House of Lords
Wednesday, 24 June 2009.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham.
Justice: Northern Ireland
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to reduce delays and complexities affecting investigations and the bringing of suspects to trial in Northern Ireland when suspects, witnesses or evidence are in the Republic of Ireland or vice versa.
My Lords, the Government recognise the excellent bilateral relationship between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and An Garda Siochana and are ready to consider any proposals for legislative or administrative change that would assist them in policing across the border.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for looking into this matter and answering the Question. However, the Government have been considering proposals to speed up the process for some time. The difficulty is that a statement taken in one jurisdiction is not admissible in court in the other jurisdiction in either direction, and a piece of evidence on one side of the border cannot be taken to the other side, either for investigative purposes or for production in court, without involving three separate sets of officials—in Belfast, London and Dublin—and thus it takes six months or so to move a single piece of evidence. This is simply not acceptable and must be sorted out as soon as possible.
My Lords, the noble Lord is right to alert us to the fact that these delays are long and unacceptable. As part of the overall programme looking at cross-border policing issues, work is going on to establish what causes the delay outlined by the noble Lord in relation to letters of request and so on, and I shall come back to him in due course.
My Lords, I take on board what the noble Baroness has said but I do not think that it is absolutely necessary for these delays to be sorted out before devolution, because I am not sure that devolution will make a big difference in relation to the delays. However, I shall certainly come back to her on that point.
My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether the security forces in Northern Ireland have examined in detail recent transcripts of a court case in Cork of a Mr Ted Cunningham in which he alleged that a Mr Philip Flynn, who at that time was chairman of the Bank of Scotland’s Irish division and was the wealth management consultant to Sinn Fein/IRA, was involved in the raid on the Northern Bank?
My Lords, will the noble Baroness confirm that it is the Government’s view that the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland has worked very hard to minimise delays and is indeed a very competent service? Will she encourage it to consider the use of hearsay provisions, such as are available on the mainland, to ensure that documents and evidence which may be useful in Northern Ireland prosecutions can be made useful as quickly as possible without the need for cumbersome procedures such as letters of request?
My Lords, I certainly endorse what the noble Lord has said in relation to the excellent service provided by the DPP in Northern Ireland. It does its utmost to minimise delays. On the second point raised by the noble Lord about hearsay provisions, I do not think that I could commit myself to that, standing at this Dispatch Box this afternoon, but I shall certainly come back to him.
My Lords, we are talking about two jurisdictions; two different countries; two completely different systems; and in each of the jurisdictions there are many people who need to be consulted. The delay is the result of eight or nine different people needing to be consulted about these cases.
My Lords, that is a jolly good question. I know that the speed of justice, when it comes to relations between two nations, is extremely slow. Therefore, I imagine that there will be difficulties with cases that involve cross-border matters, or the United Kingdom and another member state of the European Union. I am sadly confident that there will be similar delays. If that is not the case, I will come back to the noble Lord.
My Lords, it would be a great help, not only to Northern Ireland but to southern Ireland and London as well, if this matter could be expedited. It would bring to justice much more quickly those who have committed offences in any part of Britain, Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. It would be to all our benefit.
My Lords, I recognise the importance of the issue to the people and the police services of Northern Ireland and southern Ireland. However, I must point out that there is an excellent partnership between police forces on both sides of the border and I would not want this very important issue to cloud the fact that there are great relationships, involving great trust and mutual assistance, and that a lot is being done to improve the operational relationships between the two police forces.
My Lords, I endorse what the noble Baroness said about the relationship between the two police forces. I have the honour to sit on the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and our committee has recently been looking into the matters that gave rise to the Question. Will the noble Baroness draw to the attention of her colleagues the report of the committee that I mentioned? It was drawn up not only by a Joint Committee of both Houses of this Parliament, but a Joint Committee of both Houses of the Irish Parliament as well. The committee said that it is unacceptable to go on hobbling police forces in adjacent counties in the manner that I described, particularly when the relationships are otherwise very good.
My Lords, since the ceasefire in January, humanitarian access to Gaza has improved, but still not nearly enough humanitarian supplies or construction materials are getting in. The UK Government continue to take this issue extremely seriously. At the Sharm el-Sheikh conference in March, there was broad international support for greater access to Gaza. We welcomed this and have sustained our lobbying of the Israeli Government on the issue.
My Lords, have we or have we not had responses from Israel to requests made by our Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary? Given the scale of malnutrition, homelessness and deprivation in Gaza, will the Government support Egypt’s proposal for a technical and humanitarian committee nominated by both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to organise access for essential incoming supplies? Will they also bear in mind the fact that UNRWA has offered to verify the end use of such supplies?
My Lords, as I have said, the UK Government and others continue to press the Israeli authorities to allow greater access. The Government have no knowledge of the details of the proposal that the noble Lord enunciated about a new committee. The UK’s priority is that humanitarian and recovery aid should reach the people of Gaza. We have well developed international mechanisms for doing that, including the UNRWA, the World Bank and the International Committee of the Red Cross. We strongly support the UN’s role in this. However, recovery and reconstruction will necessarily involve consultation with numerous local and international actors. We are doing all that we can to ensure greater access.
My Lords, following President Obama’s speech in Cairo, in which he demonstrated that his Administration will take a more pragmatic approach to resolving this issue, will Her Majesty’s Government be working closely with the Americans in order to encourage the Israelis to ease their border restrictions for humanitarian aid?
My Lords, the Government continue to work closely with the United States, our European partners and all international actors who share our view that what is required in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people is dialogue. That dialogue comes about by getting the international actors to put pressure on the local actors. The fact that this was done in the form of a speech by the American President is an opportunity for a step forward, which the UK Government strongly support.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that, despite what he indicated in his initial Answer, food and building supplies and even children’s toys and crayons are being blocked from going into Gaza? DfID has just had to pay £40,000 simply to store vehicles that have not been allowed into Gaza since February. Is it not time that the international community put a stop to this and indicated to Israel that it is hardly in its best interests to have this kind of image of what it is doing going around the world?
My Lords, the noble Baroness makes important points. Only 25 of some 4,000 forms of humanitarian and other supplies are allowed in. Many will echo her sentiments. However, I do not think that she has to lie awake at night worrying about whether the UK Government and others have made those points to the state of Israel. They are central to the discussion and we hope that those arguments will bear fruit.
My Lords, not a lot, on the basis of what we know. The United Kingdom Government do not communicate directly with Hamas. The Arab League has given that responsibility to Egypt. There is therefore only an indirect dialogue. I do not believe that in our task of providing assistance there is a requirement to talk directly to Hamas.
My Lords, what information do the Government have about negotiations for the formation of a national unity Government in the Palestinian Authority, which could have a positive influence on the problem in Gaza? Will he confirm the views that his noble friend expressed in this House some months ago that, should a national unity Government be formed, the British Government will deal with them in a perfectly straightforward manner?
My Lords, the noble Lord makes important points, both of which I can answer in the affirmative. I can give him the absolute up-to-date information on the formation of a national Government: the Egyptian proposal is supported. I will see whether there is information that I can add in a written reply to the noble Lord. On the second point, the UK Government’s position remains the same as enunciated previously.
My Lords, the answer is self-evident. Undoubtedly, Israel is concerned about what it sees as an attempt to smuggle arms and other ordnance, as is shown in the way in which it is denying access to goods that other people consider to be perfectly reasonable. We have to find a way through that meets the security concerns of the Israeli Government and the absolute and urgent needs of the Palestinian people.
My Lords, the problem has gone on for a long time and there are two directly conflicting interests, both of which one has a great deal of sympathy with. On the one hand, there is the humanitarian need and, on the other hand, there is Israel’s need for security. Will my noble friend please come back to the House with a Written Answer on the Egyptian proposal and how that might work, with international scrutiny of what really is going over the border?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her question. Any noble Lord can table any Questions for Written Answer. I invite the noble Baroness or indeed any other Member who wishes to table Questions to do so, so that they can be given serious consideration and Answers provided. This is not just a question of humanitarian aid. At the moment, dry goods and basic foods are available. What we need is much greater access to provide for reconstruction, without which Palestine cannot hope to get away from the state that it is in at the moment.
Schools: Drop-out Rates
My Lords, the Government’s aim is that all schools manage and minimise their levels of pupil absence. Therefore we expect schools and local authorities to intervene early on pupil absence. The number of persistent absentees in secondary schools has fallen in recent years but we are not complacent about the need to find ways to keep those young people in education who are most disaffected.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. The trend is going down, which is to be welcomed. Is it not a terrible condemnation that the most recent statistics state that 31,000 14 year-olds are still dropping out of school? Does she acknowledge the importance of stand-alone qualifications such as the Arts Award, which enable young people of all backgrounds to develop their skills across the arts as well as leadership qualifications? Will she give an assurance that government support for such qualifications will not be jeopardised by the impending changes to the education funding system?
My Lords, the noble Lord appears to suggest that a large number of 14 year-olds fall out of formal education through being persistently absent from school. We are unsure about whether hard evidence for that assumption exists, because our figures show that the number of absentees continues to fall year on year. There is no doubt that we need to be imaginative about how we keep those 14 year-olds who, for a variety of reasons, are not staying in school—some have chaotic lives and some are disaffected with traditional teaching. This can involve part-time school, one-to-one teaching or the kind of qualifications that the noble Lord has mentioned, which I am not familiar with, so I will need to come back to him on that. However, there is no doubt that vocational training off-site and all of those areas are important in keeping our 14 year-olds in school and engaged with education.
My Lords, my noble friend raises an important point, which leads on from the Question, about improving the alternative provision and getting children back on track. In 2008, we produced a publication on that. We are concerned to provide education for the 135,000 pupils a year who need to spend time outside mainstream settings, many of whom are very vulnerable. For example, we have online directory providers and we are working with the voluntary sector to use organisations, such as Barnardo’s and Nacro, to provide the sort of programmes that will help to get those children back to school or will provide them with the right qualifications that they will need to move on with their lives.
My Lords, in the light of the answer that the Minister has just given, why is it that the budget for the young apprenticeship programme, which has been extremely successful in helping young people at risk of dropping out of school and giving them pre-apprenticeship vocational skills, has been capped for the past three years, whereas it is grossly oversubscribed?
My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that we will discuss this matter later today. Our objective is that those young people should be able to participate and should have access to apprenticeship schemes. I know that this item is being considered by the new department, BIS, and the DCSF. Our objective is for all young people to participate in education or training at least until their 18th birthday. They should be offered the right kind of progression, whether it is apprenticeships, A-levels or a more formal education, at the right time.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that one of the reasons why 14 year-olds and 16 year-olds are dropping out of school is that many of them have now twigged that this year there is much less chance of going to university? The applications for universities this year have increased by 60,000. The Government’s cuts mean that hardly any extra places will be given to universities. Why are the Government cutting funding for universities at the top of our education system when Gordon Brown is saying, “We are going to increase public services”?
My Lords, granted that the pupils to whom this Question refers could be the most significant beneficiaries of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill, what steps are the Government taking to deal with the fact that these individuals will be conscripts rather than volunteers under the new provision?
My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very important point. We have to keep these 14 year-olds engaged because the historic Act we passed last year, which increased the minimum age at which a young person can leave learning for the first time since 1972, will offer a huge choice of different sorts of learning for those young people, including apprenticeships, diplomas, the foundation learning tier; and young people will be able to get a job and continue their training part-time.
My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, I do not believe that this Question has anything to do with university places. My noble friend mentioned Nacro, of which I was chairman for a long time. This is about young people who do not feel loved, who do not love themselves and who have lost their way totally in life. It requires a very imaginative approach if we are going to deal with this. Are we examining just why that is and who these people are?
My Lords, we are examining precisely the point that my noble friend makes. We are in the middle of an 18-month research programme into exactly those problems with this particular cohort. We know that some of the issues will be to do with special educational needs and the children’s chaotic backgrounds. We have to find out how we can keep them in school and support them, and put the resources in to do that.
My Lords, will the noble Baroness confirm that although absenteeism among 14 year-olds may be reducing generally, that is not the case in the Gypsy and Traveller community? I declare an interest as president of the Advisory Council for the Education of Romany and other Travellers. What proposals does the noble Baroness have for improving access to education of teenage Gypsy and Traveller children?
My Lords, I have notes in relation to looked-after children, boys and children with special educational needs in my brief, but I confess that I do not have anything on the children of the Gypsy community. I know that such information exists, and I undertake to send it to the noble Lord.
Afghanistan: Improvised Explosive Devices
My Lords, first, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of Major Sean Birchall from the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, who was killed on operations in Afghanistan this past week. Our thoughts are also with the families and friends of the five Britons taken hostage in Baghdad in 2007, particularly those of Jason Creswell and Jason Swindlehurst.
On the Question, the safety of UK personnel serving in Afghanistan is of paramount importance. We constantly monitor the evolving threat, including that from improvised explosive devices, to ensure that our personnel have the protection that they need to operate effectively. We use a range of skills to detect, dispose of and exploit improvised explosive devices and to prevent them from being laid, and we keep these under constant review.
My Lords, our thoughts are obviously with the families of the five hostages taken in Iraq and our condolences go to the families of the two who were killed. We also send our condolences to the family of Major Sean Birchall of the Welsh Guards, who was killed by an IED. Indeed, IEDs have killed 10 of the last 11 soldiers to die in Afghanistan and have left many other soldiers with life-changing injuries. In the light of that, is the Minister satisfied with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory’s programme and budget to counter urgently this ever increasing problem? Do we have sufficient community outreach programmes in Afghanistan to encourage locals to report IEDs to the coalition forces?
My Lords, the noble Lord raises significant points about how to deal with these threats because it is not the case that just one solution is available. We take seriously and appreciate the work of the DSTL, which has done a great deal to advance our knowledge of the IEDs that are being used and, indeed, in some cases to anticipate future developments. The issue is difficult, ever changing and challenging, but a lot of good work is done on it domestically and, indeed, in theatre. On the reporting of IEDs by people in Afghanistan, we try to get information from and we try to build bridges with local communities. People are fearful of giving information, but we try to establish a situation where, if it is at all possible, such co-operation will exist.
My Lords, against the background that seven out of every 10 British and coalition troops killed in Iraq are killed by Iranian-made roadside explosive devices, with Iran training the people to deliver them and smuggling them across 58 routes into Iraq, of which the MoD has details, can the noble Baroness give an estimate of how many of those devices are now beginning to be used in Afghanistan?
My Lords, my noble friend is correct to say that many of the devices—and, indeed, some of the training—may well come from Iran. This concerns us greatly and is one of the reasons why we have to maintain our efforts on all fronts and be very alert to the sophisticated threat, which does a great deal of damage. We are aware of those concerns and we try to act on them wherever possible.
My Lords, I enjoin these Benches in the earlier tribute and condolences. Apart from service personnel killed and injured by IEDs, my understanding is that around 86 per cent of those killed are Afghan nationals, so it is a serious problem. Given that the Americans apparently spend about £4 billion a year on working on countermeasures to IEDs, will the Minister assure the House that there is maximum co-operation between us and the US in the exchange of information on countermeasures to these ghastly devices?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lee, is quite right that the Afghan population has suffered significantly because of the IEDs that have been laid. This shows the callousness of the insurgents, who are quite willing to kill their fellow countrymen and to disregard the needs of local communities. He is right also that the United States is extremely concerned about IEDs and has suffered casualties because of them. It invests a lot in the development of counter-IED work, as do we. Both countries regard this as a high priority. We co-operate a great deal both inside and outside theatre.
My Lords, I remind the House that the cost of operations is met from the reserve fund and not from the MoD; we should bear that important fact in mind. Setting a date for withdrawal could be counterproductive. We all have an important task and responsibility in Afghanistan, because unless we tackle the problem of insurgency there, it could well become a safe haven for terrorists and insurgents as it has done in the past, which is directly relevant to the security of people in this country.
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Motions to Approve
That the draft orders and regulations laid before the House on 22 April and 5, 6, 14 and 18 May be approved. 12th, 13th, 15th and 16th Reports from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, considered in Grand Committee on 16 and 17 June.
Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill
Committee (2nd Day)
Clause 11 : English issuing authority
15: Clause 11, page 6, line 14, leave out subsection (1) and insert—
“(1) The Secretary of State may—
(a) designate a person to issue general guidelines in relation to the apprenticeship functions; and(b) designate a person to issue an apprenticeship framework relating to a particular apprenticeship sector.”
I shall speak also to Amendments 30 and 31, which are in the same group. The amendment would give designation in the Bill to sector skills councils. Sector skills councils were set up after the passing of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 to take over from the national training organisations and, over time, have acquired both status and function. Employer-led and essentially working with the assessment bodies such as City and Guilds and Edexcel, they have developed frameworks for different vocational qualifications, including apprenticeships, which play an important part among those qualifications. Recently, they have also been given an important role in the development of diplomas and, hence, are increasingly recognised by the Government as bodies to talk about the training needs and qualifications in specific sectors.
Although SSCs are recognised by the Government as having an important role, they are not recognised in the Bill. The reason, I suspect, is that the parliamentary draftsman never likes writing into Bills the names of bodies which may be transient. In the past 30 years or so, we have had quite a number of transient bodies in this area, such as the Manpower Services Commission, the sector working parties, the national training organisations, the TECs—and now we have the sector skills councils. Perhaps, rightly, the parliamentary draftsman thought, “What next?”. So instead of writing them into the Bill by name, they are written in by description. Clause 37 states:
“The Secretary of State must by order specify sectors of skill, trade or occupation for the purposes of this Chapter”—
the chapter being Chapter 1, which is all about apprenticeships. It then states:
“The sectors … must in the opinion of the Secretary of State encompass the full range of skills, trades and occupations”.
Although the clause effectively describes sector skills councils, it does not say who they are or what they should do. Amendment 15 seeks to fill that gap, referring to Clause 11(1), which, as it stands, states:
“The Secretary of State may designate a person”—
which in parliamentary speak means a body—
“to issue apprenticeship frameworks generally, or … to issue apprenticeship frameworks relating to a particular apprenticeship sector”.
I am concerned about the phrase,
“to issue apprenticeship frameworks generally”.
What does that mean and what does “generally” mean in this context? It is a very general phrase and not at all explicit. The amendment tries to make the issue very much more explicit, first by saying:
“The Secretary of State may … designate a person to issue general guidelines in relation to the apprenticeship functions”—
functions that include issuing apprenticeship frameworks, but also in relation to other features of the apprenticeship system set up by the Bill. Secondly, it picks up the terminology of Clause 37, which empowers the Secretary of State to,
“specify sectors … for the purposes of this Chapter”,
and says that the Secretary of State shall “designate a person to issue” frameworks for specific sectors—not necessarily the same person as in subsection (1). It can be a different body or person that issues the frameworks for specific sectors.
Amendment 15 sets up on the one hand the concept of the National Apprenticeship Service. Perhaps we will come back to and vote on at Report stage my amendments from the previous occasion when we debated the Bill, which were about the service being set up on its own as an NDPB. It is already being set up and is a shadow authority; it is actually doing some extremely good things. We have the National Apprenticeship Service as the general overseeing body under the Skills Funding Agency and the sector skills councils as the specific bodies responsible for issuing the frameworks in their own specific sectors, as they do at the moment.
Amendments 30 and 31 relate to the transition arrangements spelt out in Clause 15 and say that the Secretary of State should consult the sector skills councils, which, after all, have set up the existing qualifications frameworks for apprenticeships, if they are to be treated as substantive frameworks, as specified in Clause 12. We are asking the Secretary of State to consult the appropriate authorities before making this move and defining those appropriate authorities to include the sector skills councils. Using the terminology of the amendment, we refer to those persons designated to issue frameworks in relation to a specific sector and the representatives of those involved in vocational education and training—the colleges, the alternative learning providers, City and Guilds and so forth.
