the requirement on LEAs to promote their participation, as well as the duties on employers to make it possible for young people with jobs to participate, are a hugely important educational reform. I believe that the Bill, when enacted, will be an historic step in the expansion of education for those who have opted out of learning far too soon, in many cases damaging their prospects for the rest of their lives. Our position in the OECD tables, which the Minister cited, is totally unacceptable. This reform is long overdue and, therefore, all the more welcome. The moral and economic case for it is overwhelming.
Like my noble friend the Minister, I want to say something about history. It is nearly 100 years since, in 1909, a consultative committee on education recommended a system of compulsory part-time education for young people after they left school. The committee saw it as an option to be decided on locally but hoped that it would spread to cover the whole country. A century ago, progressive thinkers of the Edwardian era produced the first official report that can be said to be the initial steps towards the Bill that we are discussing today.
As the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington of Oxenford, and others have said, the Bill’s legislative antecedent was the Fisher Act of 1918, the first of the three most important education Acts of the 20th century. That Act provided a legislative framework for part-time education for those aged 14 to 18. The day continuation schools that it proposed were not mandatory and, as the Minister said, their development was killed off by the Geddes economies that axed public expenditure in the early 1920s.
My noble friend Lord Layard reminded us that the idea was revised in the second great education Bill of the 20th century, which became the 1944 Education Act, sometimes known as the Butler Act. The Act envisaged that LEAs would have a duty to provide county colleges—perhaps the sort of thing that the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, was referring to—for young people not at school or in other educational institutions. I believe that there were no sanctions for non-attendance for the day, or two half-days, envisaged in the legislation. Once again, the provision was not implemented. In 1959, the Crowther report on the education of 15 to 18 year-olds put the case again. Another 50 years have passed since then, but it finally looks as though we may be getting there.
I have touched on the long history of proposals for extending education on a part-time basis for young people who have left school to underline my belief that compulsion is required to make it a reality. Those who argue for a voluntary approach have failed to absorb the lessons of history. In the past, because there was no compulsion, nothing happened. I put it to those who oppose compulsion and argue for a voluntary approach that, when the school leaving age was last raised, in 1973, it was not considered to be sensible to argue for no compulsion. When full-time school education is extended by statute, the view is taken that it should be universally applied. Why should that view not be taken in relation to the part-time extension of post-school education for 16 and 17 year-olds? There can be no half measures in trying to reach the most vulnerable young people who are currently receiving no education or training but who desperately need it if they are to engage in meaningful work in today’s economy.
Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, and other noble Lords on the opposition Benches, I therefore congratulate the Government on having the courage of their convictions and on making participation compulsory, even though it is important to do everything that we possibly can to ensure that enforcement is a last resort. I was reassured by what the Minister said about this, although I thought that he was perhaps a little overoptimistic about the numbers of people who are likely to be resistant to the Bill’s requirements.
As other noble Lords have said, it is vital to recognise that, for the legislation to work, the education and training provided must be suitable to meet the needs of youngsters for whom continuation in full-time classroom learning is not an acceptable option. These are the pupils who do not like school and want to leave at the first opportunity. Many of them are, I am afraid, wholly unrealistic about their employment opportunities and have not made the link between learning and having a good job. To help them to make this link and to motivate them requires ingenuity and imagination. Innovative forms of learning, largely based in the workplace, are required.
The Bill embraces two main options: employment with a part-time course followed in an FE college or the workplace, or an apprenticeship. The distinction between them will often be blurred but in both cases the contribution of employers is central. For that reason, I am delighted that the CBI broadly backs the Bill and supports raising the participation age and reducing what it calls,
“the significant proportion of 16 to 17 year olds who are not in education, employment or training”.
However, like my noble friend Lord Layard, I was disappointed that the CBI seemed to be saying that it is acceptable for firms to provide employment for 16 and 17 year-olds without providing proper training, too. In its briefing to Members of this House, it claims that many employers providing “valuable work opportunities” for young people will be put off by having to provide training and to police participation. The question must be: just how valuable are these work opportunities if they are not accompanied by properly organised training? Nor does it seem likely that young people themselves will feel, as the CBI said,
“forced back into school or college”,
because they are asked to pursue qualifications in a work-based context. That would be truly irrational behaviour on the part of those young people who have already rejected formal education in the classroom.
It is, however, vital to accredit in-house training that is provided by employers, which will encourage them to see value in training their young employees towards obtaining vocational qualifications. Such training should allow progression from the diplomas for l4 to 19 year-olds that numbers of young people will, by the time that this Bill is enacted, have been following. The reform of vocational qualifications has been on the agenda for a long time. It is vital that the sector skills councils address these reforms, simplifying and rationalising an overcomplex system and keeping qualifications up to date. This is not a one-off job—continued monitoring will be needed to make sure that they really are fit for purpose as economic change takes place.
That brings me to apprenticeships. Their decline over the past 30 years is little short of disastrous. The most shocking statistic that I came across when I was a Minister in the Department for Education and Employment was that in the borough of Lambeth there were only 25 apprenticeship places available—that was in a part of London where many young people had rejected full-time classroom education. We must all lament the fact that work-based learning has more than halved over the past 20 years. I deeply regret the fact that, as a Minister, I was unable to do more to halt the decline. However, I am pleased that the committee that I set up, which was chaired by Sir John Cassels, to examine ways of restoring apprenticeships eventually led to the recent report from DIUS, World-class Apprenticeships. The report set a target of 400,000 apprenticeships by 2020. However, this target will be achieved only if employers in the public and voluntary sectors, as well as the private sector, embrace the new scheme with real drive and enthusiasm and are committed to improvements in quality. The Government also have to play their part in providing the right incentives and in avoiding unnecessary red tape. The recently advertised post for director of the National Apprenticeship Service will be one of the most important jobs in our education system. I hope that it attracts an excellent field. The sector skills councils must also give high priority to the delivery of not just apprenticeships but high-quality apprenticeships.
This Bill is not about universities but, as a vice-chancellor of a university that is committed to widening participation, I believe that, when the Bill’s measures have been implemented, universities will benefit from a wider range of young people with the potential to benefit from higher education. Widening participation from sixth forms and FE A-level programmes has almost reached its peak, and it has been an uphill struggle. A successful work-based route through apprenticeships and other programmes can and should lead into higher education for some of the participants. This will be particularly true for foundation degrees that are jointly designed by universities and employers. But many other vocational degrees in higher education may be appropriate next steps for some of the young people who will benefit from this Bill. However, universities must be willing to reach out to them and accept their work-based qualifications as alternatives to academic qualifications for entry to university courses.
Some details in the Bill require further consideration at later stages. For example, like some other noble Lords, I would like to see the clauses on adult education becoming a little more radical. However, Second Reading is not the time to quibble about such details. This Bill is a great step forward in the long history of extending education to a greater proportion of the population. It has taken 100 years to reach this point. Progress may have been slow, but progressing we now are. If this House is still sitting in 100 years’ time, it will look back to this date and say, “This was an historic moment”. I greatly look forward to the Bill’s full implementation by, I hope, 2015.
My Lords, I, too, warmly welcome this Bill. I do so in particular because I hope that its provisions may engage more young people in purposeful and useful activity and keep more of our most marginalised young people out of the criminal justice system and other harm. It is in all of our interests—young people’s most of all—for them to be constructively employed.
A good parent cares about what his children are doing. That is particularly germane for current concerns about the strength of the family. If we do not ensure that a child has some meaningful, useful occupation of their time, what are the options for them? I intend to speak of the potential benefit to young people leaving the care system, 25 per cent of whom do so at the age of 16. I wish to highlight concerns that the new imperative that they must be in educational training is not undermined by the failure to provide a proper transition for those young people out of the care of their local authority.
More than 30 per cent of care leavers experience homelessness in their first year out of care. To be in education or training, surely one has to have a home. I was most grateful to the Minister for extending the duty on local authorities to provide a range of appropriate placements for looked-after children in the Children and Young Persons Bill. Will that duty be extended to include an appropriate range of supported accommodation for care leavers?
The management of the relationship between the young person and his social worker, foster carer or residential care worker is crucial to ensuring that these young people can engage with education or training. I will ask the Minister to set a clear new priority for health trusts further to prioritise looked-after children and care leavers. In particular, will the Minister ensure that every foster carer, social worker, residential child care worker, hostel or foyer worker has regular contact with an appropriately skilled mental health professional to discuss the management of their relationship with the young person?
These young people need appropriate housing and stable relationships with their carers if they are to remain engaged. Those providing the stable relationships need to be supported by a psychiatrist, a child psychotherapist or a clinical psychologist. They need a home, both physical and emotional, if we are to keep them with us. I warmly welcome Her Majesty’s Government’s intention to keep 16 and 17 year-olds in education or training. I acknowledge the difficulties entailed in achieving that very laudable ambition. One need only think of the success of the Government’s summer Splash play schemes in reducing crime rates to recognise the importance of this purposeful activity to young people. If we want to change the gang culture to keep young people off drugs and away from alcohol, and out of anti-social and criminal behaviour, this must be the right direction.
