House of Lords
Monday, 21 July 2008.
The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds.
Death of a Member
My Lords, the Government have accepted recommendations in the 2007 review of prisons by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, to better align the supply and demand for prison places in the medium to long term. The Government aim to achieve an overall net capacity of 96,000 prison places by 2014.
My Lords, that is a disappointing Answer because my Question was about reducing, not increasing, the prison population. Does my noble friend agree that in 2003 the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said that,
“there is no convincing evidence that further increases in the custody rate … will significantly reduce crime”?
My right honourable friend Jack Straw said recently that,
“you have got to have a rational debate about the number of prison places that need to be provided”.
Where is that rational debate, given that the Government seem to have rushed in to increase the number of prison places without such a debate?
My Lords, we always welcome rational debate. There has been considerable discussion about prison policy, and it is the Government’s view that we should always provide enough prison places for serious offenders: those are the people who should be behind bars—the most dangerous people in society. That is why we need the increase that I have just described. Equally, there is a strong case for community sentencing for other offenders, where again we have seen an expansion in the past few years.
My Lords, I am not sure that enlarging the role of the Parole Board would necessarily lead to that result. I certainly pay tribute to the board and Sir Duncan Nichol who has chaired it so excellently in the past few years. The board’s role is clearly set out and it does its functions very well.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that we will never build our way out of this crisis of prison overcrowding and that the only real answer must lie with a more selective use of custody by judges? Does he agree that, given just an average period for the preliminary measures that have to be taken and the rise in the prison population over the past two or three years, long before the first person enters a Titan prison the whole system will have gone completely through the roof?
My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord’s terminology that “the system has gone through the roof”. We clearly face considerable pressure within the system as it is. That is why we are embarking on the Titan prison programme. At the moment, it is subject to consultation in relation to the design and features of such prisons, but I reiterate that the Government’s view is that prison must be the right place for serious offenders in the way that I have described. Equally, one cannot ignore the increase in community sentences and the impact of offender management programmes. In the past few years, we have seen their outcome in the reduction in the offending rate.
My Lords, does the Minister agree with my finding that the majority of women in prison are not dangerous, serious or violent offenders but are a danger only to themselves? Does he accept my main recommendation that these women should not be imprisoned, but should be dealt with more appropriately in the community and that the prison population would reduce if my report were implemented in full?
My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend for the excellence of her report. She will know that the Government have accepted almost all her recommendations. She is right that prison will remain an option for women who commit serious offences but, for women who do not need to be in custody, we need to make sure that we have the right provision and programmes focused on the prevention of reoffending. I agree with my noble friend.
My Lords, perhaps it is the fact that potential criminals know that prison may be the end of the road for their wrongdoings or perhaps it is to do with more effective policing. One thing is for sure: we should rejoice at the reduction in crime in this country.
My Lords, are we asking the right question? Government legislation requires that judges consider custody in certain cases, so, in the interests of the law-abiding public, would it not be more appropriate to ask why the Government have not provided enough places to keep criminals out of circulation for the whole period of their sentence?
My Lords, the purpose of the review by my noble friend Lord Carter was to make sure that we had the right balance between the supply and demand for prison places. That is why we are increasing provision to around 96,000 by 2014. One of my noble friend’s recommendations was the establishment of a framework for high-level policy decisions and discussions about getting right the essential balance between sentencing policy in general and the provision of places without fettering the individual judicial discretion that is inherent in our system of sentencing policy.
My Lords, the previous Lord Chief Justice estimated that 60 per cent of all lifers were exceeding their tariffs by more than a year before being released. There is in prison at the moment a man who is owed more than 40 years on a 16-year tariff. How many prisoners are in prison who have exceeded their tariff? I accept that some of them should still be there but, for administrative reasons, some are there longer, which is more expensive and places an unnecessary burden on the system.
My Lords, I do not have the figures with me, although I will certainly write to the noble Lord with the most up-to-date figures that I can lay my hands on. On the general point, of course some prisoners may be in the position that he described for the reason that he has given, but he should not ignore the improvement that has taken place in the development of offender behavioural programmes, which has allowed for the successful release of many prisoners who have gone on to lead a good and useful life in society.
My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend can help me. I come back to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. Is it not anomalous that at a time when the crime rate is going down, the number of people in prison is going up? Is that because those going to prison are committing more serious offences, or is it because the judges are now sending more people to prison than they used to? Either way, the Government ought to tell us.
Clearly, my Lords, there are a number of factors in this. There are longer sentences and more offenders are being brought to justice but the overall impact is a reduction in crime and reoffending rates. Surely that is a matter for some satisfaction. We cannot be complacent—we must build on that reduction—but the trends are going in the right direction.
British Overseas Territories: Money-Laundering Controls
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest, as a member of my family works in the Cayman Islands.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to ensure that British Overseas Territories, particularly the Cayman Islands, are included in the white list of financial centres with top-quality anti-money-laundering controls.
My Lords, the recently published European Union list of equivalent third countries represents the common understanding of member states and will be subject to periodic review. The Treasury intends shortly to write to all UK overseas territories with financial centres, outlining a process by which they may be considered equivalent by the UK. In due course, if merited, the UK is prepared to propose overseas territories for inclusion in the EU list of equivalent third countries.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer, but is he aware that the Cayman Islands Government take the issues of anti-money-laundering and counter-terrorist financing very seriously indeed? After all, they comply fully with the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force and, perhaps even more importantly, were rated in the top five in the review of February this year, alongside the UK, Singapore and Belgium. Is it not disappointing to discover that Her Majesty's Treasury seems to have looked after the dependent territories but somehow to have left out the overseas territories? Will the Government now actively and urgently support the inclusion of the Cayman Islands in the white list; and, if not, explain why?
My Lords, the negotiations that led to the directive were difficult. It is not easy for the United Kingdom to reach all our desired objectives. The noble Lord was kind enough to recognise that we did manage to get the dependencies within the framework. We have more trouble with the overseas territories, because Europeans have some suspicions about the problems of tax havens. It is therefore a difficult negotiation. We recognise that the Cayman Islands look as if they meet the criteria. We are applying tests to establish that that is indeed the case; if they meet the criteria, we will pursue that interest.
My Lords, does the Minister recognise that those of us who have read the National Audit Office report of last November on risk in the overseas territories and the recent report by the Foreign Affairs Committee in the other place think that there are some real concerns about the development of financial services in the overseas territories—in particular, in the smaller overseas territories? Some of us have received letters this morning from the London representative of the Turks and Caicos Islands about the recently announced inquiry into financial management in the Turks and Caicos.
Does the Minister recall that on 5 March, at the end of a short debate on the overseas territories, his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said, referring to the overseas territories,
“we are taking forward the NAO’s recommendation that we should develop a financial services strategy”.—[Official Report, 5/3/08; col. 1163.]
How much progress has been made? Have the Government taken it a little further forward since then?
My Lords, as I indicated in my original Answer, we intend to take this forward. We are applying to the overseas territories the tests that they will need to meet so that we can support them as far as the European directive is concerned. Obviously, on the issues under negotiation with the European Community, there are difficulties with the overseas territories. They are not uniform and do not fit into a pattern of which Europe as a whole is cognisant. Consequently, we have to work hard on their behalf. We have indicated that we are undertaking that work.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the All-Party Group on the Cayman Islands. Is my noble friend aware that the Cayman Islands have observed the European directive on personal accounts held on the islands? Is he further aware that their financial regulation is superior to that of the United States of America?
My Lords, I am not going to be drawn on the last point. However, the Cayman Islands, as all noble Lords who have contributed this afternoon have attested, are disappointed that they are not within the framework of the European directive because they appear to meet these criteria. We have undertaken to pursue their interests once we can establish categorically that they meet the criteria. The House will recognise that the Government have not had an easy task in these negotiations. In circumstances in which we stand to gain from the acceptance of the financial directive across all 27 European states, it has not been easy for us to deal with the dependencies and the overseas territories. We have already made considerable progress.
My Lords, that is a point, but the French and Dutch dependencies have a rather different constitutional relationship with their mother countries. It will be recognised that the French constitution provides for direct representation of the overseas territories in the French Assembly. Therefore the Government can speak directly on their behalf as full representatives of them. The British constitutional position, as we all know, is somewhat different for historical reasons. That is why Europe is not entirely prepared to accept just our tokens of good will on this matter. We have to substantiate the case.
Health: Telehealth and Telecare
My Lords, these technologies hold much promise, but they are not as widespread as they could be, primarily because the commissioners remain unconvinced of their effectiveness and value for money. That is why we are now undertaking what we believe to be the largest randomised control trial of telehealth and telecare in the world. We hope to be able to demonstrate how the technology actually works and how it can improve the lives of people.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. However, in 2002 the Government set a target for all homes requiring telecare to have access to it by the end of 2010, and in May this year the Secretary of State announced the rollout of the whole system demonstrators in three areas. These pilots were first proposed in January 2006. Will the noble Baroness explain why it has taken quite so long to implement the whole system demonstrators and how the Government intend to ensure that their targets are met?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to be concerned about delays, but the reality is that the commissioners do need to be convinced about the use of telehealth and telecare. The 2010 date arises from an early paper in 2002 about rolling out telemonitoring as one of a range of options to be considered. Since then, the Government have established an £80 million fund to support promoting and embedding telecare services. The whole system demonstrator referred to by the noble Baroness was launched in May this year; it should have been launched in the new year but was delayed due to the complexity of setting up such an important research programme. Finally, we are establishing an action learning network by the King’s Fund which will run alongside the research. It aims to take up any positive early learning that flows from the demonstrator project and roll that out as well without waiting for its final evaluation.
My Lords, will the Government ensure that where a patient has been fitted with a heart monitor or a blood pressure monitor for 24 hours, that information is e-mailed to the consultant immediately or as soon as possible after it is removed from the patient so that the patient can be treated immediately and before their condition deteriorates? They may well have to wait four months before they see their consultant again, and the consultant will probably have forgotten about them.
My Lords, the noble Lord points exactly to the benefits of telehealth, which involves electronic sensors and equipment that will monitor people’s health. For example, those with COPD and breathing difficulties will monitor their own oxygen levels at home, but that information will also go directly to the clinician or expert in the area who can monitor the levels and get in touch with the individual within days in order to avert, for example, hospital admittance. The noble Lord is completely right about how it should work.
My Lords, an article in this week’s BMJ written by a general practitioner says that the transfer of ordinary in-patient reports, X-rays and scans still takes weeks to reach GPs, and hence the patients, and that this delays their treatment. The situation is so bad that some NHS managers are considering outsourcing medical secretarial work to India. Will the Minister admit that neither telehealth nor the new IT system that we hear so much about addresses this basic problem, and will she resolve to tackle the matter urgently during the Recess?
My Lords, I think that the noble Baroness is suggesting that I should not have a holiday. As we have discussed in the House before, issues about new technology and rolling out information technologies—which are of enormous benefit within the health service—take time to resolve and there will be problems. However, I undertake to explore the issue that the noble Baroness raised, and to do so during the Summer Recess.
My Lords, will the Minister confirm that, however health technology may advance, she will ensure that what happens in so many large organisations does not happen in this field? From BT to councils and even Parliament itself, it is quite impossible to talk to a real person on the telephone. If that should develop here, you would have to have a very long-term condition indeed before it could be cured.
My Lords, I have some sympathy with the noble Baroness, having spent some time this weekend on the telephone trying to deal not with the health service but with another part of technology. Telecare and telehealth aim to help people to stay at home. Bed sensors, for example, will tell a warden that someone may have gone to the loo but has not got back into bed. That will give an early warning. It is about providing people with personal care where they most need it.
My Lords, I can see the great merit in the remoteness of this care, and where it works, it will work very well. However, does the Minister agree that a great many people with chronic conditions can be greatly helped by means of the general information on the internet that is available to most people? That can answer many minor questions and enable people to help control their health conditions.
My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. However, I have elderly parents who would not dream of looking on the internet for information about their chronic conditions and it is up to me to make sure that they get it. Both also receive a great deal of printed information through their doctors’ surgeries, which is exactly as it should be.
My Lords, the noble Baroness is right, but this is not a substitute for face-to-face consultations with the doctor. The point here is that many people want to stay in their home, and the point of this technology is that it provides those who have care of them with alerts to warn that things may be going wrong.
Railways: Network Rail
My Lords, Network Rail is a private sector company limited by guarantee. Changes to Network Rail’s corporate governance are matters for its board and members, not for the Government. The independent Office of Rail Regulation is currently consulting on changes to Network Rail’s licence, aimed at strengthening the company’s accountability. This includes a review of Network Rail’s governance arrangements.
My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that the targets and governance of Network Rail cannot be right when on the one hand the executives get huge bonuses while on the other passengers suffer so much misery and inconvenience? Is my noble friend aware of the Co-operative blueprint The People’s Rail, that at its annual general meeting last week members of Network Rail called for a review, and that even today the House of Commons Select Committee has published a report calling for more effective governance and scrutiny of the company? Surely it is time that the Government joined the growing groundswell to give the British people real power over Network Rail.
My Lords, I am certainly aware of the outcome of the annual general meeting the other week and I congratulate my noble friend Lord Berkeley on his strenuous efforts at it. There will be a review of the governance of Network Rail, and Iain Couch has welcomed the opportunity to participate in and co-operate with it. The Office of Rail Regulation is reviewing the way the licence works, looking in particular at executive remuneration bonuses. I am well aware of the issues. My noble friend has made some interesting and useful points.
My Lords, we are where we are, but does the Minister agree that, while Network Rail is a private company, it has members rather than shareholders? What we might do straightaway is review the membership to make it more all-encompassing so that it can put right some of Network Rail’s defects.
My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord’s conversion to reviewing governance issues. Of course it was his party that left us with the mess of rail privatisation all those years ago, and we are still paying the price. The People’s Rail is a useful and valuable contribution to what will no doubt be a broadening debate, and it seems that the party opposite may at last be moving in the right direction.
My Lords, the members of Network Rail have now voted to conduct an imminent review of the company’s governance structure. Does the Minister agree that this should be concluded very speedily and that the Government should not intervene in the affairs of the company in this instance, as they have done whenever the company’s shortcomings have been raised in the past?
My Lords, I have read the terms of my noble friend Lord Berkeley’s motion, which I understand was carried unamended. It suggests that the review group should submit its findings and recommendations to members by December this year. It is not the role of the Government to interfere in this review; it should be conducted independently. I agree with the noble Lord that that is the right way to proceed.
My Lords, does the Minister not agree that it is time we looked at this situation again? There were many arguments with the then Prime Minister about nationalisation of the railway industry. The fact is that Britain is one of the very few countries in the world whose railway system is not state-owned.
My Lords, we are where we are. Rail nationalisation and the review of the governance structure are two separate issues. The Government’s role is to ensure that we have the right level of investment—we have been increasing it over the past decade—and that we improve the range and quality of services. That is exactly where our commitment has been, and we are now reaping the benefit of that investment as the number of people travelling by rail—40 per cent up on 10 years ago—demonstrates.
My Lords, following on from his previous answer, does my noble friend agree that the principal criterion against which the governance of Network Rail should be judged is whether it is capable of delivering the investment in infrastructure which the growing demand for rail travel is making necessary; and whether, at the same time, it is capable of convincing the Government that that investment needs support? Does he further agree that, whatever the shortcomings of Network Rail are today, it is a whole heap better than Railtrack, which preceded it?
My Lords, does my noble friend not accept that it is bizarre for a Minister to say, in effect, that the governance of Network Rail is nothing to do with us, when billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money are directed to that organisation? There is something wrong with the governance of Network Rail when, despite the dislocation, particularly to the West Coast Main Line, every weekend and right through the forthcoming holiday season, its chief executive and some of its directors are paid bonuses that, frankly, many of us feel are obscene.
My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right to express his robust views on this subject. It is right that the Office of Rail Regulation should be looking at the licence arrangements. We have to observe a proper distance between government and governance issues. It would be a profound mistake for us to attempt to micromanage at all times.
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House to which the Counter-Terrorism Bill has been committed that it considers the Bill in the following order:
Clauses 1 to 20
Clauses 21 to 23
Clauses 24 to 42
Clauses 43 to 50
Clauses 51 to 66
Clauses 68 to 83
Clauses 84 to 103
Clauses 104 to 106.—(Lord West of Spithead.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House to which the Planning Bill has been committed that it considers the Bill in the following order:
Clauses 2 to 35
Clauses 36 to 109
Clauses 110 to 115
Clauses 117 to 146
Clauses 147 to 181
Clauses 182 to 186
Clauses 187 and 188
Clauses 189 and 190
Clauses 192 to 221
Clauses 222 and 223
Clauses 224 to 227.—(Baroness Andrews.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Investigative Powers of Prosecutors in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Code of Practice) Order 2008
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 18 June be approved. 21st Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, Considered in Grand Committee on 16 July.—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 (Specified Organisations) Order 2008
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Rooker on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 4 June be approved. 21st Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, Considered in Grand Committee on 16 July.—(Lord Tunnicliffe.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Maternity and Parental Leave etc. and the Paternity and Adoption Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2008
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 30 June be approved. 25th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, Considered in Grand Committee on 16 July.—(Baroness Royall of Blaisdon.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Immigration (Supply of Information to the Secretary of State for Immigration Purposes) Order 2008
Immigration (Biometric Registration) (Civil Penalty Code of Practice) Order 2008
Immigration (Biometric Registration) Regulations 2008
Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) (Amendment No. 2) Order 2008
Crime (International Co-operation) Act 2003 (Designation of Participating Countries) (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) Order 2008
My Lords, I beg to move the Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the draft orders and regulations laid before the House on 4, 11 and 19 June be approved. 21st, 22nd and 24th Reports from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, Considered in Grand Committee on 16 July.—(Lord West of Spithead.)
