My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
House in Committee accordingly.
[The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]
Clause 39 [Failure to fulfil duty under section 2: initial steps]:
124: Clause 39, page 22, line 2, at end insert—
“( ) In this section, “reasonable excuse” includes circumstances in which a young person—
(a) is homeless;(b) has health problems, including temporary illness, long term disability or ongoing mental health issues;(c) has addiction problems;(d) has secured a place on a course which does not start until the following month or the following term;(e) is recovering from giving birth;(f) has caring responsibilities;(g) has particular learning difficulties for which support has been put in place.”
The noble Baroness said: I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 125 to 127. The amendments deal with attendance notices and the much-heralded Clause 39, which states that attendance notices may be issued to those who fail to participate in their Section 2 duty without having a reasonable excuse. Amendment No. 124 is a simple attempt to state in the Bill what might constitute a reasonable excuse. This duty, no matter how well intentioned, must not fall unreasonably on those young people who simply do not have the means or ability to fulfil it. The list of circumstances in the amendment is not exhaustive, but it includes a number of situations that could make full participation difficult, such as if a person is homeless, has health or addiction problems, caring responsibilities or learning difficulties. Those are circumstances in which it could be argued that the state is failing young people. It is a double blow then to place them on notice for their failure to participate in education. These are circumstances in which the local authority’s obligations should be considered greater than the young person’s.
The Minister may say that all these circumstances would fall within the meaning of “reasonable excuse”. If that is so, there should be no problem in accepting the amendment. Placing an indicative list in the Bill can only assist in explaining the position to the parties involved.
Amendments Nos. 125 to 127 are designed to emphasise that enforcement is purely a last resort. Clause 40 currently does not require local authorities to have taken all reasonable steps to secure voluntary participation in education and training before an attendance notice is issued. Our amendment would clarify the position and ensure that young people are helped through the most appropriate education and training before any formal sanctions are used. There should be a well understood and transparent process that lays down the action that the local authority can take. However, there should also an absolute requirement to avoid a formal enforcement process until such time as all other options have been exhausted. This is a safeguard measure to ensure that local authorities are diligent in upholding their obligations.
The Liberal Democrats also have an amendment in this group that would explicitly make enforcement a last resort, and sensible amendments to limit any potential fines. We must never forget that the young people who find themselves in this sort of circumstance will not have money to spend on fines.
I had a most interesting meeting with the Reverend Paul Nicholson of the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, which helps young people who face fines. He made it clear that punitive fines can be disastrous—a tipping point where desperate young men turn to theft and young women to prostitution. Those are extreme cases, but the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Garden, are absolutely right to draw attention to this potentially destructive issue. I beg to move.
I shall speak specifically to Amendments Nos. 146, 150A and 153. Amendment No. 150A is a new version of what used to be Amendment No. 142, which has been withdrawn, and which we slightly resisted.
We support the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, in seeking a more explicit definition of “reasonable excuse”, and also in the notion that the court should be very much the last resort. “Reasonable excuse” is covered at some length in a letter dated 13 February from the Minister, Jim Knight, to my noble friend Mr Laws in the other place. The letter clearly sets out the circumstances that will constitute a reasonable excuse, such as having health problems, being a young carer, giving birth and so forth, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and stated in the amendment. It also makes it clear that guidance will be issued to local authorities on how to interpret that concept. I do not know when the Government are likely to issue the guidance or whether we shall have sight of it before we come to the next stages of the Bill after the Recess.
All of these amendments relate to the possible penalties that might be imposed on young people as a result of their failing to respond to any of the encouragements or sanctions from the local authority that is trying to get them to participate in education and training. They were proposed to us by the Zacchaeus trust, which works extensively with young people and knows very well how little money most of them have. It agues that a failure to recognise the depth of poverty experienced by the 10 per cent of young people who need help most will undermine all the good intentions of this legislation.
Unemployment pay for a 16 to 18 year-old is £47.95 a week. Most do not get that. They are eligible only if they are in severe hardship. But if they are in this category—if they have broken up with their parents and are homeless—£47 a week is still a totally inadequate amount to live on. If they participate in education and training, they are eligible for the education maintenance allowance of £30 a week, but only if their parents apply. Many parents do not apply, partly because they are often poor and illiterate and find it impossible to understand the forms they would have to complete.
Clause 43 includes appeal arrangements, but on these occasions most of these young people and their parents need help in formulating such appeals. If they do not participate, under the proposals they could be hit in a youth court with a class 1 fine, the maximum of which is £200. Amendment No. 150A suggests that such sanction should be used only as the last resort and asks the Secretary of State to define the circumstances constituting a last resort. Amendment No. 146 suggests that any fine must not take the form of deductions from unemployment. If a young person is receiving only £47.95 a week, he cannot afford to lose any of it. Amendment No. 153 suggests that the issue should always be dealt with in a youth court. I seem to recall that we have already had assurances from the Minister that all of these young people will be dealt with in a youth court, even if they are over 18 when they are brought to court. If the issue has arisen as a result of behaviour before they were 18, it should nevertheless be dealt with by a youth court. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in response to these amendments.
Before I address the amendments, I want to return briefly to the issues about the age of the young person and the enforcement system that we discussed at the end of our previous sitting in Committee. These issues were raised in the final remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. Important points were raised which have prompted me to look into the issue in more detail. It might be helpful if I clarified that my department is working with the Ministry of Justice to develop proposals, possibly involving use of the County Courts, so that a young person could not in any circumstances, whatever their age, be imprisoned as a result of defaulting on a fine for not complying with an attendance notice without a reasonable excuse. The details of how to achieve this greater certainty are being worked on and I shall bring forward amendments on Report if necessary. I reiterate that fines are, in any case, the ultimate sanction for non-participation in education and training. They would arise in only a small number of cases where all other avenues, including the option suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, had been exhausted. These further options are set out in Clauses 39 to 48, which we are continuing to debate today.
Amendment No. 146, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, relates to fine—enforcement— methods and the attachment of benefits. It is very rare for young people below the age of 18 to be able to claim jobseeker’s allowance. In the unlikely event that a young person is claiming jobseeker’s allowance and they are found guilty of the offence under Clause 45, they will be liable to a maximum level 1 fine on the standard scale, which is the lowest category available. The maximum level 1 fine is currently £200, but the actual amount in each case is decided and fixed by the courts in the light of individual circumstances. A youth court would take a person’s earnings into account when deciding the level of the penalty and set it at a rate which it believes the young person can pay. Once a fine is determined, it is up to the court to decide how to enforce it. It would not be appropriate to constrain its flexibility in this area. However, I can reassure the Committee that a deduction from benefits order cannot be taken out against a young person who is below the age of 18.
I turn now to the amendments on what must happen before sanctions can be considered. Amendment No. 124, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, would specify in primary legislation what would count as a reasonable excuse. The now much-quoted letter of 13 February from Jim Knight to David Laws outlines in more detail the thinking behind the concept of a reasonable excuse for not participating. I note that the examples given in the letter of what might constitute a reasonable excuse are precisely those which now appear in the noble Baroness’s amendments. However, it was made very clear in the letter that those examples should not be taken to be an exhaustive list. Their purpose was to illustrate the range of ways in which a young person’s circumstances could prevent them participating.
It was also made clear that listing those examples was not meant to suggest that all young people in these situations would always be unable to participate. I refer specifically to the position of teenage mothers, which is a particular concern of the noble Baronesses. Teenage mothers will be entitled to reasonable time off around their pregnancy, as are young people who are in compulsory schooling. There will be a range of ways in which they can re-engage in learning when they are ready and they will receive support to do so. In particular, the Government have committed to building a Sure Start children’s centre in every community where teenage parents can access in one place a broad range of support, including childcare, education and training, parenting support and health-related information, advice and treatments.
In a number of these centres, training in parenting skills, provision to address the mother’s other educational needs and childcare are all integrated, enabling the young person to combine learning and caring for their child. For example, Newcastle-under-Lyme college in Staffordshire runs a learning programme for teenage parents at a local children’s centre where childcare is also provided. As well as working on literacy, numeracy and IT skills, the programme helps participants access other support services for themselves and their children, such as health visitor services. Most participants later progress on to further learning at the college’s main site.
Similarly, the Pinnacle project in Kent is an area-wide initiative to bring young parents back into education and training. Groups are located in children’s centres, offering multi-agency services as well as childcare, and providing an informal route into education and training through fun and interactive short courses aiming to build confidence and self-esteem along with practical skills. The gradual addition of accredited structured courses leads to the eventual inclusion of formal programmes, including literacy and numeracy work.
I give these examples to emphasise the importance of putting the appropriate provision in place. If appropriate provision of the kind I have described is put in place, it could be in the best interests of young mothers to engage in education and training alongside their caring responsibilities, and the work of children’s centres could facilitate this in highly positive ways. Teenage mothers often do not achieve the qualifications they need to progress into further education. About 40 per cent of teenage mothers at the moment leave school with no qualifications at all, and those who achieve better long-term outcomes for themselves and their children are, of course, those who gain employment and acquire qualifications at school. Therefore, we believe it is right to encourage, as appropriate, the participation of teenage mothers in education and training.
We will issue detailed guidance to local authorities on how to interpret their responsibilities and how to exercise appropriately their duties in relation to support and powers regarding enforcement action. I cannot say precisely when that guidance will be available. If I am in a position to say more before Report I will certainly do so, but we would not wish to specify the arrangements inflexibly in primary legislation.
Amendment No. 125, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, requires reasonable steps to be taken by local authorities before they embark on sanctions. It is in effect a requirement under the Bill that local authorities should act reasonably. As the Public Bill Committee of another place heard from John Freeman from the Association of Directors of Social Services, we see enforcement as the last option and an indication that we have failed somewhere. A disengaged young person is an indication not just that they have failed but also that we have failed. Reasonable steps are set out under the Bill. Clause 40 makes it clear that a local authority cannot issue an attendance notice until it has taken the initial steps in the enforcement process provided for in Clause 39; namely, giving 15 days’ notice in writing of its intention to issue the attendance notice. Under Clause 39 a local authority cannot take those initial steps in the enforcement process until it has ensured that the person has been offered suitable provision and the right support.
On Amendments Nos. 126 and 127, also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, we have made it clear that there can be no enforcement where a young person has unaddressed needs or until an appropriate learning opportunity and suitable support have been provided. Clause 39(5) makes it explicit that before a local authority can even give notice of its intention to issue an attendance notice, it must have already ensured that all reasonable steps have been taken to ensure that relevant support has been offered to the young person and that the young person has had the opportunity to take advantage of it. As the local authority cannot issue an attendance notice until it has given notice of its intention to do so, and the authority cannot give that notice until the right support has been provided, it follows that an attendance notice cannot be issued until the right support has been provided.
I can be similarly positive about Amendment No. 150A, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, which seeks to insert “last resort” into the sanctions regime. As I have said repeatedly, the use of any sanctions would indeed be a last resort and should be a stage that is rarely reached. The point of including enforcement provisions in the Bill is to make it clear that the requirement to engage in education and training is real and serious, and for it to have the effect we want in terms of changing public expectations. The Bill already ensures, however, that enforcement action would in reality be a last resort.
Clause 39 states that the local authority cannot take enforcement action unless it has provided the right support for the young person and enabled him to take advantage of that support. It already states that the authority cannot take action unless the young person is failing to participate without a reasonable excuse. The need for there to be a reasonable excuse is reiterated at every subsequent stage of the process.