I have four questions for the Minister. In subsection (1)(a) there is the phrase,
“to issue apprenticeship frameworks generally”.
What is meant by that? Why is no role specified in the Bill for sector skills councils, which the Government have spent so much time setting up? They have been doing quite an effective job, so why are they not incorporated specifically in the Bill? Why do the Government think it unnecessary to consult such organisations over the transitional arrangements? I beg to move.
I will confine my remarks at this stage to saying that we on these Benches agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that it is important for sector skills councils to be represented in the Bill. They are a helpful intermediary to represent the needs of industry. It is crucial that they are involved in producing apprenticeship frameworks to ensure high standards and apprenticeships that stay in line with the needs of employers, making them better and more effective. The Government may claim that they already intend sector skills councils to be issuing bodies—indeed, the Explanatory Notes say that—but if so, why not put that in the Bill?
I support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and emphasise the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley. The Government have assured us that sector skills councils will play an essential role in all of this. But that is hard for people to understand. I am not saying that people will not believe it, but the Bill does not appear to reflect the tremendous role that the Government themselves recognised when they set up the sector skills councils.
The amendments relate to the sector skills councils and the standard setting bodies. Amendment 15 would limit the Secretary of State’s powers so that he can designate a person to issue frameworks only in relation to a particular sector and not to issue frameworks generally. However, even where a designated person—to answer the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp—issues frameworks generally, the frameworks still have to relate to an apprenticeship sector.
I join noble Lords on all sides who have paid tribute to the work of the sector skills councils and standard setting bodies. They are absolutely right: they have played an integral part in our apprenticeship strategy. They have worked with employers, who after all make up the sector skills councils, to ensure that when we talk about a demand-led approach we really mean that. They have created 180 different apprenticeship frameworks, which show what viable bodies they are. That is not to say that they have necessarily reached a state of perfection, as the recent relicensing process shows, but nevertheless, by and large, they have been doing excellent work. They come under the ambit of the UKCES. I am happy to confirm again for the avoidance of doubt that sector skills councils remain absolutely central to our plans for apprenticeships moving forward. We cannot establish apprenticeship frameworks without sector skills councils.
Last year, we set out in World Class Apprenticeships our commitment to streamlining and reducing bureaucracy in the process of developing and approving apprenticeship frameworks. That is a vital thing that we need to reform. It has taken far too long—sometimes years—to establish a new apprenticeship framework and we definitely need to improve performance in that area. We made it clear last year that we would designate the sector skills councils as the issuing authorities for apprenticeship frameworks. I am happy to reiterate that commitment now. There is no dubiety or equivocation on our part. They lie at the heart of determining new apprenticeship frameworks.
I know that some noble Lords have questioned why, if that is the case, we did not simply name the sector skills councils as the issuing authorities on the face of the Bill. We heard that understandable request today. There are two reasons. First, the sector skills councils are a dynamic group of organisations that have evolved and will continue to evolve and improve over time. They are not fixed in concrete. They will change as the demands of the industry change in that particular sector. The legislative structure in the Bill is intended to allow and encourage organic change over time, without the need to wait for legislative change.
Secondly, there is a technical reason—that as many of the sector skills councils are private companies limited by guarantee, to refer to them directly would render the Bill hybrid, which would require more complex and time-consuming parliamentary procedure. That is a real concern. The power included in Clause 11(1)(a) to designate a person to issue apprentice frameworks generally, rather than relating to a particular sector, was included for use only in exceptional circumstances. For example, if it becomes clear that there are frameworks that do not have a natural home in a single sector skills council, it might be better for a single body to issue such apprenticeship frameworks while a home sector skills council is identified, so that potential apprentices are not disadvantaged.
I can assure the House that this power would only be used following close consultation with, or in response to representations from, the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils, which is the representative body of sector skills councils. Indeed in all likelihood, it would be the alliance that we would naturally turn to, to take on this role. I also reassure noble Lords that the intention behind this clause is not to issue a generic apprenticeship framework—that would run counter to our policy and anyway Clause 10(2)(b) makes it clear that the framework must relate to a particular skill, trade or occupation in an apprenticeship sector.
That said, I understand the concerns that this clause has caused among the sector skills councils and standard-setting bodies. Those concerns have been expressed most eloquently by noble Lords, and I want to reflect further on today’s debate. I want the dialogue that has started today to continue, and in particular I want to reflect in advance of Report on whether there is another way through the Bill, in which we can ensure that the sort of disadvantage to apprentices that I have described does not arise. Amendments 30 and 31 would require the Secretary of State to consult FE colleges, other training providers, employers, sector skills councils and other key stakeholders before providing by order that existing vocational specifications are to be treated as if they were an apprenticeship framework issued under Section 12(1).
Clause 15 is a necessary transitional measure to ensure that when the requirements of the specifications and standards for England are brought into force, an apprentice who is already undertaking an apprenticeship is not disadvantaged. I am happy to confirm to the House that our intention is that all existing frameworks will be deemed to be recognised under Clause 12 until they are revised or replaced to ensure compliance with the new specification of apprenticeship standards for England. That really is vitally important—there will be a whole group of apprentices who will be completing their apprenticeships within today’s standards, as defined under the blueprint, and we do not want those apprentices to be disadvantaged in any way, or for what they are doing to be called into doubt. However, all those frameworks will have to, in the end, comply with the new specification of apprenticeship standards for England. Any deemed framework still remaining will cease to be recognised on the day after the school leaving date for 2013. There is a cut-off date, and it is purely a transitional arrangement.
Throughout this transitional period, the SSCs will continue to lead on the development and issuing of apprenticeship frameworks. It is neither practical nor desirable to consult the range of institutions that may have some involvement in delivering existing frameworks, when determining whether they should be available during the transitional period. They have already been consulted on in the past, and they are existing apprenticeship frameworks. Given these assurances, and my firm commitment to reflect further on the question of Clause 11(1)(a), I hope that noble Lords would feel able to withdraw their amendments.
I thank the Minister for his reply. I find it slightly odd, when he says that we cannot establish apprenticeships without sector skills councils, that he then says there is not a place for them in the Bill. There is a subtle difference with what the Bill itself says. Clause 11 says:
“The Secretary of State may designate a person … to issue apprenticeship frameworks generally, or … to issue apprenticeship frameworks relating to a particular apprenticeship sector”.
“A person” is, in this context, the National Apprenticeship Service, which, as I say, is already set up as a shadow authority and is doing good work. So the National Apprenticeship Service both designates the general guidelines for frameworks and then specifies them within each sector skills council. Sector skills councils, according to the current wording of the Bill, play no part whatsoever.
We took on board the Minister’s point about it being a hybrid authority and so forth, so we have carefully used exactly the same wording used in the Bill—
The sector skills councils will play that role. I pointed out in my contribution that they will determine the framework. We have indicated that the most likely person or organisation would not be the National Apprenticeship Service, but the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils. They are the people with the experience in determining apprenticeship frameworks. With all due respect to the National Apprenticeship Service, which does a wonderful job, that is not its sphere of operation. The employers represented on the sector skills councils in consultation with their employer bodies know what is required. There is no way that we are going to undermine the role of the sector skills councils.
If I may make the noble Baroness’s anxieties a little more understandable to the noble Lord, the difference seems quite simple. If the sector skills councils are mentioned in the Bill, their position is secure. If they are not, their continuance depends on the whim of central government, which cannot change them without legislation. The noble Baroness wants more than a ministerial assurance from a member of a Government which, whatever their fortunes, will not last very much longer. She would prefer something on statute, which would give some reassurance to people in the—I was going to say “the trade”—profession, that things would continue as the noble Lord says that they will, even when he is not there to guarantee it.
I thank the noble Lord for his prescience in the matter of the next election. We will have to wait and see whether his crystal ball is as accurate as he predicts.
On the concern expressed, we cannot conceive of a scenario where we will determine apprenticeship frameworks without sector skills councils. We genuinely believe that there is a problem with making the Bill hybrid, but we want to address the concerns. I have indicated that we are prepared to offer more dialogue and consideration prior to Report, and that is a genuine offer.
I listened to what the Minister said, and am grateful. It would be appropriate if we could find some way of designating the role of the sector skills councils within the Bill.
On Amendments 30 and 31, it struck me that the wording is such that the Secretary of State may by order provide for existing vocational specification to go forward. It is surely common courtesy that he should consult those who have set up those specifications, and that was why we felt that it was appropriate that he should consult in those circumstances.
Coming back to Amendment 15, I will withdraw it for the moment, and will talk further with the Minister to see if we can find some way around this dilemma of incorporating the concept into the Bill in some form or other. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 15 withdrawn.
Amendments 16 to 20 not moved.
Clause 11 agreed.
Clause 12 : Issue of apprenticeship frameworks etc.: England
21: Clause 12, page 6, line 32, leave out “the specification of apprenticeship standards for England” and insert “the Chief Executive of Skills Funding”
This is a small and unassuming amendment. It came upon me rather by surprise, as if I had been walking on a pavement in an otherwise well conducted borough and suddenly found myself tripping heavily over a raised paving stone.
I made what was, to my eye, the natural assumption when reading the passage referred to, that the word “specification” referred to a process. No, first, I assumed it was a verb. I ask your Lordships to note that I am speaking also to Amendment 32, which addresses a similar problem. I shall read the passage:
“The English issuing authority may issue an apprenticeship framework that the authority is satisfied meets the requirements specified, by the specification of apprenticeship standards for England”.
It goes on. If it had read “specified in the specification of apprenticeship standards for England”, it would have been clear that I was looking for a theme rather than a process. However, when we get to Clauses 22 to 26, we find that the people doing the specification are, in England, the chief executive of skills funding—with the endorsement of the Secretary of State—and, in Wales, the Welsh Ministers off their own bat. It would be convenient to name them here and get around that little difficulty. If you try to pass the sentence as I first saw it, there is a perfectly clear object in the requirements, but no visible subject for the verb. That is the maze that I got myself into. I am suggesting a way out of it that does not do violence that I can see to any of the Government’s principles, and is, by three or four syllables, a fraction shorter.
It also postpones conveniently the question of what this crucial document is going to be called, which I hope your Lordships will allow me to raise when we get to Amendment 36. I beg to move.
I take the opportunity to make some observations on Amendment 32. Before doing so, I draw attention to my interest as president of the National Training Federation for Wales and as an adviser to a south Wales charity, Tydfil Training. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, seeks in Amendment 32 to make a modest amendment to Clause 17. This is one of a number of clauses that devolves authority and responsibility to Welsh Assembly Ministers. We should take this opportunity to discover a little more about the nature of this devolution because it has some history.
The original draft apprenticeship Bill that was the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny ran into considerable confusion, if not difficulty, over the issue of what was being devolved. There was considerable confusion in the Welsh Assembly’s deliberations in committees. As I recall, a Select Committee of the other House made some tart observations about the lack of clarity over what was and was not being devolved. My first question for my noble friend is: are the clauses, including Clause 17, now fully agreed with the Welsh Assembly? Have the problems and difficulties that were thrown up by the original draft apprenticeship Bill now been resolved? Is there now a clear distinction as to who will be responsible for what?
Secondly, Clauses 16 and 17 envisage a situation where apprenticeship frameworks in Wales could differ from those in England. That is how I read them and, I think, how the noble Lord, Lord Elton, reads them. Welsh Ministers, through the designated persons, whoever they might be, may indeed come up with variations on the frameworks, which would differ from those devised in England. I do not know if that will be the case, but it seems inevitable, unless it is a pure formality. I suspect that it is not and possible variations may well occur in the way that apprenticeship frameworks are developed in Wales and England.
I want to draw the attention of the Committee to that issue. Like many other noble Lords, when I thought of apprenticeships in my youth, I assumed that an apprentice was someone who was between 16 and 19 years of age who had left school, having got his O-levels or GCSEs, and did not choose to pursue the A-level route. In Wales, the average age of an apprentice is now 25 years and three months. The large majority are no longer 16 and 17-year-olds, but adults in employment who want to upskill in different ways. It is a very different scene from the traditional view.
Can my noble friend say how that compares with the English scene? Are the average English apprentices still 16 to 19-year-olds, or are they adults in work, seeking to upskill, as in Wales? If so, we can see how the changing demands and needs of adults as opposed to 16 and 17-year-olds would have to be met in the workplace. I shall not press this further but there needs to be a degree of conformity. It is an interesting revelation on the nature of apprenticeships, so is the pattern of apprenticeships different in England? That is my first question.
Secondly, I suspect, although I have no reason for that other than an instinct, that another reason why there may be differences and variations in apprenticeship frameworks is that a considerable difference has now opened up between the Welsh and English education scenes. The Welsh Assembly Government have not pursued the line of extending the compulsory learning age to 18, so there will perhaps not be the same demand as that which may emerge in England. Apprenticeship programmes in England may take some of the strain of the additional demand created by the compulsory learning age being increased to 18. The Welsh Assembly Government have refused to adopt the English model. We could debate the respective merits, but it might mean that a different pattern of apprenticeships will emerge between Wales and England. Under this clause, is it possible to have different apprenticeship frameworks because of a different response to a different demand?
Whatever variations may or may not occur, I trust, hope and pray that there will be a way of mutually recognising them. We need portable skills. We do not want to draw boundaries across skills, especially as people may be required to work in different environments and different geographical areas. I hope that that can be accommodated if and when variations occur. We can see from the Explanatory Notes that in England it is likely that the skills council will fulfil the role. There is just a designated person in the case of Wales; the Explanatory Notes are silent on who may or may not fulfil that role. I hope that my noble friend can illuminate who might be that designated person. The noble Lord has given us the opportunity to explore the variations that may take place as a result of the devolution of responsibility to Welsh Assembly Ministers.
Perhaps I may assist my noble friend in some of his questions, although I obviously do not want in any way to circumvent what the Minister will be saying. I simply want to clarify matters, speaking as someone who is heavily involved in sector skills councils. These councils go across all four nations and will have the same role in Wales as they do in England. I shall not comment on the statistics. My guess is that the figures will be very much the same, but I am sure that my noble friend will have those in detail. In Wales, individuals will receive a certificate of completion for a modern apprenticeship, exactly as happens in England, but in Wales not only will it be written in Welsh but it will also define where in Wales the apprenticeship has been completed. That is the only difference.
I remind my noble friend that, although the skills councils go across the four nations of the UK, there has been considerable pressure from Welsh Assembly Ministers and from the Welsh Assembly itself for a meaningful presence of such skills councils in Wales. Again, there might be variations as a result of that.
Almost all sector skills councils have a presence in Wales, and that is certainly the case with the main sector skills councils that deal with apprenticeships. They have an office in Wales and an executive member of the sector skills council is present in Wales, and their relationship with the Welsh Assembly is extremely good. If anyone is worried, they should not be, because I am sure that all that is already being dealt with in Wales.
We agree with my noble friend Lord Elton that it would be helpful to tidy up the Bill—or, as he might have it, the pavement—in this and probably many other ways. Several noble Lords spoke at Second Reading about the complexity and convoluted nature of the Bill. The purpose of amendments such as these is to help us to avoid the Bill passing into law with its current ambiguities. Anyone reading the Bill for the first time would have to read until Clause 22 to gain a definition of the specification of apprenticeship standards. The British Chambers of Commerce have referred to the shifting complexity of the further education system as encouraging the disengagement of employers. It is thus doubly important to ensure that the Bill is tidied up and that it does not become a further cause of employer disengagement. Therefore, I strongly request the Minister to give the amendments of my noble friend Lord Elton the consideration that they deserve.
I think I can safely say that this has been a rather wide-ranging debate—somewhat wider perhaps than even the noble Lord, Lord Elton, intended. I hesitate to engage in a sort of syntactical analysis with the noble Lord because I have a horrid feeling that his expertise in that area is superior to mine, which did not even extend to an O-level in English language. However, I shall endeavour to answer the point that he makes because I generally pay respect to his concerns in trying to ensure clarification and order in a Bill.
In answer to the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, we would not want employers to have to pore over the legislation to find out their rights and responsibilities; I genuinely hope that guidance and other documents will do that job. However, that is not to avoid the main issue of ensuring that what is in the Bill is as clear as we can make it.
The references to the Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England, or SASE, in Clause 12 and its sister document in Clause 17 come earlier in the Bill than the relevant clause that explains what the SASE and its sister document are, but that is an unavoidable consequence of the interlocking nature of the four key elements of the statutory apprenticeships programme which the Bill develops.
Although I understand the problem that the noble Lord’s amendments seek to correct, Amendments 21 and 32 would give the chief executive of skills funding and Welsh Ministers the power to determine the requirements that an apprenticeship framework must satisfy without recourse to the Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England or its sister document for Wales. These are designed to safeguard minimum entitlements and requirements to ensure that all apprenticeships offer the individual a well balanced and high-quality programme of training. They have been the subject of a huge consultative process. We think it is right that these consistent standards should be set out in the SASE, which will ensure that these matters are subject to full consultation and subject to the normal parliamentary scrutiny. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will reflect on that and consider withdrawing his amendment.
I turn now to—
As the noble Lord is embarking on a separate point, perhaps we could dispose of this one first. I did not quite follow his argument. He said that by substituting the chief executive for the document, I would enable him to do things which he would not otherwise be able to do without consulting a further issue. That appears to be the three blocks of his argument but I could not understand how they work together. Perhaps he could repeat it a little more slowly so that I can follow what he is saying.
My apologies if I went through that too rapidly. I shall reiterate the advice that I have been given. Although I understand the problem the noble Lord’s amendments seek to correct, his Amendments 21 and 32 would give the chief executive of skills funding and Welsh Ministers the power to determine the requirements that an apprenticeship framework must satisfy, without recourse to the SASE or its sister document. Those documents are designed to safeguard minimum entitlements and requirements to ensure that all apprenticeships offer the individual a well balanced and high-quality programme of training. We think it is right that these consistent standards should be set out in the SASE, which will ensure that these matters are subject to full consultation and to the normal parliamentary scrutiny.
To endeavour to address the concerns of my noble friend Lord Rowlands, perhaps I can reassure the Committee about the discussions with the Welsh Government. During the development of the draft Bill, we worked with all the devolved Administrations, including the Welsh Assembly Government, as part of the devolution settlement to allow the devolved Administrations to decide for themselves how they want powers to be exercised in the devolved areas. The Welsh Assembly Government Ministers are keen that the statutory apprenticeships established under Part 1 of the Bill cover Wales. The Bill includes provisions in respect of the operation of statutory apprenticeships in Wales, requested by Welsh Assembly Government Ministers. We are already working with the Welsh Assembly Government to ensure a coherent approach in both countries and qualifications that are recognised on both sides of the border. That is fundamentally important. I thank my noble friend Lady Wall for her partnership approach and I am glad that she made the very relevant point that sector skills councils operate across the United Kingdom.
Welsh frameworks can be, and are, different. I shall quote a couple of examples. Welsh frameworks include key skills instead of functional skills. These are some examples of the frameworks: they do not contain any personal learning and thinking skills and they may contain that wonderful new educational qualification—I was going to say “animal” but that is not quite the right word—the Welsh baccalaureate. Those are some of the potential differences.
I do not think I have been given information on the average age. I was not aware of that interesting piece of information about the average age for apprenticeships. Yes, we have removed the age barrier and, therefore, we have had a significant increase in adult apprenticeships. They have played a very important part in reskilling adults. In England, I think we had about 27,000 adult apprenticeships last year. We have a bit of a problem in the 16 to 18 age range, and that is where the National Apprenticeship Service is focusing a lot of its attention. We are also trying to ensure that, with regard to the requirement on government departments to create more apprenticeships—they have pledged a further 21,000—they, too, will have to focus on the 16 to 18 age range.