On Question, Motions agreed to.
Planning and Energy Bill
Immigration (Discharged Gurkhas) Bill [HL]
My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.
Moved, That the order of commitment be discharged.—(Lord Lee of Trafford.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
National Insurance Contributions Bill
My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons reasons be now considered.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
My Lords, I beg to move Motion A, that this House do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 1 to 4, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reasons 1A to 4A.
Noble Lords’ amendments were disagreed to in the other place because they involved charges on the public revenue and were therefore subject to Commons financial privilege. I would like to put on record that I am nevertheless grateful to noble Lords opposite for the thorough scrutiny the Bill has received in this House.
Moved, Motion A, That this House do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 1 to 4 to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reasons 1A to 4A.—(Lord McKenzie of Luton.)
My Lords, we are not surprised that the Minister gives that reason. What I find surprising is that the authorities in your Lordships’ House allowed amendments to be debated on a subject that was bound to lead to the Commons rejecting them without debate for the reasons given in the Motion before us. I suggest to the Minister and his colleagues that in future, when Bills come before your Lordships’ House that deal with national insurance or any other aspect of taxation, rather more consideration is given to which amendments can be taken by your Lordships’ House. The way that this has been dealt with has wasted the time of your Lordships’ House, that of the Minister and that of noble Lords who took part in what turned out to be a completely futile exercise.
My Lords, it was opposition amendments that we were dealing with. It was not necessary for the matter to be debated in the other place; it was clear that the amendments passed by this House strayed into the financial privilege of the other place. It is up to the noble Lords opposite who moved the amendments to consider their position with regard to this.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Education and Skills Bill
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 LORD SPEAKER in the Chair.]
Clause 57 [Educational institutions: duty to provide information]:
[Amendments Nos. 177 to 179 not moved.]
Clause 57 agreed to.
Clause 58 agreed to.
Clause 59 [Internet and telephone support services etc]:
180: Clause 59, page 33, line 19, at end insert—
“( ) the provision, in response to requests by young persons and relevant young adults, of access to information and opinions expressed by persons who have pursued or are pursuing education, training or careers which are of interest to the said young persons and relevant young adults.”
The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 189 would insert proposed paragraph (c) into Clause 59(2). I applaud the Government for including in the clause the means to provide information electronically. I certainly support moving with the times and the internet is a superb tool, when used correctly. The amendment was inspired by Edge, which made the very good point that if young people are interested in a particular course or career, they should be able to hear directly from people who have pursued or are pursuing that course or career. Being able to find out from someone directly about the path they have chosen, what they set out to achieve and how they have achieved it is very inspiring. It adds life to an idea, allows a young person to see an example of someone, perhaps not much older than they are, and gives them a role model.
Essentially, the spirit of my amendment is that we should use the latest technology, learn lessons, learn about existing best practice and recognise that young people are often most influenced when seeing how something has been done by hearing directly from someone who has done it and to whom they can relate. I beg to move.
I support the amendment. It is sensible that a great deal of information about new careers is available on the internet There is also, as the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, mentioned, back-up from people who have worked in specific careers. There is an interesting website called horsesmouth.co.uk where people give information about what it is like to do a particular job. It is an interactive site, which young people are used to because of sites such as Facebook, and they can make comments or ask questions, to which they get replies. It is a very interesting development. For the young people of today, who are so adept at using the internet and their mobile telephones in ways that we oldies do not always appreciate, it is the right way to get the information over to them.
However, one needs to differentiate between information, advice and guidance. While some advice can be given through the internet and over the telephone, face-to-face interviews are extremely important and we should make sure that we do not simply rely on the internet. It is vital that there are trained careers advisers on hand to provide advice and guidance to young—and older—people and that we do not rely entirely on electronic means.
I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Verma and Lady Sharp, for their contributions. I am sure that their arguments are very well made and extremely valuable. I should be delighted, at this point in the proceedings, to take them away and consider them at leisure. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment at this stage.
I thank the Minister for that. Because I have nothing to consider yet, I eagerly await her response at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 181 and 181A not moved.]
Clause 59 agreed to.
Clause 60 [Inspection]:
182: Clause 60, page 33, line 32, after “State” insert “or by at least 50 pupils, students or parents resident in the local authority area”
The noble Baroness said: Clause 60 places a duty on the chief inspector to inspect and report on Connexions services when requested to do so by the Secretary of State. It used to be the case that Ofsted inspected Connexions, but it has not done so since 2004. Amendment No. 182 would ensure that, if local people are concerned about the quality of the Connexions service in their area, they can trigger an inspection by the chief inspector. That would make the process accountable to local people and responsive to the very people who are affected by its performance. In responding to the amendment, will the Minister explain the process that would currently lead the Secretary of State to insist on an inspection under the Bill as drafted and explain why that is preferable to local accountability?
Amendment No. 183 specifies that inspection of the Connexions service should include the inspection of facilities and services for young people with special educational needs. It is a sad truth that people with SEN figure largely in the group that this Bill is determined to bring back into learning, and thus employment, because people with such needs clearly do not always do best under the system at the moment. I, and others here, have already spoken at length about the failings of the educational system for those who have special needs and the need to improve provision for them. Surely the Minister will agree with me that a big start to making those improvements would be to identify inspections when they could be made.
On the same lines, while Clause 60 allows for an inspection to be made of the provision of services, it says nothing about quality of service or that the inspector should inspect the services in relation to quality. Amendment No. 184 would add the phrase,
“and to the quality of such services”,
to place this straightforward requirement in the Bill. I beg to move.
Am I not right in thinking that Ofsted is the inspection machinery for Connexions? The fact that it has not actually inspected Connexions since 2004 merely reflects the fact that it would probably have a normal roster to do so from time to time. The amendment would mean that, if there was particular concern about failures of the Connexions service, it would be possible to ask Ofsted to look into those failures. In the normal course of events, we would expect to see Ofsted making regular inspections of the Connexions service.
Amendment No. 184A is in my name. Although it takes a slightly different tack from the other amendments in this group, I should like to speak to it now as it is one of the amendments to Clause 60. Subsection (7) attempts to make it an offence, liable to a fine on summary conviction, for somebody who,
“obstructs a person in carrying out or participating in the inspection”.
My heart sinks when I see this clause in the Bill. There has never to my knowledge been an offence before in refusing to allow inspection. As one who was an HMI for a very large part of my career and was Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, responsible for the training of new inspectors, I say most forcefully that the importance of an inspector going into a school—whether an Ofsted inspector or one of Her Majesty’s inspectors—is that they go there with the authority of the law and with the authority of the Secretary of State behind them. They go there also to contribute to the quality and life of the school. To go there with the force of an offence behind them completely changes the relationship. The relationship ought to be one in which the inspector goes in with courtesy, good will and an intention genuinely to contribute to the life and quality of education in the school. For years, when training a new HMI I used to say, “The fact that you have the authority of the Secretary of State behind you means that you never stamp your foot and assert that authority. There are hundreds of ways in which you can assert that authority without being bullying or bossy”.
In my early days as a local HMI, I remember vividly encountering a lecturer in an FE college who decided that over his dead body would I be allowed into his room to inspect. He stood in the corridor holding out his arms saying, “You shall not come into my room. Under no circumstances are you allowed”. I talked to him for a few minutes and said, “I am very sorry you feel that way and I understand that it is threatening and uncomfortable to have someone sitting in your room”. I assured him that I would not report personally on him but that I was there to observe the learning. I said, “Obviously, at the moment there is no point in disrupting your class by coming in, but I should like very much to come in later this afternoon. Let us talk about that when you have had a chance to think about it”. Indeed, he did. We talked later on and I explained the functions of inspection. I asked whether he had a particular group doing some interesting work that I could learn from by observing. At that point, he invited me in.
I firmly believe that that is the way it should happen. I would hate to see the thing being turned into a criminal offence with a fine attached. That changes the relationship between an inspector and the school into a foot-stamping exercise: “We are government inspectors and we have come to check you out”. I hope very much that in his reply the Minister will agree that this clause can be changed and that we can restore the relationship of fellow professionals working together for the good of the children in the school.
I should have said earlier how much we on these Benches support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Perry. She is absolutely right about the importance of inspectors working with the good will of those whom they inspect rather than putting their backs up by making it a criminal offence to oppose inspection.
My general criticism of current inspection methods is that they are not supportive enough. They do not take the opportunity to spread good practice between one school and another. Surely, that is enormously important in the case of Connexions because there are no obvious ways in which good practice will spread other than by Ofsted. At least a third or even a half of Ofsted’s remit in these cases should be telling schools how they can do better—showing them where things have gone better and introducing them to new ways of thinking and working. Being inspected ought to be a positive experience. In some cases it will be cathartic, but it should always be positive because you will come out of it doing things better. I am as disappointed as my noble friend to see subsection (7) in Clause 60.
I pity the teacher or head teacher who seeks to obstruct the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, in going about her public duties. I imagine that they would quite quickly see the error of their ways.
Or indeed a Minister, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, so rightly says. These penalties are in extremis and are certainly not intended for anything other than the most extreme cases. In my experience of the work of Ofsted and Her Majesty's inspectors, they lead by example and get willing consent from those whom they inspect. However, as I shall explain later, these measures are consistent with other provisions in other legislation about the statutory powers of inspectors.
First, I shall deal with the overall framework. There was a programme of inspections of Connexions services between the autumn of 2002 and the autumn of 2004. Ofsted carried out full inspections of 28 Connexions partnerships. Of these, 89 per cent were rated satisfactory or better and 60 per cent were rated as good or better. There have been no further inspections focused solely on Connexions partnerships. Instead, since September 2005, Ofsted, with other inspectorates, has undertaken holistic, joint area reviews of services for children and young people in a local authority area. JARs replaced the previously separate inspections of local education authorities, local authority social services, Connexions services and the provision for students aged 14 to 19. In future, performance management of local education authorities’ delivery of Connexions services will be outcome-based and will be in accordance with the national agreement between central and local government, under which inspection will be proportionate to risk. Under arrangements to be introduced next year for comprehensive area assessment of local authorities, inspection will be triggered when inspectorates assess risks to be high. Where there is clear evidence of inadequate performance, we will continue to consider whether intervention is necessary, including, as a last resort, through the use of statutory intervention powers.
That brings me directly to Amendment No. 182, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, which would require the chief inspector to carry out an inspection on request,
“by at least 50 pupils, students or parents resident in the local authority area”.
There may well be a case for an inspection if such a number of parents, students, pupils or other interested parties requested the chief inspector to carry out an inspection, but to put this requirement in primary legislation would be unduly restrictive. Individuals or groups can already freely petition the Secretary of State or Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector to undertake an inspection, and these petitions are taken very seriously by both organisations. Speaking as a Minister who sometimes has to deal with these petitions, my first recourse is immediately to refer them to the chief inspector and ask for advice about whether an inspection should take place. Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector is also under a general duty to encourage services to be user focused, and must have regard to the views of service users, their parents and employers about services being inspected, and their levels of satisfaction with the services.
Amendment No. 183 seeks to specify that inspections must make judgments on the degree to which Connexions services facilitate the participation of young people with special needs. Amendment No. 184 seeks specifically to include the quality of services in the scope of inspections. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, that the existing provisions already meet the purposes of both these amendments. Section 118 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 provides that the chief inspector has the general duty to keep the Secretary of State informed about the quality of services within her remit and about improvements in the quality of such services, thereby firmly placing the focus of inspection on the quality of services, including the quality of services for pupils with special educational needs.
In respect of Amendment No. 183, I assure the noble Baroness that we take very seriously the provision of appropriate Connexions services for young people with learning difficulties and disabilities. Clause 54 places a duty on local education authorities to make services available to all young people between 13 and 19, and for young people with special needs up to their 25th birthday. This duty is reinforced by the quality standards for information, advice and guidance published in October 2007, which require in Standard 48 that additional and sustained guidance and support is provided to those young people with special needs or learning difficulties and/or disabilities. The standards will be covered by the central statutory guidance under Clause 54(4). In addition, inspections under this clause will be governed by the statutory framework for inspection of children’s services under Section 21 of the Children Act 2004, which gives prominence to inspecting services for children and young people with special educational needs. Five of the 36 key judgments in the framework relate specifically to outcomes for children and young people with special educational needs.
Finally, Amendment No. 184A would remove the sanction that wilfully obstructing an inspection in any way is an offence that is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale. Similar sanctions with regard to inspections of local authority children’s functions already exist in other legislation. As an example, inspections of local authorities’ children’s functions under Section 136 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, provided for in Section 140(9) of that Act, provide for a similar regime.
Similarly, Section 118 of the Learning and Skills Act, dealing with the inspection of Connexions services, which this clause will replace, also provides for sanctions for wilful obstruction. Inspectors should expect nothing less than full co-operation from those managing services under inspection and others around them. Wilful obstruction of inspections should not be tolerated, not least because to do so is obstructing work that is to be carried out on behalf of Her Majesty. Clause 60(7) is wholly consistent with existing legislation. It safeguards those carrying out inspections and acts as a sanction for those who may obstruct that work. As I said in my opening remarks, I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, that only in the most exceptional circumstances should it be necessary to use powers of that kind.
I am very grateful to the Minister for his reply and for his understanding of my concern. The legislation that he quoted from comes in much more from children’s services and social services than from the education field. This is a new precedent in terms of inspection of schools. To my knowledge, there has never been any need to pursue any kind of formal action against any teacher or lecturer who may, for a temporary period, have felt any resentment at inspection. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his answer. No doubt we shall return to this discussion.
I thank the Minister for his thoughtful response, and I thank all noble Lords who spoke on the group of amendments. I understand that the Government are moving towards outcome-based services. I shall read carefully what the Minister said. It is, of course, reassuring to know that inspections can be triggered if a need is felt by users. It would be useful to know that a consistent working of inspection was in place. It is quite worrying that no inspections have taken place since 2004, which seems quite a long time.
I echo what my noble friend Lady Perry said on her amendment—that this is a matter best left to discretion and common sense, not to the police and the prosecution service. What benefit would Clause 60(7) bring if a person who wilfully obstructs an inspection resorts to violence or threats? Existing laws are sufficient to deal with the problem. It is more likely that resistance will be in the form of a stubborn refusal to submit to an inspection. That requires tact and persuasion, not an arrest warrant. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 183 to 184A not moved.]
Clause 60 agreed to.
Clauses 61 to 64 agreed to.
Clause 65 [Assessments relating to learning difficulties]:
185: Clause 65, page 36, line 16, leave out from “if” to “believes” in line 19 and insert “—
(a) a young person is on the special needs register of his school, and(b) the local authority in England in which the young person lives”
The noble Baroness said: I shall also speak to the other amendments in my name in this group. Our amendments to Clause 65 are intended to make it easier for children who may have learning difficulties to obtain an assessment under the clause. I shall raise again the problems of those children who have special educational needs, and I make no apology for doing so. Far too often, they fall first from the education system, often because their needs have gone unrecognised.
Amendment No. 188 deals with young people who leave school unexpectedly, possibly because of disappointing GCSE results or to pursue an alternative option. Those young people will not have had the assessment in their final year of education that is required by the clause, as it is assumed that they will continue their education. Our amendment would add a new subsection (2)(a) to proposed new Section 139A of the Learning and Skills Act 2000, by providing that an assessment should be arranged for them. The amendment ensures that children who leave unexpectedly do not slip through the net.
Our Amendment No. 189 is inspired by concerns raised by the National Autistic Society, which we share. The amendment would include children who are subject to school action and school action plus programmes and, therefore, fall short of qualifying for a full statement of special educational needs under the clause. I am sure that noble Lords are aware of the terrible difficulty that parents can face in obtaining a statement of special educational needs for their child. The amendment would ensure that children who did not qualify for an SEN assessment would nevertheless be given one. I beg to move.
I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 186 and 187. Amendment No. 186 mirrors exactly Amendment No. 189, spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. I seek clarification from the Minister, because I understand that the guidance being drafted by his department incorporates a change from the existing arrangements, which will ensure that young people with or without a statement who the local authority believes have learning difficulties and who choose to pursue learning in a post-16 environment during years 10 and 11 will receive an assessment of their learning needs at this early stage. That explains our amendment, which includes young people who participate in school action or school action plus.
Only 3 per cent of young people have statements of special educational needs, whereas 15 per cent of young people are regarded as having special educational needs. That is a large number, and it is important that those who by the age of 15 remain under school action or school action plus, who do not want to pursue an academic route and who need help as they want to move into the world of work, have an assessment of what they can and cannot achieve and of the sort of guidance that they need. Along with that change, there will need to be a duty on local authorities to have regard to the assessments, since they will be responsible for funding provision for those young people in the post-16 world.
It is important also to separate the duties of the local authority to provide an independent assessment of the young person’s needs from that of providing appropriate learning, once those duties are devolved to local authorities from the LSC. Since local authorities are required to meet these learning provisions from their funds, there is an inherent conflict of interest where an assessment may indicate a level of need which the local authority may consider to be too expensive. One constantly sees similar inherent conflicts of interests as regards statements of special educational needs, which is why many local authorities drag their feet and spin out the period before they have to issue statements.
In addition, staff carrying out the assessment should be competent to carry out the task. They will require a detailed knowledge of local and national opportunities for learning, in addition to the skills appropriate to working with this client group, their families and support networks. Equally, emphasis should be placed on the need to ensure that post-16 providers are aware of assessments and take account of their contents in planning and developing learning programmes for young people with learning difficulties. That explains our Amendment No. 187, which adds at the end of new subsection (2), which specifies that the assessment must be carried out, that the local authority should also,
“have regard to this assessment in the subsequent provision of education and training”.
