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Apprenticeships (Alternative English Completion Conditions) Regulations 2012

Volume 736: debated on Wednesday 25 April 2012

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved By

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Apprenticeships (Alternative English Completion Conditions) Regulations 2012.

Relevant document: 42nd Report from the Joint Committee of Statutory Instruments.

My Lords, apprenticeships are synonymous with employment. It is the experience of genuine employment that sets an apprenticeship apart from most other forms of vocational training. It is the fact that apprentices have a unique opportunity to learn from one or more mentors and to develop, practise and hone real occupational skills which gives them a real head start in their careers. We all, I am sure, can envisage an apprentice working alongside the mentor or master, watching, copying and refining their skills. For his part, the master will demonstrate, guide and correct the apprentice’s work. Both apprentice and employer have a real stake in the apprentice’s development and success.

When this Administration came into office, approximately 21 per cent of 16 to 18 year-old apprentices were on a programme-led apprenticeship. This meant that one-fifth of our younger apprentices were not employed and did not get paid. Following the initiative of the previous Government to introduce statutory apprenticeships, we went ahead with that work and last year we stopped funding programme-led apprenticeships. The introduction of the apprenticeship agreement regulations in April of this year will end the few remaining programme-led apprenticeships. This means that we can be increasingly confident that apprentices following our statutory programme will be employed and remunerated.

However, this House agreed to make provision for limited exceptions to the requirement for apprentices to be employed. That is why we are here today—to agree those circumstances as specified in these regulations. This issue was thoroughly debated during the passage of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act. The proposed exceptions fall into three categories, the first being where employed status is not the norm. This applies in a very small number of jobs or occupational areas. Apprentices in this category covered by the regulations will be engaged in specified occupations following a specified framework. A characteristic of such apprenticeships is that they will be supported by experienced colleagues involved in a collective venture— for example, share fishermen.

Secondly, there are those employed apprentices who are made redundant during the course of the apprenticeship. In such a difficult economic climate it would be unfair further to penalise people who have lost the opportunity to complete their apprenticeship through no fault of their own. Knowing that they can complete their apprenticeship, even if they are not able to find alternative paid employment, will, I am sure, offer some consolation. The regulations provide that they may complete their apprenticeship within six months of the date of their redundancy by working other than for reward—for example, by working in a voluntary or unpaid capacity. Having completed their apprenticeship, they should be better placed in the labour market.

Thirdly, we have considered the unique position of our elite athletes. Apprentices undertaking the Advanced Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence with a view to competing in the Olympic, Paralympic or Commonwealth Games are covered by this final category. In the year of the London Olympics, we are reminded of how important it is to support young athletes to develop their skills. We have sought to ensure clarity over which sports and games are included in these regulations. They must be listed as an official sport from one of the Games mentioned and they must not be from a sport in which we would expect an apprentice to be employed. Such business sports include cricket and football. Apprentices in business sports will still be able to access apprenticeships using the standard conditions.

I hope that noble Lords will agree that these regulations balance the Government’s desire for apprentices to be employed with the need to allow for some flexibility in those circumstances where employment is not possible. That is what this House expects and it helps to enhance the quality of the learning experience by allowing apprentices to apply their blossoming skills as they work. This is also consistent with recent announcements introducing a minimum duration of 12 months for apprenticeships undertaken by 16 to 18 year-olds, and for adults unless they have prior relevant qualifications. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for explaining the reasoning behind the regulations. I reinforce again my commitment to apprenticeships, which are hugely important across whatever aspect of work people are able to secure. Apprenticeships are a wonderful way of learning. As the Minister rightly said, mentoring and the passing on of skills and knowledge are crucial in all this.

I apologise for not taking part in the Bill to which the Minister referred. Looking at Schedule 1, I was intrigued to see the fishing industry, which relates to the Minister’s background, listed. I rise to speak to ask for a little more clarification on that. One of the things that struck me was that the fishing industry, which the Minister knows so well, sometimes has restrictions on the days when it can sail. Therefore, I wondered whether there was enough flexibility for the apprentice to be able to complete their six months within six months or whether, under those circumstances—maybe because the ship cannot go out to sea—they could take a longer period. I am not being critical; it is because of my own ignorance that I am raising this particular issue.

Another question arises: if, for any reason, the person is made redundant for obviously commercial reasons, is that apprentice then able to transfer to another fisherman, for example, and reallocate the time that they have done already, or do they have to start afresh? I may have missed this when I was looking through the papers on this order, but I am not clear and I seek clarification.

I agree with the Minister that this is a unique opportunity. It is a shame that, over many years, apprenticeships have been perhaps underrated and undervalued. I am glad that the Government have taken up the role and are much more committed to encouraging and promoting apprenticeships. However, I seek clarification from the Minister.

