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Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

Volume 713: debated on Thursday 15 October 2009

Committee (8th Day)

Clause 88 : Encouragement of education and training for persons aged 19 or over and others subject to adult detention

Amendment 198

Moved by

198: Clause 88, page 59, leave out lines 12 to 23 and insert—

“(a) encourage individuals to undergo post-19 education and training;(b) encourage employers to participate in the provision of post-19 education and training;(c) encourage employers to contribute to the costs of post-19 education and training;(d) monitor and report to the Secretary of State and Parliament on levels of participation in post-19 education and training”

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 213A and 213B. They are separate, as was the case on more than one occasion yesterday. I shall first speak to Amendment 198 and then address the others, which raise different issues, but I thought it best that they remained grouped together, partly for the sake of time.

Clause 88 sets out the duty of the chief executive officer of the Skills Funding Agency to encourage post-19 education. There is an ambiguity in the Bill. Last night when we were addressing Clause 84, I spoke about what is reasonable and proper. Both clauses have ambiguous headings. Clause 88, which refers to Clause 84, is entitled:

“Encouragement of education and training for persons aged 19 or over and others subject to adult detention”.

Clause 84 is entitled:

“Education and training for persons aged 19 or over and others subject to adult detention”.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said my amendments to Clause 84 were inappropriate because he did not think that the issue of what is proper and reasonable necessarily applied to those in detention. However, Clause 84 states that the chief executive must promote the provision of reasonable facilities for,

“education suitable to the requirements of … persons who are aged 19 or over, other than persons aged under 25 who are subject to learning difficulty assessment, and … persons who are subject to adult detention”.

I take it, therefore, that that applies to all adults. Perhaps the Minister could clarify this when he replies.

Exactly the same wording applies in Clause 88, which is about encouraging education and training and applies to all those referred to in Clause 84(1)(a) within the chief executive’s remit. I take it that that applies to all those who are over 19, other than those who have a learning difficulty assessment, as well as those who are in adult detention. Therefore, it is not just related to those who are in adult detention, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, implied in relation to my earlier amendments. I was a bit taken aback and, in the light of that, felt that my amendments were inappropriate. However, after thinking about it, it seems to me that the amendment actually applies to all those over 19. We are looking at the issue of the “encouragement” of education and training for all those who are over 19.

This amendment comes from the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education. In general, as a society we want to encourage this ethos of lifelong learning, as the amendment sets out. There are all kinds of reasons as to why this is so: in lifelong learning when people stay in education, they remain happier, healthier and better socially adjusted. They contribute more to society as volunteers. There is a great deal of evidence for that among those who keep up their studies in one form or another, whether they are younger in terms of CPD and training or later on in adult life when they participate in adult learning of one sort or another.

In the global society in which we now operate, we know also that we need to encourage people to maintain and upgrade their competencies and skills; and, on occasions, to switch careers and move into new areas. The Government have been anxious to emphasise that there are very good economic reasons for investing in lifelong learning. It is in the forefront of the Government’s skills agenda.

The NIACE report Learning Through Life that I mentioned yesterday recognises that responsibility for learning through life should be shared between the individual, the employer and the Government—all should make contributions. We discussed yesterday NIACE’s idea that there should be the equivalent of what some people call a learning bank. The City and Guilds institute has also proposed ideas for what might be termed a learning bank. I also raised yesterday the concept of individual learning accounts and whether the Government were still backing some help for the individual, perhaps to encourage them to continue in lifelong learning. I was very encouraged by the Minister’s reply that these ideas are still very much on track. I hope that they will develop into something like a learning bank, to which the individual, the employer and the Government can all contribute. People will have a certain number of credit hours in the bank that they can take for their learning—this will encourage individual learning.

The amendment seeks to take the spirit of encouraging lifelong learning and set it into Clause 88. The wording of Clause 88 is lifted straight from the Learning and Skills Act 2000. We propose a reformulation of the clause to capture more of the spirit of lifelong learning. We want the chief executive officer to be the champion of lifelong learning and to encourage individuals and employers to participate and employers to contribute. The new element that we are introducing is paragraph (d), which ensures better scrutiny of what the chief executive officer of the Skills Funding Agency achieves.

The remit letter to the LSC required it to increase and widen participation in learning, and to improve levels of achievement and retention of adult basic skills. Both requirements had quantitative targets attached, yet because of the reasonable and proper distinction that I was talking about yesterday that was written into the Learning and Skills Act and repeated in this one, the LSC has always been able to evade the broader remit of promoting lifelong learning and concentrate on the narrower one of promoting basic skills—and even there, it has concentrated on 16 to 19 year-olds rather than adults. The notion put forward in paragraph (d) of the amendment is that scrutiny should be not only by the Secretary of State, but also by Parliament. This would keep the wider remit in the public arena. For that reason, it would be a very good idea if, in addition to the CEO acting as a champion for lifelong learning, there was greater scrutiny of what was achieved by the chief executive officer.

Amendments 213A and 213B address a totally different issue. However, they pick up on the issue that I raised yesterday with the Minister about the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, to Jim Brathwaite at SEEDA, and the degree to which regional development agencies are now to play a substantive role in developing local skills strategies. Until the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, the position was that, with the exclusion of Greater London—one can see from Clause 110 that Greater London is excluded from the general SFA remit—local authorities were working with sub-regional groups to develop their strategies. In many senses, this is very sensible. In the south-east region, to which I belong, the issues facing employment and skills within, say, the Thanet area are totally different from those in the Guildford area, and in the Oxford area they are very different from those that we face in the Guildford area. Therefore, it seems to me very sensible to look at skills strategies within sub-regional groups.

That is reinforced by another Bill that has been through this House this year—the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill. It was not a Bill that I think the House liked very much; nevertheless I think that there are repercussions regarding this issue. Clause 85 of that Bill encouraged local authorities to come together, as in London, to form statutory economic prosperity boards, and Clause 118 encouraged local authorities to formulate multiple area agreements listing partner authorities. Interestingly enough, within that remit Jobcentre Plus was mentioned as a partner authority but the LSC and skills issues were not mentioned as partner authorities.

On top of that, in the 2009 Budget, Greater Manchester and Leeds were both designated as core cities, presumably with the idea that they, like Greater London, would create economic prosperity boards analogous to the London Skills and Employment Board, which has powers over adult SFA funding. Therefore, just as in London, Manchester and Leeds would effectively opt out of the SFA remit and do their own thing.

Therefore, the questions raised by Amendments 213A and 213B are, first: how powerful will the RDAs be in developing skills strategies? We on these Benches have some scepticism about the extent to which RDAs should run the local skills strategies, partly because we think that the RDAs are too big and, as I explained a little earlier, the sub-regional groupings are in this sense more appropriate. As I said, we prefer the notion of local authorities working together. Therefore, Amendment 213B questions whether we want to have the RDAs playing a substantive role in this.

The other question is: how far is this Bill compatible with the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act, which envisages these multiple area agreements? How far do the Government envisage areas such as Manchester and Leeds following along the lines of Greater London and taking over from the SFA adult skills policies and funding within their areas?

Those are the three substantive questions that I put to the Minister in relation to the developments that are taking place, and they are, as noble Lords will recognise, totally different issues from those that I raised under Amendment 198, which is all about encouraging lifelong learning. I beg to move.

