House of Lords
Thursday, 30 October 2008.
The House met at eleven o'clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham.
Companies: Pay Increases
asked Her Majesty’s Government:
Further to the answers by Lord Jones of Birmingham on 28 January (Official Report, cols. 435–36), what advice they have given to companies in the private sector on pay increases; and what controls they propose to introduce.
My Lords, pay levels in private sector companies are a matter for those companies. The Government have consistently made it clear that there should be effective linkage between pay and performance and that exceptional rewards for mediocre performance are not in the interests of companies, their shareholders or the United Kingdom as a whole.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply, which showed a mild advance on that given by the noble Lord, Lord Jones, to the same Question in January. Does he not agree that the obscene rises in rewards, bonuses and the like for corporate executives in recent years mean that the voice of fairness must now be heard inside the remuneration committees of companies and similar bodies? Does he not also agree that the Government must consider, urgently and immediately, some control over the membership of remuneration committees of all public companies in the longer run and, in the short run, of those companies in which public money has been invested for shares?
My Lords, of course the Government agree with a great deal of what my noble friend has said. In its letter, the Financial Services Authority has made it clear that for banks, pay—and particularly bonuses—must be related to performance. If it is not, the Financial Services Authority will take into account a bank’s position in relation to where it receives government support.
On the more general issue of companies, from 6 April next year, a new provision will require quoted companies to report in their directors’ remuneration report on how they have taken pay and employment conditions into account when setting directors’ pay. Directors’ pay should be set only by non-executive directors, not by those who benefit from it themselves.
My Lords, over the years I have often asked Questions about how unsatisfactory it is that people who perform very badly can still get great bonuses, and the answer has always been that that is in the contract. Why can contracts not include penalty clauses as well as bonuses? The public are very dissatisfied that the BBC employee who is suspended—I think that is the word—is going to earn £16,000 a day for doing nothing on a pretty regular basis. There is great public dissatisfaction with rewards for bad performance.
My Lords, I am not sure that the issue surrounding Jonathan Ross is about bad performance; it is about one particular incident which is currently being examined, so I do not think we ought to rush to judgment. It is a matter for the BBC and, as the nation is showing, it expects the BBC to make a response to the errors which have occurred.
On the more general issues, is the noble Baroness asking the Government to have a legal position to interfere with contracts in private industry and set penalty clauses, or is she seeking to show that public opinion expects good performance only to be rewarded? On the latter point, I am with her entirely, but on the former point she will recognise just how difficult it would be for such a concept to work.
My Lords, does the Minister not accept that his Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, was exactly the same as the countless answers that have been given over the years by people in his position? Does he not accept that the world has now changed? Does he not also accept that, bearing in mind that the Government are now a major shareholder in many of our financial institutions, we need a much clearer statement than we have had hitherto as to exactly what they mean when they say that they want restraint in executive pay and bonuses in those institutions?
My Lords, that is the burden of the role of the Financial Services Authority in relation to the banks. It has indicated in its letter that it will expect the remuneration of senior bank employees to relate to performance, otherwise the authority will use powers that it has to operate sanctions against banks. Although I take some comfort from the fact that I am in line with what predecessors have said from this Dispatch Box in representing my own Government, I say that we are in a new situation and the Government expect, particularly with regard to banks and the financial sector, an improvement in the relationship between performance and pay.
My Lords, if one does not get paid for a poor performance, then half the Arsenal football team will not get paid for what it did last night. Is not the problem now how we define the private sector? I do not know whether my noble friend will able to answer the question. With all these banks now receiving all this money, are they now in the private sector or the public sector? I do not know what the National Statistician says, but to those of us who tried to follow what the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, said, it looks as if they are in the public sector, in which case they ought to follow precisely public sector pay guidelines.
My Lords, my noble friend is being a little unfair on Arsenal footballers; they just came up against a superior force in fitness in the last 10 minutes. The Financial Services Authority is of course concerned particularly about those banks in which the Government have made a significant input of resources and about exercising powers with regard to that. However, as I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, from the Liberal Benches, the Financial Services Authority is concerned not just about those banks, but the banking and financial sector as a whole. It has made it clear in its letter that, where the companies concerned require government support, that support will be conditional on the Financial Services Authority examining the reports on directors’ pay that the firms have to produce, and that, where they reflect unsatisfactory circumstances, the FSA will act.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, in circumstances in which many ordinary workers in financial services are now facing unemployment, if nothing is done about these very high bonuses and rewards for senior people, it will have an adverse effect on the way the public view the present situation?
My Lords, I understand the point that my noble friend makes, but she will recognise that the whole banking system has been shaken by the developments over the past few months. That applies to the highest paid as well as to other workers. She is right that many workers who have no direct responsibility for the catastrophic decisions that were taken will pay the price, but the House will appreciate that some very significant lessons have been learnt by the banking and financial sector—and the Government have indicated that they intend to monitor the situation closely.
Housing: Shared Ownership for the Elderly
My Lords, the shared ownership for the elderly scheme is a useful housing option for older people. It forms part of the Housing Corporation’s affordable housing programme for 2008-11 and, along with other low-cost home ownership schemes, is kept under constant review. From 1 December 2008, the new Homes and Communities Agency will be responsible for funding affordable housing schemes.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I understand that some housing associations are willing to allow residents to fund care and support, but the associations have to use their own resources to do that. Given the Government’s commitment to personal budgets and choice and the huge worry about the costs of care that many people face, will the Government consider changing policy to allow downward staircasing in all shared ownership housing, which would enable residents to fund care and support in this way?
My Lords, the noble Baroness knows that I am very sympathetic to innovation in how we use our housing funding as a link with health and preventive and social care for older people. I know that RSLs use their own money for this, but I am not convinced that buying back shares in shared ownership homes to help older people is the most appropriate role for social housing grants. Essentially, we need to build more homes, as the noble Baroness knows, and more quality homes for older people, not just the traditional residential homes. But I hear what the noble Baroness says and I shall discuss with her the scope for innovation across the field.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Hanover Housing Association, which provides several thousand homes for older people, including through the excellent shared ownership scheme. Perhaps I could ask the Minister a question relating to younger shared owners, as they form a particularly vulnerable group at this time of recession. They were marginal home buyers; now mortgage repossessions are running at some 45,000 per annum and nearly 1,000 families a week lose their homes through mortgage repossessions, with all the horrors that go with that. Will the Minister use her considerable influence with the housing associations and the Homes and Communities Agency to try to ensure that there are rescue packages in place for those shared owners who run into mortgage difficulty so that perhaps they can sell back the share that they have purchased from the housing association, become tenants eligible for housing benefit and stay put where they are, so we do not see the horrors of homelessness that follow from repossession?
My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right and makes a powerful case to which we would all want to respond. Young shared owners will be eligible for help with their mortgages if they fulfil the criteria of vulnerability for the new mortgage rescue scheme that is in development now. In addition, he is quite right in saying that RSLs have the option to buy back shares if shared owners cannot keep up the payments because of a change in financial circumstances. They have the discretion to buy back a share or buy out owners so they can reoccupy the property as a tenant. I would be very happy to discuss those measures in more detail with the noble Lord, because our department is looking at all ways in which to free up the housing market and support home owners at the moment.
My Lords, those in this vulnerable group, the elderly, have, like others, huge difficulties selling their homes because of the housing slump, getting loans or mortgages because of the credit crunch, and suffer around double the official inflation rate as a higher proportion of their income goes on food and fuel. Is not that exactly the type of vulnerable group that the Prime Minister said that he wanted to help?
Yes, my Lords, we are doing a great deal. Interestingly, the affordable homes agency, the Housing Corporation, has relaxed its bidding round so that it is able to respond to registered social landlords who want to specialise in providing homes for older people. Bids are coming forward and the proportion of the funding going on homes for older people is increasing. However, the noble Lord is quite right: because we are concerned that older people do not have sufficient choice and quality in their housing, we last year produced a document, A National Strategy for Housing in an Ageing Society that addresses long-term issues as well as putting forward specific short-term help for older people.
My Lords, returning to the shared ownership scheme for the elderly—the current scheme—I understand that there have been only 500 completions since 2001. I am sure that the Government would not be so cynical as to introduce a scheme that has low take-up, so can the Minister tell the House what research the Government have undertaken, particularly into the marketing of this and similar schemes?
My Lords, it was always intended as a small and specific scheme for older people with very small incomes. Many of the people who qualified had incomes of less than £10,000, so it was never intended as a massive expansion for older people. I can verify that the scheme is based on research. We need to bear in mind that about 12,000 units are provided for older people from 100 housing associations. As I said, because we are concerned about improving access, the Housing Corporation is freeing up its bidding processes and offering incentives to local authorities to come forward with more allocations. We are looking at an expansion in what we are providing.
Yes, my Lords; it was in the homes and communities Act last year. Affordable housing includes homes for social rent—what we traditionally called council housing—and homes that are below market cost when they are sold for people in shared equity schemes or provided with financial support.
My Lords, the Government have no plans to review the constitutional role of the monarchy.
My Lords, since there is discussion about restrictions on the religion and gender of potential successors to the throne, would this not be an appropriate moment to look at the role of the constitutional monarchy? For instance, does the Minister not agree that it would be quite incompatible with the principle of constitutional monarchy were a potential successor to the throne to make highly controversial statements about science policy on medicine or agriculture—not that any member of the Royal Family would dream of doing any such thing?
My Lords, I repeat myself: the Government believe that the national interest and desire are for the country to remain a constitutional monarchy in its present form. Her Majesty the Queen acts as a focus for national identity and unity. Frankly, although political parties change constantly, Her Majesty provides a sense of continuity and stability in times of political and social change.
My Lords, shall we hear from my noble friend first and then the noble Lord?
My Lords, has my noble friend noted the penetrating observation of his distinguished colleague in the Government, Mr Phil Woolas, that, once you introduce elections to the second Chamber, you are inevitably on the way to disestablishment of the Church of England? Is what his ministerial colleague rightly said about the Church of England not equally true of the monarchy? Is it not therefore time for the Front Benches of the three main political parties frankly to acknowledge the secularist and republican implications of their present schemes for reform of the second Chamber?
My Lords, my noble friend knows as well as the House does that the White Paper included options for both a 100 per cent- and an 80 per cent-elected second Chamber. If there is an appointed element, places for bishops will of course be retained, but if the size of the House is reduced it would be logical for reserved places for bishops to be reduced proportionately. I should add that, as now, the number of bishops would not count towards those appointed by the Appointments Commission.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that these issues about the monarchy are best left for another reign? Would it not be curmudgeonly for this House and, most of all, for the responsible Government to raise questions about the monarchy when we have the most constitutional and Christian monarch in our history?
My Lords, is it not a blatant discourtesy to Her Majesty and a disservice to our constitutional monarchy to describe the ministerial power, not least to make war without debate or vote, as the “royal prerogative”? Should not this piece of tattered absolutism now be universally identified as the “Prime Ministerial presumption”?
My Lords, do the Government agree that, before we joined the European Union, the monarch acted on the advice of Ministers, which was purely the product of our former system of representative parliamentary democracy, in which Parliament was supreme under the Crown? Do the Government accept, now that a majority of our national law is made in Brussels—to the exclusion of this Parliament—that this is no longer so? Do the Government not agree that this is a huge change on which the British people should be consulted?
My Lords, I have to tell the noble Lord that I do not agree at all—not in any way. I remember that he was concerned, when we passed the Lisbon treaty Bill, that somehow the constitutional monarch’s role would be altered. He was told then, and I tell him now, that it would not be altered in any way.
My Lords, would my noble friend accept the simple proposition that the monarchy should embrace the values of our society? Those values include not discriminating against women and not discriminating against one particular religion. Are those two arguments not sufficient to justify having another look at the issue?
My Lords, I recall the noble Lord moving the Second Reading of his Private Member’s Bill just before the 2005 general election. Indeed, in preparation for this Question, I read his speech. Of course, these are issues of great importance, but the solving of them is much more complex than it looks at first instance, and, frankly, they are not a priority for us at present.
Democratic Republic of Congo: UN Mission
My Lords, we are gravely concerned by the increase in violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The UN mission in the DRC faces an important challenge in stabilising the situation in the east of the country and supporting efforts to alleviate the humanitarian consequences. We are reviewing, with our partners and the UN Secretary-General, the current levels of support to MONUC.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that Answer. I hope that, as the Government take part in the review, they will also take a hard look at the mandate, and the interpretation of the mandate, for MONUC in the Congo. What steps are the Government taking, with others, to gain the renewed commitment of all parties, including the CNDP of Nkunda, to the Amani programme of work on the range of issues that underlie the conflict? What is their attitude to the suggestion that emerged at a meeting in Kinshasa on Tuesday, chaired by the president and attended by Her Majesty’s ambassador, and for which France, as president of the EU, has shown some enthusiasm, for a strong force—a kind of “Artemis mark II”—to strengthen MONUC’s efforts to restore peace in the DRC and so in the region, and to restore space for pursuit of the vital Amani programme?
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate rightly draws our attention to this issue. There is chaos in the eastern Congo. The city of Goma is subject to an extraordinary degree of lawlessness. However, I can assure noble Lords that there is now a ceasefire which has held since late last night. The rebels are no longer advancing on Goma. I have within the past hour spoken to the UN special representative in the Congo and he renewed the request for European troops. I told him that we first had to see how the political situation was going to shape up and whether this ceasefire would hold. Our first priority is a political process backed by adequate humanitarian access.
My Lords, this is a colossal tragedy to which the right reverend Prelate has rightly drawn our attention. What is going on in the Congo, and has gone on for the past 45 years since the total failure of decolonisation, has been described as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. As the Minister rightly says, it has got very much worse in the past 72 hours. Obviously, we from this island cannot solve the tragedy or help directly by ourselves, and we must work with others. Where would he put the priority? Is it in trying to get more reinforcement for the UN troops, who seem to be in no position to stop the Rwandan-backed rebels—if they are Rwandan-backed? Or can some European contribution be made given that Mr Kouchner in Paris is saying that there should be an EU force of 1,500 troops but Mr Solana is saying that he does not want troops, he only wants diplomacy? Could we really work bilaterally with our good friends in Europe and possibly avoid any undue European Union bureaucracy which would only delay things in helping these poor people?
My Lords, the root solution to this problem is the implementation of the existing political agreement which calls for the moving of rebels away from the border and the resolution of these two rebel groups by their reintegration into society in Rwanda and the Congo. A failure to act with sufficient will and energy on the agreement has led to this flare-up of violence and a renewed political effort to ensure that it is implemented is key.
Humanitarian access is now vital. There are some 35,000 displaced people moving towards Goma and we have to be able to assist them. We have made £20 million available to the pooled humanitarian fund of which £15 million has already been passed on to agencies. However, we must keep in mind the prospect that peace will not be restored. Therefore, we certainly cannot rule out an additional deployment, whether it is a strengthening of MONUC or a European force. It is too early to say whether that is necessary; and whether it would arrive in time is also questionable. We have first to try to secure a political solution backed by proper humanitarian support.
My Lords, the Minister will have seen Ban Ki-Moon’s statement yesterday that he regards this as a humanitarian catastrophe. He will also have seen the figures promoted by the International Rescue Committee that some 5.4 million people have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1998. Given the deteriorating situation there, with Save the Children pulling out of Kivu yesterday and the situation in Goma which he has just described, does the Minister think that part of the political process to which he has just alluded should be a high-level diplomatic meeting between President Kabila of the Congo and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda? Given that, in the east of the Congo, one dimension is the conflict between Hutus and Tutsis, and that Kabila, certainly during a meeting that I had with him, has indicated his willingness to have such high-level diplomacy, is it not perhaps time that Her Majesty’s Government facilitated such an interchange?
My Lords, I have on many occasions spoken to both presidents to urge them to meet, and they have frequently met. The difficulty has been the follow-up, which has led to a history of mistrust between the two men. Just today, however, facilitated by the UN, the Rwandan Foreign Minister has flown to Kinshasa for high-level direct contact between Rwanda and the Congo.
My Lords, considering that 850,000 people are displaced in North Kivu, with a quarter of a million of them displaced since August, is it not extraordinary that the Security Council has not met since March and that there has been no statement by the Secretary-General since that date? What moves is the United Kingdom making to ensure that the subject is on the Security Council’s agenda?
My Lords, I am pleased to be able to correct the noble Lord on that. The Security Council has met several times this week on the issue. Last night it issued a statement calling for the appointment of an envoy, the cessation of hostilities and implementation of the political agreement of which I have spoken. The Secretary-General has also made statements and has said that the issue has been his number one preoccupation over the past month. We are working with the UN, which we feel is very much engaged on this issue.
My Lords, given the deteriorating situation in the eastern Congo and the difficulties in south Sudan and Somalia, what are Her Majesty's Government doing to strengthen the capacity of the international system to respond more effectively to conflicts in future and to try to prevent further humanitarian catastrophes?
My Lords, the noble Lord puts his finger on the real issue. We see international peacekeeping buckling under the demands being placed on it without sufficient investment in improving the quality of peacekeeping, whether it is UN or AU peacekeeping. There has been an erosion of political support for peacekeeping and a willingness on the part of local parties to conflicts and of Governments to resist the deployment of peacekeeping forces, so I am pleased to say that the Prime Minister has taken a lead on a strategy that is intended to restore the authority and legitimacy of peacekeeping while strengthening its capabilities.
Pre-release Access to Official Statistics Order 2008
National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Social Welfare and Other Fields) Order 2008
My Lords, I beg to move the two Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the draft orders be referred to Grand Committee—(Baroness Royall of Blaisdon.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Education and Skills Bill
Clause 1 [Persons to whom Part 1 applies]:
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 6, at end insert—
“( ) This Part does not apply to any person who is the primary care giver to a child under the age of 12 months.”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, it seems a very long time since we last met to discuss this Bill; in fact it is 14 and a half weeks since we concluded the Committee stage, and the world has changed greatly in 14 weeks.
No one knows for certain what the next few years will bring or what the eventual outcome for the economy will be, but it is certain that we will need a workforce that is as highly skilled and well motivated as possible to take advantage of opportunities. We have to prepare for that now. For that reason, although we still have our doubts on compulsion and would not choose that route ourselves, we will not try to demolish the cornerstone of the Bill. It is therefore all the more important that the penalties for not participating are the right ones, a topic to which I shall return in a later group of amendments, and that genuine reasons for exemption from the duty to participate are recognised.
In Committee we moved an amendment listing various categories of persons who ought to be exempt. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, argued that the Government could see no case for a blanket exclusion, that each case would be dealt with on its individual merits and that Clause 39 would allow discretion in extreme cases. Although we have some reservations, we can see the Government’s point. However, we still have a concern over one category of possible exemptions: the primary care giver. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, will be addressing the category of volunteers in later amendments, but for this amendment we are concerned with the exemption for the primary care giver to a young child under 12 months. Our concern stems as much from the needs of the baby as from the needs of the mother. It seems perverse that the Government extended maternity leave for working mothers, which we wholeheartedly supported, so that babies could enjoy a secure attachment and families would be given time to bond and settle down with their child, yet teenage mothers, who probably need this more, are expected to start courses relatively soon after their baby is born. What the Government are trying to do is perverse.
No one would wish to argue against the depressing picture that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, painted of the increased risk of entering poverty that teenage parents and their children face. Education and training is undoubtedly the way to mitigate this. We are arguing for the needs of children under 12 months also to be taken into account. I beg to move.
My Lords, in Committee was it not indicated that teenage mothers who had children under 12 months would not be expected to attend education or training, except in parenting, and is there not an issue of whether parenting classes could be accredited? Could the Minister clarify this issue?
My Lords, unfortunately, I was not here when this issue was discussed in Committee but I would like to make the alternative case that a teenage mother needs education and training as much as any other young person and should be given sufficient support with childcare arrangements to be able to benefit from this Bill’s requirement for all 16 to 19 year-olds to continue in some form of education and training. If the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, is saying that they should be allowed to opt out of this legislation, that would be a profound mistake and not in the interests of these girls’ future.
My Lords, Dr Roger Morgan, the person charged with listening to the voice of children and young people in care and leaving care, produced a report on care leavers. One of the comments from the young people was, “If we are parents when we leave care, we want support for ourselves and not just for the babies”. So they do not want to be left in a situation where things go out of control and the baby gets taken into care; they want support from the very start. I am simply highlighting the very important work of Dr Roger Morgan and the good work of the Government in appointing such an impressive figure to make sure the voices of children in care and leaving care are heard. Whatever happens, whether young parents are obliged to stay in education and training or not, they need every support we can offer them to make the best of their own lives and their children’s. I am sure we can all agree with that.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, that a lot has changed in the 14 weeks between Committee and Report—not only the economy and the circumstances surrounding that but also the Minister. I am delighted to be involved in continuing the discussions started by my noble friend Lord Adonis and in continuing—faithfully, I hope—the direction of travel that he initiated.
The fundamental point of this legislation—to raise the participation age—should be to give the same opportunities to, and have the same expectations of, every young person, whatever their background or situation. As we have stressed throughout our discussions, teenage parents or any other group of young people should not be treated differently from the outset and given a second-class offer. That is the prism through which we look at these issues.
In relation to teenage parents in particular, of course young mothers will not be expected to return to formal education if they are recovering from giving birth, as is the case with young mothers under the age of 16. They will be entitled to reasonable time off around the pregnancy, as is the case for young people currently in compulsory schooling. We will provide guidance to local authorities about what this should be and will fully consult stakeholders, representatives of the sector and others affected by the guidance. There will be a range of ways in which young parents can re-engage in learning when they are ready and they will receive support in doing so. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, highlighted, the question of parenting classes would come in here. Where possible we look to incorporate such classes into the foundation learning tier, which will be accredited.
A set of flexible learning opportunities, timetabling and settings will therefore be available to help young parents to participate in a way that suits them. Information, advice and guidance are available to help young parents through the Connexions service and the targeted youth services, which are very important to this group.
The Government are committed to having a Sure Start children’s centre in every community, where teenage parents can access a broad range of support in one place—that is key here—including childcare, education and training, parenting support and health-related information, advice and treatment. As the noble Baroness highlighted, training in parenting skills, provision to address the mother’s other educational needs and childcare may all be integrated, enabling the young person to combine learning and caring for their child. We will look for ways to facilitate further development of programmes such as this.
There are already many examples of good and innovative practice on which to build in supporting young parents back into learning, and I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, is involved in promoting concerns such as that. For example, as my noble friend Lord Adonis mentioned in Committee, Newcastle-under-Lyme College in Staffordshire runs a learning programme for teenage parents at a local children’s centre where childcare is provided. As well as working on literacy, numeracy and ICT skills, the programme helps participants to access other support services for themselves and their children, such as those provided by health visitors. Most participants later progress to further learning at the college’s main site, so it is about giving parents the opportunity to progress.