This is particularly true of care leavers and young people in care, who are still heavily overrepresented in the NEET statistics, which we heard from the Minister earlier. While the number has reduced in recent years thanks to Her Majesty’s Government’s endeavours, it has not kept pace with the reduction that has been achieved for the whole population of young people. Care-experienced young people are heavily overrepresented in our prisons, secure training centres and secure children’s homes. Great emphasis has been placed by the Children’s Minister, Beverley Hughes, on improving the transition of young people from care. I very warmly welcome the recent pilots to allow some young people in foster care a stronger say on whether they can remain with their foster carer up to the age of 18 and the related pilot to enable some young people to remain with their foster carer to the age of 21. I encourage Her Majesty’s Government to expand these possibilities as fast as possible and to apply them equally to residential care. I hope the new duty that the Minister introduced in the Children and Young Persons Bill—the duty I mentioned earlier—may help in this process. The challenge to achieving this, though, is considerable, given that there is a shortage of 10,000 foster carers in England alone and that we lose 10 per cent of our foster carers each year, which I was told at a recent meeting with the Fostering Network. The improvements that the Government are developing for social work may provide some of the support that foster carers need to stay in their vocation.
Notwithstanding our hopes for the future, currently young people leave care at 16 and 17, to go into either independent living or supported accommodation with the expectation of an early transfer into independent living. I recall speaking to a teacher about one of his pupils. She was in care, achieving well. She was moved into a flat of her own, something she very much wanted. Shortly, she was failing in school, accruing debt and then losing her flat. I strongly suspect that there is far too much emphasis on moving young people from supported accommodation, such as foyers and hostels, into independent living as soon as possible. Often, I suspect, the transition should take years and not months.
I know from having worked as a volunteer in supported accommodation for several years that the qualification system is not fit for purpose and that the close partnership with mental health services is lacking. Sixty per cent of young people enter care because of abuse and a further 10 per cent because of family breakdown. Not surprisingly levels of mental disorder in the foster population are in the region of 45 per cent and in children’s homes about 68 per cent. Sustaining consistent reliable caring relationships with such young people is problematic. We need to look to the model of pedagogue and social educator used on the Continent. I warmly welcome Her Majesty’s Government’s forthcoming pilots of this model.
Some of your Lordships may have seen the recent transmission of the documentary, “Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go”, on BBC 4. It records the journeys of children in care through the Mulberry Bush School, a therapeutic community in Cambridgeshire. The Mulberry Bush is an outstanding model of what can be achieved when staff receive the right support and leadership. It has now been operating for more than 50 years—it is its 60th anniversary. Its chief executive, John Diamond, commented to me last Friday along these lines. He said that carers choose to care because they wish to have the pleasure of caring for another person. Children in care respond to care in general but, because of their experience of their own parents, in a characteristic way. They throw back the care offered. They take every opportunity to make their carer feel useless. In the Mulberry Bush case, and the film is a beautiful illustration of the challenges and rewards of this work, the children can spit, punch and call their overweight female carer very unkind names.
The natural response of any normal person to such behaviour is to walk away. The next response, if one cannot leave, is to retaliate. We have seen this in the inquiries into abuse in children’s homes and in the overuse of restraint at Oakhill Secure Training Centre. The appropriate professional response is complex but it hinges on not allowing the child to destroy the relationship with his carer. This latter response is possible only if foster carers, social workers, residential childcare workers, foyer and hostel workers have excellent supervision from their line managers, which includes consideration of the relationship with the child and the emotions provoked in the carer by that relationship. Additionally, they need regular contact with a psychiatrist, a child psychotherapist or a clinical psychologist again to reflect on their relationship with the young person.
I hope that I have not strayed from the Bill. If its purpose is to ensure wider engagement of 16 and 17 year-olds, particularly those at the margins, then I think I have not done so. Will the Minister extend the duty on local authorities to provide an appropriate range of local placements for looked-after children to include an appropriate range of supported accommodation for care leavers? The MP for Stafford, David Kidney, may move an amendment along these lines to the Children and Young Persons Bill, and I hope that the Government will give him a sympathetic response if he does so.
Furthermore, will the Minister prioritise looked-after children and care leavers with mental health trusts so that the carers of these young people receive the support they need to sustain the stable and caring relation required for them to succeed in education and training and for them not to repeat their own histories of neglect with their own children? I understand from the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who I see in his place, that there is a review of child and adolescent mental health services. I should be grateful if the Minister could take forward these concerns to the Secretary of State who is leading the review.
I look forward to the Minister’s reply. I regret not having given her notice of my questions and understand if she would prefer to write to me in response.
My Lords, I very much welcome the basic objectives of the Bill and many of the details, and I commend the Government for introducing it.
In my brief comments, I shall concentrate on one major aspect of the Bill which worries me—Part 1. I have no difficulty with increasing compulsory education until the age of 17 or 18. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said, the case for it is overwhelming. It is moral, social and, as the Minister pointed out in his opening remarks, those between the ages of 16 and 18 in education are less likely to get involved in crime, less likely to go to prison, less likely to get pregnant or to engage in anti-social behaviour.
I am convinced that it needs to be done, but how do we go about doing it? I have no difficulty with compulsion; it is absolutely necessary. If one can show that individuals have certain responsibilities that they refuse to discharge, or if there are certain matters of national interest, compulsion in those cases has to be ensured. My difficulty is whether the balance between compulsion and incentive is right. I looked at the debate that took place when the age for compulsory education was increased to 16, and I heard echoes of that debate this afternoon. It had the same arguments—no compulsion is to be used, and why not make it voluntary—but we increasingly realised that compulsion was necessary. However, the two cases cannot be compared because until the age of 16 a child is the responsibility of his parents and a minimum educational requirement is a must. After the age of 16, the game begins to change. Individuals become responsible for their own behaviour. We therefore need to ask whether their autonomy is being respected and whether they are being persuaded to engage in education.
I have no difficulty with the argument about compulsion; my difficulty is with the balance between compulsion and persuasion or compulsion and incentives. My suspicion is that the Bill is a little too punitive and tends to rely a little too heavily on compulsion. That causes four difficulties. First, how can we guarantee that pupils between the ages of 16 and 18 will stay on? All the polls that the Government have referred to show that young people are not terribly happy about this. How are we going to compel them and how much punitive action can we take to make sure that they stay on? Secondly, if they do stay on, what guarantee is there that they will acquire the level 3 qualifications that we want them to acquire? They may get two or more NVQs, or something like that, but they have little market value. Thirdly, if they are alienated from the system, they could be a disruptive presence in the school and prevent others acquiring the desired qualifications. Fourthly, as many noble Lords have pointed out, young people tend to find work in small firms, which often find it economically unviable to give time off for training and cover absences. We can put pressure on them, as the noble Lord, Lord Layard, said, we can ask them to take the responsibility, but beyond a certain point, compulsion has its limits. If employers are not prepared to hire people aged between 16 and 18, what do we do?
I suspect that even if the Bill were to be implemented and enforced in its current form, it will not achieve its objectives. The important thing is to look for a more nuanced strategy with a better balance between incentives and compulsion. I shall suggest three or four ideas that the Government might wish to explore. If we were to ask why people do not stay on beyond the age of 16, we would find that there are four major reasons: they are bored with formal education; they find the curriculum irrelevant to their needs and interests; they need to earn money to help maintain their families or themselves; or they come from families where education beyond 16, or even 14, is not highly valued. If we are concerned to increase the school leaving age, we need to address these underlying factors. My idea for a nuanced strategy is to show how we might be able to address these underlying causes of pupils not staying on beyond the age of 16.
I shall suggest four ways. First, we must find ways of making education attractive. A flexible curriculum might be one way, and a less intimidating formal environment might be another. Better advice and guidance from teachers and personal mentoring might be helpful, and if people do not stay on after the age of 16, we need to make sure that education is as personalised as possible, taking into account the needs and interests of those whom we want to persuade to stay on.
Secondly, alienation from education generally starts pretty early, long before pupils reach the age of 16. We need to find ways of making formal education until the age of 16 more attractive. That requires planting some love of learning—not that one is likely to be really successful, but one hopes—and, more importantly, giving them some competence so that they do not find education a drag and a source of low self-esteem.
Thirdly, since formal schooling does not suit everyone, we may need to involve youth and community-based projects, which are often less threatening or intimidating and tend to be better prepared to provide quality learning. We might also involve other agencies that have a better rapport with the young and can motivate them. For example, the trade unions might be able to play an important part.
Fourthly, but no less importantly, we need to look at the EMA. The maximum amount offered is £30, depending on the circumstances of the parents. That may not be enough to compensate those with adverse family circumstances. It is worth noting that the proportion of 16 and 17 year-olds who are not in education or training but who have jobs has been going down steadily since 2001. That statistic shows the importance of the financial incentive. This is particularly relevant in relation to ethic minorities, about whom virtually nothing has been said so far. It is unfortunate that we do not have reliable statistics on which ethnic minorities tend to participate in education beyond the age of 16 and why others do not. The little research that I have done shows that the reasons why many of them do not stay on beyond the age of 16 are the fear of unemployment and a lack of resources. That was not so until the mid-1990s. Until then the statistics always showed that ethnic minorities, unlike the indigenous community, tended to stay on in school, not only until the age of 16 but even beyond. For the past 10 or 12 years, the trend has reversed, and we might need to ask why.