My Lords, we returned after a two and a half month Summer Recess to find that a change of government department in charge of the Bill has led to a dramatic change of direction. Instead of a central operation, we find that regional development agencies, and thus a regional strategy, will now be the key focus for assessing and managing demands. We share the scepticism of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, concerning the role of the RDAs here, so I look forward to the Minister’s explanation of why such a change in policy and direction can have been allowed to occur without any information at all being provided to the Committee charged with scrutiny of the Bill. I understand that the Government consider that no amendments are needed to the legislation to achieve that. Nevertheless, the Minister must admit that this is a fairly dramatic change in policy, and we can legitimately demand a detailed explanation of changes behind the legislative framework.

Noble Lords will be aware that we on these Benches have always preferred a sectoral approach. We continue to intend to enshrine the sector skills councils into legislation and put that in the Bill. We stand by that policy and are concerned that we in Committee are not alone in being ignored by the Government. Businesses have not been consulted regarding the Government’s change in approach either. I very much hope that the Minister can provide a full explanation.

In our view the proposals in the Bill will enhance the role of local authorities in identifying and meeting local skills needs. The transfer of responsibilities to local authorities of 16 to 19 funding will of itself enhance their position in skills locally and regionally.

Local authorities will also play a key role in the development and agreement of skills strategies at a regional level. We intend to give regional development agencies responsibility for developing a skills strategy for their region which the Skills Funding Agency will be expected to deliver. In developing its skills strategy the RDA will be required to take account of the national priorities identified by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills and sector skills councils—to reassure the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, that we are not ignoring the vital role of sector skills councils—as well as the skill requirements of local areas and any sub-regional multi-area agreement partnerships or employment and skills boards.

The regional skills strategy will form part of the single integrated regional strategy which will be signed off by the local authority leader boards, thus making sure that local authority needs are fully reflected. It is not a question of the RDAs developing in isolation a regional skills strategy which they then impose on local authorities. It is a process of them working together. They will be gathering information from local authorities and will consult employers, reflecting two sides of the equation. We see it as a positive development, not one that undermines the role of the sub-regional group, which I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, also has a key role to play.

These proposals reinforce the key principles of the demand-led system, with the RDAs and local authorities articulating the skills requirements within their regions and the Skills Funding Agency ensuring that this new system operates effectively, so that individual learners and employers are able to access the courses of their choice.

Amendment 198 would alter the scope of Clause 88. Although I recognise the amendment’s positive intention, some of the detail in this clause is important. First, by removing all references to Section 84(1), this amendment undermines the very clear separation of responsibilities that we are seeking to put in place between local authorities and the Skills Funding Agency. Secondly, it would have a number of unintended consequences, such as removing 18 year-olds subject to adult detention from the scope of the duty to promote participation. I should not have thought the Committee would want to do that in the light of previous remarks on adult detention. Thirdly, on parliamentary accountability, I can reassure the Committee that the requirement in Schedule 4 for the chief executive to produce an annual report and for the Secretary of State to lay this before Parliament is intended to ensure that robust monitoring and reporting takes place.

Before concluding, I want to address some of the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley—such as whether Clause 88 applies to all adults over 19, to which the answer is unequivocally yes.

Does Clause 84 also do that? Reading it logically, if you have the “and” instead of the “or”, it applies to persons who are aged 19 and over “and” persons who are subject to adult detention. If it just read, “and who are subject to adult detention” it would be only the one. Do Clauses 84 and 88 apply to all adults over 19, including those who are in detention?

I must check carefully before I respond. I am looking to my team to ensure that Clauses 84 and 88 apply to all adults, including those in detention. I think that I am getting a nod.

I dealt with the aspiration, which we share, for lifelong learning. The noble Baroness referred to a learning bank; I referred to a skills account, but the destination and the intention is the same. We share her enthusiasm to ensure that people do not see learning as a finite process. We know that there is great benefit both to individuals and to society as a whole if the concept of lifelong learning is embraced. As I said yesterday, we are investing a significant amount of money in adult education.

On the question of Greater Manchester and Leeds having a similar role to London, no decision has yet been taken on funding. I have gone over the role of the RDAs. I stress that we do not see RDAs as imposing their regional skills strategy. They will be formulating that regional skills strategy listening to local authorities and employers, via sector skills councils—to address the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley. Those bodies are a vital part of ensuring that, as we develop—

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister, but, despite his fond hope, I am not much reassured. He seems to be telling me that more cooks will be involved in spoiling the broth. It is bad enough already, but that smacks of further confusion and muddle. I really asked what changes are needed behind the legislative framework to achieve what the Government are trying to do.

I do not think that we need any more legislative changes. We believe that the people required to develop the regional skills strategy are located in the regional development authorities. We have consulted and written to the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils and the TUC. We are discussing the case with them as we speak, so there is no question of there not being consultation.

I was not actually leaving that point. I am sorry, I did not mean to be discourteous, but I had not finished developing that point. I hear what the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, says, when he talks about too many cooks in spoiling the broth. We must get the balance right in the provision of skills. People do not stay conveniently in one local authority. Hence, we have already agreed the need for sub-regional groups; no one has disputed that. It is now a question of ensuring that in the region as a whole we have the right mix of skills. Are the RDAs doing that in splendid isolation? No, they are not, they are required to consult with the bodies that I, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, identified.

I know that we will be accused of complexity and of adding layers of bureaucracy, but the proof of this particular pudding will be in the eating. These things were always complex. It is an illusion that in the past everything was simple. It is not like that. However, I agree that we have to ensure that what we are creating will not be needlessly complicated. We believe that the role of RDAs, which I have been describing this morning, will involve being responsive to local authorities and taking into account the views of sub-regional groups, employers, as represented on the sector skills councils, and other regional bodies.

When the Minister originally described the role of the RDA to my noble friend, I thought I heard him say that, at the end of the process, the RDA would hand the policy to the local authority, which would sign it off. If that is what he said, then, to me, “signing off” means—I may be wrong—(a) accepting, (b) being responsible for, and (c) having the last word. Is that the case? Will the local authority be able to prevail against the RDA if it has a difference of opinion? I think that that is what my noble friend wants to know.

The noble Lord is right that that is what I said. I shall repeat it to be absolutely clear. The regional skills strategy will form part of the single integrated regional strategy that will be signed off by the local authority leader boards, thus making sure that local authority needs are fully reflected. This is consistent with the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill currently going through the House—what a wonderful mouthful that is. The noble Lord is right. I hope I have conveyed the fact that this will not be imposed but will be done together with local authorities. Let us hope that it works out that way in practice.

I am grateful to the Minister for responding to this amendment. In relation to paragraph (a) in Amendment 198, if the only objection is that it does not refer to those in adult detention, I would point out to him that encouraging individuals to undergo post-19 education and training comprehends all individuals whether they are in detention or not. I do not think it can be said that it excludes those in detention.

Members of the Bill team seem to be a little uncertain about whether Clauses 84 and 88—particularly Clause 84—comprehend those outside adult detention. The wording is ambiguous. Yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, took my amendments to apply only to those who are in adult detention, and I was a little taken aback by it. Clause 84’s heading—

“Education and training for persons aged 19 or over and others subject to adult detention”—

is ambiguous, and if we are uncertain, the greater public might be even more uncertain.