I support the amendments. I am reminded more than anything else of the point that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, stressed a day or so ago—that the earlier these assessments are done, the better. However, if the Minister is not able to tell us that the points made just now are adequately covered by the Bill or by adequate instructions, I certainly hope that changes will be made.
I shall deal, first, with Amendment No. 185, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. I entirely agree with her that everyone who needs an assessment should receive one, and that will include some students who are on school action or school action plus programmes. Clause 65 makes provision for that.
It is very important to read new subsection (2) in conjunction with new subsection (5). New subsection (2) provides that for those who already have a statement a local authority,
“must arrange for an assessment of the person to be conducted at some time during his last year of compulsory schooling”.
However, new subsection (5) gives local authorities a power “at any time” to arrange for an assessment to be conducted in respect of all the categories of young people set out in new subsection (6)—that is, any young person who is,
“in his last year of compulsory schooling, or is over compulsory school age but has not attained the age of 25 … appears to the authority to have a learning difficulty within the meaning of section 13, and … is receiving, or in the opinion of the authority is likely to receive, post-16 education or training or higher education”.
As ever, my department stands willing to assist authorities in interpreting their duties. New subsection (7) provides:
“In exercising its functions under this section an authority must have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State”.
The noble Baroness can be assured that not only are we intending to issue guidance but we already have guidance in draft on how local authorities should interpret their responsibilities in this area. This draft guidance has already gone to a number of organisations with expertise in the area and I am told that we are taking on board a range of useful comments. We will consult much more widely on the guidance once the Bill has received Royal Assent.
Furthermore, the published quality standards for information, advice and guidance, which I am circulating to Members of the Committee and to which local authorities are obliged to have regard, require that additional and sustained guidance is provided to young people who have specific needs—that is, standard 4.8. Another standard, 5.5, requires that,
“stereotypes and limited career aspirations are challenged, for example through the use of positive actions activities, taster sessions, the use of appropriate role models and work placements”.
Therefore, we believe that the Bill, with the back-up of the guidance to which I have referred, is very robust in the area of concern to the noble Baroness.
I understand what the Minister says, but I notice that new subsection (5) has “may” as distinct from “must”. New subsection (2) states that, where a young person has a statement of special educational needs, the authority “must” arrange for an assessment to be made, whereas, where they are believed to have special educational needs under the school action and school action plus programmes, the word used is “may”, and therefore that is at the discretion of the local authority.
The noble Baroness is absolutely right that it is at the discretion of the local authority. However, new subsection (5) will need to be interpreted by local authorities in conjunction with new subsection (7), which states:
“In exercising its functions under this section an authority must have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State”.
As I said a moment ago, our guidance to local authorities will state that every young person with learning difficulties who is likely to benefit from an assessment should receive one.
There may be a dispute about young people who are likely to benefit; that, I fear, is the state of affairs in the pre-16 statementing process. One of the grounds for appeal to SENDIST is refusal to carry out an assessment. As always in this area, there will inevitably be room for argument over how a local authority should exercise its discretion. The guidance from the Secretary of State, however, will be clear that authorities will be expected to carry out an assessment in respect of every young person with difficulties who is likely to benefit from one.
The Minister rightly says that there can be disputes with local authorities over what is and is not needed, and how far they should go. In speaking to Amendment No. 187, I made the distinction that there must be Chinese walls: a clear separation in local authorities between those who make the assessment of special educational needs and the carrying out of this assessment. There is an inherent conflict within an authority, and is important that local authorities should make that separation of function clear.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Yet again we are asked to take what is going to be in guidance on trust, although I was pleased to hear that draft guidance is now available. It would be interesting to know when the Minister thinks that they may have consulted on that, and whether we might—
I am sure that we all look forward to receiving it. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, I circled the word “may” in proposed new subsection (5). I admit to being still somewhat at a loss as to why it is a duty to assess a young person with a statement, but only an expectation, however strongly it may be worded in guidance, if a young person is on a school action or school action plus programme. Again like the noble Baroness, I worry that any financial constraints faced by a local authority could make all the difference as to whether a young person can expect an assessment or not, especially as the LGA, in its briefing to the other place, said:
“It is conceivable comments may be passed on the adequacy or otherwise of local authority SEN provision/ assessments under existing regulations”.
When we have read the draft guidance, we will see. For now, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 186 to 189 not moved.]
Clause 65 agreed to.
Clause 66 [Careers education: information and advice]:
190: Clause 66, page 38, line 18, leave out from “manner” to end of line 25
The noble Baroness said: I also speak to the other amendments in my name in this group. Clause 66 amends Part 7 of the Education Act 1997, which requires state schools to provide all pupils with a programme of careers education, appropriate information and up-to-date reference materials related to career options. I have spoken of my belief that good careers advice is a must if we are to help all young people realise their potential. Our aim with these amendments is to provide impartial, professional advice which will be tailored to suit the needs of the young person.
Amendment No. 190 would leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) of proposed new subsection (2B) to Section 43 of the 1997 Act. This would leave the clause more succinct, and still say everything that it needs to say; that is:
“Any such information must be presented in an impartial manner”.
That would allow the young person to weigh up in his or her own mind which option may suit him best. Similarly, Amendment No. 191, which should be viewed as an alternative, would merely remove paragraph (b) because, if careers advice is both impartial and promotes the best interest of the pupil, it must logically not be promoting the interests of a particular school or institution. I hope that I have demonstrated our commitment on these Benches towards ensuring that straightforward, impartial advice is given to young people.
Amendments Nos. 192 and 193 suggest that the advice that is given to young people in respect of their educational options should include encouragement to consider academic options, when appropriate, to study one or more A-level courses, provided that such courses would be in the best interests of the pupil. Amendment No. 193 deals with Oxbridge. As I said, advice should be impartial, but it must also contain information about different routes that a young person can take so that the pupil is fully informed.
I mentioned Oxford and Cambridge by name because they are widely regarded as being the best universities in the world. Yet there appear to be alarming misconceptions in state schools about the opportunities for pupils to go to Oxbridge. Much more must be done to dispel the myth that is prevalent among many young people, and those who advise them, that Oxbridge is not for them. It becomes something of a vicious circle. We are all aware that there is an imbalance in terms of the socio-economic background of students at those institutions, but those from disadvantaged backgrounds seem to be reluctant even to consider applying. I have suggested this amendment in an attempt to stimulate equality of aspiration.
Amendment No. 196 is straightforward. Clause 66(4) is about discharging a relevant duty. The school,
“must … have regard to any guidance given from time to time by the Secretary of State”.
There is a difference between “must” and “may”. “Must” implies that the Government tell schools exactly what they should do and how, while “may” represents the Government encouraging good practice instead of interfering. I beg to move.
I should point out that if this amendment is agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 191.
In general, we on these Benches disagree with the thrust of most of these Conservative amendments. It is clear that at present many young people are not getting good or appropriate careers advice. That stems partly from the breakdown, which we have already discussed, in the careers service since Connexions was established in the early part of 2000 and the deliberate decision at that time to concentrate on the group of pupils who were dropping out of school or college at the expense of the general run of young people who stayed in education and training. I am aware, as the Minister has stressed, that funds going to Connexions have been doubled in the past couple of years and that there has been a substantial improvement in the general service provided to the pupils who stay in school as distinct from the NEET group who were concentrated on earlier. As evidenced by the clause, the Government are anxious to ensure that young people get better careers advice.
Partly because of the lack of advice available, many young people rely disproportionately on two sources of advice that are most readily available to them. First, there are the parents, immediate family and friends whose experience often triggers a career decision. That may be appropriate but by its very nature it is limited and encompasses only what this particular group knows about. Secondly, young people are very influenced by their own teachers, but many of them know nothing of the world of work outside school and teaching because they have gone straight from school into teacher training and back into school again. For many teachers, the right career path, which they have followed and therefore know about, is the path of GCSE, A-level and on to university, and they tend to advise their pupils accordingly. In particular, they are ignorant about the plethora of vocational courses available at further education colleges. Because young people do not know about such courses, they do not consider that alternative, which might be an appropriate route to gaining qualifications at level 2 or level 3.
We support the Government in seeking to ensure that careers advice is impartial—under proposed new subsection (2B). That is an important part of the Bill that we do not wish to be cut out. Indeed, we go further in our Amendment No. 194. We think it is important not only that advice is impartial but also that teachers and tutors who have responsibility for giving careers advice should be properly trained for the job. The old jibe about PE teachers taking careers on on a part-time basis is unfair. Most schools and colleges take careers advice seriously, and those teachers who take on responsibility for careers education put in many hours getting themselves up to speed. However, it is not an easy function to take on part time, and it is important that those teachers have support from properly trained careers advisers who are not just available on the end of a telephone line, but are an active presence in the school and are available to offer specialist advice when required.
Clause 66 essentially inserts a series of amendments into the Education Act 1997. Section 43 of that Act requires that all publicly funded schools provide programmes of careers education to 14 to 16 year-olds. Section 46 empowers the Secretary of State to extend the requirement below 14 and above 16. That power has recently been extended downwards to cover school years 7 to 11—11 to 16 year-olds—but, in England, it has not yet been extended forward to cover the post-16 years, years 12 and 13, although it has been so extended in Wales. Given the raising of the statutory leaving age from 16 to 18, it is surely necessary to do that. Amendment No. 197 was supposed to do that, but we regret to say that we misunderstood the briefing and found that we had merely repeated the existing clause rather than amended it. I apologise to the Committee for this mistake. We will bring forward an appropriate amendment on Report, unless the Minister is proposing to do so.
Choices to participate in post-16 education will be about learning and future work. Young people must be supported in making those choices, whether at school, college or in workplace learning. The principles that we believe are essential if the proposed raising of the statutory leaving age is to be a success are that every young person must be assured of high quality careers education programmes delivered by teachers and tutors with appropriate training; comprehensive and impartial careers advice and information, including on opportunities for progressive post-18 education; and independent careers advice and guidance provided by appropriately trained careers guidance specialists working within the local authority’s support services team.
I offer my warmest support to Amendment No. 194, which was tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. I have seen some pretty awful careers advice, at least 30 years out of date, given by teachers who have not been given any specialist training. This training needs to be updated as employment opportunities develop so rapidly now. Hundreds of new employment opportunities are created every year as technology develops. Some of the most powerful careers advice is given by subject teachers to young people who are particularly excited by the subject they are being taught and who are looking for a career related to their interest in that subject. Those people have a key role to play. It is important that the advice which they give is up to date, professional and accurate.
I offer particular support to Amendment No. 193, tabled by my noble friend. I know that the Sutton Trust has created a very healthy climate. It is generally accepted now that it is not enough just to get more young people from socially deprived areas to aspire to go on to higher education, but that we must incite those who are so qualified to go on to the Russell group universities and perhaps to Oxford or Cambridge if that is appropriate. I support and have worked with the work of the Sutton Trust in that aim.
To give a vivid illustration of that, I remember a student who came to my college in Cambridge in 2001. She was a most remarkable young woman who had been living on the street. She had run away from unhappy home circumstances when she was 17. She dropped out of school, of course, and had lived for two and a half years on the street, which many experts say is beyond repair—that if you have lived that long on the streets, you will never be recoverable. Her formidable personality and, as it later proved, formidable intellect, caused her, as she put it, to wake up one morning and say to herself, “There has got to be more to life than this”. She got herself together, she got a job in a bar serving as a barmaid and registered at her local sixth-form college, where she was immediately identified as an extraordinarily bright young person. Despite having missed two and a half years of schooling, she picked up an A-level course and was working for three A-levels, no less, in what she hoped would be a year and a half. She discovered, of course, that her two and a half years out made it very difficult for her to catch up with the other young people in the group, so she took even more hours working to pay for some private tuition for herself.
As it happened, her tutor was a Cambridge PhD. After a few months of working with her, he said to her, “Do you know that you are bright enough to get into Cambridge if you want to?”. She was terribly excited by that and went back to her sixth-form tutor and said, “My tutor says that I could try for Cambridge. What do you think about that?”. To my horror, she told us that the reply from her sixth-form college tutor was, “Cambridge? Give me a match and I’d burn the place down. Nothing but snobs. You’d never fit in there with your background. Don’t even think of it”. At which point, in great distress, she went back to her private tutor and said, “My tutor at sixth-form college says that I could not possibly try for it”. Fortunately, he encouraged her to go on trying. She came to us with three As at A-level that she got in 18 months after two and a half years on the street and was a star pupil.
A story such as that convinces me that there are still teachers out in the system who are prepared actively to discourage people from Russell group applications. It is terribly important that they are encouraged—indeed, directed—to give appropriate advice to young people as to what kind of university they are suited to go to.
Briefly, I support all the amendments. With the raising of the school leaving age, adequate—more than adequate—advice will play even more of a key role, as we have heard so graphically described, particularly in the story told to us by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry.
We must not forget that quite a lot of work is already going on. Students at some universities are already going out to talk to schools where there are some able pupils coming from families where university, particularly the top universities, has not been thought of. That is excellent, because some role models are doing that here and now.
I support all that has been said. We need proper training in independence, as well as in subjects, in life and in employment—employers should play a much greater role in coming to talk to colleges and universities than they do now, although even that is improving a great deal. I support the amendments.
I support the amendments in spirit, but I have certain reservations about naming any universities or groups of universities in the Bill. That would be a disservice to those universities, especially Oxford and Cambridge, which have been working incredibly hard, not only recently but, to my certain knowledge, since the 1980s, to stretch out influence and persuade people from the maintained sector to apply to them. It may be counterproductive that any group of universities should be named. Nevertheless, the importance of giving appropriate and imaginative advice to young people is obvious. It is beyond value. It is enormously important.
The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, speaks with great authority in this area. In my time at Oxford, Hertford College, with which she was associated, was exemplary in the way in which it sought to encourage students from less advantaged backgrounds and from state schools in general to apply. In my experience, colleges in Oxford and Cambridge and other leading universities are doing an increasing amount to encourage students to participate. Their scale of outreach activities is wholly more ambitious than it was a generation ago, which is to be applauded.
The example given by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, is reprehensible but, I believe, very rare now. On my frequent visits to schools and colleges, I find that they go out of their way to highlight their highest attaining students who are going on to leading universities. They in no way hold back the progress of their students in the way that she suggested has occasionally happened.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, seeks to remove the part of Clause 66 that makes it explicit that schools, in giving advice, must not seek to promote their own interests over those of their pupils. However, her concerns are fully met by the clause, which explicitly addresses the issue by making it clear that the interests of young people must be paramount in all advice that is given. It emphatically does not mean, as the noble Baroness fears, that teachers and careers advisers cannot advise a young person that a particular option is best for them where they believe that it is. On the contrary, once a young person has been provided with information about all the options available, this is precisely what we would want, whether it would be for them to do three A-levels on their way to Oxbridge, as in the noble Baroness’s example, to undertake a diploma or to consider undertaking an apprenticeship or other work-based options. That is why the clause explicitly says that the advice,
“must be advice which the person giving it considers will promote the best interests of the pupils concerned”.
The noble Baroness’s Amendment No. 192 seeks to ensure that schools should specifically promote the take-up of A-levels where they are in the best interests of the pupil. As I said, if a teacher feels that A-levels were in the best interests of a young person, they would already be required by the clause to advise them of this. With this clause, we are not attempting to cut across teachers using their experience and understanding of a young person’s abilities and interests to give them the best possible advice on the options available to them. On the contrary, they are required to give such advice.
On Amendment No. 194 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, I assure her that we will publish guidance to support the strengthened duty in the clause. Schools will be required to have regard to that duty, which will include a set of core principles to underpin their delivery of impartial and high-quality careers advice. As part of this, we will develop appropriate in-service training to ensure that all teachers, including the subject teachers mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, have a good understanding of 14-to-19 options and of progression pathways and career opportunities linked to their subject.
Separate to these measures to improve the careers advice delivered by school staff, schools are already required to provide access to careers specialists under Section 44 of the Education Act 1997. In practice, these careers services are delivered by Connexions personal advisers. We expect that this will continue as local authorities assume control of Connexions. In addition, the power to direct under Clause 55 will enable us to set minimum standards of qualifications for the Connexions personal advisers who provide this guidance and support.
The draft directions that we propose to issue state that,
“as a minimum each personal adviser must have or be actively working towards an NVQ level 4 (or equivalent) in a relevant discipline and have undertaken relevant appropriate assessment training”.
Following Royal Assent, we will consult widely on the content of these directions, including on the minimum qualifications. I believe that this will meet the concerns of the noble Baroness.
The noble Baroness is right that we do not propose to legislate to require the provision of information beyond the age of 16, although we considered doing so in the context of the 14-to-19 reforms. We decided not to legislate because, in practice, schools and colleges are already providing careers education post-16 and we have no evidence of a problem of impartiality in this area. We are also implementing substantial measures alongside this Bill to strengthen careers education, including for post-16, and information, advice and guidance more generally. The measures include work to embed the information, advice and guidance quality standards; publication of the guidance mentioned in this clause; and linking success in the 14-to-19 gateway process to evidence of the availability of robust information, advice and guidance.
Notwithstanding all that, we have commissioned Ofsted to undertake a thematic review of information, advice and guidance provision, which will commence shortly and report specifically on the quality of the careers support provided to post-16 learners. We will review the need for further legislation in the light of Ofsted’s findings.