In addition, before taking even the first step in the process, the authority must give the young person the opportunity to make representations. The next step is in essence a final written warning to ensure that the young person can be in no doubt about what is required of them and is given a clear last chance to engage voluntarily. The independent attendance panel provides a route of appeal for young people and an extra safeguard to check that the local authority’s decisions about enforcement are appropriate. In effect, therefore, all those provisions together mean that action can be taken only as the last resort.
Finally, Amendment No. 153, which was moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, seeks to link penalties to the level of educational maintenance allowance. We will consider the amount of the fixed penalty notice closer to implementation to ensure that it is appropriate. As part of this consideration, we will look carefully at the circumstances that many young people are in, including their income, to fix the appropriate level of financial penalty. This will include consideration of the level of financial support provided to young people. However, it does not make sense to link the penalty directly to the current EMA payment levels, as we do not yet know how the future system of financial support will work and it would be inappropriate to link the penalties to it in the way that the amendment suggests. As I say, however, the level that we set will take full account of the level of financial support provided to those under 18 when this comes into force.
I, too, am most grateful to the Minister for his explanation. May I check something? I hope that I heard what I heard, but I might simply have heard what I wanted to hear. Did he say that the Government are seriously considering looking at how all this can be dealt with through civil penalties, so that there will be no question of a young person getting a criminal record?
I think that the noble Baroness heard too much. I was careful to say at the end that this follows directly from the further work that we have done on the specific issue of those over 18 who have unpaid fines. This eventuality was discussed in previous debates. The further work that we have done on this has led us to conclude that we may need to table amendments to make it categorically clear that in no circumstances whatever could a young person going through the fine enforcement system, which is the last stage of the last stage, be subject to imprisonment. That is probably one part of what the noble Baroness wanted to hear, because linking the regime to the civil courts has been one of her concerns. However, she did not hear absolutely everything that she wanted to hear, I am afraid.
I thank the Minister for that clarification. That means that I can continue to speak to lawyers to see how we might be able to find a way to make this a civil penalty. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, talked about community service. If we could do that rather than impose a criminal penalty, we could all live much more happily with the compulsion element, although I know that at the moment a community sentence would be a criminal sentence. We are simply trying to find our way around this.
At the moment, this is a matter for the youth courts, which I assume frequently mete out community penalties. Should young people be fined, the maximum fine is, as I think the Minister said, £200. Obviously when imposing any fine, the court would take into account the means of the young person concerned.
In response to the Minister’s response to Amendment No. 124, I now know where my honourable friend Nick Gibb in another place got the various people who he thinks should have a reasonable excuse. He clearly got them from the letter sent to David Laws.
I fully accept that we should have just as much, if not more, ambition for our young people who face the greatest disadvantage, but I remain convinced that we should do all that we can to coerce before we compel. I would feel more comfortable knowing that a definition of a reasonable excuse was somewhere in the Bill, so that these broad categories were universal and it was not perhaps just a postcode lottery. I accept that there will be guidance, but as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, we may not see that guidance before this Bill is passed, although the Minister said that he may be able to do something by Report stage. I do hope so, or we will be asked to take on trust exactly what will be in the guidance.
I am particularly grateful to the Minister for everything that he said about young mothers. This is of great concern. Could something be done so that their caring responsibilities and bonding with their babies can take place alongside some form of training and parenting skills? We would be very pleased with that. I want to say something about having 15 days’ notice; this concerns me somewhat. Many of the young people we are talking about may not be living with their parents. They often live with friends, moving around from place to place; it is called sofa surfing. Quite where the letter will go and how they will be able to comply within 15 days causes us some concern. Could the Minister consider how that might be addressed between now and Report stage? I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 39 agreed to.
Clause 40 [Attendance notice]:
[Amendments Nos. 125 to 127 not moved.]
Clause 41 [Attendance notice: description of education or training]:
128: Clause 41, page 23, line 13, at end insert “, or
( ) in the case of a young person who is incapable of following a course leading to a qualification for reasons of mental health or mental capacity, in the course of employment, either full or part-time, with full job support.”
The noble Baroness said: I rise to move Amendment No. 128 and to give my support to some of the amendments that my noble friend will speak to as part of this group. The intention behind Amendment No. 128 is not, as we have sometimes previously debated, to exclude any category of young person from the provisions of the Bill, but rather to extend the description of accredited education and training to one small and important group of young people. Once or twice in Committee we heard reference to the Rose project. Some of us were privileged to meet the young people who were being helped by the project, thanks to the efforts of my noble friend Lady Verma. We met three quite amazing young people and their dedicated guides and mentors from Havering College of Further and Higher Education.
The Rose project has taken young people who were, because of their mental capacity, absolutely incapable of learning to read and write. These were people at the very lowest range of mental competence. One young woman, moving in her vivacity and enjoyment of life, was described by her father as having been completely withdrawn before she became involved in the project, her head permanently hanging down, incapable of more than minimal speech and totally uninterested in life. What had made that difference? The project had given her well-structured support in a job. Starting with only four hours a week, and with someone permanently at her side in the early stages, she had gradually moved up so that the next thing she wanted—she told us with a great giggle—was to work full-time in Sainsbury’s. I pay full tribute to Sainsbury’s because it has taken on several of these young people. The manager of the store in which Alexandra worked told us that no allowance was made for her and that she was doing a proper job. However, what was crucial was the structured job support she was being given by the lecturers from the college of education.
Alexandra and the two young men we met from the project are never going to follow an accredited course in the formal sense or pass an exam, but their lives have been turned around by this project. Surely we should be able to incorporate such projects into the description of what is acceptable and would meet the requirements of the Bill. We should not exclude these young people and refuse to include them as part of the 16 to 18 group who are to have provision made for them; rather we should say that the kind of structured job support they are receiving could be included. Such young people would themselves feel included, and crucially funding would become available to allow wonderful schemes such as the Rose project to be rolled out more widely in further education colleges in order to support many more young people in this category.
Alexandra’s father later told us—I use his phrase—that she would literally have no life if this project had not come about. We could help hundreds or even more young people in this extreme category of low mental capacity to turn their lives around and thus become productive members of society. That is such a wonderful dream and is a perfectly proper definition to include in this clause which describes the nature of education and training. The Rose project does not meet any of the provisions in Clause 41, but to me seems to meet entirely what the Government are trying to do. I beg to move.
I strongly support my noble friend Lady Perry in her amendment and I should like to speak to the amendments tabled in my name in this group. Those of us who were privileged to attend the meeting arranged by my noble friend Lady Verma with representatives of the Rose project were incredibly touched by the dedication of those running the charity, by the support of the local council and businesses, and most of all by the courage and determination of the young people themselves. It was clear that just to work out which bus to catch to go to work was a major achievement and that it would take more than two years for these young people to work up to the required hours of education or training. We should value what such young people can achieve rather than be too prescriptive. For these reasons, I fully support my noble friend’s amendment.
Clause 42 establishes attendance panels in each local authority to hear appeals by young people who have been issued with attendance notices. Amendments Nos. 131 and 132 are probing amendments intended to elicit information on how the Government envisage the composition of these panels, while Amendments Nos. 134 and 135 ask how independent they will be. It might be perceived as a conflict of interest if such panels involve members of the LEA against whom the appeal was being made. Can the Minister give the Committee some reassurance on this point.
Amendment No. 136 would prevent Clause 42 coming into force until the Secretary of State produces an estimate of the cost of these panels. The Bill will place an increasing burden of responsibility on local authorities, but will not necessarily provide the requisite extra funding. If panels turn out to be overly cumbersome and difficult to fund, that may have the undesirable effect of slowing up appeals. Amendment No. 137 probes what the grounds of appeal might be, and whether they include the availability of suitable training provision. Amendment No. 140 seeks to ensure that there is no undue delay for a young person to make their case before an attendance panel. Given the short time during which the duty to participate applies, it seems sensible to make the bureaucracy as expeditious as possible, if that is not a contradiction in terms.
The purpose of Amendment No. 157 is to ensure that regulations are introduced to direct both the procedure of making appeals and the hearing of such appeals. As drafted, the clause states that the Secretary of State may make regulations about both the procedures for appeals and,
“the powers of an attendance panel”,
in hearing appeals. The Secretary of State could, therefore, decide not to publish such regulations, nor to lay them before Parliament for scrutiny and debate. On matters that are clearly judicial or quasi-judicial, there should be clear rules which Parliament scrutinises in some form. The amendment simply replaces the word “may” with “must”, to turn a power into a duty. I hope that the Minister can assist with these points.
I support the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, on her thoroughly worthwhile Amendment No. 128. We also heard the presentation from the Rose project, and were very moved by it. At the moment, there is a gap in the Bill: those in full-time education and training do not have to attend an accredited course—although the probability is that they will get some accreditation from it—but those in work-based training have to have some clear accreditation at the end of the course that they pursue. There is that gap, and there are some with learning difficulties for whom sitting any sort of examination is very difficult indeed. It is, therefore, necessary to cover that circumstance.
I shall now speak to Amendments Nos. 129, 130, 135A and 140A, which are in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Walmsley. My noble friend was, this afternoon, to have been putting the skills that she learnt in coxing to good effect in leading the Lords eight, but I gather that it has been rough and that they did not wish to have an inexperienced cox at the helm. I think that she was replaced there and became a mere bystander, which was a shame.
Amendments Nos. 129 and 130 both relate to Clause 41, which sets out the description of the education and training that is regarded as being necessary. Clause 41(5) states:
“The education or training must—
(a) be appropriate full-time education or training, or
(b) otherwise be suitable for the person, having regard—
(i) to the person’s age, ability and aptitude, and
(ii) to any learning difficulty which the person may have”.
That is fine in setting it out clearly, but who will judge what is “appropriate” and “suitable”? Local authorities have experts at their disposal on these issues, whom they employ either directly or under contract. Those people are called careers advisers, and go though a relatively long period of training in order to learn those things.
Amendment No. 129 suggests that it would seem appropriate that what is suitable should be,
“in the opinion of a qualified careers adviser”,
while Amendment No. 130 gives us a definition of a careers adviser. However, that refers to an earlier definition. I should like to take the opportunity to read out the definition of the careers adviser in Clause 44 of the Education Act 1997. It states:
“For the purposes of this section,
(a) ‘careers adviser’ means a person who is employed by a body providing services in pursuance of arrangements made or directions given under section 10 of the Employment and Training Act 1973 and who is acting, in the course of his employment by that body, for the purposes of the provision of any such services; and
(b) a careers adviser has responsibilities for any persons if his employment by that body includes the provision of any such services for them”.
I do not want to delay the Committee by reading out the lengthy piece from the Employment and Training Act 1973 defining what local authorities should do to provide a careers service, but I hope that your Lordships will take it from me that it is spelt out at some length. If there are people who are trained in these things, it is appropriate that they are employed to give advice about them. I hope the Minister will look kindly on my amendment.
Amendments Nos. 135A and 140A are minor amendments that relate to the regulations under Clause 42 about setting up the attendance panel and, subsequently, the regulations relating to appeals. In both cases, the clauses put considerable responsibilities on local authorities with regard to what they should do about setting up these panels and what they should do in Clause 43 about appeal arrangements. On neither occasion is any mention made of consulting local authorities, yet if they are going to be required to do all these things it is appropriate that in developing these regulations the local authorities should be consulted about setting them up. I am sure the Minister has every intention of doing so, but it would be good if he could give us reassurances that that is the case.