The Minister did not respond to my suggestion that there would be an advantage in monitoring whether the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency was fulfilling this remit to encourage individuals and employers to encourage participation in post-19 education. If this remit is created, it is worth checking on from time to time.

On the other two amendments and the whole issue of regional development agencies and their role, the Minister claims first that the situation is basically much the same as before the Mandelson letter. Yet the letter itself says:

“I can confirm that I am considering the case for modifying the existing plans for the creation of the Skills Funding Agency … to allow the existing skills landscape to be simplified by making the RDAs the single body with responsibility for producing the regional skills strategy”.

I want to be helpful before the noble Baroness sits down. First, on accountability and monitoring, I have said that I can reassure the Committee that the requirement in Schedule 4 for the chief executive to produce an annual report and for the Secretary of State to lay this before Parliament is intended to ensure robust monitoring and reporting. We will certainly take into account the noble Baroness’s point that the report ought to include adult education.

Obviously we do not want to introduce ambiguity and we will check to ensure that there is no unintended ambiguity in Clauses 84 and 88.

We have been around the track a number of times on the role of the RDAs. I have given clear and explicit assurances on the relationship with the local authority. The noble Baroness’s concern is, as always, to ensure that the voice, needs and requirements of local authorities are reflected. I would have hoped that assuring her that the local authority leader boards will be able to sign-off any integrated regional strategy would be a reasonable and sufficient guarantee and that, in the light of the assurances that I have given, she will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

May I revert quickly to the question that I raised? I understand that there will be a considerable number of local authorities in every region. The Minister has told us that each local authority will have the authority to change the RDA policy, because each of them will sign it off. That being the case, it is difficult to see how a consistent regional policy can be developed where there are differences. Many colleges deal with a number of regional authorities anyway, so it is impossible to see how this thing will work in practice.

With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, again there is the impression that this will somehow be a handed-down process. It will not work that way. The RDAs will have a duty to consult the local authorities. It is in their interests to ensure that the skill requirements of local authorities are reflected in any regional skills strategy. I do not understand what the motivation would be to do anything else but that. As the noble Lord rightly says, they have a vested interest in ensuring that there is a sign-off process, so it would be rather self-defeating to develop a skills strategy in isolation and then seek to impose that when the very people whom they are seeking to impose it on in effect have a veto. I stress again that this is a process in which people work together co-operatively to ensure that they develop a regional skills strategy that genuinely reflects the requirements of local authorities, employers and learners across the region. Again, the proof of this particular pudding will be in the eating.

I am grateful to the Minister for attempting to clarify these issues, but I am still increasingly sceptical. Let me quote again from the letter, which says very firmly that the RDAs will be:

“the single body with responsibility for producing the regional skills strategy”.

And subsequently it goes on to say:

“Under this scenario, RDAs would be assigned the lead role in identifying as part of their wider responsibilities for regional economic development, demand-side needs for skills in their regions. These needs will be expressed in a regional skills strategy, led by the RDA, which will constitute an investment plan which would become binding on the Skills Funding Agency”.

That is new and it is not in the Bill. There are many questions for us to ponder on this, but in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 198 withdrawn.

Clause 88 agreed.

Clause 89 : Duty to secure availability of apprenticeship places

Amendment 199

Moved by

199: Clause 89, page 59, line 27, leave out from “to” to end of line 28 and insert “maximise the number of apprenticeship places available for as many persons as possible—”

My Lords, this is a probing amendment. As it stands, the clause lays a duty on the chief executive,

“to secure that apprenticeship places are available in sufficient number and variety for there to be suitable apprenticeship places available for all persons—

(a) who have elected under section 90 for the apprenticeship scheme, and

(b) for whom places have not already been made available under the scheme”.

This seems to be a severe duty. How long is a piece of string? The more successful the apprenticeship schemes are, the greater the number of people who will apply. If, as we have been told, this is a demand-led affair, there must be a question as to whether the chief executive is being given a realistic duty to make,

“places available for all persons”.

In the eyes of Parliament, the duty will not be that of the chief executive but of the Secretary of State, and there is no escaping that. When accountability is asked for, while certainly a Select Committee might wish to see the chief executive, Parliament will ask questions about the annual report, to which the Minister has referred, of the Secretary of State. My amendment seeks to modify the duty so that it maximises,

“the number of apprenticeship places available for as many persons as possible”.

We all agree that we wish to see many people going through apprenticeship courses and we hope that the demand for them is such that it is possible to satisfy everyone who applies. However, if we take into account the Minister’s remarks yesterday about focus and priorities and how there is not the money for everything, it may not be possible. I hesitate over whether it is right to lay a duty on the chief executive and thus on the Secretary of State that will be difficult or impossible to fulfil. In my view, that is not good legislation. What evidence does the Minister have that this duty is in truth achievable? I beg to move.

I rise to speak to Amendment 201. Due to consultations that took place during the Recess, I believe that the Minister will be able once again to give the Committee clarification and assurances regarding disproportionate expenditure. I look forward to hearing those assurances.

The proposal set out in these clauses to introduce the entitlement to an apprenticeship for every young person qualified for it is one of the most important policies being introduced in this Parliament in terms of raising the productivity of our workforce and equality in our society. It is incredibly important that it should be achieved. The greatest problem will be finding the number of places from employers for all those people who want places and who are qualified for them. We know that there is already an excess demand for places and so this is a massive task. It is clear that we will not achieve this unless some money is given to the employer who provides a place. At present the normal arrangement is for all the money for an apprenticeship to go to the training provider, who then finds the employer; the employer pays the wage but gets none of the money, no financial support, not even for the time that the apprentice is spending away from the workplace. This is very different from the practice in most countries which operate the most successful apprenticeship systems. It is clear that we will not get all the places we need unless we find some way of channelling some money to employers.

There are various possibilities. There is the one proposed in our amendment that there should be a fixed sum for every apprentice taken on. One could, alternatively, imagine a limited version of that where money was given only for each extra apprenticeship place provided by an employer; this would minimise the deadweight involved in paying for places that already exist. Or one could imagine a third possibility where any employer who took on an apprentice could ask for and receive the existing money that now goes to the training provider, provided the employer made the necessary arrangements to discharge the responsibilities involved. Even that would be a major step forward towards involving employers more directly than they are currently involved. My colleagues and I strongly urge the Government to pursue one or other of these steps; otherwise it will be impossible to deliver the entitlement. I apologise on behalf of my co-proposers, who wanted to be here but are not able to attend and send their regrets.

I should like to comment on what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, because to accept the possibility that we do not discharge this entitlement is just not on; we have to do it. We have to use all the resources at our command, which includes not only the energy of the National Apprenticeship Service and its approach to employers, but it will have to involve local authorities in a profound way in relating more closely to their employers and impressing on them the importance of this entitlement for the local economy. We should not contemplate not achieving this but should have regard to the fact that we will not achieve it unless we involve employers more closely, not only organisationally but financially.