I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. This has been a short but worthwhile debate in which many of us have aired our concerns and disagreements. I am sorry that I forgot to say when I spoke initially that I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about proper training for those who give careers advice in our schools. As for encouraging young people to apply to our best universities, I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, that this is a probing amendment. As she says, it would be wrong to name certain universities in the Bill. The ambitious outreach of universities must be matched by ambitions within our schools. I was therefore pleased to hear the Minister say that the graphic example given by my noble friend Lady Perry would be extremely rare in the present day. I have been encouraged by the Minister’s reply to my concerns and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 191 to 194 not moved.]
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place on the Government’s Green Paper, No One Written Off: Reforming Welfare to Reward Responsibility. The Statement is as follows:
“The welfare state is a vital part of the fabric of our country. We take pride in it. It is how we come together as a nation to support those who are vulnerable and in need of help. But our welfare system has not always kept pace with the changes in our society. In preserving some of the structures inherited from its founders, we have neglected their principles.
“William Beveridge’s contract for welfare had three founding ideas: first, that revolutionary times called for revolution, not patching, and, secondly, that welfare was about more than just income. He wanted to topple not just want, but the other four giants of disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. These became the defining issues for the Attlee Government and inspired that Administration’s creation of the welfare state.
“But perhaps, over time, Beveridge’s third principle was lost. He was emphatically clear that the system of social security should not stifle incentive, opportunity and responsibility. The purpose of the welfare state was to help people in need today so that they could reduce their need tomorrow. From the 1960s onwards that third principle was eroded. The nadir came in the 1980s when all conditions were removed from unemployment benefit and unemployment rose to more than 3 million, much further than it needed to have done.
“In 1997, we inherited an essentially passive welfare state. Since then, we have been turning it into an active one. This Green Paper completes that transformation. It is based on the marriage of two simple ideas: more support and more responsibility, the root of a fair system for claimants and the taxpayer, and it aims to meet five main goals.
“The first is to end the idea that there is a choice between claiming and working. Instead, the longer people claim, the more we will expect in return. At three months and six months, claimants will intensify their job search and have to comply with a back to work action plan. After a year, they will be transferred to an outside provider who will be paid by results. Claimants will have to work for their benefits for at least four weeks, and longer if the provider requires it. For the 2 per cent who we anticipate to be still out of work after two years, we will explore mandatory full-time work programmes and other approaches such as daily signing. We will give our advisers the power to use full-time work as a sanction at any stage of a claim for those who are abusing the system. We will improve treatment for those who have a problem with crack cocaine and opiates, but require them to take up that treatment.
“We know our support works, but we also know that conditionality works. By getting more people to take up this support, we can increase employment and reduce poverty. When we introduced the New Deal, we started to end the idea that people could claim benefits indefinitely when there was work available. As long-term youth claimant unemployment fell by nearly 80 per cent, we extended that principle to other workers. As a result, we now have more people in work than ever before. Claimant unemployment has been nearly halved, saving £5 billion a year. Nine out of 10 people leave jobseeker’s allowance within 12 months of claiming. Work works, and it is only fair that we make sure a life on benefits is not an option.
“The second goal is to ensure that no one is written off. In 1979, there were around 700,000 people on incapacity benefits. By 1997, the total had risen to 2.5 million, and was going up by 50,000 every year. We have reversed that trend and the number on IB is now the lowest it has been for eight years. Annually, nearly 400,000 fewer people are flowing on to incapacity benefit compared with 1997. We have created the Pathways to Work programme which helps people to improve their health, adapt to their condition, rebuild their confidence and look for work. We know that it works and have made it mandatory for all new claimants. We have legislated to abolish incapacity benefit and replace it with the employment and support allowance. This new benefit treats people as individuals. It looks to see what people can do, not what they cannot.
“Today, I am announcing that we will migrate everyone from incapacity benefit to employment and support allowance between 2010 and 2013, with personalised support based on our successful pathways programme. We will review the medical test to ensure that it reflects the latest evidence that work is generally good for people’s well-being and we will reassess all existing claimants to ensure that they are on the right benefit for them. Those who are ready to work will move on to jobseeker’s allowance. Those with the greatest needs will get a higher benefit rate, up from £86.35 to £102.10, and will be able to volunteer for Pathways to Work. We will increase funding for our specialist training programmes and for supported employment. Everyone else will get personalised help based on the pathways programme to get them back to health and back to work, but they will be required to take up this help and look for work where a doctor recommends it. These changes will mean that for the first time ever, no one will be abandoned to their fate just to get by on benefits. For the vast majority, ESA will be a temporary benefit, not a permanent snare.
“Our third goal is to transform the rights of disabled people. Disabled people do not want to be told that they cannot work. Instead, they want society to remove the discrimination that makes it harder for them to work. So, we will double the Access to Work budget, paying for sign language interpreters, specialised IT or help with mobility. Our aspiration is that everyone who could benefit should be able to do so. We will consult on a new right to control. We know that individual budgets work, and I want to give disabled people the right to know how much the state is spending on them, and request that money be given to them as a budget that they control. We want to put disabled people in control, not under the control of others.
“The fourth goal is to strengthen parental responsibility. We have lifted 600,000 children out of poverty, and following the £1 billion invested in the Budget are set to help another 500,000. But we need to strengthen family life too. So, for the first time, we will allow parents on benefits to keep all their maintenance payments and we will require both parents to register the birth of their child. Together with our changes to lone parent benefits, we estimate that these welfare reforms will lift 200,000 children out of poverty.
“Finally, we propose to devolve power so that services can be personalised to the needs of the individual. We want a triple devolution: to our advisers, to our providers, and to local communities. Jobcentre Plus is recognised as one of the best back-to-work agencies in the world. Its staff have unrivalled knowledge of their customers and their needs, so we will give our advisers greater flexibility over how much time they spend with each client. We will offer our providers the right to bid for any part of our services they think they could do better and we will give local communities the chance to shape how back-to-work services are delivered in their area.
“And most of all, we will implement all the reforms in the Freud report, the report which inspires this Green Paper. We will release the creative energy of the private, public and voluntary sectors. By paying them out of the benefit savings that they generate, we will free our providers to help even more of our customers back into work.
“And, as David Freud recommended, we will simplify the bewildering complexity of the benefits system. We propose to abolish income support and move current customers on to JSA, as resources allow. The result will be a dual system of working age benefits. ESA will offer the right help for sick and disabled people, and JSA will do the same for those actively seeking work or with caring responsibilities. The conditionality regime would be appropriate to each and would not change for carers or parents of younger children.
“Today's publication marks the beginning of the consultation process. We want these proposals to be shaped by the opinions of the public and the expertise of charities, providers and academics. In the past, people were able, in many cases encouraged, to spend a lifetime on benefits. Once they had signed on, the welfare system all too often switched off. There was no expectation that anything should change, and precious little support to make it happen. This Green Paper ends all that. It puts us on the road to our ambition of an 80 per cent employment rate, with a million people off incapacity benefit by 2015, the eradication of child poverty by 2020, and equality for disabled people by 2025.
“And it will restore Beveridge's third principle, the principle of incentive, opportunity and responsibility to where it should always have been: at the centre of the welfare state. For that reason, it will transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. I commend this Green Paper to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. However, I was disappointed, although not particularly surprised, that the Government chose, once again, to make the Statement first of all to the press rather than to Parliament. Indeed, they engaged with the press and TV so much over the weekend that the Secretary of State for Works and Pensions was able to adjust his second round of articles for the media in response to the criticism levied in the first.
The Minister may think that I am being slightly unfair. After all, it is possible that the Secretary of State always intended his article in the Guardian this morning carefully to avoid any mention of increased individual responsibility, in contrast to that in the Mail on Sunday, which stated it loud and clear. Either way, it is not unfair to ask whether the Minister really believes that the Government take the role of Parliament seriously in the light of the premature appearance of the Green Paper on Friday and the extent of the Government’s subsequent briefing of the press.
Even to someone who had not read the media coverage, the Statement would not contain many surprises. So many policies have been lifted by the Government from my own party over the past year, from inheritance tax to policies on crime, that they are too numerous to list in full here—but the Statement adds a large handful more. It will therefore come as no shock to the Minister or your Lordships that we support the Government in what they are trying to achieve. I am glad that they have looked again at our suggested changes to the benefit system, and have decided that schemes such as work programmes for those out of work for a long time are not as unworkable as they claimed in January when we first announced them.
A few of the policies go back even further than that. We have always supported the recommendations that David Freud made in his report last year, and we are glad that he appears to be back in favour after it became clear that the previous Prime Minister’s understanding and support of Freud’s recommendations were not matched by that of his successor. I can repeat here the promise of my honourable friend in another place, Chris Grayling, that we on these Benches will support any government legislation that is needed to implement these proposals.
As the Statement says, some of the legislative framework is in place already. Your Lordships will no doubt remember the Welfare Reform Act 2007 where, before Freud’s report fell from favour, the necessary provisions for the implementation of the employment and support allowance were passed with the full support of my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale. The Government have taken a year to answer the question we posed then of when they will actually implement those provisions and complete the transfer from incapacity benefit, but it is all the more welcome for the delay.
Will the Government need more legislation in order to implement the other goals laid out in the Statement? Are the Government fully committed this time to implementing these reforms so that we do not have the sort of stop-start enthusiasm that has dogged welfare reform for the past decade? For example, has the Minister’s department cleared with the Treasury the necessary funding to ensure that support programmes necessary to help those currently out of work and on benefits are going to be properly resourced?
With the economy starting to feel the effects of the Prime Minister’s years of mismanagement, it will not be easy for many who have never been on benefits to keep their jobs, let alone for those who are working to overcome disability to find new ones. I hope the Government will not perform yet another U-turn when they realise that they cannot implement our proposals only halfway but must fully commit to ensuring properly resourced support infrastructure before any savings on benefits can actually be appreciated.
I should like to press the Minister on the Government’s future intentions. The Government have accepted in this Green Paper what we have said for a long time: that ensuring that children are not brought up in workless families is one of the most effective ways to ensure that children are not brought up in poverty. Today we have heard the extremely welcome news that the Government have finally accepted that family life needs to be strengthened, and that this, too, is a critical route to ending child poverty. Does that mean that the Government will accept the Conservative policy to end the couple penalty in the tax credit system?
My Lords, I am pleased to respond to the Statement and I am happy to give the proposals a cautious welcome. The Green Paper is ambitious, but lots of it is aspirational and tentative and we will need to wait and see how the detail works out. For me, what has changed in the past few years about this whole subject area, which is an important part of public policy, is Dame Carol Black’s important work that suggests that sustainable, worthwhile work is actually good for people’s health. That principle is now well accepted, and in so far as the Green Paper takes the principle forward, it is welcome—but the work has to be worth while and sustainable.
I have three sets of questions for the Minister. The Statement, however welcome, may cause some apprehension among those who have intermittent health conditions. Will he give the House an assurance that the new work capability assessments that will be introduced in the autumn will feature more of the psychosocial side of the assessment as well as the medical, so that claimants can be given some comfort that their proper circumstances will be taken into account in a holistic way? That is an important part of the bargain that the Green Paper offers.
Secondly, I am very pleased to hear that decentralisation and discretion will be devolved to a local level; that is an important part of the proposals. There is a world of difference between the labour markets in Norfolk and in Greater Manchester. If conditionality is a part of the package, then sanctioning people where there are no jobs would be completely contrary to natural justice. We need some reassurance about that.
Finally, the Minister said with a flourish—if that is the right word—that he was doubling access to work. Access to work is an essential plank in getting employers the support they need to play their part; if they do not come to the table with jobs, none of this will work. We are spending £69 million in 2008-09, as I think the Minister will confirm, which currently helps 24,000 people. Doubling that figure to roughly £140 million in the fiscal year 2009-10 would merely—if I can put it that way—help 48,000 people. The extent to which employers need support to get worthwhile sustainable work must not be underestimated by the Government because if they do, they risk failing. That would be a shame because the people who would suffer most would be those who most need help from the benefits that could flow from the Statement if it is implemented sensitively and properly.
My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for what I take to be support for the thrust of the Green Paper. Let me first deal with the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach. He asked whether the Government take the role of Parliament seriously in all this. Of course they do. I do not know who was involved in leaking what to the press over the weekend or before. The reality is that issues surrounding welfare reform have been debated in the public arena for a long while. It is important that these matters are properly dealt with through Parliament; hence the Statement today.
The noble Lord said that these proposals were lifted from Conservative policies and claimed Freud as justification for that. It was this Government who commissioned the Freud report in the sense that it was part of the analysis that we sought to undertake.
The noble Lord asked about further legislation. A number of the proposals in the Green Paper would require primary legislation and a Bill would be brought forward at the first opportunity. He asked whether everything will be implemented. This is a Green Paper: we want to consult on the proposals, some of which are more advanced and entrenched in the thinking than others. It is important that we get a wide input from a range of stakeholders, which has traditionally been the way we have engaged in welfare reform. Noble Lords who were involved in the proceedings of what is now the Welfare Reform Act 2007 will attest to the fact that that is very much part of the Government’s approach.
The noble Lord asked whether HMT has signed off the proposals. All the proposals in the Green Paper have been agreed by the Treasury. He also asked whether the Government will support the end of the couple penalty in tax credits. The tax credits system is a matter for the Treasury and outside the scope of the Green Paper. However, the Green Paper contains proposals for additional work support for partners of benefit claimants; we know how important it is with regard to child poverty to have both members of a couple working. That is one way forward.
I do not think that either noble Lord commented on the fact that there is an unlimited disregard for child maintenance. We debated that during the proceedings of the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill quite recently and I hope that it will also be welcomed.
The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, talked about Dame Carol Black’s report. It is ground-breaking and we are hoping to respond to it across government in October. We have already announced some aspects of it that we will support—in particular, the fit-for-work service and the piloting around that. It is a central part of these reforms to recognise that work is generally good for people’s health and well-being and is the best route out of poverty. That is a cornerstone of these reforms and of the active welfare state.
The noble Lord asked about intermittent health conditions and whether the work capability assessment would take account of them. The answer is yes. We touched on that in part in our welfare reform debates last year; it is not a snapshot—it takes account of the effects of the person’s condition over time.
The noble Lord talked about decentralisation. Again, that is absolutely right. Clearly, job advisers should not be pursuing sanctions if there are no jobs available. Notwithstanding the challenging economic climate, the job market has been pretty buoyant. I am not sure what the current vacancies are across the country—I think that it is about 650,000. Part of the decentralisation is to work through city strategies so that you have local partnerships with people who really know what is happening on the ground and are best placed to help to pursue some of these ideas.
As the noble Lord identified, we are doubling the budget to Access to Work, which will be a major expansion of the support that we can offer to disabled people to help them to get and sustain employment. Our estimate is that it will expand the programme’s capacity to around 48,000 people by 2013-14. There is a gradual increase in the budget starting in 2009-10, through to 2013.
I hope that that has dealt with the points that the noble Lords raised and thank them again for their support for this Green Paper.
My Lords, following the point made by my noble friend, it is clear that these proposals were leaked in advance. Frankly, the Minister’s reply carries no credibility; the Government should just admit that that is the case.
On the substance, the Minister talks of a back-to-work action plan and says that claimants after a year will be transferred to an outside provider, who will be paid by results. If changes such as that are so deeply obvious to the present Government, why was it that throughout the 1980s and the 1990s official spokesmen of the party opposite did everything in their power to oppose any steps in the direction that they now propose? The Minister says that in 1997 the present Government inherited a passive welfare state, whatever that may mean, but is not the real position that Ministers have only now woken up to what we were describing more than a decade ago?
My Lords, I am bound to say that I find that contribution quite extraordinary. In terms of inheriting a passive welfare state, that is exactly the position: the numbers of people on incapacity benefit—and I gave them when I gave the Statement—had grown inexorably over two decades. They continued to grow after 1997 for a while, until we were able to reverse that trend. That was all focused, originally, on trying to get people off the unemployment statistics, because of the two recessions that the noble Lord’s party was responsible for, when it was in government. But it did nothing to help those people. We are still now having to deal with those challenges; people were put on incapacity benefit, paid a bit more if they had been on it for a year and effectively consigned to the scrap heap; they were given no support to move back towards the labour market. Many of them, irrespective of their health conditions, were perfectly able to move towards the labour market and to go into work. We have transformed that situation.
There is more to do—and the Statement is very much focused on what more there is to do. But it is bizarre for the noble Lord to challenge us and ask why we have just woken up to these things. We have been engaged with these things since 1997 and the new deal.
My Lords, I welcome the broad thrust of the Statement. I entirely agree with my noble friend about the well-being that comes from work. The section “Work for your benefit” includes a section on lone parents, but of course lone parents are working for their benefit. They are bringing up children; they are just not engaged in waged work.
I am obviously delighted about the full maintenance disregard—a sort of privatised tax credit as long as the money actually flows—but I have two questions for my noble friend about the proposal for lone parents. When their youngest child is seven, they are expected to be available for the labour market. Given that a seven year-old is too small to walk to school alone, it means that the lone parent must seek work, for the most part, within the hours of 10 am and 2 pm. Such jobs, particularly in rural areas, are like gold dust. What work is my noble friend doing with employers to ensure that lone parents have such hours of work available to them?
Secondly, so that they do not then drop out at every half term, lone parents will need childcare that is not only flexible but trusted. In rural areas, that is more likely to be care from grandparents than from any other body. I accept that it is probably too costly at present to go for a childcare tax credit payment to grandparents who do significant caring, but would my noble friend take back to the department the proposal that, at the very least, a grandparent caring for, say, 20 hours a week should get a national insurance credit towards the basic state pension, so that as a result of helping her daughter to work, that grandparent does not herself lose her own pension rights?
My Lords, my noble friend touches on an important area. First, the proposed flexible new deal makes sure that the individual circumstances of claimants can be taken into account. It is not “one size fits all”. Certainly, for parents with young children, recognising the support that those young children need in getting to and from school should be reflected in the sort of work that an individual is encouraged to do. This proposal also fits alongside a considerable expansion in childcare provision—by 2010, wraparound childcare at school between 8 am and 6 pm all year round.