We might also explore the possibility of encouraging colleges to create and award their own qualifications in the same way that the universities do. They can create specialist products to suit employers with whom they can be encouraged to work closely. The Bill points in that direction, but we need to go a little further. If we are going to go in that direction, colleges need to be better funded. It might not be a bad idea for colleges, in order to produce specialised products, to work closely with trade unions, which generally have a better rapport with, and understanding of the requirements of, 17 and 18 year-olds in jobs.
My Lords, I must apologise to the House for being absent during many of the speeches today because I had to be involved in two meetings outside the Chamber. However, I shall read all the speeches with great interest. I am now in the dreadful and dreaded spot where most things of note have been said, so I shall confine my remarks to a few brief instances relating mainly to vulnerable young people, who were noted by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel.
During the debates on the Children and Young Persons Bill earlier this year, this House did a wonderful job of collaborating across parties to make a significant difference to that Bill and change it for the benefit of children. On this Bill, there is unfinished business from another place, and I look forward to improving it during our deliberations.
I welcome the Bill and the intention to have all young people engaged with learning and staying on in education or training until the age of 18. I entirely support the remarks made by my noble friend Lady Blackstone. Participation in some form of education and training should be the norm. There need to be safeguards and support, but too many of our young people lack aspiration, which is fundamental to achievement and to accessing the five outcomes of the Every Child Matters agenda. I mention that agenda because I believe that government policy should hang together and that this Bill is part of a scenario of laws, reports and so on that apply to children, including the recent Children’s Plan.
Earlier this week, the four Children’s Commissioners in the UK published their joint report, which made many valid points. In the context section at the beginning of that report, it is worth noting that there are good things about being a child in the UK. In England, for example, children are described as increasingly well educated, with the majority ambitious and engaged, motivated and making a positive contribution. That is good news: those young people will, no doubt, make full use of the 14 to 19 reforms that promise different types of provision to suit different needs and interests, including apprenticeships and diplomas. The Minister has described those offerings and I will not repeat them. However, the commissioners also expressed concern, at least for England, at
“the application of punitive measures to those children not engaging in education and training”.
I, too, shall express that concern today.
The Institute for Public Policy Research recently published a report on youth justice, suggesting that the more affluent young people in society are involved in extracurricular activities while those less advantaged are spending their time unsupervised on the streets. I understand that a new Bill, referred to in the draft legislative programme, will address the educational needs of those in custody, but there are other vulnerable young people. My first plea, then, is for strong and co-ordinated programmes of social skill development. Social skills are often the prerequisite for any participation in other education. Some young people do not achieve because they are too angry, depressed and unsupported to allow themselves to do so. That is why I believe personal, social and health education to be so vital at all levels of education. I have seen it work miracles in schools; we must apply programmes of PSHE in all settings. I would be surprised if the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has not already had her say about that, and I wish that I had been here to hear it.
The CBI, in its useful briefing on the Bill, discusses the importance of literacy and numeracy skills. It points out that 50 per cent of employers are dissatisfied with school leavers’ literacy and numeracy. Earlier this week, I was in a young offender institution where literacy and numeracy skills have improved dramatically in accordance with many programmes. It has intensive educational programmes, and support and personal skill development programmes to back up the education inputs. Young people lacking such skills cannot take advantage of education, so I hope that a good deal of preparation will go into making sure that support systems are operating well in advance of the changes proposed in the Bill.
I also hope that diversity of provision will be in place. In 2006, more than one-fifth of 16 to 18 year-olds in England were not in education or training, including one in 10 who were not in education, employment or training. That is simply not helpful to young people, or to society. We need work-based learning, alternative provision such as entry to employment and foundation learning tier programmes, and provision for young people with special educational needs. As the National Children’s Bureau points out, the new compulsory system must have choice and be responsive to the individual circumstances and needs of vulnerable groups in order to avoid serious setback. The NCB also echoes my plea to have pastoral and personal support systems available to young people in educational establishments or the workplace.
I know that Barnardo’s has consulted young people about alternative education and training services. A clear message from that consultation was that choosing to participate was crucial to motivation and achievement. I believe that choice is possible, and has to be made possible, within a compulsory system but, as my noble friend Lord Parekh just said, choices have to be made attractive. Barnardo’s accepts the need for an enforcement process, but is seeking safeguards to ensure that the level of the penalty notice is set at an amount that reflects the level of financial support available to the poorest young people, that advocacy is available to enable the voice of the young person to be heard at an attendance panel at every stage in the process, and that young people who fail to participate are not left with a criminal record.
Barnardo’s and others will be seeking to establish learning contracts to support young people who are disaffected and disengaged, to get them back into education and training. Those learning contracts are already used in several Barnardo’s services and are being piloted as activity agreements by the Government. Such contracts set out the responsibilities of each party including the young person’s support needs, their expectations and learning goals and the role of the LEA, the parent and provider or the employer.
Young people, especially disaffected young people, will be much more likely to engage with systems if they feel involved. They also gain in communication skills and confidence by being involved. Young people who have lacked support, or who have poor communication skills, are disadvantaged in many ways. They need structure and a relationship with a sympathetic adult to become involved in learning. By engaging with young people and providing opportunities and appropriate support, we may reduce the numbers who end up in trouble with the law or, indeed, in custody. Additional support is also necessary for young people coming out of custody in order to engage them in education or training, and learning support contracts could certainly benefit that group.
I welcome the Bill. Too many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds do not engage in education, which perpetuates the cycle of deprivation. A diversity of choice could improve aspiration. What, then, about these vulnerable groups? Will support for their engagement be built into new systems? What about personal support, such as counselling, advocacy and personal, social and health education? What about learning contracts to encourage participation and commitment? I look forward to my noble friend’s replies, and to the future stages of this Bill.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, remarked in his introduction, this is landmark legislation. As the noble Lord, Lord Layard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, have reminded us, it goes back not only to 1918, as the Minister mentioned, but to the aspirations that the Acts of 1944 and 1959 renewed. Indeed, it has taken us almost a century to fulfil the ambitions of that 1918 Act.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, remarked that what was notable in this Second Reading was the number of people who had spoken without actually discussing issues that the Bill addresses. That was right, but it can nevertheless be explained: the Minister rightly introduced this as part of a package of much wider education reforms being introduced by this Government, and aimed at improving the UK’s overall educational performance. That is necessary if we are to compete in the global marketplace, an issue picked up and discussed at length in the report by the noble Lord, Lord Leitch.
Much has been made of our 24th position, out of 29, in the OECD league tables but if those tables are looked at it will be seen that our failure is, above all, in the intermediate and lower ends of the spectrum. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, picked up that point. We have far too few young people acquiring the intermediate technician grade of NVQ level 2 and 3 skills, and far too many with no qualifications at all. As the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, said, if we are to acquire the requisite 40 per cent of the adult population with level 4 qualifications, they need to start by at least acquiring levels 2 and 3. That is the gap that the Bill aims to fill by either keeping young people in full-time education or training until they are at least 18 or making sure that they are in a job where they are receiving training that leads to some sort of qualification.
In doing so, it encourages those with lower level qualifications to stay on and seek better qualifications and puts particular emphasis on the 22 per cent of the cohort—120,000 a year—who are currently leaving school at age 16 and do not proceed to any further qualifications, and especially on the 10 per cent, 60,000 a year, who come into the NEET, not in education employment or training, category, most of whom have effectively dropped out of school when they were 14 or 15, have no qualifications to speak of, drift in and out of employment and are highly vulnerable to drink, drugs and criminality.
How is the Bill aimed to cope with those aspirations? It does so by making it a duty on all young people to stay in education or engage in work with training opportunities, in the hope that, although some will resist, the majority, recognising that there is no choice, will comply with the law and settle for staying in school, going on to college, getting an apprenticeship or finding a job which offers the requisite amount of training. It is to be made compulsory but, as with the ban on smoking, the hope is that most people will just fall in with compulsion without fuss.
Secondly, the Bill—well, not the Bill, but part of a whole package of reforms about which we have talked at some length—is about reforming the curriculum. It is widely acknowledged that for many young people—roughly 50 per cent of young people in schools—the GCSE/A-level secondary school curriculum has been too academic and a turn off. The aim of the new diplomas is to introduce a new curriculum that is practical and relevant, with opportunities to study subjects allied to the world of work.
Side by side with that is the reform of apprenticeships—again, not strictly part of this Bill but part of a Bill that we will be seeing next year, alluded to by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton—with an increasing number and range of apprenticeships, so that there are plenty of apprenticeships for young people who wish to leave school and do their learning and earning side by side. Indeed, post-2013, there will be an entitlement to apprenticeship for all who want it.
Lastly, the aim is to revamp careers guidance to provide better and more comprehensive information, advice and guidance for the general run of students in schools and colleges, especially for those 12 to 13 year- olds who have both complex choices to make between GCSEs, A-levels, diplomas and apprenticeships and to extend the mentoring, advice and placement services already provided by Connexions for the NEET group, responsibility for which is now to be handed over to local authorities.
It has been made clear in the debate that we on these Benches are not alone in sharing the Government's aspirations but are having some doubts as to whether this package will work. Our reservations come in several forms. First, we are a little worried that the cart has been put before the horse. The key issue mentioned by a large number of people is that of motivating young people and the reform of the secondary school curriculum.
As the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, mentioned, we want these young people to commit themselves to, in the words of the noble Baroness, lifelong learning. We need to keep our fingers crossed that the diplomas will do that job. They remain something of an unknown quantity. We also have to keep our fingers crossed that they will prove popular with young people.