My Lords, I support, particularly, Amendment 202 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Layard, because it is absolutely essential. All the evidence we have shows that we are falling behind other countries and that we need to upskill tremendously in the whole area of apprenticeships. Indeed, the Government have recognised that and have done a great deal already to move in that direction. But not to disadvantage employers at a time like this is equally important. The only query I have is that the amendment refers to an apprenticeship place to a person aged under 19. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, who is no longer in his place, is concerned that we might also be talking about people with learning difficulties—the noble Lord is now back—and suggests that the limit should perhaps be extended up to the age of 25 for such people. I raise that matter as a particular question.

Again going back to all the points raised by the Minister in support of lifelong learning—the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, also has added her name to the amendment—the main point I am trying to make is that everyone has been talking about what Lord Dearing did in the past and how he tried to move the whole country in this direction. I would have thought it would have been ideal to put some emphasis on, and some resources into, this direction at this time, and rather more than is already planned.

My Lords, we on these Benches support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Layard. I think he put “under 19” in the amendment because it is important that we increase the number of apprenticeships among 16 and 17 year-olds. I believe that currently only 3.8 per cent of all 16 year-olds and 6.3 per cent of 17 year-olds are on level 2 or level 3 apprenticeship in England.

There is a precedent for what the noble Lord is suggesting. A recent report by the CfBT Education Trust called Lessons from History: Increasing the Number of 16 and 17 Year Olds in Education and Training points out that offering wage subsidies to encourage employers to take on young apprentices during a recession actually works. Between 1979 and 1983 the Training for Skills programme helped 57,000 16 to 18 year-olds to obtain an employer-based apprenticeship. It is clear from this that it can and should be done if we are to achieve what I think the whole House wants to achieve. We hope that the Government will look kindly on the noble Lord’s amendment.

I follow my noble friend in supporting what the noble Lord, Lord Layard, said a moment ago. My interest in the House stems from my interest in small businesses. I have been in small business all my life. I am reassured that we are still raising the issue of exactly how to see that there will be enough apprenticeship opportunities in this country and talking about how this could be funded. That is important for the small business community, and is such an important aspect of apprenticeships, not just for providing apprenticeship places but for small businesses to be able to gain from having apprenticeships.

I remember that some time back we were talking about the retail area and how important it is to help the small-shop community—I have often taken up issues of small shops in my time in Parliament—to be able to obtain some apprentices and to enable them to engage with apprenticeships rather than finding them a burden. There are many different issues here, and I congratulate my colleagues, the noble Lord, Lord Layard, and my noble friend Lady Walmsley, on saying that this is an issue that we must keep our eye on. Hopefully, we will produce some tangible solutions.

My Lords, to emphasise the concerns that noble Lords have expressed, in his 2003 Budget Gordon Brown promised that apprenticeship places would rise to 320,000 by 2006, but by 2006-07 we were 80,000—that is, 20 per cent—short of that total. Indeed, numbers were falling. That disappointing performance reinforces the concerns of my noble friend Lord Eccles. I am sure that the Minister will repeat his words about the need for balance, and we are all in agreement about the need to spend taxpayers’ money carefully, but there seems little point in enacting this part of the Bill if there is no hope of the places being achieved. What reassurance can the Minister offer to both my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Layard, that apprenticeship provision will indeed increase in order to meet demand?

My Lords, I understand the desire of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, to increase the number of apprenticeship places. That is a desire that I am sure everyone in the Committee shares; the question is how we achieve it. As has already been said, demand exceeds supply quite significantly.

We have to examine what has been achieved so far and I make no apologies for repeating what I have said on a number of previous occasions. I was really surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, say that we had failed to make progress. Perhaps I may remind him of the inheritance. In 1997, apprenticeship schemes were dead on their feet; only 65,000 were left and just over a quarter of them were being completed. If we wind the clock forward 10 years, we will see that we have a quarter of a million people engaged in apprenticeships, with over two-thirds completing them. That does not sound like failure to me; it sounds like success. Just occasionally, it would be appreciated if we acknowledged that success, because an awful lot of people have contributed to it—not least many employers, whose views I feel sure the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, is keen to represent. Employers have worked hard on this, so we should acknowledge that progress has been made.

The noble Lord, Lord Leitch, set us a very ambitious target in relation to young people, and meeting it will of course be a challenge. It is true that we have lost some apprenticeship places during the downturn. The downturn has had an impact on some young people, but it has not been as bad as in previous recessions because more employers are heeding the message that if you want to keep on trading, you need to keep training and that apprentices are a worthwhile investment. The young people—or mature people—concerned pay back time and again in their enthusiasm, in the fact that they are retained more, and in the contribution that they make through their imagination and enthusiasm. Apprenticeships are therefore a good investment. It is a shame that we cannot persuade even more British employers to recognise their importance and value.

Can we deliver? That is a profoundly important question. We cannot afford to be complacent, which is why the Prime Minister announced in January this year a further £140 million for creating approximately another 31,000 apprenticeship places. The public sector, which accounts for 20 per cent of the workforce, has only 10 per cent of apprenticeships. So we have launched a real drive to create more than 20,000 further apprenticeships in the public sector and, we hope, another 15,000 in the private sector.

We have created the National Apprenticeship Service—400 staff dedicated to ensuring the provision of apprenticeship places and that those employers who are interested in apprenticeships have a one-stop shop for handling them. We have also created a new database. We used to call it the Vacancy Matching Service; we have now made it a bit snappier and called it Apprenticeships Online. Young people and employers can go online and see what is available. Employers can register their vacancies, and young people, parents and mature people can go online and check availability. That is all part of ensuring that people understand the value of apprenticeships. We have had some successful marketing campaigns on apprenticeships, helped by the noble Lord, Lord Sugar.

The noble Lord, Lord Cotter, expressed his lifelong concern about SMEs and small firms. It is a concern which I share: they make a valuable contribution. Small businesses are already big apprenticeship providers: firms employing fewer than 25 people are delivering almost three-fifths of 16-to-24 apprenticeships, despite accounting for less than a third of all employment. So they are making a good contribution. What are we doing to help them in those circumstances? I think that I have explained previously the concept of group training associations, where small firms can gather together under that umbrella and some of the training ability and administrative costs are provided. There are lots of good examples. We are putting more money into expanding group training associations and other models. We have also introduced the expansion pilots, giving more money to some employers to take on more apprentices than they might need, possibly for their supply chains, and we have had a good response on that front as well—I think that another 3,000 apprenticeships have been created as a result.

On disproportionate expenditure—that phrase will be engraved on my heart after this Bill—I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Rix that we will bring forward amendments on Report. My noble friend Lord Layard asked about apprenticeship funding. We invest a huge amount of money in apprenticeships: we pay for the whole cost of training for those under 19 and a proportionate amount for those over 19. We are able to channel money directly to employers who can prove that they are running a fully accredited apprenticeship scheme. There is within the proposals the ability to do that.

It is a question of priorities. From 2015, everyone up to the age of 18 will be required to participate in either education or training, or employment with training. That is a profound step forward in how we are trying to deal with young people. We are ensuring that never again will we have a situation where young people leave school or college at the age of 16 and do not get any training at all. There will be a real requirement. Noble Lords should not forget that we have also built in the right to request time to train. We are therefore in a new environment. We hope that we are creating a better culture within this country where people acknowledge the value of vocational training and apprenticeships. Apprenticeships are a major pillar of our strategy, which is why we have made apprenticeship for 16 to 18 year-olds our priority, and we make no apologies for doing so, given their impact on youth unemployment.

