House of Lords
Monday, 2 November 2009.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Exeter.
Health: Tobacco Products
My Lords, the Government intend to introduce regulations under the tobacco control provisions in the Health Bill as soon as practicable following Royal Assent of the Health Bill 2009 and completion of public consultation on the proposed regulations. The proposed regulations were published for consultation on 12 October. The consultation period is due to end on 4 January 2010.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Can she confirm that following the passage of the McCartney amendment in another place, which proposed a complete ban on the sale of cigarettes from vending machines, that matter will also be included in the consultation process? Can she further confirm that the requirement to notify the EU of the regulations under this Bill should go ahead immediately after Royal Assent, which hopefully will be next week, in the interest of protecting the health of children?
My Lords, the Government have every intention of moving as quickly as we can on this matter. As regards the consultation period on the regulations, as the part of the regulations concerning vending machines will have to be looked at again, those orders might be laid slightly later. However, we are currently considering the timetable. We will very shortly be notifying the European Commission on all the regulations though not those in relation to vending machines. Those regulations will depend on what happens next week. However, we intend to notify the Commission very shortly indeed. So that will run concurrently with the consultation period.
My Lords, does my noble friend recall telling the House during the passage of the Health Bill in this place that it would cost a retailer typically less than £120 to comply with the “no display” regulations? Does she agree that that was a very serious underestimate because it was based on bulk sales and did not include installation or shipping? Bearing in mind the severe impact of the credit crunch on the typical small confectioner-tobacconist-newsagent, and the number of bankruptcies last year in that field, some delay would be warranted in this case.
There has indeed been a great deal of debate and misunderstanding around the cost of installation. In the cause of complete transparency, all the records of exchanges between Department of Health officials and the major Canadian company that provided the estimated costs have been placed on the website. The most recent estimate is £450, which would provide 25 square feet of display for a single small shop. We are working with the Association of Convenience Stores and other retailers to develop the proposed regulations. These regulations will not come into force until 2011 for supermarkets and 2013 for small shops, by which time I anticipate, although it is beyond my brief, that the downturn will be over.
My Lords, perhaps I may return to the question of vending machines and ask the Minister to clarify the Government’s position on them. As I understand it, the proposal is that tobacco should be prohibited from sale in vending machines, but that an alternative proposal has been put forward that mechanisms should be put in place to allow, for example, bar staff to operate vending machines automatically. Is it the case that the Government are not accepting that proposal? Further, is the Minister aware that a recent survey of landlords showed that most of them are not in favour of those alternative arrangements because they think that they are unworkable?
I am aware that landlords think that those arrangements are not workable. However, following the debate and decision in another place, the Government do not intend to try to reverse the decision, but to support it when we discuss the Bill again next Monday. We have already allowed vending machine operators more than 10 years in which to tighten up their operations to prevent underage sales of tobacco to children and young people. That is the context in which the decision was taken in another place.
My Lords, we have time to take both questions. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, should speak, followed by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker.
My Lords, I refer to the question asked earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie. I, too, was present for our deliberations in Grand Committee on the Health Bill and, particularly, on the provisions concerning smoking. I asked a question several times then to which I never got a satisfactory answer, so I will ask the Minister this question. When she looks at the cost of installing these fixtures in small shops, will she please ask whether it will be the shopkeepers or the tobacco manufacturers who pay for them? I have a feeling that the answer will be that it is the latter.
Can the Minister assure the House that the implementation of Section 3 of the Health Act will be carried out in conjunction with trading standards officers so that while the clear intent of Parliament to ban tobacco advertising and vending machines is carried out, it is done in such a way that it is as feasible as possible for retailers to comply with the law?
My Lords, will the Minister explain the point of our Committee process given that she said from the Dispatch Box then that, on vending machines, the Government would wait and appraise what happens over the next two years? Is it not correct that there have been no appraisals other than that of the joint health service and manufacturers working party, which has produced a scheme that certainly is working in clubs and pubs late at night?
Elections: Armed Forces
First, my Lords, I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid of 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment Royal Logistical Corps, who was killed on operations in Afghanistan this past week.
Turning to the Question, military personnel and their families who are posted or serving overseas are able to vote by post or by proxy. The Government are working with the Electoral Commission to support their participation in any future elections. A defence instruction notice is published to inform personnel of the date and nature of the election and key dates by which individuals must be registered to vote. Additionally, the Electoral Commission distributes publicity campaign posters to all units worldwide.
I thank the Minister for her reply. Remembering that one-third of Armed Forces personnel are not registered to vote, would it not be easiest, especially for those whose lives are at risk for us, to register automatically everyone who is recruited into the Armed Forces and then give them the opportunity to apply for a postal or proxy vote? Will the Minister arrange a meeting of the various political parties to ensure that their election literature reaches those in the Armed Forces who are eligible to vote?
On the first point, my Lords, it is important that we make it clear to those who serve on our behalf that we hope that they will participate in the election process. With regard to those being introduced into our services, information about registration is given at the time of the induction procedure, and the MoD and others try to keep registration up to date, paying particular attention to it when people are deployed abroad.
On the latter point, getting party political material to any voter is the responsibility of the parties themselves, and it would be wrong for the MoD to intervene in that. I do not know whether the Ministry of Justice, which has overall responsibility for elections, might be willing to consider that point, but I will ensure that that is brought to its attention.
My Lords, we also send our condolences to the family and friends of Staff Sergeant Schmid. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, pointed out that a low percentage of Armed Forces personnel are registered to vote. Have an increased number of such personnel registered to vote since the Electoral Administration Act 2006?
Yes, my Lords. The service voter registration order increased the period of registration for service voters. However, we are finding that the majority of service voters are actually registered at a domestic address; three-quarters are registered in that way. It is true that not as many are registered as we would wish, but the trend is improving. The next survey to identify any changes in the past 12 months is currently being undertaken.
Although this is not the Minister’s departmental responsibility, does she recognise that there are other personnel who serve overseas—British personnel with the United Nations and other international organisations, for example—who also do not get the vote? Will she make representations to her colleague in the Ministry of Justice that it is high time that a solution was found for these British personnel, who are not there for personal gain?
My Lords, the issue indeed goes wider than military personnel. I know that the Ministry of Justice, with the Electoral Commission and other interested parties including the MoD, is considering whether there are other means of facilitating participation in elections by those who are abroad. Obviously this has to be thought through very carefully in order to avoid the potential for fraud, but there is real awareness of this problem and a clear intention to do everything possible to ease the situation.
My Lords, while associating these Benches with the tributes made by the noble Baroness earlier, can she think of another group who should be encouraged to take part in general elections as strongly as our serving personnel? Will the Government ensure that everything is done to allow them to take part as there cannot be a more deserving or important group?
My Lords, I do not think that anybody would dissent from those comments. My honourable friend in another place, Kevan Jones, met the chair of the Electoral Commission in September on this issue. Michael Wills, who is the Minister at the Ministry of Justice, has met the families federations to discuss this, and, as I said, all three of the interested parties—the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Defence and the Electoral Commission—are working together to ensure that every facility is available to increase the number of Armed Forces personnel who are registered and who, I hope, will turn out and vote in the election.
My Lords, can my noble friend satisfy me on a point of curiosity? It seems that over the decades it has become more and more difficult and complex for our Armed Forces to vote from wherever they are. Some of us on these Benches recall a time when, some 64 years ago, the Armed Forces had no difficulty whatever in voting into office the greatest Administration of the 20th century.
My Lords, we have made it clear that the Goldstone report on Gaza has its flaws, including not adequately recognising Israel’s right to protect its citizens. However, the report raises important issues that are of serious concern. Attacks by Palestinian militants in Israel constitute a breach of international humanitarian law. The report also makes allegations about Israeli conduct, and we urge the Israeli Government to carry out full, credible and impartial investigations.
I thank the noble Lord for that reply. He will probably recall that when we called for accountability in the wake of the conflict in Gaza, we were told to wait for the Goldstone report. That report has been published and says that there is serious evidence of war crimes which ought to be investigated. Yet, as the Minister has just repeated, the Government say that the report has flaws. Will the Minister publish the legal advice on which this conclusion is based and, if there is no accountability and justice, will he say whether he thinks there can be any hope of peace in the Middle East?
My Lords, the report to which the noble Baroness refers is due to be debated in the United Nations on 4 November, which I believe is the earliest opportunity. That debate will reveal the arguments and why nations support or do not support the Goldstone report. It made broad interpretations of international law with which we did not agree, which will become evident when we make our views known on that occasion. It does not allow us to resile from our obligations to have an independent and thorough investigation into the Israeli defence forces. It has happened in respect of previous conflicts and Israel can be proud of those reports because they have hidden nothing and revealed everything. That will help everyone involved in the peace process.
My Lords, the United Nations Human Rights Commission devalued itself by putting Libya into the chair and finding itself able to criticise only Israel. Is there not a danger now that this new council, created by the United Nations in 2006, will go the same way by its manner of selecting from the Goldstone report only those sections dealing with the allegations against Israel and ignoring those against Hamas?
My noble friend makes a point that many fear. Having spent some time in the United Nations system, I can say that we have to live with the system that emerges. I rely on those who are prepared to challenge such a position to do so when the United Nations debates this more fully early this month.
My Lords, does the Minister not recognise that the Goldstone report criticised Hamas just as it criticised the Government of Israel? Does he not agree that the Israeli Government’s rather intemperate attacks on the Goldstone report might be a little more credible if they had actually been prepared to admit Judge Goldstone and his colleagues to Israel, and to co-operate with them, which they refused to do? Would it not be better if they addressed the report rather than playing the man?
Personally, my Lords, I have a lot of sympathy with the views of the noble Lord. After a decade of negotiating in that part of the world, I have come to the conclusion that the farther one is from the conflict, the clearer the solution. The negotiations therefore become opaque and very difficult. The Israelis thought that the process was flawed from the beginning, because of the basis of the terms of reference, but in hindsight it seems to me that in any situation we will make less progress by apportioning blame and more by looking to the future.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that even Goldstone thinks that his report cannot be used as evidence in law, and has said so? Does he also agree that there is a danger here for any army engaged in war—for example, our own in Afghanistan? If we were to ask the Taliban what they thought of the civilian deaths occurring in Afghanistan, for example, and were to report that to a largely hostile United Nations commission, it would make it extremely difficult for any army to go to war in any situation.
I doubt that I can go as far as my noble friend in his allusion to the Taliban being an independent judge of affairs in their state. I believe that it is on the historical record that, when the Israelis have investigated, post-conflict, the situations of their armed forces, Ministry of Defence, et cetera, they have come up with robust, clear, transparent and very significant conclusions. That is why an inquiry from Israel would be far more significant than waiting for ever for Hamas inquiries.
My Lords, I was in southern Israel when we had only 15 seconds to rush into air-raid shelters as rocket bombs from Gaza rained down on us. The destruction and loss of life caused by Operation Cast Lead is, indeed, truly regrettable, but does the precedent set by the Goldstone report, in accusing Israel of crimes against humanity in its targeted response to terrorist attacks, take into account the possible implications for our own British security in response to terrorism directed at us?
I think that that question deviates considerably from the Question on the Order Paper. While I may have sympathy with the question, I have no intention of seeking to provide the answer, because we are discussing a very serious situation where, as recently as yesterday, interventions by the American Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, offer some hope that things might move forward. As I have said, my previous experience has told me that the harsher the opinions issued within 24 hours of an announcement, the more that you can repent at your leisure.
My Lords, a few minutes ago the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, made a very balanced point. I think that everyone agrees that terrible things occurred on both sides during the Gaza conflict, as tend to be the case in such situations. However, when the United Nations comes to debate this matter later in the week, would the Minister agree that the reports of the UN authorities, and its Human Rights Council, would carry more authority if they gave the same attention to abuses of human rights by, say, China in Tibet or Russia in Chechnya—or even by the United States in Iraq—rather than becoming solely focused on the Israeli question, serious though that is?
I thank the noble Lord for that travelogue. The truth is that the UN will be debating a specific issue, and from my experience it is better to relate to that than to extend it to other circumstances, because if you do so it tends to make the solution to the issue on the paper even less possible.
My Lords, everyone in the House will join with me in wishing the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, a successful recovery from his broken leg and a speedy return to the House. He demonstrates great wisdom and experience on the Liberal Democrat Benches and great wisdom and effectiveness in debates in the Chamber.
The Southern African Development Community, as sponsor and guarantor of the global political agreement—GPA—has a key role to play in this matter. We regularly discuss Zimbabwe with SADC Governments and a SADC troika visited Harare on 29 October to discuss developments. We will closely monitor the outcome of that and continue to make our priority working with the region to promote reform in Zimbabwe.
My Lords, while recognising the difficulties the British Government face in openly criticising the Zimbabwean Government and attracting ire from Mr Mugabe in return, what channels do the British Government find most useful in pressing SADC to act to bring the parties back together again in the rapidly deteriorating political, and therefore economic and security, situation within Zimbabwe?
My Lords, the Government use all channels available, including, of course, bilateral channels with countries in SADC. My noble friend Lady Kinnock is in South Africa this week and I have no doubt that Zimbabwe will not be without note in her discussions with the South African Government. We also work with our European Union colleagues, who have a major part to play in bringing that country back to normality. We support the Unity Government, particularly those parts which favour reform. However, we cannot but condemn the henchmen within that Government who seek to continue what went before and to avoid returning to a democratic and prosperous Zimbabwe.
My Lords, the current chair of SADC, President Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo, relies on Zimbabwean guards for his personal safety. Do the Government agree that this compromises his authority in dealing with the current upsurge in human rights violations in Zimbabwe? What diplomatic pressure will the Government exert on this issue?
My Lords, I listened with care to the noble Baroness but I am not sure that I agree with her. SADC is a major geographical and regional power with lots of member Governments with considerable reason to hope that Zimbabwe will return to its prosperity of yesteryear. I do not think that the provision the noble Baroness asks about, though it might cast doubt in people’s eyes, is likely to be a major feature within SADC’s decisions. However, I take her question on board.
My Lords, given the power and spread of SADC to which the noble Lord has just referred, and the fact that it is meeting in Mozambique on Thursday to consider this issue, how does he interpret the fact that Mugabe has already said that the SADC tribunal ruling on land reform was of no consequence, that land issues are not subject to the SADC tribunal, and that he is already ignoring, and has long ignored, the undertaking he gave to swear in MDC district governors and Ministers on the instructions of SADC? What steps can SADC be encouraged to take that will bring him to his senses, or will it remain completely powerless?
My Lords, I have every sympathy with the noble Lord’s points. The issues that President Mugabe seeks to deny are part of the global political agreement, which SADC produced in 2008. Therefore, we should ask SADC how it will implement the GPA and persuade and advise those in breach of it. I am sure that my noble friend and other Ministers in the Foreign Office are doing everything possible through all channels earnestly to advise SADC member states. One hopes that Thursday’s meeting and the troika’s efforts will pressure Zimbabwe to achieve what the Unity Government should be about; namely, to restore democracy, bring forward development and rescue the Zimbabwean people from a decade of desperate mismanagement.
My Lords, my noble friend said that the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, was going to South Africa. We wish her very well in her diplomatic efforts. What is the current position of South Africa on the Zimbabwean situation? I do not ask this just to monitor how good the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, is at diplomacy.
My Lords, we will have to see the outcome of the discussions that are taking place in Mozambique on Thursday to know that. Certainly, President Zuma has made clear his rather more urgent requirements of the Government of Zimbabwe, more than perhaps his predecessor has done. There are those in SADC—Botswana is one and there are many others— who can see why a solution to Zimbabwe is in everybody’s interests in the region. I am pretty sure that my noble friend Lady Kinnock has arrived in South Africa by now—if she has not, she is on the longest flight that has ever taken place from the United Kingdom—and I hope that she will be using her influence in all quarters to ensure that we bring about the policy, not that we want to see, or that Europe wants to see, but that the world wants to see.
My Lords, the UN torture expert Mr Nowak said that, when he was denied entry into Zimbabwe the other day, he was going to complain to the UN Commissioner on Human Rights. Can the commissioner do anything about it? Are we backing his complaint? Is anything going to happen at all?
My Lords, those who listened to the rapporteur’s interview on Radio 4 will have no doubt how badly he was treated in contravention of international law and in contravention to the invitation already issued. In that sense, we are totally supportive that international law has to be applied. We have heard nothing since from the UN about how the rapporteur will take that forward, but clearly it will be an issue and not one on which we are likely to find ourselves in sympathy with the Zimbabwean Government.
Private Notice Question
My Lords, the Government Office for Science has a published code of practice for science advisory committees. This lays out how committees should communicate their advice and working practices and concludes that, as a minimum, committees should publish a programme of work, meeting agendas, minutes, final advice and an annual report.
My Lords, I am sure that everyone will agree that Ministers must finally decide policy. However, has this episode not destroyed the claim that policy would be based on evidence? Does not the dismissal of Professor Nutt suggest that advice, on the whole, should be kept private, and that the findings about the influence of alcohol as compared with cannabis should not be communicated to the public domain—not in front of the children? What can the Government do to reassure the scientific community and to counteract the rather dispiriting message which they have given its members that they may not contradict government policy, and that if they do they will be sacked?