Of course, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, highlighted, we must remember that teenage mothers do not always achieve the qualifications that they need to progress into further education. About 40 per cent of teenage mothers leave school with no qualifications. The ones who achieve better long-term outcomes for themselves and their children are those who gain employment, for which, as we all know, they need training and qualifications.
Research shows that young mothers who have previously been disengaged from learning are often motivated to take part when they become pregnant to help to ensure better outcomes for their babies. Thus it is often important that they can start courses relatively soon after the baby is born. That is why we do not want to exempt them from the duty to participate. It is also important that further education colleges, for example, have more flexible start dates—not just September—to capitalise on this high level of motivation that pregnant women experience.
There may be challenges in providing the same offer for this group of young people, but it should not mean that they are excluded. We already have a system of support, and we will make full use of the intervening five years to develop this further as we move towards implementation of raising the participation age. That will challenge the system to provide for everyone, and it is not right that any group of young people should be excluded, ignored or neglected. As my noble friend Lady Blackstone said, we have in mind the interests not only of the baby but the mother. We need to make sure that the mother can best serve her child. I hope that, with those reassurances and our absolute commitment to ensure that we meet the needs of young mothers, the noble Baroness will consider withdrawing her amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her thorough answer. I forgive her; it was remiss of me not to welcome her to the Dispatch Box to lead on this Bill. I always felt that she was part of the team anyway, so it was not exactly new.
The noble Baroness said that we discussed parenting classes, which we did, but the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said that that would happen only if they were for the requisite hours and it was accredited training. We would welcome that being put into the system. I do not disagree one jot with the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. Nobody would want teenage mothers to have a second-class offer; that would not be right. Our concern is for the baby, which we discussed at great length on the Childcare Bill, when we spoke about the problems of shoving young babies into nurseries and their having lots of different carers. We just want to ensure that, when a local authority is trying to provide something for young mothers, the needs of the baby are taken into account. I would welcome a chat with the Minister between now and Third Reading to see if somehow that could be highlighted. I am sure that that would go some way towards reassuring me, but for now I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 10, at end insert “, and
(d) is not engaged in voluntary activity for more than 20 hours per week.”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 6, 7 and 64. Before making my remarks on Amendment No.2, I should say with regard to the previous amendment that the arrangements with Sure Start at the college in Newcastle-under-Lyme are just the sort of thing that we want.
This amendment probes a little further on the discussion we had in Committee when we established that when a young person had left school but was engaged in voluntary activities for more than 20 hours a week, that voluntary activity might count as work-based learning provided that the person undertook training activities within that voluntary activity that led to some form of accreditation. For many voluntary activities, such as working with children or older people, that would pose no problems. There are recognised qualifications to be gained leading to NVQs that are now required to work in those areas. Volunteers can easily participate in such courses.
A problem arises, however, in relation to the sorts of activities provided by the Prince’s Trust and Barnardo’s for young people who have been school drop-outs and who have left school with no qualifications and minimal, if any, literacy or numeracy skills. It is not clear whether they will be required to undertake courses that lead to accreditation. That is where Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 to Clauses 4 and 6 come in. The sort of programme provided by the Prince’s Trust might be called a personalised learning programme. The young people concerned are not ready to take accredited courses, but are pursuing courses of learning that are tailored to their needs and help them to gain fulfilment through education and to move on further. Those courses may equip them to move on to accredited learning at a later stage. It may be that their special educational needs are such that they are unlikely ever to attain levels of skill or competence required for accreditation.
In response to some of the issues raised both by us and by other noble Lords during the Committee stage, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on 28 July 2008. His letter sets out in more detail what would be expected in these circumstances. I should like to read a number of extracts from the letter because it is important that this is on the record so that people will know what was said. In the letter the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said:
“I agree with you that it will be vital that the provision available to young people is personalised to meet their specific needs and to give them the skills they need to progress further in education and to enter employment in future. As I set out previously during debate on the raising the participation age clauses, Clause 4 provides for young people participating in full time education and training do so by following an unaccredited programme of learning. This could include the type of re-engagement provision that is often provided by third sector and voluntary organisations.
For those young people participating through the part time learning route, whilst we recognise the valuable skills and experience that young people in full-time employment will be gaining through their day-to-day work, we do believe that it is important that the course they are undertaking in their day a week of guided learning should be accredited. This will ensure that it is of good quality, and without this requirement employers could get away with providing very little training”.
He then went on to say:
“For some of our most disadvantaged young people, who may have not enjoyed or progressed at school, the most appropriate option may be a programme of learning at ‘entry level’ or ‘level 1’. We recognise the vital role such programmes will play in successfully raising the participation age and are working hard to increase the range of provision available to young people. In the White Paper Further Education: Raising Skills, Improving Life Chances (March 2006) the Government confirmed its commitment to developing ‘The Foundation Learning Tier’ (FLT). This will be introduced across the country from September 2010, bringing coherence to entry level and level 1 qualifications and providing clear progression routes for young people onto level 2 and beyond. It will also include a skilled work pathway for young people who are not ready to undertake a full Apprenticeship.”
How far does all this fit in to what is being proposed under the learning support agreements, which we will be discussing later? In the Minister’s amendments after Clause 58, these, as she will admit, are not quite the same as personalised learning programmes, although such programmes could form a part of the conditional agreement between the local authority and the young person.
In responses to amendments on Clause 4 in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, made it clear that those pursuing full-time education might pursue courses which in the end did not lead to an accredited outcome required by Clause 6 but those pursuing work-based learning were required to have some sort of accreditation. Does working as a volunteer count as education or training in this respect? Can pursuing a personalised learning programme with one of the voluntary organisations, such as the Prince’s Trust, count as education and are they therefore exempt from the requirement to have this first-stage accreditation? There is still a lack of clarity here and I wonder whether the Minister can clarify precisely what will happen in those circumstances.
Amendment No. 64 relates to Part 2, dealing specifically with young adults with learning difficulties. It raises slightly different issues. In our discussions in Committee on Clause 64, which is now Clause 56, it was clear from the Minister’s reply that such services as are considered appropriate include the Connexions services. I pointed out to the Minister that many of these young people suffered from health problems, particularly mental health problems, and that providing them with appropriate services would mean bringing in the PCT and the child and adolescent mental health services. I asked him whether guidance would involve those two services as partners with Connexions.
He promised to think further on those issues and I am encouraged that the Government’s amendment to Clause 58 on support learning contracts includes support in the form of medical and social care. But again, I seek clarification on whether Clause 56, which includes the words,
“such services as it considers appropriate”,
includes health services, in particular mental health services. So many of these young people have mental health problems, and it is extremely important that the mental health services are brought in as partners with Connexions to help them to overcome them. I beg to move.
My Lords, I want to speak, but I want to listen to the Minister first. I am sorry, I am being totally daft, which is not unusual: I am looking at the wrong amendment.
I understand the aim of the amendment, but I have sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said in Committee about accreditation. The voluntary sector is pretty diverse, and to say that voluntary work, whatever it might be, counts towards a person’s education is putting it rather widely.
I am concerned about the process of accreditation which the Government envisage when it comes to entry-level qualifications. It really ought to mean no qualification at all. How can you have a qualification in an ability to work with other people, to behave in a social manner and to turn up to work on time—all the skills which many young people are leaving school without? If you are going to pick them up at 16 and turn them out as competent adults at 18, they are the first things you have to address. The obsession that the Learning and Skills Council has for everything having to lead into literacy, numeracy or some other chain of qualification is poisonous to these basic levels of education. It means that the whole structure of those courses must be bent towards box-ticking, because that is all you can do at that stage. Such bits of literacy and numeracy are entirely outside the main thrust and purpose of the education that is being provided.
I agree that there needs to be a structure and supervision, but surely the best way of handling this is through the structure which the Government are providing in later amendments; one of local authority supervision through a contract between the local authority and the young person. If under that scheme the local authority, with a voluntary organisation, is providing a programme that is aimed at getting these young people motivated, directed and involved in society and their own futures, surely that is enough. That programme does not need to go through an expensive, time-consuming and essentially irrelevant LSC process. The control is there through the local authority. Most of these courses, particularly the good courses, will be local because they will rely on being run by motivated and directed individuals and will not generally be suitable for rolling out to the ordinary run of commercial education. They will work well within the local voluntary sector. Under those structures, there should be total freedom for the local education authority to provide these courses without them having to be formally accredited in some box-ticking way.
My Lords, I shall briefly comment on what the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said about the importance of ensuring a good partnership with child and adolescent mental health services for Connexions services working with these young people. I am particularly thinking of young people in care, or on the edge of care, because one can spend a short time in care in one’s early childhood or later on and not necessarily be entitled to the full support available otherwise. There are many other children who have experienced the death of a parent or both parents or multiple trauma and are vulnerable. It is helpful for a Connexions adviser to have the best professional support in maintaining a relationship with a vulnerable young person. It is sometimes difficult to sustain those relationships, but it can be very helpful for a young person who has experienced the loss of a parent or family member or who has had a number of placements with different carers to have one person consistently engaged in a relationship with him. However, that person needs good support, so I welcome what the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said.
My Lords, I hope I can provide the clarity that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, is looking for. I have a rather long speaking note, but my speaking notes get shorter as the day goes by, so I am not going to drone on for hours.
I believe that all young people should benefit from staying in education or training until the age of 18 and that appropriately tailored, flexible and personalised programmes of learning will be essential to engage some of the hardest-to-reach young people. Speaking particularly to Amendments Nos. 6 and 7, if the noble Baronesses are thinking of the kind of informal or non-formal education or training often provided through the voluntary sector—the noble Baroness referred to the Prince’s Trust—that would be covered under full-time education or training. The type of provision described in Amendment No. 6 is recognised and allowed for under Clause 4. Appropriate full-time education or training is not required to be accredited. It can be provided at a school, college, higher education institution or otherwise, which allows for locations that are not formal education institutions. That is what the noble Baroness was pointing to. They may not always lead to formally accredited qualifications, although we know it is important to break down programmes into bite-sized sections and to start recognising young people’s achievements as early as possible in whatever way is most appropriate for them. There is nothing in Clause 4 to prevent personalised learning programmes being integrated with individual support where that is needed, and it would be good practice to do so. I therefore believe that Amendment No. 6 is unnecessary.
On Amendment No. 7, our strong view is that informal learning should not count for the purposes of part-time education or training alongside employment. We recognise the value of non-formal learning, where it has a clear aim and enables young people to progress, and have made it clear that it will be allowed under Clause 4. However, since young people in a job develop their “get up and turn up on time” side, we think it reasonable to require young people in full-time education to be working toward an accredited qualification. It is important that they have the opportunity to participate in good-quality, accredited training; without the requirement for accreditation there would be no guarantee of the quality level in the training being undertaken.
In this context, the requirement for accreditation is our guarantee that, where employers are providing training, the learning that happens is substantial and of high quality. Without it, there would be a risk of creating a way out for employers—and I know that we shall discuss that concern shortly, on an amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Layard. The noble Baroness has, however, raised an important point.
On Amendment No. 2 in particular, we certainly recognise that engaging in volunteering is an extremely worthwhile activity for young people. I have personally promoted that and believe strongly in it. It can help them to gain important skills and experience that contribute to their personal development and are valued by employers and universities. We are encouraging more people to get involved in voluntary work. However, I am also clear that those young people need to continue their formal learning in the same way as those in paid employment do. It might be as part of a volunteering programme, or mean undertaking a part-time course alongside the volunteering activity. Continuing in formal accredited learning will ensure that the skills they have developed are formally recognised and that they gain further qualifications. That is important to help them demonstrate what they have learned to future employers; it will help them to find work and to progress in it.
Amendment No. 64 would put a duty on local authorities to provide health and mental health services. For a minority of young people, access to and continued participation in education and training depends not just on the quality of teaching and learning—or even the quality of information, advice and guidance that they receive on learning choices—but on their ability to access specialist support to help them overcome health issues that can be barriers to their learning. This is an important issue, but I believe the amendment is unnecessary. Under the Children Act 2004, local authorities have a duty to co-operate with health partners, including primary care trusts, to improve the,
“physical and mental health and emotional well-being”,
of children and young people. The Act also introduces a duty on local authorities to co-ordinate the production of strategic children and young persons’ plans, to set a vision for all the services that children and young people gain in an area. Guidance on that duty emphasises the need for close partnership working, to ensure consistency between children and young people’s plans and the primary care trusts’ local development plans.
Recently, there have been significant improvements in the delivery of child and adolescent mental health services, partly as a result of increasing funding in that area. For example, we have seen a significant increase in the numbers of multi-agency services there, and reductions in waiting lists. However, we want to see further improvements: that is why our Children’s Plan commissioned an external review of such services, led by Jo Davidson, director of the children and young people’s service at Gloucestershire County Council and Dr Bob Jezzard, an eminent child and adolescent psychiatrist. They will develop their report to the Government shortly, and we will be able to respond in full to the proposals for better, joined-up services. To be absolutely clear, a full discussion on the partnership agreements will be coming up later today. These are vehicles for promoting and achieving the participation of young people—not the actual participation, which we will consider later in a different part of the Bill.
I am aware that I have gone on for rather a long time but I hope I have been able to give the noble Baronesses the reassurance that they rightly require on this issue.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. She has clarified most of the issues that I wished to be clarified in regard to voluntary activity. It was not quite clear whether the kinds of courses laid on by the Prince’s Trust would count as full-time education and that is what I was querying.
Still outstanding, however—we shall probably return to this—is what will happen to young people with relatively severe learning difficulties of one kind or another who take up some form of work but cannot be expected to go on to acquire any kind of accreditation. We discussed this at some length in Committee in relation to the Rose Trust. On the whole, these young people gain a great deal through the work experience that they get on these occasions, yet such is the severity of their learning difficulties that it is not reasonable to expect them to go on to accreditation.
On Amendment No. 64, I take it the Minister is saying that it is not necessary because Clause 56(1) states:
“A local education authority in England must make available to young persons and relevant young adults for whom it is responsible such services as it considers appropriate to encourage, enable or assist the effective participation of those persons in education or training”.
We established in Committee that such services were the Connexions services but it was left a little vague as to whether the PCTs and children and adolescent mental health services were involved. From her reply today it is clear that under the partnership agreement established in the Children Act such services are to be brought in and made available when required. I am delighted to have a clear answer to that issue and I am grateful to the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 2 [Duty to participate in education or training]:
3: Clause 2, page 1, line 12, leave out from “applies” to end of line 3 on page 2 and insert “shall be entitled to two years of free education or training up to level 3, to be taken at any time after leaving education at the present compulsory school leaving age”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I also welcome the Minister to her new role. She has always been seen as part of the Bill team but I compliment her on the way in which she has picked up the ball and run with it. I look forward later in our debates today to being able to thank her for a number of things she has now brought forward in response to the listening that she and her predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis—who we miss very much—did in our debates in Committee.
On Amendment No. 3, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, that it has been a very eventful 14 weeks. Indeed, the British economy appears to be in turmoil, and that turmoil clearly will not go away for quite some time. There will be a certain amount of shake-out in some of our industries and the need for upskilling and reskilling among the working population will be greater than ever. The difference between us is how that will be best achieved. The amendment demonstrates that we prefer an entitlement for all adults to free level 3 tuition, throughout their life, to compulsion on 16 to 19 year-olds to carry on with some kind of education or training.
We therefore come back to the debate about compulsion versus entitlement which we had in Committee. We would prefer the Government to put in place all the things they are doing to widen the opportunity for young people to participate in education or training, to take away the barriers and provide support and help before resorting to any compulsion. There was much support for this point of view from all over the Committee. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, talked about the good reasons, such as parenthood, why a young woman may wish to postpone her post-16 studies; she has returned to that subject today. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, has talked about how compulsion does not work below the age of 16, since we still have a large—albeit falling—number of truants.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, talked about the attraction of teaching those who choose to be there, rather than those who are compelled, and emphasised that choice is a large contributor to their success. She also talked about the gradual transition to adulthood from 16 to 18, and worried about the fact that this Bill passes the duty from the parent to the child in relation to attendance at education, with the consequence that a criminal offence is created when a young person fails to participate. That criminal element is one that the Government openly accept. Only yesterday in a meeting with interested Peers for which we were most grateful, the honourable Jim Knight from another place accepted that quite clearly, despite the various measures that the Government have now introduced to reduce the likelihood and impact of that criminal offence, none of which is 100 per cent watertight.
The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, also supported entitlement, and felt that a lot of work is needed on the wider offer to 16 to 19 year-olds before making it compulsory for them to stay in education. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, expressed concerns about the local authority enforcement officer and his powers. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, talked about the consequences of giving a young person a criminal record, particularly in relation to their future employment prospects. It is because of this general disquiet about the compulsion element that we felt it necessary to return to the matter of compulsion versus entitlement at this stage. We believe that the country and its economy will benefit if as many as possible, and as many as are capable, take qualifications up to level 3. As I said, the world of work is changing rapidly; that will continue, and perhaps even accelerate with new technologies coming along. That is why we need to give people the chance to become lifelong learners. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, referred to Mr Gladstone, who formed his fourth Administration at the age of 83, declaring that he had been a learner all his life. I hope that when I am 83 I will still be a learner too.
However, the Minister’s predecessor claimed that this Bill, with its compulsion, would instil a greater culture of learning among teenagers and then, perhaps, further up the age range. It takes more than compulsion to change a culture. People change their attitudes when they enjoy something or see its benefit, not when they are forced to do something. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, talked about the increase in the number of young people already staying on, and the recent small reduction in the NEET category. Here he betrayed the real reason for the Government’s compulsion approach. This Bill, which affects every young person, is really designed to deal with the 9.4 per cent not in education, employment or training. As we all know, hard cases make bad law. We have a fundamental disagreement about what will deal best with those young people.
In this Bill, and others that we are promised in the next Session, the Government are planning to provide many of the right things: support, apprenticeships, the right to time off from work for training, a wider range of qualifications and financial support. These are all the right things, but making the whole thing compulsory introduces a negative element which is unnecessary and may even have a negative effect, which none of us wants. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, also prayed in aid a good many other countries that already have a higher participation age and better attainment levels. This is a very simplistic argument in a field where there are so many complex and interconnecting factors at work. That is why I have returned to this matter one more time.
We have tried in many of our other amendments, which we will debate later, to mitigate some of the potential worse effects of the Government’s compulsion approach. We have been pragmatic about that because it is likely that the Government will get their way. This amendment addresses our fundamental disagreement. Exemptions, minimal fines, support agreements and all, are fine in their way, but the Government, while claiming that a young person of 16 should be able to take responsibility for his own education and therefore bear the consequences if he breaks the law, in the next breath take away his right to decide when the time is right for him to continue his learning. We believe that that is wrong. The British Youth Council agrees with us. It carried out a survey recently which showed that a majority of young people do not want their free choice removed.
We should open the doors for young people, take away any barriers and help them to walk through those doors as soon as they are ready, but not create a one-age-fits-all situation. I am very keen on the entitlement to free level 3 tuition for all adults so that they can be lifelong learners. I beg to move.
My Lords, we made it quite clear at Second Reading and in Committee that we would much rather the Government proceeded with caution rather than compel young people to participate against their will, and that there should be a lot of carrot before any stick was applied. But we have not put down amendments on Report because, as I said in moving Amendment No. 1, the world has changed. We need to have as well skilled a workforce as possible and to ensure that as many young people as possible participate. As I said, we would not go down this route but we are not going to stand in the way of the Government bringing forward compulsion.
My Lords, I hope that my noble friend might in due course have an opportunity not to go down this route herself and that she will then take quite seriously what is proposed in the amendment. If we are to give people rights to educate themselves to a decent level, when the time is right for them appears to be the right way to go. To have a pupil who is motivated, who wants to learn and knows what they want to learn is so much better than having someone who is dragging their feet every step of the way. You can achieve so much more for the same amount of money. In a way, some children of 16 and 17 need some life experience; they need to get out there and learn how hard life is in the real world; they need to learn a bit more about themselves and what they want to do, and then come back to education. When that happens, they should be able to do so on the same terms as someone who already knows at 16 that they want to take a couple of A-levels and go on to university.
The idea of lifelong learning and the ability to do it should be core to our thinking. Lots of people find at certain periods of their life that they need some additional education. If they have not had a basic education and have not learnt what they should have learnt earlier in life, the easy availability of a retraining course and the money to do that which has not been wasted by keeping them in school between the ages of 16 and 18 but is available for them when they need it, is surely the right way to go. Why should they have to pay for it? To have a quick week of education available for Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross would be a thoroughly good idea.
My Lords, I cannot fault an iota of the very impassioned, excellent argument of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. My heart is with her; I wish that the Government had put their energies into providing a lifelong entitlement for people that would enable flexibility for the workforce, which will be so much more important now after the past few terrible weeks and all that that implies for the workforce of the future. I have amendments down about the criminal aspects arising from compulsion. I think that at this stage the Government will try compulsion, although there is no evidence that it works in other countries. I think we will keep our powder dry on that, although I wish very much that the Government had gone down the route that the noble Baroness has suggested.
My Lords, I agree strongly with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. While she was speaking, I was minded of two statements by two totally different people. One was a memorable statement by Winston Churchill, that there was a treasure in the heart of every man if only you could find it; the other was a statement by the learning and skills co-ordinator in a young offender establishment in Northallerton in Yorkshire, who said to me that the main job of trainers and educators in prisons was to motivate people to learn. One of the biggest factors in that motivation was time; therefore, it seems entirely sensible that time should be allowed to apply. If people have not been able to engage and connect during school, let us not expect them automatically to go on with it until time and other things have been able to motivate them because they have somehow discovered that there is a treasure which has not yet been found and that needs developing.
My Lords, I shall revert to the Prison Service when I speak to my amendment later. I had intended to refer to a prisoner named John, who, as a result of having been diagnosed and taught as a dyslexic, was able to say that he had learnt more in eight weeks than in the previous 41 years of his life. This provision is for people who miss diagnosis.
I also remind your Lordships that the world now is very different from even 10 years ago, including the speed of change in the skills needed to prosper. Old jobs are becoming obsolete and new jobs arising almost by the month as a result of technological development. The amendment offers a way in which the mistakes that people have made in not taking their education when they are young can be turned into an advantage, because they will be able to pick up again with learning that will be contemporary with, rather than prior to, the need.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, not only for tabling the amendment but for the splendid way in which she brought us all up to date with what had been said in Committee, which is now so many months ago that I think that quite a number of us have forgotten the detail. It is essential to reiterate what so many of us said at that time: we would prefer choice, or the carrot route, to compulsion. The more one hears about the sad situation that the world is in today, the more it would seem appropriate to look down that road. I recently attended a briefing by the Nuffield Foundation on the Engaging Youth inquiry. It made it clear that a wide range of young people will need all kinds of support before—and, one hopes, when—they see that they could engage in something rather more specifically educational. Among other things is a need for the personal mentor or helper to be around. That is where I would put a lot of my resources for these young people. Although I fear we will not persuade the Government to think again on this matter, about which I am sad, those of us who strongly prefer this route should make that absolutely clear.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for bringing back this important debate. As I said in Committee, I just about favour the Government’s view: I feel that it is a responsibility of adults to ensure as far as possible that young people use their time constructively, not self-destructively, and not to let their potential go to waste. However, it is a difficult argument. The key is implementation, about which my noble friend has just spoken. As a general principle, every young person needs a mentor to help them forward. It is crucial that they find that person in the future.