The amendment proposed by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, would effectively remove the apprenticeship scheme. While we could not accept that, I assure the noble Viscount that the National Apprenticeship Service will have wider responsibilities to boost employer engagement and apprenticeship opportunities for all.

I turn to Amendment 202 and my noble friend’s suggestion of providing further financial incentives to employers. We do not agree that this is the right way to engage more employers in the apprenticeships programme for three reasons. First, as I have already said, the way to boost employer engagement is to disseminate positive messages about the benefits of apprenticeships in terms of increased productivity and improved staff retention. From my experience of visiting chambers of commerce or gatherings of employers, I know that there is nothing like peer-group recommendations when employers hear other employers say to them that apprenticeships are a good investment. We have to change attitudes.

Secondly, employers already benefit from considerable financial incentives. Apprentices aged 16 to 18 receive fully funded training from the Government, which means that employers do not have to pay these costs. Thirdly, an additional financial incentive runs the risk of creating dead weight, as public funds would be used to subsidise the cost of more than 100,000 young people already taken on by employers every year as apprentices. I assure noble Lords that employers can get apprenticeship training funding directly. Indeed, many large employers already take advantage of this. The National Apprenticeship Service will certainly publicise this opportunity through the information that it provides to employers.

I reiterate that everyone in this Committee wants to increase apprenticeships. We believe that we have the right strategy. Our track record since 1997 demonstrates a huge achievement. Achieving our goal will be challenging; we cannot afford to be complacent for the reasons that I have outlined; and all the measures that we have taken so far to drive up the number of apprenticeship places will enable us to meet our objectives. I hope that, on this basis, noble Lords will agree not to press their amendments.

My Lords, I confess that I am somewhat surprised to hear that my rather modest amendment, changing the duty to “maximise” and making it a best-endeavours clause rather than a commitment to provide apprenticeships to everybody, would have the effect of abolishing the scheme. However, since I am probably going to withdraw the amendment, I shall not stand guilty of such an outcome. I am grateful to the Minister for his reply and to all those who have taken part. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, seems to be able to get what he wants with commendably few words.

We need to keep on listening very carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Layard, says. He did not get a great deal of comfort from the Minister, but I suspect that that will not prevent him continuing with his campaign. We all hope to find that things go back to where they were. When I first joined the engineering industry we did not have to be told, persuaded or cajoled into the idea that apprenticeships were a good thing; we automatically took on apprentices because we knew that we had people retiring and we knew we would need to replace them.

With the RDAs, I suggest that it might conceivably work, as long as their regional strategy is confined to a fairly general paper of about 10 pages long and nobody is allowed to discuss it in any formal meeting or minute any views on it. The only way in which we will get to where the Government want us to arrive and where we all support them is by working at the grass roots and not top down. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 199 withdrawn.

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, and particularly for his acknowledgment that we are facing a huge challenge. We are talking about doubling the number of apprenticeship places for people under 19, with something like 100,000 extra places in five or so years. That is an extraordinary challenge to bring about an education revolution and to deliver the raising of the education participation age, which cannot be done except through this channel. It is extremely worrying that there is not more public talk about this; we do not hear enough about it from Ministers or local MPs, although this is a great new thing that should be happening in their constituencies. I am still not satisfied that there is a strong enough marketing of this to employers. Can the Minister not think of something new that can be done? I was depressed by elements of what he said, which suggested that what we are doing is fine, because what we are doing is not going to be up to the task—

I just wonder whether the noble Lord is still speaking to the amendment that has just fallen in the previous group. The House is expecting him to speak to Amendment 200, which he should be moving. I hope that I am not confusing the issue, but the noble Lord may want to use that information to focus what he is saying on the amendment.

I am speaking to Amendment 202, which is in the grouping and is the same amendment that I spoke to earlier.

We have not got there yet; we have only got to Amendment 200. Amendment 202 should not be spoken to now, even by the noble Lord, because it fell with the group of amendments whose lead amendment was spoken to by my noble friend Lord Eccles. I do not mean to be discourteous, but the procedure is that we now move on to the amendment in the noble Lord’s name, which is Amendment 200.

Moved by

200: Clause 89, page 59, line 29, leave out “scheme” and insert “entitlement”

As I have just said, one of the most important achievements of this Parliament is the introduction of the apprenticeship entitlement. That is how it is always referred to in government documents and pronouncements, except in this Bill, whose Clause 90 simply says that a person who satisfies the requirements,

“may elect for the apprenticeship scheme”.

That wording is simply not strong enough. We are therefore in this amendment urging the Government to say that an individual is entitled to elect for the scheme. That is in line with the concept of an entitlement, and we earnestly hope that it is possible.

That brings me to the second point, on the word “scheme”. In many sections of the community, that word is frankly something that stinks. It means something low grade, like the youth training scheme, on which many people felt that they were marking time rather than moving forward in their lives. We urge the Government to drop the word “scheme”. Almost any word would be better. “Entitlement” would be best, since that is what we are talking about, but the “apprenticeship offer” would be a perfectly serviceable term for what is being proposed.

We are not totally unappreciative of what the Minister has said about the increase in apprenticeship places in the course of the last Government, but we wish to see it expanded and encouraged further. We support what the noble Lord, Lord Layard, has said about the use of the word “entitlement”, which would be one vehicle by which the Government could show how they enforce their encouragement of apprenticeships. So we support the noble Lord’s amendment.

I certainly support the amendment, which brings us back to the matter of entitlement. That is what everyone should have, whenever they reach a point in life when something could be beneficial to them. It is a lifelong learning point, again, I suppose. My concern remains with the financial side that a much higher priority should be given, even during this time, to seeing that there are the resources to enable that entitlement to take place.

I still worry about those with a learning disability, who should be helped up to the age of 25. Nobody has covered the point, because the noble Lord, Lord Rix, has had all his worries sorted out, but we have heard nothing about them on the Floor of the House. I assume that the noble Lord has sufficient assurances about funding for that, but it would be nice to hear from the Minister that it is the case.

I, too, congratulate the Government on a lot of what they have achieved. However, there is a problem with the small and medium-sized businesses, and I am not certain that enough has been done in that respect. Perhaps we could encourage them to act much more as mentors of young people and really get value for that. I remember giving evidence on this sort of subject to an inquiry, and the biggest complaint was from the small or medium-sized employer, which was doing all this training only to have his apprentices, whom he had trained at cost to him, nicked by big employers that were not prepared to pay one penny for the training.

I very much support the amendment and hope that we hear encouraging words from the Minister.

I agree that the public presentation of the Government’s commitment to expand apprenticeship opportunities for young people is important. We are making an ambitious commitment and the scale of this ambition needs to be recognised.

The name we attach to these clauses changes neither the nature nor the scale of our commitment. However, the one thing that the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency is not able to guarantee is a job. He or she will encourage employers to provide employment opportunities for potential apprentices through a variety of measures. That is the challenge that we face. However, I recognise my noble friend’s concern about the use of the word “scheme” presentationally—I hope to make him an offer that he cannot refuse, if he will pardon the pun—and have committed to consider an appropriate alternative which we will bring forward on Report. I hope that, on that basis, my noble friend will withdraw Amendment 200.