My Lords, that is a total misreading of the situation. The issue is not about what the advice was. The Government, at the end of the day, cannot delegate to any advisory committee the decisions that belong to the Secretary of State and to this Parliament. It is and has been the case in the past that some committee advisers have resigned and subsequently disagreed with government policy; that is one issue. It is quite a different issue to make a statement effectively arguing that the decision of the Secretary of State whom you advise is totally wrong, while continuing in office and continuing to campaign against the Government you are advising. The issue is not about scientific advice on this occasion. It is about the role of the person, the code of conduct and how he continued a campaign that is not within the code and is not within what I would expect of advisers. The day that Ministers are no longer responsible for making decisions and Parliament is no longer responsible for ratifying those decisions, we are in the hands of non-elected democracies—democratic in the sense only of science and not in the wider world.
My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that Ministers must take into account not just expert advice but wider issues of public policy when making decisions? Advisers should respect that. However, this episode raises a question about the future status of the drug advisory panel. How will the Government restore trust between the panel and Ministers?
The noble Baroness is absolutely right that, at the end of the day, the decision belongs to Ministers. If there are consistent, cavalier rejections by a Minister of recommendations by a committee, one might ask what the point of the committee is. However, they are not consistently rejected. On cannabis, out of 21 recommendations only one was not accepted. On ecstasy, of 13 recommendations, 11 were accepted and only two were not. The Home Secretary agreed a structured programme with the ACMD, covering illegal high poly-drug use, early warning mechanisms and cognitive enhancers. Basically, the science has been taken on board where the science makes sense. Where the wider political judgments come in, we had to take account of everything from law enforcement to public opinion. The buck stops with the Secretary of State.
I am sure my noble friend is correct. If, for example, every recommendation irrespective of whether it was in the wider interest were accepted by Ministers on almost every subject, you would find the country at large wondering what the point of Ministers was. They would wonder, “What is the point of Members of Parliament? What is the point of Parliament? Why not have a series of expert opinions?”. Expert opinion is valid. Science is valid. We are not arguing here about the science. We are arguing about the responsibility of Ministers in the final analysis, and I totally agree with my noble friend.
My Lords, the matters which this Question addresses have focused on an academic lecture given at King’s College, London, in July and the publication of a report of that lecture. Had the Home Secretary expected to vet in advance the contents of that lecture? If not, what is the ground for protest now? Was Professor Nutt’s mistake to express the views which he held, or to be heard doing so?
Does the Minister accept that the classification of drugs is a matter of science? Is a particular drug more or less dangerous to the public than another drug? The matter for politics is surely what kind of punishments should be meted out for drugs at different levels of dangerousness. This has been the confusion. It is not acceptable, in my view, for politicians to override scientists on a matter of science. It is also not right for scientists to overrule politicians on matters of politics.
The good news is that the noble Baroness is right on both counts. However, she misses the point slightly; we have a combination of the two. Those with the knowledge will advise; but classification, the use of the drugs, how it is perceived in local communities and how it is experienced by law enforcement officers on the streets of Carlisle, where I live, come down to a political judgment. There is no gainsaying that.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the results of the decision may well be that the Government attract only those scientists who, to quote Sir Humphrey, are “one of us”? What implications does that have for the recruitment of scientists to government advisory bodies?
My Lords, I gave evidence in terms of the number of times that Ministers in the Home Office have rejected advice from this committee. I have to say that, as someone who was the general-secretary of a trade union for some 40,000 scientists, I never felt that I was in the company of those who would kow-tow to government or anyone else. Defence of their science was their priority. They are proud of it, and I am rightly proud of them. That does not override ministerial responsibility and the responsibility of Parliament.
In our democracy, we have elected Members of the other place and Members here with great expertise in science and almost all aspects of British life so that they can combine their experiences, to help arrive at the democratic decisions that the public support because they are confident in them. This decision was reached from a combination of the science, perception and law and order, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State made the right decision.
My Lords, we should hear from the Conservatives next.
No one disagrees with the proposition that it is scientists who advise and Ministers who decide. Having been a Minister with scientists, I entirely accept that. However, I spent the morning studying the code of practice for scientists and scientific advisory committees and I cannot find a single paragraph that could be relied on to justify the sacking of Professor Nutt. Is it not time that that code was revised? The complaint has been made that Professor Nutt does not know why he was sacked. There is nothing in the code about it at all.
One suspects that there might have been something about that in the letter that the Secretary of State wrote to Professor Nutt on Friday of last week. On the major point, I agree that scientific advice is important. Political analysis is important. Civil service advice is important. We cannot isolate these into single compartments and claim that we do not like the decision when a Minister chooses to take some advice and reject other advice. Therefore, I am absolutely clear that it remains a decision for Ministers and Parliament, and Professor Nutt is now clear and free to express whatever opinions he wants. However, he will not be able to do that successfully in his own defence, or in the defence of the Government, while being chief adviser to them and at the same time campaigning against government policy.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, with the leave of the House, my noble friend the Leader of the House will repeat a Statement entitled “October European Council” at a convenient point after 3.40 pm.
I am also pleased to be able to inform the House that we intend to prorogue at the conclusion of business in both Houses on Thursday 12 November. As ever, the timing of Prorogation will depend on the progress of business.
Scottish and Northern Ireland Banknote Regulations 2009
Ministry of Defence Police (Conduct) Regulations 2009
Ministry of Defence Police Appeals Tribunals Regulations 2009
Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order 2009
Rail Vehicle Accessibility (Networks) Exemption Order 2009
Motion to Refer to Grand Committee
Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill
Report (1st Day)
1: Before Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Meaning of “completing an English apprenticeship”
(1) This section applies for the purposes of this Chapter.
(2) A person completes an English apprenticeship in relation to an apprenticeship framework if—
(a) the standard English completion conditions are met, or(b) the alternative English completion conditions are met.(3) The standard English completion conditions are—
(a) that the person has entered into an apprenticeship agreement in connection with the apprenticeship framework,(b) that at the date of that agreement the framework was a recognised English framework,(c) that the person has completed a course of training for the principal qualification identified in the framework,(d) that, throughout the duration of the course, the person was working under the apprenticeship agreement, and(e) that the person meets the requirements specified in the framework for the purpose of the issue of an apprenticeship certificate.(4) In subsection (3)(d)—
(a) the reference to the apprenticeship agreement mentioned in subsection (3)(a) includes a reference to any apprenticeship agreement which the person subsequently entered into in connection with the same apprenticeship framework;(b) the reference to the course of training for the principal qualification is to be read, in a case where the person has followed two or more courses of training for the principal qualification, as a reference to both or all of them.(5) The alternative English completion conditions are conditions which—
(a) apply in cases where a person works otherwise than under an apprenticeship agreement, and(b) are specified in regulations.(6) The kinds of working in relation to which provision may be made under subsection (5) include—
(a) working as a self-employed person;(b) working otherwise than for reward.”
My Lords, I shall speak also to the other amendments in this group. Before I turn to them, I should thank noble Lords in all parts of the House for their co-operation in Committee and in the run-up to this Report stage. I hope it is clear from the amendments tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Morgan that we have listened carefully and responded positively to the concerns that noble Lords raised in Committee. We believe that this exemplifies how the Committee, and this House as a whole, is working as it should.
I will first address Amendments 1 to 13, 15 to 19 and 20 to 23, which are intended to ensure that we have a clear definition of what it means to complete an apprenticeship. Noble Lords made clear at the outset in Committee their appetite for a definition. Amendment 1 is intended to address the issues raised by the amendment that the House accepted on 16 June.
The new clauses reflect the fact that the provisions in Part 1 focus on completing the requirements of an apprenticeship framework, with the completion recognised through the issue of a certificate by the issuing authority. The standard English or Welsh completion conditions include the need to complete the apprenticeship training while working under an apprenticeship agreement covered by an apprenticeship framework in England and Wales. Amendments 18 to 25 incorporate the core elements of Clause 1. In particular, there is an explicit reference in Clauses 26 and 30, which set out the contents of the specification of apprenticeship standards for England and Wales, to a requirement for an apprenticeship framework to include both on-the-job and off-the-job training.
We have also taken the opportunity through the amendments to address the concerns raised by my noble friends Lord Layard, Lady Blackstone and Lady Morris of Yardley that there should be a requirement in the Bill that apprenticeship frameworks must specify relevant occupational competencies and relevant technical knowledge. This, too, has been incorporated into Clauses 26 and 30. Therefore, I hope that my noble friends will not press Amendment 17 in their name.
It is crucial that employed status remains a key element of an apprenticeship. Apprenticeships are paid jobs. However, we recognise that there must be a degree of flexibility to allow for special, clearly defined circumstances. These include cases where an apprentice has been made redundant and needs to complete part of their apprenticeship on an unpaid basis; self-employed apprentices in some sectors; and Olympic athletes on the Advanced Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence framework.
We have also listened carefully to representations received about the valuable work-based training provided by Barnardo’s and Rathbone. The regulation-making power in Clause 2(5), which is incorporated in the new clause inserted by Amendment 1, is intended to allow for these special cases and enable us to make provision for alternative completion conditions. In the case of Rathbone and Barnardo’s, we propose to allow for a period of up to six months’ work experience or up-front training prior to entering an apprenticeship agreement. This pre-apprenticeship contract period of work-based training is not in itself an apprenticeship. It would count towards the completion of an apprenticeship framework and the award of an apprenticeship certificate only if the young person is employed as an apprentice in the six-month period. I make clear that the apprenticeship would start, and count towards official apprenticeship statistics, only when the learner is employed.
The detail of what this six-month period would look like will need to be agreed when regulations are being drafted. We are committed to working with Rathbone, Barnardo’s and other interested parties on the regulations. We believe that introducing the six-month period will give employers sufficient time to determine the capability and employability of the learner, and act as an incentive to employers to take on the learners as employees more rapidly than is current practice. This is a special case. Our desire to support the young people with chaotic backgrounds that Rathbone and Barnardo’s seek to assist should not be interpreted in any way as diluting our commitment to the employment requirement, which remains fundamental to an apprenticeship. In view of the importance that we attach to this principle, we are minded to propose that the regulations that permit alternative completion conditions should be subject to affirmative resolution requiring a debate in both Houses. We will return to this at Third Reading.
We have also taken the opportunity in the new clauses to address the concerns of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, about the requirement for a person to work either wholly or mainly in England or wholly or mainly in Wales, and whether they would be eligible for an apprenticeship certificate. Under the new clauses, together with Amendments 4 and 7, we have removed the provision for “English” and “Welsh” apprenticeship agreements. This means that if a person enters into an apprenticeship agreement in connection with either an English or Welsh framework, regardless of where they work, they will be issued with a certificate, provided they meet the requirements.
On Amendments 9 and 12, in Committee I gave a commitment to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that I would review the need in Clause 12(1)(a) and Clause 17(1)(a) to designate a person to issue frameworks generally. Since we have given a commitment to this House and the other place that framework-issuing authorities will be sector skills councils and other sectoral bodies which issue apprenticeship frameworks, I have concluded that these powers are not necessary and should be removed.
Since Amendments 34, 88 to 89, 111 to 113, 126 to 127 and 228 are consequential to the proposed new clauses and restructuring in Part 1 and are mainly technical in nature, I do not intend to detain noble Lords any longer and, without further ado, I beg to move.
My Lords, we acknowledge the enormous efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Young, the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, and their Bill team in taking on board the concerns and arguments which came from all parts of the Chamber in Committee. It is a testament to the hard work of all concerned that we now see so many government amendments in the final stages of the Bill. Most of the government amendments in this group are designed to adapt the Bill to the amendment tabled in Committee by myself and my noble friends Lord Hunt of Wirral and Lady Verma, which was then voted into the Bill. The purpose of this amendment was to provide a statutory definition of an apprenticeship, and a definition still seems sensible and necessary.
The Government trumpeted the arrival of this Bill, saying that it would bring in a statutory entitlement to an apprenticeship for 16 to 18 year-olds. A definition of that entitlement therefore seemed, to us and many others, crucial. Apprentices, employers, employees and the wider public need absolute clarity about what this entails and what the qualification means. As the noble Lord, Lord Young, said in Committee in June, the Bill is not just about creating more apprenticeships but about ensuring that they remain a respected brand, with people feeling that they are being given a real career opportunity and delivered a quality experience.
We are delighted, therefore, to welcome the government amendments, which have taken on board our key concerns that a statutory definition of an apprenticeship should include a requirement for: both on-the-job and off-the-job training; training in the relevant occupational competencies and technical knowledge, which will require using the practices, equipment and personnel of the job; and training which will lead to the relevant and recognised level of proficiency in a specific trade or occupation. Ideally, we would have liked to see a clear definition at the start of the Bill, as in the amendment we voted in at Committee. Nevertheless we accept the Government’s word that, given the structure of the rest of the Bill, our definition might have created difficulties in legal terms. We therefore accept the Government’s amendments, which we feel help to define the brand more fully as a starting point.
As the Minister will have heard time and again, we have been worried about the potential damage to the apprenticeship brand. In 2006, the Adult Learning Inspectorate warned:
“Some apprentices can potentially achieve the full requirements of the apprenticeship framework without having to set foot in a workplace”.
Furthermore, in 2008 Ofsted confirmed in its report entitled The Impact of Programme-Led Apprenticeships that many of the apprenticeships created by the Government were, in fact, virtual without much contact or training with an employer at all. We are therefore pleased that the Government have conceded that further clarification was necessary. We welcome also the Government’s intentions regarding a pre-apprenticeship contract, which would make it possible for work-based training to remain a useful and important part of the preparation for the workplace but separate from the more specific apprenticeship brand. We welcome it because we have long called for more emphasis on pre-apprenticeship training and we have appreciated its importance to people, particularly in a time of economic difficulty when training and reskilling become even more important.
We are most concerned that there should be a firm and resolute reassurance that the pre-apprenticeship contract will not form part of the apprenticeship. I think I heard the Minister say that the apprenticeship would start only when the apprentice was employed. Perhaps, in due course, he would confirm that for me. I also gather from his words that the period for this pre-apprenticeship will be only up to six months. Again, perhaps he could inform us what would happen if an apprentice were unable to find an employment contract after that six-month period. What risk is there that it might creep into a longer-term pre-apprenticeship? Would the young person be made redundant, or would they continue under the term “training contract” rather than “apprenticeship”? There are many options and we must be absolutely clear what the results will be.
In conclusion, does the Minister wish to expand on the impact that he feels the Bill will have on the apprenticeships market? Given that the number of new apprenticeships has dramatically fallen this year, do the Government hope that this Bill will provide the answer?
My Lords, I, too, thank the Government very much for the lengthy discussions that we have had on these issues. I also congratulate them on the outcome, which is extremely satisfactory. We now have incorporated into the Bill a very clear definition of the concept of apprenticeship which applies equally in England and in Wales. We spent a lot of time on that interesting issue, thanks to the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. Before debating the matter I had not fully realised the problems that could be posed by having an apprenticeship that applied to England only.
A number of other important aspects of apprenticeships are now also incorporated in the legislation, such as on-the-job and off-the-job training. Thanks to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Layard, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Blackstone and Lady Morris, we also have the distinction that the completion of an apprenticeship shows both occupational competence—defined as the competence required to perform a skill, trade or occupation, to which the framework applies—and the relevant technical knowledge required to back up that skill, trade or occupation. Left untouched were Clauses 31 and 93, which make it clear that the apprenticeship agreement normally involves a contract of employment. Last but not least, it does away with the concept of a general framework introduced in Clause 12(1)(a), which is now to be deleted, and about which none of us was very clear, though we asked many questions about it, leaving only frameworks accredited by the relevant sector skills councils or appropriate bodies. We applaud and are very grateful to the Minister for making that clear.
It also introduces the concept of two routes to an apprenticeship: the standard route, which applies to the vast majority of apprenticeships, and the alternative completion conditions which are to be specified by regulations. In their notes to us about these clauses the Bill team and the Minister spelt out that the alternative completion conditions would apply where a person is not working under an apprenticeship agreement and does not have an employer. That would include, for example, self-employed apprentices; apprentices carrying out voluntary work in order to complete their apprenticeships when they have been made redundant; and apprentices doing advanced apprenticeships in sporting excellence, who may well be Olympic athletes who are not working at all.
The issue of those working with Rathbone and Barnardo’s still poses some problems. The Minister introduced this new concept, which we discussed in Committee, of pre-apprenticeship training. All noble Lords who were present at the Committee stage are very sympathetic to the work done by Rathbone and Barnardo’s, and we on these Benches feel strongly that these young people—many of whom, as the Minister said, come from very chaotic backgrounds, and who are given the opportunity to enter an apprenticeship through some kind of pre-apprenticeship training—should not lose out on these opportunities. Will the Minister confirm whether, during this period, when they are in effect supported by Rathbone and Barnardo’s, they will continue to be funded as apprentices, and counted as part of the data, by the National Apprenticeship Service? This is one of the issues which Rathbone and Barnardo’s are concerned about.