On the role of employers, again, my noble friend is absolutely right. One of the roles of local employment partnerships is to help people who have been away from the labour market for some time and build flexibility into the arrangements. It is focused on people with disabilities and lone parents. That has to be part of the equation. My noble friend bowled a fast ball in terms of grandparents and national insurance contributions. The best that I can say is that we will take the issue back and discuss it further.
My Lords, I congratulate the Government on these measures, which are very bold and rather bolder than anything any previous Conservative Government thought to introduce. Perhaps that was because of the vehemence of opposition from the Labour Party at that time.
I have a question about the withdrawal of benefit. What happens to a single person who is not in receipt of any other benefit who then has his jobseeker's allowance taken away? Will anything be done to stop that person starving on the street? Will the Government consider bringing in food vouchers as has been done in the United States?
No, my Lords, that is not part of our proposals. Benefit sanctions are not new. They exist at the moment and people cope. Evidence shows that once someone has been sanctioned, overwhelmingly they tend not to be sanctioned a second time. It is an important issue. Withdrawal of benefit should be done only on the basis of clear guidelines and a clear understanding of what the system requires and what the conditionality is. Some of the evidence is that that is not always well understood, so part of what we must be about is to make sure that there is good communication about the rights, responsibilities and boundaries of the system.
My Lords, there are a number of things to welcome about the Green Paper, which is the subject of the Statement repeated by the noble Lord. I warmly welcome the doubling of the Access to Work budget, which will be able to do a great deal more not only to enable disabled people to get into work, but to prevent those at risk of losing their job when they become disabled from falling out of the workforce.
Conditionality depends very much on the adequacy of support to enable people who are far from the labour market to get closer to it. We shall monitor that very closely. I was disappointed that the Green Paper contained no reference to removing the anomaly whereby registered blind people are not eligible for the higher rate of the mobility component of disability living allowance. Constructive discussions have taken place between the RNIB and the Government about the removal of this anomaly. I declare an interest as chairman of the RNIB. I understood that the Government felt they were not in a position to fund the removal of this anomaly at present. However, during the discussions going right up to the publication of the Green Paper today, I understood that the Government were committed to remove the anomaly at the earliest possible date. I apologise to the noble Lord that I missed the first few minutes of his repetition of the Statement; I was listening to the discussion of it in the other place. The Secretary of State was asked about the removal of the anomaly. All he could say was that he was not against its removal in principle and would continue to work to deliver that. That does not seem to me to be in the spirit of the constructive discussions between the RNIB and the Government to which I referred.
My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Lord any greater comfort than did the Secretary of State in another place. We are sympathetic to the RNIB’s proposals and are aware of the public and parliamentary support for them. While we acknowledge that severely sight-impaired people may have mobility difficulties, especially as regards helping them to enter or remain in paid employment, we are not able to commit to any changes in the mobility component of DLA at this time. We certainly believe that enabling all disabled people, including those with visual impairments, into employment through increased provision for access to work should remain our priority. That is why the Green Paper commits us to provide additional funding on the basis that we just discussed.
We are very grateful for the time and effort given by the RNIB in pressing its case. This effort has not been wasted. We hope that we can continue to work collaboratively during the Green Paper consultation period to ensure that our programme of welfare reform adequately meets the needs of blind people. I am conscious that is not the statement the noble Lord hoped for, but it is as far as I can go this afternoon.
My Lords, as president of the National Training Federation for Wales, I offer a rather different view on the Freud report. Given that in the past week we have seen the fiasco of a large American company hopelessly fail effectively to deliver SATs results, why does my noble friend believe that large American manpower companies will be able to deliver the welfare-to-work programmes more efficiently and more effectively than local providers, who know their communities and those communities’ needs, because that will be the consequence of implementing Freud?
My Lords, it does not necessarily follow that we will end up with large US multinational providers. We already have private sector providers doing a good job. What is important is how we go about the contracting arrangements, particularly how we hold private sector providers to account. However, this is about not only private sector providers but also the public and voluntary sectors. Over the past 18 months I have had the opportunity to visit interesting schemes in which the voluntary sector is providing huge support to people to get them back to work. Someone who was out of work for 15 years was helped back into employment, which transformed that person’s life. So good work is going on. However, my noble friend makes a fair point. We need to be careful to ensure that we do not end up in the situation to which he referred.
My Lords, I wonder whether I may follow up a point made by my noble friend Lady Hollis. Other parts of government are most concerned with the importance of the family as a factor in reducing the irresponsible, anti-social behaviour particularly of teenagers. How can the Minister reconcile that with the idea of making a single woman on benefit go to work if one of her children is merely seven years old? Surely, if she does work—as the only adult in the family—she will not be available to care for and mentor her child as he approaches the teenage years and in the teenage years? What does that mean for the significance and availability of the family to those young people, which other parts of the Government seem to think is so important?
My Lords, that does not necessarily follow, and I do not fully agree with my noble friend. Obviously, many lone parents—something like 1 million—are currently in work. It comes back, in part, to the need for there to be flexibility around the arrangements for lone parents. I would hang on to the point that not only is work generally good for someone’s health and self-esteem, it is invariably the best route out of poverty. In terms of support for the family, helping people into and helping them to sustain work is also supportive of families.
My Lords, I very much welcome the increased resources and funding for Access to Work, which is so important. Will the noble Lord make sure that it is properly publicised? When I spoke on the Welfare Reform Act last year, I said that it was one of the least known about aspects of getting disabled people back into work, but it is very useful. This announcement is extremely welcome, but it needs to be well publicised among disabled people and employers.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, who made a good point. Access to Work is not known about widely enough, by either employers or employees. We need to make sure that the message gets out there, because it is already making a real difference to many people’s lives, and it could do so much more.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for explaining the Government’s intentions with all his customary care and clarity. We hear much about the overclaiming of benefits, but nothing about underclaiming by frail, elderly or disabled people who are afraid of being accused of abusing the system. Has the department made any estimate of the extent of underclaiming, which often relates to frail, elderly people living alone, whose benefits go unclaimed?
My Lords, there are estimates of underclaim, particularly around the claiming of pension credit, but I am afraid that I do not have them in front of me. I am happy to write to the noble Lord. Again, the department has done a lot of work in campaigns to make people aware and to target people who might be entitled to benefit but who are not claiming.
In relation to overclaiming of benefits and fraud, that data hit the headlines. I think it is now at an all-time low. I have forgotten the percentage, but I think it is around 0.6 per cent of the total benefits bill. There have been considerable improvements in tackling fraud, but we need to keep up the pressure. We also need to make it easier for people to claim. Work is being done to enable people to claim pension credit, housing benefit and council tax benefit at the same time, as one claim, to make it easier to claim. In the Pensions Bill, on which we have had interesting debates in recent weeks, there is provision for not needing to update claims. When someone reaches the age of 75, the information that is locked in the system continues. Work is being done on the important point raised by my noble friend.
My Lords, I warmly welcome the thinking underlying this Green Paper. Does the Minister agree that it reflects a simple political maxim: it is immoral for any Government to hand out benefits to those who do not need them at the expense of those who do? Does he recognise that in the looming public sector cash crisis it will be necessary to follow up this Green Paper with vigour and rigour, and as rapidly as possible, to ensure that those who need help get it? Finally, will he send a copy of the Green Paper to President Sarkozy, because it might give him some ideas on how to deal with the much more intractable problem of the much more unsustainable welfare system in France?
My Lords, on the last point, I think that I shall pass: it is outwith my responsibility. The noble Lord is right; rights and responsibilities are at the heart of these proposals. The state has an obligation to help people into work, if they are able to work, and to support them in doing so, but it is not right that people who could engage do not engage and live a life on benefits. That is very clear; I touched on that in the Statement. There is a balance in all of this. It is very important that in the current age we clearly set down those boundaries and help people to understand that there are rights but that there are responsibilities as well.
My Lords, how far have the Government gone in their discussions with employers’ organisations about providing jobs? We know from the days of the Manpower Services Commission, in which I was involved many years ago, that it is not at all easy to provide jobs for people who are being made to work compulsorily. A great many jobs will be needed and they will have to be motivating and interesting. How far have the Government gone on this issue, or have they not yet begun to consult?
No, my Lords, a lot of work has gone on. I referred earlier to local employment partnerships. I am not quite sure how many companies have signed up to them, but many have done. The deal is that the Government help to make sure that people have the skills and are equipped to undertake the jobs that are on offer. Companies that have signed up to the agreement do what they can to give those people an opportunity to take up those jobs. That is happening at a national level. Many other initiatives are happening via the city strategies and local strategic partnerships, whereby local councils in conjunction with the DWP and other agencies are working to help people who have been disadvantaged and away from the job market move towards it. That applies particularly to people with mental health conditions. A lot of work is going on, but a lot more needs to be done, particularly around mental health and unemployment. A working party led by Dame Carol Black has produced its first report and is moving on to further challenges and to see what further policy prescriptions are needed.
Education and Skills Bill
House again in Committee on Clause 66.
195: Clause 66, page 38, line 25, at end insert “, and
( ) any such advice and information should not be limited on grounds of disability, gender, sexual orientation, race and religion or belief, and( ) any such advice should be accompanied by an offer of a work experience placement in a non-traditional sector, details of which will be specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State.”;”
The noble Baroness said: This is a probing amendment suggested by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Its purpose is to encourage debate on, and awareness of, the need to improve and broaden careers advice and to challenge continuing stereotypes regarding gender, disability, race and the other areas covered by the commission. By making this amendment to the Bill, we would, at the same time, promote equality of opportunity in its broadest sense.
Currently, some careers advice continues to make assumptions about the expectations and abilities of certain groups of young people and, as a result, directs them into work that is often low-paid and of a low status. Can the Minister explain how this will be dealt with in the guidance that is being developed at present, and can he give a commitment that work with the Equality and Human Rights Commission on this will continue until the guidance is complete?
The Government’s welcome aim in raising the school leaving age to 18 will, it is hoped, reduce the number of young people who are NEETs, but the Bill also provides a very welcome opportunity to address persistent underachievement among certain groups and individuals identified by the equalities review. One particular problem is stereotyping according to gender, race and so on. That certainly continues to channel certain groups into occupational segregation, which, without doubt, leads to a loss of potential for both individuals and the economy. For example, the EOC, when it was in existence, found that, although more women than men are now entering the professions of medicine and the law, for many girls—particularly those who are entering jobs through vocational pathways—there has been little significant change in recent years, with only 1 per cent of women in construction and only 22 girls enrolling for plumbing apprenticeships in England in 2004. As we know, the same is true in reverse for men, who, for example, make up only 2 per cent of the childcare workforce.
Such segregation is also pronounced for ethnic minorities, as research shows that about a quarter of ethnic minorities are employed in the distribution or hotel and restaurant industry sectors, compared with less than a fifth of white people. For disabled young people, research also shows that, although the scope and level of aspirations among disabled 16 year-olds are similar to those of their non-disabled counterparts, at age 26, disabled people are nearly four times as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people. I hope that a lot of that will be put right by the announcement that has been made today. However, among those in employment, earnings are 11 per cent lower for disabled people than for their non-disabled counterparts with the same level of educational qualifications.
At the same time as training and labour markets are characterised by occupational segregation, industry is experiencing major skills shortages. It is significant that sectors with the lowest number of women are also those experiencing severe skills shortages. I am sure your Lordships will be aware that engineering, for example, is an area where we have not moved anything like as fast as we should have done following the reports on the engineering industry that came out some 30 years ago.
The amendment would also place in the Bill the offer of a non-traditional work placement. We believe that work experience placements are vital in the choices that young people make, as they can be very much influenced by what they see. If they are unable to go somewhere to test their skills, they can at least see how the work operates. However, EOC research found that only 15 per cent of girls and boys received any advice on work placements in areas dominated by the other sex.
I hope the Committee will consider that this is an important area to discuss, and I very much look forward to hearing what the Minister says about its future. I beg to move.
I support the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, in all aspects of her amendment. On Second Reading I mentioned research carried out by the YWCA which showed that the three lowest-paid apprenticeships were filled almost entirely by women, while 99 per cent of the highest-paid apprenticeships were—surprise, surprise—filled by men. We must do all we can to break down gender stereotyping and the other issues that the noble Baroness raised.
We on these Benches also support the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. The YWCA’s briefing notes that Ofsted evaluated the young apprenticeships programme and reported that, in over half the partnerships inspected in 2006-07, strategies to tackle gender stereotyping were either non-existent or had very limited success. In most vocational subjects the number of participants was dominated by one gender. Ofsted has recommended that gender stereotyping be tackled rigorously in the different vocational areas. The statistics clearly illustrate what we need to tackle. It is extremely important that in the push to expand apprenticeships we open up all these areas and end gender stereotyping.
Amendment No. 195 of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, seeks to ensure that the careers advice that schools provide is not limited on the grounds of disability, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or belief and that stereotyping of all kinds is robustly challenged through work experience placements. I entirely agree with what she said. Clause 66 places the young person’s interests firmly at the centre of careers education, advice and guidance and introduces a new requirement for maintained schools to have regard to statutory guidance in fulfilling their duty to provide careers education and information. We intend this guidance to include as one of its core principles an expectation that careers advice should actively challenge gender, race, disability and other stereotyping. When the Bill is enacted we will consult on the detailed content of this document and ensure that key stakeholders, such as the YWCA and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, are fully consulted.
As for requiring an offer of work experience in a non-traditional sector, evidence from our 2006-07 data on work experience unsurprisingly show that most young people are fairly conventional in their choices. For example, 19,000 boys—but only 1,500 girls—went on construction placements, while 20,000 girls, compared with only 2,000 boys, took up hair and beauty placements. We should certainly not be seeking to encourage young people to go against their own careers preferences, but it is important not to stereotype. That is why the QCA’s framework for work-related learning specifically promotes the idea that learners should be given a wide range of opportunities to explore different occupations and sectors in their work experience. This underpins our policy that all young people should participate in work experience. Ninety five per cent of them do so, amounting to over 500,000 placements a year.
In addition, last year’s Children’s Plan outlined measures to present young people with more exciting and challenging careers education in school. Opportunities such as taster sessions are intended to broaden their horizons. Detailed planning will start this autumn, with the intention of trying out and evaluating different approaches and writing this up as best practice for schools to be available by 2010. Some £250,000 of development funding has been budgeted for this purpose. It will then be for schools to take note of the good practice and make these opportunities available as they see fit, with the support and guidance of local 14-19 partnerships. I hope that this meets the objectives that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, set out in her opening remarks.
My Lords, I am most grateful to Members of the Committee who supported the amendment and to the Minister. He has given the assurance that I was hoping for. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 196 and 197 not moved.]
Clause 66 agreed to.
198: After Clause 66, insert the following new Clause—
“Personal, social and health education
In section 84 of the Education Act 2002 (c. 32) (curriculum requirements for first, second and third key stages), after subsection (3)(g), insert—
“(ga) personal, social and health education, and”.”
The noble Baroness said: I shall also speak to Amendment No. 199, which is in the group. The new clause would add personal, social and health education—PSHE—as statutory subjects within the national curriculum at key stages 3 and 4. This proposal has been raised from these Benches previously, and my noble friend Lady Walmsley has long been an enthusiastic and vocal champion of PSHE as a vital part of a child’s education. The Bill now provides an opportunity for this to be put into effect.
For PSHE to become a statutory part of the curriculum, it is estimated that there should be a minimum requirement of an hour a week, incorporating the existing statutory requirements for education in sex and relationships, drugs and alcohol, as well as careers guidance. From Ofsted reports we know that the quality of PSHE as it currently stands is extremely variable and not universally well taught. Under this amendment, PSHE would become a teaching specialism, with initial teacher training set up to ensure a high-quality teaching workforce. That would raise the profile of the subject and reinforce the Government’s commitment to promote pupil well-being.
The National Children’s Bureau reports messages that it has received from young people talking about what they want to learn, and it has come up with five categories of what they want to learn. The first is “to stay safe”—how to build safe relationships, learning about risk and responsibility. The second is “to be healthy”, which includes dealing with pressure and stress. It is about healthy minds and healthy bodies. Thirdly, young people want to make a positive contribution and to learn skills for being confident and outgoing and how to make decisions. The fourth category is “to achieve economic well-being”—how to manage a home and finances and avoid debt. If ever that were necessary, surely this is an occasion, as the country faces tight times, when young people need to know how to manage finances. The last category was “to enjoy and achieve”. That includes communication, motivation and the confidence to try new things.
The school curriculum should enable young people to acquire the skills and the knowledge they need to achieve those aims and to equip them to be successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens—in short, to deliver the outcomes of Every Child Matters. In the course of that they would acquire self-respect and learn to respect others. We read all too frequently—it is almost a daily occurrence—of young people who are caught up in turf wars and violent situations involving knives, alcohol or drugs.
Government figures last week highlighted the UK’s unacceptably high rates of teenage pregnancy. Abortion rates for young people under 15 have risen by 12 per cent, from 1,042 to 1,171, and there is a particularly disturbing rise among young girls under 14—from 135 to 163, a rise of 21 per cent. Last week we also had the report from the Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory Group, which, along with the FPA, is making clarion calls for PSHE to be a statutory part of the curriculum so that young people can get easy access to appropriate contraception and sexual health services both in the community and in schools and colleges.