The noble Baroness’s response to the question about the Government’s investment in child and adolescent mental health services, about the Children’s Plan and thinking through the needs of children—particularly for their emotional support—and about the health partnerships is very important. What she said about the review of CAMHS and how they can be made more effective for young people is also extremely important. I welcome the designated looked-after children CAMH services, which, where they are available, make a great difference. They are crucial to successful implementation, especially for the most vulnerable children, because we do not want them to slip into the criminal justice system as a result of our not quite engaging with them properly.
Let us think of a young man who experiences domestic violence. His father is an alcoholic who would come home and brutalise the boy’s mother. The boy goes on and tries to seek work. That young man then displays all kinds of difficult behaviours: he is paranoid; he is subject to sudden and unpredictable rages; he displays difficult behaviour around women. People working with such young men need to be well supported, particularly by child and adolescent mental health services, to reflect on and understand the meaning of such behaviour and how successfully to engage with the young man. I welcome what the Minister said in the previous answer. It gives me some comfort that implementation will be effective and sensitive.
My Lords, I remind the House that the proposals in the Bill would not make it compulsory for young people to stay in school. We are talking about a choice between staying on in school in full-time education, taking a job and continuing in part-time training, and pursuing an apprenticeship. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said that young people must feel that it is right for them to move on and get a job. We need to be clear that that is covered as an option in the Bill. Young people will have choices about the route that they pursue post 16.
As many Members have highlighted, in today’s fast changing economic circumstances and in a world where everyone will need skills to prosper, the Bill is extremely important. As we all know, the days when people leave school at 16 without qualifications but still make a good career for themselves by starting at the bottom and working their way up are pretty much gone. A recent CBI study showed that one in five employees still lack basic literacy and numeracy skills. The warning given to us by the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, was stark: up to 50 per cent more jobs will require high-level skills by 2020, which is an enormous challenge. Yet, despite a steady increase over the past few years, we still have a low rate of participation compared to other developed countries and we all agree that we need to go further. Our ambition must be that all young people continue in education, training or whatever choice they make. That is why we are legislating now; and that is why our legislation must be based on the principle of compulsion.
Through the September Guarantee, all year 11s are already entitled to a suitable place in learning. We are ensuring more take-up of that entitlement. However, we are aware that the new requirement does not mean all young people staying in school; it means that every young person should carry on in the right form of education or training to allow them to develop the skills that they need to succeed.
That goes hand in hand with later provisions in the Bill which ensure that adults are able to obtain basic- and intermediate-level skills. Both are absolutely crucial to meeting the future skills needs of our economy. We have set our ambition to achieve world-class skills by 2020 and we know that 74 per cent of the 2020 workforce has already left compulsory education. We need to act now to ensure that all those people who were not able to benefit from the package of reforms that we are now putting in place for young people get a second chance. At present, adults can access funding for basic skills courses—a first full level 2 qualification and a first full level 3 qualification—up to age 25.
These arrangements are significantly strengthened by Clause 73, where, for the first time, the Learning and Skills Council will be required to ensure that facilities for obtaining specified qualifications at level 1 literacy, entry-level 3 numeracy and vocational full level 2 are available in sufficient quantity and of a quality adequate to meet the needs of learners and, in so doing, increase learner choice. This is an important step forward and a significant one in improving the career prospects of low-skilled adults.
If we replaced compulsion with the concept of an entitlement that could be postponed, as this amendment would, we would risk damaging the life chances of those who stand to gain most from the Bill—young people who are least likely to participate now and are vulnerable and disadvantaged, and adults who want to improve their skills and increase their prospects but are unable to do a full two years of full-time study.
There are carrots, but we need a stick as well. We have to put pressure on the system to gear up to deliver for these young people. Yes, the support has to be there; it has to be wrapped around so that vulnerable young people and children can fully participate and make the most of the choices that we want to create for them. I hope very much that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment because we have a duty to make a significant change for young people starting school this year.
My Lords, we obviously have not persuaded the Minister, but I fear that this fixation with compulsion is yet another demonstration of the top-down, “government knows best” approach of this Government, rather than the bottom-up approach that can be so much more effective. It also shows a lack of confidence in all the good measures that the Government have put in place, within and outside this Bill, which have the desired effect, encouraging young people and taking away the barriers to their further attainment.
I very much thank the members of Her Majesty's Opposition for their support. Should they by any chance be in a position to change direction on this issue before the Bill is implemented in 2013, I shall very much hold them to what they have said. I shall be watching.
We have had a shorter but no less trenchant debate on this issue than we had in Committee. I hope that the Minister has listened to the passion with which noble Lords have spoken. There is serious concern about the possible negative effects of compulsion, should it ever come to pass. For the time being, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
4: Clause 2, page 2, line 3, at end insert “, or
(d) have signed, and be participating in, a learning and support contract entered into with a local education authority to provide personalised support leading to future participation in accredited education or training.”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 4, I shall also speak to Amendment No. 10 and government Amendment No. 65, which are grouped with it.
We very much welcome government Amendment No. 65. The Government have taken up the idea of learning and support contracts and called them learning and support agreements. I welcome the briefing that we have received from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which strongly supports the learning and support agreement approach. We have retabled our amendment—formerly Amendment No. 15 in Committee—to ask some questions about what the Government propose and perhaps to persuade them to go just a little further.
We seek to find a genuinely personalised approach for these young people who do not fit into the normal categories of those who might go on to take the usual qualifications without too much difficulty. Young people are as variable as the leaves on the trees; they grow up at different rates and they have different problems. We are delighted that the Government have accepted the learning and support contract approach—even though they are calling it an agreement—including social and health support, which I assume includes mental health. The only unfortunate thing about it is that this help is available only if the young person continues in the type of study prescribed by the Government. However, I very much took on board the reassurances that the Minister gave my noble friend Lady Sharp about the breadth of non-formal provision being acceptable.
It is important that local authorities should be expected to go down the learning and support agreement route before embarking on any enforcement procedures. I should like the Minister to assure me that that must be done before they even apply for attendance notices. How will the Government ensure that they do that? Enforcement procedures should never commence if a young person has unmet needs. Will the Government issue guidance to ensure that local authorities do this? Will the Minister also assure the House that the duty to participate in Clause 2 will be fulfilled by a young person actively taking part in one of these agreements? How will local authorities be resourced to provide the necessary support within these agreements? How will current best practice be disseminated? I believe that there is some good practice out there.
Can the Minister also confirm that the sort of support envisaged can also be given to young people to help them to participate outwith one of these formal learning and support agreements, and can she say more about any guidance that she will send to local authorities about how they will tailor the package of support to each young person’s needs and how their parents or guardians will be involved in developing the content of the agreement? When the local authority is the corporate parent, how will it negotiate with itself in relation to looked-after children?
The Equality and Human Rights Commission expressed concern that the concept of reasonable excuse could be used as an excuse by government and local authorities and that this would mean that the most vulnerable and those most in need of support will continue to be ignored. It welcomes learning and support contracts because it thinks that that will help to ensure that that does not happen and will redress the balance in the Bill towards help and support and against some of the compulsion and penalty elements that we spent so much time debating and will do so again today. It is not going to be possible for all young people to participate without a good deal of help and support and taking away the barriers that they have had up to now to progressing in education beyond 16. That is what we all want to see. We very much welcome what the Government have done. I should be most grateful if the Minister could answer my questions and give us some of the reassurances for which I have asked. I beg to move.
My Lords, I added my name to the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, because we were strong advocates of learning and support contracts in the other place and in Committee. I, too, welcome the Government’s amendment, but I echo the noble Baroness’s plea that local authorities must have tried a learning and support contract before embarking on enforcement procedures.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Adonis explained in Committee that our reluctance to accept the proposed new clause introducing learning and support contracts stemmed from our concern that they would be unnecessarily prescriptive and bureaucratic. However, he also emphasised our support for the approach and said that we would reflect very carefully on whether there was a case for specifying more in the Bill. On reflection, I decided that it might be beneficial to include something along these lines to make it clear that local authorities can pursue this kind of enabling approach. As a result we are introducing this amendment, and I am pleased that it has been welcomed. It enables local authorities to enter into learning and support agreements. I am not sure whether the difference in terms is material.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked a number of questions but I am not sure that I got them all. If I do not pick all of them up then I will write to her and copy it to noble Lords who have taken part in today’s proceedings. She asked me to confirm whether enforcement could proceed where there was a young person with unmet needs. I want to make it clear that that should not happen. Enforcement should not proceed where a young person has unmet needs. Clause 39 states that even the first step—giving a final written warning before enforcement action begins—cannot be taken unless the right support has been offered and the young person has been given the opportunity to take it up. In addition, as noble Lords are aware, there are further safeguards to prevent enforcement happening inappropriately, such as the independent panel, which would be interested in the steps that have been taken.
The noble Baroness also asked how we will promote best practice around learning support agreements. Clause 39 requires local authorities to demonstrate that they have provided support and the opportunity to take advantage of it before enforcement action can be taken. A learning and support agreement, as the noble Baroness explained, would be a very good way of doing that. We will encourage local authorities to pursue this or similar approaches to re-engage young people who are struggling to fulfil the duty to participate long before enforcement action is considered. We want to make sure that we allow flexibility. However, having a tried and tested model of good practice is important and we will do our best to ensure that local authorities are made aware of that through guidance. I will write to the noble Baroness in more detail.
My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness a couple of questions on her amendment. If such an agreement is entered into, could that constitute full-time education? Can whatever is agreed to under this provision constitute full-time education? If it is entered into in respect of a young person who is also in employment, will this agreement encompass all that is required to be provided by way of education? In other words, is this sufficient in itself, or does there have to be some kind of educational arrangement existing outside this agreement in order to satisfy the terms of the Bill?
My Lords, I can pick the noble Baroness up on this; it is the point that I was trying to make on the earlier group, when I should not have made it. The Minister has an amendment in this group, so she is not closing the debate. She is speaking to her amendment and it is open to Members of the House to question her on it. She can then close the debate. She gets two bites at this cherry and we all get a chance to comment on what she has said. It is a refreshing thing at Report stage.
My Lords, perhaps it would be appropriate for me to comment now, before the Minister replies. Will the pathway plan for care leavers introduced in the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 be used as a model for some of these new contracts? I understand that these pathway plans have been well received, and it might be helpful to learn from best practice in this area when moving forward with these new support plans for young people. What particularly features as good practice in this area is the full involvement of the young person in designing the plan. It is such an obvious point that it is hardly worth making, but can the Minister confirm that all is being done to make the young person’s involvement as important as possible in developing these contracts? Perhaps there could be monitoring to ensure that young people are indeed being drawn into these contracts.
My Lords, I am very much enjoying this opportunity, having tabled an amendment, to speak again. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for reminding me and others of the opportunity.
I want to be clear on the full-time education point. It is a something-for-something agreement. It is about ensuring that the young person is clear not only about what support is being offered but, at the same time, about what they need to do to participate. I am assuming that that includes full-time education. If they are in employment, it would include them attending 280 hours of training. It is about setting out clearly both for the young person and for the support services what the young person’s needs are and what is defined as a service to meet those needs. Young people should know what to expect so that they know where they are and where they stand.
The point made by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, is absolutely right. It is important that young people are consulted. Subsection (6) of our amendment requires the young person to be consulted. We will make it clear in guidance that parents or carers should also be involved in the process where possible and appropriate. I thank the noble Earl for giving me the opportunity to clarify that. To make it absolutely clear, we will also learn the lessons from the pathway plans as he suggests.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for both of her contributions. I am quite satisfied that she will write to me to pick up any points that she has not had the opportunity to deal with today. I would most appreciate a comment about the involvement of parents or guardians or the corporate parent. It is very important that best practice is disseminated, and I am sure that the Government will do everything that they can to do that. Some authorities have already taken a lead in this direction. I am grateful for her assurance that local authorities will be judged on the extent to which they have gone down this path before any enforcement takes place. Many people will be reassured by the Minister’s statement. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
5: Clause 2, page 2, line 11, at end insert—
“( ) The duty under this section shall not apply to any person until the Secretary of State has published an assessment of the availability of suitable education and training opportunities in each local authority area.”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I will also speak to Amendments Nos. 221 and 222.
The purpose of the amendments is to ensure that all reforms that the Government are currently introducing into the secondary school curriculum, including the new diplomas and their vocational pathways into further education and training, have worked their way through the system before the raising of the learning leaving age is enforced. In Committee, we discussed the many reforms in hand, and the Minister reminded us that by 2013 local authorities will have inherited from the Learning and Skills Council the responsibility for assessing the sufficiency of provision within a local area and to make sure that there are enough places in schools and colleges—and, from now on, also on apprenticeships—to satisfy the demands of young people. In Amendment No. 5, we suggest that that should be the responsibility of the Secretary of State rather than the local authority. The local authority is responsible for the provision of these places. Is it to be both judge and jury in deciding whether it is providing sufficient places of the right quality and sort? Rather, this amendment suggests that ultimately the Secretary of State should be responsible for ensuring that provision is adequate and that local authorities have risen to the challenge of the reforms in hand.
Amendments Nos. 221 and 222 seek to delay the implementation of these reforms by two years. These amendments would allow the reforms in hand to bed down. As time goes by, this seems more sensible. New diplomas for the first five learning lines were introduced this September. However, only 12,000 pupils are participating, compared to the Government’s hoped-for 40,000. The Government are aware that what is happening is, in effect, a pilot exercise. The Government may wish to fine-tune the implementation of their reforms in the light of the developments of these first few years.
The Minister is under pressure from teachers and employers not to rush these reforms. The Select Committee in the other place, in examining these reforms, also urged the Government to take them slowly and not to move too fast. Raising the learning leaving age to 18 does not make sense until these reforms are under way and we can be sure that the secondary curriculum motivates young people and encourages them to stay in learning. As the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said in Committee, seven years is a short time in education terms. Delaying the implementation of these provisions by two years, to make sure that the current reforms, which are a necessary part of the whole package, are well embedded in the system, is a sensible thing to do. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is clear that there is unhappiness on many sides about the issue of compulsion; placing the duty on young people to participate or face the consequences. If that happens, the Government must be absolutely certain that they will uphold their side of the bargain. They must put into place all the necessary investment, all the new courses, all the new provisions, so that the scheme runs smoothly from the outset. It would be intolerable to sweep young people into duty, and potentially punish them if they fail to comply, while the authorities were in a state of disarray and unpreparedness. 2013 may sound far off; it is in another decade. However, it will not be long in coming. The Government must be ready.
My Lords, I speak in favour of the Government’s position. I cannot recall any piece of legislation that has been prepared so far in advance of implementation. The normal practice with legislation and regulation is to ask schools to implement change from next September. Quite rightly, schools complain that they are given insufficient time to implement measures in a proper manner. I congratulate the Government on bringing forward this legislation and making preparations to give schools a reasonable period in which to prepare.
Secondly, there is a real danger for schools, and everybody else involved in this partnership—employers, colleges of further education and training establishments—in not being clear that, by that point, things have to be in place. I agree with the movers of this amendment that there is a tremendous onus on the Government and other partners to make sure that things are in place. However, I would resist any uncertainty about the date of implementation. The minute you bring in uncertainty, you lose the benefit of this legislation, which gives enough time to prepare and also clarity about the date of introduction. I praise the Government for giving sufficient lead-in time. It is now up to everybody in the system to make sure that everything is in order to be implemented at the point described in the Bill.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, is very persuasive. However, we have entered a new economic climate. Mention was made of the voluntary organisations involved in supporting young people. Some of them are heavily dependent on donations. Given the change in the economic climate, we need to think whether it would be wise to put back these proposals from the Government. I hope that this helps the Minister to think through the clear change in the climate for developing these plans.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Morris for giving us her sense of realism and her reminder of the importance of certainty in promoting change. We need to remember that we are talking about changes that will affect young people who started secondary school in September this year. We need momentum in taking forward these important proposals. These amendments were discussed in committee. My noble friend Lord Adonis set out the Government’s agreement that we must ensure that there is sufficient learning provision for all young people if we are to expect them to participate. We will deliver on our part of the bargain.
Part of our rationale for legislating now is to galvanise the system to provide appropriate support and opportunities for all young people. By setting clear expectations in law that all young people must participate until they are 18, we make it clear that it will no longer be an option to forget about the student who sits quietly at the back of the class, watching the clock and waiting until they can leave.
With reference to Amendment No. 5, in March we published a White Paper, Raising Expectations: Enabling the System to Deliver, which set out our intention to transfer the funding responsibilities for commissioning 16-to-19 provision from the Learning and Skills Council to local authorities. In future, assessing the sufficiency of provision will become the role of the local authority; that is where the responsibility should lie. Local authorities will do this through the strategic commissioning plan that they will complete as part of, or alongside, the children and young persons plan.
I reassure noble Lords that we will be ready to implement the new participation age from 2013, and do not need to delay until 2015, as proposed. By 2013, the national entitlement to the new diploma—which I understand is very popular with young people taking part in it—and the apprenticeship guarantee will be in place, and the foundation learning tier for provision at entry level 1 will be established. The September guarantee, which was implemented for the first time in every local area last year, guarantees to offer a suitable learning place for all young people leaving year 11. This year it was extended to 17 year-olds. Already, we are gearing up the system.
In earlier debates, my noble friend Lord Adonis talked about the potential for this policy to bring about a change in culture; and we know how important culture is in promoting change. We need to see a change in the expectations and aspirations of young people. That is the other reason for making this change in 2013. As we know, the first young people to be affected began year 7 this September. They will start their secondary school career knowing—and with their parents and teachers knowing—that they will continue in learning post-16. We will keep our part of the bargain and create the best opportunities for these young people post-16. With that reassurance, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendments.
My Lords, the Bill represents an absolutely integral part of our commitment in the Children’s Plan. As the noble Earl knows, the Children’s Plan is reviewed every year. We will produce a progress report on it, taking stock of our achievements and challenges. I hope that that will be a good vehicle for meeting his concerns. However, if I can help him in other ways, I certainly shall.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. I remind her, as I reminded the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, that our proposals would not create more uncertainty: they give a definite date. On the notion of postponing the date, there are so many reforms in hand. The noble Baroness mentioned that, by 2013, the diplomas should be rolled out and we have the new apprenticeships, foundation learning tier and all of this stuff. We want to ensure, before forcing young people to stay on in learning in some form or another, that this is working. This gives it an extra couple of years. The Minister may come to rue the day that the Government rejected the amendment. They may find things take rather longer to bed down than they think.
On Amendment No. 5, I take on board what the Minister says, but it puts a lot of emphasis on what local authorities are going to do. It is all very well having strategic commissioning plans and so forth, but they are the providers as well as the judges of whether it is sufficient. I question whether that is appropriate. Nevertheless, I accept what the Minister says for the moment, and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 4 [Appropriate full-time education or training]:
[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]
Clause 6 [Relevant training or education]:
[Amendment No. 7 not moved.]
Clause 8 [Sufficient relevant training or education]:
8: Clause 8, page 4, line 29, after “learning” insert “away from the individual’s work-station”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment goes to the heart of what the Bill is about. If we are to ensure that every young person continues in education and training up to the age of 18, we must have a solid definition of what counts as “education and training”.
Before the Bill was published, we were led to believe that it would require at least a day a week, or equivalent, of off-the-job education and training. As it stands, however, it simply does not do that. There is no guarantee of anything that is away from the individual’s work station. In our view, that is simply not good enough. Just to have on-the-job training is not enough. On-the-job is of course incredibly important; that is how the person learns a specific skill that the employer needs them to have. However, it is important for the individual—and the Bill is essentially directed at individuals—also to have transferable skills which enable them to develop their thinking skills, their ability to write and calculate, and the underpinning knowledge that relates to their work. This can only be achieved in an off-the-job situation. It does not require abstract learning. We are talking about part-time education, which has the huge advantage that the individual can immediately see how what they are doing off the job is relevant to what they are doing on the job. However, there must be transferable skills which are, in most people’s minds, fundamental to what the Bill is about.
In a world where firms may disappear any day, and where people are not necessarily tied to one employer for a particularly long time, it is even more important that we teach transferable skills. The Bill is meant to be promoting the interests of young people. These skills cannot be got just by sitting next to Nellie. They must be taught in a different location, where the worker can step back from the work station a bit and interact with an instructor and fellow students in a different and more reflective atmosphere. We ought to be building that into our concept of every young person being in education up to the age of 18.
Of course, to arrange that for the numbers of young people involved will take a lot of time and organisation. Fortunately, we have them: we are talking about something that is coming in five to seven years. It will then set the scene for the educational chances of our young people for at least 10 years after that. We should really set our sights reasonably high, and not think of what we could do next year or the year after.
That is the basic argument in the amendment, but there is also a completely practical issue of enforcement. If we want young people to have 280 hours of guided learning, how can we possibly check that they have had it if all those hours could be spent at the work station? If a worker is sitting next to his supervisor, how can you tell whether he is getting guided learning or not? The Bill’s definition of guided learning is too loose. I shall quote a set of phrases that would satisfy the requirement for education and training, such as,
“participating in education or training under the immediate guidance or supervision of”,
a supervisor. That is not adequate. We need a tighter definition of education and training than at present.
It is wonderful that we are having this Bill. Many of us have wanted it for at least 20 years. The Government deserve enormous credit for having decided to introduce universal education and training up to 18. It really could be a landmark Bill, but I do not think that it is with this loophole. We urge the Minister to accept our amendment, or come up with something adequate at Third Reading. We would be happy to discuss this with her if she wishes.
My Lords, we on these Benches support the noble Lord’s amendment. As a party, we have long maintained that it is important that there is education as well as just training in this context, and that off-the-job education should be provided in so far as the young person continues in training. We very much go along with the noble Lord’s arguments.
My Lords, I also support the noble Lord, Lord Layard. In childcare, many people, such as Dr Gillian Pugh, the former director of the Thomas Coram Foundation, think that the best training one can have is to allow childcare workers one evening a month, or every fortnight, to be away from the children, to sit down with a senior manager or experienced practitioner and talk through individual children’s experiences. They might say that a boy does this or that, and that they are not quite sure what to do when he does. They might ask whether the senior manager thinks that they are doing the right thing. The whole group works together to reflect on the worker’s practice and improve her relationship with the child.