My noble friend Lord Rowlands referred to raising the learning age. What we have actually raised—this is a minor but important correction—is the participation age. There is an important difference. I have endeavoured to address the principal concerns. If there are any other points that I have not answered, I will do so in writing.
I gather that the Welsh interest is satisfied. At some stage, it would be very interesting to hear from the noble Lord the process by which the views of the Welsh Assembly, and of Welsh Ministers in particular, have been ascertained. At this stage, I address merely the modest amendment—as I thought it was when I tabled it—and go back to where I began. If the word had been “in” rather than “by”, I would not have thought immediately that what followed was a process. I know how keen the noble Lord will be to support his draftsmen on this matter, and how difficult it will be to find an objection at the next stage to a modest amendment substituting “in” for “by”. I give formal notice that that is what I intend to do. Having done so, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 21 withdrawn.
Amendment 22 not moved.
Clause 12 agreed.
Clause 13 : Recognised English frameworks: notification and publication requirements
Amendment 23 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendments 24 and 25 not moved.
Amendment 26 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Clause 13 agreed.
Clause 14 : Submission of draft apprenticeship framework for issue: England
27: Clause 14, page 7, line 21, at end insert “within two weeks of the making of the decision”
The Bill allows the Secretary of State to designate a person to issue apprenticeship frameworks, which will have to meet the requirements specified by the apprenticeship frameworks for England. Clause 14 expands this premise, so that a person may submit a draft of an apprenticeship framework to the English issuing authority, or request that the authority issue a draft. The provisions seem very sensible. They will allow for ease and transparency in the creation of an apprenticeship framework and greater co-operation between bodies such as sector skills councils and standards-setting bodies, which we hope will be at the forefront of the process of constructing apprenticeship frameworks.
Amendment 27 affects subsection (3) of the clause, which allows the issuing authority to exercise its judgment and decide not to issue the framework in the form of a draft, as long as the person who requested the draft is given reasons for the refusal. There are occasions where this discretionary power may be useful. It may be that there are very similar frameworks already extant, or about to be issued, and the bureaucracy and work involved in producing a draft framework is not considered worth while. It may be that the final version of the document is due to be published very shortly, and it is simply not practicable also to produce a draft.
Our amendment seeks only to ensure that the authority must inform the person who requested the draft within two weeks of making its decision. While it seems sensible for the issuing authority to reserve the right not to publish a draft apprenticeship framework, this must be balanced by the right of the person who requests the draft to be informed quickly and efficiently of the reasons why no draft will be forthcoming. The Bill requires that the person be informed of these reasons, but does not include a specific time limit. Does the Minister not accept that this might lead to uncertainty? The person who requested the draft framework could be left in the dark about whether he is waiting to receive a draft or a rejection notice.
The reassurance in the Bill that reasons will be provided is weakened by the fact that there is no timeframe in which to call the issuing authority to account. We argue that two weeks is sufficient time for the authority to give the reasons for its decision on whether a framework can be delivered. It is hard to think of an occasion when the issuing authority would be so busy that it would not be able to do so within this time. However, I await the Minister’s response with interest. I beg to move.
I strongly support this amendment. A lot of work goes into the preparation of a framework of this kind. Sector skills councils will have done their research, consulted a lot of people and put a great deal of time and effort into the framework. There may well be young people who have already been alerted to the possibility and who are waiting to hear. A long delay is unreasonable. Some of the young people may well go off in other directions or disappear entirely if they are not given a prompt response. I hope that the Minister will take on board the fact that the Bill would be strengthened by containing a time span in which a response is to be received.
I feel almost more strongly because the requirement in the amendment is simply to make a decision known within a fortnight of it being made. I do not know why it should be necessary to wait for a fortnight after it has been made. It is the making of the decision that takes the time. I would rather see an amendment by my noble friend a little earlier in the process. There should be a time limit within which to make the decision. However, as that is not there, I will support this amendment in substitution.
I, too, support the amendment and have some sympathy with the amendment suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. How long will the process of approving such a framework normally take? I gather that there is likely to be quite a number coming in at the same time, so too short a period will be difficult and two weeks may be a bit tight. It would be helpful to know what the Minister thinks would be a reasonable time in which to make a decision so that all the processes for getting these apprenticeships schemes under way can be got on with.
This amendment would require English framework issuing authorities to inform persons submitting a draft apprenticeship framework of the reasons for their decision not to accept the framework in the form of the draft submitted within two weeks of making the decision. We sympathise with the sentiment behind this amendment and reiterate our commitment to ensuring that the sector skills councils, which will be the issuing authorities for apprenticeship frameworks, respond in a timely fashion to those submitting frameworks.
I endorse the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, about the importance of getting the process proceeding as speedily as possible. We want quality as well as speed. We have grown the apprenticeship frameworks to 180 frameworks, which is a huge improvement on the past, but getting this process right is important for the reasons that the noble Baroness outlined.
We are streamlining the processes for the development and consideration of frameworks and expect to see the development of supportive and collaborative relationships between sector skills councils and organisations developing frameworks. This should reduce the overall time needed to develop and issue frameworks. The process will be a light-touch one focused on ensuring that the draft framework has sufficient rigour in meeting the requirements of the SASE.
As the sector skills councils—the issuing authorities—will be working closely with those who are developing frameworks, there should be no delay in informing them when the draft framework does not meet the SASE or if there are concerns about a proliferation of similar frameworks, which is a possibility. We intend to issue statutory guidance alongside the technical aspects of the SASE, which will stress the importance of prompt decision-making and of alerting framework developers of any concerns about their draft frameworks. In the light of the points made in today’s debate, I am happy to confirm that we will include in the statutory guidance a requirement for the issuing authority to give reasons within two weeks if it decides not to issue a framework. Including that requirement in guidance rather than in the Bill will allow for greater flexibility to adjust the period in future in the light of experience; for example, we may be able to address the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about why it should take two weeks.
We believe that the statutory guidance is the right place for this. We are at one with the Committee. It would be nonsense that, once a decision has been reached, this should take an unnecessary length of time. I cannot predict at this point whether two weeks is too long. My feeling is to ask the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, of why it should take two weeks, but that reinforces the point that we are trying to make. We are at one with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley; we want to speed up the process and remove any unnecessary delay. We believe that the right place to do that is within statutory guidance so that we can alter it in the light of experience.
We agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, about the need to ensure that, as I said, the whole approval process for frameworks is speeded up. These are not new situations that we are encountering; at least, it may be a new situation, but we have been through the process many times before. Until recently, apprenticeship frameworks were submitted to an apprenticeship approval group, which met every two to three months. The new framework issuing system will streamline the process and applicants will develop their framework using clear guidance and templates with the support of the sector skills council. We should obtain a high standard of frameworks submitted, which should speed up the whole process. We will look to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills and the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils to ensure that a system of approving and issuing frameworks is working in terms of timeliness and effectiveness. I hope that, on the basis of these assurances and on the clear understanding that we share the same commitment, the noble Lord will be persuaded to withdraw the amendment.
I thank my noble friends Lady Perry and Lord Elton for their support, even if I have disappointed them and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, with the length of time that I have suggested. They make a good point. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, even if she believes that I have not allowed enough time. I am grateful to the Minister, who seems to say that the guidance will say two weeks. I need to give thought to his response and to the issue in general. However, in the light of that response, for today I am prepared to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 27 withdrawn.
28: Clause 14, page 7, line 21, at end insert—
“( ) Nothing in this section prevents a person from carrying out training in conformity with a draft submission made under subsection (1).”
I contemplated rising to discuss my amendment during the previous debate because the issues that I want to raise are related, although they are somewhat wider. I am always doubtful about a clause that appears to be important but is not discussed in the Explanatory Notes. Clause 14 is not mentioned and I wondered why. It seems widely drawn. It states:
“This section applies if a person …. submits a draft”.
I imagine that the person could be your Lordships’ House proposing to set up a framework for some maintenance apprenticeships. Indeed, the Houses of Parliament have, I believe, gone into a programme of apprenticeships. It could be any person, in the private or public sector. The Minister has referred once or twice to there being 180 frameworks. In Australia, there are 500 frameworks. At some point during these debates, it would be interesting to know how many frameworks the Government believe that there might eventually be.
One can imagine circumstances in which people want to get on with drafting a framework and under Clause 14(2) they have,
“to provide such information and evidence”,
as is required. I have a worry that, under any statutory arrangements, the amount of time taken to consider information and evidence is likely to be a lot longer than two weeks. The determination of the decision and the amount of time that it takes to convey that decision will not be the most serious problem with Clause 14; I should think that it will be much more a question of how long the authorising body takes to consider the draft framework and such information and evidence in connection with it as it thinks appropriate.
My amendment would add a further subsection:
“Nothing in this section prevents a person from carrying out training in conformity with a draft submission made under subsection (1)”.
I would have preferred to refer to “an apprenticeship or training”, but I guessed that, because the apprenticeship system is statutory, the Government would not like that and would say, “I am terribly sorry, you cannot have an apprenticeship unless we agree that it is one”. I am completely opposed to that, but never mind; the word “training” will probably do.
I am seeking an unequivocal assurance that no one will try to prevent a person who has drafted an apprenticeship framework from getting on with putting that framework into practice, albeit that they cannot call it an apprenticeship in the formal statutory sense. I think that it is a very good idea that persons should be able to put up draft apprenticeship frameworks. First, we have only 180 such frameworks and Australia has 500. The second reason is the pace of change. As I said at Second Reading, I simply do not believe that the Secretary of State will ever keep up with what is happening in business, commerce and manufacturing. He will never be able to know when a framework is appropriate, nor will his authorising authority, over which he has a great measure of control under the Bill.
There is a great need, particularly at present, to rebalance our economy as rapidly as we can. In my opinion, we will find it very difficult to get back to the Treasury’s trend rate of growth of about 2 to 2.5 per cent a year. It is much more likely that when we come out of this recession—we may be edging our way out of it now—the trend rate of growth will be 1 to 1.5 per cent or something of that order. We are all agreed that we need to expand the number of skills and the number of options open to us within our economy to rebalance it so that it is not so dependent on financial services and widens its dependence in a satisfactory way.
As we have heard, this whole campaign applies very much to the public sector as well as to the private sector. As regards the power to disapprove, the question is: what follows? If there is a wish to control, what is likely to follow is an attempt to prevent people from doing what they want to do because it does not fit. It is very much a feature of the public sector system that it wishes to have this control and does not like eccentricity and difference or people doing things of which it is not itself cognisant.
I have an example, although I regret to say that it is a level 3 rather than a level 2 example. In my days at Kew, we had a school and a diploma—the Kew diploma, which I am happy to say still exists. I am now getting to be a piece of history because my time at Kew was from 1983 to 1991. During that time, we were under constant pressure to join the horticultural system. People asked, “What is it about botanic gardening that is so different that you don’t have to conform to the City and Guilds type of courses?”. In fact, a senior member of the Kew teaching staff resigned because he believed that we should join the horticultural system and not stay as an exception offering a botanic gardening diploma. But we stuck it out; we said no. We were never within the official system because we kept saying no. This meant that we did not get so much support and public money as we might otherwise have got, but we retained the Kew diploma—and the Kew diploma of botanic gardening is recognised all over the world.
I am worried about the statutory apprenticeship system in the Bill because I am reasonably sure that it will not be run with what is called a light touch and will not leave people with the independence to get on with their own thing. Therefore, I would like to see it unequivocally stated in the Bill that everyone who has drawn up a draft framework can say, “I am perfectly entitled under this legislation to get on with the training, in conformity with my draft framework, even though it has not been approved”. I beg to move.
I strongly support my noble friend’s amendment. I suspect that we are in a clash of basic philosophies. As my noble friend said, it is an issue of control. I know very well, having been a civil servant for a great number of years, the urge in central government to control everything that lives, moves and breathes. However, if we are genuinely in the business of looking for flexibility and growth in the economy and have a genuine wish to see creativity within the education system, where people can develop things according to the needs of both those engaged in the apprenticeship and their employers, I hope that there will be room and flexibility within the provisions of the Bill for something that is outwith central control.
There is absolutely no reason why prestigious companies should not develop their own frameworks for apprenticeships. I am morally certain that if someone came out having completed an apprenticeship with, let us say, Microsoft, they would be extremely desirable property in any other IT firm, which would have no interest whatever in whether or not the apprenticeship had been approved and accredited by the authorities in a particular country. There are international companies that will continue to offer training through apprenticeships to people of any age—and certainly to 16 to 19 year-olds—which will give those people “hot property” qualifications entirely dependent on the reputation of the company, not of some regulating authority.
We have here a basic clash of philosophies. The Bill tries to control everything, for understandable reasons. I fully understand why it is necessary to ensure that apprenticeships are of a high quality and that young people come out with a qualification that is recognised and tradeable when they go looking for jobs outwith the company where they did their apprenticeship. I have no problem with that. All I am asking for, and all my noble friend’s amendment is asking for, is some flexibility so that in some instances and in some cases it will be possible for a company or a small firm to continue offering an apprenticeship even after it has been turned down for accreditation.
I sympathise with the general sentiments that have been expressed by both the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and the noble Baroness, Lady Perry. At Second Reading, many noble Lords made clear the degree to which we were disturbed by what we felt was the unnecessary bureaucracy being introduced into the system.
Over the course of the past five years we have set up the sector skills councils and revamped the apprenticeship system, and we are delighted with that. However, in some senses, as I indicated in the discussion we had about the National Apprenticeship Service on the last occasion we met in Committee, the concept of pulling the sector skills councils together within the overall umbrella of the National Apprenticeship Service is fine, but the whole bureaucracy of establishing the apprenticeship system, with its necessary certificates and frameworks, seems very heavy handed. We had an interesting debate on Friday last week about the unnecessary amount of regulation within the education sector and the number of statutory instruments that have been issued by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, which is more than for any other department. I did a calculation on this Bill. Somewhere in the region of 100 statutory instruments are likely to be issued as a result of it. I do not have my figures with me, but there is something like 150 mentions of orders and directions. Orders and directions require no affirmative or negative resolutions; they are just passed. We have to be aware of all these things.
I, too, support my noble friend’s amendments, which are very much in line with the spirit of our Amendment 27, the purpose of which is to guard against the risk of inaction by a body in authority, causing the whole process to grind to a halt. I share my noble friend’s concern that the Bill may be too prescriptive in its regulations for apprenticeship frameworks. Amendments 28 and 33 would ensure that if a local authority failed to produce a requested apprenticeship framework the employer could still carry out the training as per the draft. It is vital that the Bill supports employers who submit a draft apprenticeship framework, as their involvement is the crucial factor in raising quality.
The CBI argues that the process for employers wanting to develop their own qualification must be simple and that new legislation must encourage the participation of employers in apprenticeships. Do this Government intend to stop people carrying out training while frameworks are still in draft form? One feels that this might be a rather retrograde step.
While I understand the desire behind the amendments to ensure that learners are not disadvantaged, sector skills councils as the issuing authority will not have the flexibility to issue draft apprenticeship frameworks. All frameworks must meet the Specifications of Apprenticeship Standards for England and for Wales respectively before they can be issued, and there is a good reason for that.
I admit that I thought that there was consensus within this Chamber about preserving the quality of apprenticeships, so let us think about what we are saying. Of course, we want flexibility. The fact that we have grown apprenticeships to 180 frameworks over a recent period demonstrates sufficient progress. I cannot comment on Australia having 500 while we have only 180; I can say only that we have responded to the demands of employers. I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, that we allow companies to go down the road of establishing their own self-accreditation, provided they meet standards. I reject the idea that we would wilfully obstruct the creation of apprenticeships with a process that would somehow delay it. We encourage sector skills councils in everything that we do. The UKCES, the body that examines them, is going through the relicensing process and looking carefully at how long the approval process takes. Were we to have a process whereby we laid down standards, reassuring one group of people that an apprenticeship was a quality product, while allowing another group to go ahead and say, “Well, it doesn’t matter. Actually, you submitted it. You didn’t actually meet the standards, but you can carry on doing it”, it would create horrendous confusion. Trying to make sure that the maximum number of apprenticeships is available is the first task that we face in convincing employers, parents and teachers that apprenticeships are a quality product—and we have not yet finished that task by any means.
I would plead with your Lordships not to introduce a circumstance in which no one is sure about the status of a training programme—is it or is it not an apprenticeship? We ourselves were accused of creating uncertainty with programme-led apprenticeships, and we tried to eliminate it by ensuring that there was a work-based agreement between the apprentice and the employer and that there was a job tied to the apprenticeship. People want quality and standards, and we have ensured those in these specifications. The abandonment of those would be a retrograde step, undermining much of our good work. We have seen employees and employers beginning to appreciate the value of apprenticeships.
We do not want unnecessary bureaucracy in the approval process and we will take that point away to ensure that we do not introduce anything different. However, let us be clear about the demand for apprenticeship frameworks. It is a demand-led system that comes from employers. I do not want to get into the arcane nature of the debate at Kew about whether a qualification should be botanical or horticultural. No doubt people there agonised about that. We already have horticultural apprenticeships, but if employers demand a botanical apprenticeship, or if there is a specific need for one, there is nothing to prevent them going to the sector skills council to get that.
The noble Baroness is right that it is a question of control. However, it is also one of quality and standards, and reassuring the public that they are getting a genuine end-product. It must not be something that an employer can continue with, recognised or not, suggesting that there is an apprenticeship framework which has met the standard when clearly there is not.
We have an obligation to ensure that we do not obstruct progress and that we have a demand-led system that responds to the needs of employers. That is exactly what sector skills councils do because they are made up of employers. If the demand is there, there will be an apprenticeship framework. I will go away and investigate why Australia has 500 apprenticeship frameworks while we have only 180. We do not do much kangaroo rearing in this country, but I do not know what specific frameworks Australia has. I shall be interested to find out. The Leitch report was absolutely clear—we set ourselves some very ambitious targets—that by 2013 we will have in place the entitlement for all young people who want an apprenticeship to have one. That was clearly on the understanding that we were talking about a quality product.
I understand the laudable intentions of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, but unfortunately there may be an unintended consequence regarding the system of quality control. We believe that quality control is vital if we are to sustain the reputation of apprenticeships. I hope that in those circumstances he will feel able to withdraw his amendment, taking into account the assurance that I have given to all noble Lords who have entered into this debate—that we will be looking to ensure that we have not introduced any unnecessary bureaucracy in the approval process.
We do not set ourselves up as a god of standards at all. If that was what we were trying to do, we would be woefully deficient and we would certainly make the wrong decisions. In arriving at standards, we have gone through a comprehensive consultation process in which we have involved employers, training providers and all the other relevant stakeholders. So it is not the Government who are laying down standards; this is what we have been told by employers, training providers and other relevant stakeholders are the standards required. It is not the Government; it is demand-led by employers and other relevant stakeholders.
I have been an employer for quite a large part of my life and I remember that there are employers who join in these processes and ones that do not join in to such a great extent. I wonder about Lakshmi Metal and Bill Gates and all sorts of eccentric employers. Even the employers would say that there is no such thing as a single demand-led process, because they are in competition with one another. They would never believe as a total class; there are from time to time eccentric employers who do not join in any of these processes. I stick to my point. I do not want to damage the statutory system—may it work really well. All I was trying to do was to ensure that those who did not want to join did not lose any right to continue along the path that they had worked out for themselves and which they wanted to continue down. I may come back to this at the next stage. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 28 withdrawn.
Clause 14 agreed.
Clause 15 : Transitional provision for apprenticeship frameworks: England
Amendments 29 to 31 not moved.