I have been very surprised to learn that the hair and beauty diploma, due to be rolled out for a local consortium at Guildford College in September 2009, has no practical hairdressing for the first two years. Last week's Times Educational Supplement highlighted the lack of relevant practical work experience required by many diplomas. We have to hold our judgment on these things; there will inevitably be teething troubles with the diplomas during the next five years. It is crucial that in 2013, when the Bill comes into operation, which is, as my noble friend Lady Walmsley mentioned, when the diplomas are due to be up and running, the two things can coincide well together. We would have preferred to see the new diplomas successfully introduced before making the commitment to raising the learning participation age, but I understand the argument of those who say that unless you commit yourself, you do not get there.
Personally, I share the view of the noble Lords, Lord Pilkington, Lord Lucas and Lord Dearing: if we are going to make diplomas work, there is a lot to be said for having specialist institutions. Trying to move young people around from one institution to another to take little bit of the diploma here and there does not work. They need specialist equipment and we need to give them the high regard that there is in the technical high schools in Germany. I hope that some of the experiments that the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, spoke about, will go forward.
Secondly, there has been the issue of compulsion; we have had a great deal of discussion about that. I think that we are all agreed that we do not want those who truant from school acquiring criminal records but, given the way that those young people flout the law at 15, why should we expect them to comply with it at 16 and 17? What will happen if they do so? We pressed the Bill team on the matter when we met them the other day and they told us that each individual would be assigned a personal mentor through the Connexions service, as they already have been, who would work with them one to one to ensure that they were helped and supported in finding a solution that fitted their circumstances.
The evidence is clear. If you have the resources, working intensively with that group can work. I shall read two pieces of evidence given by the Prince’s Trust in the early phases of discussion in Committee in the other place, when they had the evidence sessions. Martina Milburn, from the Prince's Trust said that,
“some of these people are not going to be turned around in a few months—it takes years. The Prince's Trust team programme has a 12-week personal development programme, which takes only unemployed young people and the NEET group … with the right intervention and the right programmes—the Trust certainly is not the only one doing it—you can make a significant difference. Of the 40,000 people in our groups last year, 78 per cent. went into education, training or employment, which I think is phenomenal, given the backgrounds that most of them were from. It is not easy; it is not cheap; and it requires a lot of people doing a lot of the right things”.
It is clear from that that it is vital to recognise that not all learning will lead to accredited qualifications. The evidence from Barnardo's and the Prince’s Trust is that, given the chaotic lives of some of those young people, it is a matter, first, of learning how to learn, before they are really ready to go on courses that lead to qualifications. There needs to be some flexibility in the system, a point picked up on by several noble Lords. It is also necessary to recognise the high level of special educational needs among those groups. That in turn raises the question of whether the necessary specialist help is available, and for how long it will be needed.
Again, the evidence from the Prince’s Trust made clear the difficulties that apply here. It talks about a pilot programme on which it had a team of 15 people working. It said that,
“at least a third of the young people on something like the team programme have a recognised mental health issue and at least one, if not two, on each programme—each will take only 15 young people—have such an acute mental health issue that they need key intervention ... They have gone off the programme, had treatment and come back six or nine months later to a similar programme. That is all before they could think about sitting down and starting a pre-apprenticeship programme. You are looking at that kind of need with some of the young people who we work with”. .—[Official Report, Commons, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 22/01/08; col. 17-18.]
We have to recognise this. It raises the question of whether local authorities, which will have this responsibility, will be able to meet these needs, especially if they are required to go on providing support for those young people until they are 25. Given the failures of the children’s and adolescent health services and the incredible shortage of educational psychologists which appeared when we were debating the Children and Young Person’s Act, one really has very great doubts as to whether local authorities have the capability of providing the mentoring and key support services that are going to be required if we are to turn these young people around. It can be done. The Prince’s Trust shows that it can be done, but it needs an enormous amount of resources.
I must move on. I should like to mention two further issues. The first is work-based learning and apprenticeships. In many respects apprenticeships are the ideal training route for these young people, as was emphasised in the excellent report by the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs. Although companies such as Rolls-Royce still keep this route open, they have become the exception rather than the rule. The Leitch report adopted by the Government aims to reverse these trends and put industry in the driving seat with a target of 500,000 apprenticeship places by 2020. However, I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Layard, that it is not by any means clear where these apprenticeship places are necessarily going to come from. There are a large number of firms that are somewhat unhappy about the training requirements of these Bills. Again, I refer to the report produced by Professor Alison Wolf, which indicates that there is a danger that compulsion will drive away the very training opportunities available to those who, fed up with school at 16, leave to take on a job which does not having any training. Nevertheless, they learn a lot in these jobs and it is these jobs which will disappear completely and go to the over-18s and very often to foreign workers prepared to take the relatively low wages. It is very important that the national apprenticeship programme should be up and running as quickly as possible and that there are enough of them. At the moment there is a great dearth of apprenticeships and many colleges have great difficulty in finding places.
Finally, I should like to say something about careers guidance. We have all recognised that, with the complex choices that have to be made, careers guidance is absolutely vital. We talked about the Connexions service and the mentoring of the NEET programme but careers guidance to our young people in schools, who are making choices at the age of 12 and 13 between apprenticeships, diplomas and GCSEs or A-level, is absolutely vital. Yet, because of the degree to which the Connexion service has shifted from providing careers guidance to the mentoring service, we have reached a situation in which the careers guidance service has effectively collapsed. We have, more or less, to establish it from scratch.
I was very surprised to see that only £38 million has been assigned in the impact statement for the development of careers guidance services. That is, roughly speaking, £10,000 per secondary school, which is remarkably little if we want to create a proper careers guidance service for these young people with the impartial advice required by Clause 66. We are going to have to develop this. The Government have rejected advice from various groups that we should have an all-age careers advice and guidance service. Information about careers is increasingly available on the internet and the sort of service that has been provided by Learn Direct can be expanded. One would expect to see, particularly for these young people, the development of a fairly creative web-based service. As well as the information, you need very clear advice and guidance and it is not available at the moment. We are going to have to create it and train these people and it is not at all clear where all the resources are going to come from.
I must finish now. I am sorry to have gone on for quite so long. It is clear that this is a very important Bill. Its aims and aspirations are admirable and, as has become very clear in this debate, in one way or another we all share its hopes and ambitions. However, it is clear that the devil is in the detail and I foresee many long days and evenings when we shall be debating our way through these labyrinths.
My Lords, all noble Lords who have spoken today have done so eloquently. Of course we all want our young people to stay on in education and training until at least the age of 18. I start by referring to my noble friend Lord Elton’s speech. Why do we look for complex, one-size-fits-all solutions? Encouraging young people by participation, regardless of what that activity might be, will get those young people involved. We will discuss many of the things that my noble friend spoke of in greater detail at later stages. I go back to the concerns that my noble friend Lady Morris highlighted. I emphasise again what an opportunity we have with this Bill. However, that will require hard work on our part and a willingness to listen on the part of the Government for us to make the Bill as sure in its outcome as it is desirable in its goals. Our aim must be, above all, to use the chance afforded to us now to ensure that we equip young people in this country with the necessary education and skills for a fulfilling long-term future.
As my noble friend Lord Pilkington of Oxenford, with his huge wealth of experience and knowledge, said, we must ensure that there is no single, dogmatic approach. Young people are different, with different abilities. My noble friend Lady Morris and others on all sides of the House, whose experience and expertise in these matters is highly regarded by us all, raised the troubling issue of compulsion. It must be clear to the Government now that there will be serious debate in the coming stages as we examine the best way of achieving the aims of this Bill. Other noble Lords have spoken forcefully on this issue. It is not just a matter of ideology, although I am not alone in being concerned about another authoritarian measure being imposed by this Government; it is a matter of practicalities.
How will the Government enforce the duty to engage in continued training or education up to the age of 18? What benefit will be gained from criminalising the young people whom our schools have let down? How will fines be collected from young people with no means to pay? What happens in the justice process when the young person facing sanctions turns 18? The tenets of the Bill will no longer apply, but the young person will still face criminal penalties. Despite the Government’s assurances, could people end up in prison because of this Bill?
The Minister’s argument on compulsion does not stack up. Tens of thousands of young people are already in compulsory education but they do not participate. How will parents be expected to ensure that their 16 and 17 year-old children comply with the Bill? I have spoken to young people about this. They told me that, if they see that there is a point to their programme, they will take part but that, if they are told by their parents, teachers or the state that they have to participate, they will most likely turn around and do the opposite. That is simply the nature of teenagers. It is unrealistic to expect parents to rein in or change the behaviour of 16 or 17 year-olds who have decided to opt out of education and training unless, as the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, argued, there is a real change of culture, attitude and approach so that young people and those who shape their thought processes change their outlook on education and training.
There will be teenagers from some communities, as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, said, for whom participating beyond 16 will be difficult. This is particularly true of girls from certain communities. I know of many families in which girls going on to further education beyond 16 is a complete no-no. The Government will have to show us that they have thought through all these measures and that the measures will be workable. To make them workable, we will need to see that the training and education on offer is appropriate, necessary to future employment and flexible enough to respond to the needs both of young people and of employers.