The Minister has made it fairly clear that the apprenticeship proper would start within or at the end of six months of pre-apprenticeship training, and that they would not therefore be properly employed apprentices. We are keen that they should be employed by somebody, but this would not start until then. Will the Minister clarify whether they will continue to be funded, and whether they will count as apprentices in the national statistics? I thank the Minister and the team working on the Bill for what they have achieved. We have had a substantial reframing of the concept of the apprenticeship agreement, which is now well defined within the Bill and is explicit in its requirements. We on these Benches are extremely happy to back these amendments.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 17. I welcome the spirit of government Amendments 18, 19 and 21, which establish the need for an apprentice to demonstrate technical knowledge as well as occupational competence. However, we need to go further than this. It is essential that technical knowledge be separately assessed and not just demonstrated in some way which could be part of on-the-job assessment. If it is not separately assessed, there is a serious danger that it will be watered down. In our amendment we propose to prevent that. Technical knowledge should be demonstrated in a separate certificate; a so-called technical certificate has been the lingo in the apprenticeship world for some years. At a very minimum, we should insist that it be separately assessed—if not in a separate certificate, then separately within a unified certificate. We urge the Government to think further on this matter, and, at a minimum, guarantee in the Bill a separate assessment. I look forward to the Minister’s reply on that point.
I would like to make an observation on the nearby government Amendment 20. It seems to me a really retrograde step and I do not understand why it is in here. It states that where a framework requires a separate technical certificate, such as a BTEC, and an occupationally based certificate, such as an NVQ, the framework shall identify the NVQ as the “principal” qualification in relation to the overall framework because, the amendment states, it is,
“the qualification that demonstrates the relevant occupational competencies”.
Why is it more important to demonstrate the relevant occupational competencies than to demonstrate the technical knowledge? Why is it necessary to say which of the two is the more important? I do not understand why that has been introduced at this point when the Government have in all other respects been so helpful in raising the importance attached to technical knowledge. Why do we need that amendment? Perhaps the Minister will explain.
My Lords, I congratulate all those who have prepared the amendments, because they have provoked or led the Government to think very carefully and produce some pretty good answers, which will go a long way to satisfying most people. In particular, we now have a definition of apprenticeships.
I support the points made by Barnardo's and Rathbone, because they have been doing an extremely important job in helping disadvantaged youngsters join programmes such as a workplace-led apprenticeship with employers. I do not feel entirely happy that the six months proposed will entirely meet the needs of all those young people, because many come from chaotic families and others will have different problems, such as learning difficulties. I would have been happier, as would Rathbone and Barnardo's, if a little more flexibility could have been given by referring to the first half, rather than six months, of the workplace apprenticeship.
That said, I hope, because finance will be involved in all this, that more thought will be given by the Government as to how more employers can be encouraged to go along those lines, so that more opportunities are open for the people whom we all know do not have the necessary qualifications, who will increasingly have to stay on at school because of the raising of the school leaving age, and so on. A lot more needs to be thought through about how we make it much easier to get those young people to learn the skills that this country so urgently needs.
My Lords, I turn to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, in his concern about the brand and the point about the Rathbone and Barnardo's scenario. We share exactly the same view about the importance of the apprenticeship brand. Indeed, for some time we have said that a programme for a learning apprenticeship does not count towards statistics for apprenticeships unless there is an employer connection. If there is not, it is not an apprenticeship.
To reiterate on the point of concern regarding Barnardo’s and Rathbone, there is a balance to be struck here. Although I heard the plea from the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, for flexibility, there is a limit where flexibility goes too far and we start to damage the brand. We have tried to strike that important balance. We have made clear that the six-month pre-apprenticeship contract period of work-based training is not in itself an apprenticeship. It will count towards the completion of an apprenticeship framework and the award of an apprenticeship certificate only if the young person is employed as an apprentice within the six-month period.
Let me also be absolutely clear that the apprenticeship would only start and would only count towards official apprenticeship statistics once the learner was employed. I can reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that the six months’ training would be funded by the National Apprenticeship Service. We have tried to strike a balance—we recognise the valuable nature of that work. As we said previously, the precise detail of the six-month period will need to be agreed when regulations are being drafted. We are committed to working with Rathbone, Barnardo’s and other interested parties on these regulations. I note the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, made in relation to those with learning difficulties. We are dealing with that separately in further amendments, where you will see we have made real and significant progress with helping those people.
I will deal first with the second of the two questions raised by my noble friend Lord Layard because the paper happens to be on the top. He asked why the competence qualification is the principal qualification. From an employer’s perspective it is important that apprentices have technical knowledge, but the competence qualification demonstrates that they can actually do the job. I know my noble friend Lady Blackstone is shaking her head. As a former apprentice, I think that I have a touch more experience—there are not many areas in which I would say that—and it would not be the first situation that I have encountered where you can have all the technical qualifications in the world but the ability to do the job, the ability to carry out the work, is what is important. I have known a number of electrical apprentices who were great in theory, but I am afraid that when it came to cabling the house and completing the job in a satisfactory time they could not actually do it. Ultimately, ability in that area will create their employment prospects.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that, while it is enormously important that anybody who has been through an apprenticeship is competent at the job, to be competent they must also have acquired a considerable amount of knowledge about the work they are doing in whatever area it might be and be technically able to carry out that work?
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that there is a balance to be struck and in no way am I dismissing the requirement for technical knowledge. However, there are now more than 200 apprenticeship frameworks whose requirements vary hugely from ones such as retail where the amount of technical knowledge will be significantly less to the much more complicated engineering, electrical and IT apprenticeship frameworks. It really is horses for courses. I do not mean in any way to dismiss the importance of technical knowledge—it is fundamentally important.
The other point raised by my noble friend Lord Layard was that of separate technical knowledge and occupational competence qualifications. Many apprenticeships contain separate qualifications but there are single qualifications that cover both points. Where appropriate, they will be separately assessed. We understand the importance of that and do not wish to demean it, but there are examples of apprenticeship frameworks where this does not apply. The way that we have structured it is appropriate given the vast number of apprenticeship frameworks. I believe that I have dealt with all the points that were raised and I commend the amendment to the noble Lords.
My Lords, the draft specification currently says that there should be a separate assessment, so it is worrying when the Minister says that some qualifications, even unified qualifications, have no separate assessment. We say that more than being in the specification, where it already is, it should be in the Bill. We will come back to this at Third Reading.
I asked the Minister why there has to be a principal qualification at all, not why there should be one rather than another. I do not know why it has to be so.
My Lords, I reassure my noble friend that whatever we say in the standards will apply. I may not have quite understood the essence of his question. In some cases, they will be assessed together, but there will still be an assessment of whatever technical knowledge is required. It may be part of a joint process rather than a separate one.
We still believe in the pre-eminence of the competence qualification. As I have said, this is not a question of undermining the importance of technical knowledge. We may need to have further dialogue on this issue. I think we both want to ensure the quality of an apprenticeship, and I hope we can resolve the slight difference that may exist between us.
My Lords, my experience of working with sector skills councils and employers directly is that when an individual comes out of an apprenticeship and stands before an employer, that employer not only looks for accredited qualifications but wants to ask, “Actually, Margaret, where can I put you now so that you can do this work?”. That is the whole point of the pattern of apprenticeships and the pathway we put people on. Qualifications are hugely important, and technical ability is important, but does my noble friend agree that the technical requirements of apprenticeships vary across the patch? Every employer needs to know that the individual can not only do technically good work but do the job which the employer hopes to employ them to do.
My Lords, I agree. I reflect briefly on the fact that some employees come from a university background. They are exceedingly well qualified in theory, but they lack knowledge of the world of work and sometimes the ability to apply the theory. I am in no way decrying what they acquire at university; I am merely emphasising that employers attach so much importance to being able to do the job and to understanding the world of work.
My Lords, that is a matter for the individual and Rathbone or Barnardo’s. In other cases, one hopes that every apprentice will be found a place, but that cannot always be guaranteed. In the situation described by the noble Lord, it is quite clear that it is not an apprenticeship unless there is a contract of employment. Each case will be individual. Rathbone or Barnardo’s would have to sort out with the individual why he or she had failed to find a place; I cannot speculate on that.
We will have an opportunity to deal with the detail of this in regulation, but the plain fact of the matter is, as I have said, that if they have no contract of employment, unfortunately they have no apprenticeship. I am sure, given the record of Rathbone and Barnardo’s, that those young people will not be abandoned. There might be a question of further specialist training; we would have to see.
Amendment 1 agreed.
2: Before Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Meaning of “completing a Welsh apprenticeship”
(1) This section applies for the purposes of this Chapter.
(2) A person completes a Welsh apprenticeship in relation to an apprenticeship framework if—
(a) the standard Welsh completion conditions are met, or(b) the alternative Welsh completion conditions are met.(3) The standard Welsh completion conditions are—
(a) that the person has entered into an apprenticeship agreement in connection with the apprenticeship framework,(b) that at the date of that agreement the framework was a recognised Welsh framework,(c) that the person has completed a course of training for the principal qualification identified in the framework,(d) that, throughout the duration of the course, the person was working under the apprenticeship agreement, and(e) that the person meets the requirements specified in the framework for the purpose of the issue of an apprenticeship certificate.(4) In subsection (3)(d)—
(a) the reference to the apprenticeship agreement mentioned in subsection (3)(a) includes a reference to any apprenticeship agreement which the person subsequently entered into in connection with the same apprenticeship framework;(b) the reference to the course of training for the principal qualification is to be read, in a case where the person has followed two or more courses of training for the principal qualification, as a reference to both or all of them.(5) The alternative Welsh completion conditions are conditions which—
(a) apply in cases where a person works otherwise than under an apprenticeship agreement, and(b) are specified in regulations made by the Welsh Ministers.(6) The kinds of working in relation to which provision may be made under subsection (5) include—
(a) working as a self-employed person;(b) working otherwise than for reward.”
Amendment 2 agreed.
Clause 1 : Definition of “apprenticeship”
3: Clause 1, leave out Clause 1
Amendment 3 agreed.
Clause 2 : Duty to issue apprenticeship certificates: England
Amendments 4 and 5
4: Clause 2, page 2, line 8, leave out “applicable conditions are satisfied,” and insert “person has completed an English apprenticeship in relation to the apprenticeship framework,
(aa) in a case within section (Meaning of “completing an English apprenticeship” )(2)(a), it appears to the authority that the condition in subsection (3)(e) of that section was met at the date of the person’s application,”
5: Clause 2, page 2, line 15, leave out subsections (2) to (7)
Amendments 4 and 5 agreed.
Clause 6 : Duty to issue apprenticeship certificates: Wales
Amendments 6 to 8
6: Clause 6, page 3, line 33, leave out “applicable conditions are satisfied,” and insert “person has completed a Welsh apprenticeship in relation to the apprenticeship framework,
(aa) in a case within section (Meaning of “completing a Welsh apprenticeship” )(2)(a), it appears to the authority that the condition in subsection (3)(e) of that section was met at the date of the person’s application,”
7: Clause 6, page 3, line 40, leave out subsections (2) to (6)
8: Clause 6, page 4, line 33, leave out subsection (8)
Amendments 6 to 8 agreed.
Clause 12 : English issuing authority
9: Clause 12, page 6, line 24, leave out paragraph (a)
Amendment 9 agreed.
Clause 13 : Issue of apprenticeship frameworks etc.: England
Amendments 10 and 11
10: Clause 13, page 7, line 2, leave out “that” and insert “only if”
11: Clause 13, page 7, line 3, after “satisfied” insert “that the framework”
Amendments 10 and 11 agreed.
Clause 17 : Welsh issuing authority
12: Clause 17, page 8, line 27, leave out paragraph (a)
Amendment 12 agreed.
Clause 18 : Issue of apprenticeship framework etc.: Wales
Amendments 13 and 14
13: Clause 18, page 9, line 2, leave out “that” and insert “only if”
14: Clause 18, page 9, line 3, after “satisfied” insert “that the framework”
Amendments 13 and 14 agreed.
My Lords, with the permission of the House, I will repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:
“First, Mr Speaker, I am sure the whole House will join with me in sending our condolences to the family and friends of Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid of 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment, who was killed in Afghanistan on Saturday afternoon. We owe him and every one of our Armed Forces an immeasurable debt of gratitude.
With permission, I would like to make a Statement on the European Council held in Brussels last Thursday and Friday. The Copenhagen climate change conference for which the European Council was preparing is now less than 40 days away. If carbon emissions are to be reduced and dangerous climate change averted, it is essential that we achieve an ambitious, comprehensive and binding agreement. Concluding a climate change deal will also drive investment in the low carbon economy and speed up world economic recovery. It will demonstrate that, as at the G20, the world can come together to address the great global challenges we face together.
In all this, European Union leadership is fundamental and now, as we approach Copenhagen, we need to drive forward the negotiations. Let me explain the urgency: to achieve the ambitious, effective and fair deal we need, it is not only developed countries which must act. Developing countries too must cut their emissions, reduce deforestation and be able to adapt to climate change. But to enable them to do so by December we need to make a credible offer of financial assistance now. That is why earlier this year I proposed a long-term financial agreement between developed and developing countries.
On Friday last week, the Council agreed to put on the table for Copenhagen three conditional offers. First, we agreed that Europe will contribute its fair share of the costs of mitigation and adaptation in developing countries, and we endorsed the European Commission’s view that these are expected to require—including the developing countries’ own contributions—annually by 2020 around €100 billion of private and public finance.
Secondly, we set out our offer of public finance, agreeing that the overall level of the international public support required is estimated to lie in the range of €22 billion to €50 billion per year by 2020. Thirdly, we agreed that we should start support immediately to help developing countries cut carbon emissions and adapt to climate change, contributing over the next three years our fair share of a global fast-track initiative of €5 billion to €7 billion per year.
These offers are rightly conditional on,
‘other key players making comparable efforts’,
and on developing countries coming forward with substantial commitments on emission reductions. Importantly, the Council also agreed that climate financing should,
‘not undermine or jeopardise the fight against poverty and continued progress towards the millennium development goals’.
Further, as the UK has proposed, the Council supported the establishment of a high-level body under the United Nations to provide an overview of international sources of climate financing.
The European Union has already committed to cut our emissions by 30 per cent on 1990 levels by 2020 as part of the right international agreement. Now, these financial offers yet again show the determination of the whole European Union to ensure an ambitious climate change deal in Copenhagen.
I can also report that the Council agreed that at the time of the next accession treaty, the Protocol on the Charter of Fundamental Rights will be applied to the Czech Republic. The next step is for the Czech Constitutional Court to make its ruling, which is rightly a matter for that court. I believe that we have made real progress, but it is only after we are sure that the treaty will come into force that the Council will be able to appoint its new president.
Investment across Europe is forecast to contract by 10 per cent this year with an expected loss of 8.5 million jobs, so at the European Council we had to decide, first, whether we should withdraw the fiscal stimulus now or maintain it until recovery was secured. We agreed unanimously, with no country dissenting, that
‘the supporting policies should not be withdrawn until the recovery is fully secured’.
Secondly, we had to decide whether to support public investment to maintain jobs in our economy or simply to let the recession take its course. The Council agreed unanimously to draw up a,
‘European strategy for jobs and growth [with] continued political commitment to active labour market policies’,
and we agreed to take all necessary measures to,
‘prevent high unemployment levels from becoming persistent’.
Thirdly, within our commitment to action for fiscal sustainability once the recovery is assured, we also agreed on the need for active industrial strategies to ensure,
‘investment in the industries and jobs of the future’,
including low carbon technologies, advanced manufacturing and the digital economy.
Fourthly, we stressed the importance of new measures that would ‘strengthen the internal market’ and help growth in our services as well as industries. We also affirmed the need to ‘promote increased trade’. The completion of the Doha trade round next year and progress on bilateral trade deals with India and Canada are central to this, as is the recent trade agreement with Korea, which will create up to €19 billion in new export opportunities for firms across the EU.
We also agreed on reform of our banking systems, which include putting in place new rules on capital and liquidity and bonuses. We agreed to the continuation of work to strengthen the supervisory framework in the European Union following the decisions taken at the Council in June.
The Council expressed its deep condolences to the families of those killed in last week’s Taliban attack in Kabul. We reaffirmed our determination to fight terrorism in every part of the world and our resolve to see our commitments through in Afghanistan. We emphasised our,
‘confidence in the United Nations’ leadership in co-ordinating the international community’s efforts in Afghanistan’.
We welcomed EU plans to,
‘strengthen the civilian capacity of the state institutions in Afghanistan and Pakistan’,
something that has been at the heart of British efforts in recent years. The Council expressed its concern about the security situation in Pakistan and reiterated Europe’s readiness to assist further the affected population. This afternoon, I have spoken to President Karzai and discussed the importance of moving quickly to set out a unity programme for the future of Afghanistan. Afghanistan now needs new and urgent measures for tackling corruption, strengthening local government and reaching out to all parts of Afghan society, and to give the Afghan people a real stake in their future. President Karzai agreed with me that Afghanistan now needs to strengthen its army and police numbers so that over time we can reduce our troops.
Finally, on Iran, the Council expressed its,
‘continuing concern about the situation of staff members of European Union missions and European citizens in Iran who recently have been on trial’,
and called for their ‘prompt and unconditional release’. We also reaffirmed our,
‘grave concern over the development of Iran’s nuclear programme [and over Iran’s] persistent failure to meet its international obligations’.
Once again, we in Britain have shown that by acting not alone but together, by working not against our mainstream European partners but with them, and by putting Britain not on the fringes of Europe but at its heart, Britain will be stronger. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I join the Prime Minister and the Minister in mourning another death of a fine soldier in an explosion in Helmand.