That is one of the best forms of training, but it gets cut when the money is short; it is the most expensive element of training in social care. The current economic climate reminds us that tough times come and tough decisions must be made. Businesses may unfortunately feel unable to prioritise investing in young people, and may feel pushed towards simply using them to get whatever work needs to be done, possibly to their regret. Perhaps this is protection for young people to ensure that they get the investment and time to reflect and develop that we all wish them to have. I hope that the Minister can respond favourably to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Layard.
My Lords, I have put my name to the amendment and I strongly support what my noble friend Lord Layard has said. I agree with every word of the amendment, possibly even more than he did. At Second Reading, I gave the Bill a huge welcome and said that I thought it was probably one of the most important pieces of educational legislation for many years. I referred back to the 1918 Act; we have waited 90 years to move forward. After waiting all that time, we really must get it right, otherwise, in 10 years, when we review what we have done, we will sit and regret deeply that we thought we were doing something progressive to help the most disadvantaged young people in our society, but find that all our aims and hopes have been dashed because we did not quite get it right by being more precise in how we define education and training.
Funnily enough, if a young person is unemployed, they may do better out of the Bill, as drafted, than if they have a job. I am sure that that is not what we intended. We have to remember that many young people aged 16 and 17 who have left school, often with very poor levels of prior achievement, will not be in good jobs; they will be in humdrum, often dead-end jobs. The kind of training and instruction that they receive will be pretty limited, which is why it is very important that the 280 hours of training should be spent away from their work stations.
I wish to make one small point to the Minister. Amendment No. 9 proposes that some of the clause should be deleted. I hope that in his reply, my noble friend does not spend 25 minutes telling us why those provisions should not be deleted. He would probably be right to say that some should remain in the Bill. My plea is that he focus on the real issue, which is where the 280 hours of education should take place. We do not have just a loophole, as my noble friend said, but a whopping great loophole which could become a cop-out for a lot of employers who do not take the education and training of young people as seriously as they ought to. It would be terribly naive of to believe that all employers would be good citizens in that respect. Some will be struggling to keep their businesses going; others will not be engaged with the idea that it is part of their job to move the skills of those young people forward. Those employers will be more interested in survival, profit and getting the most that they can out of the young people’s work than on focusing on their education and training.
For all those reasons, and those that my noble friend has given, a huge opportunity will have been lost if the amendment, or something like it, is not accepted. I do not argue that the training received by young people at work is unimportant. Of course it is important and it is often a way of motivating young people to attach education and training to what they are doing in the workplace. However, as well as that, they should have an opportunity to spend some time in a context where, as my noble friend said, they can discuss what they are doing with their peers. If the Bill is left in its current shape, many of those young people may receive some instruction, but because they will be working, they will not be in a context whereby they can reflect on what they are learning or discuss their training or instruction with other young people, or with those who are providing it.
In anticipation of what my noble friend may say, I do not believe, first, that the education and training given to young people off the job should be theoretical. It should not be about providing more opportunities for developing their literacy or numeracy, but be closely related to what they are doing at work. I am sure that every noble Lord in this House would agree that young people can be given some kind of development away from the workplace, whereby they can think about how that work can be applied to different situations or about whether the equipment that they are using would be relevant in other contexts. We need to focus on those sorts of issues. The Government have been incredibly courageous in the way in which they have framed the Bill. They have been specific that there must be 280 hours of training, so they should also be specific about how and where the education and training should take place.
My noble friend may say that a lot of good employers have excellent and highly technical training, and that taking employees away from the workplace for training outside would somehow disrupt that. I would not be convinced by that argument, because young people can get all that excellent training with a good employer but, in addition, any good employer and anyone who has been involved in training people in the 16-to-17 age group would say that in addition they needed to do something away from the job. I hope that the Minister will address that.
While specific skills are very important for young people in that age group, transferable skills are even more important. Many of those young people will change their jobs four, five, six or seven times between leaving school and the age of 25. For that reason, if we leave this issue entirely to the employer in the workplace, we will fail in doing all the things that we want to get out of the Bill.
Finally, I hope that my noble friend will be positive in his reply to ensure that we achieve the hugely important objectives of the Bill and turn it into the progressive and lasting piece of legislation that we all hope for.
My Lords, I have signed up to this amendment and wish to speak in favour of it in support of my noble friends. This goes to the heart of the Bill, because at the moment young people between 16 and 18 are in education, employment or training. This Bill is about quality, raising aspirations and raising standards throughout the sector. None of us, on reflection, would be happy if at the end of the passage of the Bill we had not raised the aspirations of the whole nation by providing better-quality training, leading to the adult training which is provided for elsewhere in the Bill.
My starting point is that it is very difficult to imagine a situation in which good-quality training did not involve some time away from the work station, but that could happen, given the way that the Bill has been written. I am prepared to accept in the details of debate that there might be some specialised courses in some occupations with some high-tech providers where good-quality training may take place at the workplace for 100 per cent of the time. However, no noble Lord would agree that in most occupations, 100 per cent training at the workplace, with no time away for underpinning, applied skills, mentoring or talking, was necessary. The truth is that that would be possible under the Bill. If we leave the legislation as it is to accommodate the very few good employers who perhaps can make an argument for 280 hours of training at the work station that remains good quality, we leave a gaping hole that will allow the less good employers to get away with sometimes shoddy training that is masqueraded as education, training or employment with training for 16 to 18 year-olds at the moment. I say this for one particular reason. If you look at this in terms of supply and demand, there is not a powerful demand side in this. The sort of youngster who will end up with this less good training at the workplace with no time away for reflection will not be demanding any better than they are given. That is the person whom this amendment protects—the 16 to 19 year-old who does not have higher aspirations or know that they could make the argument for anything better. This amendment underpins and protects them and that is essential. Not all 280 hours have to be spent away from the work station, but a very significant amount does. I think it has to be half or more. If half or more of the 280 hours were spent away from the work station—which is not much more than half a day a week—not only would we have legislation for the first time that meant that all 16 to 19 year-olds had the opportunity of education, training, or employment with training, but that it was good quality as well.
I have a number of specific points for the Minister. In government-funded training you can argue that quality can be guaranteed. It is government-accredited, if you like, and so by definition the Government are going to make sure that the course or the training is good quality. What happens with non-government-funded courses for 16 to 19 year-olds? Why would somebody offer non-government-funded training in this regard if it was not to get away with not having to comply with the spirit of the legislation? How would you monitor non-government-funded courses? If you have a financial lever, you are able to withdraw funding if the training is not up to the standard that you want. How will the Government make sure that the training of non-government-funded courses is of the standard we want it to be?
In conclusion, I do not think for a minute that the Government disagree with what those of us supporting this amendment want to achieve, but there is the difficulty of wanting to leave flexibility in the system for things that suit employers and learners, without tying them down, and making sure we have legislative underpinning in terms of quality of training. My judgment is that at the moment the Government have the balance wrong. If amendments are not forthcoming, some young people will carry on exactly where they are now. They will have training that is meant to be good quality but it will take place 100 per cent at the work station and it will lack the rigour and other qualities referred to by my noble friends to make sure that life changes for them and that this legislation is offering them something different from what they have at the moment. For those reasons, I support these two amendments and hope the Government are able to respond in a favourable way.
My Lords, I apologise for not being able to take part at earlier stages of the Bill. I speak now in support of these amendments with recollections of my time as chair of a further education college and in the former Department of Employment.
We have a national problem with good modern skills training, most particularly in technical subjects, and we have a deficit both of capacity and enlightenment on the part of employers, particularly some of those small employers whose advances are so crucial to our economy. A system of training which does not require the use of the most up-to-date means available would not be tolerated by our competitor allies in the European Union. Could your Lordships imagine sitting with Nellie in Germany or Switzerland, where technical skills are so highly developed, making their companies competitive and their employees self-respecting and well paid? I hope my noble friend will heed the principles behind these amendments.
My Lords, I remember being rather attracted by this concept in Committee and I am further beguiled by what has been said today. One of the aspects that attracts me is the requirement to abolish the subsections as specified in the amendment. As I find them extremely difficult to understand and interpret, abolishing them might end up being quite a positive thing.
I am persuaded that it would be a much better system if there could be time away from the workplace both for peer group discussion and, equally importantly, with someone available to make a more detached but equally expert contribution to the skills being acquired. The point made about transferability of skills is terribly important in today’s world. I anticipate that this amendment might be favourably received and I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, this is a very important amendment. I find myself entirely in agreement with what the noble Lord, Lord Layard, said about the importance of human interaction in a successful learning process and about getting together with one’s fellow students and in a personal way with people who know and understand the subject and can deal with you face to face. However, I see problems with the idea that you should spend all your time away from the work station. A lot of these people may be small employers. They may have their kids stuck in front of computer screens of some kind or another. To force them to provide extra computers and space for use an hour a day by the youngsters they employ is not sensible. Anyway, are not a lot of the courses they are going to be pursuing essentially distance learning courses which are designed to be absorbed at a work station? As long as there is a dedicated time set aside for it and they are not supposed to interrupt it every two minutes because another person is needed on the cash desk or whatever, the work station is going to be the sensible place for them to do it.
This problem is not restricted to this Bill. It is a direction which the Government are pursuing when it comes to learning within prisons. They are looking at getting students there to pursue distance learning individually on their own work stations rather than taught in classes by teachers. Once you go down that route, instead of having a group of pupils within a reasonably close physical proximity who are all studying the same course and are all at the same point on it, you have a group of pupils who are studying different courses, or if they are studying the same course, they are at different points on it. What is the point of getting that group of students together to discuss anything with anybody when all their interests and requirements are different? I am a believer in the old style and the way that education works. The noble Lord, Lord Layard, made a point about the importance of students as a group and students with teachers, and about the difficulty of translating that into a world dominated by personalised distance learning. The only model that I can think of—
My Lords, Report stage is very tiresome from that point of view, particularly when we are getting into an interesting discussion. I was about to say that the only example that I could think of was the Open University. It is the only institution that I am familiar with where you spend a lot of time working on your own but then everyone gets together. It does not mean that the whole programme is done away from your work station or whatever, but there is a requirement for some of the programme to be conducted in a human rather than a mechanical way. Perhaps that is what we should be trying to include in the Bill; otherwise, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said, the system will just be abused. No education will take place because it will be a formulaic course which happens to have been accredited somewhere and it will be delivered in a way that the students find extremely difficult to connect with. It will be a sort of blank, compulsory hour in every day that achieves very little.
For courses to be structured so that students, doing the same course at the same level, have to spend some time together and therefore presumably get away from the workplace to a proper place of education—an educational provider of some sort—seems to be the right direction to go in, but how we work that into the Bill I am not at all sure. Nor am I at all sure how we would work it for the Prison Service, and that will be a challenge for OLASS when it comes to look at that side of things. The question is how to reintroduce the human element if you go for distance learning. I think that this issue is well worth discussing between now and Report, and I very much hope that the Minister will take up the invitation from the proposers of the amendment to sit down and talk to them.
My Lords, I shall be very brief. It strikes me that the noble Lord, Lord Layard, is not asking for a great deal in Amendment No. 8. He is simply saying that the learning should be away from the work station, but it can still be in the same workplace. I shall limit myself to a question. In order to avoid a young person being exploited during these 280 hours—for example, in a hairdresser’s doing menial tasks—how will the Government ensure that, if they do not accept the amendment, the training that the young person gets will in fact be of good quality? That is the challenge: how to achieve that without an army of inspectors ensuring that it is done. I rest on that point.
My Lords, I could not help reflecting that, in dealing with my first amendment, I am up against a formidable array of educationalists: one former Secretary of State, one former Minister and the distinguished educationalists, my noble friend Lord Layard and the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. Therefore, I enter this debate with a certain amount of humility.
Amendment No. 8 specifies that the part-time learning undertaken by young people in full-time work should be done away from their workstations. It is not our policy that this learning should always be carried out away from the young person’s workstation. Of course, many young people participating in this way by combining a full-time job with part-time learning will be released by their employer to undertake training elsewhere, such as a college, so that all their learning will necessarily be entirely separate from their normal workplace. However, some other young people fulfilling the duty to participate in this way will receive part-time training provided by their employer—perhaps at a private training provider or at their workplace. We want to encourage this, as it can be very high-quality learning that meets the employer’s business needs and is immediately engaging and relevant to the young person. That is surely what we are all concerned about.
I also could not help reflecting on a recent visit that I made to the Yorkshire and Humber region, where I listened to an employer in a daycare nursery who believed passionately in providing high-quality training. They did so and the training occurred in the workplace, although admittedly someone from a further education institution was brought in to assist in the process. So successful was the quality of the training that they set up a sort of mini-academy, which attracted people from other daycare nurseries. Therefore, there is not only one single route to providing this learning. We need to reflect on and understand what people want, what employers’ needs are—a point referred to rightly by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas—and what all of us who have contributed to the debate want; that is, ensuring that we provide a quality provision. I share that concern.
One of the principles behind the changes that we are making to the 14-19 curriculum and qualifications is that learning should be personalised and delivered in a way that engages the young person and suits his or her individual needs and interests. Some young people learn best when they can immediately see the practical relevance and application of what they are learning. Therefore, it would not be right to specify in the Bill that for all young people learning must be away from the workstation.
I speak from personal experience. As a young man, I suffered the worst and best of employers—those who provided no training whatever and exploited their workforce, and a much better employer who provided an apprenticeship with high-quality training. So I know exactly the kind of perils that young people face in employment situations, about which the best we can say is that they are rich and varied.
Therefore, we do not believe it is right to specify in the Bill that for all young people learning must be away from the workstation. Doing so would unnecessarily prohibit a whole range of very worthwhile learning experiences. Some employers are now so serious about the quality of learning that they are looking to be accredited as awarding bodies on the same terms as traditional awarding bodies, and we would not want to deny young people the opportunity to learn with those employers. Simply requiring the learning to take place in a different location would not in itself provide any guarantees about the quality of the learning.
I make it clear that I absolutely agree with my noble friend Lord Layard that the learning that young people undertake must be of the very highest quality. It must involve guided learning, and young people must learn new things, not simply do their day-to-day jobs. That is why I clearly oppose those who suggest that informal, unaccredited, in-house training or simply being employed without training should count. I remind noble Lords that that is the current situation. The Bill is a profound step forward. It is progressive legislation, which will make a fundamental change in the United Kingdom’s workplaces.
I agree that we need much more than that for our young people who are employed and that we would not meet their expectations if it were simply informal, unaccredited, in-house training, but we need to ensure that we continue to allow high-quality guided learning at the workstation, as we know that that is how some young people learn some things best. Although I know that it was meant as a passing comment, I thought that “sitting with Nellie” was an unfortunate phrase to use. I have had some of my best training by sitting down with people who have showed me exactly how to do something. That is very different from how I was taught at a further education college, which was good at the theory. However, when it came to the practical and to knowing exactly how to do a complex electro-mechanical task, there was no substitute for being with someone who had done that task and had a great deal of experience.
I turn to Amendment No. 9. I know that my noble friend is concerned that the clause as drafted could allow employers a way out from providing any training. I reassure him that the clause does not provide such a way out. It says that a young person can be deemed to have participated in enough training if he has participated in a course or courses leading to an accredited qualification that has been assigned sufficient guided learning hours. I stress that point. There have been many contributions and concerns expressed. I understand the concerns, but they do not seem to recognise that the training cannot be just anything that an employer dreams up. If training is funded then it has to go through an accreditation process. Ofqual assigns guided learning hours to each qualification, as part of the accreditation process, as an estimate of the amount of guided learning required to achieve the qualification. This provides a straightforward way for young people, local authorities, employers and others to tell at a glance whether a young person is participating in enough learning.
Deleting the reference to a course leading to a qualification with the right number of learning hours and relying on a definition that simply required a number of hours of guided learning would mean that someone could miss some hours of scheduled learning as a result of being ill for one day, for example, and would be required to participate in those hours at another time, rather than simply catch up on the learning they had missed, as would normally happen. To make it absolutely clear, this does not mean that employers can simply sign a young person up for a qualification for which they already had the skills and get them accredited without undertaking any actual guided learning. That would clearly not meet the terms of the legislation. In that case, the young person would not have completed a course involving a series of classes or lessons on a particular subject. They would not complete enough hours of actual guided learning to be accredited, so they would be in breach of the duty under the Bill, as would their employer.
We should remember that in many cases the employer will be releasing the young person to do their learning somewhere else, such as a college. We should not presume that all these young people will be at their workstation all the time. Many people will go off on day release and similar schemes. In these cases there will always be a set number of scheduled hours at a completely different location from the workplace, so the question of getting round the requirements will not arise. We are talking only about circumstances in which employers provide accredited training and fund it themselves. My noble friend Lady Whitaker said that she was worried about small employers. I share her concern, but they are the most likely people to go down the funded route. If they do so, be assured that it will have to be accredited. There are safeguards in these circumstances.
We need to ensure that we continue to allow high-quality guided learning that takes place at the workstation. We know that some young people learn some things best in that way. I have already dealt with the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, who unfortunately is not here. I agree with my noble friend Lady Blackstone that we need to get it right in these circumstances. Perhaps I part company with her generalisation that someone would be better off unemployed than in a dead-end job. It may be a difficult choice.
My Lords, I was not suggesting that someone would be better off unemployed than in a dead-end job. I was saying that, from the point of view of the Bill, they would be better off unemployed because they would get proper education and guided learning rather than low-quality education and guided learning entirely at the workstation. Does my noble friend accept that nothing, but nothing in the amendment suggests that learning at the workplace is not desirable? All it suggests is that, on top of learning at the workstation, there needs to be some learning outside the workplace.
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that that is not the purpose of the amendment, but it would specify that the 280 hours of guided learning has to be in that form. I was trying to make the point that if people in that age range are in employment, there is a better chance of ensuring that they will receive accredited learning and proper training. Regardless of the type of job, the Bill will provide a real improvement.
My noble friend Lady Morris said that we need to be clear what the Bill requires and that simply accrediting existing skills without teaching or learning would in no way meet the requirements of the Bill. I will consider my noble friend’s point whether, in the specific case of employers who provide and fund the accredited training themselves, we need to do more to satisfy ourselves that the requirements are adhered to in practice. That could involve an increased and more proactive role for local authorities in verifying what is happening when a young person is registered as participating in employer-funded training and checking that a course is being followed. When a course of study leading to a qualification is being publicly funded, both the relevant funding body and Ofsted would have responsibility for ensuring that the appropriate number of guided learning hours was delivered and that the quality of learning experience was high. Mechanisms are in place for these organisations to require improvement if they have concerns about the guided learning conforming to the requirements of the Bill.
I say to my noble friend Lord Layard that, in the pursuit of happiness, a subject on which he is an expert, our officials met him five times. I was present on at least one of those occasions to see whether we could reach an understanding. I regrettably cannot announce peace in our time, but nevertheless we have had a serious exchange of views and I understand his concerns. I am grateful to him for raising these important issues and to all who have contributed to the debate.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his consideration of the points that I raised on non-government funded courses. I heard him say the word “consider” with some force. Can he say whether further amendments will be tabled on Third Reading or whether he was referring to existing, perhaps secondary, legislation? If the latter, will the guidance be statutory or non-statutory?
My Lords, if I were expert enough to give a precise assurance on that I would; but I can assure my noble friend that we will take it away and write to everyone concerned on what we will do in the circumstances I described as being under active consideration.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Layard for raising these issues. I hope he is reassured that the clause will not allow employers to avoid providing actual learning to young people. We are equally committed to ensuring the quality of the learning experience for young people. We will be monitoring and reviewing the situation, as I am sure he will be, and I do not rule out further dialogue. In the light of those assurances I hope that he will withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his reply and for his offer of further dialogue, which would be fruitful as there are still a number of points that have not been fully clarified. On that basis I am willing to withdraw the amendment, though we will want to raise it again on Third Reading if we are not satisfied with the dialogue process. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 not moved.]
asked Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of arrangements for the funding of British sport.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the funding of sport currently falls into three distinct areas: elite sport, funded by UK Sport; mass participation in communities, funded by Sport England; and schools funding, which is helped by the Youth Sport Trust, which gets no outside funding, and the DCSF.
In 1994 the National Lottery was started by John Major and the last Conservative Government. Four funding bodies were set up: the Millennium Commission, and bodies for sport, for charities and for arts. Let us look at what Her Majesty’s Government have done with this legacy and how it has affected the funding of sport over their 10 years in office.
Looking first at the recent Olympic successes, I point out that grass-roots and elite cycling has received £49.8 million in lottery funds and £18.6 million from the Exchequer since 1997; that is 73 per cent lottery. Since 1997, swimming has received £332.8 million in lottery funds and £14.2 million from the Exchequer; that is 96 per cent lottery. For the Paralympics, lottery funding of disabled sports, NGBs and competitors has been more than six times the Exchequer funding since 1997—£72.7 million versus £11.6 million.
Interestingly, the average age of a GB medal winner in Beijing was 28 and the average age of gold medal winners was 26. All their schooling and early training would have been under the previous Conservative Administration.
Funding of sport is down since 1997. Raids on the lottery for government pet projects have seen total spending on sport decline by £135 million—that is 25 per cent since 1997. More than 80 per cent of grass-roots and elite sports grants have come from the National Lottery. Poor budgeting is costing us our sporting legacy. The Government’s budget miscalculations and further lottery raids will cost sports distributors £70 million. Fifty-eight per cent of UK Sport grants and 83 per cent of Sport England grants come from lottery funds.
Some 800,000 children still do not get two hours of sport per week and 2.1 million children do no competitive sport. The Government were going to appoint 450 competition managers, one for every school sport partnership. Mr Burnham reannounced that they would be appointing 225.
Elite sport is funded in the UK through UK Sport. This is currently a mix of National Lottery—58 per cent—and Exchequer funding, with the vast majority of the latter coming on stream following the announcement of additional funding for 2012 in 2006.
UK Sport currently invests about £100 million per year in Olympic and Paralympic success. Around 85 per cent of this money goes direct to the world-class programmes of national governing bodies to fund and support their athlete programmes, including coaching, sport science and medicine, clothing and equipment, international travel, et cetera, as well as the athlete personal award, which contributes to each athlete’s living and sporting costs.
The funding submission, which the Government went for in 2005-06, required an additional £300 million of funding from 2006 through to 2012, taking the overall budget to £600 million. The Chancellor’s announcement was for a further £300 million but stated that £100 million of that would be raised by private investment. I wonder where that is.