My noble friend Lord Lucas is right: this is a centralised Bill that glosses over the real symptoms of young people’s disengagement. The Government can argue for compulsion only if, in return, we offer people provision that will enable them to learn skills that will genuinely make them more employable. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, set out forcefully through his four points the challenges that we face and the need to move away from the concept of compulsion and to concentrate far more on young people being motivated to engage and to learn. We must also, of course, consider how new ideas can engage young people.
We have spoken to representatives of colleges, small businesses and industry, as well as to groups that work with young people, many of whom are disadvantaged. They have all expressed concern. One of the most alarming things mentioned was the fear that these new provisions will simply encourage employers not to take on 16 or 17 year-olds. I have personal experience of running a small business and I know that one of the biggest obstacles is red tape. We do not want to add to the new duties on employers, who will have to know the guidance to the Bill inside out to ensure that they are not falling foul of the rules. They will have to spend time working out complicated rotas to allow time off for their employees to attend colleges or training courses. None of this will be easy and it could incentivise employers to look elsewhere for their staff. We should not glibly dismiss the worries of the very businesses on which we will rely to employ our newly educated workforce. We must be sure that the new regime is as flexible for employers as we can make it, or we run the risk of undermining our own good intentions from the start.
The courses that are to be offered must be useful. They must be practical and deliverable. The Government assure us that they are tying in the provision of courses with the overarching responsibilities of local authorities, although, as others have pointed out, it will take the next education Bill as well as this one to achieve it. We will ask the Minister to show that these plans, too, are fully thought out. What of the young person who moves from one local authority area to another? Who will keep track of him or her? It is naive to expect young people to live their lives neatly within the lines drawn on a civil servant’s map. If information is to be shared around to help to keep track of all these individuals, we must ensure that there are appropriate safeguards on that information sharing. The Bill appears to take a somewhat careless approach to the protection of personal and sensitive information.
My noble friend Lady Morris talked about the gender disparity in apprenticeships. We must avoid entrenching poverty among the most vulnerable young women by shoehorning them into limiting apprenticeships and training. Many people, in your Lordships’ House today and outside, have emphasised the great importance of providing good, impartial and constructive careers advice, so that all young people are aware of their options and can realise their potential. This ties in with another point that has been made: planning what happens to 16 to 18 year-olds is important, but just as important, if not more so, is what happens to children before they reach that age. The education, support and advice that they receive up to the age of 14 will have a huge impact on their future prospects.
Our children must have the very best start in life. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans spoke of the importance of well-being and happiness. Those are indeed important factors, which have an impact on how young people react to learning, but they cannot be acquired through a paper qualification. Our children must be numerate and literate, or they will lose out on many opportunities. As my noble friend Lady Morris said, we must be mindful of the distressingly high number of young people who suffer from mental health problems and we must be sure that we make adequate provision for them, or they will continue to be failed by the education system. We on these Benches believe that lifelong learning and acquiring new qualifications, either to help with better employment prospects or for general well-being, are excellent and admirable goals. This is why we have deep concerns about the Government’s policies on equivalent-level qualifications. We will return to this matter.
My noble friend Lady Morris spoke of our concern about Part 4, which will transfer the regulation and registration of independent schools from the DCSF to Ofsted. Our independent schools are recognised by the OECD as the best schools in the world. At a time when they are forging closer links with other sectors, it is unfortunate that their very good working relationship with the DCSF will be disrupted. I hope that the Minister will recognise the strength of feeling on the opposition Benches about this issue and about the proposed changes to the Section 347 schools.
As my noble friend Lady Morris said, during our consideration of the Bill we will return to the issue of compulsion, to the concerns surrounding some of our most vulnerable young people, to the unnecessary changes to independent education and to proper scrutiny of the revisions to the admissions code. We shall also seek to add new clauses on the establishment of new schools other than community schools, on restrictions on special school closures and on the teaching and recognition of IGCSEs and the teaching of science, about which the CBI employers’ survey showed that there was still a great deal of concern. We shall also seek to add a new clause to ensure that those with special needs are properly helped.
The Bill should be a wonderful opportunity for us to develop an education and training system that benefits young people, the employers who are desperate for a skilled, well trained and educated workforce and, above all, the country as a whole.
My Lords, this has been a truly tremendous debate. I have found it incredibly stimulating and very interesting, and I very much look forward to the future stages of the Bill. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, who suggested that the Bill addresses a fundamental and perhaps almost moral and social need to respond to the needs of the most disadvantaged.
In winding up for the Government, I will try to address the main points made by noble Lords. However, there is a strong chance that I will not have time to address all the detailed points that have been made, so my noble friend and I undertake to write to all those who have taken part in this Second Reading. We can then begin the process of the Bill as we mean to continue it, sharing information and answering points as fully and in as timely a fashion as possible.
I thank my noble friend Lady Blackstone for her warm welcome. I particularly note her call and that of others to be bold about adult education, perhaps more radical, and more aspirational. This is a joint Bill between the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. I hope that we can be bold and will convince noble Lords that we are taking the ambitious measures that they would like to see. We have a shared goal to improve education outcomes for all, at whatever age. Raising the participation age, together with the age 0 to 19 reforms set out in the Children’s Plan, will ensure that the future workforce will be more skilled than ever.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, that we face an urgent task now. As we have heard, of the 2020 workforce, 74 per cent have already left education, many of whom still lack the skills for success in life that they so badly need. We have made real progress in improving the skill levels of the UK’s adult population. Since the Skills for Life strategy was launched, 4.7 million adult learners have taken up 10.5 million skills for life learning opportunities, with more than 1.76 million adults gaining a first qualification since 2001, and 1.34 million adults have up-skilled to level 2 since 2002, thus meeting the department’s interim target of 1 million by 2006.
However, in taking up the gauntlet laid down by my noble friend Lord Leitch, we have set ourselves a challenging ambition, which is not to remain in the middling rank of nations for skills, below our European and our global competitors, but to have world-class skills by 2020. Our progress to date is laudable, but it is not enough and we are in no way complacent. For the first time, the Bill will give adults the right to free provision for basic literacy and numeracy qualifications. As many noble Lords have highlighted, these are the skills required to function in everyday life. As we have heard from my noble friend Lord Adonis, individuals with level 2 qualifications are proven to have better employment prospects and improved life chances. This Bill will give everyone the chance to gain skills that are a platform for employability.
If we compare ourselves with other countries, up-to-the-age-of-16 participation and achievement rates are good. But as individuals get older other countries begin to catch up and to overtake the UK, which is particularly evident when people are in their early 20s. Currently, the UK stands still while young adults across Europe improve their skills and gain level 3 qualifications. To address that, the Bill gives 19 to 25 year-olds a right to free tuition for their first full level 3 qualification, which is equivalent to two A-levels. I hear what noble Lords are saying, but I am delighted that we are making this commitment. The duties will ensure that the Learning and Skills Council, providers and everyone in the system are focussed on meeting individuals’ needs.
As with the raising of the participation age, I am clear that legislation is not a panacea. It is a chance to see the culture change we need, to which many noble Lords have referred. Legislation will not win the battle alone. As my noble friend Lady Morris pointed out, much of what needs to be done is not in legislation. The signal sent by the legislation will be disseminated to potential learners through our marketing campaigns, which are proving hugely successful in winning interest, and hearts and minds on this story. Once we have the attention of learners, they need to be supported into learning. As the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, said, continuing in education post-16, including vocational education, should command much more respect. This Government are committed to making that happen.
Skills accounts will provide individuals with a virtual voucher of state funding to purchase learning at a quality assured provider of their choice, which is new and very important. They will also offer a route to further support through a new adult careers and advancement service to be fully operational across England from 2010-11. Together with the continuing growth of Train to Gain, we will see a radically different model of organisation in the skills system where the role of Government is to ensure that learners and employers are empowered, well informed and well supported, so that demand can lead supply.
The noble Lord, Lord Layard, and others suggested that apprenticeships possibly would be the single biggest step to achieving the aspirations of this Bill. The Government entirely agree with noble Lords that apprenticeships should be a choice route for young people and adults. We have committed to providing an apprenticeship to all suitably qualified young people by 2013. The Bill signals our intention by placing an explicit duty on the Learning and Skills Council to secure apprenticeships, alongside other further education courses. I am delighted at the profile that apprenticeships have received in this debate.
Earlier this year, we set out our detailed proposals to ratchet up the quality and quantity of apprenticeships, an area where we have a very strong record. Later in this Session we will publish a draft apprenticeship Bill. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, will be reassured by the emphasis, interest and investment that the Government are making. Noble Lords will see that this Bill is merely a first legislative step on our way to world class skills in 2020, which I believe will meet the ambitions set out by many noble Lords today.
I want to pick up on some of the concerns highlighted today. The noble Baronesses, Lady Morris of Bolton and Lady Walmsley, and others mentioned concerns regarding the changes to the inspection and registration regime for independent schools. The Government are committed to reducing bureaucracy. The transfer of the registration and regulation of independent educational institutions to Ofsted will not only release efficiencies in the public sector, but reduce the burdens. Here, we are particularly talking about reducing burdens on smaller independent schools, which will have to deal with only one regulatory body. Overall, 2,019 out of 2,359 independent schools will see a reduction in bureaucracy. The remaining schools will see no increase in burden, so will not be disadvantaged. It is far from the case that we want to cause any concern or disaffection to any independent school. We want to reassure them that we are taking very seriously their concerns about how the process is taken forward.