Amendment 203 would change Clause 90 so that a suitably qualified person “is entitled to elect for the apprenticeship scheme”. This would not alter the substance of the clause. A person would still only be able to elect for the apprenticeship scheme if they satisfy the requirements set out in Clauses 90(2) and (3) and 93, and changing the wording to “entitled to elect” does not confer any additional entitlement. It is important that we are absolutely clear about this. However, with that caveat, I am willing to accept this amendment.

I am not adequately versed in the procedure. Of course I am delighted with what the Minister has said on both amendments.

Amendment 200 agreed.

Amendment 201 not moved.

Amendment 202

Tabled by

202: Clause 89, page 60, line 4, at end insert—

“( ) The Chief Executive shall arrange that when a employer provides an apprenticeship place to a person aged under 19, the employer shall be paid a flat-rate sum in recognition of the costs involved in time off for off-the-job learning.”

When I spoke out of order, I wanted to say that I am not happy with what the Minister said on this. I very much hope that the Government can come up with some constructive suggestion about how it can be made easier for an employer to receive the money in an automatic fashion. Although there are national employers who receive money for apprenticeships, for a local employer that is not the standard system; the money is not pitched directly to them. There is no standard method by which an employer can simply take on an apprentice and go and ask for the money. That is what we need. I hope that the Minister can come back with some suggestion along those lines on Report.

Amendment 202 not moved.

Clause 89, as amended, agreed.

Clause 90 : Election for apprenticeship scheme

Amendment 203

Moved by

203: Clause 90, page 60, line 10, leave out “may” and insert “is entitled to”

Amendment 203 agreed.

Amendment 204

Moved by

204: Clause 90, page 60, line 13, at end insert “or is aged under 25 and has a learning difficulty”

My Lords, unfortunately the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, is not in his place, but I assure him that I learnt that brevity is the soul of wit the hard way in your Lordships’ House. The first question I asked, nearly 18 years ago, was shouted down by the Conservative Government of the time as “making a speech”. I was then severely ticked off by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. So I learnt in those days that to keep things short was preferable. I only wish that some of your Lordships would also learn that lesson.

My Lords, in moving Amendment 204, I also speak to Amendments 205, 209 and 210. As I have reported, I and others have had the opportunity in recent weeks to discuss with the Minister and various officials within the department my ongoing concerns in response to the various amendments tabled in my name. These discussions have proven to be most fruitful and I thank the Minister for the characteristic courtesy and diligence with which he has approached these issues.

I am also aware that other discussions have taken place, and continue to do so, between the Bill team and the representatives of Mencap, the Special Educational Consortium, Skill and others who are interested in maximising the opportunities for people with disabilities, including those with a learning disability, to access apprenticeships as a credible and worthwhile pathway to employment and, therefore, full participation in society.

Following these negotiations, I understand that government Ministers are minded to table various amendments on Report. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that these amendments will obviously be scrutinised on Report. They should meet many of the concerns referred to in the various amendments tabled in my name and those of other noble Lords. Any further assurances that the Minister may be able to make on other matters would be most welcome. I beg to move.

With the indulgence of the Committee, I was hoping to save a bit of time. I am pleased that, with the extensive discussions that have taken place with the Special Educational Consortium, Skill, Mencap and other key interest groups, and the progress that has been made, we will bring forward amendments on Report to address these issues. They will enable people with learning difficulties to meet the entry requirements through alternative evidence, rather than the qualifications set out in Clause 93, and may extend the age range of the apprenticeship entitlement up to 25 for people with learning difficulties. In developing those regulations, we will continue to work closely with those key interest groups to ensure that we have criteria that mean that this extension is available to those who genuinely need it without lowering the bar around the entry requirements or the quality of the apprenticeships.

I understand the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, about the timing of these amendments. I hope that he will recognise that it has been essential to have the discussions to which I referred to ensure that we get the amendments right. I hope that, on this basis, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

I thank the Minister for his comments and for the meetings, but will he also ensure as he goes through this that everything is at least within the spirit of the Disability Discrimination Act? As the Bill is drafted, there may be a legal challenge against it. It has what I, and many people to whom I have spoken, regard as an arbitrary element, although the Minister did not like that term when I used it in discussions with him. The Government have to achieve certain levels but have not achieved the spirit that we have established in many arguments on disability and education over many years in this House, even with changes of government, which is that the system must be flexible to include people. If the noble Lord can give me an assurance now that this will be taken into account, it would increase the speed with which we progress on Report because, unusually for an education Bill, this Bill seems to have missed this issue. I just hope that the Minister can give us an assurance that the Government really will look at it for the rest of the Bill.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for his comment. We will probably have to agree to disagree about my not particularly liking the use of the word “arbitrary” because I regard basic literacy and numeracy as of vital importance. Of course we want to ensure that we are true to the spirit of the Disability Discrimination Act. This is a new provision, not mirrored elsewhere. However, regulations will ensure that we meet the public sector disability equality duty under Section 49A of the Disability Discrimination Act. It is in line with the Education and Skills Act 2008, which requires the needs of those with learning difficulties and disabilities to be taken into account.

My Lords, I thank the Minister and the Bill team for their co-operation in this matter. I am most grateful and I look forward to reading these amendments when they are forthcoming. I hope that we will be able to agree them. With those good wishes, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 204 withdrawn.

Amendment 205 not moved.

Amendment 206

Moved by

206: Clause 90, page 60, line 30, at end insert—

“( ) A person who completes the Level 2 apprenticeship before reaching their nineteenth birthday is entitled to elect for an advanced apprenticeship.”

My Lords, the entitlement that is currently proposed is really quite limited. For somebody without level 2 qualifications, it guarantees that they will have access only to a level 2 apprenticeship, but to nothing further beyond that. That would be the equivalent, on the academic route, of guaranteeing somebody without GCSEs the entitlement to study for GCSE grades A to C, for example, but it would not guarantee them, if they were successful, the right to progress to A-levels or diplomas. We would never consider a block to progression of that kind along the full-time route and we should be equally unwilling to consider a block to progression along the part-time route. Therefore, we urge that anyone who completes a level 2 apprenticeship before their 19th birthday should be entitled to progress to a level 3 apprenticeship. If their existing employer did not want to provide one, the National Apprenticeship Service would have to help them to find a place elsewhere.

As I have said, this is a matter of fairness, but it is also much more important economically as a matter of national efficiency. On the continent, the standard apprenticeship is taken at level 3. Unfortunately, in our country the most common apprenticeship for young people ends at level 2. The major reason for that is the low rate of progression by those who get level 2 to level 3. When the Economic Affairs Committee of this House reported two years ago, only 20 per cent of those who completed level 2 were progressing to level 3. That is just not good enough. We have to build in an automatic entitlement to progression, for the sake of both fairness and efficiency. We strongly urge the Government to accept our amendment.

My Lords, in the interests of brevity I will say simply that, for all the reasons that the noble Lord has given, we on these Benches support the amendment.

My Lords, I would like just to say, also in the interests of brevity, that I thoroughly support the amendment. Indeed, it speaks for itself that it should be adopted by the Government. I hope that they will do just that.