Before the Minister replies, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, mentioned the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, in the Lords eight. My noble friend Lord Lucas is also not here because he is in the eight. I am pleased to say that the Lords have just beaten the Commons.
I warmly support the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Perry. I am one of those who attended the presentation by the Rose project. It was moving, and one felt we had a duty to respond to it. It makes such a difference to these people’s lives, and changing their lives helps us all. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, said, to get a bus and go to work is an achievement; clocking on is an achievement. To do the job, the person or young person then needs a lot of help. It is not generic learning, it is specific.
I was one of the unlucky people who were unable to get to that meeting, but I have heard a lot about it since. The descriptions that have been given today are particularly relevant to this group of amendments, which must be included. I support all the other amendments that make the same important point, and I hope the Minister will be able to satisfy us on them.
We need to begin by congratulating our team on having performed so splendidly on the river. Some might have thought that the timing of the race was specifically devised to ensure that many of the Government’s chief critics were not able to be present. I regret, therefore, that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, was doubly incapacitated both from being here and from being in the boat, but I am sure that it was her cheering from the towpath that clinched the victory.
Amendment No. 128, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, seeks to highlight the whole range of options needed to meet the full range of circumstances faced by 16 to 18 year-olds. I reiterate that young people in full-time education or training will not necessarily have to follow a course that leads to an accredited qualification in order to fulfil the duty to participate. It will already be possible for an attendance notice to specify some form of full-time education or training that does not lead to a qualification, if that is the appropriate thing for the young person. It will also already be possible for an attendance notice to specify part-time accredited education or training if the young person is working. Furthermore, if the young person has a mental health condition, as set out in the noble Baroness’s amendment, that may constitute a reasonable excuse for not participating where Clause 39 prevents an attendance notice from being issued in any case. There will be no question of enforcement action being taken against those who have valid mental health reasons for not participating.
Amendments Nos. 129 and 130, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, concern the role of careers advisers in advising on the appropriateness of courses. I assure her that no young person should get to the stage of receiving an attendance notice unless suitable learning provision has already been identified for them, and offered to them, along with the right support to take up the opportunity. We believe that a Connexions personal adviser would be the most appropriate person to make judgments on these issues, given their experience and knowledge of the system, the area and the young people within it.
Amendments Nos. 131, 134 and 135, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, concern attendance panels. I assure her that it is intended that attendance panels will be independent. She asked specifically whether councillors and local authority employees would be members of those panels. We will clarify in regulations that someone employed by the local authority or the education institution in question should not serve on a panel. We will ensure that there is sufficient diversity among panel members and that they reflect the area in which the authority is based. Her Amendment No. 132 stipulates that panels should have three members. We intend that they should in most cases have three members, but we want to consult on whether they should be bigger in more complex cases. It would not make sense to introduce this inflexibility in primary legislation by fixing the number at three.
As regards the noble Baroness’s Amendment No. 137, Clause 43 requires that local authorities must make arrangements for a young person to appeal to an attendance panel against the attendance notice itself; the description of education or training that they must attend; and any variation in the notice. No grounds are specified so, as drafted, the provision already allows for the young person to appeal against the description on the ground of its suitability or, indeed, for any other reason.
The noble Baroness’s Amendment No. 140 concerns the timing of attendance panel hearings. I assure her that we wish appeals to be heard quickly. However, we do not believe it is appropriate to specify in primary legislation precisely how quickly they should be heard. We believe this matter is more appropriately dealt with in guidance, which we will provide to panels to assist them in carrying out their functions. These will be developed by my department in full consultation with local authorities, children’s charities and young people themselves. Similarly, I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that, as regards her Amendments Nos. 135A and 140A, we will take time in the lead-up to implementation to discuss with local authorities and other stakeholders how panels should be set up and how they should work. We will consult fully on our proposals before drawing up regulations under this clause, as well as under Clauses 42(1) and 48(3), as is routine. It is not necessary to put this requirement to consult in primary legislation.
Amendment No. 157, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, would change Clause 48 to state that regulations must be made by the Secretary of State. As I mentioned previously, attendance panels are a vital part of the process to enable young people’s cases to be heard by an independent panel. We intend to make regulations, as they are important to define the detail of the process as regards the procedure of panels and their powers in relation to appeals. We state that regulations “may” be made by the Secretary of State, in case they are not necessary and do not have to be made. Changing the text to make the Secretary of State responsible for all these regulations would make no difference to the current situation, as the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families is already responsible.
On Amendment No. 136, in the name of the noble Baroness, I repeat that the attendance panel is crucial to the effectiveness and fairness of the enforcement system. It will be put in place to ensure that attendance notices are always issued fairly, and that sufficient opportunity and support are given. It provides an additional safeguard to ensure that no young person can enter the enforcement system inappropriately. We will ensure that it is effective and not overly bureaucratic. The impact assessment we published with the Bill estimates the cost of those elements of the enforcement system in which attendance panels would be involved. As I mentioned, we want to consult widely on the composition and operation of attendance panels. In doing so, we will take careful account of the likely costs of their establishment and ongoing functions, which we have committed to funding. It is therefore not necessary to have this requirement written into primary legislation.
Finally, Amendment No. 141 is a small, technical amendment to make clear for the avoidance of doubt that, where a variation to an attendance notice is provided for under this clause, all the requirements about the description of education or training in the notice still apply as they did to the original notice. The education or training must satisfy the central duty to participate, it must be suitable for the young person and so on.
I was looking for my note on the Rose project to answer the specific issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry. We strongly support its work. Ministers from my department have met with it several times. The Rose project is an example of just the type of best practice we will be looking to expand when ensuring that the system set out in the Bill is fully prepared for learners in all circumstances by 2013.
In response to my amendment, the Minister rightly said that careers advice for this particular group of young people would be provided by Connexions’ personal advisers. Is he confident that enough people will be trained in this role? The Connexions services has been doing quite a good job with a limited number of young people, but if we are to implement this Bill, Connexions will probably need to serve more young people. Is he confident that they will be properly trained, that they will have at their fingertips information on the career and educational training paths for these young people, and be able to provide the necessary advice?
I stress to the noble Baroness as I did when we last debated this issue that the quality standards for young people’s information, advice and guidance which apply to Connexions make clear its responsibilities in respect of all young people—their responsibilities do not simply apply to certain groups. She is right that their responsibilities will be enhanced under the Bill. Part of the reason for the five-year run-in period is to ensure that a sufficient number of suitably trained advisers can fulfil the additional functions under the Bill.
I am extremely glad the Minister found his notes on the Rose project because I was much reassured by what he said. I had not been reassured by his earlier answer, from his brief, to Amendment No. 128. I thought at that point that he or his officials had rather missed the purpose of my amendment—no doubt that is my fault. It was specifically not to exclude from a requirement this category of young person. They do not want to be excluded; they want to be included.
The point of my amendment was to find a way to include what they need—structured job support—in the definition of fundable education and training. The Rose project is not cost-free. At present it is supported by charitable and local authority donations and so on. If it is to be rolled out on a wider scale for this tiny minority of young people—it is not going to be hugely expensive—it will need to be funded properly. It will need to be caught up within the definition of education and training.
Of course I know that severely mentally disabled or mentally ill young people will be excluded from the provision. Reassuringly the Minister has made that clear on many occasions. Yet this is a category that could be rescued. They do not need to be excluded; they want to be included. Anybody who had met them after their experience would know how tremendously valuable it is. I hope that on Report the Minister and his officials will have had another look at the Rose project and that we find some way of including this in the definition of recognisable education and training. In the mean time I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 129 and 130 not moved.]
Clause 41 agreed to.
Clause 42 [Attendance panel]:
[Amendments Nos. 131 and 132 not moved.]
133: Clause 42, page 23, line 39, at end insert—
“( ) The regulations shall provide for a duty on local authorities to make available independent advocacy services for those young people who would benefit from such services.”
The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 138, 151 and 158, which are in this group.
These amendments are supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. They refer to the constitution of the attendance panel, which we have been discussing, and the young person's interaction with it. We cannot overlook the need for a young person to have the right to be involved at all stages of the enforcement process and to have the chance to present their case to an attendance panel, either in person or through a nominated representative. The young people in question may well have difficulty in expressing themselves, they may not be on good terms with their parents and they may not have ready access to informed, impartial advice. This could make them particularly vulnerable and disadvantaged when facing the prospect of an attendance panel.
Currently, the attendance panel can consider a young person's case at three points in time: first, on appeal against the attendance notice, as set out in Clause 43; secondly, on appeal against the penalty notice, in Clause 48; and, thirdly, at the decision whether the local authority can begin proceedings against the young person for failure to comply with the attendance notice, as set out in Clause 46. It is only at the third stage that the young person has the right to attend the attendance panel to put their case. The amendments would address that anomaly and send a clear message that the young person should be included in the full process.
Barnardo's, which supports these amendments, points out that communication rights are set down in law and in the UN convention; but it also points out that young people are more likely to co-operate if they feel part of the process and have a chance to express their concerns. Being involved may also help them to gain confidence and to develop other interpersonal and practical skills.
On independent advocacy, in Clause 48, it would be highly beneficial to young people and the Government if there were stronger advocacy powers in the Bill. A skilled independent advocate would empower the young person to make the right decision and help them to understand the requirements placed on them and to communicate their views. An advocate would also have the advantage of overcoming the formality of procedures, which may be daunting, and to make sense of language that may be confusing.
This would not involve opening up an enormous process. These young people will form only a small group, and finding positive routes for them at the earliest stage will be of long-term benefit to them and society. We on these Benches strongly support these amendments. I beg to move.
The noble Baroness has raised an issue that I shall raise in another context—when I speak to Amendments Nos. 228C to 228E. Common to both is a background document, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was open for signature in 1989 and came into force on 2 September 1990. Article 12 has two paragraphs, which I should read into the record. The first paragraph states:
“States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child”.
The second paragraph, concerning advocacy, states:
“For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law”.
The question is not whether we should respond to that article in the way we draft the Bill but at what stage in the process affecting the child it should be brought into effect.
My amendments in this group follow closely those of the noble Baroness, Lady Garden. I agree with the noble Baroness that it should be of the utmost importance for a young person, his advocate or his representative to be present at all relevant hearings. Young people will be much more likely to engage with the panel’s decision if they are part of the process. I endorse the comments of my noble friend Lord Elton.
I support all these amendments. The Convention on the Rights of the Child is crucial here. It makes it clear that, in any proceedings affecting the child, they have the right to express a view. We are also talking about a new set of compulsions—I will not call them more than that. There are concerns about creating a criminal record. We are trying to avoid that and to make certain that it does not happen. Nevertheless, this is a new form of compulsion and it is essential that the child not only has the right to be heard but also the right to have an advocate to help them to express their views. That will be even more important when the child has a learning difficulty. I hope that we will have positive reassurances from the Minister.
I give those positive reassurances to the Committee. Amendments Nos. 133, 138, 139, 151, 158 and 159 would add detail to the attendance panel process. When the attendance panel considers whether it is appropriate for a local authority to begin proceedings against a young person in the youth court, Clause 46 states that regulations must ensure that the young person is invited to make representations to the panel. Clause 46(5) says that the regulations,
“must make provision to secure that, before a recommendation under subsection (4)(c) is made”—
that is, a recommendation to institute proceedings—
“the person has an opportunity to make representations to the panel”.