I should like to reassure the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans that nothing about the right of faith schools to have faith criteria will be able to be changed by the move of the duty to consult from primary legislation to regulations that he was so concerned about. The right reverend Prelate also highlighted the importance of ensuring that our education system properly prepares young people for adult life. I hear his comments, which we take very seriously. The non-statutory framework we are developing to meet spiritual, moral, social and cultural needs will involve working with key sector stakeholders to make clear the importance of this aspect of education, to highlight good practice and to make support available. We are also involving Ofsted so that it can consider how to reflect this work through the inspection process. We do not have any plans to introduce a duty to promote spiritual, moral, social and cultural development in FE. We believe that it is right to leave it to each institution to determine how best to meet student needs.
Many noble Lords raised questions and concerns about the careers advisory service for young people. Good quality information, advice and guidance is essential for ensuring that young people are able to make the right choices about the options available, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, rightly stressed towards the end of her remarks. Careers advice is a central part of the Connexions service and of schools’ duties, and will remain so. We are working to improve quality, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, suggested, it means addressing quality and taking seriously concerns about gender stereotyping, and I do not just mean in terms of careers advice in schools.
We need also to act on the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Low, in developing the apprenticeship matching service. A lot of work is going on to make sure that apprenticeships are not perceived as conforming to stereotypical sex roles. It is a difficult challenge, but exploratory work is going on to develop what might be called non-traditional apprenticeships. Many young people also have issues in their personal lives that can be barriers to effective participation in education or training. Integrated support co-ordinated by local authorities and drawing on the expertise of professionals can help them to address these.
Many noble Lords spoke eloquently about the needs of specific groups of young people. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, directed his remarks to the needs of looked-after and foster children. I assure him that my noble friend Lord Adonis has agreed to discuss the review he referred to once it is finished to see how his concerns can be taken forward. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, asked specifically whether we had taken into account Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. I can confirm that we have, and noble Lords who have joined in the debate may wish to see the letter written by my honourable friend Jim Knight to the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I shall make it available to all noble Lords. Thinking further about the needs of vulnerable groups, we believe that all young people stand to benefit from participation in education and training until they are 18 and we do not believe that any specific groups should be treated differently from the outset as this would risk them being given a second-class offer.
However, we know that young people’s lives do not run along the lines designed by civil servants, as the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, observed, and in some cases it may be difficult or even impossible for a young person to participate. Flexibility is built into the system so that cases can be judged individually and appropriate allowances can be made. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, said that that was an important point.
My noble friend Lady Massey highlighted her concern that the Every Child Matters agenda should be fully understood and taken into account. She drew attention to the need for safeguards and personal support. The focus will be on the need to provide help and support, and first to address barriers by tailoring programmes to aid the progress of young people back into learning in a way that is right for them. Local authorities will provide targeted youth support—those words are written in capital letters—to help young people address barriers to learning. A flexible set of learning options will be available, including the type of informal learning courses provided by the voluntary sector to help young people participate in ways that fit around their specific needs. A series of safeguards are built into the system. For example, the Bill requires local authorities to take all reasonable steps to ensure that relevant support is offered to a young person, and we all understand the importance of the words “reasonable steps”.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that there may be targeted support from the local authority, but, taking up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, if only that support had been available when the child was much younger, many of the problems would not arise? One of the big issues at the moment is that local authorities just do not have the resources available to deliver such support.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that intervention, and indeed I was about to mention the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Elton. He spoke passionately about the needs of children with dyslexia. The noble Baroness is right to observe that if we could get everything absolutely perfect from the very beginning, there would be no need for continuing services. However, if we are talking about extending compulsory education to the age of 18, then as the noble Baroness—
My Lords, the noble Baroness highlights the point about timing that she herself made earlier. We are giving a lead time to the implementation of the Bill because it is right to say that we do not have everything in place to make the legislation functional today. That is why we have to have a lead time.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who spoke about the needs of young people with dyslexia, we are significantly improving training for SENCOs. From this year, all new SENCOs will have to undergo mandatory accredited training, which I believe will make a real difference to the provision of services and support to children and young people with SEN.
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness. Did she take the point that enormous savings would derive from screening all children so that we do not have to pick up damaged learning systems when children are half way through their school education? I hope to address this in Committee.
My Lords, I look forward to those discussions. This is a very important area and I do not wish to underplay it. However, I am trying to make some progress.
I want to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Low, on his appointment to Skill, and to offer him some reassurances on the strategic questions he put to me. We believe strongly that the culture change we are expecting as a result of this legislation, which makes a commitment to have young people in education until the age of 18, will be a positive step forward for all young people, including those with disabilities. We welcome the support given, for example, by Barnardo’s on the need for an enforcement process. We also want to give a reassurance that we will consult on the level of any penalty notice and ensure that the amount should reflect the financial support available to young people—a point the noble Lord was concerned about. I am only picking up on one or two of his points, but when we raise the participation age, it is essential that we look at financial circumstances and ensure that they are not a barrier to participation. As my noble friend suggested earlier, we will be looking at EMAs and the financial support available to young people over the age of 16.
I am close to running out of time, but I want to address compulsion, which was a central issue of our debate. The noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley, Lady Sharp and Lady Verma, and the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, all expressed their concern that perhaps we are being too coercive. Of course we want as many young people as possible to continue their learning voluntarily. We believe that our current reforms can get us to 90 per cent of 17 year-olds participating by 2015—up from 77 per cent now. This will still mean that some of our most marginalised young people will be left behind. This is unacceptable. Compulsion is a way to go further. The experience of other countries suggests that enforcement is necessary to make that requirement meaningful. My noble friend Lady Morris of Yardley spoke eloquently about the dilemmas about compulsion and highlighted the fact that, if we are talking about compulsion as a means of going the extra mile, we need to ensure that it works to best practical effect. I stress that enforcement is a last resort. The system is designed so that young people get the support they need first. If there is good reason why they are not participating, the enforcement process will not come into effect.
I thank all noble Lords for taking part in this Second Reading debate. I and my noble friend will write to those noble Lords whose questions I have not answered. I commend the Bill to the House.
On Question, Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
Immigration (Registration Card) Order 2008
rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 5 March be approved.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, Section 26A(3) of the Immigration Act 1971 introduced criminal offences relating to falsifying or amending registration cards issued in connection with asylum claims. Today, in an effort to ensure consistency, we are seeking to introduce the Immigration (Registration Card) Order.
The order is intended to ensure that the criminal offences contained in Section 26A(3) apply to the misuse of cards issued to failed asylum seekers supported under Section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, as well as to asylum seekers supported under Section 95 of the Act. The offences currently apply to cards issued by the Secretary of State to a person in connection with a claim for asylum, but not to cards issued by the Secretary of State to a person in connection with a claim for support under Section 4. This support is intended to be limited and temporary, for people who are expected to leave the United Kingdom but are unable to do so through no fault of their own because of a temporary barrier.
The UK Border Agency issues all asylum applicants and their dependants with an application registration card—an ARC—in connection with their asylum claim. The application registration card contains an applicant’s personal details, including the name that they have given to the UK Border Agency and a photograph. The ARC serves a number of purposes. In particular, it is produced on reporting and when collecting asylum support at a post office. It is a valuable weapon against the fraudulent collection of support, ensuring that only those eligible receive it. In limited circumstances, failed asylum seekers and their dependants may be eligible for support, under Section 4(2) and 4(3) respectively, provided that they are destitute and meet the eligibility criteria.
Under Section 4(1), the Secretary of State can also support persons who have been temporarily admitted, released from detention or released on immigration bail. Currently, those applying for support under Section 4 may not have an ARC. The card may have been mislaid, or it may have been retained by an immigration official because the details on the card are no longer accurate or because misuse has been suspected. Furthermore, individuals applying for support under Section 4 may not have an ARC because the original asylum claim predated the issue of application registration cards. It is clear that, by not having a uniform photo ID check for identity confirmation on collection of support, the potential for abuse of the Section 4 support regime is increased. The use of an ARC will also support identity checks at reporting events for individuals at the end of the process.
We intend to revoke the existing Immigration and Asylum (Provision of Accommodation to Failed Asylum Seekers) Regulations 2005 covering Section 4 support and to lay new regulations by the end of 2008. It will be a condition of the continued provision of accommodation for the failed asylum seeker that they attend an appointment in connection with the issuing of an application registration card and comply with a requirement to produce the application registration card.
The UK Border Agency will arrange for ARCs to be issued to all those applying for, or currently in receipt of, support under Section 4 if they do not already have one. The power to issue a registration card is administrative and does not depend on this order. The order purely extends the definition of “registration card” so that the offences apply to cards issued by the Secretary of State to persons in connection with a claim for Section 4 support. It is important to ensure that the existing criminal offences extend to all ARCs. To do otherwise would create an unnecessary anomaly and possible opportunities for criminal activity. Extending the definition of “registration card” will enable criminal offences relating to abuse or misuse of registration cards to apply to any cards issued to a person in connection with a claim for asylum, and to cards issued to a person in connection with a claim for support under Section 4.