I shall start where the Prime Minister’s Statement finished, on Afghanistan. I have three questions for the Minister. What did EU leaders agree as the strategic objective of the Afghan war? What further commitment of troops was made by any EU state? In view of the continuing deaths and injuries as a result of the lack of airlift capacity, did the Prime Minister ask our EU partners for any help with this problem, and, if so, what was their response?
Paragraph 42 of the presidency conclusions says:
“The European Council stresses the need for the second round of the Presidential election to be credible, inclusive, secure and reflect the will of the Afghan people”.
How can the EU, or indeed the UK Government, believe that, after a man whose win we dismissed as corrupt was returned unopposed?
Beyond the tragic news from Afghanistan, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. However, this is yet another Statement reflecting the declining UK influence in Europe that has flowed—
My Lords, I will come to the charge sheet in a moment. Our declining influence has flowed from 12 years of policies that have been commended to the House by this Government. We signed the Social Chapter for no gain in return. We gave up our budget rebate for nothing in return. We broke our promise of a referendum on the EU treaty, yet again for nothing in return.
The Prime Minister skulked on the fringes of this summit. Perhaps, before being so censorious about the policy of this party, his party might reflect on some of the defects of its own. The Financial Times reported that the Prime Minister left a meeting of his fellow socialists “in a foul mood”.
The Swedish presidency made some welcome progress in promoting action on climate change, something to which the Lisbon treaty is totally irrelevant. We welcome the commitments on carbon reductions that were repeated yet again at the summit, but where, on the 80 per cent to 95 per cent emission reduction target by 2050, did the UK Government commit us? Discussing a €100 billion annual payment to developing countries by 2020, Mr Barroso said that EU payments should be between €22 billion and €50 billion a year by that year. How much of that will be paid by the UK? What firm figure did our Prime Minister put on the table?
The Prime Minister told a press conference that he had agreed a target of 10 million new jobs in Europe by 2014. However, is the problem in Britain not that unemployment is now far higher than it was in 1997, with 5 million people on out-of-work benefits, the highest youth unemployment in Europe and the highest proportion of children growing up in homes where no one works? Is it not therefore high time that we had a Government in this country who addressed the plight of the poor that this Government’s policies have left behind? With the presidency country Sweden, France, Germany and others out of recession while the UK economy still contracts, how can a Prime Minister who boasts that Britain is leading the world out of recession hope to be taken seriously?
The Council conclusions promote a so-called “complete package” on the microsupervision of financial institutions. It is no comment on the EU but a blunt fact of international finance that nothing would give more pleasure to financial circles in Paris and Frankfurt than seeing the world’s greatest financial centre outside the US bound in red tape. Will the Minister assure the House in the most unequivocal terms that the Government reject EU microsupervision and that they will not buy credit in Brussels by selling the independence and competitiveness of the City of London? It would be a dereliction of duty if they let that happen.
Finally, will the noble Baroness tell us whether the UK Government are 100 per cent behind Tony Blair as president of Europe? Who in Britain will have a say on Tony Blair or indeed anyone else as president—perhaps two, three or maybe even a dozen? It is unacceptable to have an unpopular, unelected president imposed on the British people under a treaty on which, thanks to the shameful betrayal of their election promises by both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, no one was allowed to vote?
Whether or not the Lisbon treaty is completed by the year end, never again will a Conservative Government allow such major transfers of power to be approved without a referendum. There are plenty of good UK candidates whom we could all advance and support; there are even some that the British people might willingly accept; but Tony Blair is not one of them. Perhaps we can content ourselves with this: ever since the Prime Minister backed Mr Blair with such fired-up enthusiasm, his campaign has hit the rocks. On this one issue, on this one occasion, we may take comfort in the hopeless lack of influence this Prime Minister now wields.
My Lords, first, I join both the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition in expressing our condolences for the family and friends of Staff Sergeant Schmid. On the matter raised on Afghanistan, I follow the questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, because it must be made clear to President Karzai that he is very much on probation if we are to sustain the commitment in this country to fighting the war in Afghanistan. The messages on Pakistan and Iran were clear and understood. Sometimes I think we talk in this House of places and conflicts which Mr Gladstone would have known about and understood, but everything is not all the same.
This morning I walked across the grounds of Westminster Abbey where they were knocking in all the crosses of those who died in the two World Wars. Especially when there is a European Council so close to 11 November and Remembrance Sunday, I think that we of this generation should take some pride in the fact that we have replaced the conflict and carnage of the first 50 years of the 20th century with systems of governance built on democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law. It has not all been bad news. Indeed, Europe now stands as an example to the world of how old enemies can put their enmity aside and build something better and new.
I have two small pieces of advice in the form of questions. First, would the Prime Minister be better employed using his influence to keep Europe co-ordinated in its response to global recession rather than touting Mr Tony Blair around like a political David Beckham looking for some new lucrative spot to occupy? Secondly, would the Leader of the Opposition be better employed spelling out how he intends to deal with climate change, our energy needs, agreements on trade and financial services, the fight against drug smuggling, people trafficking and organised crime? The time is perilously close to when he will have to do that, but how will he do it when he seems to be concentrating on sending billets-doux to one of the more eccentric national leaders in Europe, and making common cause with the European far right? How will the Conservatives pursue these vital British national interests from a position of splendid isolation? As the great John Junor used to write in his editorials in the Sunday Express:
“I think we should be told”.
On Copenhagen and climate change, the Leader of the House is well aware that we are signed up and enthusiastic to make progress there yet, clearly, there is a great deal of work still to be done in a perilously short time. I have only one little worry about this; the Council says, quite rightly, that there is now a real opportunity to create whole new industries and many more jobs from the challenge posed by climate change. If I might tell this story, however, last night I received a phone call from an American friend who told me that he had just been engaged by a large German company that was involved in developing wind energy technology. It wanted his advice on how best it could exploit demand in the British market for that technology.
What really worries me is: where is the evidence that Britain is investing in the industries and know-how that will create the jobs and make use of the opportunities where these commitments to climate change are concerned? Otherwise, we shall be signing up for targets, then relying on German or Danish technology while getting none of the promised job benefits. Those are my short interventions on what was also, by prime ministerial standards, a very short Statement.
My Lords, first, on Afghanistan, our priority clearly is and must be that of the whole international community—to drive forward the process of Afghanisation by working with the new Afghan Government to bolster up their security forces, to make progress on reintegration, to improve local governance, to deliver services for all Afghans and to continue to expand the economy and tackle corruption. As I said when repeating the Statement, that is exactly what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister was speaking to President Karzai about earlier today. I am sure that he will continue to have conversations with President Karzai. It will be a difficult job but, together with the rest of the international community, we have to keep him on track. That is important not just for Afghans but for the whole world.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, on the Social Chapter that he ridicules, as his whole party does all the time—
I am sorry; I do this all the time. I meant to say the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. The Social Chapter has been a fundamental benefit to many working people in this country. If it were to be endangered by a future Conservative Administration, many people in this country would lose a great deal, and we have to inform them of that point. On the referendum, I am not going to go there, as we have had those arguments so many times before. However, the fact of the matter is that we almost have a treaty of Lisbon. We are not there yet but we almost are, and if it is ratified in the next few days this Government will celebrate that.
On action on climate change, I tell both noble Lords that the Prime Minister has been working with his colleagues over the last days and months, and it is a mark of his determination that he is one of the four Prime Ministers in the European Union who have said that they will, if necessary, go to Copenhagen. It is also a mark of how the Prime Minister is working with his colleagues in the European Union, which is precisely how the advances that were made at the European Council came about. He was not on its fringes, but in the mainstream. On the funding issues, and as an indication of the amount that the UK would contribute to the €22 billion to €50 billion range put forward at the Council, my right honourable friend the Chancellor has put forward that our share of that public finance should be in the range of £7 billion to £10 billion per year. That is what he has said and it is on record.
Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is right to be concerned about unemployment, but I respectfully point out that unemployment in the United Kingdom is still less than it is in France and is certainly a great deal less than it is in Spain. Despite the fact that there may be more unemployed people than there were in 1997—I think that is what the noble Lord said—a lot more jobs have been created, so a lot more people are working in this country than was the case in 1997.
The financial package to which the noble Lord referred will not be agreed until December. A great deal of work is still continuing. The Government are continuing to make representations and work with colleagues in the Council and the European Commission precisely to ensure that the City of London is not endangered and remains a jewel in our crown.
The treaty is not yet ratified and Tony Blair has not yet put his name forward to be president of the European Council. However, I emphasise that we need a strong European Council president. That is why, if Mr Blair put himself forward as a candidate, he would be supported.
In relation to influence, you can see the Prime Minister’s fingerprints, as it were, all over the Council’s conclusions as regards the jobs and growth strategy and what is happening in Copenhagen. He has shown real leadership at the European Council and it is a testament to him that it has got so far.
Like the noble Lord, Lord McNally, when I walk through the poppy field at Westminster Abbey it revitalises my enthusiasm for the European Union, because it is precisely the values we all share as a European Union which have ensured peace and stability in this part of western Europe for so long. I look forward to enlargement to include the Balkan countries, because I believe that until they are in the European Union there will not be true peace and stability in the whole continent.
The UK, together with France, Sweden and Denmark, is now maintaining a diplomatic push to try to ensure within the next 40 days that we get good conclusions at Copenhagen. There again it is a case of working with people, not in isolation; I must keep stressing that. I take on board the noble Lord’s point about industries and his concern that our industries are not up there, gaining all the necessary jobs and future work in new technologies and green industries. However, my noble friend Lord Mandelson has a very interventionist industrial policy and will come back to noble Lords in writing about the specifics relating to new technologies and green technologies.
My Lords, the Council’s agreements on a schedule for cuts in carbon emissions and on adaptation aid to developing countries represent substantial and encouraging progress and a very good basis for further development at Copenhagen. Is it not clear to my noble friend—it certainly is to me—that these advances owe much to the sustained commitment of our Prime Minister and the British Government, and to their firm, unwavering and effective engagement with the European Union? Does she share my view that such beneficial outcomes could never be secured by British representatives who profess complete commitment to climate security, but make that commitment impotent by Europhobia which corrodes trust and repels allies?
Yes, my Lords, I certainly agree with every point made by my noble friend. I add that one of the regrettable things about the Conservatives’ new grouping in the European Union is that so many of their allies in it seem so sceptical about climate change. We throughout this House, as a body, are not sceptical.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there are two historic commitments in this Statement that are worth spelling out? The first is what I would call the innovative way in which we will provide a financial mechanism on climate change, to which my noble friend Lord Kinnock has referred. I describe this as a carbon equalisation tax, whereby those who are using a lot more carbon will transfer some ration cards, as it were, to those who use below the average amount of carbon. This is where the European Union is showing leadership in the world, in a way that no single European country could on its own.
A second example is the new European Systemic Risk Board, where Britain is for the first time getting into a formal relationship, among other things, with the European Central Bank. The Government are helping the European Union get back on track, in a way which—now that we have shot the fox that the Conservative Party has been hanging on to—shows that this is the only Government in sight in this country who can give a credible position to Britain’s role in the world.
Yes, my Lords, I agree with the comments made by my noble friend and a number of my other noble friends. With the world working in blocs—with a powerful United States and a powerful China—with climate change, and with what we have gone through in the economic crisis, it is important precisely at this time that we work together as a European Union. I am very proud that that is what this Government are doing. I hope that it will not be endangered by any future Government because that would certainly not benefit the people of this country.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that I am somebody who approaches Europe with a fairly open mind and wants to listen to constructive views, from wherever they come? Does she share my dismay that, having listened to what I can only describe as the diatribe from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, he was clearly talking about aspects of Europe other than that which happened in Brussels this weekend? There was no mention of most of the issues that he raised either in the communiqué or in the Brussels discussions. Does she share my concern that it is a pity that people outside this Chamber who are equally concerned about Europe do not have any constructive views from the leader of the Opposition as to what he thought of the essential issues that were discussed this weekend?
My Lords, I have an awful lot to agree with this afternoon. Yes, it is a great shame because there is much substance in the conclusions of the Council. That is the case at every Council but, globally, this Council is particularly important because it was dealing with the key issues of climate change and economic recovery. It is a great shame that Her Majesty’s Official Opposition do not have very clear plans and questions on these fundamental issues.
My Lords, we are perhaps six months from an election in which the Official Opposition hope to become the Government. It is therefore rather sad that the spokesman for the Opposition, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, could not bring himself to say anything positive—not a scintilla—about the European Union, an attitude that will not go unnoticed by centre-right Governments in Europe, particularly in France and in Germany.
Clearly, there was a welcome agreement on climate change that shows what can be done when we work together as Europeans. At long last there appears now to be closure to the institutional debate, yet the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, talked about the declining influence of this country. Does he not recall that in the years before 1997 we were surly, on the sidelines and isolated, wholly contrary to our own national interests? Is there a danger of that recurring unless the Official Opposition are willing to look objectively at how best we can pursue our national interests within the European Union? Are we going to have the latter-day Bourbons who have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing about that period, when it was so contrary to our national interest to be so isolated? Is there not a danger, if they were to be in the unwelcome position of succeeding in six months’ time, of not letting matters rest? There is also a danger of gestures for the benefit of the Europhobe Back-Benchers, which would again be wholly contrary to our national interest.
Yes, my Lords. We forget any aspect of our history at our peril. Like many noble Lords, I lived through the years when we were, in a way, outcasts in the European Union at meetings of the European Commission and at various Council meetings. We simply could not have our voice heard, because people did not respect us and because we would not listen to the arguments about the European Union. Like my noble friend I am deeply worried that, in withdrawing from the mainstream of the European right, the Conservatives would not be listened to or respected in the European Union. That would be to the detriment of all the people of this country.
My Lords, I declare an interest as someone who has served at least as long as any other Minister since 1972 on the Budget Council of the European Union. This afternoon’s exchanges have included those supporting the Front Bench opposite saying how well the Front Bench is doing and how poorly the leadership of the Opposition are doing. Why does the Leader of the House think that, at the moment, 67 per cent more people in the United Kingdom are proposing to vote for the Opposition rather than for the Government?
My Lords, I believe that we probably have six months or so before a general election, and I would not wish to prejudge the views and voices of the British people at that election. Like the noble Lord, I am acutely aware of what the polls say. Quite honestly, however, I do not think that we give enough space in this country to talking about European issues. Perhaps that is one lesson that we should all have learnt earlier.
My Lords, I do not want to get involved in the party political bickering that is going on this afternoon, but I have one question. We have heard throughout the weekend, and before the weekend, that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have been lobbying for Mr Blair to be made the president of the European Council, and they have been supporting that view by saying that what we want is a strong man who can stop the traffic in his motorcade. That puzzles me a little, because, of course, I took part in the debates on the Lisbon treaty. We had a big debate about this position, and we were assured by the Government that the position of president of the European Council was merely about presiding over the Council meetings. That was the assurance that we were given, and those of us who predicted that it would become a much bigger job than that were derided and scorned and told that we were talking nonsense. Now, which is it? Is he going to be a great man on the world stage, representing the EU? Or is he just going to be the president of the European Council who will preside over its meetings? I think we are entitled to know.
My Lords, the president of the European Council will certainly preside over meetings of the European Council, but it is also widely recognised that we need someone who is able to bring greater coherence and consistency to the actions of the EU and the European Council. I think that that is why we talk about the need for a strong man—someone who can drive forward greater progress on the global issues that we face, issues such as climate change, which we have been discussing today. No one is saying that the job will be a huge amount greater than perhaps the noble Lord was anticipating. As I say, however, I think that it is widely recognised that we need a strong man in the chair—I am sorry: a strong woman or a strong man—who is able to assist the European Union in taking forward its policies. I think that that is what the majority of people in this Chamber and the majority of people in this country would wish.
My Lords, does my noble friend share my puzzlement at the lack of interest regarding this important Statement on the opposition Benches—with one noble, albeit eccentric, exception—particularly given that the Liberal Democrats pretend to have a huge interest in Europe and its development? Perhaps they believe that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has said everything that has to be said.
Following the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, does my noble friend not agree that we are at a crucial crossroads regarding the future of Europe? Those like the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and those on the Conservative Front Bench, who want to see an ineffective Europe playing second fiddle on the world stage, would perhaps opt for someone like a former Prime Minister of Luxembourg—or even a current Prime Minister of Luxembourg—as president of the European Council. However, those who believe that Europe must play an important part in the world, standing up and speaking with a strong voice to China, to the United States of America, to Russia, and to all the other powers in the world, think that we need someone with strength, ability and experience, regardless of whether it is a man or a woman. However, there is one ideal candidate. I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who I represented for 26 years in the other place: there is one person who, if there were to be a popular election, would actually get elected as the president of the Council of Europe. That person is Tony Blair.
My Lords, I like to think that there have not been many participants from the opposition Benches because everyone agrees that this is an excellent Statement and that the outcome of the Council was absolutely as good as it should have been. As for the president of the Council, I agree that Europe is at a crossroads—but it always seems to be at a crossroads. However, these are critical times globally, so they are critical for the European Union. We need a person of strength, ability and experience. If the treaty is ratified and if Mr Blair were to put forward his name, of course he would be an excellent candidate. But there are two ifs. Let us wait until the treaty is ratified and we have seen the list of those who have put forward their names as candidates.