We will also make it clear in regulations that the young person concerned could bring someone with them or send someone to make representations on their behalf. That was another concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Garden.
The other amendments in the noble Baroness’s group make a similar requirement where the panel is considering an appeal against an attendance notice, or an appeal against a fixed penalty notice, as set out in Clauses 43 and 48. We agree with what the noble Baroness seeks to achieve. We have committed to ensuring that the young person will be invited to attend proceedings or to bring someone with them to represent them in their place if they wish to. This will be put in regulations that will be made about the procedure to be followed by an attendance panel in hearing appeals and in making representations. The panel will also invite other people who understand the young person’s circumstances to make representations.
The noble Baroness’s Amendment No. 133 calls for the provision of independent advocacy to be made available by the local authority for attendance panel hearings. I have described how the young person will be invited to bring someone with them or to send someone in their place. The attendance panel will not be set up like a court; it is not intended to be overly formal or intimidating. Its main role will be to review the circumstances of the case and the steps taken by the local authority and others to ensure that everything possible has been done to offer the young person an appropriate learning place and the right support to re-engage them in learning. Committing to advocacy for all would be unnecessarily bureaucratic and burdensome. However, if the case were to continue to the youth court, the young person would, of course, be entitled to legal representation.
We have also committed to consider carefully whether the guidance given to local authorities should indicate that, where young people have specific needs such as problems with communication, there should be an expectation that they will have access to independent advocacy services. I hope that these reassurances go some way towards meeting the concerns raised by the noble Baroness.
Yes—I hesitate slightly because they come into force in 2013 in a practical sense. However, if by “come into force” the noble Lord means by the time the Bill becomes law, I am not sure that the regulations will all be in place by then. There will be a process leading up to implementation—as long as it is clearly understood what “come into force” means.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. Obviously, this is recognised in all parts of the Committee as being an important issue. I thank the Minister for his reply, which seems to offer reassurances. I shall read carefully what has been said. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 134 to 136 not moved.]
Clause 42 agreed to.
Clause 43 [Appeal arrangements]:
[Amendments Nos. 137 to 140A not moved.]
Clause 43 agreed to.
Clause 44 [Variation and revocation of attendance notice]:
141: Clause 44, page 24, line 41, leave out “(5)” and insert “(4)”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendment No. 142 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
Clause 44, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 45 [Offence of failure to comply with attendance notice]:
[Amendments Nos. 143 to 150A not moved.]
Clause 45 agreed to.
Clause 46 [Restrictions on proceedings for offences under section 45]:
[Amendment No. 151 not moved.]
Clause 46 agreed to.
Clause 47 [Failure to comply with attendance notice: penalty notice]:
[Amendments Nos. 152 to 155 not moved.]
156: Clause 47, page 27, line 15, at end insert—
“( ) No penalty notice shall be issued under this section unless the local authority had previously agreed a learning support contract with the young person.”
The noble Baroness said: The amendment suggests that no penalty can be issued unless the local authority has agreed on a learning support contract with the young person concerned. It goes back to some of the earlier amendments that we proposed relating to personalised learning programmes. I confess that I was slightly surprised to find that we had tabled this amendment right at the end of Chapter 5. The amendment relates particularly to Clause 39.
Clause 39 proposes the procedures necessary for a local authority to go through initially if a young person fails to comply with Clause 2, which is on participating in education and training, or work-based learning with sufficient hours of training attached. The young person should either attend school or college full time or find himself or herself work or training with the required off-the-job learning hours. Clause 39(2) states that an attendance notice must be issued and explained to the young person. Subsection (5) states that the local authority must take all reasonable steps to provide support to the young person and give time for that support to get up and running. In Clause 54, which we have not yet considered, the local authority is put under a duty to make available to the young person and to the young adults for whom it is responsible,
“such services as it considers appropriate to encourage, enable or assist the effective participation of those persons in education”.
We know from our discussions in Committee that these services comprise the Connexions support and mentoring services that have been developed to help these young people into education and training.
Why, therefore, table an amendment that asks for precisely that? The key word is “contract”. The difference between what we are asking for and what is already being offered in the Bill is that we want a formal commitment on the part of the authority to meet the specific needs of the young person in question. We accept that the Bill already places a duty on local authorities to provide this support and that in Clause 55 the Secretary of State will specify in considerable detail what sort of services are to be provided. However, the crucial word “contract” is not there. Just as the Government think it useful to persuade parents to buy into the procedures via parenting contracts, we think that on occasions such as this it would be helpful if the young person concerned were also to recognise that he or she has rights and responsibilities under these procedures. That also means that the local authority cannot duck its duties or responsibilities.
As we learnt during the passage of the Children and Young Persons Bill earlier this year, there are perhaps too many occasions when, faced with having to meet the complex needs of highly disadvantaged young people, local authorities or their employees ignore, or just fail to deliver on, the duties of support. A formal contract has advantages in giving both sides clear guidelines as to what is expected. I beg to move.
As I said long ago on the first day of our deliberations in Committee, we are interested in the approach of learning and support contracts. We are grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, Barnardo’s and Rainer for highlighting this approach and its benefits. We know that an agreement that a young person has signed up to, where they understand their obligations and the consequences of not fulfilling them, can be very effective. We would like to encourage local authorities to pursue this approach or similar successful measures that have been developed locally before considering taking any more formal enforcement action against a young person. We could specify that in our guidance to local authorities.
However, while we very much support the idea and the approach, we need to consider further whether it would be desirable to go further and set them out in primary legislation in the way that the noble Baroness suggests. That could risk making learning and support contracts too inflexible and prescriptive to respond to the specific needs of individuals, but I am happy to reflect on this issue further before Report.
I am extremely grateful to the Minister for offering to reflect further on this. It would be helpful if it were put either in the Bill or in guidance. An assurance that it would go into guidance would help on this occasion. As I have said, I am not sure that this amendment is necessarily in the right place but, if the Minister is to reflect further on it, he will decide for himself where it might appropriately be put. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 47 agreed to.
Clause 48 [Penalty notices: appeal arrangements]:
[Amendments Nos. 157 to 159 not moved.]
Clause 48 agreed to.
Clause 49 agreed to.
Clause 50 [Crown employment]:
160: Clause 50, page 28, line 5, leave out “persons working in either of those ways” and insert “service as a member of the armed forces of the Crown”
The noble Baroness said: I suspect that my two amendments in this group are rather redundant in the light of the government amendments included with them. Nevertheless, I shall leave it to the Minister to speak to them as he sees fit. The amendments are probing. Clause 50 refers to Crown employment and how Crown employees are treated in relation to the duties in the Bill. Amendment No. 160 is designed to find out why there are regulations that institute exceptions and special rules for civil servants that do not apply to 16 and 17 year-olds in other employment. I understand that special modifications to the regulations will be necessary for those serving in the Armed Forces. The amendment has been drafted to keep the regulation-making powers in place but to take out reference to Crown employment. Clause 51 and my Amendment No. 162 deal similarly with parliamentary staff. These are simple points and, as I said, I think that the Minister will be able to deal with them. I beg to move.
In respect of Amendment No. 160, there is some doubt whether as a matter of law Crown employees such as civil servants in central government work under a contract of employment. We want this kind of work to count for the purposes of the duty to participate, of course, and Clause 50 makes that clear. The definition of “normal weekly working hours” in Clause 5 will need to be modified in relation to Crown employees, as they do not have a contract of employment as such. Regulations made under subsection (2) will enable us to do that. It is appropriate that such technical detail is dealt with in secondary legislation.
Government Amendments Nos. 161 and 163 in this group clarify that the duties on employers in Chapter 3 apply to employment in this House and in another place. It is right that this employment should count for the purposes of the duty to participate—and the duties to check that a young person is in educational training and to release them to attend—to ensure that these young people can participate in the necessary learning. However, it would not be appropriate for local authorities to have powers of enforcement against this House or another place. The amendment clarifies that those provisions in Chapter 3 do not apply.
Government Amendment No. 164 is a consequence of the new clause that we are introducing in relation to House of Lords staff. The relevant definition is included in the proposed new clause and can therefore be deleted from this one. Government Amendments Nos. 165 and 166 are minor and technical. Amendment No. 165 replaces the definition currently in the Bill of a member of House of Commons staff with a reference to an existing definition in the Employment Rights Act. Amendment No. 166 makes provision for who is to be treated as the employer in relation to House of Commons staff.
161: After Clause 50, insert the following new Clause—
“House of Lords staff
The following provisions apply in relation to employment under a contract of employment with the Corporate Officer of the House of Lords as they apply in relation to other employment—(a) sections 19 to 21;(b) sections 24 to 26.”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 51 [Parliamentary staff]:
[Amendment No. 162 not moved.]
163: Clause 51, page 28, line 30, leave out subsection (3) and insert—
“(3) The following provisions apply in relation to employment as a relevant member of the House of Commons staff as they apply in relation to other employment—
(a) sections 19 to 21;(b) sections 24 to 26.”
164: Clause 51, page 28, leave out lines 42 to 44
165: Clause 51, page 29, line 1, leave out from “staff”” to end of line 4 and insert “has the same meaning as in section 195 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (c. 18)”.
166: Clause 51, page 29, line 4, at end insert—
“( ) Subsections (6), (7) and (12) of that section (person to be treated as employer of relevant member of House of Commons staff) apply (with any necessary modifications) for the purposes of the provisions mentioned in subsection (3) as applied by virtue of this section.”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 51, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 52 [Financial penalties]:
167: Clause 52, page 29, line 12, leave out from beginning to “must” in line 13
The noble Baroness said: This amendment would remove a possible conflict of interests that would be created if the local authority received the proceeds of any financial penalties rather than the Treasury receiving them directly. If a body benefits from the proceeds of its own fines and penalties, there is an inbuilt incentive and pressure to impose those penalties, which removes impartiality from the process. It opens the body up to a perception, or even accusations, that it is more interested in revenue-raising.
My colleague Nick Gibb in another place, when making this point, made a comparison with parking fines, which is apt. Parking fines collected by local authorities give them a strong incentive to issue fines. I think the Minister will agree that there is a considerable public perception—accurate or not—that such fines are seen by local authorities as a cash cow. Will the Minister assure the House that the same would not be true of financial penalties levied under this Bill? I beg to move.
We have some queries about these amendments. As a general principle, it is appropriate for the local authority which receives payments to have control over those sums and to use them for relevant local purposes. Any transfer of the sums to the Secretary of State surely would require additional administration and bureaucracy. It is difficult to see quite what benefit would arise from that. The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, has said that the sums could bring about a conflict of interests, but, realistically, the sums in question under Clause 52 would be payable by employers under Clauses 22 and 28 or by a young person under Clause 47. The likelihood that the local authority will consider these to be useful streams of income is not great. In the case of young people, the sums payable will be small, and recovering them may not be simple. As employers will play a crucial part in delivering work experience for young people, local authorities are more inclined to encourage them to participate, rather than discourage them by issuing penalty notices with a free hand. These safeguards make it unlikely that these powers, if granted, would be misused by local authorities.
In that context, we would not support the deletion of the two lines which include the words,
“may be used by the authority for the purposes”.
It seems more appropriate to amend,
“paid in accordance with regulations to the Secretary of State”,
“regulations made by the Secretary of State”.