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lord Layard that progression from a level 2 to a level 3 apprenticeship is important. I disagree slightly with my noble friend that the entitlement is quite limited, given that he said in the previous debate that it was very ambitious. It is not often that I feel that I have to draw his attention to something like this, but it cannot be quite limited and very ambitious at the same time. I believe—and I think that the Committee believes, given the comments that have been made on all sides—that our ambitions, as defined in the Bill, are ones that will take a great deal of effort to achieve.

In many industries, such as construction and engineering, the progression happens naturally, as apprentices usually continue the level 3 element of their training on completion of their level 2 apprenticeship. We are working to ensure that this is the norm across all sectors. First, the Government will fully fund the training costs of level 3 learning for all apprentices who start their learning before the age of 19. Secondly, the guidance to the specification of apprenticeship standards in England will emphasise the importance of progression through the various levels of apprenticeship and routes into and out of apprenticeships. Thirdly, the National Apprenticeship Service will work with those sectors without a strong track record of progression from level 2 to level 3 to identify specific barriers to progression and actions to overcome these. There are such sectors; there is no doubt about that. We also hope that, through this legislation, the right to request time to train will have an impact. Fourthly, following discussions with the noble Lord, Lord Layard, we will ensure that the apprenticeship agreement has a prescribed term that requires discussions to encourage progression from level 2 to a level 3 apprenticeship.

Ultimately, unfortunately, this comes down to matter of priorities. I absolutely agree that we should seek to increase progression rates still further, but now we are clear that our focus has to be on ensuring the availability of a first apprenticeship place. I remind noble Lords that this year we are spending nearly £1 billion on apprenticeships. It is a question of finite resources and, we believe, of encouraging both employers and learners. We are making progress. There is no room for complacency but, on this basis, I hope that my noble friend may be persuaded to withdraw the amendment.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for his reply. It is important to put this in some perspective. It would not come into force for another six years or so. It would then set the pattern for our system of education for this group of young people for at least 10 or 20 years, so we should be willing to raise our sights. I am not completely happy with the reply. Perhaps we will have to come back to this on Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 206 withdrawn.

Clause 90, as amended, agreed.

Clause 91: Meaning of “apprenticeship place”

Amendments 207 and 208 not moved.

Clause 91 agreed.

Clause 92 agreed.

Clause 93: Apprenticeship scheme requirements

Amendments 209 and 210 not moved.

Clause 93 agreed.

Clause 94: Apprenticeship scheme requirements: interpretation

Debate on whether Clause 94 should stand part of the Bill.

My Lords, I can offer some clarification here. Clause 94 mirrors the interpretation of qualification levels in Part 1 of the Education and Skills Act 2008, which was passed before Ofqual was established. Obviously, as the Bill progresses through Parliament, Ofqual is being established. Perhaps we should write to the noble Lord with a further explanation of our intentions before Report stage because it seems to me—and possibly to the noble Lord—that maybe the clause should say Ofqual.

Clause 94 agreed.

Clause 95 agreed.

Clause 96: Power to amend apprenticeship scheme

Amendment 210A not moved.

Clause 96 agreed.

Clause 97 agreed.

Clause 98 : Provision of financial resources

Amendment 211

Moved by

211: Clause 98, page 64, line 27, at end insert—

“( ) volunteers within community amateur sports clubs”

With this amendment we go slightly away from the main thrust of most of the discussion. The Bill is entitled Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill, and I consider that sporting activity is covered under skills, children and learning. The Government should provide greater financial resources for sporting activity given that they are encouraging everybody to be more active and they have a target to encourage 2 million people to take up exercise or sport. Further, if you train people properly and they know what they are doing, they tend to enjoy what they are doing more and tend to continue doing it. They also have a skill base that can be reignited later in life. That is why I suggest that the wording of Amendment 211 should be added to Clause 98. If we make resources available to the volunteers who are achieving a government objective with no financial reward, we shall save money in the long term, certainly as regards health costs. In addition, such a measure would assist the Government to achieve one of their immediate objectives.

The Government may well tell us that money is being put into other areas, but I am talking about volunteers, who comprise most of the grass-roots participation. Those who volunteer their services in community amateur sports clubs are not the only group in this regard but they have a legal identity and we know what we are dealing with. It is a containable group and constitutes a way into this issue. This is a probing amendment to see whether two parts of Government can join together to implement the designs of Government as a whole. I look forward to hearing what the Minister says. I beg to move.

My Lords, I know that this is an issue in which the noble Lord has taken considerable interest in this and previous debates, and it is one to which the Government are committed.

Coaches play a critical role in Sport England’s strategy to build a world-leading community sport system and getting 1 million more adults doing more sport by 2012-13. Sport England is making available £480 million to national governing bodies of sport over 2009-13 to drive the development of their sports to deliver these goals. Of this, at least £100 million will be invested in coaching. While the bulk of funding comes from Sport England, I confirm that the Skills Funding Agency will be able to fund sports coaches where appropriate. Clause 84 allows for the chief executive of Skills Funding to provide financial support to any adult receiving, or proposing to receive, education or training falling within the chief executive’s remit, which might include those being trained as sports coaches, whether they are volunteers or not.

Volunteers within community amateur sports clubs may be eligible for some funding from the Skills Funding Agency towards the costs of training, though it is likely that they would also have to make a contribution. However, some learners will be able to have access to full fee remission. They will include those on means-tested benefits, and those who are eligible for the adult entitlements as set out in Clauses 85, 86, 87 and Schedule 5.

We place enormous store on the importance of more informal learning for personal, family and community development. We want more individuals to participate in learning generally, and for colleges and others to continue to provide a wide range of opportunities for informal learning, including opportunities for volunteering.

While I recognise the particular contribution of volunteers at community amateur sports clubs, I hope the noble Lord will recognise that it would be impractical to list all categories of learners who may be eligible for funding on the face of the Bill. I hope that, on that basis, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, which was slightly more helpful than I had expected, but nowhere near as helpful as I had hoped. I could wax long about the importance of volunteers in sport but I think that noble Lords’ attention would wane if I did so. The Government have said that funding routes are available in this regard. However, it is evident that volunteer coaches do not have a grab-hold on this system of funding. I do not know whether that issue will be followed up in the Bill but I thank the Minister for clarifying the position. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 211 withdrawn.

Clause 98 agreed.

Clause 99 agreed.

Clause 100 : Performance assessments

Amendments 211A and 212 not moved.

Clause 100 agreed.

Clause 101 agreed.

Clause 102 : Assistance and support in relation to apprenticeship places

Amendment 213 not moved.

Clause 102 agreed.

Clauses 103 to 108 agreed.

Clause 109 : Strategies for functions of Chief Executive

Amendments 213A and 213B not moved.

Clause 109 agreed.

Clauses 110 to 112 agreed.

Amendment 214 not moved.

Clause 113 : Persons subject to adult detention

Debate on whether Clause 113 should stand part of the Bill.

My Lords, I declare an interest, as I did yesterday, in that I am married to a lady who runs a prisons education charity. I looked in the Explanatory Memorandum for an amplification of Clause 113 and see that it says exactly the same words as the clause, near enough. Can the Minister amplify the intentions here? It seems to me that it might mark real progress in the relationship between education and prisons.

I hope that I can amplify as requested. I know I hardly need make the point that prisoners are among the most disengaged and disadvantaged learners in the country. It is clear from exchanges yesterday and earlier this week on the education of young offenders that the Committee is well aware of the importance of the offender learning agenda. I know, therefore, that there is broad support for the Government’s position that addressing learning needs in order to develop the skills prisoners need to get and retain employment on release is very important.