UK Sport now needs to give certainty to sports for their funding for the London Olympiad between 2009 and 2013 so that they can plan and build on the back of Beijing by recruiting and retaining the best coaches, medics, et cetera for the next four years. UK Sport will make all its funding decisions at its board meeting in early December. At that time it will therefore require certainty over the amount of money available to be invested, as the board will only invest what it knows to be available. At the moment, it is able to confirm only £20 million. That has been embedded into lottery forecasts for the period, although this has not been confirmed yet by Camelot. Therefore it is looking at a shortfall of funding of £80 million. Obviously that would impact on its ability to fund sports and to support them with appropriate services over the period.
The DCMS has responsibility for raising the £100 million. It has taken on Fast Track and is developing a scheme called Medal Hopes to raise money against the World Class Events Programme, and, in particular, the athletes funded on it. Since 2006 the Government have stated that they should plan on the basis of a £600 million mission and that is what they have done. Nothing at the moment is confirmed, however, and there continues to be close work with the DCMS on this to ensure that by December we have certainty of necessary resources to make funding decisions, but we are only five weeks away.
On drugs and the national anti-doping organisation, in December last year UK Sport made a recommendation for a new stand-alone agency, which the Government welcomed. Since then, it has been building up the business case and working with the DCMS to understand both the transition and running costs involved. The challenge remains in securing the funding for this and ensuring that the new organisation is able to be world-leading and world-class, with full case-management and investigatory powers, well in time for 2012. I wonder where the money is. The Conservative Party has always fully supported the creation of a fully independent anti-doping agency. Her Majesty’s Government must ensure that it is fully funded so that the UK becomes a world leader in the fight against drugs.
Lottery funding has been crucial to the success of Team GB in Beijing. Since the Athens Olympics in 1996, 58 per cent of grants to elite sport have come from the National Lottery. With regard to Sport England’s strategy, changing directions in the past has been detrimental. Various funding strategies and lack of long-term funding and vision has caused a stop-start approach to plans to boost mass participation. Conservatives have always favoured an NGB-centred strategy to drive up mass participation. Sport England should act as the bank and the auditor of sports funding and leave the NGBs to distribute funding accordingly.
Eighty-three per cent of grants going into grass-roots sport have come from the lottery this year. The total going into grass-roots sport now is £135 million less than it was in 1997. As a direct result of Gordon Brown’s raid on lottery cash, lottery funding going into grass-roots sport has fallen by nearly 50 per cent, from £397 million in 1997 to £209 million in 2006. Due to the Olympic raids, sport now gets only 13.5 per cent of lottery funding. About £70 million has been diverted from grass-roots sport to pay for the Olympic overspend.
The Youth Sport Trust is responsible for young people’s participation in and enjoyment of sport. It receives no government funding. The Youth Sport Trust plays a central role in supporting the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in the delivery of the PE and sport strategy for young people. The overall aim of the PE and sport strategy is to enhance the take-up of sporting opportunities by five to 16-year-olds; we believe this to be vital.
The emphasis should be placed on primary schools. Those enthused in sport between the ages of seven and 11 are much more likely to continue playing it in later life. The Government must invest in physical education training during initial teacher training. Currently, 60 per cent of primary school PE teachers have less than six hours’ training in a year. This does not provide teachers with the confidence and capability to teach quality PE.
On 13 July 2007, Gordon Brown announced a new target for children’s participation in sport. This stated a goal to give every child the chance of five hours of sport every week; yet this was originally included in Labour’s 2005 manifesto, on page 95:
“Investment in school sports will ensure that by 2010 all children will receive two hours high-quality PE or sport per week. Building on that, we pledge that by 2010 every child who wants it will have access to a further two to three hours sport per week”.
We know that we have not got that.
The Conservative policy is to return the lottery to its four original pillars and release an extra £400 million into elite and grass-roots sport in the decade following 2012. We would use this extra money to drive increases in participation through the national governing bodies. We would give funding directly to the NGBs to increase mass participation within their sports. The Conservatives would use SNGBs to drive improvements in sport and release more money back into sport by driving down administration costs of the lottery distributors. Those involved in governing bodies distributing funds will know very well what opportunities there are. On the CASC scheme, we will increase funding to sports clubs by introducing gift aid relief on junior subscriptions. If the lottery had been left in the configuration intended by John Major and the Conservative Party, the previous decade could have been a fantastic one for sports funding.
My Lords, I hope that I will be forgiven for leaving the Chamber before the end of the debate. I have discussed this with the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Davies of Oldham. I have to be in Manchester for a sporting event, which I promised I would attend. I had thought that the previous debate would be shorter.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, for initiating the debate. Having spent a great deal of time with him when I was a Minister in Northern Ireland, I might say that I consider him to be a friend. However, after that speech, perhaps I will revise my Christmas-card list. Seriously, as we share a common attachment to sport, we often take part in debates in this House.
We are once again addressing the vital issue of funding sport in this country. In 1997, the Government promised a high level of commitment to sport. They promised international sporting events and initiatives that would enable and inspire young athletes. To a large extent, they have delivered on that promise and can be proud of the events that this country has hosted: events such as the rugby world cup, the Champions League final, the cricket world cup and the 2002 Commonwealth Games. I am sure that these would never have taken place without the active assistance of the Government.
Looking to the future, we will be hosting the 2012 Olympics and, if our bid is successful, the football world cup, which the Prime Minister is actively pursuing alongside the bid for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. So the Government have demonstrated their commitment to the nation as regards sport. The phenomenal success in Beijing was the biggest medal haul since 1912; a total of 47 medals, 19 of which were gold. The Paralympic Games boasted incredible success, too, with more than 100 medals. Those successes are the icing on the cake but, in my view, every cake needs a cherry and that cherry will be London 2012.
The task now is to match or improve on that total at the London Olympic and Paralympic Games. Praise is due to the noble Lord, Lord Coe, and his team’s great efforts in winning the 2012 bid. In part, it is testimony to Britain’s superb facilities and history as a host of world-class events. I am sure that all noble Lords will want to congratulate him on becoming a sports personality award winner and a Knight of the British Empire.
However, we all realise that the credit crunch and the downturn in the economy will impinge on the ability to give as much cash as the Government and the Olympic bodies would wish. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has announced a new national sponsorship scheme called Medal Hopes. It is intended to offer UK business national, regional and local authorities the opportunity to support British athletes as they prepare for 2012.
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, the chairman of the British Olympic Association, has said that we need a full four-year programme so that we can attract the best coaches and performance directors at the high market price which most of them rightly demand. If we do not, many other countries will poach them from us. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, was right in saying that the main reason for our recent success lies in the investment put in place by the National Lottery. However, if he were to read the debates—I led for the Labour Party in the other place on the lottery—he would see that most of the thrust for changes for sport came from the opposition Benches. Of course, there is the Exchequer cash for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
There is more to be done before 2012, as a number of sports did not figure in the medal tables. UK Sport, the body responsible for helping to maximise the performance of all sports, recognises that it will not be easy to achieve. Its ambitions and ours will require a certainty of funding, but also leadership and consistency of approach. To this end, UK Sport has developed Mission 2012, a means of monitoring each element of performance and assessing potential danger areas. It will encourage sports bodies to stay actively aware of how their system is performing and to be creative in problem-solving.
Winning the bid for London means that the international spotlight will be on London and our home-grown elite athletes, but it also comes with a duty to inspire those at all sporting levels to get involved. We will host the Games in world-class venues such as Wembley, Wimbledon, Lord’s and the Dome. However, we must also ensure that we make local venues and facilities accessible nationwide.
There are measures that must be taken at the grassroots level. The CCPR acts to promote sport and recreation as part of a healthy society. As such, it is campaigning for gift aid to be made available on subscription to community amateur sports clubs. I hope that noble Lords will join in this campaign, as I pledge so to do. Gift aid would mean that it would gain 28p in every pound. This applies to subscriptions to the National Trust and the Youth Hostelling Association and would be of enormous support to local sports clubs. With £538.4 million diverted from community sport to pay for the London 2012 Olympics, it needs all the help it can get.
Sport England has announced its strategy for the next five years, and pledged £800 million in community sport, a major contributor to the Government’s commitment to five hours of sport per week for five to 19 year-olds. Sport England has set itself quantifiable targets to reduce the number of youngsters who leave sport post-16. This will help to lay the foundations of the Olympic legacy. It should be noted that any negligence to cater for the vast majority of people who are disengaged from competitive sport will prove costly in the long run. Elite success is predicated on mass participation and it is crucial that we, as a country, continue to promote mass participation in physical activity in its broadest sense. If Sport England is to focus entirely on sport, other government departments, specifically the Department of Health, need to promote the wider participation agenda.
Those of us who are lovers of sport recognise a great opportunity to boost national pride in our sporting heritage. After all, we gave the world many of the sports that took place in Beijing. It is now our duty to ensure that the enormous hopes and talents we brought home from Beijing are not jeopardised in future.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Glentoran for securing this debate and congratulate him on his excellent presentation. The enjoyment of sport is a near universal activity that transcends differences between human beings. It is hard to come across anybody who has not been touched by sport at some point in his or her life. Sport brings people together and occupies a key part in the lives of many people across all countries and sectors. A love of sport is shared globally, and pride in the successful performance of particular teams can be a strong unifying factor in any community.
At a time when the economic outlook appears grim, people will instinctively turn towards sport as a means to exercise some of their frustrations and to raise their spirits. Governments have rightly been encouraging more people to engage in sporting activity as part of a healthy lifestyle. We cannot, however, avoid the fundamental truth that there is a considerable reduction in participation in sport between the ages of 16 and 18 and when moving into adulthood. That is why promoting and facilitating grassroots sport is so important. Although a number of initiatives have been developed, I want to pay particular tribute to the work of the Rugby Football Union in taking action to promote its sport through the Go Play Rugby initiative. The success of that effort has been rehearsed in other forums, but I want to repeat that it is a good example of how best to re-engage people who may have lost touch with regular sporting activity. We need to learn from its experience and apply the lessons more widely.
Another key example can be found in the England and Wales Cricket Board, whose investment has significantly increased the number of children and adults playing cricket at grassroots level, and that has had an impact on performance at elite levels. County cricket clubs are better able to choose high-quality players when the pool of people playing the game is increased.
It is very difficult to debate a subject such as the Olympics without also reflecting on funding. The unfolding chaos in the Government's approach to the 2012 Olympic Games is a clear demonstration of that point. I share the concerns stated by the shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport that the Government's use of lottery funds to pay for the 2012 Olympics, largely as a result of their dithering on how best to leverage private sector investment, will have regrettable consequences for sport at the grassroots.
I would be grateful if in his reply to this debate the Minister would assure the House that sports such as rugby union, cricket and netball will not lose out as a consequence of the Olympic Games. There is very real concern on this point, and it would be most helpful if the Minister could clarify the Government's position.
I wish to focus my contribution this afternoon on the funding of grassroots sport and specifically on what could be done to the taxation regime to facilitate investment in grassroots sport. Whatever delight and success may be achieved as a consequence of the Olympic Games in London in under four years' time, if the price to be paid is reductions in resources available to local and community sports clubs we should ask whether that is really a course that we should want to progress.
The interests of specific sports are, by and large, protected and promoted by national governing bodies, such as the England and Wales Cricket Board, the Rugby Football Union and so on. The taxation regime that they face is identical to that of companies, with this exception: national governing bodies do not obtain tax relief for expenditure on grassroots sport development, which is comparable to a company's research and development expenditure. As a consequence, sport governing bodies are taxed on their investment in grassroots sport activity and have to bear the burden of the administrative costs incurred in achieving tax compliance, which is a rather complicated regime.
On that basis, I wonder whether the Minister would consider granting statutory tax relief for grassroots sport expenditure by national governing bodies. If, as seems reasonable, economic circumstances are going to make investment complicated, we should be examining options to facilitate the actions of national governing bodies in delivering grassroots sport activities in local communities. Another potential solution would be a corporation tax exemption for national governing bodies. A recent study has calculated that the cost of a tax exemption would be between £5 million and £10 million a year and would significantly reduce the amount of time spent by governing bodies on tax planning, compliance and payment. A recent study conducted by Deloitte found that, of the 26 European Union states that responded, all except the United Kingdom provided either a tax exemption or special relief to national governing bodies. Effectively, sport bodies in other countries across Europe do not pay corporation tax.
One argument advanced is that sport governing bodies should establish charities in order to benefit from the tax advantages afforded to them. The economic benefits of this route are, however, dubious. The time and costs associated with running a charity are considerable, possibly as much as £5 million a year for national governing bodies. Not all grassroots expenditure would meet the strict definition of charitable expenditure, and charities are unable to reclaim value-added tax, which may result in a substantial VAT bill. I understand that a number of national governing bodies have been in regular communication with the Government to press this point, with limited response.
Given that we are entering difficult times, sports bodies have genuine concern about their revenue streams. We have to acknowledge that the Olympic Games could prove more expensive than originally anticipated, particularly given the failure of the Government effectively to engage with the private sector. The stories that abound of sports professionals awash with money are not reflected in the experience of those involved at grassroots level. The National Lottery is increasingly being used to pay for projects that the Government deem worthy, and the original intentions are being undermined. In those circumstances, I urge the Minister to revisit what could be done with the tax system to assist sport governing bodies, and I very much look forward to his response to this debate.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, for raising this subject. I have always felt that sports funding is rather a Cinderella subject—at least, it has been in the past—because it is the thorn around the rose. It is the thing you do not want to grasp, or the thing that will always come back and bite you. As the noble Lord pointed out in his opening speech, the lottery has covered up what was, shall we say, the refusal by Governments to take this subject seriously for many years. There was a culture of not taking sport seriously. When the lottery was set up, however, I remember the discussion was that it was supposed to be for three good causes. So, whoever took the knife to cut the lottery cake first, it is undoubtedly true that the present Government have taken many more little slices here and there.
Those slices may be for very good causes, and we would not want to be in the middle of a coffin-waving contest over whether we should have research into somebody dying of cancer rather than a playing field, because everyone now admits that we can ultimately come back to this fact: many cancers are stopped or made less frequent by good sporting activity. We have a counter-productive argument there, one that is circular but which we often refuse to acknowledge as being so. If we take only part of that arc, how do we go from here?
Whatever the problem with the Olympics—and I appreciate that there is one about resources being transferred—they have given a seriousness to the discussion of sport that was not there before. That is undeniable to anyone who has followed the subject, and non-Olympic sports are feeling that they should up their game to try to get in on the edges. I will plead again that rugby sevens should have been included, as it is a wonderful day at a sporting event. I base that on the 2002 Commonwealth Games, which were probably why we have got the Olympics, for after a series of disasters—let us remember Pickett’s Lock, if we are trying to be as fair as possible—we proved that we could do it. Where do we go from here?
If we accept that private sector funding will be much more difficult to obtain in the foreseeable future, and that the lottery cannot cover everything, we must try to tie in what is going on. To give the Government some praise—of course, it will only be half-hearted, but that is why the Minister is there—the new policy from the Department of Health builds in greater physical activity, but what does it mean by that? If there is greater activity, is that sport? Reading some of the policy documents and information we have had so far, I do not think that it knows. Are we telling the Department of Health, “You should make sure that there are enough facilities for recreational sport or casual exercise, within certain parts of government such as local authorities, and you are now the gatekeeper on that level of investment and maintenance”? That is the logical extension of bringing in that department.
I have spoken about this subject before, but are we telling the Department of Health that sports medicine should be pushed further up the pile to ensure better access so that injured people, if they have had some form of accident but have neither a great deal of money available nor access to the top echelons of a sporting body, can get their bodies repaired so that they can carry on playing sport? One contributing factor in sport being played more by the middle classes than by those from traditional working-class backgrounds is that if you take part in work that uses your body, you will be less keen to risk damaging it. Why? Because many people with whom I played rugby gave it up after the third time of not being able to put weight on their knee for two weeks. It threatened their mortgage payments. That does not occur to many people who have not been there, but there it is.
How do we tie this all together? After scanning through websites to find out exactly what this new initiative means, I am not sure. There is talk of healthy weight, then talk of the body mass index. I will refer back to a nice, 10-minute rant that I had about that being a medical thing that appears in every doctor’s charts but does not take into account that muscle is heavier than fat. You can thus be an extremely fit athlete and have stopped yourself from being a less fit person, yet have gained considerable weight. Are they taking it seriously? Are they tuned in enough to do that? I suggest that people need to address that slightly more closely. What will they actually take on, and what are they going to do? I should greatly appreciate it if the Minister could give us the first hint today about how that thinking is going on and what is being encouraged.
There is also an incredible number of departments involved. We all know that it is one thing for Ministers to say, “There shall be co-operation in Whitehall”; it is quite another to get people actually to co-operate. Everyone has their own primary objectives within their own department, which we see—let us be honest—in the bids for which gets a Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, is not here, but I am sure that while his experience in fighting for territory, which inspired “Yes Minister”, may have changed a little, it will probably not have done so by much. We have to try to see how those departments are brought together to address this issue.
On some more specific points, I was going to talk about amateur sports clubs, but the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, has done us a service by taking that on and asking: if there is a level of taxation, how do we fit in? We do not know. The noble Lord, Lord Pendry, spoke about Gift Aid, but the thing about that is that it has covered up many cracks in our sporting culture. The amateur sports club has survived in spite of what government—generally, and not government by any particular party—have done to it, not because of that. Over time, the current Government have acknowledged that the clubs are a great asset and should be supported, but it is also fair to say that they have taken a lot of pushing to get there.
Generally, this Government can stand up and say, “We have done more in this field than anybody before us”. The answer is, “So you should have, because you are there now with the knowledge”. The same responsibility will fall on any future Government, who should carry on being able to make that boast. What are we to do about that, and can we refer across again? I understand that the Learning and Skills Council no longer funds coaching courses to get people out there. If ever there was something counter-intuitive to much of the Government’s approach of bringing government together, that is it. You are not giving as much funding towards your coaching courses, which allow your people to take part in a positive and safe way. It also makes sure that you have control over what goes on in the sport, to encourage greater participation in and enjoyment of it. Moreover, you have removed funding because it did not fit another government target about getting people skills for employment, and for the young. That was a laudable aim, but how do you bring the two together until there are employment opportunities—not as many as for skills levels in coaching, perhaps—when you have contradicted yourselves?
I could go on like this for some considerable time—but only, I see, for another minute-and-a-half—yet the fact of the matter is that the Government are making moves and noises that sound about right. What guarantees will they give that they will make real efforts to ensure that all parts of government talk to each other about sport funding, that there are to be no more cuts into the lottery cake in the foreseeable future, and that we can start to say that spending to support activity, for instance, in the Department of Health, will support sport? We will thus make sure that sports funding is guaranteed and increased, to help that department, rather than saying “Well, if the Department of Health is doing it, we will cut sport because we are already doing it twice”, for double-minus counting is still double counting.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this brief debate, and particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, for introducing it. I thank my noble friend Lord Pendry, who is under enormous pressure because of his obligations to sport elsewhere in the country, for his contribution. I am sorry that he is taking the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, off his Christmas list and hope that relationships will be re-established by then. I am not taking the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, off my Christmas list but, like my noble friend Lord Pendry, I was shocked by the nature of the challenge put forward by the noble Lord. He suggested that all was doom and gloom in government policy in relation to sport and that we had a fairly blasted landscape in the area of sporting achievement. That is not correct, so let us be absolutely clear about the facts.
If we look at what the situation was in 1996, we certainly see a different position today. I remind the House that at the Atlanta Olympics we won only nine gold medals. If the noble Lord is saying that the extraordinary achievement of our athletes to win 19 gold medals and finish fourth in the medals table in the recent Olympics is down to their efforts and their coaches primarily, I agree with him wholeheartedly. If he is saying that government funding has a part to play, I agree with him on that too. If therefore we have four times the achievement in the Olympic Games in 2008 compared with 1996, which was at the end of a two decade period of Conservative rule, I can say only that our record compares very favourably with that.
On school sport, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, berated me because the Government have not yet hit their target of five hours of sport and exercise for children. However, that target relates to 2010 and, like all government targets, it is an ambitious one.
Two hours. But in the past decade we have seen a substantial increase in the number of hours available to children for exercise. The noble Lord identified the minority of children who are not getting two hours, sport and exercise a week; but 90 per cent of our children are. When his party was last in power it was 20 per cent.
The sale of school playing fields was rife under the previous Administration. We have put a stop to that. On the few occasions when playing fields are sold because of development possibilities or because they are substandard, it is on the strict condition that sporting facilities must be enhanced as a result of the sale. As we all know, through the 1980s and early 1990s, there was a massive reduction in the availability of facilities and playing fields for our schoolchildren.
On swimming, it is now the case that 61 per cent of the country’s total swimming stock and 52 per cent of public sector swimming pools have been built or refurbished since 1996 and the Government are now able to talk in terms of guaranteeing the over-60s free access to swimming pools. What a contrast with the perspective that we had when we came to power. So the charges of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, against the Government’s record on sport are ill founded.
I have listened carefully during the debate for suggestions on where we might get extra resources for sport. Having some responsibility as a government spokesman in this area, I am always eager to see how we can enhance opportunities for our people. I share with the whole House and everyone who has participated in the debate the sense of importance that sport represents in terms of opportunities for our people and for the health of our people. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, will recognise that health is not to be the lead department. In fact, the co-ordinating role for the onslaught on obesity is held by the Treasury as the funder; we have made clear that the Treasury has to have a role in this. But health has the statistics which measure the levels of obesity in the country, particularly among children, and it must play its part if we are going to make a successful onslaught on what we all recognise is one of the worst features of our children’s development. In western societies with ready access to the wrong kinds of food, we have levels of obesity which lead to ill health subsequently and are a significant factor in the difficulties faced by children. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, will recognise that the co-ordinated strategy involving the budgets of departments other than the DCMS is of significant importance.
I listened for ideas on how to obtain extra resources and two sources were suggested. The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, said that we should look for a way in which we could exempt sports clubs from VAT. That is not an easy issue to advance and at the same time to suggest that it would not be a demand on public resources. Although it does not represent public expenditure, the withdrawal of such VAT would represent a significant reduction in government receipts, which is the other side of the ledger. We have been more concerned to promote schemes, particularly relationships with sports clubs, which yield grass-roots success.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, said that sports clubs have filled the gap which society has otherwise left. That is not how I look upon sports clubs. Sport will always be a voluntary activity; the majority of organisations providing local and community sport will be voluntary ones. Would we want anything else? The only alternative would look dreadfully like state centralism and I shudder at the very concept. Of course sport at a local level is going to be voluntary; the question is how we can, through public resources, encourage the successful development of that voluntary activity and aid sports clubs which play such a significant role in this.