My Lords, is it not rather sad that, apart from the three Front Benches and the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, the only comments that we have heard on this issue from the government Back Benches have been snide remarks about the opposition parties? Is this not rather similar to what some of us knew down the corridor when new Members came into the other place parroting the latest publicity documents from their party headquarters, typified this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, who appears not to know the difference between the Council of Europe and the Council of Ministers of the European Union?
My Lords, it is not for me to comment on what happens in the other place, but I will reflect on the comments that have been made from the Benches behind me. I think that my noble friends’ concern is that the Opposition’s policy on the European Union does not do justice to the needs of the people of this country. I think that that is what they have been wishing to express.
My Lords, after listening to the contributions so far, I am beginning to wonder how many noble Lords have actually read or remembered what was in the Lisbon treaty itself. Does the Leader of the House agree that there is a danger that those who support a particular candidate might be trying to create the perception of a job to suit a person rather than looking for a person to fill the job described in the Lisbon treaty? We must be very careful about that. My own perception of the job is tending not to the minimalist view but certainly to the smaller view—which is that it is chairman of the Council. However, I would disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, when he says that that is the only function of the job. The treaty makes it perfectly clear that that man or that woman will need to drive forward the agenda. However, in driving forward the agenda the chairman can do only what the Council wants him to do. Let us not try to erect a huge, great job out of what is clearly intended in the Lisbon treaty to be a facilitating job to make sure that the agenda of the Council is properly set, that the business of the Council is properly dispatched and that what is decided is implemented. That is what it is all about.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for bringing us back to the realities of the Lisbon treaty. We are at a crossroads, as another noble friend said earlier. It is possible that the Lisbon treaty will be ratified this week. I hope that that will ensure that, for the foreseeable future, we will not be talking about all these institutional issues. When we have a president and high representative in place, and a new Commission, I hope that we can move forward and that the European Union can address itself to the issues that concern the people of this country and can be a strong force for good in the world.
My Lords, does the Leader of the House agree that, in a House that prides itself on being different from the other place—playing a different role in a different way—the regular repetition of Statements made in the other place leads to scenes that make us much more like the other place than we want to be; and that this is something that we ought to discuss in relation to how the House conducts its business?
My Lords, I have a deal of sympathy with the noble Lord when it comes to Statements. Perhaps it would be useful for the Procedure Committee, the usual channels or the most appropriate body to consider the matter in the not-too-distant future. A significant time is spent on Statements that some noble Lords might think is not always necessary. That is something that we will take forward.
Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill
Report (1st Day) (Continued)
Clause 22 : Duty to prepare and submit draft specification of apprenticeship standards: England
15: Clause 22, page 10, line 31, leave out “such” and insert “—
(a) each person designated under section 12,(b) persons who appear to the Chief Executive to represent—(i) employers,(ii) institutions within the further education sector, and(iii) any other providers of training,(c) any other persons or descriptions of persons specified in regulations, and(d) such other”
My Lords, I agree absolutely with the sentiments expressed in Committee and reflected in the amendments in this group tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Garden, to whom we are indebted. Employers must be consulted at all levels. I will take the opportunity, in moving the amendment and speaking to the others in the group, to set out precisely how that will happen. The most obvious place in which it is essential to engage employers is in the area of apprenticeships. In view of the overwhelming importance of the issue, noble Lords expressed a particular concern in Committee that employers and sector skills councils should be consulted on the specification of apprenticeship standards for England. Amendments 15 and 16 make it explicit that representatives of employers, further education colleges and other training providers must be consulted. While it has not been possible to refer directly to sector skills councils, I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, will accept that the formulation used encompasses sector skills councils and those sector bodies which issue frameworks.
On Amendments 90 and 91, we will expect the National Apprenticeship Service and the Skills Funding Agency, of which it forms part, to work closely with sector skills councils and other sector bodies to encourage participation in apprenticeships so that young people can have the widest range of apprenticeship opportunities possible. It will also be essential to consult employers across a far wider range of issues than apprenticeships. Amendment 91 would require sector skills councils to consult themselves, which I am sure was not the intention of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. Clause 117 requires the chief executive of skills funding, in performing the functions of the office, to have regard to any guidance given by the Secretary of State. Subsection (2) makes it clear that this may include guidance about consultation, and there is a specific peg in subsection (3)(b) to include guidance with employers.
I would like to place on the record a clear commitment that we will use that guidance-making power to require consultation by the Skills Funding Agency and, by extension, the National Apprenticeship Service with employers, their representatives and the sector skills councils. Noble Lords will be interested to know that draft guidance is currently being prepared for consultation. This gives an indicative list of the organisations which includes these bodies. We are also committed to using the Secretary of State’s mirror guidance-making power in Clause 76 to require the Young People’s Learning Agency to consult employers, their representative organisations, sector skills councils and other partners.
Finally, we have reflected further on the strength of feeling with the House that in delivering their new responsibilities for 16 to 19 education and training, local authorities should engage closely with employers. We agree, and we accept that there was a gap in the Bill, which Amendment 81 seeks to address by extending the remit of the YPLA’s statutory guidance to include, most importantly, the local authority’s duty in Clause 42 to encourage employers to participate in education and training. This will mean that the YPLA can make it clear in its statutory guidance, to which local authorities must have regard, that they should consult local employers and their representative, where appropriate, in the exercise of their new duties.
I hope that, taken together, these amendments and commitments will mean that there is proper engagement with employers at every level right across the activities of the Skills Funding Agency, the National Apprenticeship Service, the YPLA, and local authorities. I hope, therefore, that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, will feel able to withdraw her amendments, which by and large deal with consultation in narrower areas of work. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister for this very positive reaction to the amendments that we tabled in Committee and for the clarification that he has given on the functions of the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency and of the YPLA in relation to the role of local authorities. We tabled Amendments 32, 37, 38, 90, 91 and 94 because we did not find the response we had in Committee to be adequate. We felt that it was not clear that, as well as local education authorities under the YPLA being required to develop local skills strategies, it is clearly also vital that local employers are involved in their discussions. In order to identify where the skills gaps are, local education authorities need to talk to local employers. Our Amendments 37 and 38 seek to encourage participation by local employers. It is all very well encouraging employers to participate in providing education and training but it is also important that the local authorities talk to them and consult them. Although we knew that best practice existed, we felt that it was not always carried forward.
Similarly, on Amendments 90 and 91, the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency was asked, in conjunction with the sector skills councils, to encourage employers and their representatives and, in Amendment 94, to take account of the views of employers. That was very reasonable but in Committee those points had not been answered by the Minister. We are very pleased with Amendments 15 and 16. I do not mind the fact that to avoid hybridity you have to go in a roundabout way to describe sector skills councils. I am pleased that there is a reference to the Sharp definition of sector skills councils and am touched that that should be regarded as the Sharp roundabout way of doing it.
On the other issues, I am delighted to get on the record the clarification of the full role for consultation for the sector skills councils, for employers and for such organisations as chambers of commerce which, on occasion, are the appropriate representatives of employers. I am pleased about that and I very much hope that those organisations will note that the fact that they will be consulted is now on the record. I slightly regret that it is not written into the Bill but I think we have the next best thing: an explicit recognition on the part of the Government that they should be consulted and that that will be fully covered in regulations. I am extremely grateful to the Minister for those concessions.
My Lords, in Committee, we discussed the role of sector skills councils in some depth. We on these Benches believed, and still believe, that there was a place for the sector skills councils in the Bill. We agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, on this matter. We believe it is crucial that sector skills councils are involved in the drafting and issuing of the specification of apprenticeship standards because they are an important intermediary which will represent the needs of industry. Their involvement would, therefore, help to ensure that apprenticeships are kept to the highest standard and are relevant to employers' needs. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, we think that the Minister may have a point when he suggests that to refer to them specifically in the Bill would render it hybrid. As he said in Committee, that,
“would require more complex and time-consuming parliamentary procedure”.
We are delighted, therefore, that the Government have taken this opportunity to consider their stance and we welcome government Amendment 15 which would mean that the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency has to consult, among others, with each of the people under Section 12 to issue apprenticeship frameworks, whom we have been assured will include the sector skills councils. We welcome this amendment which encapsulates the desire of our Amendment 38A which was discussed in Committee. We welcome the Government's intentions here and we are most grateful for all the hard work which went into finding a way to incorporate the sector skills councils and to tie them, if not as far as we would have hoped, at least more clearly into the Bill. As the Minister said in Committee:
“We cannot establish apprenticeship frameworks without sector skills councils”.—[Official Report, 24/6/09; col. 1584.]
I am a little curious that the Government have chosen to expand the role of employers and their representatives specifically only in terms of the draft specification of apprenticeship standards. Perhaps, in due course, he could explain why he feels their role should be limited in that way.
We are also grateful that the drafting of the Government's amendments means that they include a wider framework. We think it is important, for example, that pan-sector skill organisations such as those to do with business or administration are not left out of the consultation and that their involvement is very important. Perhaps there are other ways of including them, even with a further defined role for the sector skills councils in the Bill. That deserves some thought.
The amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, would attempt to push that further. These amendments use the same formula to bring the sector skills councils, employers and their representatives into other areas of the Bill. We are in favour of a demand-led and employer-led approach to education, training and skills. To achieve that in the most appropriate and sensible fashion, employers must be involved in the process. I look forward to the Minister’s response with interest.
My Lords, I must admit that I am finding it difficult to cope with this cornucopia of welcome and delight. I only hope that it will continue throughout Report. The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, was a sharp amendment and the Sharp amendment. The noble Baroness takes my point. It is not only in the specification of standards in England that we see employer consultation as relevant. We have referred specifically to a consultation with the sectors skills councils and others on the specification of apprenticeship standards in England because of its overwhelming importance. They will be consulted, as I said, on all other aspects of the Skills Funding Agency, and on National Apprenticeship Service activities. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, about the importance of demand-led apprenticeships. We are trying to convince employers about the vital importance of apprenticeships. I believe that I have answered all the questions raised by noble Lords.
Amendment 15 agreed.
Amendment 16 agreed.
Clause 26: Contents of specification of apprenticeship standards for England
Amendment 17 not moved.
Amendments 18 to 21
18: Clause 26, page 12, line 7, after “them,” insert—
“(aa) requirements for a recognised English framework to include, as an English certificate requirement, the requirement that an apprenticeship certificate relating to the framework may be issued to a person only if the person has received both on-the-job training and off-the-job training,”
19: Clause 26, page 12, line 10, after “held,” insert—
“(ia) include, as an English certificate requirement, the requirement that the qualification, or the qualifications taken together, demonstrate the relevant occupational competencies and the relevant technical knowledge,”
20: Clause 26, page 12, line 11, leave out “that qualification, or one of those qualifications,” and insert “the qualification that demonstrates the relevant occupational competencies”
21: Clause 26, page 12, line 18, at end insert—
““off-the-job training” in relation to a recognised English framework, is training which—
(a) is received for the purposes of the skill, trade or occupation to which the framework relates, and(b) is not on-the-job training;“on-the-job training” in relation to a recognised English framework, is training received in the course of carrying on the skill, trade or occupation to which the framework relates;
“the relevant occupational competencies”, in relation to a recognised English framework, means the competencies required to perform the skill, trade or occupation to which the framework relates at the level required in the framework;
“the relevant technical knowledge”, in relation to a recognised English framework, means the technical knowledge required to perform the skill, trade or occupation to which the framework relates at the level required in the framework.”
Amendments 18 to 21 agreed.
Clause 30: Contents of specification of apprenticeship standards for Wales
Amendments 22 to 25
22: Clause 30, page 13, line 25, after “them,” insert—
“(aa) requirements for a recognised Welsh framework to include, as a Welsh certificate requirement, the requirement that an apprenticeship certificate relating to the framework may be issued to a person only if the person has received both on-the-job training and off-the-job training,”
23: Clause 30, page 13, line 28, after “held,” insert—
“(ia) include, as a Welsh certificate requirement, the requirement that the qualification, or the qualifications taken together, demonstrate the relevant occupational competencies and the relevant technical knowledge,”
24: Clause 30, page 13, line 29, leave out “that qualification, or one of those qualifications,” and insert “the qualification that demonstrates the relevant occupational competencies”
25: Clause 30, page 13, line 33, after “section” insert—
““off-the-job training” in relation to a recognised Welsh framework, is training which—
(a) is received for the purposes of the skill, trade or occupation to which the framework relates, and(b) is not on-the-job training;“on-the-job training” in relation to a recognised Welsh framework, is training received in the course of carrying on the skill, trade or occupation to which the framework relates;
“the relevant occupational competencies”, in relation to a recognised Welsh framework, means the competencies required to perform the skill, trade or occupation to which the framework relates at the level required in the framework;
“the relevant technical knowledge”, in relation to a recognised Welsh framework, means the technical knowledge required to perform the skill, trade or occupation to which the framework relates at the level required in the framework.”
Amendments 22 to 25 agreed.
Clause 36: Careers education
26: Clause 36, leave out Clause 36
My Lords, I will speak also to Amendment 222. The aim here is to ensure that schools provide information about apprenticeships to all pupils, alongside other education and training options for 16 to 18 year-olds. I am grateful to noble Lords for an extremely productive and thought-provoking debate on careers education in Committee, and particularly to my noble friends who were in their place earlier on. This signalled what I identified as a determination, which we all share, to ensure that every pupil has access to a wide range of information about all the options available to them at the age of 16, to allow them to make informed choices about their future.
However, noble Lords expressed doubts about the extent to which this requirement was made explicit to schools by the careers education clause in this Bill. We have listened very carefully to those concerns. This was always a question of drafting rather than intention. I hope noble Lords will agree that the new clause contained in Amendment 22 will address those concerns and make it absolutely clear to schools that they have a legal duty to ensure that every child receives information about apprenticeships. The new clause, which would replace Clause 36, introduces a requirement on schools, when providing a programme of careers education, to ensure that the programme includes information on options available in respect of education or training for 16 to 18 year-olds, and specifically information on apprenticeships, which was the issue that noble Lords were concerned about.
The new clause will amend Section 43 of the Education Act 1997. That section was previously amended by the Education and Skills Act 2008 to require schools to provide careers information in an impartial manner and give advice that promotes the best interests of pupils. Nothing that we are doing through the new clause will alter or undermine that legislative position.
We also took powers in the Education and Skills Act 2008 to issue statutory guidance on careers education, which was published on 26 October. That sets out the core information which all young people should receive on post-16 learning options. That includes extensive information on apprenticeships, including the benefits of taking an apprenticeship, wage returns and apprenticeship sector progression to higher education—a very important issue raised in Committee—as well as information about employment opportunities available locally.
On that basis, I hope that noble Lords will agree that their concerns have been addressed and that the new clause sends a clear message to schools that an apprenticeship is a good route for many and cannot be discounted when schools are considering which route might be best for their pupils. I beg to move.
My Lords, we welcome the Government's amendments. On our second day in Committee, my noble friend Lady Perry commented 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”.—[Official Report, 24/6/09; col. 1634.]
We are pleased that the Government have taken those objections on board and have returned with a clause that meets those concerns.
We have cited these statistics before, but it is worth calling on them again. The 2008 YouGov poll on this issue showed that only 24 per cent of teachers felt that apprenticeships were a good alternative to A-levels. In contrast, 55 per cent of employers and 52 per cent of young people felt that they were just as good an option. It is important that pupils do not miss out on advice regarding both vocational and academic options. We are delighted that the Government have accepted the argument here and tabled amendments conceding that point—accepting that our approach, and that of so many around the House, is more appropriate.
However, we on these Benches feel that the clause still represents a missed opportunity. It is no secret that we feel that about many parts of the Bill. Nevertheless, in this context, I shall concentrate on the careers service. The Government propose amendments to the Education Act that would ensure that the provision of a programme of careers education includes information on education, training and apprenticeships. They have not, however, taken the opportunity to make statutory and effective changes to the careers education system.
As things stand, in about two-thirds of schools in England, careers advice is given by teachers with no professional qualification in the field. Further advice may come from the Connexions service, which replaced the careers service in 2001. Although Connexions can provide useful services and advice, a recent study by the Skills Commission has shown that,
“there has been a decline in the quality of careers advice since Connexions replaced the Careers Service”.
Moreover, the Government's own new guidance paper, Quality, Choice and Aspiration—A Strategy for Young People’s Information, Advice and Guidance, states that,
“there is evidence to suggest that the quality of IAG”—
information, advice and guidance—“varies quite considerably”. Again, the Government’s guidance cites a recent online study by the British Youth Council, the National Children's Bureau, and Young NCB, which found that only just under 20 per cent of respondents rated the formal career advice they received as “very helpful”. Although the Connexions service has achieved many good things, it clearly needs improving radically. Some of the difficulty may be that Connexions is expected to provide such a wide range of advice over such a wide remit, from health to relationship advice, to money and housing. Connexions has the capacity to give very good careers advice, but one wonders if it is spread too thin.