These amendments would mean that all money received by local authorities as a result of penalty notices would have to be paid directly to the Secretary of State. Should the financial penalties we have provided for in the Bill be used, it is important that the money received from them can be used to cover the costs of administering the notices so that funding for that is not diverted from other services. It is usual practice for money received by government from the payment of fines to be used in this way. It is also important that it can be used only to administer the process and that income accumulated from fines cannot be used to raise money for the local authority.
That is why we will specify in regulations that the only functions this money can be used for would be administering penalty notices. Where money is not needed for this purpose it will have to be paid to the Secretary of State. However, before the Treasury gets too enthusiastic, I should stress that we do not expect those sums to be great because by 2013 virtually all young people will be engaging successfully in education and training—so successfully, we hope, that they may not even have time to take their driving tests, and the income from parking fines might be accordingly reduced.
The difficulty with the parking regulations is that, although the same strictures on local authorities are in place, they are not enforced. It has become government policy not to enforce the requirement that receipts from parking regulations are used only on parking control functions, so they have become a cash cow for local authorities. I encourage the Minister to ensure that when he writes the regulations he gives the Audit Commission, the district auditor or whoever is appropriate a power to inquire into whether a local authority is acting in accordance with the regulations. That is a deficiency in the parking regulations that the local authorities walk through.
I thank the Minister for his answer. He offers the assurance that money raised from the penalties will be used only for enforcement of the provisions in the Bill. I can see where the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, is coming from. I will read closely the Minister’s assurances. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 168 not moved.]
Clause 52 agreed to.
Clause 53 agreed to.
168A: After Clause 53, insert the following new Clause—
“Corresponding provision for Wales
(1) This section applies if a Measure of the National Assembly for Wales includes provision that appears to the Secretary of State to correspond to provision made by section 2.
(2) The Secretary of State may by order make provision in relation to Wales that corresponds to any provision made by sections 19 to 30.
(3) Without prejudice to section 147(4), the power conferred by this section includes power to make provision in relation to Wales that corresponds to any of the following—
(a) the provisions of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (c. 18) inserted by sections 31 to 33;(b) section 49;(c) section 50;(d) section 52 so far as relating to financial penalties under sections 22 and 28.(4) Power conferred by this section to make provision in relation to Wales that corresponds to any other provision includes power—
(a) to apply that other provision in relation to Wales, with or without modification;(b) to amend that other provision so that it applies in relation to Wales, with or without modification.”
The noble Lord said: Government Amendments Nos. 168A, 231A, 231B and 233B enable the duties on employers in Chapter 3 of Part 1 to be applied to Wales in future should the Assembly Government, having studied the impact of this legislation in England, decide to acquire the legislative competence to raise the participation age in Wales through a future legislative competence order and to bring forward a measure to do so. It is important that the duties on employers on either side of the border should be the same if the participation age is the same so that the system is easy to understand and potential burdens on employers are minimised.
Amendments Nos. 231A, 231B and 233B ensure that, should the participation age be raised in Wales and the Secretary of State therefore uses his power to apply the provisions in Chapter 3 to Wales, any order will be subject to the affirmative procedure and Welsh Ministers will need to be consulted first. I beg to move.
My Amendment No. 232 is linked to the government amendments in this group. First, I draw to the House’s attention my interests as president of the National Training Federation for Wales and as an adviser to a Merthyr Consortium Ltd. charity, Tydfil Training.
Born as I was in 1940, I belong to the first generation of young working class children who were the beneficiaries of compulsory education under the great Education Act 1944. My mother, who was the brightest of us all, had been forced to leave school at the age of 14, as had almost all her generation. Through the Act, we were instilled with the value of and a passion for education, a means by which we could climb out of the pile and avoid going down the pits. It provided opportunities well beyond the expectations of the generation that preceded me.
I reread some of the debates in both Houses on the 1944 Bill. I was pleasantly surprised—although the amount of time it has now taken has shaken me—that Rab Butler and the architects of that Act had aspirations for compulsory education beyond the age of 16 even then. In the debate about continuing education, even as far back as 1944, full-time compulsory education beyond the age of 16 was aspired to. It has taken us more than a generation to reach this stage, and I support the principles of a Bill that is a worthy successor to the Education Act 1944.
I was frankly disappointed that the Welsh Assembly Government have decided not to share the enthusiasm held by many of us from that generation for the principles of this Bill. They make a sincere and powerful case: they believe that they will be able to create in Wales, through an innovative 14-to-19 agenda, an education system that is so attractive that everybody will want to take full advantage of it. I have to suppress my doubting Thomas instincts but I understand the aspirations behind it. To buttress that attractive menu of options, the Welsh Assembly Government are promoting a draft measure to increase learning entitlement for young people aged 16 to 18. They have taken the rather unusual step of publishing the draft measure before bringing forward a legislative competence order so that we can see the thinking behind it as a kind of alternative to accepting the measures in this Bill.
The Welsh Assembly Government have drafted this entitlement measure and put it out for consultation. Unfortunately, some of us have found considerable deficiencies in it. Most are matters which should be debated internally, as they belong to the Welsh debate, but a fundamental one does not: the proposed legislation for a learning entitlement does not cover people aged 16 to 19 who are in employment and not receiving any learning or training. We need to reach out to this group who leave school at 16 and enter employment but have no entitlement to further educational training, and this Bill will reach out to them eventually through its obligation.
My Amendment No. 232 seeks to bring one aspect of the Welsh scene within the Bill: people aged 16 to 18 should have an obligation and a right to a form of learning or training in and around the place of work. This is where the growth will and should occur. Where people are already employed is where one hopes to see the greatest opportunities, not only for young people but, I hope, for adults as well. My amendment seeks to cover 16 to 18 year-olds in employment but not in any education or training in Wales, because the proposed draft measures in Wales do not offer a similar entitlement.
Since I tabled my amendment, the Government have come forward with their own. I welcome particularly the linking of the employment measure with the draft measure that might be promoted at some future date by a Welsh Assembly Government. It is important that there is provision in this Bill, as now proposed in my noble friend’s amendment, to allow young people in employment and employers to be covered. Employment law is not devolved, so it could not be promoted as a learning measure in Wales. It must be promoted here. My noble friend’s amendments are very important, as they will entitle and eventually oblige young people from 16 to 18 who are in work to undertake some form of learning in work. I hope that the Welsh Assembly Government will seize the opportunity provided by my noble friend in the Bill and pursue these principles and policies.
In the mean time, what should happen? What should we do to assist and promote learning entitlement for young people who are, or will be, in employment but who do not necessarily receive any training? My noble friend kindly responded to my representations to him and others by sending me an English consultation document on the right to request training. I read it with considerable interest. I understand that it applies to adults and is supposed to complement the provisions in the Bill, but the principles and the model that my noble friend is promoting—the equivalent of the right to educational training and to flexible hours—are very good, and I hope and pray that he will help me to promote that concept to the Welsh Assembly and Welsh Assembly Government so that it can become an extension of learning entitlement for young people who are in work.
Having said that, I sound a cautionary note. There is already provision in law entitling young people in work to educational training. As I understand it, Section 63A of the Employment Rights Act 1996 and a 2001 directive on time off for training are in place. The trouble is—this is anecdotally true of Wales; I do not know whether my noble friend has any figures for England—that this opportunity, this right, has scarcely been exercised. That is why this combination of right and obligation is important. We have bestowed rights on young people in work, but they have not been able to exercise them or they have not done so. Therefore, there is a requirement to combine this obligation and right in the Bill.
I welcome and support my noble friend’s amendments. I hope that the Welsh Assembly Government will pursue the opportunities created by them. Eventually, I believe, another generation will understand the value of and have the passion for education that I have as a beneficiary of the last great piece of legislation, the Education Act 1944.
We on these Benches understand and have a great deal of sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, has said, but we also firmly believe, as he will know, that it is for the National Assembly for Wales to decide what is appropriate for that country. Therefore, although we have some support for his amendment, we support the Government’s view that there should be enabling legislation that enables the Government in Wales to adopt this provision if they wish. For the moment, it is up to Wales to decide, rather than implementing this through legislation in this country.
I am completely at one with my noble friend Lord Rowlands in valuing the importance and potential benefits of introducing compulsory participation in education and training until the age of 18. I am also very grateful to him for his support for our policy. I hope that Members of the Welsh Assembly read his speech and appreciate his cogent arguments. I absolutely agree with him that it should be possible for the Welsh Assembly to decide to raise the participation age in Wales at some point in the future, and that we should ensure that this legislation does nothing to preclude that possibility.
The Government of Wales Act 2006 allows the Assembly to acquire enhanced legislative powers through legislative competence orders. If, given the English experience, the Welsh Assembly Government decided to raise the participation age in future, they could propose a legislative competence order to seek powers to enable them to do so. We have been working with the Wales Office and the Welsh Assembly Government to ensure that this legislation does nothing to preclude that possibility and is drafted in a way that enables all aspects of the policy to be applied to Wales should the Welsh Assembly Government decide to pursue such an approach.
A future legislative competence order could cover all aspects of Part 1, with the exception of the duties on employers. I moved the government amendments to enable the duties on employers in Chapter 3 of Part 1 to be applied to Wales, should the Assembly Government acquire the legislative competence to raise the participation age there, and to bring forward a measure to do so. As I say, this would need to be a decision that they would take in due course.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 54 [Support services: provision by local education authorities]:
169: Clause 54, page 30, line 9, leave out “services” and insert “information, advice and guidance about education and career opportunities”
The noble Baroness said: If we are to guide young people in the right direction, we must be explicit about the nature of that guidance. That is the point of Amendment No. 169. Instead of the clause referring simply to services, the nature of the new statutory obligations should be made clearer. In that sense, this is a probing amendment to test the Government’s commitment to, and understanding of, the need to offer the right range of advice and guidance on what is available to young people.
I am concerned that Connexions is not the best means of providing the range of advice necessary to assist young people. I do not want unfairly to criticise Connexions; it does very good work. However, it is asked to do too much good work. I addressed the issue when I moved Amendment No. 111, so I do not need to repeat every point I made then. The gist of what I said was that Connexions is now almost too universal. It is not equipped to provide specialist careers advice. An all-age careers service that sat alongside Connexions, dedicated to advising on career choices, as the amendment labels them, would be a much better way of providing the advice and guidance required.
Amendment No. 170 attempts to refine that further, so that young people with special educational needs have services tailored to their needs. Again, we have previously discussed the importance of helping young people with special needs. They should not be allowed to fall through the net because we have not done enough to help them. Amendment No. 176 reflects our desire to support high-quality careers advice and a highly professional careers service. By tying in the various strands of careers advice, we hope to create a strong interconnected system which provides high-quality advice for everyone who needs it. I beg to move.
I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 171, 174 and 175 in this group. Amendment No. 171 picks up the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, about special educational needs. We discussed these at some length. The evidence from authorities such as the Prince’s Trust and Barnardo’s which was given in another place before its detailed consideration of the Bill in Committee makes it clear that, given the right guidance, those with learning and behavioural difficulties can be brought back into the learning process, but it can take a great deal of time and patience. Amendment No. 171 picks up the need for support for these young people.
The heading given to Part 2 is:
“Support for participation in education or training: young adults with learning difficulties and young people in England”.