Before the Summer Recess we debated in the Moses Room aspects of rugby union with regard to this factor. We have had debates in which we have discussed giving sportsmen chances to shine and a mix of government matching private resources to give opportunities to young cricketers. An intelligent way is to advance government resources to encourage partnerships between schools and private clubs. This is an absolutely crucial link to forge and one which a decade or so ago reflected a marked discontinuity which we have sought to bridge. We are concerned to give help to clubs, support in terms of resources for professional coaching and links between clubs and schools in order to overcome exactly the issue to which the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, drew attention.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, berated the Government for their failure to produce the necessary resources, but we have provided four times the resources for Sport England than obtained in 1996-97. So when he berates the limited resources at the present time, let us put that into the context of the resources that were available in the past.
I listened for suggestions on the crucial issue of where the resources should come from, and what did I get from the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran? Having berated the Government for having raided the lottery, he suggested better organised use of lottery funds. What else did I get? That we should cut red tape and the administrative costs of the lottery. By heavens, the last refuge of the Conservative politician is to talk about admin costs and red tape, and then to reflect exactly the way in which the Government have been addressing the issue of sport in this country, with no new policy prescription whatever. I reject the point made by the noble Lord.
I recognise that the Olympic Games are an important cost in the sporting arena and that inevitably there will be pressures on community sport as a result of our determination to make the Olympic Games a huge success, but let us be clear about a number of things. In terms of sporting recognition for the nation, hosting the great and successful Olympic Games of 2012 will do more to boost interest and participation in sport than pretty well anything else that we can conceive of. We are right to concentrate our efforts on making sure that the Games are successful, and on making sure that British athletes are equal to the challenge which, inevitably, competition at Olympic level requires.
I make absolutely no apology for concentrating resources on elite athletes. I take pride, as, I am sure the whole House does, in the achievements of our Olympic gold, silver and bronze medallists, and indeed other competitors who acquitted themselves extraordinarily well at the Olympic and Paralympic Games this last year, giving a great lift to the nation. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, that we must have due regard to community sport. I recognise that we need to make sure that Sport England is equipped to play its full role in that respect. We guarantee that Sport England will have a greater budget over this forthcoming three-year period than it has enjoyed in the past. We recognise the limitations of that body, which has expansive plans and opportunities, and wants to fulfil its role in those terms. It has behind it a Government with a decade of significant achievement in sport. At the end of the day, this is not the responsibility of government, but the responsibility of sportsmen and women up and down the land, to whom we ought to pay tribute.
I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 3 pm.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
[The Sitting was suspended from 2.52 to 3 pm.]
Education and Skills Bill
Consideration of amendments on Report resumed.
11: After Clause 10, insert the following new Clause—
“Listening to views of children
After section 175 of Education Act 2002 (c. 32) insert—
“175A Listening to views of children
(1) It shall be the duty—
(a) of a local education authority, in the exercise of any of their schools’ functions, and(b) of the governing body of a maintained school, in the exercise of any function relating to the conduct of the school,to have due regard to the ascertainable views of the pupil on matters that affect him or her, taking account of his or her age and maturity.
(2) In this section “maintained school” has the meaning given in section 39.””
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, before introducing this amendment, I should declare an interest as president of the National Governors’ Association.
The purpose of the amendment is to create a statutory right for children to participate in decisions that affect them in their education by introducing a new duty on local authorities and governing bodies of maintained schools to have due regard to the views of children. As your Lordships will know, the Government ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991. That gives all children the right to express their views and have them taken into account and given due weight, according to their age and maturity, in all matters affecting them. However, when in October 2008 the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child reviewed the implementation of the convention in the UK, it concluded that,
“participation of children in all aspects of schooling is inadequate, since children have very few consultation rights”.
The committee of 18 independent experts called for the Government to ensure that there is a statutory right for children to influence education decision-making. It called for the Government to,
“promote, facilitate and implement, in legislation as well as in practice, within … schools … the principle of respect for the views of the child”,
“strengthen children’s participation in all matters of school, classroom and learning which affect them”.
That recommendation echoes those of the four UK children’s commissioners and the 2007 investigation into citizenship education by the Education and Skills Committee.
In September 2007, a review commissioned by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, on school councils called for all secondary schools to have a school council. The review found that the majority of teachers agreed that school councils should be a statutory requirement in England.
Concerns were expressed in Committee that we should not be unduly prescriptive on schools as to how they listen to children. That is, of course, a very important qualification. In light of these concerns, the amendment has been redrafted. It does not specify the methods that schools and LEAs should employ to pay due regard to the views of children. However, it ensures—and surely it is right, in today’s world, to do so—that every child has the opportunity to give their views on their education and for these to be taken seriously.
Many of your Lordships will have participated in similar debates in 2002, when Section 176 of the Education Act 2002 was introduced. It obliges schools to have due regard to guidance on participation. But, sadly, this is not having the desired impact. In 2006, a freedom of information survey by the Children’s Rights Alliance for England found that less than 45 per cent of local education authorities had taken any action to inform school staff of the guidance. The action taken, unsurprisingly, was minimal. Less than 20 per cent had run any training and only 10 per cent had informed children of the guidance.
A 2007 Ofsted national survey of children’s views found that nearly four in every 10 children—38 per cent—reported that children’s views are listened to “not much” or “not at all” in the running of their school. A further 11 per cent of children said that they did not know whether children’s views were listened to or not. That is nearly half of all children surveyed. A clear gap has opened up. I beg to move.
My Lords, my name is added to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, in supporting the amendment. The noble Baroness mentioned Article 12 of the UN convention. In addition, Article 4 requires the Government to undertake all appropriate legislative measures for the implementation of the convention’s provisions. This is a call for legislation, not just to spread best practice.
The children’s Minister recently accepted the Government’s obligations under the convention, saying:
“We have an obligation under international law to ensure that the rights set out in the convention are given effect”.—[Official Report, Commons Public Bill Committee, 24/6/08; col. 45.]
Legislation is clearly required here, given the gap that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, has mentioned.
As the noble Baroness said, there was some criticism that our previous amendment was a little too prescriptive, and we have tried to respond to that. There are many ways in which schools—at least, those which demonstrate best practice—very effectively listen to the voices of children and give their views due weight. I would like to give one example of the way in which that is done. In doing so, I declare an interest as a trustee of UNICEF UK.
I refer to the Rights Respecting Schools programme. If any of your Lordships have not visited such a school, I think that they would find it very inspiring to do so. I have visited them at primary and, more recently, at secondary level, at an Andover school. I have never been to schools where the children are so empowered, happy, inspired and engaged in their education. That is because they really are valued, not just by the support staff and the teachers but because they value and respect each other. That respect is built on their understanding of their rights under the convention. Their rights are very overt in the curriculum and, as a result of those rights, so are their duties and responsibilities to each other. It makes for a happy school, high-quality learning and responsible and well adjusted young people; and it can only be to the advantage of everybody that young people grow up in schools such as those.
That is just one way of involving young people and taking account of their views and, while it is one of the best ways, it is not the only one. That is why our amendment is not prescriptive. I welcome the fact that since we had our debate about this in Committee, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has supported our amendment. It says that Article 12 of the UN convention, which covers respect for the views of the child, states that when adults are making decisions that affect children, children have the right to say what they think should happen and have their opinion taken into account.
The commission believes that this amendment will help to protect that right. So we hope that the Government, who have made great strides in listening more to the views of children and giving them their rights under the convention, will listen to the calls on all sides for this right to be heard to be enshrined in UK legislation. This Bill is the first opportunity we have had in legislation to put into effect what the Committee on the Rights of the Child called for in its report of 3 October, so I hope that we will take this opportunity.
My Lords, I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Young, is going to reply, but it rather looks as though he is. Perhaps I may take the first opportunity that I have had to welcome him to his new post and to wish him the greatest success in it. I hope that, by joining the list of people with whom he has to deal, I have slightly reduced the height of the fence that he feels he has to jump.
I apologise to your Lordships, first, for not having attached my name to this amendment and, secondly, for, with disgracefully bad manners, tabling an amendment after today’s Marshalled List had been printed, both of which I deplore. Unfortunately, three and a half of the past 10 days of my life have been wiped out by a virus. In the haste to catch up with other things that have become undone in that time, some things to do with this Bill have fallen by the wayside.
I support the amendment. It has already been demonstrated that the Government are under a legal obligation to include a provision of this kind in the Bill. That bears repeating: they are under a legal obligation to do so, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, made clear. I shall add only a grace note or two to what has been said already. The benefits of consulting children are obvious when they are drawn into the process, but they lie elsewhere as well. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, did not mention the exercise, which she mentioned to me earlier, whereby an education authority consulted children about the architectural design of their school. It learnt a great deal of valuable material from it; in particular, ways of avoiding little secret places in which small children could be bullied by bigger children. Lower down the age range, it is very useful for a six-foot architect to be talked to by a three-foot child about what it is like to be in a room designed by the six-foot architect. These things are very valuable.
It is an opportune moment to mention that the Government are engaged with rather less publicity than one might have expected in a 15-year programme of pulling down almost all the schools that exist and replacing them. If there was ever a moment when children’s advice was terrifically needed, it is now, and this amendment, therefore, or something very like it, should go straight into the Bill.
My Lords, the amendment, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, pointed out, was moved in a slightly longer form in Committee by my noble friend Lord Elton. My noble friend Lady Morris then agreed that it was desirable to take the views of children into account, but sounded a note of caution that it would not do to lay down to every school how they should go about it. The amendment has been tailored to meet that small concern and I am happy to offer my support for it.
We have argued, sometimes—quite rightly—at length, that one of the biggest obstacles to getting young people to continue in education is the lack of engagement that some feel. It is quite right, therefore, that schools and local education authorities make an effort to encourage such engagement. Of course, there may be concerns about giving a veto to mischievous children, but I think that the wording of this amendment avoids that risk. I agree with the spirit of the noble Baroness’s arguments.
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that the voice of pupils and young people is extremely important. This Government are committed to involving young people as widely as possible in matters which affect them.
We make decisions that impact on children and young people every day. Ensuring that their views are heard and valued not only has the potential to improve services for young people, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, pointed out, but has a positive impact on the school environment and the local community.
Through effective pupil participation, schools give young people the opportunity to develop critical thinking, advocacy and influencing skills, helping every child to fulfil their potential. This is clearly very positive, and the Government seek to encourage it.
The amendment, however, places a direct duty on school governing bodies to establish a school council or other mechanism and to have regard to the ascertainable views of all their pupils on matters that affect them. I do not agree that amending primary legislation is the most powerful or effective way of bringing about the improvements that we all seek. Research shows that more than 95 per cent of schools already have a school council—I can point to my own experience as a governor of a local primary school, where we have an effective school council that ascertains the views of its pupils. We have updated and strengthened guidance, which should serve to encourage the introduction of school councils in the few schools which do not have them and support those schools which run them well and use them as one of a number of ways of listening to their pupils. I echo some of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, who gave another example of an effective means of involving and empowering young people.
We have a powerful lever, which we should not underestimate, in Ofsted inspections. They evaluate how well schools take account of the views of children and young people. The value of inspection is that it involves dialogue with the school about improving where necessary and recognising its strengths.
Section 176 of the Education Act 2002 already provides for the consultation of pupils on issues that affect them. It provides for statutory guidance, to which local authorities and governing bodies must have regard, about consultation of pupils when decisions affecting them are taken.
We have just reviewed and strengthened the guidance, Working Together, to help schools effectively to put the principle of pupil consultation into practice. Furthermore, we have ensured that school inspection arrangements assess how well schools take account of the views of children and young people.
The current arrangements offer a non-prescriptive approach, allowing schools to find the best way of involving young people. A rich variety of methods is being used by schools in addition to school councils. Supporting schools through guidance enables them to develop approaches that work for them and to adapt them over time as circumstances change.
The amendment would require all schools to consult all pupils in all circumstances. This is against our drive to free schools up, within boundaries—provided, in this case, through guidance—to take their own decisions. We want to avoid introducing a broad statutory requirement that is likely to cause schools difficulties.
I shall answer some of the understandable concerns expressed by a number of noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and all noble Lords who entered into the debate, talked about the legal obligation and the current provision not giving children the right to be consulted, as required by Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. We continue to embed in practice the spirit of that resolution in a meaningful way for children and young people. Listening to children is an important outcome for all children, in Every Child Matters. We are ensuring that Ofsted inspectors look at how local authorities, as well as schools, are doing.
It has also been said that we are not meeting the obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Although that has no direct legal force, and the detail of implementation is left to individual states, we think that the guidance is in the spirit of the convention and will provide a helpful mechanism in allowing schools effectively to listen to the views of their pupils.
There is no difference between us on the need to ensure that schools involve and empower their young students and pupils. This is really about whether we need something in the Bill. We do not believe that we do—we believe that we have enough effective powers already.
I could not help smiling at the two references to height made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, as my colleague and I are a bit sensitive to that, being somewhat vertically challenged. He made a point about consultation on the architecture and design of schools. That is a point very well made, but do we really need it in the Bill? We think that we have demonstrated in what we have achieved so far, with the guidance and Ofsted inspection, that current provision is more than sufficient. We hope that noble Lords will take that into account and that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, will withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am pretty disappointed with the Minister’s reply. Having done exactly what the previous Minister in charge of the Bill required by taking away the prescriptive requirements for exactly how the obligations should be carried out, I should have thought that the Government would have been more than pleased to adopt what is suggested. It surprises me that a number of noble Lords seem to think that there is a legal requirement to put this into practice under the Bill, and that this right has to be adhered to by schools, local authorities and governing bodies. In Scotland, children have had this right since 2000 and there has been no problem there at all. Indeed, Wales and Scotland have a much better record in this respect. Are we really prepared to be second to them in how we carry out legislative requirements?
All I can say is that I am very disappointed, as I had expected a much more sympathetic response. I do not mind at all being told that certain words or commas are wrong and that the amendment should be taken away and redone, but we made it clear that children would be consulted in accordance with their age and maturity. We obviously do not intend that children should be consulted who cannot give any form of constructive reply that makes any sense.
I shall for the moment withdraw the amendment because, not expecting anything but warm encouragement, I had not even bothered to think in terms of dividing the House. However, there may well be a need to do so at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 11 [Educational Institutions: promotion of good attendance:]
12: Clause 11, page 6, line 14, at end insert—
“(e) a city technology college, a city college for the technology of the arts or an Academy.”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 12 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 13, which is grouped with it. In our Amendment No. 64 in Committee, my noble friend Lady Sharp asked why academies, city technology colleges and so on were not included in the Clause 11 duty to promote attendance. She supposed that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, would say that it was because such a duty would be in the funding agreement, and so he did—that is exactly what he said. He also said that, through that agreement, they must have regard to the same guidance as maintained schools on improving behaviour and attendance. However, those agreements cannot be challenged once they are set. He also claimed that there was no need to extend the legal duty to CTCs because they are successful schools which already have high levels of post-16 attendance, and that was why they were not listed in this Bill. Well, if that is the case, there is no harm in including them for the sake of equity and completeness.
We have tabled this amendment again in order to emphasise the point and to ask the Minister why community schools will have a legal duty to promote post-16 attendance while academies will not. I should have thought that it was in the interest of all schools to do this once post-16 education becomes the law. This, by the way, is another amendment on which the Equality and Human Rights Commission agrees with us. That is a matter of some satisfaction to us.
Amendment No. 13 would amend Clause 12, which is headed:
“Duty to make arrangements to identify persons not fulfilling duty [to participate] imposed by Section 2”.
We return to this issue because it raises the question of local authority responsibilities in the implementation of this part of the Bill. They are responsible for chasing up the young person who flouts its directions and fails to register for either education or training. They are responsible for keeping a register of all young people in their area and checking up on what they are doing between the ages of 16 and 18 and for enforcing the provisions of the Act. In Committee, we had lengthy discussions on how they might do that and the resources at their disposal.
As the Bill stands, the authority must establish,
“so far as it is possible to do so”,
the identities of the people in its area to whom this part of the Bill applies. Amendment No. 13 therefore adds the rider that that should be “possible and reasonable”. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said in Committee, the Bill as it stands puts no limit on things. What is “possible” may be wildly expensive. Is the local authority expected to employ private detectives to chase children who may have dispersed around the world? Reasonable, he said, seems to be the right word, to which the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, replied that it was really just a matter of semantics. He said that,
“the definition of what is possible must encompass what is reasonable”.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, who is no longer in his place, then responded by asking that the Minister consult his lawyers. He said:
“Most of us are much more familiar with the use of ‘reasonable’ in legislation than with ‘possible’, and there may be advantages in using it”.—[Official Report, 1/7/08; col. 214.]
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, promised to write to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and my noble friend Lady Sharp on the subject, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said that he would also like a copy of the letter. As the Minister was writing, he was asked if he would also explain the mechanisms by which a local authority was expected to track down all these young people. My noble friend has not received a letter on the subject and I would be interested to know whether the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Lucas, have received one.
I return to where we started. What is “possible” is very open-ended. There are clearly limits to the expenditure that local authorities should conscientiously incur on such searches in carrying out their duty to identify who is failing to participate. It is therefore wholly reasonable that the words “and reasonable” should be added to Clause 12. I beg to move.
My Lords, in Committee the Minister raised the issue of good attendance while addressing Amendment No. 12, and we on these Benches agreed that it seemed inconsistent to list on the face of the Bill only some of the institutions that are to have a duty to promote good attendance but not others. When the Minister responded on this point, he made a somewhat less than watertight argument against the need to accept the amendment. He said that the city technology colleges,
“and the one city college for the technology of the arts are, without exception, successful schools with very high levels of post-16 participation from committed pupils with good attendance and behaviour, so we do not think it appropriate to extend the statutory duties to them”.—[Official Report, 3/7/08; col. 402.]
That raises two points.
First, I am sure that some if not all of the institutions listed in the Bill will be dismayed by the implication that they have been included because they are unsuccessful schools with uncommitted and poorly behaved pupils; in other words, they cannot be trusted in the same way as the Government’s handpicked favourites. I hope that that is not the message that the Government wish to send out.
Secondly, the exemption from being placed under a statutory duty seems to be based on a potentially ephemeral criterion. These colleges are successful now, and their current crop of students is currently committed, but will that always remain the case? What will happen if that fortunate situation changes? I can see the loophole in that argument opening up before our eyes.
I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, merely used a poor choice of words to express himself. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, is right to seek clarification. I agree with her that the two words “and reasonable”, which would be inserted by Amendment No. 13, would improve the drafting of this clause. It may seem a trifling point. However, as my noble friend Lord Lucas said when he spoke in favour of the amendment in Committee, simply asking the local authority to do what is possible is not practical in a technical sense. A local education authority could go to any number of lengths to establish the identities of those who are not complying with the duty; but not all will be feasible. It is right that there should be a duty for local education authorities, but it must be reasonable and practical.
My Lords, I strongly support the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, on Amendment No. 12. It is time that the Government faced up to the problem of these funding agreements and put in primary legislation what they actually intend. We spent most of this morning saying that this is a flagship piece of legislation that will change the world and make life different for all young people between 14 and 19. It is essential to the economic prosperity and well-being of our nation. It is even more important now, given the economic recession that may be coming, that we make sure that this is as good as it can be.
Apparently, through all the debate, there has been a caveat that exempts 16 to 19 year-olds who go to city academies or other schools outlined in this amendment. I do not for a minute think that the Minister intends that this legislation should not apply to 16 to 19 year-olds who attend these schools; I would be amazed if she stood up and made that point. Presumably the answer is, “Well, we deal with that in a separate way, by making it part of the funding agreement”. However, there is no reason for a twin-track approach. These are publicly funded schools. Every penny of revenue funding for these schools comes from the taxpayer. Life has indeed changed, and the money that formerly was given by sponsors to support these schools—accounting for 10 per cent of the cost of academies—is now no longer given in most cases, and never did arrive in the case of city technology colleges 20 years ago. The first question for the Minister is, why should wholly publicly funded schools, that take in children who are funded under the same financial regulations as any other child attending a state school, not be subject to this flagship legislation?
The second is, can the Minister give your Lordships an example of any circumstance in which she or a ministerial colleague would negotiate a contract in which abiding by this legislation was not a part? If she can, I would be amazed. The truth is, by not including these schools in primary legislation, she gives the impression that there is a separate negotiating business deal going on; that she is prepared to sit down with the funder who is going to sign the sponsorship agreement and talk to him or her about whether this legislation should apply to children in their schools. I do not believe that she is going to do that.
The possible answer is, “Why do this? Why not just accept the funding agreement? You have accepted that what I intend will be implicit in this piece of legislation”. There are two reasons. I praise the Government, particularly under the leadership of the new Secretary of State, for trying, over the past 12 months, to draw academies and city technology colleges into the family of schools. Minor legislative changes have covered the teaching of core subjects of the national curriculum and admission arrangements that were included in the previous flagship Education Bill. The Secretary of State has been clear that academies will have to abide by these good things. I cannot think why the Government have not seized this opportunity to build on this, by making this the piece of legislation in which academies and city technology colleges are listed as institutions to which it will apply.
This is about transparency. In primary legislation, it is transparent to all parents and taxpayers that this legislation will apply to children in maintained schools. The funding agreement is secret. I am not even sure that it is published. It is certainly not amendable through representations by the public. I do not think that it is even covered by the Freedom of Information Act, but I will stand corrected if I am wrong on that. There is no way in which the voter, the taxpayer or parent of the pupil can have an input. I find it difficult to think of any of my political colleagues who can make a case for it being acceptable to put into this flagship piece of legislation a secret funding agreement, negotiated on a one-to-one basis behind closed doors rather than openly and transparently.
My final plea is that this legislation is not about schools, sponsors and the Government but, to my mind, about giving entitlement to young people. It gives entitlement to young citizens of this country between the ages of 16 and 19 to expect that we, as adults in this legislature, give them a right to high-quality education and training. Why are we creating a situation in the law of the land whereby this adult Parliament gives that right by primary legislation to all 16 to 19 year-olds apart from those who attend academies and city technology colleges? It is about time that the Government looked seriously at how they deal with these funding agreements. I am surprised that the Secretary of State has not taken the opportunity to do it now. I could not speak more strongly in favour of Amendment No. 12. It makes sense. We owe it to the 16 to 19 year-olds who will attend these schools, and their parents, to ensure that their entitlement and opportunities are defended in primary legislation, just as they are for every other 16 to 19 year-old.
My Lords, first, I apologise to noble Lords who did not receive a copy of my noble friend Lord Adonis’s letter to the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I am not sure why it did not get to other Members who participated in Committee. I shall ensure that that letter is circulated.
On the points on the use of the language to which that letter referred, we agree that we should limit the burdens on local authorities in general. Clause 12 forms a key part of the local authorities’ overarching duty to promote participation. It is clear that, for a local authority to fulfil its duty of promoting participation, it will need to know who is not participating and what is being done to re-engage them.