Clause 15 agreed.
Clause 16 agreed.
Clause 17 : Issue of apprenticeship framework etc.: Wales
Amendment 32 not moved.
Clause 17 agreed.
Clause 18 agreed.
Clause 19 : Submission of draft apprenticeship framework for issue: Wales
Amendment 33 not moved.
Clause 19 agreed.
Clause 20 agreed.
Clause 21 : Duty to prepare and submit draft specification of apprenticeship standards: England
Amendments 34 not moved
Amendment 35 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
36: Clause 21, page 10, line 12, leave out “specification” and insert “register”
I shall speak also to Amendments 43 to 45, 47, 49 to 55, 58, 75 and 78. That is almost the longest part of what I have to say, as this is a very straightforward and simple amendment and your Lordships will either agree with it or not. The rather unwieldy term “specification” for the document to which we are referring is, to builders, naturally a theme, while to others it is often a process. I have no objection to the Minister, the chief executive or the Welsh Minister as the case may be specifying, but the document that they put that in is more easily referred to as a register. Of course, one could pick that up in the reference that we discussed under my earlier amendment, which would be a very elegant solution.
I do not want to detain your Lordships for long on this. It is really a case of either one likes it or one does not—and knowing the predisposition of the Government, I do not suppose that they will. I beg to move.
I support this amendment. It is a word that is English and is understood by many more people to mean exactly what it describes—rather than specification, which seems to be repeated an awful number of times. The clearer it is in the Bill, the better it is for everyone.
My noble friend Lord Elton is continuing to do his best to bring a level of precision and erudition to the Bill. We should remember perhaps that we are discussing a Bill whose name includes the words children and learning. It seems somewhat ironic therefore that so many of these amendments relate to a necessity for clarity, precision and the correct use of English.
I welcome his argument that one should not have to look some way further forward in the Bill to reach an explanation of what one is reading. The Bill is already infamously long and convoluted. The use of the word “specification” in Clause 21, therefore, when the term is not defined until much later, seems to add a further layer of unnecessary complexity. I hope that the Minister will consider my noble friend’s amendments favourably. The Bill will benefit from the close and dedicated scrutiny that my noble friend brings to it.
I do not agree with this set of amendments. The term “specification” is, on this occasion, right. A draft specification has been issued for consultation at the moment, which sets out a set of guidelines as to what is required for an apprenticeship framework. It is not a register of the framework: it sets out what is required to be within the framework. In that sense, it seems to be more appropriate to use the word “specification”.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to join the Committee stage of discussions at last on a very interesting amendment. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for introducing it and enabling us to have this discussion. It allows me to make a point about the reading of the Bill.
Throughout our deliberations so far in Committee, I have been impressed by noble Lords’ expectations about what they expect to understand from the drafting of a Bill. When you are wading through a Bill, as many noble Lords will know, piecing together its meaning is very difficult. Sometimes we have to go through the detail in Committee to flush these things out and share them with the House. When you read a Bill, you also have to read in previous pieces of legislation, so I understand noble Lords’ frustrations with the complexity of the drafting and the length of the Bill. I feel very strongly that we on the Government Benches must work harder to ensure that noble Lords have satisfaction as far as the interpretation is concerned.
Having said that, I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has made his case with customary verve, eloquence and precision, and I share his desire to ensure that our legislation, even when dealing with complex matters, is written in as plain, accessible and understandable language as possible and that the drafting is precise.
The Oxford English Dictionary definition of “specification” is the,
“Specific, explicit, or detailed mention, enumeration, or statement of something”.
Allowing for some flexibility in certain areas is essentially the role of the Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England and its sister document in Wales.
As a Whip, I once told a Minister off for waving exhibits around, so I will probably get told off in a minute, but I have in my hand the specification document that has been circulated for consultation. It will set out the standards that all apprenticeships must meet. Although the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has made a tempting case for the title “register”, as he will be aware, our consultation on the draft Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England has recently closed. We have received 400 responses. During that process, the term “specification”, or SASE for short, has become widely used. It is a familiar term to those who have been involved in the consultation, who are clear about what it means.
I would be reluctant, because of that, to lose that meaning at this stage, or to risk confusing employers, colleagues, colleges and others around the country by changing the name now, particularly when the arguments for the choice of name perhaps are a bit finely balanced. I have listened to what noble Lords have to say. The document has a life now, and I hope that with that recognition, the noble Lord will consider withdrawing his amendment.
Amendment 36 withdrawn.
Amendments 37 and 38 not moved.
38A: Clause 21, page 10, line 14, leave out “such persons as the Chief Executive thinks” and insert “representatives of industry, employers, Sector Skills Councils, sectoral bodies, the further education sector and other persons the Chief Executive considers”
Amendments 38A, 40, 42, 48 and 173 are designed to ensure the involvement of employers and the sector skills councils in the production of apprenticeship frameworks. Amendment 38A would ensure that when preparing the drafts, the Secretary of State consults not the persons who he thinks are appropriate, but more specifically the representatives of industry, employers, sector skills councils, sectoral bodies, the further education sector and other persons the chief executive considers appropriate. Amendment 40 would ensure that the chief executive of skills funding is required to consult employers regarding the self-specification and self-assessment parts of any apprenticeship scheme that employers provide themselves.
This is in order to provide flexibility, responsiveness to employer needs, and to ensure that standards are constantly driven up. Amendment 42 requires that this process of consultation with employers, representatives of industry, sector skills councils and any other person who the Skills Funding Agency considers appropriate, starts with the first draft specification. The Bill as it stands specifies that the chief executive does not need even to consult such persons as the chief executive considers appropriate on the first draft. Can the Minister confirm that this is because extensive consultation has already been carried out on the first draft? Otherwise, I cannot understand the reasoning.
Amendment 48 is consequential on these provisions and requires that representatives of industry, employers, sector skills councils and the further education sector must also be consulted if any draft modifications to the specification of apprenticeship standards for England are to be introduced. Amendment 173 requires that the person to whom the chief executive has delegated powers in order to carry out apprenticeship functions must also be responsive to employers’ needs with regard to the provision of apprenticeships.
We have tabled these amendments because it seems inappropriate that the Bill does not require stronger employer involvement when the draft specifications of apprenticeship standards are being drawn up. It is simply good sense to make sure that employers are involved in the process from the very beginning. This would have a twofold advantage. First, it would mean that employers, and those representing employers, would be able to specify standards that were appropriate to them. Secondly, it would mean that standards would not then constantly have to be revisited in response to the concerns of those employers.
Important groups speaking for employers have voiced their concerns in this area, and it is vital that we take their views on board. The CBI recognised that the Government’s intentions are,
“to raise both the quantity and quality of apprenticeships”—
but it strongly recommends that—
“encouraging strong employer involvement and ensuring the programme better meets the need of businesses, is the key to both increasing the number of places on offer and raising training quality”.
John Lucas of the British Chambers of Commerce also stated that:
“We think that apprenticeships need to be employer-led and employer-focused”.
As the Bill stands, I fear that there is not a strong enough emphasis on the importance of employer input. Even the New Statesman—that great organ of the left—acknowledged this in an article in its edition of 8 June, entitled “The Art of Vocation”, in which it states approvingly, among other things,
“in Germany employers drive apprenticeships, not the state”.
Furthermore, our amendments take note of the importance of consultation with the sector skills councils. They are an important intermediary and we consider them well able to represent the needs of the industry. We would therefore strongly urge that their views are taken into account.
On Report stage in another place the Minister accepted my honourable friend John Hayes’ arguments for clarity in the inclusion of employer bodies in co-operation arrangements. We are grateful for this concession and the new duty on colleges to follow statutory guidance from the Secretary of State on co-operation, including with employers. That is a welcome concession indeed. Nevertheless, our fears are not yet adequately allayed and we would welcome a further statutory duty which included sector skills councils. We would like to see them incorporated into the Bill so that employers are fully represented and this two-way engagement can make apprenticeship standards higher and of even more value. I beg to move.
I am quite sure that the Minister will tell us that of course all of these splendid arrangements for consultation are already in place and there is no question but that that is how the Government intend that the legislation should be implemented. In my experience many amendments tabled by opposition parties are asking for things to be on the face of the Bill which Ministers assure us are there in intention and do not need to be on the face of the Bill. It would be very nice to say that this Bill, which as the Minister said earlier is quite difficult to follow and quite difficult to understand, nevertheless has some clear clarion principles which people can read and understand on the face of the Bill, and I think that one of them ought to be the involvement of employers, as in Germany, where the apprenticeship scheme is entirely employer-led.
I know the Minister will say, “Of course—that is exactly what we are trying to do here. We expect it to be employer-led”, and I do not doubt that his briefing gives him several paragraphs of assuring us that that is exactly the way it will be. But I repeat that it would be very good to have on the face of the Bill a very clear statement of the involvement of employers—and indeed of the FE sector, which has to play a large part in implementing these apprenticeship proposals—and the fact that they will be consulted in the preparation of the framework.
Perhaps my noble friend the Minister will bear in mind our earlier comments on the sector skills councils, to which he replied that he would take them into account but not let them alter the Bill. I think that we will be having this debate throughout our consideration of the Bill. He recognises the appropriateness of the councils and their status as defined by government, and it is crucial to bear that in mind when building them back in, but I still think that we will be having this discussion over and over again. We have raised the issue several times but I seriously wonder what the Minister is worrying about. He has given an explanation before. We are not looking for specific names for sector skills councils but for a collective, generic name. The important thing is not whether they are restructured or their numbers reduced; the important thing is to recognise their value, which the Government do, as well as their role. It would be helpful if we could quickly reach a real understanding of where the councils fit in under the Bill.
I must admit that putting my name to these amendments was motivated partly by a close personal interest in that my elder son chairs the North East Chambers of Commerce. One of the things he pleaded with me when we discussed the Bill was that it should firmly recognise the position of employers, as the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, mentioned in an earlier debate.
The fact is that the employers will lead this country out of the economic situation that we are in. One of the things that all of them are faced with is the problem of skills shortages. It is therefore highly important that everything should be done to identify where those skills shortages may be and to make certain that they are filled by those who have the relevant training and skills to fill them. It is therefore no good leaving aside the decision as to which apprenticeships are going to be available. All of us are aware that, despite the wish and intention to have all people of this age able to get an apprenticeship, there will not be enough apprenticeships available for all those on the market. It is therefore essential that those that are filled are filled in a way that is relevant to the future, which must be the employers’ future. Merely mentioning it in the context of something is not good enough, so I hope that the Minister will agree to put employers in the Bill.
I would like to raise one other small aspect of this because I could not see another opportunity of doing so. There is already one apprenticeship scheme in Her Majesty’s Prison Service, run by Toyota, in Her Majesty’s young offender institution at Aylesbury. Unfortunately, we have in this country a number of long-term young prisoners, but they do not lack ability. It is therefore absolutely essential that their future and ability to contribute to the life of the nation should be considered as well. I therefore hope that, in deciding where the resources will go, the Prison Service will not be left out.
In that connection, I once had an interesting long conversation with the managing director of Leyland Trucks at Preston, who told me that he had had a skills shortage. One way he found of getting over it was to go to the prison to identify those who had the necessary ability and start training them so that they came out not just with a job to go to, but a job with a future. That was thinking ahead, but was of course only possible if the prisoners themselves lived in Preston; he could not do it for someone who came from Cornwall. I suggest that if you look at that right across the country, you will find that employers everywhere will be able to engage in that sort of process if they are dealing with their own. That of course brings me back to the point that employers are looking for their own in their own area with the right abilities. That is why it is so essential that it should be included in the Bill.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wall, has already said that we have a series of other groupings in which we will talk about consultation. It will come back time and time again.
I pick up on her point. It is of course true that the sector skills councils are employer-led, and have been created expressly to be able to co-ordinate activities within each trade and sector of the employers. This is one of the reasons why, in the earlier debate about sector skills councils, I was so anxious to see that they were consulted. I felt that, having created them to express the will of employers, it was important, as I said, that we give them the courtesy of consulting them on these occasions.
Time and again one gets in legislation, as we have here, things like,
“the Chief Executive must consult such persons as the Chief Executive thinks appropriate”.
It is always tempting to put in a long list of all those that the chief executive should think appropriate. Equally, the point of the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, is there: the CBI and the employers have been lobbying us all, saying, “Our voice must be heard”. There is a feeling that we are creating this bureaucracy, and the employers will be carried along by it and not really be able to make their point on it.
There has been extensive consultation on the apprenticeship specification. One of my responses to the employers was, “Have you replied?”. They have, and that is one reason why the Government had 400 responses. However, it is important that, since we want the system to be employer-led—and nobody disputes that—they are given the courtesy of being involved in the consultation.
At the heart of these amendments is a recurring theme: a concern about the need for a commitment to consult fully with employers, sector skills councils and other key stakeholders in setting and developing apprenticeship standards for England. We unreservedly share that commitment to ensuring that all who have an interest in apprenticeships have a say in developing the standards that will deliver the highest quality apprenticeships for our learners and employers. That is why we have just completed a full-scale, 12-week public consultation on the specification of apprenticeship standards for England—the SASE—which drew almost 400 responses. It was not some kind of fictitious veneer of process. It was a genuine consultative process, which embraced a wide range of employers. If it had not, it would be irrelevant. They are the people who will provide apprenticeships. Unless they are convinced that the standards that we are setting are both necessary and relevant, we will not get their co-operation. The consultation included not only employers but the HE and FE sectors, training providers, sector skills councils, trade unions, and at least one apprentice who responded.
I was interested in the comment that was made in relation to Germany. I agree. I wish that British employers had the same attitude as German employers. We would be in a slightly different situation, but we are where we are. Where I part company is over the idea that, somehow, in the UK, it is not employers who are driving the design of apprenticeships. They most certainly are and we cannot arrive at an apprenticeship framework without the co-operation and collaboration of employers; it would be impossible. The system may not be perfect and is capable of improvement, but it is driven by employers.
I have also met representatives of the CBI, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils, the Association of Training Providers, the Association of Colleges, representative employers from the LSC’s national employer service and other organisations to hear their views on the specifications and standards. As always, I found meeting employers an enlightening and important experience. I am not theorising about what I think employers’ requirements for apprenticeships are; I hear their concerns and needs directly. I give an absolute assurance that we will take careful account of all the views expressed as we finalise the SASE, and then issue it formally by order.
At this point I will address the concerns that have been expressed about the importance of employers in this process, which was raised by several noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, drew our attention to the part of the clause that refers to the Secretary of State designating those whom he thinks appropriate. We will take that point away and see whether we can address it.
Like Amendment 41, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, which we will come to in a moment, Amendment 42 would require further consultation on the same document. I hope that the noble Lords will accept that this is unnecessary. Both the requirement in the Bill and the very wide consultation that has already taken place demonstrate our commitment to the widest possible consultation. Should we need, at some time in the future, to modify the SASE—say, as a result of the changing needs of sectors and their employers—we will expect the chief executive of skills funding to undertake similarly wide consultation before the modified version of the SASE is put to Parliament for scrutiny. In anticipating the passing of the legislation and having had a consultative process, we have tried to ensure that we can launch these new standards as speedily as possible. If we introduce another consultative round, that will delay the introduction. We talked about speeding up the approval process, so delaying the introduction will not help the situation.
Where consultation with persons likely to be affected by a decision or policy is required, the Government’s code of practice on consultation recommends that consultations will normally last for a minimum of three months. That is the very least that Parliament would expect, and I am sure that noble Lords on the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee would be quick to draw it to the attention of the Committee if no such consultation had been undertaken. I know that some noble Lords may have concerns that we are somehow diminishing the role of sector skills councils. I have said repeatedly that nothing could be further from the truth. They are key to a successful apprenticeship strategy. As I have already made clear, sector skills councils will, together with their key partners, have an absolutely central role through their responsibility for developing and issuing apprenticeship frameworks.
We recognise fully the need to have employers on board; they are central to apprenticeships. If we do not carry employers with us, as I said, they will vote with their feet and not take on any apprentices. To that extent it is self-evident that they must be consulted and so must other key stakeholders. That is one of the reasons why the National Apprenticeship Service has established a key stakeholder forum.
In addressing the heartfelt plea of my noble friend Lady Wall, who asked us to reconsider having sectors skills councils on the face of Bill, my current information is that there is a real danger that by doing so we would introduce a hybrid nature to the Bill that would make it an even more complex and lengthy procedure. Given the concern expressed by all noble Lords who have contributed, we will take away that question of the sector skills councils to establish beyond any doubt whether there is an impediment to putting them in the Bill. I give my noble friend that assurance, although I cannot say what the outcome will be. Obviously, we take it seriously and do not want to introduce an unnecessary difference between us about the role of sector skills councils.
My honourable friend the Minister responsible for further education made it clear in another place that the key stakeholder forum will include strong employer, as well as union and training provider representation. The group includes the following employer bodies: the Confederation of British Industry, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Institute of Directors, the British Chambers of Commerce—already referred to in this debate—and the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils. It—the key stakeholder forum—will also ensure that the views of colleges, other providers and other interested parties are heard. The Association of Learning Providers, the Association of Colleges, the Local Government Association and the Trades Union Congress will be consulted and will help inform the development of apprenticeships. The stakeholder forum also has representation from the National Learner Panel to represent the interests of learners.
We believe that the National Apprenticeship Service stakeholder group will provide a mechanism to ensure that the views of employers as well as those of their representatives and sector skills councils are taken into account in apprenticeships and that the chief executive of the NAS will be responsive to the needs of employers in the provision of high-quality apprenticeships. That said, I understand the strength of feeling on this issue. While I do not think that any of the amendments would quite work as drafted, I would like to give the matter further consideration before we come back on Report and continue the dialogue with noble Lords about how we can ensure that the Bill reflects the strong views on all sides that the requirement for consultation with employers and their representatives could be made more explicit.
Before concluding, I shall respond to a couple of points made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, about access to apprenticeships for young offenders. They can train against apprenticeship frameworks while in custody, but they clearly will not have an entitlement under the apprenticeship scheme as they cannot be available for work within the agreement. The important point made by the noble Lord about getting young offenders prepared and ready for apprenticeship and work is vital and we concur with it.
On the basis of my comments, I hope that the noble Lord will consider withdrawing the amendment.
First, I thank my noble friend Lady Perry and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for their powerful words. I also thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Wall and Lady Sharp, for their contributions. I am unsurprised by the Minister’s response. He is of course right about the central theme of these amendments being the involvement of employers, and I am grateful to him at least for saying that he will think further about the issue. For that reason, I shall not press the amendment today. I, too, would like to think further about the whole issue but I particularly want to reserve the right to return to this matter on Report. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 38A withdrawn.
Amendments 39 and 40 not moved.
41: Clause 21, page 10, line 18, leave out subsection (4)
I shall speak also to Amendment 60. These amendments address the same issue that caught the eye of my noble friends on my Front Bench. We are addressing the question of the preparation of the first draft specification. Seeing the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in his seat, I am reminded of the process by which the first model of anything is produced and of the great importance of taking everyone’s views before it is produced.
When I did my National Service, I was in a regiment equipped with the Centurion tank mark 1, which had a magnificent 600-horsepower Merlin Rolls-Royce engine to power it. However, people had forgotten that the tank was not always being moved around by this massive piece of machinery. It had to stay still in one place for a long time and, when you started that piece of machinery after a long time, it produced a large puff of smoke, which told the enemy where it was. Also, while you were in that place, you had to listen on your wireless to your superior officer—who, if you were extremely fortunate, was someone like the noble Lord—and that took electricity. In order to charge a 12-volt battery about once every four hours, you had to start the main engine, again emitting a little puff of white smoke and telling the enemy where you were. One would not want the same process to befall those who were designing the first draft that we are discussing here. I am sure that the noble Baroness will tell us the very good reasons why the requirement to consult is specifically excluded in both the English and Welsh sections of the Bill, and I look forward with great enthusiasm to hearing those reasons. I beg to move.