My Lords, I too would like to thank the Minister for her explanation of the statutory instrument and I apologise for arriving late. The Committee moved on more quickly than I had anticipated.

I have two questions. First, am I right in thinking that these alternative regulations apply to relatively few young people? Given that this is an Olympic year, perhaps the numbers under Schedule 3 are rather greater than they might otherwise be, but the numbers under Schedule 1 are relatively small. On the issue of those made redundant, it will be impossible to tell because we do not know who might be made redundant. However, the total number of young people to whom these instruments might apply is relatively small.

The other thing to note, of course, is that these regulations are the result of an amendment that was carried when we discussed the Bill. At that point, we discussed at some length what would happen to those who were made redundant, and this has been put in specifically to make sure that there is a way forward for those who have more or less completed their apprenticeships. I am very pleased to see that. Perhaps the Minister could respond on the relative numbers in relation to the total number of apprenticeships.

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for her explanation. I make no apologies for repeating a number of questions and concerns expressed by my honourable friend in the other place, Mr Gordon Marsden, as we—the royal “we”—are still awaiting written responses from the Minister.

On the question of quality, I was looking at the report of the Eighth Delegated Legislation Committee and read through the Minister’s contribution. At one point, he said:

“There are those who feel that I have gone too far on quality”.—[Official Report, Commons, Eighth Delegated Legislation Committee, 17/4/12; col. 3.]

I do not think that we have gone too far on quality, even allowing for a certain amount of his ministerial flamboyance, as I would describe it, in a nice way. I do not question his integrity or commitment on this issue but I do think there is no room for complacency

I listened carefully to what the noble Baroness said in her opening statement, where she described a fairly traditional approach to an apprenticeship. I do not know if noble Lords had the opportunity to watch a recent “Panorama” programme on apprenticeships which showed, unfortunately, a significant amount of exploitation of young people, who were led to believe that they were going to get training from this particular subcontractor. There was little or no training whatever. It was in no way the kind of quality we should expect.

I know that the National Apprenticeship Service is probably still investigating this, but I refer to it to re-emphasise the point that the Minister talked about. It is not just a question of quantity. I have seen some of the figures and I welcome the increase in apprenticeships. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that apprenticeships were certainly not underrated or undervalued by the previous Government. Our record speaks for itself. Indeed, we were frequently, and quite rightly, challenged on figures and on this question of programme-led apprenticeships, which is why in the end we excluded those and said, “Look, it is not an apprenticeship unless there is an employment connection and it leads to a job”. I do not know whether the Minister is in a position to comment on the “Panorama” programme—I do not necessarily expect her to—but I would welcome written confirmation that there is some investigation going on.

The categories described in the statutory instrument are well defined, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, though there are not many of them. Given that we are talking about the category of self-employment, I do not challenge any of the occupations defined in Schedule 1. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, I was interested in the share fisherman. At first I wondered whether it was a typo, but I decided that, as it was repeated more than once, it was not “shore fisherman”, it really was “share fisherman”, and that it related to the catch. However, I think that even though these are established practices, they ought to be carefully monitored to ensure that they are following a structured programme, so that quality is maintained and we avoid any exploitation. If we read the description in the Explanatory Memorandum, these are examples where people are not necessarily on a weekly wage. I am concerned; it is said that monitoring and review will take place, but I would welcome assurance on that.

In relation to the Sporting Excellence framework, again, that is something that we encouraged. I was reflecting on the career of Rebecca Adlington, who was one of our success stories. I do not quarrel with that or with the list of sports. I tried to look up what exactly boccia is—however that is pronounced—but I am not sure that I have got a grip on that one. However, we have defined it in terms of the Olympics, Paralympics and Commonwealth Games, and yet many young athletes are preparing and training for events such as the World or European Championships as well. These events are staging posts, if you like. The recent World Championships in swimming are a good example of that. Therefore, in terms of enabling young people to qualify for one of these sporting excellences—the words “with a view to competing in one or more of the following” have been used—would that include events like the World Championships if that was to be seen as a preparatory stage? I would welcome some clarification on that.

My last point is on the question of redundancies. Again, this is something that we had to deal with. We had significant numbers of young people who were only part way through their apprenticeships when they were made redundant—usually in the construction industry—and we managed to deal with significant numbers of them with the help of the Construction Industry Training Board. We usually managed to find them either alternative employment or, in some cases, they finished in further education training colleges. I would be interested to know—this was a question put by my honourable friend in the other place—whether there are any figures or statistics on the numbers that have currently been affected. If the Minister does not have the figures now, I would welcome a written response.