In response to these difficulties the Government’s new guidance paper suggests reviews, consultations and task forces. We therefore feel that this Bill, and indeed this guidance, has missed an opportunity to reinvent careers advice. These amendments go some way to reassuring noble Lords that the advice given will be impartial between academic and vocational careers paths. Nevertheless, they do not get to the heart of the matter, which would be to improve careers advice specifically. In contrast to these reviews and task forces and promises to look at the problems which mean that under 20 per cent of the survey respondents feel that the advice they received was “very helpful”, we on these Benches have said clearly that we would change the system. There is a call for a professional, impartial careers adviser in every secondary school and college. Teachers should not be saddled with the extra burden of having to provide advice on careers. A fully trained and qualified professional body should offer young people all the help they need. Indeed, we would also institute a new and professional all-age careers advice service that would provide community-based sources of advice and guidance for people of all ages. In this way there would be a revolution in the way that people give and receive advice on the options available to them.
We are delighted to accept the Government’s concessions, but we feel that while these amendments help to prevent further dangers to careers advice which the ambiguous old Clause 36 could have brought in, they do not go nearly far enough.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Ministers and the Bill team for all the discussions that we have had on these various clauses. Although the Bill does not address careers education in great detail, as the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, has set out, we welcome the fact that Amendment 222 is considerably clearer than the old Clause 36 and that it puts apprenticeships as an option worthy of equal consideration.
In considering these amendments we are mindful of the strategy document Quality, Choice and Aspiration, which the Minister mentioned, because a key to many people’s engagement in school is that at an early stage they can see relevance in learning and can gain confidence in their proficiency and raise their aspirations. I note from the impact assessment document that,
“it is about much more than this. It is about exciting young people about their future lives and it is about raising their aspirations about what they can achieve”.
Those who fail to make that connection very often become bored and frustrated, and that leads to difficulties later in life. We welcome the strategy proposals of personal tutors and taster sessions of HE and the workplace, and that by September 2010 there will be
“in every institution a member of the leadership team appointed with responsibility for IAG”.
That document expresses the importance of careers education in a way that is lacking in this Bill. We felt an opportunity had been lost in the Bill to support the careers service more effectively, but we very much support the clear intentions in these Government amendments as a step in the right direction and we thank the Minister for bringing them forward.
My Lords, I will very briefly respond to the noble Lords opposite. We are aiming to meet the concerns raised in Committee about the need to put apprenticeships on an equal footing with other post-16 choices. I appreciate that noble Lords have a great deal of interest in careers education and I know that there is a debate about how we should take careers education forward. I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, welcomes our strategy, but I would say to the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, that the strategy is quite a bit more than task forces and reviews. We are putting significant investment into it. I have sheaves of notes advising me about the £10 million IAG support fund which will take the form of grants to support innovative projects that respond to the needs of young people and parents for impartial advice; and that the money will be made available through youth sector development funds. It is a hugely important debate.
I thank noble Lords for recognising that we have listened to them on the amendments. We are 100 per cent committed to ensuring that children and young people get really strong careers advice. It is important that teachers, lead teachers and governors, indeed the whole schools sector, are fully involved in that, and that the Connexions service is properly connected. There are variations in the quality of service, as the strategy recognises, although we differ with the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, on the question of having one service for all ages. I appreciate the support that noble Lords have given to these amendments.
Amendment 26 agreed.
Clause 40 : Employer support for employee study and training
27: Clause 40, page 20, line 37, at end insert—
“( ) a documented discussion of training needs resulting in a decision on whether to extend such provision to the applicant took place within the previous 12 months”
My Lords, Amendment 27, in my name and that of my noble friend Baroness Sharp, and proposed by the Institute of Directors, has been previously debated, but we feel that it is worth bringing it up again.
In addition to the listed permissible grounds to refuse study or training, the Institute of Directors proposes that a valid refusal could be that there had been a documented discussion of training needs, resulting in a decision whether to extend such provision to the applicant, in the previous 12 months. This is based on evidence from its members, the majority of whom already use regular performance reviews or appraisals to manage performance and training requirements. In businesses where this is in place, the IoD argues that these discussions should be the preferred time when employees make their requests, thereby enabling businesses to manage the process of training allocation fairly. This would benefit employers and employees by reinforcing good practice and encouraging employers to discuss and to document training needs at least annually.
Many businesses, as we know, have a limited amount of time off for training that they can offer staff. Being able to consider all staff training requests together would help organisational needs, and the administration would be less onerous. Employees would also see it as a fairer system.
In Committee, my noble friend Lady Sharp expressed the concern that the training needs of younger people, the 16 to 18 year-olds, might change more rapidly and that a review might be required within 12 months. That group should, in any event, be involved in a structured training programme. This amendment would not prevent training needs being reviewed more frequently but would increase the incentive for both sides to make a longer-term assessment of what will benefit the individual and the organisation. I beg to move.
My Lords, we welcome the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, which would mean that an employer who already has documented annual appraisals that include the discussion of training needs will fulfil their obligations under the clauses on the right to request time to train. We tabled similar amendments in Committee, to which the Minister responded:
“Time to train goes with the grain of what the best employers are already doing”.—[Official Report, 29/6/09; col. 53.]
In the light of this, perhaps he will have some sympathy for this amendment, which would complement the time-to-train provisions while ensuring that employers are protected.
This amendment comes from the Institute of Directors, of which I disclose that I am a member, and is designed to reflect the fact that many employers already have regular and successful employment appraisals in which training needs can be discussed. Figures from the IoD show that 88 per cent of its members already use,
“regular performance reviews or appraisals to review and manage employees' performance”.
Does the Minister agree that if an employer has these sessions in place, this would be the appropriate time to raise any requests for training?
While we agree with the principle that employees should have the right to request time to train, we do not want this to become an onerous burden on employers. It seems particularly inappropriate that the burden should fall on employers who have already put effort into organising regular training discussions with their employees. Moreover, as we have already heard, such organised training discussions have the added bonus of ensuring that employers can ensure the fairness of the allocation of granted requests for time off to train.
We ought to encourage employers who have shown the initiative to extend these provisions to their employees on a voluntary basis, on the grounds that the more they help to improve the skills of their staff the more successful their business can become. We should not instead tie them to statutory provisions that are imposed from without and that might hinder the efficient operation of business and training rather than help it. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, Amendment 27 raises an issue with which we are familiar, which has been considered in Committee in this House and in another place. It proposes providing employers with an additional reason to refuse a request made under new Section 63D of the Employment Rights Act 1996 where they have discussed and reached a decision on an employee’s training needs in the previous 12 months. While I recognise the intention to minimise the burden on the best employers who already have processes in place to discuss their employees’ training needs, I do not believe that the amendment proposed would serve that intention. It could allow some employers who do not take their training responsibilities seriously to hide behind inadequate training policies and processes, and reject legitimate requests out of hand.
Our clear intention in establishing the new right is to reflect what the best employers are doing. I fully expect employers who are already engaging in a regular, systematic and meaningful dialogue with their employees about their skills needs to receive far fewer requests under these provisions than those employers who are not yet taking skills and training seriously. Furthermore, the legislation as we have proposed it—without this amendment—gives the best employers ample reasons to turn down requests that they receive where they consider they must do so for sound business reasons.
I said in Committee that after the new provisions have been in force for a year, we will carry out a review, with stakeholders, to examine whether we need to augment the list of reasons for employers to refuse a request. So, we have recognised the need for a review process. Since Committee stage we have announced that we plan to phase the introduction of these provisions to give businesses with fewer than 250 employees an extra year to prepare for their introduction. I am happy to commit today that we will complete that review and consider its conclusions before extending the new right to all qualifying employees in 2011.
On that basis, I would be grateful if the noble Baroness would withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response, which I am afraid was as disappointing as I thought it might be after the previous discussions. We do not accept that employers would hide behind this as an excuse for not acknowledging training needs. I hear what he says, but, in spite of his reassurances, I do not find his answer satisfactory. Therefore, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Clause 41 : Education and training for persons over compulsory school age: general duty
28: Clause 41, page 23, line 27, leave out “persons in their area”
Amendments 28 to 31, 35, 92, 93, 97, 98, 135 and 136 make minor changes to resolve an ambiguity in the drafting of Clause 86 that was identified thanks to the diligence of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. We are making analogous changes to Clause 41. Amendments 40 and 68 make minor and technical changes to the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, we are grateful to the Minister and his team for clarifying the ambiguities present in Clause 86. The many technical and drafting amendments being made at this late stage pay tribute to the dedication of the teams that have redrafted them, and also to the thorough and effective scrutiny that this House has brought to bear on the legislation.
My Lords, in speaking to Amendments 33, 73, 95, 96, 102 and 128, which are in this group, I take the opportunity to thank the Government for their decision to remove references to “disproportionate expenditure” and the unintended consequences that this may have had for learners with a learning disability. Many local authorities may have been tempted to use disproportionate expenditure as a get-out clause to avoid provision for such learners.
Noble Lords will be aware that in Committee an amendment was tabled in my name raising my concerns about this issue and I welcome most warmly the Government’s response and amendments. I also welcome any further reassurances that the Minister may be able to give to ensure that appropriate levels of expenditure are both permissible and proportionate when local authorities are funding apprenticeships for people with a learning disability.
My Lords, we, too, are pleased with these technical amendments which iron out one or two discrepancies in the Bill, and we are particularly pleased that they have removed the subsections relating to disproportionate expenditure. We shared all the feelings expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Rix. The wording was misleading and could lead some local authorities not to spend what they ought to be spending on those with special educational needs. We are delighted to see the eradication of that wording from all parts of the Bill, and we are grateful to Ministers for ensuring that that will happen.
My Lords, I echo what everyone has said. This is clearly a very acceptable amendment, which was before us previously and which has been redrafted. I stress that the amount of money that may need to be spent on those with special educational needs can be well and truly justified when we look at some of the ways that young people with these sorts of needs can turn out, costing the state a great deal more. If one were doing it purely on the basis of the bottom line, it is money very well spent.
My Lords, I thank Ministers for all the work that they have done in changing the Bill. Will they please go back to their various departments and ensure that the wording that stirs up this sort of hornets’ nest unnecessarily never appears again? As those of us who have been involved in these processes over many years know, that is not the intention of many Governments in their legislation on education. They should take the civil servants responsible into a cold room and water-board them or whatever, to ensure that it never happens again.
We should not have had to go over this again, ensuring that such wording is removed. I hope that everyone will pay attention to this type of get-out clause, which has been used in the past and will be used again. People will try to duck their duty if something does not fit into their spending plans, is unexpected and is not accounted for, or is not understood. That has happened in the past and will happen again. We must make sure that there is less wriggle-room for people to try to get out of a duty that has been accepted by Parliament and everyone involved. If we draft this provision again and it is debated on a day when we are not quick enough to spot it, it will lead to no end of trouble and ultimately a great deal of litigation.
My Lords, I apologise for creating confusion at the start of this debate. Amendments 33, 73, 95, 96, 102 and 128 address concerns raised in Committee about references to “disproportionate expenditure” in Clauses 41, 61, 86, 87 and 91, and the possible unintended consequences for learners with disabilities. I emphasise that these amendments do not mean that we are in any way relaxing our drive to ensure that the bodies concerned deliver value for money. That will be achieved through other means.
The noble Lord, Lord Rix, asked for assurances on adequate funding for apprentices with disabilities. I can reassure him that the chief executive of skills funding will have a duty to have regard to the need for apprentices with disabilities under Clause 114. As for the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, I do not know whether it is disproportionate or not, but I can guarantee that it will never happen. Let us hope that we have learnt something from this experience.
Amendment 28 agreed.
Amendments 29 to 31
29: Clause 41, page 23, line 28, at beginning insert “persons in their area”
30: Clause 41, page 23, line 28, leave out “or” and insert “and”
31: Clause 41, page 23, line 29, at beginning insert “persons in their area”
Amendments 29 to 31 agreed.
Amendment 32 not moved.
Amendments 33 to 35
33: Clause 41, page 24, line 12, leave out from beginning to end of line 17
34: Clause 41, page 24, line 44, leave out from “section” to end of line 45 and insert “(Meaning of “completing an English apprenticeship” )(5) of that Act (meaning of “completing an English apprenticeship”);”
35: Clause 41, page 25, line 2, leave out from “The” to “not” in line 6 and insert “references in subsection (1) to—
(a) persons in a local authority’s area who are over compulsory school age but under 19, and(b) persons in a local authority’s area who are aged 19 or over but under 25 and are subject to learning difficulty assessment,do”
Amendments 33 to 35 agreed.
36: Clause 41, page 25, line 6, at end insert—
“( ) In performing the duty imposed by section (4)(a), a local authority is required to fund sixth form provision of—
(a) an existing academy without a sixth form which intends to establish a sixth form; or(b) a new academy with a sixth form.”
My Lords, I put forward the case once again that academies should not be placed under the aegis of the YPLA, which is a body entirely unsuited to housing them. We have been through these points before so I shall not dwell on them unnecessarily. We feel, however, that it is most important that the Government take these points on board and, we hope, find sympathy with our view. I should state now that the amendments tabled by the Government do not meet our concerns.
Clause 77 allows the Secretary of State to require the YPLA to enter into arrangements with the Secretary of State. These arrangements may require the YPLA to carry out specified functions of the Secretary of State in relation to academies, city technology colleges and city colleges for the technology of arts. In previous debates we have spoken about how inappropriate it is for the YPLA to take responsibility for these arrangements. The YPLA is a body set up to support and enable local authorities to carry out their new responsibilities. It is not set up to play any part in the role of academies.
We accept that perhaps it is time to give some thought to the future of the academy movement. The success of these schools means that it has become rather cumbersome to keep them housed in the Department for Children, Schools and Families. Nevertheless we feel that due thought and care should be taken on where to move them. We should not just give into a knee-jerk impulse which may not be the most appropriate solution. Instead, much care and consideration must be given to the most appropriate solution and I do not believe that that has been found yet. A body that ties academies into local authorities and which deals specifically with education for people between 16 and 19 is not appropriate. First, academies thrive on their independence and freedom from local authorities. Secondly, the age range of academies is most commonly 11 to 18, and some even have primary schools attached.
We contend that there has been a lack of thought. That is underlined when one considers that there was no discussion with academy sponsors when the Government’s White Paper was published last year. Now I am informed by academy groups that they are being called in and asked for their views. That is to be applauded but it is rather too little too late. We are told that discussions are based around decisions that have already been taken and that only the details are up for consideration. The Minister has expressed concern that the DCSF is no longer the right place for academies. If the main worry is really about the best positioning for an academy, from its perspective, then one must ask why these groups were not consulted earlier. From these discussions, we have also been informed that the Government have found groups of academies that actively favour the proposals. I wonder whether the Minister could cite those bodies, as we have heard nothing of that kind and I would be interested to hear details of those discussions.
The Minister has attempted to reassure us here with government amendments, and I do not expect that she tabled those with much hope of our agreement. I am afraid that I will not disappoint her in that respect. Government Amendment 70 has been tabled to ensure that the Secretary of State, when appointing members to the board of the YPLA, must have regard to the fact that they should have,
“experience relevant to … the full range of … YPLA … functions, and … any functions that may be conferred or imposed on the YPLA under Academy arrangements”.
I wonder whether the Minister thought that was an appropriate restriction to place on the Secretary of State when considering candidates for the membership of the YPLA. Surely, it is of the utmost importance that, when appointing members of the YPLA, the Secretary of State should have regard to the people who would be best or most appropriate for the job. After all, a person may have had experience but not be the best candidate for the position. Perhaps this deserves some more thought.
The second government amendment here would restrict the functions that the YPLA can exercise with regard to academies. The amendment would ensure that, in the Bill, the “academy functions” that can be delegated to the YPLA do not include being able to sign funding arrangements or being able to create or confirm subordinate legislation. It also puts in place a procedure by which academies can complain to the Secretary of State. We appreciate the effort that the Government have put into their attempts to reassure us. Nevertheless, I feel that we remain unsatisfied. The government amendment introduces a channel of complaint to the Secretary of State. Academy groups are, however, afraid that this will not bring much comfort. If a group of local authorities wishes to determine the post-16 provision available, what effect will a plea from one academy have when it is weighed up against the might of an entire local authority?
Secondly, the Government are offering to place in the Bill a commitment that the process regarding funding commitments will not be changed, but that is not what the academy movement is worried about. Academies that are placed, even in some respect, under the YPLA will be tied to the new 14 to 19 partnerships, which are being awarded the power of commissioning to determine what places are offered and by how many places academies can expand. We are told that this changes nothing, but it does change something. Academies that have been open since September are, it is true, already tied into those partnerships, but at the moment they are few.
As we move forward, and more and more are brought into this discussion group, it is true that the 14 to 19 partnerships will become important. However, when this Bill becomes an Act the partnerships will have increasing power and influence over commissioning and provision. We are—are we not?—informed that the YPLA has the responsibility for supporting local authorities which plan, commission and fund provision for young people in this area. We will therefore expect there to be further issues when that legislation is passed and the plans become solidified. The fear, however, has developed partly as a response to issues that have already occurred and problems that have already been seen.
That is why we have chosen to table Amendment 36, which is specific to sixth-form provision. It serves, however, to demonstrate some of the difficulties that may face independent academies in the face of local authority decisions. There are records of academy groups applying to turn high schools into academies, but permission being refused on the grounds that they did not fit with the local commissioning plan for the area. Some time later, however, and the expansion from an 11 to 16 school to an 11 to 18 academy has been very successful and has produced a thriving school, with a much greater post-16 retention rate. The fear is that the YPLA will have undue influence over academies, and so tie them into local authorities and local politics. They will then be able to excuse this control as operating within their commissioning plan and as the most rational solution.