If the amendment were accepted, it would weaken that duty on local authorities and could lead to them failing to provide the necessary support to help some young people re-engage. While Clause 12 would require the local authority to go beyond what is merely reasonable, we intend to make clear in guidance the kind of arrangements that, if made, would be taken to satisfy the duty; that is exactly what the noble Baroness was asking about. There will be guidance to help local authorities understand exactly what is expected of them.
However, I also suspect that the difference between our interpretations of the use of this language is not as great as it seems. While many of us in this House are familiar with the term “reasonable” in legislation, as opposed to “possible”, I assure noble Lords that there are in excess of 200 examples on our statute books of the phrase in question. I have not counted them, but I am advised that this is the case. While there may be a fine distinction between the terms, an interpretation of what is possible—I cannot believe that I am saying this—would also encompass what is reasonable. Altering the wording as proposed in Amendment No. 13 would give the wrong impression to local authorities on the importance of the duty. We are concerned that suggesting that local authorities should not use their best endeavours would downplay the pivotal importance of identifying young people who have fallen out of the system.
On Amendment No. 12, I have received advice to reiterate strongly the words of my noble friend in Committee. He said we are requiring academies, through their funding agreements, to have regard to the same guidance as maintained schools on improving behaviour and attendance. I am hearing an impassioned plea that I should perhaps expand on those words in a more demanding fashion. I heard very clearly the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and my noble friend Lady Morris that this House wishes to hear in a convincing tone our commitment to making sure that the Bill is there to benefit all children; that is exactly what we seek. I would be very happy, if given the opportunity, to come back and attempt to do that again for noble Lords.
My Lords, if my noble friend is to approach the funding agreements by saying, in even stronger words, that she would not under any circumstances negotiate a funding agreement with an academy that did not incorporate adherence to this legislation, would she also not wish during her time in office to make sure that no future Secretary of State could negotiate a funding agreement with an academy that meant that it did not have to follow the legislation? Perhaps she might reflect that the point of primary legislation means that, beyond her decisions in her office during her time as a Minister, the opportunities laid out in the legislation will be available to children and young people. I spoke in support of the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. I am not satisfied by a promise of just stronger words. Perhaps my noble friend might reflect on whether she might come back at Third Reading with a government amendment.
My Lords, I fully understand my noble friend’s interpretation of the purpose of legislation to create entitlements and commitment in perpetuity. That is very much what we are attempting to do through this landmark Bill, as it has been described. I certainly understand and hear very clearly the message she is giving me.
My Lords, the Minister and the House know that it is my life’s ambition to make life easy for this Government. Therefore, I suggest that instead of amending the ambition to have 400 academy funding agreements, it would be much easier to put it in legislation and add it to the list. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, has made a most telling point, which I failed to do, and I pay tribute to her for that; it is a matter of transparency and of how it looks. If the Government want academies to be seen to be giving the same rights and entitlements to 16 to 19 year-olds as everyone else, there is no reason why Amendment No. 12 should not be accepted. We will come back to this issue.
On Amendment No. 13, we are rather like angels dancing on the head of a pin but the Government seem to be saying that in guidance they are going to define what is possible. It is not possible in guidance to define what is possible, unless it is extremely long guidance. It is possible in guidance to define what is reasonable, and I recommend that the Minister think again about this. Guidance can certainly advise local authorities on the range of things they could put in place which the Government would regard as reasonable in carrying out this duty to identify young people who are not participating. I accept that they cannot carry out their other duties unless they know who the young people are, but it is not possible to define in guidance everything that it is possible for a local authority to do. If you do that, you are not defining what is reasonable. The Government might think they are limiting what a local authority would have to do but I think what they are proposing is actually broadening it and opening the cheque book that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who is not in his place, has warned us about. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 12 [Duty to make arrangements to identify persons not fulfilling duty imposed by section 2]:
[Amendment No. 13 not moved.]
Clause 14 [Educational institutions: duty to provide information]:
14: Clause 14, page 8, line 6, at end insert “provided that the relevant pupil or student has given written consent for the information to be provided”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in Committee we tabled a rather larger group of amendments relating to data protection. I have narrowed down the numbers somewhat so that these amendments relate to informing persons if their data are being abused and obtaining their consent. I have brought these amendments back because they are extremely important. I heard what the then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, had to say in response, and I have read his words carefully in the official record.
Despite the Government’s replies then, I think it is necessary to get absolute assurances on this point. The collection, use and sharing of people’s personal details, which can include some highly confidential information, must be treated with utmost care and respect. The Minister’s predecessor said himself in Committee that he understood that Parliament had an absolute duty to see that personal data are handled appropriately and not in an unauthorised way, and that security is paramount. He went on to point out that the provisions in the Bill are very similar to those which Parliament has agreed in respect of the Learning and Skills Act 2000. A good deal has happened since 2000 and while it may be embarrassing for the Government to be reminded, they none the less have a truly dismal record in keeping records safe. I do not think that it is unreasonable to look carefully at what reassurances and safety mechanisms we can place in the Bill.
Amendment No. 14 concerns written consent for the provision of information. This creates an opt-in approach rather than an opt-out. It may be true that this is more cumbersome for the authorities than making the hapless individual do the running, but perhaps it could be said that this will make authorities think more carefully about what information they are prepared to go to the trouble of collecting.
Amendment No. 15 would require educational establishments to write to their students to inform them of their rights under subsection (4). In Committee the Minister responded by saying that learning providers have had arrangements in place since 2000 to do this with regard to information disclosures to Connexions. If that system is working well, I cannot see why the Bill should not adopt this good practice.
Amendment No. 19 would simply specify that a local authority must notify the young person concerned within seven days of the information being supplied that it has done so. That may seem a very tight time frame, but once again it should spur efficiency and care on the part of the local authority, which would have to make a deliberate and considered choice about what information it was going to supply rather than simply offloading personal data indiscriminately.
Amendments Nos. 16, 17 and 66 reflect what I see as the desirability of opting in. They simply hand a measure of empowerment to the people whose details are being collated. They are, after all, their data and they should be allowed to say whether they may be used.
I hope that noble Lords will recognise that I am not trying to be difficult on this matter. I strongly believe that we in this place owe it to the people whose lives will be affected by the measures in the Bill to show that we have considered the consequences. It is unfortunate that in the past year or so we have seen the worry, confusion and concern that are caused when vast amounts of personal data get lost in the post, are stolen from an office or are left uncoded on a laptop on a train. I hope that the Government have had the time and inclination to give more thought to this matter. I beg to move.
My Lords, we on these Benches very much share the Opposition’s reservations about the degree to which data are given proper protection but we do not agree with them in relation to all the provisions that they have written into this series of amendments. In particular, we agree with the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, when we debated this matter in Committee: given the constituency of young people to whom this provision is addressed, it is unnecessarily bureaucratic to expect them to have given their written consent to this information being included.
However, we very much go along with Amendment No. 15, which requires that:
“Each educational institution shall, at the beginning of each academic year, write to every student attending its institution informing them of their rights under subsection (4)”.
They should know what information is being provided about them and they should have the right to check that information, as everyone has under the Data Protection Act.
I want to speak specifically to Amendment No. 18, which is in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Walmsley. It suggests that the Border and Immigration Agency should be included in the list of institutions at Clause 16(2). We retabled this amendment because the answer provided in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, was inconclusive.
The issue is whether the Border and Immigration Agency should be added to the list of information providers in Clause 16(2). The list comprises all the agencies that are expected to supply information to the local authority about the activities and movements of young people so that the local authority can build a comprehensive database of all young people in its area. It includes the health authorities, police and probation services, and young offender services. We pointed out that, with the substantial number of people immigrating into this country, and especially with the arrival of a considerable number of unaccompanied minors, the Border and Immigration Agency should also be on the list. The Minister responded by saying that the list exactly reproduced that in the Learning and Skills Act 2000 and he did not see that the Border and Immigration Agency would provide information that could not be obtained elsewhere. However, when I questioned that, giving the example of eastern European families settling in some areas of the UK, he promised to go away and think about the issue further, asking officials how such a family might otherwise be picked up. I wonder whether the department has indeed had further thoughts on the subject, and I shall be interested to hear from the Minister what they are.
My Lords, I strongly support my noble friend on this group of amendments. Young people can be acutely sensitive about their personal data and what is known about them—perhaps in some ways more than adults are. They mind very much what people say about them—behind their backs, as they would see it. On many occasions, the information about us is wrong; there is a lot of sloppiness and carelessness. You are very dependent on the people who enter the information being scrupulously careful, but that is not always the case. I have seen my own health records and was appalled at the number of errors there were. I am sure that that is multiplied many millions of times over in the huge plethora of information that various government agencies now hold about us all.
A young person should know that this information has been recorded. They should see it so that they can find out whether it is correct. They should understand who holds it and who has access to it. I understand very well why my Liberal Democrat colleagues feel nervous about young people’s ability always to sign things. The only way to know that somebody has actually read something and knows what is being said about them is if they send back a written return. Otherwise they may just shove it in the bedroom drawer and not bother to read it. It is terribly important that they know what is being said about them and that they have an opportunity to correct it. I very strongly support the amendment and hope that the Government will think seriously about it.
My Lords, I simply add my concern that the information we are talking about, in Clause 14(3)(c), does not provide any restriction on what it may be about as long as it relates to the child. It does not say that it must be relevant to any of the functions of the authority or school. If I am wrong, I shall be glad to be reassured but it seems that there could be some eccentric gathering of information that could be quite harmful to the individuals concerned. That being so, it is all the more important that consent should be sought before such information is distributed.
My Lords, as far as I am advised, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is wrong, but by the time I have finished speaking, I may have further inspiration so that I can give him a fuller answer. If I do not get further inspiration I shall ensure that he gets a fuller answer.
I shall start my response to this important discussion by outlining some of the general points about the information-sharing provisions in the Bill. It is worth being clear again that this information sharing is not new. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, alluded to that. Information sharing between learning providers and Connexions and between Jobcentre Plus and Connexions has been in place since the Learning and Skills Act 2000, as my noble friend Lord Adonis made clear in Committee. Schools, colleges and job centres currently provide information to Connexions so that it can track young people and provide appropriate and timely support.
Accepting the amendments would add bureaucracy and complexity to the system, although I understand the concerns that have motivated them. They would reduce the ability of local authorities to provide the timely and appropriate support to young people that is so important. We know that interventions that are rapid are most likely to be effective in getting a young person back into learning. That is what is so important. In addition, and probably most importantly, a number of safeguards are already in place. Under the Data Protection Act individuals have the right to request a copy of the personal information held on them by an organisation. As the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said, if there are concerns about accuracy, that is the route for people to ensure that information is correct. The organisation must inform the individual if personal data relating to him or her is being shared, if notification is practicable. That is a very important safeguard.
Amendments Nos. 14, 16, 17 and 66 require consent. There is a great risk of inertia in any system in obtaining consent, whether written or not. If consent were required, many young people or their families might simply forget or neglect to sign and send the necessary form. This is a particular risk for young people who have a wide range of needs and may have chaotic lifestyles. If a young person did not provide consent to his basic identification information being passed on, the local authority could not track the person or know when that person had dropped out of education or training. That local authority might not be able to provide that person with any support, let alone timely support that was tailored to their needs.
I would also like to clarify, and to reassure the House, that although these clauses create powers to provide information, this does not remove the responsibility to act in accordance with the Human Rights Act, the common law of confidence and the Data Protection Act. Although they do not specifically require consent, it could be required by other legislation and in legal principles, which present a series of safeguards determining whether disclosure is lawful or not.
A requirement to consent would add complexity to the system, placing considerable additional burdens on local authorities and other public bodies. It also has the potential to cause delay in getting important information to the local authority, which would in turn prevent it from tracking young people effectively and therefore from intervening to provide support that is timely and appropriate to their needs. I believe that Clauses 14, 15 and 16, as they stand, strike the right balance—and it is a balance—between enabling the local authority to deliver its functions of promoting participation and identifying young people who are not participating with respecting young people’s rights to prevent certain information being shared about them. These amendments on obtaining consent would do no more than obstruct the process that is already in place and functioning well.
Regarding Amendment No. 15, learning providers have had arrangements in place to notify parents about information disclosures to Connexions since 2000. It is normal practice to write to all parents of pupils approaching the age of 13, letting them know that information about their children will be shared with Connexions unless they request that it should not be. That position will continue.
On Amendment No. 19, the Data Protection Act means it is necessary to inform people when personal information about them is being shared, provided this is practical. It would be an unnecessary and inflexible burden to set in primary legislation such a specific time limit as set out in this amendment. I hope that, in the light of the reassurances with regard to the Data Protection Act, current practice and so on, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment, given the safeguards.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, asked if we would think about Amendment No. 18, and we have done so. The question was whether we should add the border and immigration agency, now known as the UK Border Agency, to the list of public bodies under Clause 16. The list in Clauses 16 and 64 reproduces the list of Section 120 of the Learning and Skills Act. This was because we want Connexions to be able to access the same information under Clause 64 as it does under Section 120 of the Learning and Skills Act. We want it to have access to exactly the same kind of information as it does now. We have, however, worked with the Home Office to consider further the information-sharing powers available to the UK Border Agency, and it is clear that, through a common law power, they are already able to share information with local authorities. In addition, the new Immigration and Citizenship Bill will further support their role of promoting the well-being of young people. It is important to emphasise that this common law power already exists. Given the situation and the progress under way, I hope that noble Lords will accept that it would be inappropriate at this stage to add the UK Border Agency explicitly to Clause 16 as it could have unintended consequences for the common law provision.
If I may quickly respond to the query of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, the information has to be in the possession of the school or college but must be relevant information in relation to the local authority’s functions under the Bill.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to the debate. My noble friend Lady Perry raised a strong argument in our wishes to empower young people. These amendments offer the opportunity to provide that empowerment.
I have listened with care to the Minister and I still believe that this is an area where we need to accept bureaucracy if it is to safeguard personal data and avoid the implications of data being recorded wrongly or found in the wrong hands. I am not sure that I agree with her argument, but I shall read Hansard carefully tomorrow. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 15 not moved.]
Clause 15 [Supply of social security information]:
[Amendment No. 16 not moved.]
Clause 16 [Supply of information by public bodies]:
[Amendments Nos. 17 to 19 not moved.]
20: After Clause 18, insert the following new Clause—
The Secretary of State shall commission an independent review into the effectiveness of the provision of careers advice in England and the appropriateness of a single all-age advice and guidance service as established in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the amendments in this group were tabled in Committee and I have tabled them again today for slightly different reasons. Amendment No. 20 inserts a new clause on careers education. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, while supporting the amendment, suggested that it could sit better in a different part of the Bill. That may be so, but I am less concerned about that than with the meaning of the amendment. I would like the Secretary of State to conduct a review into how effective the provision of careers advice is in England and whether it would benefit from a single, all-age advice and guidance service.
I have read carefully the response of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, in Committee. He said that he recognised that the reforms under way for 14 to 19 year-olds would present a challenge to information, advice and guidance providers and that the Government would need to focus on continuous improvements and bringing the performance of all providers up to the highest standards. Yet while he acknowledged that the system was imperfect, he concluded his remarks in a somewhat offhand way by saying that the Government had conducted significant reviews of Connexions in recent years and they did not believe that a review of itself was likely to be a lever to drive up standards. I am sorry that I am repeating the previous Minister’s words to the current Minister, but I feel that the Government have understood my argument. I am not seeking a review for the sake of having a review—that would be a waste of time, effort and money—but I have said previously in this place that I do not believe that Connexions is up to scratch as a careers adviser. If, as the noble Lord said, the reforms affecting 14 to 19 year-olds are challenging the nature of existing systems, it seems sensible that the fitness for purpose of existing systems needs to be examined.
As noble Lords will see from the wording of the amendment, I am not calling for a review of the system in a vacuum; I am calling specifically for it to be compared with systems in place in the other countries of the United Kingdom. I am well aware that devolution to the smaller UK countries means that different parts of the Kingdom may have different policies, but that should not exclude each country from looking at what the others are doing. If we spot a good idea in practice somewhere else, we would be foolish, to say the least, not to consider it. That is what will drive up standards, not the mechanisms of reviewing the system. Like all noble Lords, I want to see the best possible careers advice provision to help young people at all stages of their education to make the most appropriate decisions for their future. I hope that the Minister will give due consideration to this proposal.
I have brought the second amendment in this group back today because when I moved it in Committee, the Minister, who was not the Minister at that stage, was caught unawares and did not feel that she could address the matter fully. She promised to take the issue away and consider it. I trust that she has now been able to do so. The amendment makes a simple point. It allows young people to have direct contact with those who might be considered role models in their chosen career, training or education path.
As I said before, I applaud the Government for including in Clause 61 the means to provide information electronically. The internet is a useful tool, and young people happily use it to inform themselves as well as for entertainment. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said in July in support of this amendment,
“face-to-face interviews are extremely important and we should make sure that we do not simply rely on the internet”.—[Official Report, 21/7/08; col. 1515.]
My amendment would make sure that as many options as possible are considered to help young people get a good feel for the decisions they must take on the direction they are going in. I hope that when the Minister was reflecting on this she saw that I intend this amendment to be helpful and to allow young people to arm themselves with as much useful information as they can before they embark on their future. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, said that in Committee I said that her Amendment No. 20 was in the wrong place. I maintain that it is still in the wrong place. It is between a chapter on local authorities and one on employers. The right place to put this amendment is before Clause 60, which is about careers education. However, the noble Baroness persists in putting it early on, which leads us to discuss careers education now.
I supported her then, and I support her now, in maintaining that there is much to be improved in the information, advice and guidance given to young people and the careers education they are given in schools. I know that the Government are doing their best at that and have increased the amount of money going to Connexions so that it can improve its service. I hope that that is so because it is important that young people in primary schools are given access to knowledge about careers and begin to think about what careers they might pursue at a later stage. Of course, children often change what they want to do, but it is extremely important to get them thinking about jobs and what they involve. Good careers education, particularly in the lower half of secondary school, is vital.
On Amendment No. 67, the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, quoted me saying that face-to-face interviews are important. We cannot rely just on information, advice and guidance through the internet or over the telephone. The interview with the careers adviser at the appropriate point in school is vital. We cannot do away with careers advisers in schools; a specifically trained Connexions careers adviser is vital. There is no reason why teachers should not provide careers education, but they must be given training. If we are going to use general teachers, they should have specific CPD training on careers education. Many of them do not know about issues outside.
Amendment No. 67 is concerned with getting specific information about particular careers and talking to people who are pursuing them about what they involve. I mentioned last time, and I shall mention again, the website horsesmouth.co.uk. Another website called Vitae is being developed by the Cambridge-based Careers Research and Advisory Centre. It involves people who practise particular careers talking about what they do. In that sense, an internet exchange is quite useful. Horsesmouth.co.uk is interactive, so a young person can ask questions of the person who has pursued a career.
Amendment No. 68, a little amendment in my name and the names of my noble friends Lady Walmsley and Lady Garden, seeks to put right what seems an anomaly. Sections 43 to 45 of the Education Act 1997 give the Secretary of State the right to extend by regulation the scope of careers education and guidance. The Secretary of State has used the powers in Section 45B to extend the scope of careers education to primary schools and lower year groups in secondary schools, but it does not apply to those aged 16 and over—precisely the 16 and 17 year-olds whom this legislation catches.
It is an anomaly. In responding to an amendment that I tabled in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said that it did not matter as those young people get it anyhow. If I may say so, that was not a good enough response. If there is a duty on schools to provide careers education and information, advice and guidance on careers, it is appropriate that the duty should include those aged 16 or 17. Our simple little amendment provides that the Minister may by regulations extend that provision—it is only by regulation that the Minister has to operate—and makes good that anomaly.
My Lords, I will speak briefly on Amendment No. 67. I pricked up my ears when the noble Baronesses, Lady Verma and Lady Sharp, spoke. They reminded me of a programme broadcast 10 years ago, where a black man in America, who had run a programme for young black boys in schools, had recruited professional black men to go into schools to help boys with their reading. After a period of months, it culminated in those men taking the boys to their place of work and showing them around. If that is what the noble Baroness is driving at here, then it is very welcome. People with professional experience coming from outside to talk to young people would give them the benefit of that experience.
That prompts me to ask the Minister about Criminal Records Bureau checks, because, while children are concerned that people working with them have those checks, they can be an obstacle for people working outside to coming in and engaging with young people. Particularly, it appears that there is often quite a long delay in processing those checks. Perhaps the Minister might write me a little note on what is being done to speed up Criminal Records Bureau checks and ensuring that they are not repeated too often. That would get the balance right between ensuring that someone is safe and avoiding too much bureaucracy.
My Lords, I hope that I am not out of order in addressing these amendments, and particularly the last of them, Amendment No. 68. I do so because I tabled an amendment in Committee on non-stereotypical careers advice and work placements and I was so reassured by the Minister’s answer that I did not put down any amendments for Report. However, I have since had some correspondence from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which was very disappointed to learn that,
“the ‘Work-related training guide’ produced by DCSF”,
for employers, schools and colleges does not, in fact, mention that issue once. Of course, that has rather upset the commission. It believes, not unnaturally, that this must be addressed because the current work placement model is deficient. Obviously it can operate in a number of ways. Those who are well connected find their own placements, usually of good quality; some people will choose from lists because lists can be presented to them; and the third group will be allocated to placements. That means that some people are still being stereotyped in the decisions made for them. As we all know, they will be those who have less information, who are more likely to be at the bottom of the pile and who have less access to those who can advise them more carefully. The commission found, for example, that only 15 per cent of girls and boys received any advice on non-traditional placements.
I ask the Minister to again look at this area to see whether an outline of how schools and employers can tackle stereotyping in work placements can be produced. A statement of information and guidance should not be limited because of assumptions about gender, race, disability and so on. Education-business partnerships could perhaps be developed, with careers advisers being more proactive in supporting and/or finding non-traditional placements.
I hope I have not taken the Minister unawares but I received this brief only this morning and this is too good an opportunity not to bring it up now, not least because we were all reassured by what she said on the previous occasion which, sadly, so far has apparently not been put into action.
My Lords, I do not support Amendment No. 20, not because I do not think careers guidance is important—I do—but I am not sure that a review at this time is needed. I support the content of the debate about the importance of careers education and guidance and I should like to make a few brief points.
As we move more towards a personalised curriculum and give people more choice, the more important careers education and guidance becomes. However, there is a danger in concentrating too much on the provision of information. It is absolutely crucial that the provision of information is accurate, timely and of high quality, but that by itself will not produce a good guidance system which is supportive of people in making appropriate decisions at appropriate times. That is far more complex and difficult to legislate for. Will the Minister assure the House that her department is considering how young people make decisions and what support they need?