As the Committee knows, we are specifically considering some of the young people who have learning and behavioural difficulties. Provision for them should go through to the age of 25, as it does for those who ask for statements of their special educational needs. That should be done unless the young people themselves make it clear that they do not wish to pursue such a programme of support over that period. I should also say at this point that we have a good deal of sympathy for Amendments Nos. 169, 170 and 173, all of which make the duty on local authorities more specific and spell out the need to clarify precisely what sort of services are to be provided.
Amendments Nos. 174 and 175 apply to Clause 55, which is concerned with the directions given to local education authorities on the support services they will provide. Amendment No. 174 suggests that rather than giving the Secretary of State discretion in whether to issue directions to local education authorities, he will have to do so, while Amendment No. 175 suggests that those who deliver these services should be properly qualified. It provides that,
“such services must comply with the duties placed on local authorities by sections 8 to 10 of the Employment and Training Act 1973”.
To clarify that, Section 44(1) of the Education Act 1997 makes it clear that:
“All registered pupils at a school to which the section applies must be provided during the relevant phase of their education, with a programme of careers education”.
That means education to prepare pupils to take decisions about their careers and help them to implement such decisions. The same section makes it clear that schools and colleges should co-operate with careers advisers when they are responsible for providing information, advice and guidance and defines the careers adviser as someone employed by the body providing these services in pursuance of these arrangements. That is the definition that I read out on a previous occasion.
Amendment No. 175 makes it clear that the services to be provided under Clause 54 should conform to the pre-existing requirements placed on local authorities to provide proper information, advice and guidance within schools in order to meet their obligations to provide careers advice, and that this should be delivered by a qualified careers adviser as defined in the 1997 Act. These two pieces of pre-existing legislation should assure young people that they will have access to independent and impartial specialist careers advisers. We would like to see this provision in the Bill because there are serious concerns that these duties are not being fulfilled. We want a reassurance from Ministers that the directions to be issued by the Secretary of State will embody the principle and intention that this route to independent advice will be maintained and strengthened.
I want briefly to express my support for these amendments, and I have added my name to Amendment No. 170. We should remind ourselves that young people with special educational needs form a high proportion of those who drop off the edge of the world, so to speak, at the age of 16. They end up as NEETs, living rough and in the courts, and generally they form a specific group in need of special support and encouragement which I hope a revivified Connexions service can give. When the Minister responds, I hope that he will address particularly the issue of young people with SEN because as they get older they also form a very high proportion of the prison population and exhibit many other severe social problems.
I hope that the Minister will be able to give a positive response to the thrust of these amendments. As I read Clause 55(1), unless the Secretary of State chooses to make directions, the duty is almost empty. A local education authority “must” make available this, that and the other such as it considers appropriate. That does not amount to anything. To give substance to these provisions, we need amendments of this kind, or clarity that regulations will be made.
The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, wishes to probe on the range of advice and guidance to be provided. I can give her a full description by pointing her toward the comprehensive new quality standards for information, advice and guidance which, over 17 pages, set out in detail the information, advice and guidance that all young people should expect to receive. These new standards will form a key part of the statutory guidance made under Clause 54. I am happy to circulate copies for Members of the Committee to examine. Amendment No. 172 would make it explicit that the local authority must provide,
“generic information, advice and guidance, and … targeted support”,
for individuals. That is set out in the quality standards. We also intend to emphasise their position as a core function of Connexions services through the directions that we propose to issue under Clause 55.
Amendment No. 170 would require that Connexions services should be,
“appropriate to the needs of the young person, including those … with special educational needs”.
The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, also raised that issue. Clause 63 provides that,
“a local education authority is responsible for any young person”,
who needs a service in that area. That includes those with special needs, and for those young people the duty extends up to age 25. Transferring the responsibility for Connexions to local authorities will enable them to better join up services that support young people with learning difficulties and to share knowledge and specialist resources. In addition, standard 4.8 of the new quality standards to which I referred a moment ago says that,
“additional and sustained guidance and support is provided to those young people who have specific needs (e.g. those with special needs/learning difficulties and/or disabilities, Looked After Children, those with caring responsibilities)”.
The group of particular concern to the noble Baronesses is therefore specifically highlighted in the new Quality Standards for Young People's Information, Advice and Guidance.
Amendment No. 171, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, would require that young people who need it receive,
“individual support and guidance in order to comply with section 2”.
As we have discussed before, it is essential to the success of the Bill that this support is available, and I can reassure the noble Baroness that a number of clauses already provide for it. Clause 10 requires authorities to “promote the effective participation” of young people “in education or training”, while Clause 39(5) requires them to take,
“all reasonable steps to secure that relevant support is offered”
to the young person before an attendance notice can be issued. Clause 54 requires them to “encourage, enable or assist” their,
“effective participation in education or training”.
We realise the importance of that support, which is why we have published the new quality standards and doubled the investment in the Connexions services to £468 million in 2008-09, compared with the level that the former Careers Service received. We are therefore transferring the service to local authorities, which are best placed to join up and integrate all local services supporting young people, as that will ensure better targeting of individuals’ needs and should provide greater efficiencies and free up more resources for the front-line.
Amendment No. 171 goes on to require that “support and guidance” are available to all young people until age 25 or until the person,
“makes it clear that they no longer wish”,
to receive the service. Connexions services, as Clause 63 states, already provide such support to people with learning difficulties up to their 25th birthday, but apart from those who require an extended transition period because of a learning difficulty, we are unconvinced that most young people, as they approach 20, want the same service as a teenager. We believe that they want an adult service, and that is what the Bill provides. The adult Careers Service is available for all people aged 20 and over and, as we discussed in the previous Committee sitting, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills has announced that it will introduce a new adult advancement and careers service from 2010-11, which will merge the existing adult Careers Service and work closely with Jobcentre Plus.
In addition, Jobcentre Plus provides the New Deal for Young People for 18 to 24 year-olds, which offers support and helps them take stock of their skills and experience and then build on those to create better opportunities for work. The service is available to all young people with a history of being not in employment, education or training. With the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the Department for Children, Schools and Families will be developing an all-age strategy for career advice to ensure that transitions between services are joined up.
Amendment No. 175, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, enables the power to direct to specify that these services must comply with the duties placed on local authorities by Sections 8 to 10 of the Employment and Training Act 1973 and by Section 44 of the Education Act 1997. I shall take those references one by one. Section 10 of the Education and Training Act 1973 allows the Secretary of State to make arrangements with local authorities to carry out careers service functions and gives him the power to direct authorities in such matters. I can confirm that the power to make arrangements with local authorities for the delivery of careers service functions was used by the Secretary of State on 25 March this year. The relevant letter was sent to members of the Public Bill Committee prior to Report in another place and copied to Front-Bench spokespeople in both Houses. In addition, we already have a power to issue directions on this matter and will use it if it is deemed necessary.
The amendment goes on to mention Section 44 of the Education Act 1997, which places a duty on schools and colleges to provide access to careers advisers from the Careers Service provided under arrangements made under Section 10 of the Employment and Training Act. Again, that is not necessary, as personal advisers from the Connexions service already have the power to access schools and other educational institutions under Clause 58 of the Bill. I hope that that reassures the noble Baroness in respect of those other legislative references.
The noble Baroness’s Amendment No. 174 provides that directions, as in Clause 55, shall be issued by the Secretary of State. I hope she will agree, from what I have already said, that we regard these directions as most important to the success of Connexions. We will consult formally on the content of directions when the Bill receives Royal Assent, taking careful account of the views expressed in the debates in your Lordships’ House.
I thank the Minister for his response. I take note of what he has said. Will the Minister copy to us the letter that was sent from the other place? Once again communications do not seem to have been that good, and I regret to say that I have not seen the letter; had we seen it, we would perhaps not have tabled this amendment as it would have been unnecessary.
I am interested in the new quality standards. Again, I would be grateful if the Minister could send us a copy. It would be interesting to see them; as he and others have made clear, the quality of information, advice and guidance services available to these young people is important. There have been some lapses in quality over the past few years. The Connexions service has faced problems by having two different duties cast upon it and insufficient resources to meet those double duties of, on the one hand, providing particular support for the NEET group we have been talking about a great deal and, on the other hand, continuing to provide general advice on careers to all young people in schools. That has been difficult for the service, and there have been occasions when in particular the general advice to young people in schools has been lacking.
I am delighted that the Government have increased resources. It is extremely important that they do so. A great many new developments are in hand, including the web-based advice service which is being set up, and I welcome them all. As we discussed, with the development of the new diplomas and the enhancement of the apprenticeship service, it is extremely important that young people get proper advice and guidance about potential careers. Therefore, it is important that the services should be high quality, and that the Government should make clear the standards they expect to be provided.
I thank the Minister for his reply, which I shall read carefully. I hope that he can provide me with the relevant information, in which case I shall have a chance to study it before we meet again after the Recess.
I also thank the Minister for his response, to which I listened carefully. However, I remain unconvinced that these provisions will satisfy the future demands imposed on Connexions, particularly as regards advice for young people with special needs, as my noble friend Lady Perry and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, highlighted.
I am grateful to the Minister for promising to circulate the new quality standards guidance and regulations. I am sure that noble Lords will read them with great interest. However, he did not fully answer our concerns that an all-age careers service should be set up to sit alongside Connexions. I fear that rather than this being an easily accessible service, it will be overly complicated. We may well find that the very people it needs to help will fall through the net. I shall read the Minister’s response carefully, but at this point I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 170 to 173 not moved.]
Clause 54 agreed to.
Clause 55 [Directions]:
[Amendments Nos. 174 and 175 not moved.]
175A: Clause 55, page 31, line 13, leave out subsection (2)
The noble Baroness said: I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 176A and 181A. I originally tabled Amendment No. 175A to draw attention to the micro-management element of Clause 55. Clause 54 makes it clear that it is the duty of local authorities to provide all-round support, including information, advice and guidance, to vulnerable and ordinary young adults in their care. It is reasonable that, as stated in Clause 54, in fulfilling this duty they should have regard to the directions and guidance issued by the Secretary of State. However, the degree of detail which Clause 55 suggests will be laid down by these directions seems unreasonable. It is symptomatic of the extent to which central government is now micro-managing local government services and removing any discretion from local government. It is no wonder that local democracy is in such a parlous state and that it is difficult to recruit people to stand as councillors and to recruit high-calibre people to work in local government.
Having said that my original motivation for tabling Amendment No. 175A was to draw attention to micro-management, the more I look at Clause 55(2), the less I understand it. Therefore, I ask the Minister to explain what it means. Amendments Nos. 176A and 181A are tabled to highlight the fact that all these directions are being wished on local authorities and that these same local authorities and their service providers often have more expertise in these matters than central government because they provide these services on the ground, and therefore should be consulted about the directions that are issued.
Amendment No. 181A deals with the provision of information, advice and guidance via the internet. As I have mentioned already, I am all in favour of developing these web-based services which, along with others, I see as the future for the information-based services. We must always bear in mind that, besides information, advice and guidance need to be personalised. If local authorities and their service providers are to be the mainstream providers of advice services, they need to play a part in the commissioning of these other services. I beg to move.
We have a great deal of sympathy with the intentions of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. The amendments remove the unfettered power of the Secretary of State to issue directions to local education authorities to fulfil their obligations under Clause 54(1) to provide support for young adults with learning difficulties. Instead the amendments would have the Secretary of State consult the local education authority before issuing directions.