In tackling the many different forms of irresponsible youthful behaviour we need to address the causes as well as the effects. The Government may well be looking for mechanisms immediately to reduce knife crime—which is currently top of the media statistics—but we should not lose sight of the longer-term solutions. The addition of PSHE as a statutory requirement would send a powerful message that the Government are fully committed to promoting children’s well-being for their own long-term benefit as well as for the benefit of society. I beg to move.
I am not convinced of such a provision being almost an examined subject in schools. I see it as much more of an entitlement. It is extremely important that children should be offered exposure to this area, and schools are generally pretty bad at it. Schools do not offer children much education on how to manage money, on how to get on with relationships of various sorts or on sexual health, other than that set out at the moment in some rather unimaginative structures. Anthony Seldon at Wellington College is, as ever, showing the way to make this area of education exciting, engaging and likely to have an impact on children. He is showing that it needs to be part of the whole school life. If we want these sorts of things to work, we need to look at the way the whole school is working. It should be within Ofsted’s remit to look at the way a school works to bring up its children to become proper citizens.
The sort of thing that matters to me in this area is the extraordinary rules that are now being promulgated in teacher training that teachers are not allowed to touch children: children who cut themselves in the playground are to be given a plaster to put on themselves; a teacher may not put the plaster on them. I have checked that with teacher training institutions: that is the advice currently being given to young teachers. Under no circumstances should they touch a child. To bring up children with the idea that that is the proper relationship between adults and children is deeply damaging to children, but that is not a curriculum subject and it is not set out in some way in the curriculum; it is the way that schools are managing themselves these days. That is the area where we have most effect on children in terms of many of the subjects that are covered by PHSE. It should be a whole school thing. It should be within the spirit of the school and the way that it conducts itself; otherwise, we start taking bits of learning into little discrete corners by themselves, turning them into things that are taught by rote in the classroom and risking the inevitable: children do not absorb them or take them on board. There are some kinds of learning that are not taken on board in that way; they are taken on board because it is the philosophy of life promoted by their peers and the school. It permeates the whole school environment.
Although I support what the noble Baroness said about the aim of this amendment, we have to be careful about how we achieve it and how other things we are doing in a school undermine these objectives by creating—to go back to the ban on hugging, which I find extraordinary—a class of children who think that physical involvement with each other is anathema and dangerous. Inculcating that sort of idea has far more lasting effects than anything ever said in PSHE class.
I have a lot of sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, but I wish we could leave everything to the leadership and ethos of each school. However, we have to accept that some schools are rather better at putting that form of leadership into practice. I support the intentions behind this amendment. When the Government introduced citizenship classes, it was quite brave because Governments had put them off again and again thinking that they would be used as political propaganda for the side that was in power. However, they were introduced and it was thought that citizenship would be a subject, instead of which it has been distributed into all other subjects being taught.
The one thing that I and my noble friend Lord Northbourne, who I am sad to say is not in his place, were keen on was that parenting would be taught; not relationships with parents, because when teenagers are growing up there are tiffs with parents, but how to be a parent, what responsibilities parents have to take on board and what pleasures they can hope to receive from and impart to their children. Sadly, that has not happened. Perhaps somehow, as well as contraception and all the other more practical forms of encouraging young people not to have children before they are old and mature enough to make those kind of decisions, one could get discussion going about how we bring up the next generation, which will be crucial—even more than usual because there will be so few of them. They will need to be cherished by us all. I support the amendment.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, for moving the amendment and apologise to the Committee for unavoidably arriving only towards the closing remarks of her introduction. I therefore heard my noble friend Lord Lucas on the subject of hugging. He put his finger on an extraordinarily important feature of current society. Unfortunately, it is not just that children are being taught that hugging is not to be expected; adults outside the school are being taught that hugging is not to be done. These days, physical contact with a child can so easily result in a legal response. That is not the subject of the amendment, so I will not go on about it, except to say how very important I think that it is.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, mentioned cross-curricular subjects. I have a deep suspicion of any claim that a subject is taught as a cross-curricular subject, resulting—unless things have changed very much—from the day on which I embarked as a lecturer at a college of education. I was giving what I thought was rather a good and interesting series of lectures on the French Revolution. At the beginning of the series, I had the close—indeed, amused—attention of my students, which I found very gratifying. Suddenly, the following week, I found it impossible to reach them. They had something else on their mind. Eventually, I said, “Look, chaps, you are not with me. What are you worrying about?”. They said, “We have our first practical teaching in school”. I said, “It is not too difficult. You know your subject very well—a great deal better than the children do. All you have to do is keep order and keep them interested”. They still looked worried, and it was not about their knowledge of their subject; it was about their ability to keep order. I said, “Surely you have been taught how to keep order in the classroom; you have had discussions about that with people in the education department, and so on”. They said, “No, no”. So I abandoned the French Revolution and gave what my students, I regret to say, thought were my most valuable three periods on how to keep order in the classroom.
When my noble friend Lord Baker was Secretary of State for Education and Science, he appointed me to conduct an inquiry into discipline in schools. Naturally, we inquired of all the teacher training colleges whether they taught keeping good order or discipline. With no exception, they said “Oh yes, we do”. I did not believe them, so we sent a questionnaire to every student taught in training colleges for the past, I forget exactly how many, years and discovered that only one of them actually taught it; all the others said, “Oh, it is a cross-curricular subject”. It is very important that parenting is not treated in the same way.
The question then arises whether it should be a subject at all. I return, I am afraid, to my constant theme in these debates: the aspect that touches on criminality. An awful lot of children are launched into society with no idea at all of how to relate to other people. They have been brought up by teenage parents who were themselves the children of teenage parents and who do not have the skill to transmit to the children. I have no magic solution to parenting, and I am not at all sure how it should be taught, but it will be vital to our society in the coming years because the phenomenon is increasing. Once that golden chain of knowledge from parent to child to parent to child is broken, no amount of good will or kindness will put it back. It must be organised consciously by the people who are responsible for bringing the child into society. My simple request to the Minister is therefore for an exposition of how his department, or departments collectively across government, propose to tackle this problem. If they do not tackle it, it will overtake us.
I think that the Minister thought he would be spared hearing me banging on about PSHE yet again. I support my noble friend’s amendment and will make a few brief comments.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, did not like the idea of examining the subject. I tend to agree, but it may not be necessary to examine the subject as long as Ofsted inspects the quality. I also agree that PSHE should permeate the whole school and has an effect on the school ethos. We, too, believe that it should be an entitlement, which is why we tabled the amendments, which seek to ensure that every child receives PSHE and that it is high quality. Making this a statutory requirement would mean that teachers were properly trained to deliver some of these very sensitive subjects. Some of the CPD budget could be devolved to train people who already deliver PSHE in many schools but have not been properly trained to do so.
I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that parenting skills should be an important part of PSHE. After all, the subject should be teaching for life, which is of more value than almost any academic subject, perhaps with the exception of English and maths. Teaching the mechanics of sex in science lessons is simply not enough. Young people should be taught about the complexities and difficulties of relationships. When they are taught about parenting, they may improve their relationship with their own parents because they will understand how difficult it is to be a parent if they study the subject in some depth.
Knowledge is power, and power gives confidence. It is important that young people have the confidence to avoid any unwanted hugging. I have a great deal of sympathy with what the noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord Elton, have said about the difficulties of touching children these days, but there is such a thing as unwanted hugging. A confident child can say no to that and to unwanted advances from young men of their age if they are approached to have sex before they are ready. Perhaps only when they have looked into this matter with a trusted adult will they build up the knowledge of what might happen if they say yes to unprotected sex, and build up the confidence to stand up and say no when no is the right answer for them.
I sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I can think of no subject taught in schools that is less relevant to maintaining discipline in the classroom than the French Revolution. He might have found by the time he moved on to Bonaparte that his material was more relevant.
My notes on the various issues that could be raised in relation to the amendment include maintaining discipline in schools. They say that the 1989 Elton report on discipline in schools is widely regarded as the most comprehensive review of school discipline carried out in England. Having moved on from his French historical studies to examining the specific issue of maintaining discipline in schools, he is now an authority.
As an historian myself, I believe that you can turn the study of history to any eventuality and any other aspect of life. The noble Lord simply reinforces the point.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, said in introducing her amendment, we debated PSHE at length during the passage of the Education and Inspections Act, at the instigation in part of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. The Government’s policy on making PSHE statutory has not changed, but it is far from complacent. In the first place, much of PSHE is already statutory in schools. All schools must have a sex education policy, which is supported by statutory guidance issued by my department on the content and teaching of sex and relationships education. This education is required in law to include education about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. In addition, statutory content in the science curriculum supports teaching about sex and drugs, healthy eating and the importance of exercise. As we discussed earlier today, schools are also required to provide careers education at key stages 3 and 4, and work-related learning must be provided at key stage 4.
Secondly, the department’s priority has been to improve PSHE teaching and learning by providing clear guidance, supporting teachers in continuing their professional development, and identifying and spreading good practice. The national PSHE continuing professional development programme is now accredited and attracts nearly 2,000 participants each year, with substantial government funding to make this possible. The status of PSHE has also been raised through measures such as including it as a requirement for achieving healthy schools status, and we are on track to reach our target of 75 per cent of schools achieving that status by 2009.
Guidance on healthy school status is made available to all schools, and all its opening sections relate to PSHE. It states that a healthy school:
“Uses the PSHE framework to deliver a planned programme of PSHE … Monitors and evaluates PSHE provision to ensure the quality of teaching and learning … Assesses children/young people’s progress and achievement in line with QCA guidance”,
“Has a named member of staff responsible for PSHE provision with status, training and appropriate Senior Management support within the school”.
A healthy school:
“Involves professionals from appropriate external agencies to create specialist teams to support PSHE delivery and to improve skills and knowledge, such as a school nurse, sexual health outreach workers and drug education advisers”.
We have been providing a good deal of support for PSHE. Indeed, I launched the new PSHE Subject Association two years ago to help to promote PSHE in schools, and I am glad to say that it now has more than 900 members and is doing excellent work.
The position is improving, and this progress has been reflected in recent Ofsted reports. Ofsted reported in March 2007 that in primary schools, teaching and learning was judged to be at least adequate in nearly all PSHE lessons and good in three-quarters of them. In secondary schools, the quality of teaching and learning has shown a steady improvement, with 66 per cent of lessons in key stage 3 and 75 per cent of lessons in key stage 4 judged as good.
However, we continue to keep the position of PSHE under review. The review of the primary curriculum, which is currently being led by Sir Jim Rose, has a specific remit to consider how to develop an integrated framework for the personal skills that all pupils should develop through their schooling. Good PSHE is essential to this process. There are also ongoing reviews of drugs education and sex and relationships education. We will consider all three reviews when they report and the future position of PSHE in the curriculum in the light of them. Although I fear that I cannot go further than the Government’s existing policy on PSHE, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, will be reassured by that and by the fact that we are taking forward many of the component parts of PSHE that she highlighted.
I take on board everything that the noble Lord has said. I remain anxious about the teaching of parenting, which is what tempted me to put my name to these amendments. I am not convinced that the school is necessarily the best place to do it. I think that when we come to the later stages of the Bill, we will find that the school can require a child to attend elsewhere than school to receive his or her education. It may be that that duty should fall to a local authority or some other body. I do not pretend to have an answer, but an answer is very much needed. I hope that we may return to this issue at a later stage when we have all thought about it more.
I was not quite quick enough on my maths when the Minister talked about the assessment of good and adequate teaching and how much was neither good nor adequate. Does the Minister know how many teachers teach PSHE without a specific qualification or training? One of our concerns was to raise the professionalism of the subject as a whole.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. There is a great deal of interest in this subject. We may not have complete agreement on where the solution lies, but there seems to be agreement that it is a very important aspect of the school curriculum for these subjects to be taught professionally, thus enabling young people to become more responsible and more fulfilled citizens as a result of their schooling. It is encouraging to hear what the Minister has said in his reply about the various moves that are being taken forward. I shall read his comments carefully. I am disappointed that he has not gone that extra step to move to this complete proposal and we may wish to return to it at a later stage. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 199 not moved.]
Clause 67 [Apprenticeships: functions of Learning and Skills Council for England]:
200: Clause 67, page 39, line 27, leave out “contract of employment or a”
The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 201 and 202. The amendments relate to Clause 67, which amends Sections 2, 3 and 4 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000, to ensure that the Learning and Skills Council is under a duty to provide proper facilities for apprenticeships for 16 to 18 year-olds. The intention of the amendment is to return to traditional employer-based apprenticeships, rather than apprenticeships based with an independent training provider.
As an employer I can speak with personal experience. It is a very straightforward concept. Employer-provided training is the best method of training people for employment. To me that seems very plain. If we are to ensure the flexible and dynamic training provision that is necessary in an ever more advanced economy, we must put in place the most effective method. I believe that employers must lead the apprenticeship system if we are to raise the skills level. They are best placed to know what skills and training an apprentice will need.
I have had a meeting with Colin Willman of the Federation of Small Businesses. He told me that most of the members of his organisation want to see traditional apprenticeships return. The federation is not convinced that the training envisaged in the Bill will be appropriate to the jobs that it has to offer. It is right to call for a reassurance in the Bill. Currently, there is a shortage of apprenticeship places owing to a lack of employer engagement.
There were only 239,000 apprenticeships in training in 2006-07 and the numbers appear to be falling. Last summer, the Economic Affairs Committee of this House reported that most of the increase in apprenticeships over the years is the result of converting government-supported programmes of work-based learning into apprenticeships. All that new training has been below level 3. Lower-level training has increased at the expense of higher-level training. Of those 239,000 apprenticeships, only 97,000 are at level 3. To drive up standards of apprenticeship, we should look towards the providers out there; that is, employers who are waiting and willing to take on young people to train them to mutual benefit, as long as it is not overly complex and a financial constraint. I beg to move.
Those on these Benches have a great deal of sympathy for the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Verma. It is extremely important that young people are able to get into apprenticeships. There is no doubt whatever that the provision of work-based learning, as distinct from programme apprenticeships, is considerably better.
I am delighted to speak to this amendment. Given the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, we have a lot in common on this issue. In particular, we had the publication of the draft apprenticeship Bill last week, around which there will be a great deal of debate and discussion, to which I look forward. I have a long speaking note on this. However, I fully appreciate the points made by the noble Baroness. It is essential that apprenticeships are real and employer-led. I am advised that the fall in the numbers to which the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, referred at level 3 is a result of an increased emphasis on level 2, which is employer-led. In order to achieve the Leitch aspiration of 400,000 apprenticeships by 2020, we envisage a significant increase not only in level 2, but also in higher level apprenticeships.
We have very ambitious plans for apprenticeships. The draft Bill goes into some detail, but the Committee needs to recognise that Clause 67 puts down a very important marker; namely, that these proper employer-led apprenticeships, within an apprenticeship framework with a completion certificate, are legitimate training activities covered by this important Bill. That is why this clause is in the Bill. I do not want to detract from a very important and significant debate, and I welcome the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Verma. I understand that there is a huge commitment to promoting really strong demand-led and employer-led apprenticeships for young people. I believe that the Government are putting in, with the new national apprenticeship service, the matching service, significant investment in making the aspiration that Leitch very clearly articulated a reality. As we have said on many occasions, it is about working with employers, which is a tough call that we have to make happen.
I thank the Minister for her thoughtful response. I would have listened with interest to her notes. However, she is right that the draft apprenticeship Bill will discuss apprenticeships much more in depth. I look forward to that discussion. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
[Amendments Nos. 201 and 202 not moved.]
Clause 67 agreed to.
Clause 68 [Provision of transport etc for persons of sixth form age: duty to consider journey times]:
203: Clause 68, page 40, line 5, after “statements)” insert —
The noble Baroness said: In speaking to Amendment No. 203, I shall support Amendment No. 207A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Low, to which I have added my name. Amendment No. 203 proposes a revised duty for each local authority relating to home-to-education transfer for 16 to 18 year-olds. There are 1.9 million 16 to 18 year-olds in England, 76 per cent of whom participate in education or training, and colleges of further education account for the largest share of educating these young people with 727,000 attending FE colleges as compared with 447,000 attending school. Research shows that young people are often frustrated by the limitations of public transport and that the demand to learn to drive is high. Poor access to public transport in rural areas is a particular impetus to learn to drive. More than 180,000 out of a cohort of 650,000 teenagers obtain a driving licence at 17, which means that something like 25 per cent of all 17 year-olds seek to obtain a driving licence.
The journey to school or college might be one of several made during the day, but is worthy of attention for several reasons. An estimated 10 million journeys to educational establishments are made each week by 16 to 18 year-olds. The journeys are made during the day, often at peak times, which adds to congestion if undertaken by car. Young people and their passengers account for a disproportionate number of the 3,500 road deaths each year. These journeys often make a public transport option viable, with sufficient numbers travelling to the same destination at the same time. Limited funds and limited access to cars among this age group makes public transport a reasonable choice, and the habits developed as young adults often stay with people for the rest of their lives. If young people get used to travelling by bus or by train, they are not afraid of doing so later. Anything we can do to encourage the use of public transport at this stage, the better.
I believe that the Government are currently consulting on a long-term strategy towards a sustainable transport system that supports economic growth in a low-carbon world. The strategy proposes five tests that should be applied to judge transport projects: improving economic competitiveness; addressing climate change; protecting safety, security and health; improving the quality of life; and promoting greater equality of opportunity. More effective home-to-education transport for 16 to 19 year-olds passes all those tests at relatively limited cost.
Local education authorities have a statutory responsibility for home-to-education transport for the 16 to 18 age group. Under the 1996 Act as amended by the 2002 Act, local authorities should have regard to the,
“need to secure that people in their area have reasonable opportunities to choose between different establishments at which education or training is provided”.