The offences include: making a false registration card; altering a registration card with intent to deceive; possessing a false or altered registration card without reasonable excuse; using or attempting to use a false registration card or an altered registration card with intent to deceive; making an article designed to be used in making false registration cards or in altering registration cards; and possessing such an article without reasonable excuse. The offences can be tried either in the Crown Court or magistrates’ court. They carry a maximum penalty of 10 years or a fine on indictment, or six months or a £5,000 fine summarily, save for the possession offences, which carry a maximum penalty of two years on indictment. In 2006, the last year for which we have published data, there were 34 prosecutions for these offences, resulting in 21 convictions. This demonstrates the importance of these provisions in maintaining the integrity of the immigration system.
That is what the order seeks to achieve. I beg to move.
Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 5 March be approved. 13th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this order. I have no objections to it—it seems to be a technical adjustment. However, I have a few questions for the Minister.
I understand from the debate in the other place that there are about 300,000 asylum registration cards in issue, of which only about 11,000 apply to Section 4—and 700 of those will have to be replaced. What has brought about the replacement of those 700 cards? The Minister says that there have been a limited number of prosecutions. Is it just because there have been a small number of prosecutions among the 300,000, or because those on Section 4 have been found to be fraudulently using the cards? As I read it, Section 4 is for failed asylum seekers; there is a limited number of them. Can the Minister tell me why they are still in this country? He says that there are temporary barriers to their removal. What are they? Do they include difficulties in returning them to their country of origin because of persecution, or are the barriers more prosaic? Following that, what is the average time that somebody on Section 4 remains there? Are they ultimately deported, or is there some other outcome?
I am seeking to understand a little more about Section 4. This is the first time since the 1971 Act that Section 26A has been amended at all; it has not been necessary to amend it for 38 years. Can the Minister tell us what has now brought this about, particularly when these orders will shortly be superseded by the UK Borders Act 2007 and secondary legislation arising from it? We have no particular objection to the order, but it would help our understanding to have a response to those questions.
My Lords, I am feeling quite nostalgic for the many hours that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, and I have spent arguing with each other across the Floor of this House and the Moses Room on primary legislation. Although this order is not in quite the same league as most of the matters we have discussed, there are nevertheless one or two points on which, like the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, I would be grateful for some clarification.
Section 26A of the 1971 Act deals with the registration card issued in connection with a claim for asylum, but subsection (7) also provides that the definition of the card, and hence the purposes for which it can be used, can be amended by order. The Explanatory Memorandum says that this is the first time that that power has been used. The first question—it may be fairly obvious, but I would be grateful for confirmation—is whether the same card is to be used for both purposes now defined in the amended subsection 1(b). As I read it, there could be two separate registration cards: one to be used in connection with the claim for asylum, and the other in connection with a claim for Section 4 support. Presumably an individual will be given only one card, whether she is an asylum claimant, a claimant for Section 4 support, or both. Can the Minister confirm that?
As the Explanatory Memorandum says, destitute asylum seekers, their dependants and most unsuccessful asylum seekers with dependent children under 18 are eligible for support under Section 95 of the 1999 Act. They are all issued with an ARC under the existing Section 26A. Those who apply for accommodation under Section 4 of that Act—mainly people who have exhausted their claim to asylum but cannot be returned to their country of origin for the time being—may not have an ARC, as the Minister explained, because their asylum application predated the 1999 Act, because the card was withdrawn because support was no longer required, because there was a potential for misuse, or because the holder had lost the card. It is estimated that 9,500 persons, not counting dependants, were getting Section 4 support in September 2007 and, of those, perhaps 500 currently have no ARC.
The BIA could issue ARCs to these 500 persons administratively, but the order is needed to activate the criminal offences in Section 26A(3) relating to fraudulent production and use of an ARC in connection with a claim for Section 4 support. The Minister will no doubt say whether there is any reason to think that individuals have in fact been forging ARCs to get Section 4 support, or whether he can imagine situations where somebody who is not entitled to Section 4 support would go to the lengths of forging an ARC to access the very minimal assistance it provides. As an aside, where an ARC has been withdrawn because of potential misuse, are those individuals nevertheless now to be issued with a new ARC, irrespective of whether potential misuse is suspected?
The people who qualify are in desperate need, and Refugee Action published an assessment in January this year of the problems they encountered. It found that between September and December 2007 its “One Stop Service” offices in the south-west, south central, north-west and east Midlands had 3,612 visits from asylum seekers who were looking for Section 4 support, and of those, 1,350 were assessed as being destitute.
The number of people eligible for Section 4 support increased dramatically in the early months of 2005 from 500 to 5,000, and now, according to the Explanatory Memorandum, it has almost doubled again. May we have an analysis from the Minister of the reasons for this increase, and how far it is accounted for by failed asylum seekers who cannot be sent back to their countries of origin? The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, mentioned the number of failed applicants. Could the Minister give us a breakdown of the numbers by country and in each case a summary of the reasons why those persons cannot be returned? According to the Public Accounts Committee in another place, there could be as many as 283,500 failed applicants in the UK, though most of them presumably would be returnable if the BIA could identify them and they had not put down roots which made it unreasonable for them to be returned.
The National Audit Office estimated that it would cost £3.2 billion to remove these people, who mostly fled violent situations such as those in Zimbabwe, the DRC or Somalia, even though an immigration judge found that they did not meet the strict criteria of the 1951 convention. In practice it may be extremely difficult to remove people to countries where the Government are uncooperative or there is an internal conflict. Only five people were compulsorily sent back to Somalia in 2005, for instance, and presumably—perhaps the Minister will confirm this—nobody is being sent back to Zimbabwe when the country is on the verge of an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe.
While we have to give minimal support under Section 4 to a few thousand people in situations of this kind, there should be a systematic review periodically of the likelihood of ever being able to return them, and where the odds are against it, to give those people indefinite leave to remain so that the taxpayer can be relieved of the burden of supporting them and they can start contributing to the economy. Otherwise the taxpayer is saddled indefinitely with the steadily increasing numbers of beneficiaries. It would be good if the Minister could tell us what the latest figure is, perhaps at March 2008, to see what the rate of increase is since the figure of 9,500 given in the Explanatory Memorandum.
Whatever the figure is, there seems to be a deliberate policy of slowing down both the consideration of applications and the award of Section 4 support once it has been decided that a person is eligible We do not agree with the policy of forcing failed asylum seekers into destitution, but if the Government persist with that policy, they should at least ensure that the victims get the support to which they are legally entitled. The Refugee Action study to which I referred a moment ago showed that despite increased BIA staff, the average time taken to decide priority A applications—that is, from people who were street homeless, pregnant or suffering from physical or mental health problems—increased from 8.5 days in September 2006 to 9.6 days in July 2007. The average time for priority A cases to be accommodated increased over the same interval from 12 days to more than 20 days. In a judicial review application which was dismissed last December because the applicant had been accommodated before the hearing, the judge nevertheless said:
“It is incumbent on the Secretary of State to put in place a system which deals specifically with the problem”
of delay. The judge continued:
“The Secretary of State, through her officials, must act properly and promptly. It is the duty of Government to ensure that happens”.
What has the Secretary of State done to comply with that judgment, and will the Minister now request a weekly return from the BIA, to be placed in the Library, so that your Lordships can see what progress is being made?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for their contributions. As always, they are very assiduous in these matters and take great care in framing their points and questions. The noble Baroness expressed support for the order, for which I am grateful. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, as ever, asked useful and valuable questions.
The order intends to ensure that the criminal offences contained in Section 26A(3) of the Immigration Act 1971, as amended, apply to failed asylum seekers supported under Section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. As I said, these offences relate mainly to the falsifying or altering of registration cards and currently apply to asylum seekers supported under Section 95 of that Act.
I appreciate the views expressed particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who is, as ever, very critical. The questions he asks are important. I turn first to the points that both noble Lords raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, asked what has brought about the order. We are trying to improve the level of compliance and achieve a technical alignment. In a sense we are trying to improve and simplify how the scheme works. The noble Baroness also asked what the barriers were to the removal of asylum seekers who may be assisted by this process and asked for statistics on the length of time they might be on support. I do not have statistics on the length of time they may be on support but I will ask the department to see what data we can find. I fully accept that it is important that we understand the quantum of the issue.
Barriers to removal can fall into a number of categories. Although failed asylum seekers are taking reasonable steps to leave the UK, it may well be that they are unable to get travel documentation that fully complies with their departure. It may well be that they have a physical impediment and are unable to travel because of ill health or for some other medical reason. It may well be that no viable route of return is available. That does not happen often but it can happen. It does not seem to apply at present but there have been instances when it was the case. It may well be that an application and a judicial review are being considered, perhaps in Scotland or within our own jurisdiction, and that application has been given approval to proceed. Or it may well be that we have to take steps to ensure entirely that there is an avoidance of a person’s convention rights within the terms of the Human Rights Act.
My Lords, I do not have that information. I was going to say that when I turned to the noble Lord’s questions. I am sorry that that is the case, but I will again endeavour to write. I understand the reason for the question. I think that we all share concerns about the situation in Zimbabwe. We have to be optimistic but clearly we have to be realistic as well.
The noble Lord asked whether we would issue one card to an individual. That is the case. We would not issue more than one because that would undermine the principle of ensuring that there was the minimal prospect of abuse. The noble Lord asked whether there was any reason to suspect that a person has been fraudulent who is in receipt of Section 4 support. Not necessarily, but the aim is to ensure that we have a sufficient criminal penalty in place to deter fraudulent abuse. That is a very important principle.