The Bill has created a range of duties between various parties in Clause 54. The duty falls on local education authorities to provide services to support young people or young adults with learning difficulties so that they may participate in education or training. These are serious demands to make of a local education authority. We hope that they can be satisfactorily met but that will inevitably cost money and the prioritising of certain goals. At a time when local authorities are being asked to make more and more services available on tightening budgets, each education authority will have to make its own decisions as to how the needs of young people can be catered for.
I hope the Government can accept that the nature of a local education authority means that different authorities will have different problems and must be allowed to find individual solutions to those problems. More centrally imposed rules and targets would be unhelpful to furthering the goal of providing support services. If the need arises for the Secretary of State to step in and issue directions, he or she is far more likely to achieve a satisfactory result if he or she has first consulted the local authority, found out what its problems are and worked through with the people on the ground how best to solve them. Any directions he or she gives have then been tailored to fit the needs of that local education authority and the people it serves.
I also cannot resist rising to the bait of the noble Baroness’s perplexity at this subsection. Having read it through three times myself I am reminded of that little conundrum where a man standing in front of a picture says:
“Brothers and sisters have I none, but this man’s father is my son”.
The answer is that he is looking at a picture of himself. It is exactly that sort of circular argument I find in this subsection. Of course I am wrong but the noble Lord will be hard put to prove it.
I agree that it is not immediately apparent on reading it what Clause 55(2) is seeking to achieve but I shall explain. I also welcome back to the Committee the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, from her great triumph this afternoon, to which reference has already been made in the debate. I had hoped that the race would take so long that the noble Baroness might not be able to join us. I see that she is in fighting form.
Clause 55(2) is concerned with the effective delivery of a range of important services for young people. The subsection as drafted makes it clear that directions can require a local education authority to ensure that whoever carries out Connexions functions under Clause 54 also provides other services specified in the direction. According to subsection (3), those services need not relate to education but may relate to social security. For example, it is intended that, if necessary, the power could be used to ensure that local authorities and others providing Connexions services are also responsible for conducting a work-focused interview with young people using powers in social security legislation. That ensures that a range of activities that are aimed at helping young people into education, training and employment can be brought together in one place.
Let me explain why this is important. We believe that it is very much to the advantage of the young people concerned that the Connexions service, which best understands the needs of young people and how best to support them, also conducts work-focused interviews and other relevant social security functions. It is therefore important that we have the power to direct to ensure that that does indeed take place. The practice over the past few years is that the Connexions service carries out those social security functions for the small number of 16 and 17 year-olds who claim benefits. We want to ensure that that sensible practice can continue. Carrying out those functions will take full account of the actual needs of the young people in question as they are carried out local authority by local authority.
Amendment No. 176A would require that, before issuing any directions concerning the Connexions service, the Secretary of State would consult the relevant local authorities and have regard to their views. We are committed to consulting local authorities on the detail of the draft directions and we will do so formally after the Bill receives Royal Assent. We consulted the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services before issuing the current specifications for Connexions, to which authorities are currently directed to adhere under the Learning and Skills Act and which are identical to the proposed directions under the clause. The organisations raised no objections about authorities being directed in that way. I do not anticipate new objections being forthcoming but we will, as I say, consult them.
Amendment No. 181A concerns Clause 59. That clause—subsection (3) in particular—provides the power for the department to contract with an appropriate body to deliver national services, such as the present Connexions Direct service. The noble Baroness’s amendment would require the department to make such arrangements in conjunction with relevant local authorities and their Connexions providers. I am glad to tell the noble Baroness that the department already consults local authorities as part of the procurement process and that an authority representative sits on the project board. In addition, the contractor is required to work with stakeholders in particular authorities and their Connexions providers. It is therefore already our practice to make arrangements for the services in conjunction with authorities and Connexions providers. I hope that that meets the noble Baroness’s concern.
I am still a little puzzled about how the provision will work. The Minister said that the direction will say that the local authority or the person exercising functions under Clause 54 must be a person who also exercises other prescribed functions; I understand that. But what if the person who exercises those other prescribed functions happens to be a school caretaker? The functions could be exercised by someone entirely inappropriate. There is not anything in the clause, so far as I can see, that says that a local authority has a right to transfer those functions that must be exercised together to someone whom its considers appropriate. The Minister gave the illustration of workplace interviews. Has it got the right to transfer that function to someone whom it considers appropriate? Is there a freedom under that legislation to move the functions that must be exercised together to the person whom it really wants to exercise the functions under Clause 54(1)? This provision simply describes the nature of the person to whom the powers can be transferred and assumes that that person is therefore appropriate to perform the functions under Clause 54(1). I remain confused by the wording.
I do not think that there need be that confusion. The functions on which the Secretary of State may make directions under subsection (2) refer to functions that are set out in subsection (1). Those are services of a kind that need to be provided by properly trained and qualified people. I do not think that the services in question could be carried out by, for example, a caretaker; they would need to be carried out by properly trained and qualified people who are employed by the local authority.
That runs things one way, but the clause seems to run them the other way. Those things set out in Clause 54(1) that must be done by someone properly qualified must be done by someone who exercises other functions. They must be transferred to somebody who is already exercising those other functions. There is something in the legislation concerning those other functions that allows them to be transferred back to someone who is appropriate to exercise those functions under Clause 54(1). I understand what the Minister is saying, but I do not know that the wording of the clause achieves what he says it does.
I am sure that it does, or else we would not have the clause before us. If I was not sufficiently clear in my opening remarks, I am happy to write to the noble Lord and specify with greater clarity how it does so. The alternative would be for me to repeat my opening remarks, but I do not think that the noble Lord would wish me to do that.
I am grateful to the Minister. I was satisfied with his explanation, but I take on board what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, says about the literal interpretation of the way in which the subsection is phrased. It would be nice if legal language was not sometimes so obscure. I am grateful to the Minister also for his reassurances in relation to consultation with both service providers and local authorities over these other functions. Although he says that it is normal practice, these points were raised by the LGA in its briefing on the Bill, and therefore it seemed to me appropriate that we should get from the Minister some reassurance that local authorities would be consulted in this way. I thank the Minister for his response and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 176 and 176A not moved.]
Clause 55 agreed to.
176B: After Clause 55, insert the following new Clause—
“Assessment for specific learning difficulties
(1) Each pupil in a maintained and voluntary aided school must receive an assessment for risk of specific learning difficulties—
(a) before his sixth birthday;(b) in the second year after completion of Key Stage one; and(c) in the first year after Key Stage two.(2) The assessment shall be carried out by a prescribed person with prescribed qualifications.
(3) The specific learning difficulties referred to in subsection (1) are—
(a) dyslexia;(b) dyscalcula;(c) dyspraxia;(d) dysgraphia;(e) Asperger’s syndrome;(f) attention deficit disorder;(g) attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder;(h) Meares-Irelen syndrome;(i) a high level of co-morbidity of any two or more of the above conditions.(4) In this section “prescribed” means “prescribed by order by the Secretary of State.”
(5) The Secretary of State may, by order, specify conditions to be added to those referred to in subsection (3) of this section.”
The noble Lord said: With diffidence and apprehension, I broach a subject that is even larger than I realised when I approached it. At Second Reading, I expressed my concern about the extent and consequences of dyslexia and related conditions in schoolchildren and young adults. I start by explaining why I am concerned at, and surprised by, this extent.
Official SEN census figures show that only 78,000 children are either statemented or on school action plans for dyslexia. A recent government-funded study, the No to Failure interim report, has shown that 55 per cent of pupils failing SATs at key stages 1 and 2 are at risk of dyslexia. That equates to around one in five pupils, or 2 million children. These children, on the whole, are not developing as they should. They are a reservoir of potential unrealised and talent unfulfilled. We have touched on the proportion of them who finish up in prison. They will also come under the umbrella of this legislation and as such point to a large hole in my amendment, which does not cover them at all. On Report, when we have the information that the Minister will give us about the situation as he sees it and the Government’s attitude to it, it will be possible to bring that in. I recognise that this approach is in a way tangential to the approach of the amendments that have just been debated.
I cannot leave prisons there. If we go down the road towards them, there are pupil referral units. A recent study by Xtraordinary People—a well named organisation—found that 65 per cent of pupils at a particular London PRU were dyslexic. It is established, under the school census figures from the department, that it costs an average of £9,900 per year to look after one child in a PRU. Assuming that only half that number are there for that reason, it still amounts to a colossal amount of money.
The KPMG Foundation, an independent body, reported in 2006 in its Every Child A Reader programme that literacy difficulties cost the nation £2.05 billion a year. I say that slowly and with emphasis, because I hope that it will remain in the Minister’s mind and in that of my noble friend on the Front Bench when the cry goes up that this is all very expensive. It would be amazingly cheap, and even cost-positive, if we got it right.
To accelerate things a little, I shall pass over the prison question. I have a whole mass of briefing, which, if I am forced to, I shall deploy on Report. I shall just refer to the Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile. Almost 80 per cent of prison staff state that information accompanying people into prison is unlikely to show that the presence of learning difficulties or learning disabilities had been identified prior to their arrival in prison. Such people are more likely to be victimised than others; they are unable to access prison information routinely; they are likely to receive inadequate levels of support, although I hope that the Bill will put that right; and, because of their impairments, they are excluded from certain activities and opportunities.
Some 20 to 30 per cent of offenders have learning difficulties or learning disabilities that interfere with their ability to cope with the criminal justice system. There is a mismatch between literacy demands, offending behaviour programmes and the skill level of offenders. This is rather like the days before the Plain English Campaign had its effect on government publications, when literature was addressed to people with a reading age of 12 or 14 in the language of someone with an adult reading age. It is no good providing help to people in language that they cannot follow. Prisoners with learning difficulties and disabilities are excluded from elements of the prison regime, including opportunities to address their offending behaviour—the one possible approach to redemption and rehabilitation that they have. That may breach the Disability Discrimination Act.
There are legions of these people and they should not be there. A great many of them are there because of failure earlier in their lives, which is why we need to put a system in place in primary and secondary schools that catches them. It is not good enough just to do it at the beginning, because these things can often only be caught later on.
What I have in mind is not altogether clear from the amendment, but the amendment, or something like it, would be central to it. In every school, there should be someone sufficiently qualified to identify those who are at risk of dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, dysgraphia, Asperger’s syndrome, attention deficit disorder, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, Meares-Irlen syndrome, or a high level of co-morbidity of two or more of any of those conditions. There should be someone in every school who is able to say, “That looks like a possible case”. That should discount at least 57 per cent of the school population. The remainder would be referred to a central resource—a visiting specialist, or whatever means the Secretary of State devises—who can go through the remainder and identify those at acute risk. Finally, the most highly paid person should be brought in, a specialist for the local authority, to provide the final diagnosis, resulting in a statement or whatever is appropriate.
For that to happen, children have to be assessed at appropriate stages. The stages that I have chosen are before the child’a sixth birthday, thereby giving him time to be established in a school and for the teachers to get to know him; in the second year after completion of key stage 1, thereby allowing two years before the next stage, so that the whole programme is not reversed just before the key stage is reached; and in the first year after key stage 2, for the same reason. The way in which this should be done would be prescribed by the Secretary of State. He could say who was to do it and, more importantly, he would prescribe the qualifications necessary to do it.