I thank my noble friend Lord Elton for tabling these amendments and, indeed, for his lesson in armoured tactics. The credibility of the apprenticeship qualification will hang on the rigour of the specifications. If, as we agree, great care must be taken over the preparation of the draft specification of apprenticeship standards—such care that the chief executive must consult such persons as he thinks fit in preparing the draft—we need the Minister’s help in understanding why it needs to be set out in the legislation that he does not have to consult such persons in relation to the first draft to be prepared after the commencement of the section. In our experience, the first draft, in particular, benefits from consultation with other people. Perhaps I am missing a point here, so I look forward to the Minister’s response.
In addition to the questions that my noble friend has posed, I should like to press the Minister a little more on how often the Government anticipate that modifications might have to be made. Of course, as the business sector changes and new skills become needed, some modifications will be required, but I hope she will agree that too many modifications will be counterproductive. Not only will constant modification impose significant costs on providers, as well as cause great difficulty for teachers in keeping up with the changes, but it will also call into question the credibility of the certification. Therefore, it is very important that the Government take care to get it right the first time, and I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to give us some assurances on that.
I should send up a puff of white smoke, I think, and give my noble friend Lord Young a chance to recharge his batteries. The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, is absolutely right when he says that much of the credibility of the quality apprenticeship system that we have been talking about rests on the effectiveness of the consultation concerned with this document. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, points out, this clause is extremely important going forward. Perhaps I can attempt to explain why a second consultation on the document Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England and the equivalent for Wales is not necessary.
Clause 21(2) requires the chief executive, as noble Lords are aware, to consult fully on the draft SASE. Clause 21(4), which removes this requirement in respect of the first draft, was written to reflect the fact that this consultation would already have taken place by the time the section came into force. As noble Lords are aware, we have had a draft apprenticeships Bill and we now have this Bill, so the consultation on the Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England has closed. The amendment would require a further consultation on the first draft of the specification. The Committee will know, as we have just discussed it, that the draft specification was out for 12 weeks’ consultation, which ended on 29 May. The draft specification for Wales is out for a 12-week public consultation period, which will end on 17 July.
As noble Lords are aware, we drew both consultations to the attention of key stakeholders, a number of whom have been involved in its early development. The SASE consultation attracted many responses: 34 per cent were from training providers; 14 per cent were from FE institutions; 12 per cent were from sector skills councils and standard-setting bodies; almost 10 per cent were from employers; and 2 per cent were from trade unions. As my noble friend has just explained, we have also had meetings with national employers in the apprenticeships programme, the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils and the Association of Learning Providers. I shall not reiterate what my noble friend has just said. The SASE and its Welsh sister document will be revised to take account of the consultations and will be published on a non-statutory basis this summer. Of course, noble Lords will have an opportunity to see the document in plenty of time before Report stage. That will enable the sector skills councils to work on adapting their existing frameworks to bring them into line with the SASE and its Welsh equivalent when, subject to the passage of this Bill, they come into force in 2011.
The Bill was drafted to reflect the fact that the consultations were already taking place and the amendment would require a further round of consultation on the same document. The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, asked how often modification would be needed. The advice that I have received tells me that it would be needed from time to time, in response to employer feedback. My view is that this is not something that would need modification frequently. Given the amount of consultation and work involved, it is important that we get it right so that we do not have to tweak it all the time. In view of these remarks, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 41 withdrawn.
Amendment 42 not moved.
Clause 21 agreed.
Clause 22 : Order bringing specification of apprenticeship standards for England into effect
Amendments 43 to 45 not moved.
Clause 22 agreed.
Clause 23 : Modification of specification of apprenticeship standards for England
Amendment 46 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendments 47 to 52 not moved.
Clause 23 agreed.
Clause 24 : Replacement or modification of specification of apprenticeship standards: recognised English frameworks
Amendments 53 and 54 not moved.
Clause 24 agreed.
Clause 25 : Contents of specification of apprenticeship standards for England
Amendment 55 not moved.
56: Clause 25, page 11, line 26, at end insert “, subject to the requirements in section (Requirements of apprenticeship frameworks),”
I shall speak also to Amendment 59. Both amendments are in my name and the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Blackstone and Lady Morris of Yardley. They relate to the contents of an apprenticeship. This is such an important matter that broad standards must surely be laid down in the Bill. We propose a new clause with five subsections.
The first subsection concerns the requirement for a specified minimum time for off-the-job learning. This is crucial for two reasons. First, an apprentice must learn why he is doing what he is doing, not just how to do it. There must be systematic learning of the knowledge that underpins the trade that the apprentice is learning. That cannot be acquired in the hurly-burly of the workplace; it requires stepping back in the company of an instructor and other students.
Secondly, we are preparing young people for a world in which often they will not continue to work in the same trade but will change their trade. Therefore, they are required to build up general skills, not ones specific to their original trade. These include functional skills in maths and English, as well as analytical habits of mind that they can acquire through their study of underpinning knowledge.
This is very important when we make international comparisons. At 15, our children have functional skills that are as good as those of French and German children but, by the age of 20, they are way behind. We are not paying enough attention to their development between the ages of 15 and 20. That has to change. Again, this requires a standing back from the workplace.
The first new subsection proposed by Amendment 59 repeats the corresponding provision in the draft specification of apprenticeship standards but takes away the brackets from “250 hours”, as suggested in the draft specification, and adopts this number as the standard. This corresponds to the concept of day release, or its equivalent, which is already strongly associated in most people’s minds with a serious apprenticeship. There is nothing new about this; it simply reaffirms what people think an apprenticeship should be. However, we have added a line and a half at the end of proposed new subsection (1), allowing some of these guided learning hours to be satisfied when a student receives new material online at his or her work station. We have included this as a concession to employers who are worried about the rigidity of the specification for the hours of off-the-job guided learning.
Many employers are doubtful about this proposal. Individual employers do not necessarily understand that the aim of the operation is that, in return for the money that taxpayers are spending on apprenticeships, the employer accepts that the apprenticeship is providing not just specific training but general training in the interests of the apprentice and of the economy as a whole, because it adds to the flexibility of the workforce.
It is important that the Government should stand up for what they proposed in the specification. To make sure that it survives in years to come, it should be put in the Bill. There is a great deal at stake here and without this subsection of our amendment there is no robust guarantee that apprenticeship will be a truly educational experience or that we will, at long last, have in this country the truly educated workforce that the Bill is supposed to produce. It is vital that this provision should be in the Bill.
Subsection (2) has the same objective as subsection (1), but focuses on the qualification. At present, most apprenticeship frameworks have separate evaluation of the on-the-job training via the NVQ and of the off-the-job underpinning knowledge via the technical certificate. This is a well established brand and is how apprenticeship has been for most of our lifetimes: a mixture of an off-the-job technical certificate with on-the-job learning. This brand was endorsed in 2001 by the Cassels committee, of which I was a member, and we should stick to it. However, the draft specification now opens up the possibility that the NVQ and the technical certificate could be merged, although it insists that there should be distinct units of knowledge within each qualification. That is a slippery slope because the most likely purpose of the merger is to diminish the knowledge content required. If we want to sustain the analytical content of the apprenticeship, we should insist that the knowledge component normally comes via a separate qualification, the technical certificate.
Subsection (3) relates to functional skills in the level 2 apprenticeship. In the draft specification, there is a funny situation because as it stands there is no reason why most apprentices should study functional skills at all during their apprenticeship. The specification states that, to complete an apprenticeship, the person has to have at the end of it level 1 qualifications in maths and English—that means a pass at any level at GCSE—but most students will already have those qualifications when they enter the apprenticeship. If we are serious about wanting people to improve their literacy and numeracy during their apprenticeship, it is essential that the qualifications in functional skills required to complete it are higher than the level 1 with which most people enter. However, it is also true that level 2 is a stiff hurdle to insist that they all jump because it is equal to grades A to C at GCSE. We suggest that there should be a level halfway between as one of the required components for completing an apprenticeship.
Subsection (4) would put in statute what is already in the draft specification. It relates to functional skills at the next level, the advanced apprenticeship. That is fine, but let us have it in the Bill. Subsection (5) is simply a statement about good practice. Good apprenticeships already include continuous mentoring, but there are apprenticeships that do not and they should have to fall into line.
I apologise for the length of these remarks, but I think that the broad content of an apprenticeship is too important to be left to regulations. I urge the Minister to consider including our amendments in the Bill. I beg to move.
We agree that off-the-job or classroom learning is an important component of an apprenticeship. It helps to ensure that the apprentice obtains a firm grasp of the underpinning knowledge needed to develop the relevant technical skills, that they develop an understanding of the sector in which they work and that they have time to review progress and reflect on what they have learnt. There is no doubt that a combination of both on-the-job and off-the-job learning is desirable. As we have argued in our party’s Green Paper, there is a need both for job-specific skills to be taught via training in the workplace and for broad transferable skills that can be taught in the classroom.
In that sense, we support the premise of the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Layard, particularly on the provision of training to improve functional literacy and numeracy, as he says. However, our position is that, because there is significant and necessary variation between industry sectors in the amount of underpinning knowledge, theory and understanding that apprentices need before they are fully competent and qualified to carry out their respective jobs, we believe that specifying a minimum number of hours for each apprenticeship framework is a step too far—hence our Amendment 58A, which specifies the opposite.
The criteria laid out in Amendment 59 might prove too onerous for some employers who would otherwise desire to run an apprenticeship scheme. That view is shared by the CBI, which states unequivocally that the flexibility of the employer should not be lost in a maze of new rules and regulations. It may be the Government’s opinion that a rigid system of apprenticeship standards will increase quality, but the reality of such restrictive regulations is a minimum amount of guided learning hours at a location other than the workplace, which could hamper employer involvement.
Such regulation does not take into account the varied nature of apprenticeships. One industry will evidently require different levels of off-the-job training from another and an apprentice’s age and individual needs must also be considered. For some sectors and businesses, notably the more traditional apprenticeship sectors such as engineering, a significant part of apprentices’ training will take place off the job. For others, most training will be more effectively taken on the job. A 2007 survey by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills showed wide variation in the quantity of off-the-job training required. For example, 70 per cent of engineering apprentices’ time is spent in off-the-job learning in comparison with 46 per cent for the construction sector and 38 per cent for the retail sector.
Most important, employer involvement itself is the key part of any successful apprenticeship programme. As your Lordships’ Economic Affairs Committee highlighted, completion rates improve when the apprenticeship programme is linked to strong employer involvement, rather than when an employer is,
“marginalised at the end of a long chain of administration”.
If the Government seek to increase the number of apprenticeship places offered by employers, more must be done to ensure that the programme meets business needs, particularly given the current economic climate when training budgets are under pressure. One can only imagine the frustration on the part of both the employer and the apprentice in a sector where a specified minimum time exceeds the time actually needed for off-the-job training. The introduction of a minimum period of off-the-job training would, we suggest, stifle flexibility for companies to adapt training programmes to meet their business and their employees’ needs and mean that fewer firms would see value in becoming involved.
Such a change would mark a significant departure from the Government’s ambition to create a demand-led skills system. A statutory framework for apprenticeships could place burdens on firms that, during this time of financial uncertainty, might discourage their participation in apprenticeships. This would be an error and would compound the Government’s record in working with businesses and SMEs to provide quality apprenticeships.
This time last year, a submission to the Conservative Party from a business that undertakes an apprenticeship scheme identified nine areas of administrative burden involved in running an apprenticeship programme. Surely it would be wrong to further encumber businesses that provide apprenticeship places in this manner. Regulating for the same minimum amount of off-the-job learning for each of the 180 apprenticeship frameworks now in existence could seriously damage the attractiveness of the programme to many employers.
On a different note, there is a concern that these amendments could have a negative impact on the participation in apprenticeships of people with learning difficulties who may not be likely to attain a certain level in mathematics and might, therefore, be unable to gain an apprenticeship. The Alliance for Inclusive Education has argued that this sort of requirement could risk precluding young people with learning difficulties from entering apprenticeship schemes. We suggest that that prescriptive approach is not justified, given the existence now of apprenticeship schemes such as the Tesco level 2 retail scheme, which currently makes no such demands and is thus open to young people with learning disabilities. I look forward to the Minister’s reassurances on this matter.
I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Layard on the rigour with which he wants apprenticeships to be specifically defined, but I question the wisdom of two areas of his Amendment 59. Subsection (2) of the proposed new clause suggests that the,
“framework must normally specify two separate qualifications”.
At the end of their training, apprentices are very proud of the qualifications that they receive, which are acknowledged by employers as involving work that includes both on-the-job and off-the-job training. That suggestion would complicate things and may even devalue one of the qualifications. I also question the wisdom of subsection (3) of the proposed new clause. Hard work has been done to get NVQs the credibility that they have. To suggest that there should be a halfway house between level 1 and level 2 would devalue both levels. Some students have a hard struggle to achieve either of those levels, but they then know the value of them. Where do we start defining what should be level 1 or level 2 and what might or might not fit? From my point of view, that would be a disastrous road to go down.
I was somewhat surprised at the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, and the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, given that we have previously voted on an amendment that included the mix of on-the-job and off-the-job training. I am reassured by the words of the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, that he supports off-the-job training because we on these Benches are very much with the noble Lord, Lord Layard, in the notion that an apprenticeship includes not only training on the job but also an element of off-the-job training and that it is a continuing process of education. As the noble Lord rightly points out, if people move into an apprenticeship at the age of 16 and we want to increase the learning leaving age to 18, it is appropriate that there should be some continuing process of education within that. As we all know, in the current framework, quite often the off-the-job element is delivered within a college of further education. The concept of key skills has been very important within the framework. Sadly, rates of achievement in key skills have often been very low, but they have been rising considerably and a lot of emphasis is being put on this.
The noble Lord, Lord Layard, is probably the person whom I should ask this question. Am I not right in saying that the Education and Skills Act 2008 raised the learning leaving age to 18? Did it not include the stipulation that any young person going into work aged between 16 and 18 should have a minimum of 280 hours of off-the-job training over the course of a year? If that is the case, it is seven hours a week, 40 weeks a year, off-the-job education and training.
In relation to guided learning hours and the concept of 250 hours off the job, we would expect those who are doing apprenticeships —in some senses, we regard apprenticeships as superior to jobs that have only guided learning hours attached to them—to have at least the equivalent if not better than that. I do not find difficulty in accepting the notion of seven hours a week, 40 weeks a year, or something equivalent, but I have difficulty in understanding what the words “off the work station” mean. Helpfully, the noble Lord, Lord Layard, has spelt out in his amendment what he thinks it means, but as far as I can see it could mean that you go to a company training room, rather than sitting right beside the machine that you are working with.
Equally, there are occasions when, frankly, you need to be at your work station for training rather than away from it, such as for health and safety training. There has to be some flexibility in the way in which we consider training. Yesterday I was talking with people from the building industry, the core of whom were roofing contractors. A lot of separate skills are involved in the building industry—plastering, tiling and so on—and the training, particularly the tool training, of people needs to take place at the work station. I rather mirror the thoughts of the noble Baroness, Lady Wall: we are with the noble Lord, Lord Layard, in regard to the general concept of off-the-job training and off-the-work-station training, but there has to be some element of flexibility to reflect the circumstances of particular trades.
I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Layard, can put me right on one matter. As I read his amendments, they are designed to have effect solely in England and not in Wales. Am I right in deducing that that is his deliberate intention and, if so, what is the reason? Does he have greater confidence in the Welsh than in the English, or is there some other reason?
I support everything that my noble friend Lord Layard has said and the Committee will not be surprised that I have put my name to the amendments. However, I want to pick up on one or two of the issues that have been raised by other speakers in this short debate.
I shall go through the five subsections of the proposed new clause but, before I do so, I wish to underline what my noble friend said. This goes to the heart of the Bill—at least the apprenticeship section of it. Unless we can secure high standards and high-quality apprenticeships, all our work in this House and in another place, and all the work that employers are doing, will be wasted. It is absolutely essential that apprenticeships are held in high regard by the young people who take them, by the other areas of the education system to which they might progress and by all employers. Unless we establish in the Bill that there are to be high standards and good quality, none of those things will happen. I make a plea to my noble friends the Ministers to take this seriously. Even if there are details in what is proposed that they may wish to modify or amend, I hope that they will accept the principle behind it.
I was a little surprised by what the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, said on 250 guided learning hours. I am delighted that the Conservative Front Bench supports the principle that an apprenticeship framework should be of a higher standard, that there should be a technical element in the qualification and that basic skills are important, but there is some inconsistency in the noble Lord’s commitment to those things and his suggestion that 250 hours of guided learning are not necessary. I do not understand how one can achieve that higher level of key skills in a young person, and a growth and development in their knowledge, without taking them off their particular daily tasks and teaching them in order to help them to develop in this way.
Day release is not a particularly new concept, as my noble friend said: it goes right back to the 1918 Act. It should not be enormously revolutionary for the employers who are taking part. Perhaps I may speak with my employer’s hat on for a moment. We are considering taking on some apprentices. However, I know perfectly well that wherever the apprentices go to work in the university that I run—helping in an office, helping a group of people responsible for security or helping with the transport that we provide, for example—they will not acquire that knowledge and those basic skills if they spend all their day in the workplace just being given some guidance. They will need that guidance, of course, but we will not achieve the quality that we want.
Perhaps I may pick up one other point made by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley. There is of course a wide variety of apprenticeships. The amendments would merely establish a basic level. There may be some more demanding areas where the time off work needs to be greater—all the percentages that the Minister specified represented far more time off and away from the workplace for guided learning than the seven hours per week, 40 weeks a year that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, referred to. There is therefore room for flexibility, as there should be, but it is the basic minimum that we are trying to establish here. It is surprising that the CBI should have taken the position that it has. I often want to support what the CBI says, but I do not in this respect. Responsible employers will see this rather differently.
The second issue is whether an element of the qualification should be concerned with knowledge and competence. I say to my noble friend Lady Wall that I have no problem if it is a single certificate; all that I am asking is that there should be a technical as well as a skills component, because otherwise we will not have the quality that I referred to earlier. That must be specified in the Bill. It would be better if the young apprentice went away saying, “I’ve got this technical certificate which I can take to another employer and I’ve got this certificate which is all about my skills”.
I think that every employer in the country would say that far too many young people and adults do not have decent basic skills—the noble Lord, Lord Moser, spoke about this at Second Reading. Their skills are sometimes so low that they can barely function in any job that makes any demands on them. It is of fundamental importance that every young person should continue. As a university vice-chancellor, I can say that many young people who even get as far as university do not have basic skills at the level that they should have. I therefore believe that we owe it to young people who are going through the apprenticeship system to help them in this way. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will agree with the proposal and support it and that he will accept that we need to specify this in the Bill.
Again, I was a little surprised by what the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, said about young people with learning difficulties, arguing that this would put them off. Young people with learning difficulties in particular need to be helped with these basic skills so that they can operate effectively not just at work but in their lives. They need to be given even more help in this respect, not less, and I do not think that in any way they will be put off.
On Second Reading, I mentioned the provision of a mentor. Many young people need a lot of help and support. They are not yet mature adults and many may not get a huge amount of help and support at home. They need someone who will provide them with encouragement, who will hold their hand when something is going wrong for them, who will give them a bit more confidence, who will praise them when praise is due, but who will also give them constructive criticism when needed. I do not believe that a mass system of apprenticeship will work unless we can put something of this sort in place. It should be a requirement that every employer does that. I do not believe that it would be difficult for employers to provide a mentor; they would want to have someone who takes responsibility for the young person on a day-to-day, week-by-week basis.