In general, the noble Lord was concerned about the impact of the order on those supported under Section 4. Offences in Section 26A(3) will apply to those supported under Section 4, bringing them into line with those supported under Section 95. I think that we have made that clear. The new Immigration and Asylum (Provision of Accommodation to Failed Asylum Seekers) Regulations, which will replace the existing Section 4 regulations, will have a greater impact on individuals supported under Section 4. The new regulations will enable the Secretary of State to impose a condition for the continued provision of accommodation that the Section 4 recipient is subject to. For that reason he will have to produce a registration card.
I am familiar with the statistics that the noble Baroness quoted and in rough order they are accurate. She asked how many individuals receive Section 4 support. At the end of March 2008, statistics indicated that there were some 9,365 individuals excluding dependants supported under Section 4. Management information suggests that there are somewhere in excess of 10,000 principal cases supported and some 11,811 including dependants. As the noble Baroness acknowledged, we estimate that around 700 individuals may not have an IRC. We plan to issue one to those who do not by the end of this year.
My Lords, if they are going to be issued by the end of this year, when are the other regulations coming in from the UK Borders Act that we have been talking about? It seems silly to run around issuing these cards when we are about to do something entirely different. I did ask this question, but why is this legislation particularly relevant at the moment when we are about to change the situation, and presumably before the end of the year?
My Lords, it is in the interim to ensure that there is not an unnecessary level of abuse. That is an important issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked for an analysis of the increase in failed asylum seekers and for a breakdown by country and reasons why they cannot be returned. I have given some of the reasons but will ensure we do some more research if we can. I will write to the noble Lord and will of course share that information with the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham.
I have an answer here on the Zimbabwean question. The Home Office has been successful in a recent case but my understanding is that that is being appealed against. The permission-to-appeal hearing will be heard in July. Removals of failed asylum seekers are generally deferred pending application. We maintain the position that the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal was right in the first instance that it was safe, at that point, to return to Zimbabwe. That is the current situation. Of course these things have to be kept under review. No doubt that review will focus clearly on the issues which are currently a matter of public debate.
I hope I have answered most of the points. Those I have failed to answer I will of course come back to by providing more information.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Extradition Act 2003 (Amendment to Designations) Order 2008
rose to move, That the draft Extradition Act 2003 (Amendment to Designations) Order 2008 laid before the House on 6 May be approved.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Extradition Act 2003 streamlined and modernised the UK’s extradition relations with the rest of the world when it came into effect on 1 January 2004. Today, in an effort to further improve international co-operation, we are seeking to add the United Arab Emirates to the schedule of territories designated as extradition partners under Part 2 of the Act. We are concerned here with further secondary legislation required to amend the Extradition Act 2003 (Designation of Part 2 Territories) Order 2003. This instrument affects the UK’s extradition arrangements with the United Arab Emirates. The order reflects the fact that the UK and UAE signed a bilateral extradition treaty on 6 December 2006 and exchanged instruments of ratification on 3 March this year. Designation of the UAE as a category 2 territory will enable the advantages of this treaty to be given full effect in the UK.
The treaty between the UK and UAE signed by the then Home Secretary and the UAE Minister of Justice in December 2006 is one of a package of measures designed to increase co-operation between the law enforcement agencies of our two countries. Besides the extradition treaty, we have also concluded a treaty on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters and a treaty on judicial co-operation on civil and commercial matters. The extradition treaty allows extradition to be requested for any offence that attracts a maximum penalty of at least 12 months’ imprisonment in both the UK and the UAE. The evidential requirements set out in the treaty mean that both the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates must provide a prima facie evidential case against any person whom they wish to extradite.
There are currently no formal extradition arrangements between our two countries outside a number of international conventions to which we are both parties, which deal with a limited number of specific offences concerning serious criminal conduct, such as terrorism or drug smuggling. The introduction of a formal basis for extradition for conduct covered by the bilateral extradition treaty will lead to a more efficient and effective process for extradition between our two countries. That is preferable to relying on the ad hoc provisions in domestic extradition law for the many serious offences, such as murder and rape, that do not fall under the international conventions that I have referred to. One of the advantages of the new arrangements is that we will improve our ability to achieve justice for British victims of serious crimes.
The extradition treaty between the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates will provide both Governments with a sound formal framework for future co-operation. The UAE is a key partner for the UK in work on financial crime and counterterrorism. We are clear that we will not allow criminals who evade our borders to escape justice and we are committed to assisting our international partners in doing the same. The order is necessary to ensure that the United Kingdom is able to comply with its obligations under the bilateral extradition treaty with the United Arab Emirates. That is what the order seeks to achieve and I hope that noble Lords will give it their full support. I beg to move.
Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 6 May be approved. 20th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that brief explanation of the order. Again, I have one or two questions. The order seems to me to extend the areas where the Extradition Act 2003 has bite. I ought to ask about the number of days—65—that are to be allowed for the designation. As I understand it, there are 60 days for the United Arab Emirates to provide the information required to enable the extradition warrant to be put into force, with five days allowed for that to be passed on to the judiciary and the appropriate judge. Is that similar to every other extradition treaty with other countries or is there something different about this, given that the number of days is being mentioned? I want to make sure that we are talking about like for like; I want to make sure that we are not just adding another country to the extradition procedures but that we are doing so on the same terms.
Presumably, the extradition facility will be available to the United Arab Emirates for and against British citizens, if that is required. What protection do British citizens have against that? Presumably, the appeal system will be the same, but will they have protection against the extradition warrant or, as with the other countries, will they not be able to resist it? I have nothing more to say about the order, but it would be helpful if the Minister could reply to those questions.
My Lords, we on these Benches support measures that deal with globalised crime. As the Minister pointed out, for countries that perhaps have particular attractions for criminals dealing with financial matters, it is important that the extradition treaty is concluded. I have a couple of concerns. The treaty allows the UK Government to extradite any of its citizens for a crime which is punishable by one year or more in prison, as the Minister said, as long as the request for the citizen is made by a competent court in the requesting country. First, how are we to judge a competent court? The US State Department's latest annual human rights report stipulates that the judiciary of the UAE is not fully independent. It states:
“The constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, in practice it was not independent, as decisions were subject to review by the political leadership”.
The report also states:
“Current law permits indefinite, routine, incommunicado detention without appeal”.
I have had a few cases brought to my attention. I will just quote one for the record. Amnesty has outlined a recent appeal from 30 May this year which relates to a Pakistan national, Rafat Usmani, who was arrested and detained on 28 May and says that he was tortured the same day. The authorities have denied holding him in custody, but there are concerns that he has been subjected to enforced disappearance. He lived and worked in the Emirate of Dubai for more than 12 years. Over the course of 2008, he had been in communication with the Office of the Auditors—a quasi-judicial body under the control of the ruler of Dubai, which deals with financial offences—in relation to financial irregularities that are alleged to have taken place at his former workplace. His representative in these procedures has been an American lawyer.
He was summoned to the Office of the Auditors on 28 May. He was told that the summons was for him to collect his passport and sign a number of forms in connection with the application to change his employment sponsorship. He went to the office with his wife’s brother and wife who are American citizens. One hour after their arrival the two women were told that they must leave—they had waited outside—but that Rafat Usmani must remain. They were told:
“We will teach you Americans a lesson”.
Later that day Rafat Usmani was brought home by a group of men. He was in a very emotional state and claimed that he had been tortured. At that point he was taken away and was therefore not able to provide further details. His family has since made extensive inquiries of the authorities, but they have denied having him in custody. He has medical conditions including high blood pressure. Naturally, his family are very concerned about him. I quote this case to illustrate that there are matters of arrest, detention and trial that need careful, case-by-case assessment. These matters are very serious and examination, if an extradition was to take place to the UAE, should take place against a background of the knowledge of the sort of thing that is alleged to have taken place there.
My Lords, I am grateful again to both noble Baronesses for their contributions to this short debate on this important matter. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, asked about the number of days. Part 2 of the Act provides for 45 days for the receipt of documents. It is certainly the case that some treaties require a longer period. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked whether we are satisfied that there are sufficient protections. We think that there are sufficient protections here and that the UAE is a competent judicial authority. It ought to be remembered that there are a number of safeguards which must be considered before extradition can be ordered. They relate to identity; extradition is barred if the judge is not satisfied that the person in front of them is the person sought. They also relate to dual criminality; extradition is barred if dual criminality is not established. There has to be competence there. Extradition is barred if prima facie evidence is not included; for example, evidence that would justify the person’s trial if the offences had been committed in the United Kingdom. It also has to be the case that no request can be made for improper reasons; extradition is specifically barred if the judge decides that the request has in fact been made to prosecute or punish the person on the ground of race, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or political opinion.
Extradition can also be barred where it is felt that there has been an injustice due to ill health or the passage of time and/or where it would be oppressive due to the passage of time since the offence was committed, or due to that person’s physical or mental health.
I cannot speak with any knowledge of the issue that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, raised. I recognise that it is an important issue. I would not in any event want to comment on an individual case; it would be wrong and improper of me to do so. I take her point and will ensure that we properly review the position with regard to the case. I can do no more than that.
On that basis, I invite the House to support the order.
My Lords, I want to return to the question of appeal. I asked about the situation in which a request has been made for a British citizen to be extradited to the United Arab Emirates. If that decision is taken by a judge in this country, is there a right of appeal to a higher court?