Although I have expressed some caveats, we are not opposed to the general thrust and direction of this statutory instrument and I am happy to support it. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I thank everyone for taking part and asking some interesting and important questions. It is not necessarily the number of people who are in the Room but the questions that they ask, as I have discovered before in the Moses Room. I am always very careful when I see that there not many people here. It is usually the ones who really know what they are talking about who are.

I thank my noble friend Lady Byford for her question and for noting that I come from the fishing industry and am therefore interested. In opposition she led on Defra, so she knows the subject very well. Only sea fishing is covered by the maritime occupations in these regulations, namely share fisherfolk, crew and deck hands. The numbers are small. There were 30 apprenticeships in 2010-11. There has been no demand to develop other types of fishing apprenticeship. Officials will explore the potential to develop this sector further with the National Apprenticeship Service and the sector skills councils.

When I was in the industry I first knew about share fishing when my grandmother left me my little fleet of fishing boats. The captains of the boats said to me, “We’ll be share fishing, then”. I said, “Oh, right”. That meant that I got half of whatever catch came up to pay for the boat, the oil and everything else that was needed, while the other half went to them. It did not work terribly well so I think that what share fishing means has changed nowadays, but that is how it was explained.

It is sad that there is very little demand for apprenticeships in fishing now. I am delighted to see that the National Apprenticeship Service will explore this, particularly since I am involved with the National Lobster Hatchery in Cornwall. There are other ways of being in the fishing industry, along the lines of research into what we used to call fish farming but is now carried out wild at sea. Certainly, in the lobster hatchery it is being done as a scientific project. That area has moved to what look like scientific apprenticeships but are about the fishing industry, which may explain why we do not have more figures than that. I will look into that for my own information and see if we can find a better answer in the future.

My noble friend Lady Byford then talked about the fishing transfer. As she suggested, a fishing apprenticeship would take place over a longer period, as required to complete the training. Six months applies only to redundancy. Those made redundant can transfer their apprenticeship to another employer. However, although a fishing apprenticeship is about going to sea and fishing, in my experience apprentices also spend time on the quay, learning how to look after their nets, selling their catch and learning how to grade their catch. It is not just about days at sea and seamanship but their workmanship with the fish that they catch and the things that they have to use. I hope that that is helpful; it certainly gave me the opportunity to get an answer as well.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, asked about the numbers affected by redundancy. I am told that we do not collect data on this. Surveys tell us that less than 5 per cent of the total number of apprenticeship starts finish in that way. However, we are considering what measures to put in place to collect these data. I thank the noble Baroness for that question.

I come now to the noble Lord, Lord Young. I have a note here from an expert whom I know the noble Lord recalls from his days as a Minister, which says, “A written and, I expect, flamboyant response from John Hayes will follow. However, I will attempt to address some of your questions now”.

As to the “Panorama” programme, my honourable friend the Minister for Apprenticeships has commissioned a detailed investigation into the cases identified by “Panorama” and the National Apprenticeship Service will report in the coming weeks on its findings. We are committed to rooting out and eradicating poor quality wherever it is identified, continuing the work that the noble Lord, Lord Young, and his people did before.

As to the monitoring and review of these regulations, the National Apprenticeship Service works in partnership with sector skills councils and other sector bodies and keeps the need for exemptions under review. The regulations will be formally reviewed every 12 months.

We considered the World Championships with DCMS, but the thinking at the moment is that to include not formally recognised sports would be too open-ended. On balance, we have decided to restrict it to only Olympic, Paralympic and Commonwealth sports. I am sure that if the noble Lord, Lord Young, were to pursue this matter we would no doubt look at it again, if provoked.

All I was trying to point out is that this year is a good example because the World Championships were definitely a preparatory stage for the Olympics. Indeed, selection for the Olympics often depended on a person’s performance in the World Championships.

All I am making a plea for—I am not expecting this to be a negotiating session and for the Minister to say, “Yes, that is perfectly okay”, because I understand that there will be cost implications—is that it should be recognised that the Olympics come every four years, people prepare for them and that ought to be taken into account. For these sporting excellence apprenticeships, it depends how the phrase about working towards competing in the Olympics is interpreted. Perhaps the Minister will take that aspect away.

It is nice to see a wise adviser, who I remember from my days, still actively assisting the Minister.

I am sure that he has noted that.

I thank everyone for the time they have given and the contributions they have made. If I have missed anything, obviously they will have picked it up and we will take it back. There is clearly consensus on the underlying principle that apprentices must be employed. These regulations do not undermine that principle but, rather, they acknowledge that there are only a limited number of circumstances where we will accept that apprentices are not employed in order to complete their apprenticeships. Setting out those circumstances clearly in these regulations can serve only to ensure that the vast majority of apprentices will benefit from employed status and will help stamp out the ambiguity that has been a feature of the programme in the past. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 5.44 pm.