I repeat that the new clause would put into the Bill a series of small changes that would bring about an apprenticeship system of which we could all be proud and that was of a standard and quality that is absolutely necessary and fundamental.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the intentions behind the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Layard. The provision is even more important because we are dealing with a group of young people who until now have not been required to stay at school until 18. That is quite a change in their lives. I would hope for the maximum flexibility in dealing with those aged 16 to 18.
I take the same line as the noble Baroness, Lady Wall, in that I would think it a pity if one had to lay down a certain number of guided learning hours. I would certainly want flexibility in that and I would hope that some of that learning could be conducted off the premises. However, I am more concerned about the apprenticeship framework and the intention to move from level 1 to level 1½, as it were. That could have problems for those with learning difficulties. I am more for encouraging people to move slowly up to this level, but one does not want to put them off.
Thirdly, a mentor is crucial because this is a new situation. You are dealing with something that the vast majority of these young people will not want to do anyhow—that is, stay on at school. As we heard in Question Time, a number of young people of this age are already out of school and we have the terrifying task of trying to get them back into the educational system. I have a lot of sympathy with both points of view, but the ideas behind the amendment are important. I hope therefore that they will be taken away by the Minister and that on Report he will come back with an amendment that will be easier for us all to agree with.
I think that we are agreed on all sides of the Committee that equality is the most important aspect of the apprenticeship scheme. We have reiterated that many times during the debate. We have had a great deal of discussion on earlier amendments about the importance of the right degree of supervision of apprentices when they are in the workplace. Where differences occur is, perhaps, in the degree of rigidity in the frameworks that should be specified; I have a great deal of sympathy with amendments from my own Front Bench asking for a certain amount of flexibility in the number of hours. It is fine to lay down a minimum number, but there should be flexibility beyond that.
I feel some considerable surprise about the second paragraph of subsection (1) of Amendment 59, which says that,
“periods of study … may not include periods of private, unsupervised study”.
I am particularly surprised at this coming from the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, who has so much experience in education. It is surely absolutely acceptable for apprentices to be set a specific assignment, which they will do as private, unsupervised study, provided that the assignment that is produced is of sufficient quality and is on time. It is very important that young people between 16 and 19 learn to study privately, in an unsupervised way; it is one of the skills that they will carry through life. Provided that they are doing it in a guided way, with an assignment expected—
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his clarification, but my objection remains. Part of the number of hours that count should be the hours that pupils spend conducting their own study and direction of research or learning, as they do at university level, for people of 19 to 22, provided that there is evidence that they have done it—in other words, that they have an assignment that they produce at the end of it. That is a very important part of the skills that they learn. I would be very sorry if this proposal were incorporated into the Bill.
I have great sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Layard, is trying to achieve by this. When someone becomes an apprentice at 16, he should not be expected to spend his life just in the training part of it, acquiring the skills in engineering or the skills he would learn in apprenticeship in, say, the building trade. He must have a more rounded education, particularly in English and maths and, I would imagine, IT. For any young apprentice, whatever they are studying—and this comes back to the point about technical skills that the noble Baroness made—IT should be included.
The dilemma that the noble Lord is trying to answer is the one at the heart of the Government’s policy of extending education to 18. What do you do with 14 to 18 year-olds? That is really the dilemma. I happen to be a very strong believer in the 14 to 19 curriculum—and I speak as one of the authors of the national curriculum. The Government were right to identify the 14 to 19 curriculum four or five years ago, with Sir Michael Tomlinson. It has taken a long time to get to it, but the instrument for delivering it will be the diplomas. The Government are starting out on that course this year. The problem is that a youngster who becomes an apprentice at 16 need not have any institutional framework at all; he leaves school and just becomes an apprentice. There is no institutional framework for him to go to, unless he happens to enrol himself at a local FE college or his employer says that he should.
Therefore, to deliver the 14 to 19 curriculum and obtain to a large extent the ends sought by the noble Lord, Lord Layard, you need new institutions. You need 14 to 19 technical colleges. Before Lord Dearing died, he and I were pioneering those with the full support of the Government, I am glad to say. We got one off the ground, with a few more about to be announced, we hope. The idea is that youngsters can be recruited at 14 as young apprentices. Half the intake will be young apprentices. Because they are still at a school, the young apprentices will still do GCSEs in English, maths, science and IT, and possibly a diploma. They could do a mixture of English, maths and a diploma. The diploma counts as three GCSEs. The point is that even the young apprentices would get that rounded experience from 14 to 16.
If they are still part of the institution, as they are expected to be at 16, they have an anchor—the institution—to come back to. As that institution is backed by a university or FE college, they also have its prestigious help and advice. My point is that by coming back to an institution—to a university technical college—they would have a framework around them to encourage them to have exactly the sort of rounded education that the noble Lord is talking about, with which we all agree.
I hope that we will be able to establish more of these colleges. They are, of course, experimental, but it is the only way that 14 to 19 education can be delivered effectively. It is one of the best solutions for telling youngsters, “You are going to stay on at 16”. The institutions will be technical and vocational, but youngsters will also take the subjects that the noble Lord, Lord Layard, mentioned.
I have some sympathy with what the noble Baroness, Lady Wall, said about having half standards between NVQs. I was one of the Ministers who launched NVQs a generation ago. It has taken a bit of time to get them established over the years, but they are now and I would not bring in variations of halves and all the rest of it. I am not suggesting that the Government should commit themselves totally to what I have advocated for university technical colleges, but a solution along those lines will eventually emerge in English education and they would be very popular.
Germany has had such colleges since 1945. Rab Butler left them. They were disbanded in the 1950s because they were infra dig, greasy rags, and everybody wanted to go to the school on the hill. But I submit to the Committee that a technical college from 14 to 19, with young apprentices and apprentices working alongside students towards foundation degrees, is the long-term solution.
On the halfway point between level 1 and level 2, which was raised by my noble friend, I would not die in a ditch for this. One way of solving the problem would be to say that any young person starting an apprenticeship who had not achieved level 1 would have to be helped to achieve level 1. That might apply to some young people with learning difficulties. All those who had achieved level 1 should be asked to try to achieve level 2. But we would have to be realistic if we went down that road. Quite a lot of young people starting on this framework would find it impossible to get to level 2. In a sense, there would be a built-in element of failure. However, as long as we allowed them to proceed to the next stage in the apprenticeship system even if they had not acquired level 2 in the basic apprenticeship, I would be willing to modify the new clause in order to take into account the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and my noble friend Lady Wall.
I want to supplement what the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, just said. In terms of reaching level 2, achieving an A to C grade in English or maths GCSE is quite difficult, but we are introducing a new qualification called functional skills. Nobody quite knows yet what functional skills will involve, but to take the English element, one of the things that employers constantly complain about is that employees cannot do such things as put together a short comprehensive report, or write a business letter. I would imagine that when you are talking about English functional skills, this is precisely the sort of thing that you are going to be involved with; similarly for maths, that this would include some elementary concepts of statistics and accounting. If you are an apprentice working in this sort of area, it is extremely important to have some knowledge of elementary accounts. One would hope that these functional skills are going to be perhaps more approachable for the general run of students, as opposed to the more academic maths and English GCSEs.
I hope we will not make the mistakes we made with GCSEs, in producing a curriculum at least half of which has no relevance to at least 90 per cent of the population. I have spent my life with figures, one way or another, and when I took my sons through GCSEs, I recognised that I had never used, and could not conceive of using, about half of the curriculum. I suppose they might be used in certain specialist circumstances.
If we are going to produce a functional skills curriculum, then let us use the flexibility we have in the system to make sure that what we are asking of an apprentice is a set of mathematics and English that has a relevance to the apprenticeship that they are doing and the career they might follow. First, that produces the motivation to get it right, and secondly, it produces a real qualification at the end of it. I do not really care if my plumber can parle Shakespeare—I would be delighted if he does, it will add to the quality of his life, but it should not be a requirement of an apprenticeship, even at the advanced level.
I support my noble friend in what he says about flexibility, but I am worried about who the guardian of this flexibility is supposed to be, if we allow it into the system. If it is entirely the employers who are running this system, and who are saying how many guided learning hours should get into an individual qualification, then the pressures on the whole are going to be all in the direction of reducing the amount of guided leaning hours, until we get to the situation we have now in universities. I would be hard put to identify more than about 10 that my daughter received in an entire three years’ education—she was either being lectured at or reading by herself. Actual contact with academics, even at quite decent universities, has been reduced to extremely low levels. You can get lectures off a computer and you can read from a computer. The equivalent is staying at your workstation and absorbing some computer-generated learning, all of which is becoming much better designed and is working much better. That surely must be the pressure that employers will be under as apprenticeships evolve.
If we want something other than that, what mechanism are we putting in place to make sure that there is pressure in that direction? Otherwise we get into the same problems we had with examination quality, where the pressure is all in one direction—to make them gradually easier. That is why we have Ofqual in the Bill. I would like at this stage to avoid that problem by making sure that we design in pressures in the right direction. However, I do not see what the pressures are to keep the independence and quality of learning up, rather than letting it all be absorbed in direct learning at the workplace, which is, as I say, getting better and easier.
I like the idea in subsection (2) in Amendment 59 of the two separate qualifications. This has worked extremely well for music examinations. If you get level 5 in flute, there are two level 5s—level 5 practical and level 5 theory, and you can go through the whole system without touching theory. One of the finalists in the BBC’s conducting competition was a man who had made his career in music without being able to read it. It was a challenge to him to come up against something where he was required to learn to read music. I think he did it extremely well. There are a lot of careers for which the practical knowledge is an amplification, and is necessary to some elements of it, but is not tied in to the ability to perform it to a very high level. So I think that the separation of the two—again, if done flexibly; if it is right for that particular qualification—seems to have attractions and to let through particularly people with learning difficulties of all sorts of varieties who find, for one reason or another, the theoretical side hard.
I do not know whether we still do it, but there was a moment when we suddenly insisted that you could not be a teacher of dance in a school unless you had GCSE mathematics. I have always thought that that was totally ridiculous. You just do not need maths to teach dance. It is an enhancement to your life, but it should not be a qualification. We should not, particularly when dealing with practical qualifications, build in obstacles that are irrelevant to people's eventual performance in the workplace. Yes, the economic side is an enhancement, it may enable people to reach higher. It should always be there as part of the offering and encouraged, but it should not be put in people's way in terms of getting a qualification.
I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, on subsection (5) of the new clause. I think that it is a great help to a young person to have an individual mentor. You may end up with a nightmare of a mentor but most people adapt to this extremely well, particularly with a little training. Mentoring schemes run very well in many good schools where the older pupils mentor the younger ones. Most people are capable of it. As I say, with a little support and training in how to be a good mentor, it is something that is enormously supportive. I think that it should be built into the requirements.
I congratulate all those who have taken part on an absolutely fascinating debate which has spanned the full spectrum of opinion regarding whether we should have clearly defined standards or a large amount of flexibility. I shall endeavour to address all the contributions. I do so with trepidation as two former education Ministers have entered the debate in addition to my noble friend Lord Layard. I used to wake up worrying about these kinds of scenarios.
My noble friends’ amendment sets out five specific requirements for the SASE. I wholeheartedly support the intention behind their amendment, which I believe seeks to establish what we all want. I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, has come back and embraced quality again, because that is what we all want. We want to protect the integrity of the brand. We want to ensure that young people are provided with relevant valuable training which not only forms the basis for the job they may currently be doing, although that may satisfy one group of them, but will produce a productive and successful future career. That is a common goal in what we want from apprenticeships. It really is a joy to behold when you see it working well—when you see the development of young people, and some not so young people, and find them going back into learning again. There is then no holding them back. There is a real shared consensus on the objectives. I suspect that the problem will be how we get there.
One of the difficulties is that we talk about apprenticeships as if there were just one version of an apprenticeship. There is not. My noble friend Lord Layard, whom I esteem highly, referred to serious apprenticeships, but they are all serious apprenticeships. It does not matter whether they take place in Tesco or McDonalds or at the high end of British Aerospace, they are all serious apprenticeships. They are just addressing different workplace environments. We have to remember that.
In my remarks I want to address the genuine objectives described by my noble friends Lord Layard and Lady Blackstone and other noble Lords and pick up some of the points made. First, my noble friend Lord Layard described merged qualifications as the slippery slope. We hope that it will not be a slippery slope. Although there will be merged qualifications, I assure him and others who expressed a concern that the competence component and the knowledge component of the merged qualifications will be a separate assessment. We understand the importance of ensuring that we address both aspects of that.
My noble friend also made a reference to functional level 1, saying that everyone has achieved it. Actually, I wish that that were the case. I was at an academy recently, and there was a stall for young people who were interested in electrical apprenticeships. I spoke to the person who was supervising it and explaining to young people what it entailed. His comment to me, out of their earshot, was that it was unfortunate that many of the young people interested in the apprenticeship had not yet met the basic standards of functional literacy and numeracy. So we are making strides, but we must not underestimate that. Many young people will need help before they can embark upon an apprenticeship, which we aim to give them. I will come back to some of the other points.
The provisions in Part 1 are the key building blocks that will deliver an outcome of quality and relevant valuable training. But these structures need to be flexible to allow for the apprenticeship programme to develop over time. That is why, rather than dealing in the Bill with the matters referred to in the amendment, our firm intention is to deal with them through the specification of apprenticeship standards in England, or SASE.
During the consultation on the SASE, one of the areas that attracted the most attention was the issue of guided learning hours. We have been throwing terms around rather indiscriminately in this debate. We have a requirement of 280 guided learning hours from the previous Act, when we raised the participation rate, but that merely said “guided learning hours” and made no reference to whether they should take place either on or off the job; whereas, of course, my noble friend Lord Layard proposes a minimum of 250 guided learning hours off the workstation.
I assure my noble friends that we are absolutely committed to ensuring that all apprenticeship frameworks contain a minimum specified number of guided learning hours. There remains debate to be had about the definition of guided learning hours and how many guided learning hours apprentices should be expected to undertake overall and away from the workstation. I commend my noble friend Lord Layard in that he was trying to be helpful in talking about, for instance, apprentices receiving new material online at their regular computer. I saw that as a helpful acknowledgement, addressing a real situation. We are currently working through the responses to the consultation on these questions, and I will certainly take careful account of the views expressed through their amendment by my noble friends in that context.
I do not accept the inference of Amendment 58A tabled by the Conservative Front Bench that it would impose an unreasonable and inflexible burden on employers to include in the SASE a minimum requirement for off-the-job training. It would depend on the minimum. It should be a core part of any apprenticeship, and it is the minimum that anyone embarking on an apprenticeship should have a right to expect.
I shared the noble Lord’s concern about the question of too much rigidity and the important point he made when he said that we must be careful that we do not end up constructing apprenticeships where employers say, “Quite frankly, it’s not worth the trouble; I don’t want to do it”. I am as conscious of that as he is. That is why I recently met both representatives of the CBI and a wide range—and I mean a wide range—of employers. During that discussion, it became evident that there was no clear understanding about what we meant by “off the job”. When we started to explore it, there was much more receptiveness to the idea that they probably could meet a basic minimum; notice that I have not said what that should be, because we are talking through that.
There is a balance to be struck here, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said that he sort of hovers between the two. He feels that there is currently no requirement on employers. The vast majority of employers take this seriously. We have very few examples of employers taking on apprentices and then not honouring their obligations. Nevertheless, we have to take into account what we feel should be a reasonable set of minimum standards that could be relevant across a wide range of apprenticeships. Most of the more traditional apprenticeships that we talk about will easily meet those requirements by a mixture of day release, weekly release or online learning. I am still concerned to ensure that we do not imagine that all apprenticeships are of one kind. I stress how important this consultation is. We were there to hear their views on several issues in the consultation, but specifically on the proposals on guided learning hours. As a result of those discussions, I am confident that we will be able to reach a compromise that addresses the points raised by the contrasting amendments that we have debated today. Just as an aside, we also discussed whether ICT should form a part of basic skills and there is a possibility that we might even reach an agreement on that, provided we set the right levels.
On the second limb of my noble friends’ amendment, I am happy to confirm that the SASE will make it clear that all apprenticeship frameworks must contain a competence-based and a knowledge-based element. In the vast majority of instances these will be undertaken as two separate qualifications. However, it is worth noting that with the creation of the qualifications and credit framework, there will be an opportunity to simplify the existing qualifications system by including both elements in one qualification to make the system more flexible and responsive to employer need, while maintaining quality through separate assessment. The framework has been applauded by employers for giving them the kind of modular qualifications that they want. It also embraces NVQs, for which I share the enthusiasm of the noble Lord, Lord Baker. We took a long time to establish NVQs but we need to retain them.
I am also happy to endorse the principle that apprentices should be encouraged to improve their skills in English and mathematics. Every sector requires a varying level of competence in English and maths. In many cases an apprentice’s skills in these areas will develop as a natural consequence of being in the workplace on a daily basis. In other areas, more formal instruction and qualifications in English and mathematics may be more appropriate. We prefer not to be overly prescriptive. Some apprenticeships, including all at level 3, will require level 2 English and maths, for example. Requiring apprentices to pass particular exams could have the unintended effect of discouraging young people from taking up the valuable opportunities provided by apprenticeships, particularly those for whom the main attraction is to focus on gaining the sector-specific knowledge and competences that apprenticeships provide. It is about getting the balance right. It is better for the employer and the individual to decide upon the precise nature and level of English and mathematics knowledge included in the apprenticeship. Such flexibility creates opportunities for learners with learning difficulties or disabilities.
On the fourth limb of their amendment, I can also reassure my noble friends that functional skills in English and maths at level 2 will form part of an advanced apprenticeship if the individual has not already reached that standard. I can reassure my noble friends that every apprentice should have a mentor. We propose that the prescribed terms of the apprenticeship agreement would require that the level of mentoring support is set out as part of that agreement. I can speak only from my own experience as an apprentice. Sometimes you had more than one mentor as you progressed through various parts of the business.
I want now to pick up some of the other points that were made. I have already made some reference to the question of those learners with learning difficulties and the requirement for literacy and numeracy qualifications. The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, was worried that the requirement might put off some people in those circumstances. Our view is that all apprentices should be encouraged to improve functional English and maths. We are considering, with the Special Educational Consortium, the RNIB and others how frameworks can be made more accessible and meet an accessibility benchmark. We are working hard on that area.
The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, was concerned about how you would deliver targets if you do not ensure that there is sufficient flexibility for employers. There is flexibility for sector skills councils to set framework requirements in line with their employer needs, subject to meeting the specifications and standards framework, obviously. We are looking at how much flexibility can be given on guided learning. We certainly do not think that we are dumbing down progression by having only a level 1 requirement for functional skills. Level 1 is the minimum, but employers and sector skills councils have flexibility to raise that level where they deem it appropriate, depending on the demands of the framework. I have dealt with the question of merging qualifications.
This has been a very important debate. I should stress that there are two sides to the question. There are those who say beware of too much rigidity as that will have unintended consequences by deterring employers, and then there is the passionate plea from my noble friend Lord Layard, supported by others, that we must have standards that encourage people to develop so that they really will progress as a result of their apprenticeship. We are still in that consultative mode and will come back, for example, to the question of guided learning hours off the workstation. That is a genuine commitment and we have picked up the importance felt about mentoring. With those assurances, I hope that my noble friend will withdraw the amendment.
I thank my noble friend for his helpful comments and some reassurance. We will have to come back to the issue. I want to read what he said carefully, and perhaps engage in some discussions on the individual items that were covered.