The offender learning agenda remains a key component of the Government’s reducing reoffending strategy. The Bill places a duty on the chief executive of Skills Funding to consider the needs of prisoners as an integral part of his or her role. This is the first time that a piece of education legislation has set out the duties for the mainstream education delivery services—the local education authorities for those held in youth detention accommodation and the chief executive of Skills Funding for those in adult detention—in meeting the learning needs of offenders since that responsibility passed from the Home Office to the predecessor of our two departments in 2001.

This is an important though brief clause that reinforces the critical importance of the Skills Funding Agency in maintaining a focus on the skills agenda for adult learners in prison and continuing to deliver the improved service to which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, referred yesterday.

Clause 113 agreed.

Clauses 114 to 116 agreed.

Clause 117 : Other directions relating to functions of the office

Debate on whether Clause 117 should stand part of the Bill.

My Lords, I take this opportunity to come back to the question that we debated yesterday on the meaning of the wording in Clause 117(4), which duplicates that in Clauses 73, 74 and Clause 59(10).

The question here is where that wording leaves the line to be drawn. I have had some very useful discussions with members of the team since last night, and my understanding is that their intention is to leave the line fuzzy and, as it were, to be determined in each case, but that it is clearly out of court for a Minister to try to direct how an individual institution should be funded. It would be clearly allowable that the Minister should direct, say, that additional funding was given to sixth-form colleges generally and that the interpretation of any particular instruction would have to come down to the particular circumstances, because clearly no exact rule is specified in the clause. The line, in terms of the wording, could come anywhere. It is important to establish on the Floor of the House what the Government’s intention is and how in practice the line should be drawn.

My Lords, the key is whether the direction would affect funding to a particular college. If it would, it is not permitted under Clause 117(4). So a direction to give more money to a named college would clearly not be permitted, nor would a direction to give money to a particular class of colleges. If there is only one college in the class, for example a direction to give more money to FE colleges in Winchester, which was quoted previously, a more general direction—a direction to allocate more money to skills training in a particular region—perhaps would be okay, because it would not necessarily affect the funding to any individual college or individual.

This subsection was intended to be a check on the Secretary of State to make him or her consider whether a direction is really about setting objectives for the chief executive as set out in subsection (1), or whether it is aimed at determining the levels of funding for particular providers. If a direction is framed in too specific a way, it may be vulnerable to challenge in the courts.

Clause 117 agreed.

Clause 118 agreed.

Clause 119: Sharing of information for education and training purposes

Amendment 215

Moved by

215: Clause 119, page 74, line 37, at end insert—

“( ) enables personal data to be shared between persons to whom this section applies without first gaining the consent of the individual to whom it belongs”

My Lords, this amendment would restrict the data-sharing powers introduced in the Bill in a manner that would help ensure the security and privacy of personal data.

Clause 119 allows the bodies replacing the Learning and Skills Council—the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency, the YPLA, a designated person, a member of the chief executive’s staff, a member of staff of a designated person, or a person providing services to any person out of those—to share information with each other and with a local education authority or a person providing services to a local education authority. It does not extend local authorities’ power to share information with each other. This latter was a concession, for which we are grateful.

Nevertheless, we are concerned about the safety of private and personal information that can be shared among this very large number of bodies and people. We understand that it may sometimes be necessary to share information across different bodies that are responsible for different areas of the same service. This would seem to be an unfortunate consequence of the Government’s desire to introduce more quangos. Perhaps the Minister could indulge the Committee by providing a few examples of times when this would be necessary. Is this to aid the day-to-day workings of these new bodies, or is it to analyse the effectiveness of the Government’s policies as suggested in another place? If it is the latter, surely the heading,

“Sharing of information for education and training purposes”,

is somewhat misleading.

Perhaps the Minister will inform us that the data will need to be shared to help or to secure suitable education and training. We understand that this may be the case. However, in such an instance, does the Minister agree that it would still be more appropriate to ask permission of the individual? Given this Government’s appalling record on data safety, this would be a fitting amendment. Furthermore, as it is rather a standard safety device, it would appear to be difficult for the Minister to object to it. I beg to move.

My Lords, we support the amendment. The clause refers to a great many people who share the data, and in line with people having an entitlement to know who is getting their personal data and who it is being shared with, this amendment seems entirely sensible.

My Lords, I am very glad that this amendment has come forward. I hope, yet again, that the position of those in custody is not forgotten. Not only is there bad passage of information between different institutions in the custodial system, but it is terribly important, considering that something may have been started which needs to be carried on after people have left custody, that the information is available to those who are responsible for carrying out that transition practice.

My Lords, I quite agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said. I have not located the part of the Bill that allows that to happen. I was looking at the other end of things on page 32, at proposed new Section 562E. My understanding is that the clause we are looking at does not affect page 32, because this part has sufficient powers within itself to allow the transfer of information inwards towards the Prison Service. Reading it in detail, my concern is that the right it gives is to ask information of a local authority. The host authority or those involved with the education of the prisoner can get at the relevant local authority to find out information that it has, but the local authority has no right to go back to the school or other educational establishment that has been providing education for the prisoner before then. How does the clause we are looking at now affect that transfer between the school and the local authority? How do the mechanisms provided in proposed new Section 562E in conjunction with the clause we are looking at now work to allow for efficient transfer of information? I do not need an answer now if it is not immediately to hand.

My Lords, officials in the Information Commissioner’s Office have reviewed the department’s plans for how data sharing will operate and are reassured that we are committed to developing a reasonable and proportionate system. In addition, they have confirmed that, as currently drafted, they can see nothing that is likely to cause concern, and they will continue to work with us as we move towards implementation and beyond.

Clause 119 does not provide any new data collection powers nor introduce any additional databases. It simply changes the partners with whom information is shared. The information is both for operational purposes and analysis, and it will help to secure appropriate training, which was one of the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Verma.

Introducing consent as a precondition of this data sharing would result in agencies having incomplete data for planning and funding purposes. It would also add enormously to the costs. We have been assured by the Information Commissioner that we are doing nothing that undermines individual liberties. All agencies will, as now, operate in accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act, which contains the necessary safeguards. In addition, there will be a specific data-sharing protocol, developed in consultation with the Information Commissioner, covering what and how sharing of information will take place between these agencies. As is already required by the Data Protection Act, all information gathered from learners will operate under a fair processing notice, setting out for learners who will see their information and why. Under current arrangements, where appropriate—for example in relation to the learner being contacted for surveys—the learner’s consent is sought. This will continue under the new arrangements.

I also want to answer the question about transfer of information on young offenders. I am assured that they are covered by Part 2. If we have not picked up every aspect of the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, we will respond in writing. That should also address the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. With those assurances, I hope that the amendment can be withdrawn.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I have listened carefully to the Minister, but I am not sure that he has satisfied the concerns of the House. I will read his response very carefully in Hansard. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 215 withdrawn.

Clause 119 agreed.

Clause 120 agreed.

Schedule 6 agreed.

Clause 121 agreed.

Schedule 7 agreed.

Clause 122 agreed.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 2.32 pm.