The local education authority is required to take into account income, cost, distance travelled from home to school and the needs of those who could not easily attend a particular institution if no such arrangements were made. The Education Act 2002 strengthened those duties by requiring local authorities to publish transport plans, and in 2006 the responsibility for managing these statements passed from the Department for Education and Skills to the Learning and Skills Council. An example of good practice is illustrated by what has happened in Avon and Somerset, where councils and transport operators have co-operated to provide a £420 youth rover card, an annual season ticket for young people. This has increased the numbers using public transport and has also contributed to rising participation in education and training. In London, all those aged under 18 get free travel under the subsidy introduced by Transport for London.
It is important that the Government should pursue the policy of improving the provision of home-to-education transport in the interests of making wider choices available to those on low incomes. The Education and Inspections Act 2006 extended local authority powers to provide transport for school-age children in the interests of encouraging choice and sustainability. However, that provision is insufficient for the following reasons. First, some local authorities are not fulfilling their statutory duty to produce appropriate transport plans. For example, some authorities disregard the issue of choice and suitability by simply assuming that the closest place of study is the right one, regardless of the courses available. Secondly, education institutions have to provide increasing subsidies to fill the gaps in existing public and local authority supported provision. A survey undertaken by the Association of Colleges in 2006 showed that 87 per cent of colleges are subsidising transport at an average cost for each college of over £300,000. Thirdly, the Education and Skills Bill will require councils to consider travel time as well as distance in meeting their responsibilities for 16 to 18 transport provision.
The aim of these amendments, particularly Amendment No. 203, is to propose a revised duty for each local authority relating to home-to-school transport for 16 to 18 year-olds. The duty presently relates to cost, distance travelled, travel time and the needs of those who are unable to access provision. The duty should take greater account of the ability of young people to pay.
I should like to speak briefly to Amendment No. 207A tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Low. We strongly support this proposal, and this issue is one that the late Baroness Darcy de Knayth and I pursued on one or two occasions. It is vital that those with disabilities who cannot access public transport are provided with proper transport to and from their place of education. It is an important aspect of our equality legislation, and I hope that the Minister will look favourably on it. I beg to move.
I shall to speak to the amendments in my name in this group, which have been tabled because I have concerns about whether the Government have adequately thought through the new challenges that students and local authorities alike will face with transport, and to ensure that sufficient funding will be in place to cope. More routes of transport will be needed as new students travel to college, to training placements, and in and out of work. They may need to travel to several different sites to fulfil their obligations. The nature of the new education dispensation means that young people will not necessarily be confined to a single campus.
There may be issues of cross-local authority area transport. Young people are going to take up places on courses convenient to them and relevant to their needs which may not necessarily fall neatly within local government boundaries. I should like a reassurance from the Minister that the Government have considered how they are going to transport the increased numbers of students and apprentices to where they need to be. It would be prudent for the Secretary of State to commission a review into both the effectiveness of transport plans and how much they are likely to cost before passing on the costs to what are already hard-pressed local authorities that simply may not have the necessary mechanisms, tools or funds to cope with the Government’s demands.
I also offer my support to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, which raises the problems faced by disabled learners. I support fully the aim that no one should be excluded from the Bill because of disability, and I hope that the Minister will consider this issue, ideally as part of the review proposed in my amendments.
I shall speak to Amendment No. 207A, which has already been referred to by the noble Baronesses. This amendment would place on local education authorities a duty to provide transport for disabled learners up to the age of 25 who are pursuing a course of education or training at a further education institution but who, on account of their disability, cannot use public transport or access private transport to attend the course.
The failure to provide transport to disabled students aged over 19 who remain in further adult and continuing education and work-based learning until 25 has been a problem for many years, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, alluded to. A local LSC can agree to continue to fund a disabled person’s education but the local authority is under no obligation to provide transport. This Bill, with its changes to post-16 education, gives us an opportunity to remove this defect.
I have recently become president of Skill, the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities, in succession to the late Lady Darcy de Knayth, and I pay tribute to her and to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for their efforts on this question over the years. The Committee will understand, therefore, that this gives me not only an interest to declare but a sense of responsibility in this matter. Skill has sought legislation on this issue for some considerable time. It has tabled amendments, had meetings and considerable correspondence with Ministers, and had hoped that the Government might have resolved this issue by now having been given a number of assurances to that effect. But, as no amendment from the department has been forthcoming, it is necessary for me to ask your Lordships to make an amendment in this House. This is, therefore, not so much a probing as a prodding amendment.
There is currently a duty on local authorities to provide transport for learners with learning difficulties and disabilities in education who have not yet reached the education leaving age. However, many disabled people may require longer to complete their education and their transition to adult education and services. In recognition of this, legislation also exists that puts a duty on the LSC to provide educational opportunities for these learners up to the age of 25, and the Government give a fee waiver for those pursuing their first level 2 and level 3 qualification up to that age. However, there is a major gap in provision in that there is a power but no duty to provide transport for those learners between the ages of 19 and 25 who remain in education for reasons relating to their disability and may require transport to get to their place of education.
The amendment seeks to address this lacuna in the legislation. Guidance for local education authorities on the provision of transport states that provision should also be made for students with learning difficulties and disabilities up to at least the age of 21, although local authorities should seriously consider extending this to 25, yet there is continuing evidence from voluntary sector organisations and the LSC’s review, Through Inclusion to Excellence, that current arrangements, responsibilities and DCSF guidance on transport for learners with learning difficulties and disabilities post-16—but particularly between the ages of 19 and 25—are not sufficient. For example, the Black Country Connexions Partnership reports that three out of the four LEAs in its area will not fund the transport costs of disabled students beyond the age of 19, and evidence from Skill suggests that this is not unusual. This is affecting progression into employment for these learners and therefore impacts upon skills targets proposed by Leitch and welfare-to-work targets proposed by Freud.
Resolving these issues would allow more disabled young people to take advantage of free further education up to 25. This provision will not be needed by all learners with learning difficulties and disabilities but it must be recognised that a few disabled people will never be able to access mainstream public transport because of their impairments, so those who have transport specified in their transition plans should be entitled to free transport.
Previously it would have been more difficult to legislate for a duty to provide transport for this group of learners as the transport powers lay with the local authority while provision of education lay with the LSC. However, the Bill lays the foundation for transferring to local authorities the responsibility for providing education to learners aged over 16, which provides an opportunity to clarify transport provision for these learners too. LEAs already have a duty to consider transport for all learners as part of the 14-to-19 agenda and have to consider a partnership approach in relation to matters such as urban, rural and cross-border transport. Extending the duty up to age 25 for disabled learners should not therefore impose too great an additional burden on planning and logistics but it will have a huge impact on learners’ access.
As I have said, not all learners with learning difficulties and disabilities will require transport provision to and from their place of education. One approach which has been suggested for reducing students’ reliance on publicly funded transport is travel training. It will not remove the need to provide transport altogether, but it could increase the number of learners who can travel independently and has been shown to lead to considerable savings in unemployment benefit as well as the cost of providing statutory transport. The information available is too limited for a full cost-benefit analysis but I understand that the Department for Transport has recently undertaken some analysis of travel training schemes. Can the Minister confirm that they do indeed represent a useful approach which could reduce the need for students to rely on publicly funded transport and make its provision for those who do need it all the more viable?
The amendment calls for a duty to be laid on local authorities to provide transport free of charge for those identified as disabled in education and needing transport up to at least the age of 25. I have had a helpful meeting with the Bill team and a range of officials in the responsible department and it appears that there is uncertainty about the numbers involved. But spread between more than 100 local authorities, even on the highest estimates which have so far been put forward, the numbers should not be great—not more than 200 or 300 students per authority. There has been more than enough time to resolve these uncertainties while all the talks have been going on. What is needed now to concentrate minds is a duty laid on the responsible authorities.
It should not be the case that a young disabled person has an identified need for learning and that funding has been identified to provide this learning, yet the young person cannot take this opportunity for lack of transport. The amendment has wide support among organisations working in the field of provision for disabled young people and I commend it to the Committee.
Every year I have the pleasure of receiving some work shadow students from Greenhead College in Huddersfield. We were having a discussion on school transport and they told me that the problem they face, which may well be illustrative of the problem many people will face when 16-to-18 education becomes compulsory—particularly when children have to get to educational and vocational opportunities which may be some distance from them—is that although transport arrangements are well organised within a particular district, once you try to travel between districts you get into considerable difficulties. In somewhere quite populous such as the outskirts of Manchester, where the districts are tightly drawn, if you are the wrong side of the boundary you find yourself unable to get free travel to Greenhead, whereas if you are within the right transport district, you do. This practice has grown up as arrangements have been made locally between local authorities and transport providers, and the boundaries are quite strict. Why should the outskirts of Manchester provide transport to Huddersfield when it is out of area, as it were?
I think this has come about because the entitlement is phrased not as a right of the student to have transport to the proper provision but as a right of the ability of the authorities to co-operate in any way they choose to provide transport. Although for sixth-form students it is only a reduction in price rather than free, it is none the less important to children of that age and to their ability to take advantage of the educational opportunity they find best. We need to find some way of focusing the entitlement on the student, rather than for it to be subject to convenience and arrangements that have not been put in place between local authorities.
With regard to Amendments Nos. 205, 206 and 207 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, I entirely agree that we need to look at the transport needs associated with the introduction of the new diplomas and delivery of the 2013 entitlement. That is why we commissioned independent research from York Consulting into the transport needs stemming from the introduction of the 14-to-19 reforms, including diplomas, which was published on 30 June, and I placed a copy in the Library of the House. The report comes in at 126 pages, but I am happy to circulate it to Members of the Committee so they can have a chance to read it prior to Report.
The research found that local authorities do not see transport as a significant problem in the short to medium term. If I read out the conclusion for the noble Baroness, she may not even need to read all 126 pages. Paragraph 52 states:
“In the short to medium term, 14-19 transport issues associated with curriculum-generated additional travel do not appear to have as high a profile as might have been expected or indeed predicted by our preliminary analysis. The majority of areas appear to be coping at present and do not expect numbers of travelling learners to increase substantially during the early period of Diploma rollout”.
However, the York Consulting reports also highlighted some longer-term issues that we are committed to working with local authorities to address. In particular, the report says in paragraphs 30 and 31:
“Future funding issues are most likely to arise in relation to peripheral inter-site transfer which, at present, in most areas is funded by individual learning centres. The scale of future costs is generally not known …
“As the scale of additional journeys increase, there is a need to adopt a more collaborative approach which addresses occupancy levels, shared costs, circular trips, joint timetabling, centre location etc. and ensures that only the most optimal solutions are implemented. For example, minibus leasing and contract negotiation of carrier contracts has, where introduced, demonstrated significant cost savings over learning centre owner operation of buses”.
There is a good deal more on that in the report. We will work with a sample of local authorities to model the transport needed to deliver the 2013 entitlement, and we will publish the results of that work in the summer of 2009. We will also explore the potential of non-transport solutions, such as common timetabling and e-learning, in carrying out that work.
Alongside that research we have published a report focused on solutions already being employed by rural areas, where, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, transport issues feature prominently. We have committed £23 million to support rural areas in developing local solutions, and we will share widely the good practice that they develop.
With regard to Amendments Nos. 203 and 204 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, we share her concern that affordable transport should be available to all young people to access education and training. Local authorities already have a duty to draw up a transport policy statement relating to young people of sixth-form age travelling to school or college. That statement must set out the provision of transport they consider necessary to facilitate the attendance of people of sixth-form age in education. There is already a requirement for local authorities to take cost into account in preparing their transport policy statements, alongside a range of other factors; for example, the distance from home to school or college and the need to ensure choice of education provision. Local authorities must also consider the needs of students who would not be able to attend a particular education or training establishment without help or support.
I turn to Amendment No. 207A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Low, which would require local authorities to make such arrangements for the provision of transport and otherwise as they consider necessary, or as the Secretary of State may direct, to facilitate the attendance of learners up to the age of 25 with disabilities in further education. I know that there are examples of good work by local authorities in supporting this important group of young people to access provision. In particular, a limited evaluation carried out by the Department for Transport of travel training schemes, which is a scheme where young people with learning difficulties are supported to use public or other forms of transport, shows potentially significant benefits. It shows that travel training can provide new skills and confidence to the young people, allowing them to access education independently as well as being able to travel to other locations and so play a full role in the community. In addition, because they enable learners to travel independently, such schemes have been shown to provide significant cost savings that have enabled the funding available to be targeted more effectively at providing specialised transport to those learners who need it most.
However, while there is some good practice in this area, I agree with the noble Lord that it is patchy and that more needs to be done to ensure that no young person is prevented from participating due to lack of appropriate support. That is why we have committed to working with Skill over the summer to look further into the scale of this issue, the number and needs of the learners affected and how the latter can best be met. That work will include a further assessment of travel training as well as consideration of other ways to mainstream good practice and to bring all areas up to the standards of the best. From our findings we will develop a firm strategy including dates for implementation, and I am happy to discuss with the noble Lord, Lord Low, the outcome of that work prior to Report. I hope that on that basis he will be satisfied that we intend to take serious, concrete action in this area, and will not feel it necessary to press his amendment today.
I thank the Minister for his response to my amendments. Along with all Members of the Committee, I look forward to reading the report. Will he just confirm—I may have misheard—that he believes that learner centres will pay towards the cost of transport in partnership with other partners, and would those other partners include employers and students themselves? I am not sure if I heard it right.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I am still comparatively inexperienced in this place, and once when I sought to withdraw an amendment that was grouped I was told that that was not the correct procedure, so I was waiting for my amendment to fall with the rest. However, I am happy to take my cue from the noble Baroness.
I am grateful to the Minister for his careful response. I am sure that Skill will be more than anxious to participate with the discussions and the work of which he has spoken over the summer. I look forward to hearing from him about the outcome of that work before we return to these issues on Report. On that basis, I am more than happy not to press the amendment.
I shall respond on Amendment No. 203 and make one or two remarks about Amendment No. 207A. I am delighted that the Minister is going to do something about this. About 18 months ago, the late Lady Darcy de Knayth and I met the Minister, Mr Rammell. We received promises that action would be taken, but nothing much has emerged from that. I hope that the Minister will pursue this and ensure that we succeed in getting something done.
With regard to Amendments Nos. 203 and 204, I hear what the Minister said, although to some extent he told me what I told him: local authorities should be making plans and talking this into account. It is clear, as I said, that some local authorities are not fulfilling their statutory duties to produce the appropriate transport plans. It is awkward for them; it costs money and we know that they do not like spending money on these things. Money is very tight for local authorities, but nevertheless it is necessary. A lot of young people in the 16 to 18 year-old age group are seeking education and training and it is necessary that they are able to pursue the choice of training that they want.
We will almost certainly bring the amendment back on Report because we need to consider it further. However, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 204 to 207 not moved.]
Clause 68 agreed to.
[Amendment No. 207A not moved.]
Clauses 69 and 70 agreed to.
Clause 71 [Learning aims for persons aged 19 and over]:
208: Clause 71, page 41, line 36, after “their” insert “aspirations and”
The noble Baroness said: I have tabled Amendments Nos. 208 and 209 with the intention of upholding and furthering the spirit of aspiration which is the aim of the Bill. Clause 71 amends the Learning and Skills Act 2000 so that the Learning and Skills Council must secure the provision of facilities for relevant education and training for adults which is suitable to their requirements. My amendment would change the wording to “aspirations and requirements”. We do not want the provision of facilities to be limited to the barest minimum. Mere requirements are relatively easy to meet. However, I, along with, I am sure, all noble Lords, would like people to be able to fulfil whatever aspirations they have and not be obliged to undertake whatever happens to be available simply because it is there and they have no other option. It is individuals who best know what route they wish to follow, and we should use the opportunity afforded by the Bill to provide as great a selection of options as possible.
It is clear that the Bill will not stand or fall on the basis of these amendments, but I am tempted to insert a more generous form of wording. I would like to send a message that we are wholeheartedly about providing education and training, and the provision for those over 19 should not be a grudging afterthought. I beg to move.
If only parliamentary draftsmen could be encouraged to listen to the noble Baroness’s plea for a more generous form of wording, it would keep us all much happier. I need to resist the amendments, but I hope to convince the noble Baroness that the aspiration to which she refers is fully catered for not only in the Bill but administratively.
I have a lot of sympathy with the amendments. Naturally, the debate so far has focused on improving the skills of young people, which is crucial for the country’s future economic prosperity and the life chances for generations of the most vulnerable. I am, however, pleased to be able to turn to the part of the Bill concerned with meeting the challenge we face in building the skills base of the nation’s existing workforce.
We want to help as many adults as possible to improve their skills and achieve their aspirations, whatever they may be. Some adults may aspire to being able to read a novel or to helping their children with their maths homework. Others may wish to gain skills for employment or to further their career prospects.
As I said at Second Reading, much progress has been made in the arena of adult education and training. Both quality and quantity have improved: the success rate on courses in FE colleges reached 77 per cent in 2005-06, up from 59 per cent in 2000-01; and 1.34 million adults have upskilled to level 2 since the end of 2002. I therefore believe that we are making progress.
The reforms to the post-19 learning and skills system are now focused on building on the successes to date to create a system that is more responsive to learner and employer demand and provides everyone with the platform of skills needed to succeed in life and work. The new duties in Clause 71 are a key part of our drive for world-class skills in 2020, which was encapsulated in the Government’s response to the report of my noble friend Lord Leitch on the UK’s skills needs.
Since the Learning and Skills Act 2000 was passed, the Learning and Skills Council has been able to fund a range of provision for adults at varying funding rates. Until now, however, there has not been a legal duty on the LSC to secure free tuition for adults. This is one of the things that the clause provides. It will also give individuals the right to expect education and training in skills at basic and intermediate levels which they will need to achieve their aspirations, or at least to take the first crucial steps towards achieving them.