I am extremely grateful to everyone who has participated. It has been a deep debate. We have not avoided the issues; we have really gone for them, which I am sure will continue. The Minister went through all the items, and I want to comment on three of them. First, on the minimum hour item that we debated at such length, it is important to think about whether it is an arduous requirement. The old apprenticeships lasted much longer in terms of years and normally required day release and one or two evenings at night school. This is not an arduous requirement; it is an attempt to set some flaw against the total erosion of the intellectual content of the apprenticeship. It should not be thought of as hugely demanding; it is more like a flaw. It should be thought of as part of the reform of our educational system. It is a major part of the educational system for people who are not going to university, and we should be willing to stand up for the idea of a minimum. I would add that the minimum should be written into the Bill. I was worried by the Minister’s remarks about having it only in the standards.
On the merging of qualifications, I would say that if there is one that will be separate, why merge them? That is a pretty obvious point, but if they are kept separate, they will remain brands that we know. If they are merged, we will have to relearn the system yet again and try to extract from it something that we could identify more easily otherwise. My noble friend’s remarks on functional skills at level 2 apprenticeship level worried me the most. I was not quite sure whether we really are committed to ensuring that there is a serious attempt to raise the functional skills of everybody who comes in.
I shall read very carefully what the Minister said, for which I am most grateful. My main reservation, which I think will probably be shared by my fellow proposers, is the idea that this will not be in the Bill. That is a very serious aspect of the Minister’s reply and I think that we will have to come back to it on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 56 withdrawn.
Amendments 57 to 58A not moved.
Clause 25 agreed.
Amendment 59 not moved.
Clause 26 : Specification of apprenticeship standards for Wales
Amendment 60 not moved.
Clause 26 agreed.
Clauses 27 to 29 agreed.
Clause 30 : Meaning of "apprenticeship agreement"
Amendments 61 and 62 not moved.
63: Clause 30, page 13, line 32, leave out from beginning to “in” and insert “The Secretary of State may prescribe the form of apprenticeship agreements so as,”
I shall speak also to Amendment 64. Amendment 63 strikes in Clause 30(3). That subsection infers that a power is contained in subsection (2)(b)—it refers to it as such—as does subsection (4) of Clause 34 at line 19 on page 15. We then look at subsection (2)(b) and find that, supported by the introduction to that subsection, it reads that the conditions are,
“that the agreement is in the prescribed form”.
By any normal reading of the English language, that does not confer a power. It refers to a power which must exist elsewhere. My amendment seeks to locate that power as close to this point in the Bill as possible by rewording subsection (3) so that it reads, “The Secretary of State may prescribe the form of apprenticeship agreements so as, in particular … to”. That is a power conferred. The reference to that power in Clause 34 needs to be amended from a reference to subsection (2) of Clause 30 to a reference to subsection (3), and that is what Amendment 64 does. I hope that I have said that slowly and clearly enough to make clear my interpretation and how I seek to remedy what I see as an unintentional slip. I beg to move.
I shall endeavour to address the noble Lord’s concerns. I can only praise his tenacity and determination as he examines the Bill line by line and clause by clause to ensure that it is clear in its intention.
The amendment seeks to make it clear in Clause 30 that the Secretary of State may prescribe the form of apprenticeship agreements. As I said, I place on the record my recognition of and appreciation for the indefatigable nature of the noble Lord’s crusade to make our legislation more accessible. It is an objective that we share. At the same time, I am sure he agrees with me that there is a virtue in brevity, where we can achieve it with clarity. The Secretary of State is already granted the power to prescribe by order the form of the apprenticeship agreement under Clause 30(2)(b). As such, the amendment would introduce unnecessary duplication.
I agree with what the Minister says are the words in the Bill but I do not agree with what they mean. They do not seem to me to confer a power. If you say that the conditions are that the agreement is in the prescribed form, you are not conferring a power but describing it.
Perhaps the next bit may help. As is standard practice in legislation, “prescribed” is defined in Clause 256(1), dealing with the general interpretation of the Act. I would humbly submit that, while it may be laborious to have to root through the Bill to find a particular definition—we recognise that—so it would be tedious for the reader to have to read time and again in the legislation that that was the case. The legislation is trying to set the general rule once, and then explain only the exceptions to that general rule in the body of the text. We believe that “prescribed” is defined clearly in Clause 256(1) and that that is the best way to do it. We do it once and then explain only the exceptions to that general rule in the body of the text. I hope on that basis that the noble Lord would be prepared to withdraw his amendment.
I am much obliged to the noble Lord for directing me. I was looking for an interpretation clause at the end of the part, but he has directed me to an interpretation clause near, but not at, the end of the Bill, where I was not expecting to find it. Of course, at this stage, I will withdraw the amendment, but I am somewhat loathe to concede him the victory because I like to know what I am reading when I read it. However, there are years of convention at the Minister’s elbow to encourage him in what he says. I suppose my laborious task must be to see how many times there will need to be a change in the Bill to obviate that definition at the end. I suspect I shall fail in the task, so, sadly, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 63 withdrawn.
Clause 30 agreed.
Clauses 31 to 33 agreed.
Clause 34 : Crown servants and Parliamentary staff
Amendment 64 not moved.
Clause 34 agreed.
Clause 35 : Careers education
Before I call Amendment 65, I have to inform the Committee that if Amendment 65 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments 67 to 78 inclusive due to pre-emption.
65: Clause 35, page 16, leave out lines 2 to 6 and insert—
““(2C) For the purposes of subsection (2B), it shall be in the best interest of all pupils to be informed about GCE A Levels, diplomas and apprenticeships.””
I will move the amendment standing in my name and that of my noble friends Lady Blackstone and Lady Morris of Yardley. It concerns careers guidance, an extraordinarily important issue, which many Members of the Committee raised at Second Reading. It would help to set this in the wider context. From 2013, we will have compulsory participation in education or training up to 17 and up to 18 from 2015. That is a huge task. For that compulsion to work, it is essential that students receive good information and guidance so that they make choices which work for them, otherwise we will have a very bad situation.
There is the danger that schools will try to keep the maximum number of young people in school. I have heard of one school—other noble Lords may have heard of others—that has already told parents that the law will say that children have to stay at school until they are 18. That would be the worst possible outcome—to have too many children staying on in school and then dropping out without having made sensible choices.
We are all agreed that apprenticeship must be presented to all children as a real option to be considered. However, Clause 35 does not do that. I will remind noble Lords how it sounds. The clause states:
“Any consideration for the purposes of subsection (2B) of what advice would promote the best interests of the pupils concerned must include consideration of whether it would be in their best interests, or in the best interests of any of them, to receive advice which relates to apprenticeships”.
The intention cannot have been to make it sound the way that I have made it sound—but if noble Lords read it, they will see that it does sound like that. I understand from the Bill team that the intention was totally different from the impression given. Existing laws establish the requirement for information to be given about all routes, and this clause is meant to reinforce the requirement to give advice about apprenticeships. However, that is not the impression that is given; the impression given is that advice about apprenticeships is required only if it is in the child’s best interests.
I will give an example of what that can lead to. It is another extraordinary story that I heard the other day, which relates to the huge hostility in many schools towards apprenticeship. A careers service was producing documents called young person’s action plans, which included a description of available options from which the young person could make their plan. Two versions of the same document were produced by the careers service. One, which was given to the young person, mentioned apprenticeship. The other, which was given to the school, did not, because the careers service was so frightened that if it was seen by the school to mention apprenticeship, the school would physically not let the service into the building to meet the young people. That is the problem that we are up against. It is no good saying that the guidance is very clear if we then put into law a clause that gives such an unsatisfactory impression.
I think that the department understands that this is not satisfactory, so I will not go on about it. However, if there is to be such a clause in the Bill, it should be self-standing; it cannot have a perhaps benevolent meaning that can be understood only by going back to something else. It must state that there should be a level playing field with regard to advice about all the possible avenues that a young person can take. I hope that the Minister will be willing to reconsider the existing clause. I beg to move.
The amendments tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Sharp appear in the next group but, with the leave of the Committee, I will speak in this debate, as it covers the same issues. That is why we have great sympathy with the amendments tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Layard.
The amendments very much reflect the feeling of the House at Second Reading, when there was widespread surprise that the apprenticeships that were supposed to be so strongly supported by the Bill were effectively being written off. As the noble Lord explained, that was apparently not the intention of the Bill team—but we all read the clause as suggesting that apprenticeships were not worthy of being pressed on all young people. We hope that pupils will be informed not only of the qualifications, which is the way that the noble Lord’s amendment reads, but of the range of opportunities to which those qualifications lead. In some other amendments in this group, that sense is there. It is not the qualifications per se, but the opportunities that lead from them.
Our amendments stress that careers information, advice and guidance would be entirely impartial and given by people who are experts on it. They would have no temptation to lean towards the sorts of qualifications that might be most readily available in the schools and colleges or—perish the thought—look best in league tables. They would investigate and explore each young person’s best interests, enthusiasms and where his or her skills would lie.
The report Apprenticeship: a key route to skill by the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs stated that,
“schools fail to inform young people about the opportunities offered by apprenticeship and other work-based training such as Entry to Employment. This failure is further compounded by the failure of government to provide a service that offers basic information on local labour markets, earnings, career prospects and training opportunities. A number of our witnesses expressed concern at the lack of suitable careers guidance and information for young people”.
Our feeling, which I think is widespread in this Committee, is that the Bill should provide an opportunity to put that situation right.
We also suggest that careers guidance should extend beyond school leavers to well into adult life. We heard from experts from the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education. For instance, Professor Alan Tuckett, who has great authority in respect of adult education, described the Bill as a missed opportunity because it will feed through to adult learners for follow-up in careers advice and guidance. The Bill could put in place an independent, all-age career service that would work with Connexions, be accessible in schools and colleges and play a key part in promoting the value of apprenticeships by setting out the variety and rewards of skills-based employment. They are the very skills that the nation needs to be building in a competitive global society and will be in the best interests of each pupil as well as of the nation as a whole.
I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in reply to these amendments.
I support Amendment 66, to which the noble Baroness has just spoken. It is a model description of what good careers education should be, with provision in every school. Clause 35 amends the 1997 Act. I am sure the Minister will say that the section in the 1997 Act that is being amended already requires information about apprenticeships to be given to all young people and that the words in the Bill are only an addition to the requirement. However, I point out to her that 11 noble Lords have put their names to amendments that in one way or another ask that Clause 35 repeat the requirement that information about apprenticeships should be given to all young people, not only those for whom it is in their best interests. With due respect, if 11 of us who are used to reading the rather arcane language of parliamentary Bills have all felt the need to add this, I feel it would be important for others who will read the Bill when it becomes an Act, if it does, to understand that the requirement relates to all young people.
Is the Minister prepared to take away the provision with the requests of several members of the Committee, including myself, to make sure that people do not have to go back to the 1997 Act to find out what is being required, but that instead the Bill will contain a clear requirement for all young people to be given information about apprenticeships? As has been said powerfully by others, if it is left to the schools, many will not mention apprenticeships, particularly to the brighter children. They will tell only those whom they feel are going to fail academically. That is not the kind of apprenticeship information that we want provided.
I support the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Layard. It is entirely laudable. He wants advice given to youngsters at schools about the possibilities that they will have beyond the age of 16. In his subjects he hints at GCSEs and A-levels, at sixth-form colleges or sixth forms, diplomas to FE colleges or possibly sixth forms, apprentices to businesses and individual students. There should be good career guidance, as the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, said, but—here I am repeating my plea for the colleges—if there was a network of practical and vocational colleges for students between 14 to 19—the Government support that, because I am promoting them and we are slowly getting them started—that takes the trick of practical and vocational education in our society and we will support entirely the extension of the school-leaving age to 18. We should have colleges with 600 to 800 pupils taking two courses of entry, young apprentices at 14 and students, sponsored by a university where they will study the diplomas, which I strongly support. The only way in which the diplomas will effectively be delivered will be in an institution.
If at 16 those youngsters have a sense of belonging to that institution, they will not just leave their school; it will continue. They may become an apprentice, but they will go back to their alma mater, as it were. That is not quite the right term, but the Committee will know what I mean. Practical and vocational education will be in their bloodstream and their lifestream. They will automatically know all the different routes available to them post-16. I hope that if I keep on saying this in various debates during the passage of the Bill, one Minister will say that this is a good idea and should be extended more widely, because it is the answer to most of their problems. I am happy to pioneer it by persuading universities to set up the colleges, but I am really being used by the Government as one of those people who went out in front of Roman armies to stir things up. Many of the answers to these debates will be solved by having technical vocational colleges for 14 to 19 year-olds, sponsored by universities.
I support the amendment to which I have added my name. Noble Lords have already said why it is important, but I should like to add my voice. The Bill does not make sense in terms of consideration, and the notion that anyone should have the legal power to consider whether someone should receive factual information is not realistic in an internet world, let alone a civilised society. If we consider the opposite of that situation, with someone deciding that an individual was not entitled to receive factual information, it shows that the Bill gives an inaccurate impression.
I support the noble Lord, Lord Baker, in his plea for technical colleges for 14 to 19 year-olds—whatever we call them. What makes sense is that we have a school system that goes from ages five to 14 and 14 to 18. I would not want it to be five to 11, 11 to 14 and 14 to 18. The Government missed a trick in abolishing key stage 3 assessment tests. They should have abolished key stage 2 and boosted key stage 3; then we could have had a strong 14 to 19 system, part of which was vocational technical colleges. However, that is probably not in the amendment that we are considering.
We worry about careers education every time we talk about it. No matter what the legislation says and no matter what our efforts, there is a feeling in the House and in our nation that children are not always in a position to make the right decision about their careers. I suppose we arrive at that conclusion because we see the consequences of inadequate decisions or of opportunities missed.
We try to put into legislation factual information which children need to receive. In this debate, we have spoken a lot about the importance of the careers education service being the outside body which does not have a vested interest in children taking any one pathway and in giving them information. I support that wholeheartedly. That is the importance of the Careers Service. I am supportive of some of these amendments, although not all of them are in great detail other than the one to which I have put my name. I worry that they are not sufficient.
There are two parts to the process of what ends up with the child; namely, the young person who receives the information and the young person who makes a decision. Receiving information is not the same as making a decision. On sex education, obesity, health and safety or whatever it may be, you can hear members of the public say, “Haven’t they been told about that at school?”. Of course children have been told, but they have not absorbed it and it has not led them to make the decision we would wish them to make.
On the whole of this agenda, including children and young people making decisions about their future, I would like some acknowledgement that, as important as these amendments are, children and young people have a right to impartial information. The real thing that we do not do effectively is enable them to make a decision. The Careers Service essentially is one careers officer going into a school now and again to give information and then often leaving the school. Other people are left with the children and young people while they make their decisions. Schools have a vested interest in making them stay on, although we should not give inaccurate pictures of the behaviour of teachers. Most head teachers act in the interests of young people. There are parents who do not know about apprenticeships or other options and some of them do not have aspirations for their children.
The amendment is right because it makes sense and removes the bit of Clause 35 that does not make sense. But no matter what these amendments say, we still have a job to do in moving on to the next stage of careers advice, which is, having given the factual information, how we support children in making a decision that is in their best interest. That decision is theirs and theirs alone, and not that of the careers officer. That opens up the whole debate on aspiration, opportunity and work experience, and who will guide and mentor those children and young people. Certainly, I give my wholehearted support to the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Layard.
I, too, have put my name to this amendment. I do not want to say too much more because most of what needs to be said has already been said. This is one of those rather unusual occasions where there is complete and absolute agreement across the Committee from everyone who has spoken so far. As the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said, 11 Peers from different parts of this House have agreed that Clause 35 simply will not do as it is currently worded. I am very grateful to the Minister and to the two departments involved in this Bill for the voluminous information that they sent me in order to persuade me that this clause does not need changing. But I remain completely unconvinced by all this information, which I have read very carefully.
I strongly agree with what my noble friend Lord Layard and the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, have said. It is not sensible to rely on two earlier pieces of legislation—the 1997 Act and the 2008 Act—when here we have new legislation which is specifically about apprenticeships. It needs to make it clear to those out there who are operating the system that there is a requirement to be completely impartial. I think that that is what the Government want to achieve. I do not think that there is any difference between us in terms of objectives, but the route that they are taking to get to that objective is wrong. It will not work if it is left as it is. I hate to say this, but there is an element of naivety on the part of the Government in imagining that, if this clause is left as it is, everyone who teaches in our secondary schools will be impartial. They do not have to be because they are not required to be.
As my noble friend Lady Morris said, there are vested interests; schools always want to maximise the size of their sixth forms. That is a legitimate objective from their point of view but it is not a legitimate objective from the wider educational world’s point of view, nor from the point of view of the Government, who are trying to introduce another route in that we are going to have compulsion for all young people between 16 and 18 to take part in some education and training.
In the light of what has been said, I hope that my noble friend the Minister will make a concession today, go away and come back with an agreement that the amendment we have put before the Committee today is acceptable; or, if there is something slightly wrong with the wording, come back with a revised version.
We welcome the fact that in this group of Amendments 65, 67, 68, 69 and 70A—of which Amendments 67 and 70A are in the names of my noble friend Lady Verma and myself—as well as in Amendments 66 and 71 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, so many noble Lords seem to agree, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, has said, that the Bill should not be left with a rather imprecise provision that those providing careers education in schools should be left with the power to decide which pupils it might be in the best interests of to give advice relating to apprenticeships.
There seems to be a broad level of agreement that there is a deficit of information about apprenticeships in the careers advice currently offered to school students. My honourable friend John Hayes, speaking in another place, described the Bill as a missed opportunity for careers advice and guidance, and this is exactly what Clause 35 represents. As I read it, the Bill does not give any grounds upon which such advice should be given. We agree with others who have spoken that this may prejudice the rights of some pupils. We think it wrong that there is a risk that the advice you receive “in your best interests” may depend on how ambitious your school is or on how much emphasis it places on the importance of vocational careers. All of these amendments seem to recognise this and search for a way to ensure that pupils are given the maximum amount of advice which will then allow them to make an informed choice—several noble Lords have mentioned this—rather than leaving them dependent on whether their careers adviser has faith in apprenticeships or, indeed, faith in the pupil being suited to the scheme.
The noble Baroness, Lady Garden, rightly quoted from the report by your Lordships’ Select Committee on Economic Affairs entitled, Apprenticeship: a key route to skill. In 2008, a study by YouGov found that only 24 per cent of teachers agreed that apprenticeships were a good alternative to A-levels; by comparison, 55 per cent of employers and 52 per cent of young people thought so. The recipients of education and the people from whom they will need jobs once their education is finished seem to have got the idea, yet the educational profession still seems to lag behind. We need to ensure that advice about apprenticeships is given to all and that it is set in the context of a programme of training leading to a professional occupation.
I support these amendments. I should like to add my name to them to make it 13, or whatever it is, because I did not add my name, sadly, at the time. Along with everyone else, I was appalled by the story of the noble Lord, Lord Layard, but I fear that almost certainly it was a true example.
What concerns me is how to ensure that these young people get a wide enough range of information to make an informed decision. For most of this morning in the Select Committee on Communications we were taking evidence on film and television training, apprenticeships and skills and so on, and one of the things that came out clearly was how few girls are attracted to apprenticeships. Yet when we visited Pinewood, we found marvellous opportunities. Not only is it signed up to the apprenticeship schemes that are being planned on the building trades side but also there are much better opportunities for the film-makers and studios to become involved in them. That needs still to be fully worked through, because I do not think that the particular studio skills and the technical side, as well as how the acting and filming are done, would be particularly attractive to girls.