That brings me to training. The Government have training modules available for awareness of dyslexia and so on, but they are not mandatory. I suggest that there should be a mandatory element of awareness of dyslexia incorporated into initial teacher training programmes. I further suggest that every school inspector should be required to be thoroughly trained in this specialism, so that inspection in this area is properly carried out. I hope that I have made what I intend clear but, if I have not, this is Committee stage and I am very happy to return to my feet. I beg to move.
I thank my noble friend Lord Elton for shining a spotlight directly on this issue. Noble Lords will know that I have spoken on the matter previously and that I firmly believe, as do many Members of the Committee, that too many children have learning difficulties that go undiagnosed. Such children begin to struggle at school not because they are bad or uninterested but because they are not able to keep up with their peers or with the teaching. It is these children who are at risk of falling so far behind that they simply drop out of the system altogether.
It is essential that learning difficulties are identified as early as possible, so that those who suffer from them can be helped to overcome their problems and so that teaching can be tailored for their more specific needs. The list of learning difficulties specified in the amendment is a helpful indicator of the learning difficulties that can be diagnosed as hindering a child’s educational development. My noble friend makes a valid point about initial teacher training. I hope that the Government will give this issue all the attention that it deserves.
Other noble Lords will know that I have spoken on this issue on many occasions. I have a great deal of sympathy with this amendment. It is important that there is early diagnosis and early treatment. Not long ago, I participated as governor of a small primary school in the permanent exclusion of a nine year-old. It was quite clear from the papers that accompanied the child that he had had difficulties more or less from the moment that he went to school. He had been diagnosed but, frankly, the amount of support that came through from the local authority was totally inadequate.
I can remember that, when we talked about the Every Child A Reader programme, I asked the Minister whether it should be rolled out more widely. He responded by saying, “Ah, but it costs £2,000 a child”. I pointed out that spending £2,000 per child at the age of six was infinitely better than spending £60,000 at the age of 16. That remains the case. Early diagnosis and support are vital.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, talked about the need for every school to have someone capable of making that assessment. A great deal of work is going on in training a special educational needs co-ordinator in schools and there is a great deal of CPD training for teachers in this area. In the primary school that I talked about, we have a talented SENCO, who has done and continues to do a great deal. Clearly, the amount of support from local authorities varies enormously from one to another and, in particular, there is a great shortage of educational psychologists. It is extremely difficult in some areas to get any consistent support from educational psychologists. Frequently you get one person, then another and then another. To be classed as requiring school action or school action plus, an educational psychologist must be present.
In the school that I am talking about, 25 per cent of pupils are classed with special educational needs. We get visits from educational psychologists two half days a term, which is just not enough. There are needs and a long waiting list of children to see the educational psychologist for assessment. It is vital that sufficient educational psychologists are trained to support the sorts of services that children need.
I very much support what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, and the way in which he set it out. There is a huge cost in not addressing this issue much earlier. The postcode lottery aspect, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, makes it crucial that more thought is given to how much more attention we can give to dealing with and supporting as far as we can young people with these problems. As has been mentioned, a huge percentage of young offenders in prison suffers from these sorts of problems. If anybody thinks that that is not costly, they have another think coming.
I am glad to hear that teacher training is going on in some areas. A worried teacher’s basic knowledge of when a child needs to be assessed is crucial, but I suggest that there is also a need to have, particularly in larger schools, a governor with training and experience. Training for school governors is not as compulsory as it should be. It takes place in some areas, but by no means all.
The noble Baroness might like to know that I have been designated the special educational needs governor of my school. I have not found time to attend the detailed training that goes with it, but I felt that the training that I had had in this House by going through various Bills, including the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill, was helpful.
It is enormously reassuring to know both that the noble Baroness’s school has appointed such a local authority person and that, as we know, she is more than well qualified; the school is extremely lucky to have her in that role. I hope that the Minister will give us some further reassurance, as every penny spent in this direction will save money in the long run.
We all feel strongly about this big issue in education. I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising it. In support of this amendment, I should say that, yes, to have early diagnosis is immensely valuable, but it must result in the allocation of resources. One knows that local authorities strapped for cash are reluctant to provide the resources required, and one has to be satisfied that the head will use those resources for the purpose for which they are provided; that is, to assist those young people. Perhaps there should be a Bill on this issue in its own right.
Is not one of the great lessons from West Dunbartonshire and other experiences that doing such assessments on all children provides knowledge and understanding that will avoid a great deal of expense later and will lead to much more success in the education of children? I am glad to say that a lot of schools take this issue seriously, pick up early on the conditions that children start school with, and take appropriate action. That is a pretty good formula for being a good school. All the needs of all the children are looked after and they are filled with the enthusiasm for learning which they need, particularly when they start secondary school, which can be a bit of a leap for many. It is just good practice, but it has not spread as it should have done. Perhaps that is because the connection between spending money up front and saving it later has been allowed to loosen. Given best practice, it should save us a lot of money, although it involves spending money now rather than waiting until there is a crisis later.
The provision of resources in this area has significantly increased in recent years. Planned local authority expenditure on special educational needs has increased from £2.8 billion in 2000-01 to £4.9 billion in 2007-08. Of course, the issue is to see that the money is spent wisely and that it is dedicated to special educational needs once it goes into the general budgets of schools. To ensure that that takes place, we need the eternal vigilance of governors, notably those with particular responsibility for special educational needs, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. The role that she performs on her governing body is essential to ensure that the interests of students with special educational needs are properly safeguarded.
The issue, as ever, is how far we prescribe from the centre, which we need to keep under review. Elsewhere in our debates we are criticised for unduly prescribing to local authorities, let alone to schools, what they should do. Having earmarked this funding and seen that it is provided to local authorities, and making the requirements that we do in terms of the duties on governing bodies, we depend on them to take their responsibilities with the seriousness that I know the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and governors up and down the country do. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, in her role as president of the National Governors’ Association seeks to reinforce with governors the acute importance of their responsibilities in respect of special educational needs. We support the NGA and governors in advice and guidance that we provide. Most local authorities provide training in this regard, but we need all local authorities to rise to the standards of the best.
As Minister with responsibility for special educational needs, I completely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on the importance of early identification and intervention. All maintained schools have an ongoing statutory duty to identify and make suitable provision for children with special educational needs. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, the special educational needs code of practice highlights early identification and intervention as an important feature of effective provision for SEN.
We are promoting greater awareness and improved confidence in recognising and addressing children’s special educational needs through our inclusion development programme. The first phase of that, which is a systematic programme of training for teachers, includes resource materials for early education providers, schools and initial teacher training institutions on dyslexia and speech, language and communications needs. Subsequent phases will produce similar materials for autism and behavioural, emotional and social difficulties.
The Children’s Plan, published last December, acknowledged that more needs to be done.
The inclusion development programme is voluntary. However, we are introducing new units into initial teacher training in respect of the undergraduate course followed by a large proportion of primary teachers. Of course, it is at the primary level particularly that early identification is needed. Those units within the undergraduate teacher training course have been piloted successfully. A few weeks ago I attended a launch event with all undergraduate providers of teacher training courses to make those units available to them and strongly to urge that all providers include them within their undergraduate courses. I did so alongside Sir Jackie Stewart, a tireless champion of improvements in teacher training in this area. He made an impassioned case for all providers to ensure that they embed these units within their courses.
I have not made them mandatory because, again, I am anxious not to over-prescribe, in this case, what university education departments should do. However, we could not have done more to urge upon the undergraduate providers of teacher training courses the importance of the new units and the great difference that they can make to the ability of primary school teachers to meet the special educational needs of their pupils. The pilots were successful and the universities that were engaged in them have strongly urged other university departments to take up these new units. I shall keep the noble Lord informed about progress in the take-up. But, as I said, we have not gone to the final stage of making them mandatory because I am conscious of the balance that we need to keep between urging good practice on local authorities, schools and university departments, and making effective provision available to them, but not seeking overly to prescribe precisely what they should do in respect of their own provision.
However, we have gone that stage further in mandatory training for special educational needs co-ordinators in schools, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, referred. Every school must have a special educational needs co-ordinator. We reviewed the position of SENCOs long and hard and we decided two years ago that we would make their training mandatory and accredited nationally. We are in the process of introducing that training and discussing with the teacher associations how we can do so in a way that meets the needs of SENCOs and leads to a significant improvement in the competence with which they carry out their functions.
We are prepared to consider mandatory measures where we believe they are critical to improvements in schools. No one is more important to the overall provision of special educational needs services in a school than a SENCO. It is essential that there is one senior teacher who has a thorough grasp of the school’s responsibilities in this area, and that is why we have taken the step of requiring mandatory training for SENCOs.
The Children’s Plan, which we published last December, announced funding of £18 million further to improve school workforce knowledge, skills and understanding of special educational needs through initial teacher training and continuing professional development. That £18 million is funding, among others, the developments that I outlined to the Committee a moment ago.
Furthermore, in May this year, the Government asked Jim Rose, who conducted the 2005 review of the teaching of reading in primary schools, to make further recommendations on the identification and teaching of children with dyslexia. We expect to receive Sir Jim’s recommendations early next year. He will look in particular at the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, as to the provision of more specialist teachers able to carry out functions, including assessments. He will take account of developments since 2005, including the Every Child a Reader programme referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, which we introduced in conjunction with KPMG. It is a great example of the Government working in partnership with charitable and other agencies to bring about change.
Latest evaluations show that over 86 per cent of children who received reading recovery in year 1 went on to meet national expectations in reading at the end of key stage 1 in comparison to 84 per cent nationally. This is very welcome news. Reading recovery is an intervention programme targeted at five and six year-olds who are experiencing difficulty with learning to read; we are significantly expanding it over the next three years. Sir Jim Rose played a crucial part in our decision to allocate substantial government funding to the Every Child a Reader programme, which is taking forward reading recovery. For all the reasons set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, we believe that every penny of this is well spent in promoting the capacity of children to engage properly in learning at a later stage and avoiding all the dangers of young children falling into patterns of unproductive behaviour, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, set out. We are doing a great deal in this area, and I believe it is leading to a sustained improvement in provision for children with special educational needs, but I fully accept that there is always more to be done.
I am most grateful to all who have taken part in this debate, particularly the Minister, who has again proved that his heart is in the right place. We just need to make sure that his pocket is full enough. I know that Governments want swift returns for investment, and this is the great difficulty in doing anything to reduce offending or improve employability, because what you do for the child of five is a reward to the state when the child becomes an adult. The Minister can comfort himself with not only KPMG’s figures but also the Prince’s Trust’s figures. It reports that £70 million is lost to the economy per week due to educational underachievement in terms of productivity resulting in foregone income. The amounts of money to be saved are enormous. As I said to start with, we are looking at a great pool of potential unrealised and talent unqualified. I conclude by saying:
“If anything motivates me in politics it’s this. When I see potential unrealised, and talent unfulfilled, and opportunity denied, that’s where we’ve got to be and it’s the right economic future as well as the right way of dealing with opportunity in our society”.
I am quoting the Prime Minister, George Brown, in a speech made in May 2008. We are all on the same side here, but if all that marvellous money was saved, think how much he could take off petrol tax.
My biggest comeuppance in politics was when I was standing in Loughborough and, thinking I had done frightfully well, asked the person who had driven my most distant supporter, an old lady on the edge of Bosworth constituency, whether she had said why she voted Conservative. He said, “She said that George Brown is such a nice gentleman, you have to vote Tory”. It made me realise that I had been wasting my time. I will not waste your Lordships’ time. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 56 agreed to.
I beg to move that the House do now resume.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.