The fact is that academies are brought into areas that local authorities may already have been failing, and so may not know what is best. Furthermore, the fact that academies are brought into struggling areas means that the expansion or development may, in fact, seem irrational. The example cited above shows that decisions can seem to be against the grain of what will work, but may then provide effective improvement to an area which, without the independent insight of an academy, might have been left struggling.
In conclusion, I shall cite Mike Butler of the Independent Academies Association. He has stated that one reason for the success of academies is because they,
“turn around endemic educational underperformance in the most challenging of contexts in respect of socio-economic deprivation. To do so, it was recognised that new organisations had to be established that would be freed from the constraints of local authority control, from the old governance arrangements and from the vagaries of local bureaucracy”.
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response. I beg to move.
My Lords, we on these Benches welcome Amendment 70. We think it a very good thing that the YPLA board will be able to call upon the right spread of expertise, covering all of the areas that the YPLA will have to deal with including, of course, academies. We also thank the Government for Amendment 83, which I believe came as a result of our probing amendment in Committee. It is now quite clear that the YPLA will not be able to enter into funding agreements, or to propose or confirm subordinate legislation. We also welcome the complaints procedure for academies against possible mismanagement by the YPLA.
On academies, I am afraid that we have a diametrically opposed opinion to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Verma. We have a completely different vision of academies. The noble Baroness seems to believe that their success—which has in many cases been very considerable when dealing with children from the greatest deprivation—comes solely from the fact that they are free from local authorities. However, I believe that it might just have something to do with their ability to attract the best leaders and teachers, having shiny new schools with extremely good facilities, having freedom to innovate and, of course, having parents who take a great interest in the children’s education because they have chosen to send them there.
Our view of academies is quite different; in the Liberal Democrat world, we would even call them something different. We would call them sponsor-managed schools, and we would have local authorities having strategic oversight over them. They would be able to commission appropriate sponsors with the right expertise to set up and manage academies, but they would be able to ditch them after 10 years—or whatever time limit we would put on them—if they were not delivering the goods. We would make sure that there was no unfair selection, that all schools had the freedom to innovate and that they would be funded fairly and consistently. We would also insist on community use of the facilities, although I am not suggesting that academies do not make their facilities available to the local community, when they often do.
Unfortunately, we have had the situation where, up until now, the DCSF has become the largest local authority in the country, because it has been dealing with so many schools managed directly from the centre. There is, of course, a danger that the YPLA will now become the largest education authority in the country. However, we have had some useful discussions with Ministers and with the future head of the YPLA about how the YPLA will address its task. We are convinced that although what the Government propose is not, by any stretch of the imagination, our ideal it is somewhat nearer to our ideal of how the community and the local authority should interact with academies. I am therefore afraid that we are not in a position to support the noble Baroness, Lady Verma. As I say, when academies join the YPLA, we shall watch very carefully to see how well that works. We hope that local authorities will be consulted about the operation of academies at every point where legislation allows that to happen. We would like to see academies more engaged with the local family of schools than is the case at present.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Verma and Lady Walmsley, for their remarks. This is a very important debate about the future approach to the academy programme. I was pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, accepted that this was at least the right time to consider the future of the programme, and that it has been very successful. I am disappointed that the government amendments do not garner her support but we have had a great deal of feedback from academies. I shall not trade names as I do not want to miss anyone out, but we have closely consulted the academy movement. When one thinks of the original sponsors and principals, one appreciates that the academy movement is now very diverse, with academies in many stages of development. The noble Baroness may have been disappointed with the consultation in the early days but I reassure her that we are now working very closely with academies. We have an academy working group and a close dialogue is maintained.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for her support for government Amendments 70 and 83. I am pleased that she considers we are moving in the right direction. I agree with her that all noble Lords will watch very carefully how the YPLA goes forward. We will be interested to see how the YPLA manages its relationships with academies as they will be doing a very important job on behalf of the Secretary of State. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that every child in this country has the opportunity to succeed. We want every child to enjoy their childhood, achieve their full potential and to turn 18 with the knowledge, skills and qualifications which give them the best chance of success in adult life. To achieve this we know that every school must be a good school, and academies must be in that number. As the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, said, academies are a success. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said that some of them are a great success. I am delighted that there is such positive support in the House for the work that academies do. They are playing a pivotal role in delivering this vision for our children. The Government remain absolutely committed to academies.
We have a hugely ambitious target of 400 academies and we need to make sure that we plan for that. As numbers grow we have to ensure that each and every academy will continue to get the support, and sometimes the challenge, that they need to deliver the best possible education for their pupils. There is consensus from all sides of the House that the status quo—that is, the department continuing to deliver academy functions—is not the right way to proceed now. That is why we are planning now to make sure that academies can continue to flourish in the future. We may not have talked about the regional structure of the YPLA as much as we should but it will allow quicker, more focused support based on better knowledge of local communities in which academies are working. If we adopt the YPLA approach, the challenge and support of academies will be more personalised and determined in accordance with, and proportionate to, the needs of individual academies.
As we raise the participation age, I believe that academies will have a vital role in providing opportunities in the disadvantaged communities they serve. I believe that we are all committed to that. But to do it, academies will need to work with their local 14-19 partnership—I see this as a real opportunity for academies—local authority and the YPLA. The transfer to the YPLA will help them to do that. It will ensure academies have, in the YPLA, a champion working to ensure that the academy sector succeeds in improving outcomes for young people in those communities. However, the transfer to the YPLA also guards against the fragmented system we would have if one of the key providers, academies, were not part of and working within the YPLA framework. It ensures that young people will be able to access the full range of programmes that will be offered by further education, independent training providers, apprenticeships, academies and school collaborations. We are committed to work closely with sponsors and we will continue to consult them on the proposed arrangements. We have invited all the major multi-sponsors to come to the YPLA academies working group that is now meeting regularly to develop new ways of working together.
We have also committed that we will consult each year prior to issuing a new remit letter to the YPLA to make sure we are learning the lessons and taking sponsors’ views on board as we go forward. We are listening carefully and we are responding in the design of the system as well as through amendments we have tabled. First, government Amendment 83 prevents the YPLA entering into a funding agreement to create an academy and making subordinate legislation relating to academies. I believe that I flagged that in Committee. Secondly, in response to issues raised by noble Lords and ongoing consultations with academy sponsors and principals, the amendment also ensures that there is a good procedure in place for academies, or others, to make a complaint to the Secretary of State if they are affected by the conduct of the YPLA. Academies will have a route of redress if they feel that the YPLA has acted unreasonably or against the principles of the remit letter. Finally, government Amendment 70 makes it clear that the Secretary of State will have a duty to ensure—the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, mentioned this—that the YPLA reflects the sectors and young people it serves, including academies. There is already significant academy representation on the Learning and Skills Council committee which is working to establish the YPLA and this amendment should send a clear signal of our intention to make sure that academy interests continue to be well represented.
I recognise that some sponsors are nervous about the sixth-form commissioning process, as the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, suggested. Above all else, the YPLA must ensure that the needs of learners come first. I do not think that anyone can disagree with the fact that we want the best institutions to be the ones that are commissioned. That is why we cannot accept a situation where academy sixth forms are funded automatically, as set out in Amendment 36 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Verma. However, academies often are the best providers. Those academies have nothing to fear. Local authorities cannot and will not just ignore that. If local authorities acted unreasonably in their commissioning role—refusing to fund high-quality provision may well count as unreasonable—they could face judicial review, as noble Lords are well aware. We also recognise, as the YPLA and local authorities do, that it can take time to achieve the desired quality in some academies, but this is not sufficient reason of itself for an academy sixth form not to be commissioned. Strategic commissioning means taking a longer term view of each provider, their trajectory, plans and intentions.
We hear academies’ concerns. As I have said before, the Secretary of State will continue to decide about new academy sixth-form provision, while the YPLA will make the final decisions about the annual funding of sixth-form places and academies. This is something that I flagged up in Committee. The Secretary of State will retain responsibilities for all the decisions about all new academy provision.
These are real safeguards against the sort of irrational commissioning that some may be concerned about. I hope very much that noble Lords will feel able to support the Government amendments and that the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, she said that the YPLA would be “distanced” from the Secretary of State and the department and that this was a strong reason for giving the YPLA these supplementary functions, particularly in relation to academies. How does she square that claim with Clauses 75 and 76? Clause 75 provides for the power of the Secretary of State to give directions and Clause 76 provides for the power of the Secretary of State to give guidance. The wording of these two clauses means that the YPLA is, in essence, a creature of the Secretary of State.
My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, is right, as ever. The Bill aims to transfer to the YPLA the executive functions that the Secretary of State has for academies, within very particular confines. In consulting academies and others, we are looking at the kind of safeguards that will make this system work as effectively as possible. The YPLA is, as noble Lords are aware, an NDPB; it will have a remit letter that will set out very clearly what the Secretary of State expects the YPLA to deliver on his or her behalf. It is not the department but it will have the executive powers that allow it to fulfil these functions on behalf of the Secretary of State.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response. While I have listened very carefully to her assurances, I urge her not to handcuff the success that academies have achieved by retaining them under the YPLA. However, I am thankful that, having taken back our concerns, the Government are consulting closely with the academy movement on how best to function. It is important that sponsors remain at the heart of future academies. The Minister and the Bill team have worked hard to satisfy our concerns and I am very grateful for that. However, it remains a concern and, sadly, I feel dissatisfied. I expect that we are not going to meet on common ground here. I will read very carefully what the Minister has said and, with a heavy heart, beg leave to withdraw our amendment.
Amendment 36 withdrawn.
Clause 42 : Encouragement of education and training for persons over compulsory school age
Amendments 37 to 38 not moved.
Clause 44 : Power to require provision of education by institution within further education sector
39: Clause 44, page 26, line 25, at end insert—
“( ) In deciding whether to require a particular institution to provide education to a particular individual under subsection (2) a local education authority in England must first consult with the governing body of the said institution.”
My Lords, our Amendment 39 seeks to address a concern raised by the Association of Colleges. It is worried about the powers contained in Clause 44, which allow local authorities the power to direct further education colleges to accept particular—that is, specified—students within a local authority’s area. The Association of Colleges is worried, particularly in respect of safeguarding the other students and staff of a college, if it is felt that the specified student poses a risk in any way. Can the Minister inform the House what would happen in these circumstances?
Some reassurances by the Government have already been offered. A letter to the Association of Colleges, for example, stated that the power would only be used in,
“exceptional circumstance and would not allow local authorities to force 16-18 learning providers to take young people unsuited to their courses”.
This, as far as it goes, is good news. However, can the Minister reassure colleges a little further? On what specific grounds will further education colleges be able to refuse to accept specific students? The Government have stated only that learning providers would not have to accept people unsuited to their courses. Can the Minister expand on what that means, perhaps by giving some examples?
The purpose of our amendment is to give maximum flexibility to colleges to determine who to accept. We on these Benches feel that part of the reason for the success of FE colleges is that they are independent of local authority control. They have no catchment area; they have the freedom to determine which course they offer and which they do not, and the freedom to specialise in particular areas. They should be allowed to specialise and so be able to attract students from far and wide and not just be restricted to within the domain of their local education authority. In light of this, at the very least, local authorities should have to consult a further education college if they want the college to provide education or training to specified people. Otherwise this is a threat to the college’s independence with regard to its admissions policy. The letter from the Government to the Association of Colleges stated that they,
“would certainly expect any local authority considering using the powers to consult with the governing body of the college first”.
If this is the case, why should it not be on the face of the Bill? I beg to move.
My Lords, we have a great deal of sympathy with this amendment. It seems reasonable that, should a local authority wish to place a student in a college, it should at least consult the college before placing them there. It is well known that, where there are difficult pupils, there is an informal agreement among the heads of secondary schools to the effect that, “If you have one of mine; I’ll have one of yours”. There is a passing around of those very few pupils who are excluded from school where a fresh start is wanted.
Now that we are raising the participation age to 18, young people will be expected to be either at school, at college or at work where they are receiving education and training, possibly as an apprentice as we were discussing earlier. However, there will inevitably be some who are expected to be in education, or find themselves placed in a college, who do not attend. As we know very well, there are many 14 and 15-year-olds who have truanted from school and, as we said when we discussed the Bill that went through this House last year, if they were truanting at 14 and 15, why should they be expected not to truant when they are 16 and 17?
There will be some difficult pupils, for whom local authorities will wish find a place. It is not fair on the colleges to be regarded as the dumping ground for some of these young people. It is only reasonable that they should be consulted before having to take on pupils; there should be some burden sharing among secondary schools and colleges at this point—although, very often the college courses will be more appropriate for them. Colleges have an extremely good record helping those who need extra support through the additional learning support that they provide and often helping to motivate pupils who have been turned off by school, partly because they often provide more practical courses, which many of these pupils find more attractive than the more academic learning provided by schools.
This is a very mild amendment. It asks only that there should be consultation before the right to require a governing body of such an institution to take on individuals is exercised. It seems to me a perfectly reasonable amendment.
My Lords, I, too, strongly support the amendment and I very much hope that the Government will feel able to support it. I have seen recently an excellent group discussion among a local authority, the principals of the colleges and the heads of secondary schools about a list of individuals who are exactly in the category of the more difficult young people, and it was a real discussion about where they would most appropriately be placed. For some young people, a college is not the right place; the atmosphere is not right and a school can cope better. It is at the level of the college and the school that the young person is known and that the offerings that can be made are best known, not at the local authority level. The local authority does not know on a day-to-day basis exactly what the needs of the young person are or about the precise nature of the different programmes that might or might not be appropriate for them.
To leave it with the local authority is to make it arbitrary. It will inevitably be so, as the local authority is not composed of day-to-day educational providers. It is a bureaucratic organisation and it will properly, I suppose, wish to get young people put somewhere so that they can be taken off the books, so to speak; whereas at the level of the institutions concerned, a meaty discussion that meets the needs of the young person can take place.
I very much hope that the Government will take this amendment away and think carefully about it. It seems like a small amendment, but it is quite a crucial issue for the institutions concerned. The Association of Colleges feels strongly about this, but so do many schools. There is a need to have some independence and some discussion at the institutional level about the best way to deal with very difficult young people.
My Lords, I support the amendment. Indeed, I can see absolutely no reason why it would not be accepted by the Government. I will be very surprised indeed if there is opposition to it. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, it is a very mild requirement and one which I would have thought is necessary in every instance where you are going to be placing children who have particular needs. I think we are agreed that this group of children would be of considerable concern to both the schools and the colleges that we are referring to. I hope that the Association of Colleges will be satisfied with what the Government are going to say.
My Lords, it seems to me highly unlikely that the Government will accept this, because it goes to the core of their policy. Is the Minister indicating that he is going to accept it? If so, I will press him to go a little further. The flaw in the Bill is clear. It is that in the future FE colleges are going to be brought half back under local authorities, and that is a mistake.
The Government should take great pride in the fact that since 1992 local FE colleges have been independent of local authorities, and as a result they have had a golden age. I congratulate the Conservative Government on taking it through; it was my suggestion, so I must congratulate them. I also congratulate the Labour Government on spending so lavishly on FE colleges. They have built absolutely marvellous FE colleges. However, that is the past. It will not happen again. No local authority will give Birmingham City Council £100 million to build Matthew Boulton further education college. No local authority in Teesside will give Middlesbrough £120 million to build Middlesbrough college. No; when FE colleges funding goes partly back under local authorities, there will be a substantial reduction in investment in FE colleges. That is as true as anything. Local authorities will find it much more attractive to build primary schools and nursery schools than to fund further education. That is the flaw at the very centre of the Bill. I hope that any incoming Government will unravel it and fundamentally change it.
We must trust the FE colleges, which have done a remarkable job of improving training and skills training across the country over the past 25 years. But this Bill puts the situation back. I will give the House one example. Under the procedure before this Bill, FE colleges went to one funding agency—the Learning and Skills Council. That is in the dock now because it overspent extravagantly, and it is being abolished. In the future, local colleges will go to four funding agencies: to the Skills Funding Agency, to HEFCE, to the YPLA, which is being set up by this Bill, and to the apprenticeship scheme. Instead of going to one, they will go to four, at a time when expenditure in this area is bound to be restrained. Each one of those funding bodies will be told that it has less to spend in the future than it spends now. They have lots of other responsibilities too. How will further education get a good share of that cake? Not only should this amendment be accepted; there should also be much more fundamental change. That is now virtually impossible to do with this Bill. It will not function successfully.
The Ministers have been incredibly kind in explaining the Bill right at the last minute. We have all had these letters every other day explaining how the Bill is going to work. I am amazed at how the Bill got through the Commons without these explanations, and to some extent the Government have been making it up as they go along. I do not blame the Ministers. They are merely the custodians of a very ill thought-out policy, and they have done their best to explain it. The Bill is deeply flawed and it will not improve further education in this country.
My Lords, I agree entirely with every aspect of every speech that has been made so far on the amendment, which is most unusual. This is a crucial amendment. There has to be a proper balance of powers between the local authority and the FE college. Both have pressures on them to act in a way that may not be entirely in the interests of the young people concerned. To allow those to balance out as the amendment does is absolutely crucial. I very much hope that if the Government do not provide a satisfactory response, my noble friend will press this to a Division. If he does not feel so inclined, I will be strongly tempted to call the Division myself.