In the north-east there is a 14 to 19 commission which includes all the partners at regional, school, FE and employer levels. They are coming together to try to make the 14 to 19 agenda work. I have the privilege of chairing the commission at the moment. We have set up a youth board so that young people can advise us on what they think. Interestingly, they put proper careers education and guidance at the top of their agenda. They did so because they felt it was the part of the system that was not working. This part of the legislation covering careers education and guidance is for young people and this is a time when we particularly need to hear their views and their voice. Perhaps my noble friend will also reassure us that there is provision for the department to listen to young people about how they think careers education and guidance can be best provided to them and at what point in their lives.
My Lords, I hope I can reassure not only my noble friend but all those who have spoken in the debate that we see careers advice, information and guidance as being extremely important and worthy of a great deal of attention at the highest levels within the department. I start by responding to Amendment No. 67 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Verma. She is right: it is the amendment that came up when I was surprised to be sitting in the hot seat. I am delighted that the noble Baroness has tabled the amendment for debate again today so that I can respond. She explained very eloquently the need for young people to have access to the widest possible arsenal of tools to help them in making their decisions about future career options.
The national service, Connexions Direct, offers information, advice and support to young people in England. It has been extremely successful. The service provides profiles of more than 800 jobs through its jobs4u careers database, which is an important resource. This does not detract from other resources, such as horsesmouth.co.uk. The jobs4u careers database includes case studies of personal experiences in specific roles, and the profiles are frequently updated. If a young person cannot find information on the specific role that they want, Connexions Direct will provide more information for them via the website, and find an appropriate case study. It is about giving young people access through the internet to real-life examples of careers. The provisions that the amendment would make are already available, and it is our intention that the service should continue to offer advice and information of this kind, and to make sure that we are connected to the services that other providers make available to young people.
Amendment No. 20, which would require the Secretary of State to commission an independent review, is not necessary. Noble Lords will be aware that there have been reviews on this subject, as the noble Baroness highlighted. They have been undertaken in recent years. That is not to say that further consideration of this vital subject is not important, but the end-to-end review of careers education and guidance, which reported in July 2005, and the Leitch review of skills, completed in December 2006, also addressed the issues of careers services for adults.
We have listened carefully to the arguments for an all-age careers service and we do not disagree with them per se. We see that there is a need for a joined-up service that meets the needs of people at all ages. Teenagers face different challenges from adults, not least learning choices and the personal issues associated with the transition to adulthood. The Connexions service, working in partnership with schools and colleges, is best placed to meet these needs. Clause 56 will transfer, as noble Lords know, the delivery of the Connexions service to local authorities. This will help local authorities to embed Connexions within integrated youth support arrangements to improve support for the most vulnerable people, which must be key.
The Government have accepted the recommendation of the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, to establish a universal adult careers service, which will be operational from 2010-11. The key elements of this service are described in the Adult Advancement and Careers Service prospectus, which was launched yesterday, I believe. We will ensure that links are made between the adult and young people’s careers services; for example, through case conferences between adult advisers and Connexions advisers. We are talking about an all-ages strategy, which is very important.
Amendment No. 68 would extend the requirement for schools to provide careers education to include learners aged 16 to 18. Section 46 of the 1997 Act, which is the focus of this amendment, already allows regulations to be made to extend the age for careers education in schools and requires further education institutions to provide a programme of careers education. Therefore, new primary legislation would not be required to extend these duties to pupils above the age of 16.
I do not believe that this amendment is necessary, but I believe that the subject is extremely important. High-quality, impartial information, advice and guidance help young people to make choices that position them for success in life. As my noble friend highlighted, and as I know from when I was working with students to find out what they saw as priorities, information, advice and guidance came top of the list.
My Lords, I am looking for advice from my colleagues, and they are shaking their heads. I hope that I will be able to convince the noble Baroness that we have a strong enough commitment. We see this as very important. It will become more important as our 14 to 19 reforms offer young people a wider choice of learning and increasing numbers stay on in education and training. Diplomas are delivered by partnerships of schools, further education colleges and other learning providers. To begin delivering diplomas, each consortium must demonstrate that it offers high-quality information, advice and guidance to young people. This is a key part of our strategy.
My department is offering support to all consortia to ensure that the guidance they offer meets our national quality standards. Those standards, which were debated recently, focus on independent high-quality advice for young people. We are also working with the National College for School Leadership and the Learning and Skills Improvement Service to raise the profile of careers advice and to help school and FE leaders improve the quality of their provision.
This is a challenging agenda, but we can also take time to celebrate success. The recent Ofsted review of 14 to 19 implementation found that the quality of information, advice and guidance was good or better in 12 of the 16 partnerships visited and at least satisfactory in three others. That is encouraging, but we need to continue to improve information, advice and guidance services.
These reforms are important and I hope that they will be welcomed. We will put forward further proposals in the spring in support of provisions in the forthcoming apprenticeship Bill and the new education and skills Bill, in which we will cover the development of the adult advancement service.
Officials met with the Equality and Human Rights Commission this week, and we are taking forward its concerns about the work-related learning guidance. I shall be very happy to talk to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, about this at any stage should she wish to do so. I am also happy to write to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about Criminal Records Bureau checks. That is another huge area of interest to me, but now is probably not the moment to go into it in detail.
My Lords, I thank the Minister and all noble Lords who have spoken. On understanding information, it is really important to include personal interaction so that young people can raise issues and concerns that are not always addressed through the internet. I am disappointed that the Minister will not consider further an all-age careers service. I think that we are missing a great opportunity to respond quickly and flexibly to career changes and opportunities, especially when young people will make several different choices throughout their working life.
I will consider carefully the Minister’s comments. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 22 [Financial penalty for contravention of section 21]:
21: Clause 22, page 12, line 21, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—
“(a) particulars of the contravention of section 21 in respect of which the penalty is imposed,”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I welcome the careful scrutiny that the Select Committee on the Constitution gave to the Bill. I also welcome the Committee’s detailed and helpful comments on the duties on employers, the related sanctions and the rights of objection and appeal which were set out in a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, to my noble friend Lord Adonis on 11 June. The Government agree that it is extremely important that fair procedures are followed. My noble friend undertook in his reply to the letter to consider whether there was a need to strengthen the provisions in the Bill to make it clear that employers will be able to challenge a decision by a local authority to take enforcement action and that there is a satisfactory appeal route.
We have considered this matter carefully and are today proposing amendments that provide for employers to object to a fixed-penalty notice in the first instance and to appeal against such a notice to the first-tier tribunal in the second instance. As we have discussed previously, the enforcement powers that local authorities have in relation to employers will be used only as a very last resort and will always be preceded by informal engagement with employers to ensure that they understand their duties and are given the chance to put right the situation voluntarily. We will develop clear guidance in conjunction with employer organisations during the next five years to ensure that employers fully understand what is expected and do not risk facing enforcement action. However, should the enforcement provisions need to be used, it is important, as I hope that noble Lords will agree, to make it clear that employers have the rights of objection and appeal that I set out. I therefore hope that noble Lords will support the amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I welcome the Government’s amendments, which reflect concerns raised by the Constitution Committee. It is very important for employers—and I speak as one—to know exactly where they stand. It is crucial that they are able to appeal fines imposed on them under these clauses. I am pleased that the Government have taken on board the widespread concern that provisions in the Bill risk adding to the burdens that small businesses must carry. However, I reiterate my concern about the necessity for a system of fines and penalties at all.
My Lords, we on these Benches also welcome the direction in which the amendments are taking us. There is a recurring theme throughout this debate: the balance between persuasion and coercion. For the measures in the Bill to succeed, employers must be fully engaged with colleges, schools and other learning providers. Their active involvement is fundamentally important. It is far preferable that they be willing participants and convinced of tangible benefits both for the young people concerned and for their business.
We recognise that if young people are entitled to receive appropriate training in their employment, it will impose duties and responsibilities on employers. But it should be as a very last resort that enforcement is required. I welcome the Minister’s assurances on that score.
We are pleased that provisions have been introduced to clarify what employers can expect if they do not meet requirements and that the Government have responded so positively to concern expressed by the Committee on the Constitution that employers should have opportunities to set out their objections to a penalty notice. We also welcome the assurances that any reduction in penalty would be repaid with interest.
In the debate on 3 July, noble Lords asked questions to which the answers remain unclear. How are Clauses 22 and 23 going to work? How will a local authority find out if employers do not allow access to education and training when they should? The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, stated that information could be obtained through the Connexions service, through engagement with young people and through contact with employers, where it may transpire that young people are not participating in education or training. But it may not be a simple task to obtain sufficient reliable information to prove contravention. This could be time consuming and tie up resources that the authority may feel would be better spent elsewhere. Even if a local authority has obtained convincing evidence, it could have reservations about enforcing penalties. We had assurances from the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, that the word “may” in Clause 22 meant that the local authority had discretion over whether to require the employer to pay a financial penalty.
Enforcement is going to take resources of time and finances and, as the CBI and others have advised, risks deterring employers from taking on young people. It would not help the aims of the Bill if the penalties alienate small businesses, where the majority of young people find employment. Since this was debated in Committee, the economic climate has not made it any easier for employers large or small to give high priority to training programmes and a light touch on enforcement is even more desirable than before. Recently, the Government have been particularly encouraging of the public sector to increase its work placements. I wonder how enforcements will be managed within the public sector and what safeguards there are that public sector resources will not be diverted to cover appeals and penalties.
The Government have responded encouragingly to the concerns raised previously and, while we might like a few further assurances, we congratulate the Minister on taking note of suggestions and views expressed and thank her for introducing these more detailed amendments.
My Lords, I am more than happy to write in detail to the noble Baroness, answering her questions in full. However, my main point is that in the Bill the whole emphasis on enforcement is to create a power not a duty. We are very much expecting local authorities to take a balanced and proportionate approach to this whole question of enforcement. I appreciate that we have tabled some fairly lengthy new clauses on this and we are pleased to respond to the Committee’s concerns in full. I hope very much that I can answer all the noble Baroness’s questions in detail and copy that answer to the rest of the interested Peers.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
22: Clause 22, page 12, line 25, at end insert—
“( ) the steps that the employer may take if the employer objects to the giving of the penalty notice, including how the employer may appeal against it,”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
23: After Clause 22, insert the following new Clause—
“Withdrawal or variation of penalty notice given under section 22 following notice of objection
(1) This section applies where a penalty notice has been given to a person (“the employer”) under section 22 by a local education authority.
(2) The employer may, by giving notice (a “notice of objection”) to the authority, object to the giving of the penalty notice on either or both of the following grounds—
(a) that the employer did not commit the contravention of section 21 stated in the penalty notice;(b) that the amount of the penalty stated in the penalty notice is too high.(3) A notice of objection—
(a) may be given to the authority only during the period of 2 weeks beginning with the day on which the penalty notice was given to the employer, and(b) must state the grounds of the objection and the employer’s reasons for objecting on those grounds.(4) A local education authority must consider a notice of objection given under subsection (2) and, by giving notice (a “determination notice”) to the employer—
(a) withdraw the penalty notice,(b) if the amount of the penalty determined in accordance with regulations under section 22(2) is smaller than the amount stated in the penalty notice, replace the penalty with the smaller amount, or(c) confirm the penalty notice.(5) The determination notice must be given within the prescribed period beginning with the day on which the notice of objection was given.
(6) Where, under subsection (4)(b), the amount of a penalty stated in a penalty notice is replaced with a smaller amount, the notice is to have effect as if it had originally stated the smaller amount.”
24: After Clause 22, insert the following new Clause—
“Appeal against penalty notice given under section 22
(1) This section applies where a penalty notice has been given to a person (“the employer”) under section 22 and—
(a) the period during which a notice of objection may be given in relation to the penalty notice has expired, and(b) if a notice of objection has been given in relation to the penalty notice, a determination notice has been given in relation to the notice of objection.(2) The employer may appeal to the First-tier Tribunal against the giving of the penalty notice on one or more of the following grounds—
(a) that the employer did not contravene section 21 in the way stated in the penalty notice;(b) that the circumstances of the contravention of section 21 stated in the penalty notice make the giving of the notice unreasonable;(c) that the amount of the penalty stated in the penalty notice is too high.(3) On an appeal under this section, the First-tier Tribunal may—
(a) allow the appeal and cancel the penalty notice,(b) if the amount of the penalty determined in accordance with regulations under section 22(2) is smaller than the amount stated in the penalty notice, allow the appeal and replace the penalty with the smaller amount, or(c) dismiss the appeal.(4) Where, under subsection (3)(b), the amount of a penalty stated in a penalty notice is replaced with a smaller amount, the notice is to have effect as if it had originally stated the smaller amount.
(5) In subsection (1), “notice of objection” and “determination notice” have the same meanings as in section (Withdrawal or variation of penalty notice given under section 22 following notice of objection).”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 23 [Withdrawal of penalty notice given under section 22]:
25: Clause 23, page 12, line 39, after “where” insert “—
26: Clause 23, page 12, line 40, leave out “(and has not already been withdrawn) and insert “, and
(b) any appeal made under section (Appeal against penalty notice given under section 22) in respect of the penalty notice has not been determined.”
27: Clause 23, page 13, line 1, leave out “subsection (2)” and insert “section (Withdrawal or variation of penalty notice given under section 22 following notice of objection) or (Further power to withdraw penalty notice given under section 22)”
28: Clause 23, page 13, line 4, at end insert—
“(3A) If the amount of a penalty is reduced under section (Withdrawal or variation of penalty notice given under section 22 following notice of objection), any sum already paid or recovered must, to the extent that it was paid or recovered in respect of any amount in excess of the reduced amount, be repaid to the employer with interest at the appropriate rate running from the date when the sum was paid or recovered.”
29: Clause 23, page 13, line 5, leave out “For the purposes of subsection (3)” and insert “In this section”
30: Clause 23, Divide Clause 23 into two clauses, the first (Further power to withdraw penalty notice given under section 22) to consist of subsections (1) and (2) and the second (Withdrawal or variation of penalty notice given under section 22: further provisions) to consist of subsections (3) to (4)
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 27 [Contravention of section 24 or 25: enforcement notice]:
31: Clause 27, page 15, line 32, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—
“(a) particulars of the contravention of section 24 or 25 in respect of which the notice is given, and”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 28 [Financial penalty for non-compliance with enforcement notice given under section 27]:
32: Clause 28, page 16, line 30, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—
“(a) particulars of the failure by the employer in respect of which the penalty notice is given,”
33: Clause 28, page 16, line 34, at end insert—
“( ) the steps that the employer may take if the employer objects to the giving of the penalty notice, including how the employer may appeal against it,”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 29 [Withdrawal of enforcement notice given under section 27]:
34: Clause 29, page 16, line 42, after “where” insert “—
35: Clause 29, page 16, line 43, leave out “(and has not already been withdrawn)” and insert “, and
(b) if a penalty notice has been given in respect of the enforcement notice under section 28, any appeal made under section (Appeal against penalty notice given under section 28) in respect of the penalty notice has not been determined.”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
36: After Clause 29, insert the following new Clause—
“Withdrawal or variation of penalty notice given under section 28 following notice of objection
(1) This section applies where a penalty notice has been given to a person (“the employer”) under section 28 by a local education authority in respect of a failure of a kind mentioned in subsection (2) of that section relating to an enforcement notice.
(2) The employer may, by giving notice (a “notice of objection”) to the authority, object to the giving of the penalty notice on one or more of the following grounds—
(a) that the employer did not contravene section 24 or 25 in the way stated in the enforcement notice;(b) that the requirements imposed by the enforcement notice were unreasonable;(c) that the employer did not fail in the way stated in the penalty notice;(d) that the amount of the penalty stated in the penalty notice is too high.(3) A notice of objection—
(a) may be given to the authority only during the period of 2 weeks beginning with the day on which the penalty notice was given to the employer, and(b) must set out the grounds of the objection and the employer’s reasons for objecting on those grounds.(4) A local education authority must consider a notice of objection given under subsection (2) and, by giving notice (a “determination notice”) to the employer—
(a) withdraw the penalty notice,(b) if the amount of the penalty determined in accordance with regulations under section 28(3) is smaller than the amount stated in the penalty notice, replace the penalty with the smaller amount, or(c) confirm the penalty notice.(5) The determination notice must be given within the prescribed period beginning with the day on which the notice of objection was given.
(6) Where, under subsection (4)(b), the amount of a penalty stated in a penalty notice is replaced with a smaller amount, the notice is to have effect as if it had originally stated the smaller amount.”
37: After Clause 29, insert the following new Clause—
“Appeal against penalty notice given under section 28
(1) This section applies where a penalty notice has been given to a person under section 28 in respect of a failure of a kind mentioned in subsection (2) of that section in relation to an enforcement notice and—
(a) the period during which a notice of objection may be given in relation to the penalty notice has expired, and(b) if a notice of objection has been given in relation to the penalty notice, a determination notice has been given in relation to the notice of objection.(2) The person may appeal to the First-tier Tribunal against the giving of the penalty notice on one or more of the following grounds—
(a) that the person did not contravene section 24 or 25 in the way stated in the enforcement notice;(b) that the circumstances of the contravention of section 24 or 25 stated in the enforcement notice make the giving of an enforcement notice under section 27 unreasonable;(c) that the requirements imposed by the enforcement notice were unreasonable;(d) that the person did not fail in the way stated in the penalty notice;(e) that the circumstances of the failure stated in the penalty notice make the giving of the notice unreasonable;(f) that the amount of the penalty stated in the penalty notice is too high.(3) On an appeal under this section, the First-tier Tribunal may—
(a) allow the appeal and cancel the penalty notice,(b) if the amount of the penalty determined in accordance with regulations under section 28(3) is smaller than the amount stated in the penalty notice, allow the appeal and replace the penalty with the smaller amount, or(c) dismiss the appeal.(4) Where, under subsection (3)(b), the amount of a penalty stated in a penalty notice is replaced with a smaller amount, the notice is to have effect as if it had originally stated the smaller amount.
(5) In subsection (1), “notice of objection” and “determination notice” have the same meanings as in section (Withdrawal or variation of penalty notice given under section 28 following notice of objection).”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 30 [Withdrawal of penalty notice given under section 28]:
38: Clause 30, page 17, line 22, after “where” insert “—
39: Clause 30, page 17, line 23, leave out “(and has not already been withdrawn)” and insert “, and
(b) any appeal made under section (Appeal against penalty notice given under section 28) in respect of the penalty notice has not been determined.”
40: Clause 30, page 17, line 27, leave out “subsection (2)” insert “section (Withdrawal or variation of penalty notice given under section 28 following notice of objection) or (Further power to withdraw penalty notice given under section 28)”
41: Clause 30, page 17, line 30, at end insert—
“(3A) If the amount of a penalty is reduced under section (Withdrawal or variation of penalty notice given under section 28 following notice of objection), any sum already paid or recovered must, to the extent that it was paid or recovered in respect of any amount in excess of the reduced amount, be repaid to the employer with interest at the appropriate rate running from the date when the sum was paid or recovered.”
42: Clause 30, page 17, line 31, leave out “For the purposes of subsection (3)” and insert “In this section”
43: Clause 30, Divide Clause 30 into two clauses, the first (Further power to withdraw penalty notice given under section 28) to consist of subsections (1) and (2) and the second (Withdrawal or variation of penalty notice given under section 28: further provisions) to consist of subsections (3) to (4)
On Question, amendments agreed to.
44: After Clause 33, insert the following new Clause—
“Annual progress report
The Secretary of State shall report annually to Parliament on the operation of this Part of this Act, with particular reference to—
(a) the effectiveness of arrangements for providing advice to young people about the range of working, training and further study opportunities which are open to them,(b) the effectiveness of advice and support given to employers to enable them to fulfil the duties imposed on them by this Part, and(c) the quality of learning programmes and qualifications available to young persons to whom this Part applies, and the relevance of such programmes and qualifications to the needs of young persons and employers.”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the Government have rightly put a great emphasis in all their public sector programmes on measuring outcomes and ensuring that things that are put in actually produce results at the end. This amendment is an attempt in small part to ensure that the effectiveness of the legislation is measured carefully and reported on widely.
I am grateful to the Confederation of British Industry, which sent a very helpful briefing on this subject. It emphasised that reporting of this kind would increase business confidence, which it feels is not at the moment entirely with the provisions of the Bill. Furthermore, the impact of the current economic crisis on the employment prospects of young people is a terribly important outcome from the provisions of the Bill, and whether the provisions work should be carefully monitored and reported. That is why I am asking in the amendment for an annual report to Parliament.
There are three categories of report, but they are not at all comprehensive; there should be other areas as well. We have talked a great deal under previous amendments about careers advice to young people. It is relevant here to quote the CBI’s employment trends survey this year. It highlighted the fact that 52 per cent of employers said that they were dissatisfied with school leavers’ knowledge about their chosen careers. In other words, some very shaky careers advice had been given to those young people when they made their choices, because employers felt that the choices were inappropriate. It is vitally important that the effectiveness of the new arrangements that are put in place for 16 to 18 year-olds should be monitored and the genuine outcome from these new arrangements reported.
Secondly, we have not talked enough about the duties being imposed on employers, which are very new. They feel a great deal of discomfort about them. The CBI says that its members are unenthusiastic about some of the provisions in the Bill. They dislike not only the idea of requirements on them to provide time off for young people to attend training courses equivalent to one day a week but that it involves police participation, checking that the young person has arranged a suitable course, and that there are enforcement notices, financial penalties and so forth. They are unhappy. They are asking for good advice and support to reassure them that they will not face financial penalties if they have acted in good faith, and that they will have good advice and help in identifying and accessing high-quality and relevant training and provision for their young employees. Above all, they would like reassurance that they can continue to employ these young people. Otherwise we will find that many employers will not want to employ them. They will say that it is too much trouble because they run the risk of incurring penalties which they do not want and that they do not have time to check on programmes themselves and so forth. The effectiveness of the advice and support given to employers to enable them to fulfil their duties is something that Parliament should be told about and should be carefully monitored by the department.
Thirdly, there is a real risk that as we impose on young people the duty to undertake education and training in their latter years—16, 17 and 18 year-olds—the quality of the learning programmes available to them will not be of the highest quality. It will still not reflect the real needs of employers. The CBI again points out that employers spend £39 billion a year on staff development. But the CBI-Edexcel education and skills survey this year highlighted that only a third of employer training leads to a recognised qualification. Therefore, the requirement that the young person must follow only government-specified training may discourage employers from taking on a young person.
The CBI emphasised that it supports the progress that the Government have made on qualification reform, but asked the Government to maintain their momentum in accrediting employers’ own in-house training and ensuring that it is easier for employers to award their own recognised qualifications. An annual progress report on the quality of the learning programmes and the relevance of these programmes to the needs of the young people themselves and their employers would be an important thing. I know that the Minister has been telling us that there is a good reason why none of the amendments that have been moved today can possibly be taken on board, but I hope that she will give a more favourable response to this one. I beg to move.