I therefore hope that the Minister will take seriously all the amendments. I am concerned that there should be opportunities to gain a little work experience—perhaps an internship. A teacher who can begin to see potential that a young person has not realised could begin to make the difference by suggesting a period in a practical setting. I hope that the amendments will be accepted.
I shall speak to Amendment 68 in my name. The Government continually refer in their statutory guidance to impartial careers education as the solution to the current lack of impartiality in schools and the information that they receive. Many noble Lords have already spoken about this today, but the strength of argument needs to be reinforced.
Under the Education and Skills Act 2008, schools are required to provide impartial advice which promotes the best interests of pupils and to do so with regard to the guidance issued by the Secretary of State. The guidance is now out for consultation, as we heard at Second Reading. In the proposed statutory guidance there are eight principles of impartial careers guidance: being comprehensive; challenging stereotypes; helping young people to progress; being responsive to the needs of the learner; being integrated into all parts of the school curriculum; empowering the young person; raising aspirations; and encouraging young people to use external, independent sources. Apprenticeships are mentioned under the principles, “comprehensive”, “use of external sources”, including national apprenticeship vacancies and matching services, and “raising aspirations”. Young people should understand the benefits of FE, including apprenticeships, and all the other areas that my noble friends have spoken about today.
I was pleased to read the Government’s careers education fact sheet and did not feel, unlike my noble friend, that it was intended to change my mind. In fact, I gave it the credence that I thought it deserved by taking each part and looking at what the Government were saying. The fact that the Government acknowledge that it has created a lot of interest underpins the concerns that many people and organisations feel and shows that it was right to raise them. The Bill does not make things clear and people are not comfortable—that is probably an understatement given some of the contributions prior to my speaking.
The Government say that they cannot make legislation stronger because that would mean promoting apprenticeships over other options. I do not accept that. Indeed, the new apprenticeships subsection in Section 43 of the Education Act, added by this Bill, makes apprenticeship information look weaker. The Act previously stated that a school must give information that is in the best interests of the student, not of the school or of anyone else. It will now say also that, in thinking about the students’ best interests, a school must consider whether they need to know about apprenticeships. That is so subjective, so unhelpful and so unequal in every way. The provision disappoints me and we should represent the weakness of it in our discussion this evening. However, it means that schools will have to think twice about what “best interests” means. I prefer the clear and more emphatic earlier version. The Education Act is really clear about what is in the best interests of students and that must be the driving element.
A worry I have is about how we ensure that the person making the decision about what is in the pupil’s best interests is qualified to do so. Can we be confident about their judgment in all these areas? I accept that the fact sheet is right to say that they must be credible with students, who want advice from teachers who know them well and may know exactly what the best choice is for them. But without the regulation being more explicit in terms of factual information, will these teachers really engage with the alternatives to the academic route, especially as they are unlikely to have experienced that themselves? Not many teachers have also been apprentices.
My speech goes on to repeat much of what has already been said. I shall therefore wind up by saying that I am sure the intention in the Bill is very different from the way in which it reads. Many people have said that. I wish that I could speak as eloquently as my noble friend Lady Morris, who said that it is not really about the information but about what schools do with it. It is about how they are supported to use it. Somehow we have to get that into the spirit of the Bill, if nothing else.
I hope that your Lordships do not go away with the impression that the frequently bandied number 11 is the total of Peers who feel that this clause should be amended. It is certainly 12 and it may be a great deal more. I welcome the idea of putting the requirement for good careers advice in the Bill. I ask that in so doing all references to careers advice be deleted from other legislation so that all legislation about careers advice can be found in one place. That would not be difficult because such references do not appear in many other places in legislation. That would make life easier, generally speaking.
I strongly support the thinking behind these amendments, in particular those tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, to Clauses 66 and 71. However, I have a reservation. I am not at all sure that we have thought enough about the person giving the advice. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, has pointed out that among academics a high percentage wish to retain the cream of the material in their hands for preferment through their own institution, harvesting glory for it. I suspect that from time to time the noble Baroness has herself veered a little in that direction.
Secondly, the way in which pupils receive the information is very important, as is their estimation of the person giving it. Being a teacher is a very risky job, because a percentage of the pupils of most teachers do not think very much of them—often for not very adequate reasons and sometimes for very adequate reasons indeed. So there is a risk there. Furthermore, the careers adviser, as in the amendment tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Garden, is embedded in the school and has to be a teacher. Teachers have to be timetabled, but what these teachers will have to do will be in competition with their academic subject when the timetable is drawn up for the following academic year. If they are to do the job adequately, they must not only have time to talk to children and read the incoming flood of information about their subjects, but must have time to be in touch with their subject. That means getting outside the school altogether. I wonder whether we have taken sufficient account of the way in which outside school seems to children inside school bigger, more attractive and more grown up, and whether the professional person coming in from outside the school will have a degree of authority with the children that will enhance their value to the school.
I wanted to clarify that in our amendment we do not specify that the authorised person has to be a teacher in the school. Both amendments that we have tabled suggest employing at least one such authorised person. That might ease the problems that the noble Lord has just outlined.
I am much obliged. There is of course also the effect of being employed by a school, which will have some bearing. I have not come to a conclusion on this, but I hope that your Lordships will think carefully about this aspect—the weight that the children will give to the person giving the advice, the knowledge that the person has about the world outside, into which, through differing channels, they will eventually go, and their skill in divining what the young people whom they are talking to think that they are saying and how it affects them. It is a highly complex and exceedingly important job. In the distant days when I was in school, this was not given anything like the importance that it should have been given and I fear that that may still be the case today.
I sympathise with my noble friend Lord Elton. Looking back 40 years, I think that I was a victim of the sort of prejudices that he described and that we have been discussing. My school was not at all supportive when I was offered an apprenticeship by the National Coal Board. Quite why the National Coal Board did it, I cannot understand; perhaps it believed that the right place for all Etonians was 800 feet underground. But it was a considerable missed opportunity; I might have turned out a very different person if I had been properly advised.
I hope that we will take the opinions expressed by your Lordships seriously. It is clear that it should not be at someone’s whim whether apprenticeships are mentioned in discussions. We are aiming high with apprenticeships; we want people of excellent ability to take them. Practical ability is not confined to those people who find academic studies difficult; there are some very great practical people who get on well in academic studies. Many schools today, particularly given the way in which exams have gone, are becoming less and less practical and pupils are not exposed to that aspect as they ought to be in school, although they would be much happier and probably much more effective people later in life if they were offered the opportunity to take a practical route rather than a purely academic one. We should not confine this to the prejudices of teachers who are largely brought up in the academic route. You see that all through the education system—teachers always want to be more academic rather than more practical. It is often the brighter children who attract their attention rather than those who are ordinary and whose talents perhaps lie elsewhere. We must insist on that breadth.
I hope that the Government will, in addition to encouraging schools to do the right thing, spend a great deal of money on the internet. Kids of this age spend their lives on the net and get a lot of information from it. Making sure that what is out there is real, informative and interactive and that it allows the sharing of views between those who are currently doing apprenticeships and those who are thinking of doing them would not be a cheap business, but it would mean that there was an information flow entirely independent of anything that the adults to whom the children were connected were saying. It would need to be supported by their school, but having something really good on the internet would be a great enhancer of the sort of decisions that we are hoping to make.
I am grateful for this stimulating debate. It leads me to ask one question that may have been asked already; I apologise if it has been. It was raised by the Skills Commission and relates to the fact that so few school teachers and Connexions advisers have been out to witness apprenticeships in action. How is that being remedied? What rough percentage of school staff have gone out and witnessed what happens in apprenticeships? Perhaps the Minister would like to write to me rather than give me a response now. What aim do the Government have to improve that? What resources will be dedicated to ensuring that school staff and Connexions advisers get out to witness apprenticeship programmes at work?
I want to be very clear about my intention. I have listened very carefully to all that noble Lords have said in this debate and am cognisant of the pain in disappointing my noble friends, particularly my noble friend Lady Wall when she talked about Clause 35. I very much take on board the concerns raised by noble Lords and, as they suggest, I will take this away and give it some careful consideration. I cannot emphasise too much that the concerns raised this evening are completely opposite to what we are trying to achieve. We really must do an awful lot better than we have done already.
I will take a few minutes to explain the Government’s thinking behind the work that we have done and will specifically speak to Amendments 65, 67, 68 69 and 70A. Their intention is to ensure that schools provide information about apprenticeships and apprenticeship sectors to all pupils, alongside other post-16 options. I reassure noble Lords that existing legislation in the Education Act 1997 and the Education and Skills Act 2008, to which many noble Lords have referred, already does that. But these are new expectations being placed on schools, so their benefit will take time to come through. I understand noble Lords’ frustration about that. However, the expectation is that schools will provide every pupil with information about every post-16 option, and that must include apprenticeships.
I really do understand why that might not be clear from just reading the Bill, so I will explain how we got to this point, how this clause fits with existing duties around careers education and how it follows on naturally from the steps that we all took when we agreed the 2008 Act to ensure that the pupil’s interests come first.
Section 43 of the Education Act 1997 obliged all schools to provide a programme of careers education to all pupils in years seven to 11, access to guidance and a range of up-to-date materials on careers options. But, as many noble Lords have pointed out, there was nothing to make sure that they got access to advice about all routes. There was also evidence—as noble Lords have stressed—to suggest that some schools were putting their interests above those of their pupils and promoting their own learning provision.
The provisions in the Education and Skills Act 2008 were a direct response to that. I am glad that noble Lords still feel positive about the steps that we took in that Act. In Section 43(2)(b) of that Act, which will be very familiar to noble Lords, we imposed a duty to ensure that all information is provided impartially and that advice is given that promotes the best interests of the pupils. In fact, we even made amendments which expressly forbid schools from promoting their own interests. That was an additional step.
We also took powers in the Education and Skills Act 2008 to issue statutory guidance—to which my noble friend Lady Wall referred—on careers education, which is currently out for formal, public consultation and will be published this autumn. I will ensure that noble Lords who have not yet seen that will be able to see it by putting a copy in the Library. It sets out the core information that all young people should receive on post-16 learning options. It contains extensive information on apprenticeships, including the benefits of taking an apprenticeship, wage returns, apprenticeship sectors, progression to higher education from apprenticeship and employment opportunities available locally. This is important guidance and we hope that it will ensure that all young people get the information and advice that they need to inform their decision-making.
However, this is not just about the provision of information, as others have said. It is also about making sure that teachers and careers advisers are properly trained and supported to do a good job for those whom they serve. Nothing that we are doing in this Bill alters the underlying legislative position. All that we are aiming to do is to ensure that, when a school is talking to a pupil and giving them tailored advice about which option might be in their best interest, the school must have properly considered an apprenticeship as an option. That is our intention, but it is obviously not what is reading through and reaching the many more than 11 noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. The advice still has to be impartial and schools still cannot promote their own interests—that is specifically prohibited under Section 43(2)(b) of the Education and Skills Act 2008. Every pupil will also be given information about what an apprenticeship is and what it can offer. We are not changing that.
Why are we doing this? As the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families pointed out in another place, too many schools over previous years have undervalued apprenticeships. This Bill—alongside the 2008 legislation—should send a clear message to schools that an apprenticeship is a good route for many and cannot just be discounted when schools are considering which route might be best for pupils. Of course legislation is only part of the solution; I have heard that message and agree totally. That is why this will be underpinned by a range of other measures to secure the improvements that we seek in information and advice on all post-16 learning pathways, including apprenticeships.
I do not want to go on, but I re-emphasise the importance of this debate, to which I have listened very carefully. I will write to noble Lords about the other measures involved in training teachers, developing initial teacher training, developing careers co-ordinators and developing the teaching workforce more specifically and I will set out clearly for noble Lords what the guidance expects to be delivered in schools.
The noble Lord, Lord Baker, referred to the work that he did with Lord Dearing in the past and I again take this opportunity, as I did at Second Reading, to welcome the work that he has been doing and to say how much I support it. It is tremendous that he is promoting what I think the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, called “whatever you call them” colleges, although he referred to them as technical colleges—maybe one day they might become Baker-Dearing colleges. I would very much like to express my support for the work that the noble Lord is doing.
I hope that, with these comments and my commitment to provide the Committee with further and fuller information about the comprehensive programme that we are engaging in to ensure that young people receive comprehensive and independent advice in schools, noble Lords and noble friends will consider not pressing their amendments.
Amendment 65 withdrawn.
Amendments 66 to 71 not moved.
Clause 35 agreed.
72: After Clause 35, insert the following new Clause—
“Careers’ service review
(1) The Secretary of State shall commission a report, to be completed by a person or a body he considers appropriate, on the quality of careers advice and guidance in England and the appropriateness of adopting in England an all-age service as operates in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
(2) The report commissioned in subsection (1) shall be submitted to the Secretary of State.
(3) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a copy of the report received under subsection (2).”
In the previous group of amendments we dwelt at length on the need to provide a requirement to include advice about apprenticeships in careers advice, and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, spoke to her Amendments 66 and 71. Our Amendment 72 would require the Secretary of State to commission a report on the quality of current careers advice, with further consideration of the appropriateness of establishing an all-age careers service in England similar to those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We currently seem to be struggling to provide our young people with the sort of careers advice that they deserve. While the Government may legislate for a statutory right to an apprenticeship or improvements to examination standards, as we discussed before dinner, this can be undermined by a lack of effective careers advice which would direct our young people to where they would be most suited, to where their potential can be best harnessed.
In schools in England currently around two-thirds of careers advice is delivered by teachers with no formal qualifications in this field. The noble Baroness, Lady Wall, referred to that when she spoke to the previous group of amendments. Outside schools, much of careers advice is provided by Connexions, the external agency which was set up in 2001. While we recognise the valuable service that Connexions offers in giving advice about all manner of problems, ranging from housing to careers to sexual health, we feel that that holistic range of advice may detract from a focus on careers and that the service may therefore be poorer for it. A study by the Skills Commission found that,
“there has been a decline in the quality of careers guidance since Connexions replaced the Careers Service”.
Given that the Government declare that their intentions are to help young people achieve their potential, does the Minister not agree that this would be a good time to institute a review of the careers advice that is on offer?
As Keiran Gordon of Merseyside Connexions said before the committee in another place, the Bill does not go far enough to ensure that,
“high quality independent advice can be offered to young people”.
With that in mind, I hope the Minister will see fit to give due consideration to the second half of our amendment, which asks for an assessment of the appropriateness of adopting an all-age service as indeed already operates in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Does the Minister agree that particularly in this time of economic crisis, it seems appropriate to have a career service that would allow truly effective and professional advice to be given to people of any age, be they starting work, unemployed, already in work or even while moving towards retirement age? This service would allow people to make truly informed choices. A universally recognised and community-based source of advice would provide reassurance both to those looking for work and those needing employees that they were getting the best service.
We would argue that this professionalised, all-age career service should also link up to the way that advice is given within schools. While we agree with the premise of this part of the Bill which advocates that advice should be given within schools, there is a strong argument that this should not be left up to the discretion of teachers. We spoke about that before the break.
Careers advice can have an enormous impact on the path that a student may take from school and indeed much further into life. We on these Benches would therefore argue that these students should receive the benefit of advice from an independent, dedicated, professional resource of a free-standing careers service. My noble friend Lord Elton spoke about the quality of the adviser as well as the advice when he spoke to the previous group of amendments. We do not want to put the onus of the choices that these young people make on to their teachers who, without training in this specific and important field, may push people towards an apprenticeship or towards further academic study based on criteria that are in the best interests not of the pupil but of the school. So I hope very much that the Minister will give serious consideration to these proposals. I beg to move.
Whereas we of course have some sympathy with the noble Lord’s amendment, our feeling is that, although the Skills Commission approved an all-age career service, now is probably not the time for another review. We would like to see this put into practice rather than see the commissioning of another review, which would mean delays in this careers advice being implemented. On those grounds, we would not entirely support the noble Lord’s proposal.
I support the amendment. There have been so many changes in the provision of careers services in recent years that it is difficult to keep up with them. My conversations with people in schools indicate that they have the same problem—they are not quite sure where the services are coming from. There is a clear distinction between careers education and careers advice. Both need to be of high quality.
The Connexions service has had its limitations because it was set up very much with the emphasis on the less high achieving young person. It was limited in its capacity. Consequently, a great deal of careers advice was thrown back onto the schools and the careers teachers, many of whom took it on as an act of goodwill, or because the head had caught them at a weak moment—or perhaps because they had no choice, with a rather bossy head. They were unprepared for what they had to do.
It is important to stand back a little and have a look, as this amendment suggests, now that there is a new body in place that is just beginning to come to terms with its duties, at exactly how careers advice operates and what quality is on offer. I should like even to extend it a little and have a look at what has grown up in the mean time: this rather ad hoc provision of careers education in schools, which has had to overlap, so to speak, and become not only careers education but also careers advice for many young people. I very much support what the amendment is trying to do.
I have listened to the debate with considerable interest, as somebody who is quite new to the Bill. My query concerns the different service that exists in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It seems rather odd that it cannot apply to England.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, for moving the amendment and facilitating the debate. Before responding to the amendment, I want to say a couple of things about the Connexions service, because the noble Lord praised its work to begin with. It would be helpful to put on the record some important feedback that we have had about the Connexions service, which provides such an important source of advice to schools and directly to young people.
The Connexions service does an important and good job. We have heard the views of young people and other stakeholders in past surveys, and they have been positive. We have had 28 Ofsted inspections of Connexions partnerships, of which 89 per cent were rated as satisfactory or better, which is encouraging. The 2008 Connexions Direct user survey found that 92 per cent of users reported that they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the service, a slight increase from 89 per cent in 2006; it is clearly going in the direction of further improvement. There were particularly high ratings for ease of use of the internet services, about which the noble Lord was concerned when we discussed this in our previous debate. There were high ratings for the website and the user-friendliness of the advisers. Ninety per cent of those surveyed are likely to use Connexions Direct again. I wanted to inject that into our deliberations now.
Amendment 72 calls for an independent review of the quality of careers advice and guidance provision and of the appropriateness of introducing an all-age careers service in England. As noble Lords are aware, we are already putting in place an ambitious set of policies to ensure that young people are provided with information, advice and guidance, and that they develop the skills they need to plan and manage their careers. This is important from the beginning of PSHE careers education, which we all know will be statutory. These policies have been informed by good practice, identified by such key delivery partners as the National College for School Leadership, the Training and Development Agency for Schools and the Learning and Skills Improvement Service. They seek to address what noble Lords have in the past described, perhaps rightly, as the patchiness of current provision, which ranges from excellent to unsatisfactory.
We will also put in place new statutory guidance for schools and local authorities, which will set out improved accountability arrangements for bodies responsible for the provision of information and advice on learning and work. These are key in driving up standards. These further developments will be set out in our forthcoming information, advice and guidance strategy, which will be published later this summer. Since we effectively have a break between Committee and Report, I hope that the noble Lords opposite will be able to have a good look at the strategy. No doubt we will discuss this further. The strategy has been developed in close collaboration with a wide variety of stakeholders. The new Adult Advancement and Careers Service will provide a seamless service, drawing together a full range of advice and support on such issues as jobs, skills, childcare, housing, and financial and personal issues to address the broader needs of adults. It will be fully operational in England, as noble Lords are aware, from August 2010.
It is very important that young people are provided with the help that they need to move from services aimed at young people to those for adults. There is no question about that; it is extremely important. We want to ensure that vulnerable young people are protected as they grow older and start to receive support from adult-orientated services. There are strong advantages to that. This calls for strong cross-organisational working between providers of IAG for young people and adults, which puts the individual at the centre of delivery and ensures that the quality of support is maintained as individuals progress from one delivery organisation to another. My department is therefore working closely with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Wor