I thought the early speeches of welcome, delight and gratitude would not last forever.
Clause 44 gives local authorities powers to require an institution within the FE sector to provide education to a named individual aged 16 or over but under 19, which is currently a power held by the Learning and Skills Council. We expect that this power will be exercised extremely rarely. However, in the handful of cases where a young person has been turned away from all possible learning options, someone needs to be able to step in to secure them a place.
This is not about local authority control over providers. A local authority’s primary concern will be to secure the best possible learning option for the young person—and there are a number of considerations they will need to take into account, including the individual needs of the young person in question, as well as the needs of any providers that are being considered. In order to balance those needs, the local authority would naturally need to enter into a consultative dialogue with the young person, the Connexions service and all possible providers to determine the most suitable option for the young person.
In response to the amendment tabled by noble Lords opposite, I can commit today that we will include this requirement to have a consultative dialogue in statutory guidance to local authorities. However, I sense the mood of the House, and I have listened to concerns expressed by noble Lords. We fully intend for there to be a consultative dialogue between local authorities and providers. However, I understand the arguments that have been put forward and I commit to return to the issue at Third Reading, taking those points into account. I will not reply to every question as I am trying to save some time.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, with respect, that that was more of a Second Reading speech rather than a speech that kept to the amendment in question. I was quite shocked.
I hope that this genuine assurance to noble Lords will make them feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Well, my Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Perry for her words of support and to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for her sympathy and all noble Lords for their arguments in favour of the amendment. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, on the excellent record of colleges in helping young people to re-engage in the whole process. I should not have thought that the amendment was particularly objectionable. Noble Lords will not be surprised that we agree with my noble friends Lord Baker and Lord Lucas. In conclusion, I am grateful to the Minister for his response. We will hold him to his promise. In the mean time, for today, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 39 withdrawn.
Clause 45 : Duties in relation to the core and additional entitlements
40: Clause 45, page 28, line 17, leave out “subject” and insert “additional entitlement area”
Amendment 40 agreed.
Clause 47 : Work experience for persons over compulsory school age
Amendments 41 and 42 not moved.
Clause 48 : Provision of education for persons subject to youth detention
43: Clause 48, page 29, line 35, leave out “children” and insert “persons”
My Lords, as this is a rather technical amendment, I shall not speak to it in any detail now but will come to it at the close of my remarks. I should like to talk now about literacy and numeracy assessments and to speak to the other government amendments in this group.
Government Amendments 44, 45, 47, 49 and 50 relate to Clause 49 as regards reading assessments for young offenders, a provision which was inserted in Committee. The amendments make four changes as a result. First, they extend the requirement to cover literacy and numeracy skills in the assessment beyond that originally envisaged. This is more of the “what” that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, advocated in Committee, which we need to be more clear about. Secondly, the amendments require that the assessments be used to help determine learning plans. Thirdly, they stipulate that if a recent assessment is available, a reassessment should not be necessary. This is about trying to include a level of proportionality in the Bill. Finally, the amendments do not include a requirement for a reassessment on release. However, if that continues to be a concern, in particular for the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Elton, I will be persuaded to return at Third Reading with a requirement to transfer information about progression on release, in order to aid resettlement. We are trying to get this right, and we are edging forward here.
Regarding Amendment 51, on screening for special needs, we have committed in previous debates to rolling out a screening tool that Dyslexia Action has deployed in YOIs from this month. It is preferable to deal with this through guidance as it is a complex issue covering a wide spectrum of difficulties and disabilities. We hope that noble Lords will be happy with that approach.
As regards the contents of the guidance, I appreciate that noble Lords have clearly voiced concerns that we should be specific about what we are requiring of YOIs and of education providers in the youth custody setting. I agree that courses and syllabuses are important and I can commit to include them in statutory guidance. However, the guidance-making power in new Section 18A(6) already covers all aspects of education provision and further clarification is unnecessary, although I understand the reasoning behind noble Lords’ amendments.
Amendment 55 would require the governor of youth custody establishments to assist the local authorities in fulfilling their new duties. I agree that it is important that the governor should be fully committed, and I can commit to amending the secondary legislation regulating the management of youth custodial establishments to place a clear requirement on custodial operators to co-operate with local authorities and their designated providers in the fulfilment of their education duties. This will meet the concerns that noble Lords voiced about ensuring that the role of the governor is properly maximised.
With regard to concerns about the scope of new Section 562A and young people in adult custody, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, raised two important points in Committee. First, he was concerned that this new section, inserted by Clause 51, could be used to change the specific young offender provisions of the Bill. This is certainly not our intention, and Amendment 48 clarifies this. I hope that the noble Lord will find that helpful. Secondly, he raised concerns about the education of under-19s in adult custody, which we discussed in Committee. I can commit that we will set out administratively that the chief executive of skills funding should use his best endeavours to ensure that they receive a broadly analogous education to their counterparts in juvenile custody. That is a strong measure that I hope will satisfy the noble Lord, who is rightly concerned that people aged 18 or under in an adult setting should receive the analogous education.
I am speaking also to Amendment 134, which will require the chief executive to have regard to any learning difficulties among this age group. That is an omission and needs to be corrected. I hope that that provides the reassurance that noble Lords are looking for on those matters.
Information transfer was a particular concern of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in his Amendments 53 and 54. Amendment 53 seeks to change to a duty the power in new Section 562E for education providers to share information. We considered whether we should place a duty on providers to share information but we concluded that that was not appropriate in the case of, for example, voluntary sector providers or even of home educators, because we would not want to create new enforcement mechanisms or penalties on such groups. That is why we did not go down that route. I hope that we can persuade the noble Lord to withdraw that amendment.
Amendment 54, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, proposes a power to allow the host local authority to transfer educational information to the home authority or to any person responsible for providing education and training for the detained person. This is already provided for in Section 562E—I apologise for all the numbers. It requires that the transfer of information must happen on request. This allows us to make this a clear duty, and therefore is stronger than the power suggested in the amendment. We are placing a duty on local authorities and have a mechanism for redress.
I understand concerns raised in Committee that we must ensure that information sharing happens. I appreciate that noble Lords sometimes tire of Ministers saying that they are producing guidance and therefore such and such will happen. We have a strong commitment to making this information sharing happen. The YJB has a remit to monitor the secure estate, and as part of the development of new information-sharing programmes such as e-Asset, it monitors the usage of the system monthly to ensure that it is being used as intended. In addition, the YJB has undertaken one-off reviews to check that it is delivering the benefits hoped for under the new e-Asset system. It plans to continue this as it develops the system further. We will be clear in the statutory guidance that information exchange must be integrated wherever possible with the YJB’s recently developed information-sharing systems, including e-Asset. This will help to make timely information sharing routine practice—this is the key—as well as ensuring that a person’s education plans are considered in the context of their wider sentence and resettlement plans. It is about bringing together all the important elements of resettlement and sentence planning.
Ofsted, too, will play an important role in considering young people’s educational progress, and information sharing is an important part of this. As I said earlier, Amendment 43 is minor and technical, as are Amendments 56 and 61. I hope that, with the commitments that I have made and the reassurances that I have given about information sharing and the statutory guidance being clear about what we expect of the system, noble Lords will feel able to support the government amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that, and particularly grateful for her early mention of consideration before Third Reading. This Bill has sometimes felt like a shotgun marriage, because we have been instructed to go down this route, knowing that the Learning and Skills Council has already received its demolition order. Nevertheless, it is important that we should raise all the issues right down to the wire—particularly those that affect young people. I will speak to Amendments 46, 51 and 52, which refer to young people in detention. I will leave Amendment 55, which I support, to my noble friend Lord Elton.
Amendment 46, as the noble Baroness hinted, refers to the business of what and how that I raised earlier. We are nearly at the what, but not quite there. I am confused by new subsection (6) in Clause 48, which adds the following after Section 18 of the Education Act 1996:
“In performing the duty imposed by subsection (1), a local education authority must have regard to any guidance issued … by the Secretary of State”.
What concerns me is that it does not state which Secretary of State. There are at least two—for the Department for Children, Schools and Families and for the Ministry of Justice. When I asked the Bill Office whether it could be precise, the answer was, “No, this is the language of Bills, it is just ‘the Secretary of State’”.
I am very concerned. My experience of going round the estate where this happens is that there is a lack of direction. Nobody is in charge of saying what should happen. Therefore there is no consistency in what happens all around the system. Surely that is what we are after. My proposal, guided by the Bill Office, was to be more specific about what guidance the local authority should have regard to. The guidance is on what is to be done—what courses, what programmes, what education and for which people. Otherwise, there can be no provision.
As the discussion on the Bill has gone on, I have become more concerned about where we are going. There is complexity after complexity. Three words have sprung to mind—they say that soldiers can only think in threes, and this proves it. Two of them are German and come from the battlefield. The first is “Auftragstaktik”, which means “mission-orientated orders”—in other words, everyone knows precisely where they are going, without any doubt at all. The second is “Fingerspitzengefühl”, which means “fingertip feel”—in other words, those who are doing the job know precisely what they ought to be doing, when and where, because the instructions are abundantly clear. The third word is a government word—“simplification”. I see us breaking away from clarity, clouding the issue for people on the ground and getting more complicated as more organisations and methods are added to the system. This is lunatic when we are dealing with young people, particularly young people who are in touch with the criminal justice system.
I am also concerned that while we are talking about that in the context of a Bill coming from the education ministries, two other things are happening. One is that something called the National Standards for Youth Justice Services is being produced, in which people make comments to the Ministry of Justice. They are talking about communication problems and the fact that 60 per cent of these young people have communication difficulties. They are saying that staff need training and support to manage these people, and that if you start trying to assess their processes verbally, they tend to withdraw, not co-operate and deny problems in order to finish the processes quickly and reduce the stress. It is essential that early risk-assessment processes include identification of communication difficulties so that their impact on risk assessment can be managed.
This issue links Amendment 46 to Amendments 51 and 52. The Minister has assured us that in statutory guidance there will be instructions on this. However, for 10 years I have been trying to impress on the criminal justice system that until and unless the communication difficulties of these youngsters are properly assessed, there is no entry to any literacy, numeracy or other assessment. The communication problem is the scourge of the 21st century. It has crept up on us and we must stop it. There has been a mass of assurance that this is going to happen—this regulation and that instruction—but I am cynical about this and dearly wish to see it in the Bill. People will know then what is required and can begin to cost it.
My last point is that I am very concerned that Clause 48 passes the buck of education provision for those in youth detention to LEAs. On 21 July, I handed a document called Young Offenders: A Secure Foundation to the Minister, Maria Eagle, in the Ministry of Justice. It was published by the Foyer Federation and concerns the costs of youth offender institutions. It proves that the Government are consistently understating the costs of managing young offender institutions. Instead of the quoted cost of between £48,000 and £67,000, the true cost is £100,000 a year and possibly more. Therefore, the Youth Justice Board’s budget is currently £120 million less than the true cost. What worries me is that when the true cost is passed to the local education authorities, they are going to find that there is not enough provision to do all the things that have to be done. This Bill is making that situation worse because it lacks any clarity as to who is to do what, other than mentioning all these new organisations which are going to assume funding responsibilities. I know I have said this over and again—I have been banging on for 10 years now—but I hope that at last the Government will listen and put something right which could have been put right years ago.
My Lords, I strongly support what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has said and I think the House should listen to him. Few people have as much experience of the Prison Service as he has.
This is the only occasion on Report when we have the opportunity to debate this extraordinary proposal to transfer the education of young offenders from the Prison Service and Home Office, and now the Ministry of Justice, to local authorities. It has not been possible to know how this is going operate in practice from the actual words in the legislation, even from the Explanatory Notes. I was, therefore, grateful to the Minister for publishing last Friday LA Guidance—Learning for Young People in Youth Custody in England, which runs to 44 pages. It is extraordinary on a Bill of this importance that only at almost the last stage—Report in the House of Lords—this information has been made available. What did the Commons do when it discussed these matters, or was this part not discussed in the Commons at all because of the guillotine? This is the first time the House has any idea how this extraordinary policy is going to be implemented.
I downloaded the 44 pages on Saturday evening on my House of Lords printer. It took 20 minutes. Then I settled down to read it, denying myself the chance of watching “Strictly Come Dancing” and “The X Factor”—it was a happy release. I now understand what the Government are trying to do, but this is an incomplete document. On 12 different pages it says things such as,
“need to add further detail”,
“add detail on requirement about literacy and numeracy assessments”.
Annexe 1 takes the biscuit, stating that,
“this section will explain the roles and responsibilities to the different organisations and partners involved”.
The page is a complete and utter blank. Those of you who have read The Hunting of the Snark will know that a snark’s map is a perfect and absolute blank. This is a snark’s map. How are we going to understand how this works? I then found an extraordinary statement on Page 3:
“add link—a drat is due to be issued for consultation in November”.
A drat? I wondered what a drat was. I turned to the glossary. Did “drat” mean “a definite rational and actual training”? Was it just an expletive? It was, of course, a spelling mistake. Even on page 3 they cannot get the spelling right. None of the officials or Ministers noticed it. They published it. This is absolutely typical of how this Bill has been handled throughout its progress in this House. Hardly a week has passed without two long letters from Ministers explaining how the Bill will operate. I do not blame the Ministers. They are the poor custodians of a very poor policy, and they have been given the job of trying to explain it to everybody. But this really is not the way that legislation should be addressed.
At the heart, what is this Bill going to do? It is going to deal first with 7,000 young offenders who are admitted into custody each year. At any one time about 2,600 are actually in custody in 15 young offender institutions, four secure training centres or nine secure children’s homes, and there are two more in Wales. How long do they stay there? Some only stay for a week or a few days. The average is three to four months. Some stay much longer, up to two years. So how will this Bill operate?
At the moment, these young offenders are provided with education and training by the Prison Service. This Bill gives to the local authorities where the offenders have lived, not where the institution is, a duty to promote the fulfilment of the young person’s learning potential while they are in custody and on their release. How will this work? Let us suppose a young offender from Essex is sent to the young offender institution in Wigan. As one of the largest in the country, Hindley takes more than 400 young offenders. As soon as that young offender from Essex—let us call him Mr Bloggs—arrives in Hindley, it has to write to Essex and say, “Do you know about Mr Bloggs?”. Essex might find that Mr Bloggs left school at the age of 11 and that it has had no track or record of him since, and the lad may not remember the name of the school that he went to. We are dealing with these sorts of people. Wigan then has to find out how intelligent Mr Bloggs is by doing a literacy and numeracy assessment within two or three days. Then it has to try and find out what he would like to study and send that information back to Essex. Essex then has to devise an individual learning programme for this person in Wigan. That is going to involve huge bureaucracy. Can an individual learning programme for a young offender be identified and written without anybody going from Essex to Wigan to talk to that young offender? Who is going to bear the cost of that? It will be the Essex local education authority. And Essex being what it is will not have just one Mr Bloggs. It will probably have 20, 30 or 40 at any one time, not only in Wigan but in several other young offender institutions. So you are throwing a huge responsibility on local education authorities.
What are the difficulties in discharging that? There might be early leavers, as I have said, who played truant and bunked off at 11, 12 or 13. These young offenders might be itinerant. It might be difficult to track down where they have been educated. They might say that they last lived in Essex but were, in fact, only in Essex for two or three months and then they went down to Devon or to Birmingham or Leeds. When you assess what that young person needs, suppose he decides in Wigan that he would like practical training in plumbing and Wigan does not do plumbing. Suppose he wants training in some other function that the young offender institution cannot provide. If Essex says, “He wants to be trained in plumbing”, what are you going to do? Bring in plumbers to Wigan with all their equipment to do this? This is so utterly typically unrealistic. Suppose that young person is transferred to another young offender institution, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, knows, can be quite common. All this has to be gone through again.
You have this extraordinary dichotomy between the host local authority where the young offender institution is and the place where the offender is deemed to live. It is the host authority that has to provide the education. It has to commission the tutors or provide the teaching classes or workshops. But in order to do that, it has to speak to the Youth Justice Board, which has to approve the resources to be provided. Who will pay for those, the YJB or the host authority? Why should the host authority incur capital costs when they do not particularly want to do it? Where is the money going to come from?
I do not think that the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, was in the Chamber when the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, was speaking, I assure her that she mentioned local authorities and host authorities repeatedly. If she had been here, she would have heard it. She can hear it from me now.
That is the dichotomy of this arrangement. I do not think that it can work administratively. After the Youth Justice Board has worked out what it has to do with the host authority, it has to get the approval of the children’s trust, the sub-regional groups and the national regional groups. That extraordinary bureaucracy has been created by this part of the Bill.
When a young offender is released, the local authority where he is supposed to have lived has to devise a training programme for him wherever he goes, even if he does not go back to Essex. Who devised that policy? I cannot believe that it came from the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office or the Prison Service. Did it come from the education department—the DCSF—or the business or skills departments? In those days, I think business and skills were under the education department. It is clear that this has not been thought through very carefully. It is an immensely bureaucratic structure. At Third Reading, it would be sensible for the House to postpone for two years the implementation of these cla