To help learners achieve their aspirations, we need to create a system that responds to learners’ individual requirements. I think that that is exactly the point that the noble Baroness is making. Ensuring that people have the opportunity to obtain a wide range of skills at basic and intermediate levels is the most effective way to improve the life chances of those with fewer skills and to support social justice.
To this end we are placing a new duty on the Learning and Skills Council to secure the provision of proper, rather than reasonable, facilities for certain specified adult qualifications. To fulfil this duty, the LSC must secure the provision of facilities for education and training of a quantity sufficient and quality adequate to meet the reasonable needs of individuals, and which is suitable for their requirements. For specified courses, this will bring the duties on the LSC in relation to adults into line with those for young people. This is a very important step forward.
In practice, that means that adults can expect free and appropriate provision of basic skills qualifications at level 1 literacy and entry level 3 numeracy, their first full-time level 2 qualification. In addition, for 19 to 25 year-olds, there will be free tuition for their first full level 3 qualification. Because learner choice is clearly paramount in meeting the reasonable needs of adults, the legislation will require the LSC, in exercising its duty, to increase opportunities for learners to exercise choice and to encourage a wider range of education and training opportunities, as set out in new subsections 5(d) and (e) of new Section 4A to be inserted into the Learning and Skills Act 2000. That should offer the noble Baroness some reassurance. The provision includes ensuring the provision of part-time courses and a close fit with the needs of the local, regional and national job market. Effective information, advice and guidance from the Adult Advancement and Careers Service will support learners in identifying the right courses for them and, if necessary, finding a range of suitable alternatives to meet their needs and aspirations.
Despite my general support for the intention behind the amendment, I do not think that it is appropriate at this stage. The LSC is a high-level strategic funding body which does not have the day-to-day contact with individuals that would be needed to assess their needs according to their future goals or aspirations. I would suggest that the Adult Advancement and Careers Service, the learndirect advice line and learning providers are best placed to engage directly with learners to help them access the courses best suited to them, as I know that the noble Baroness is keen to see. The clauses are carefully balanced to ensure that the duties on the LSC enable it to operate in practice, while at the same time enabling learners’ needs to be met. That is why it uses the language of “requirements”. I assure the noble Baroness that I believe that the provisions in Clause 71 provide the essential building blocks that learners need in meeting their aspirations.
On Amendment No. 209, the new duty on the LSC to secure the provision of proper facilities for relevant education or training for adult learners requires that those facilities are, as I said, “sufficient” in quantity and “adequate” in quality to meet the reasonable needs of individuals. As I said, our further education system is good and getting better. Over three-quarters of students in learning go on to achieve their qualification and by 2011, with the assistance of these new adult skills provisions, we hope to increase this success rate to over 80 per cent.
I hope that I have offered the noble Baroness the reassurance that she rightly seeks and that she will be able to withdraw her amendment.
I ask the Minister for clarification of what she said, to which I tried to listen very carefully. The language of requirements is neutral; it can be either the requirement of the recipient or the requirement of the person who identifies whatever are—and I quote another phrase that the Minister mentioned—reasonable needs. We have words such as “reasonable needs” and “aspirations”, the latter of which the Minister used herself many times although she is rejecting it in the amendment, and then “requirements”. I am not quite clear who is to define those requirements. Will the LSC be able to take into account the aspirations of the adult or will the needs of the local area for employment have to balance them? Perhaps I am being unnecessarily stupid in not understanding what the Minister said, but I would be grateful for some clarification. “Requirements” is a neutral word; it does not tell us who is going to define these requirements—the individual or the LSC.
I do not want to be flippant but while I was reading the speaking note I was thinking about Harry Potter and the room of requirements. I do not know whether noble Lords have read the book, but the room can supply you with whatever your requirements might be. It is a very interesting concept.
My interpretation is that the LSC must create a balance between all the duties placed on it. On requirements, it is clear that we are providing an entitlement to new additional skills level training, and that the LSC must make provision that takes into account the local employment market and the skills gap in the population. Those are the high-level duties on the LSC. The argument that I am trying to make—and whether I am making it very successfully is another question—is that, for an individual’s aspiration, there will be a toolkit of funding provision and courses available. There will be the Adult Advancement and Careers Service, which will support any individuals who could benefit from a level 3 numeracy booster or a level 2 training provision. The Adult Advancement and Careers Service would talk in detail to adults and discuss with them what their aspirations might be, then help them to identify what courses are available. Some of those courses will be fully funded by the LSC and some may not be—but that adult advancement service will help individuals to identify a tailored menu of options for that adult learner.
I am happy to write to the noble Baroness in fuller terms, if that would help, but that is what we are trying to explain here and that is why we are amending the 2000 Act to make it more explicit—in legalese terms.
I hope that we may share that letter. The Minister’s reply to my noble friend’s very humble amendment was quite surprising. We have three or four paragraphs on how excellent the present system is and what it has delivered, then we had many more on how much is going to be delivered under the new system, but there was nothing much addressing the question of aspirations as distinct from requirements. We have now had requirements defined, but I have not heard a reason why aspirations should not be included, except for the suggestion that the council will be too exalted to assess them—although it can apparently assess requirements.
At this point I am tempted to reflect that every Bill team, backed and encouraged by every parliamentary draftsman, starts from the position that the Bill is perfect and must be defended and only slowly yields to a suggestion that it could be in any way improved. Parliamentary draftsmen can, on occasion, be persuaded to revisit an issue; this may not be such an issue—but until we know how the Minister interprets “aspirations”, as compared with how my noble friend interprets the word, it is really very difficult to see whether we should ask the Minister to do so or not.
I shall attempt to respond. The noble Lord has a great deal of wisdom in his remarks. I had a wonderful sentence which I could not bring myself to read out—and I shall not do so now—which said that adequate could be defined as sufficient and, of course, sufficient as adequate. I am not sure that that helps to take us forward.
The Learning and Skills Council is operating at a population level and the Adult Advancement and Careers Service is operating at a one-to-one individual level. The argument that we are making is that aspirations are defined at an individual level and requirements less so. I am very happy to write to noble Lords and we can have this discussion again, if the noble Baroness will be kind enough to withdraw her amendment and give me another chance. I appreciate that these are very important definitions that need to be clear, so I am not belittling her amendment in any way.
I have just been handed a further note that says that this—whatever “this” is—reflects the current duty on the Learning and Skills Council in relation to young people in the Learning and Skills Act 2000. That refers to another point that I have not made clear, about consistency with the legislation applying to young people. The adult provisions here are consistent with what already exists for young people. We are keen not to create an inconsistency.
I have another note saying that aspirations are subjective, while requirements are measured against national priorities—literacy and numeracy, level 2 and level 3.
I thank the Minister for her generous response. I do not think that those last two notes helped her very much. However, I know that she is minded to understand my desire to ensure that adults are able to reach their aspirations and requirements as well as ensuring a much sought-after skilled adult workforce. I thank my noble friends for their contributions, which opened the discussion further. I am disappointed, however, that I could not persuade the Minister to be more generous in responding to my amendments but, as I said, the Bill will not stand or fall on the basis of those amendments. I hope that I will continue to highlight our need to ensure that individual learners are given every opportunity and choice to reach and acquire those needed skills. I will read very carefully the Minister’s well chosen comments.
On Amendment No. 209, when I heard the Minister refer to “sufficient” and “adequate”, I thought what grey words they were. However, at this point, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 209 not moved.]
209A: Clause 71, page 42, line 18, at beginning insert “co-operate where appropriate with local education authorities and”
The noble Baroness said: This is an unassuming little amendment. The need for it in the Bill is so clear that I have a faint hope that the Minister will accept it. Clause 71 specifies many duties that we very much welcome, although some of us feel that it does not go far enough, as the Committee will hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, in the next two groups. The Learning and Skills Council must take into account a number of issues. New Section 4A(5)(d) states that it must,
“act with a view to encouraging diversity of education and training available to individuals”.
FE colleges will supply the majority of the post-19 market, and there will of course need to be close co-operation between them, the 14-to-19 partnerships, local authorities and the Learning and Skills Council to ensure effective planning and commissioning and that there is enough capacity throughout pre- and post-19 provision.
We know that next year the duties of the Learning and Skills Council will be devolved elsewhere. However, for the moment, it is the organisation with responsibility for post-19. It is blindingly obvious that if the LSC and its successors are to have regard, as it says in new paragraph (d), to,
“act with a view to encouraging diversity of education and training available to individuals”,
it will need to co-operate where appropriate with the local authority.
That is the unassuming little amendment that we have added to the new section in Clause 71. I look forward to hearing the Minister accept it or, if not, justifying not accepting it. I beg to move.
We have some sympathy with the amendment. It would have the Learning and Skills Council co-operate with local education authorities when encouraging the diversity and training available to individuals. As local education authorities are likely to be the bodies that facilitate much of the training and education opportunities, it seems a sensible move to require them to be involved with the LSC’s planning and decision-making processes.
I have a sense of déjà vu, because a year ago we debated the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 and talked about this question of local area agreements and co-operation with different bodies. I am advised that it is appropriate to resist the amendment because it is not necessary, not because we do not agree with it.
It is of course important that the LSC co-operates with local education authorities. The LSC already engages with local authorities in a range of contexts. Local authorities prepare local area agreements that set out the deal between central and local government and their partners to improve services and the quality of life for local people. The Learning and Skills Council is a key partner authority and plays a central role in ensuring that local area agreements can help to deliver the right level of skills in the right priority areas. Ninety per cent of local area agreements include a skills target. The best model for securing the achievement of the skills target is through the creation of a local coalition of partners who together bring a wide understanding of the community—such as future employment trends and the skills and qualifications that local people will need to secure those jobs.
Further to strengthen those arrangements, the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 introduced a new duty on responsible local authorities and partner bodies to co-operate in agreeing local improvement targets in local area agreements. In addition, the LSC now works with around 150 local partnership teams. Their role is to work on a day-to-day basis with local stakeholders, including local authorities, employers and others, to identify the learning and skills needs of each area.
The geographic area of the local partnership teams that the LSC has established broadly follows those of local authorities. This approach has already provided a positive model for local partnership working and a more flexible response to local and sub-local learning and skill needs. In London, the London Skills and Employment Board, which is chaired by the Mayor of London, formulates strategies for the work of the LSC in Greater London. That has given us the model for a strategic body that can lead on employment and skills issues on a city-wide basis.
The amendment would impose an additional requirement on the LSC so that when performing its duty to secure the provision of proper facilities for education and training under proposed new Section 4A(1) to be inserted into the Learning and Skills Act 2000, the LSC would be required to co-operate where appropriate with local education authorities. As we have heard, proposed new subsection (5) provides a list of factors that the LSC must take into account, or act on, when performing the duty to secure the provision of proper facilities for education and training. The LSC must, for example,
“act with a view to encouraging the diversity of education and training” ,
“act with a view to increasing opportunities for individuals to exercise choice”.
It is implicit in such requirements that in order to fulfil its duty in proposed new Section 4A(1), the LSC will need to co-operate with a range of partners at local, regional or national levels—local education authorities, Sector Skills Councils, Jobcentre Plus and regional development agencies, for example. None of those partners is specified in this section of the Bill.
As part of the machinery of government changes announced in June 2007, we proposed creating two bodies. Responsibility for funding the education and training of young people aged 16 to 19 will transfer to local authorities, supported by, as the Committee is aware, a new Young People’s Learning Agency. For adults, the Skills Funding Agency will underpin a new system that will be developed to deliver a comprehensive set of entitlements for learning, advice and support, with colleges and providers having the freedom that they need to meet the needs of employers and individual learners. Clearly, it will be important for both the new funding bodies to engage with each other and local authorities in order to respond to the skills needs at national, regional and local level.
I hope that the Committee will see that the Learning and Skills Council already works co-operatively with local authorities, and co-operation by the Learning and Skills Council and local education authorities is implicit in the duty in the new section. In addition, introducing the requirement would create a mismatch with the duty on the LSC in Section 2 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000. Given the approach I have described, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. I am delighted to hear that it is implicit in the Bill’s wording that the LSC will have to co-operate with local authorities. She has made that clear from the Dispatch Box. I take from that that it is inconceivable that the LSC might ever fall down in its duty to co-operate appropriately with local authorities. I very much hope that that is the case. In the light of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
210: Clause 71, page 43, line 10, leave out “but not the age of 25”
The noble Baroness said: I move this amendment because the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, is not well enough to be present. However, I am sure that he will speak to it at a later stage. Certainly, it is welcome news indeed that level 3 qualifications will be available up to the age of 25. However, the amendment seeks to remove that upper age limit.
The Leitch report is a great wake-up call for action and the Government’s response—to be a world leader in skills by 2020, with more than 40 per cent of people having a qualification at level 4—is certainly brave. However, given that Germany and the USA have already achieved that 40 per cent figure, that will not be enough. Those countries will not stand still for 15 years. They have the basis at level 3 for moving on well beyond that figure by 2020.
The report on apprenticeships produced in the 2006-07 Session by our Select Committee on Economic Affairs tells us that in 2003, 78 per cent of Germans were already at level 3 and above by their early 30s; a massive 35 percentage points more than our score of 43 per cent. Against that competitive imperative, we need to reformulate our target to at least 45 per cent. In fact, we argue that it needs to be a straight 50 per cent, and that we need to begin to face up to that now.
The short guide to the Bill tells us that 74 per cent of the UK’s working age population in 2020 will be over the age of 18. We can respond to the national economic imperative only by bringing far more of our workforce up to level 3, so that there is a basis for many more moving on to level 4. If we face up to the reality of what needs to be done, instead of ducking it, as has happened over the past 140 years, we need to go all out to lift the proportion of the working population up to level 3, irrespective of age. If people did not have the opportunity given to others to get to level 3 at no cost when they were young—I accept it might partly be their fault that they did not engage with education at an earlier stage—we owe it to them and to the national interest to offer them that opportunity to get a level 3 qualification now.
Therefore, while we welcome the Government’s intention to provide for a first level 3 qualification without fees up to age 25, I stress again that in our view that will not meet the imperative needs of the times. I suspect that the Minister will refer to cost. I hope that the Committee will forgive me if I do not say too much about that because the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, has had extensive consultation on it with officials and the Minister and will want to return to it on Report. I beg to move.
I support the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, as the Committee would expect me to given some of the amendments that I moved earlier. It is vital that some of the most vulnerable and poorest are given the opportunity to increase their level of educational attainment as far as possible. This starts with a level 1 qualification. To achieve a GCSE at level D to G may be regarded by some people as a great achievement. Without a level 1 you cannot go much further. You need to build on it. If you have not achieved that level of qualification by the age of 19, you will have to start at the bottom. If we are to tackle child poverty, it is particularly important that parents are able to get the qualifications to enable them to hold down a job. I hope that if that occurs, we shall not get the cycle of unqualified parents not having any great knowledge of the world of education or experience of qualifications passing that on to their children, and thereby creating a downward spiral.
I, too, shall duck cost, but, frankly, whatever it costs, it is worth it because it will be an investment in the long term. People with qualifications will be able to get a job, whereas otherwise they might end up on benefits. They will pay tax. Qualified people tend to get better jobs. With job satisfaction comes a certain balance in one’s life style. The possibility of stress and other mental health problems that unemployment brings will be avoided. I hope that the Minister will not refer to silos of funding as regards this group of amendments. It is important to bear in mind that if we invest in education, we may save on expenditure in other departments, including health and criminal justice. I very much support the amendment and shall leave it to others to discuss cost.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, has done the Committee a great service in making us look at experience outside the country as we build this country’s education system. One has only to look at the exchange rate for sterling at the moment to see that a very important issue is at stake. We are in competition with the rest of the world and cannot afford simply to look at the internal standards of this country if we are to hold our place in it. Therefore, I certainly support the attempt of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, to move us on.
I hope that the noble Baroness can clear up a confusion for me. I understand that one of the qualifying courses is level 1 literacy. However, if someone is not yet at a level where they can take on level 1 literacy, but needs to do an entry level qualification first, will that be free? The noble Baroness nods. That is encouraging. I did not read the Bill that way.
Despite the financial qualifications to which the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, referred, which I am sure will weigh heavily on my Front Bench, it seems to me that the age range during which people really need this provision is that of 30 to 45. Below 30 you can be desired for your body alone. You have a decent set of muscles, as yet undamaged, and you can do heavy work such as tree surgery. You can take on danger and situations needing quick reactions and probably do not yet have family responsibilities. There are a lot of jobs for young men—and, doubtless, young women—who are prepared to work hard. However, when you hit 30, your bones start to creak and you may have broken one or two. You can see that you will not be able to do such work for the rest of your life. That is the period when the need to get a qualification comes to the fore. It is also when you are short of money and you cannot just go without beer for a few months to find the funds for an evening course, because you are committed to family and all the expenses that brings with it. After about the age of 45, perhaps, the utility to the nation of your getting a qualification is not there. We ought to be concentrating on that period of 30 to 45. Limiting this provision to 25 really just picks up a few young people who realise quite early on that they need an extra qualification. I do not think that it will pick up the people to whom it should apply.
The amendment removes the upper age limit for those who will receive free tuition. The idea is certainly attractive; education and training should be seen as lifelong processes. We should never wish to say to someone, “You are too old to get this training”, or “You have left it too late to enhance your education”. At any stage in a person’s life, they should have the opportunity, should they want it, to take up education or training. However, I worry about how this would be funded. Aspirations are one thing, but if they are to be encouraged, we must be sure that we can provide for them. Would the Government be prepared to make any extra funding available? We would not like to see the budget for other areas of training being cut.