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English Apprenticeships (Consequential Amendments to Primary Legislation) Order 2015

Volume 765: debated on Tuesday 27 October 2015

Motion to Consider

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the English Apprenticeships (Consequential Amendments to Primary Legislation) Order 2015.

Relevant document: 3rd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

My Lords, this draft order is technical and makes relatively minor amendments as a consequence of the insertion of Chapter A1, relating to apprenticeships, into Part 1 of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 by the Deregulation Act 2015. Chapter A1, among other things, defines an “approved English apprenticeship”, provides for approved apprenticeship standards which will set out the outcomes that those seeking to complete an approved English apprenticeship will be expected to achieve, and confirms that an approved English apprenticeship agreement is to be treated as a contract of service.

I shall explain the amendments this draft order makes to two pieces of legislation. The amendments are required as a consequence of the changes that I have just set out. It is important that these changes are made so that, where necessary, references within other primary legislation refer to the newly introduced “approved English apprenticeships”, “approved English apprenticeship agreements” and/or “alternative English apprenticeships”. First, the draft order makes two amendments to the Education Act 1996, in respect of provisions which set out certain duties of English local authorities relating to the education and training of persons over compulsory school age, so that apprenticeships under the new statutory apprenticeship scheme are treated in the same way as those under the previous statutory apprenticeship scheme.

Specifically, this means that when a local authority in England is making a determination in relation to the apprenticeship training needed to meet its obligation to provide suitable education and training to meet the reasonable needs of those over compulsory school age and under 19, and those over 19 for whom an education, health and care plan is maintained, it will be able to take into account the provision of approved English apprenticeships. In addition, when a local authority encourages employers within its area to participate in the provision of training to young people, that encouragement can include reference to an “approved English apprenticeship agreement”.

Secondly, the draft order amends the Education and Skills Act 2008 in respect of a duty on certain young people in England to participate in education or training in England, so that apprenticeships under the new statutory apprenticeship scheme are treated in the same way as those under the previous statutory apprenticeship scheme. Specifically, this means that a young person can discharge their duty to participate in education or training by participating in training in accordance with an approved English apprenticeship agreement.

Taken together, these measures will update the primary legislation in question to reflect reforms already made to the Government’s apprenticeships scheme. I commend this draft order to the Committee.

My Lords, I have nothing to complain about in the substance of what the Minister has just indicated. Raising the participation age makes sense. However, I have recently expressed my concern in at least one debate about the recent Ofsted report which said that a number of apprenticeships were failing to meet standards. That should be of real concern to a Government who I know are committed to apprenticeships and to raising their quality. The problem is that this is the old story about checking against delivery. There has never been a perfect situation where all apprenticeships were right, but the report from Ofsted is worrying. It distinguished between the kind of apprenticeships that you get in retail and social care, and those in engineering and other types of apprenticeships. It said that most problems were in those to which I referred first—in retail and social care.

I was discussing this issue recently with someone who has experience in this field. They told me that, for instance, in some cases the amount of time that training providers have for each apprenticeship is pitifully low. I cannot remember whether they were saying that it was an hour a week or an hour a month, but it was very low. If we are serious about improving the standards of apprenticeships and the perception that people have of them—that they are just as good a route as an academic one—we really cannot afford to be complacent.

I also raised on a previous occasion what was perhaps an even more worrying occurrence, where an apprentice was sent out one day to work in a factory and never returned home, as a result of an appalling industrial accident. I had an exchange of correspondence with the Minister but I cannot say that it made me feel any more sanguine about the treatment of young apprentices. He said that there is a duty on the employer: well, we know that. But surely there is also a duty on us all, and on the training provider, to ensure that if they send a young person to a particular location, they will have checked out whether the employer is reliable and responsible. I do not expect the Minister to give me all the answers today because this is not an easy problem to solve.

To sum up, we must ensure the quality of apprenticeships; not just talking about it, but ensuring that we have a system and a process in place so that we can say with confidence to young people and their parents that when they embark on an apprenticeship, not only will the quality of the training be first class but the safety of the young person will be assured. I think that we have a lot to do in this area. If we are serious about pushing the target up to 3 million—I assume that the Government are serious—which is very ambitious, we should note that a number of people have expressed their concerns by saying: never mind the quantity, it is the quality that we have to ensure. I am just as keen as the Government to increase the number of apprenticeships, but I would like an assurance that the Minister will check that we have put the right procedures in place to ensure both the quality and the safety of apprenticeships.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, is of course second to none in his support for and encouragement of apprenticeships. Next week, we will come to a very substantial discussion of apprenticeships during our consideration in Committee of the Enterprise Bill, of which this order may be an hors d’oeuvre, and maybe not even that. All I would like to be certain of, and I am sure that my noble friend will be able to give me this assurance, is that what we are doing in this piece of legislation will not inhibit or restrict our debates on the clauses that relate to apprenticeships in the Enterprise Bill, which I suspect we will get to on either Monday or Wednesday of next week in Committee.

My Lords, the noble Lord who has just spoken paid tribute to my noble friend Lord Young’s continuing interest in and support for the apprenticeship movement. His words carry much weight in these areas. I have only four small questions for the noble Earl in what I take to be more of an amuse bouche than a first course, because we will be returning to these matters in the Enterprise Bill next Wednesday—if we make a little more progress than we did yesterday.

The first question is on almost the same point that has just been raised, which is that in this statutory instrument we are closer to finding an approved English apprenticeship only to see it removed and replaced by the statutory English apprenticeship in the Enterprise Bill, although obviously the dates will vary. When he comes to respond, perhaps the noble Earl could give us a sense of how this is going to segue from one to the other and what changes there will be in practice in terms of what the Bill says and what is currently meant by this statutory instrument. I suspect that that is a slightly longer piece than will be possible in this discussion, so I am happy for him to write to me.

My second point is that in paragraph 10 of the Explanatory Memorandum on the impact, the statement is made that:

“A separate full regulatory impact assessment has not been prepared for this consequential instrument because no impact on the private, public or voluntary sectors is foreseen separate to that already covered by the substantive provisions in the Act”.

That is fine, but unfortunately I am not very good at keeping my files and I could not find the impact assessment for the original Act, and clearly there is a hint here that there were some costs as a result of this change. Perhaps the noble Earl could dig it out—I see a little bit of panic behind him, so perhaps it will take a few days. However, if at some point I could have some indication of what the costs would be, I would be grateful for that.

My third question reinforces the point about quality that was made by my noble friend Lord Young. The Ofsted report on apprenticeships is extremely damning in many ways. It would be interesting to hear the reflections of the noble Earl on what lies behind the points made by my noble friend, which is that we can change the title all we want, but if we do not raise standards or change the nature of what is happening, we will be in trouble. I would like some assurances that the simple change in nomenclature, which is what appears to be happening here, is in fact covered by more action on the part of his department in terms of trying to ensure that standards in apprenticeship training rise and will indeed, it is hoped, eventually get to the point where we are talking about parity of esteem between the academic and the non-academic or vocational routes so that we can in truth have a fully integrated system of further education, complementing those who choose the academic route, but also open to those who wish to switch between the two strains.

The final point is my familiar trope on implementation dates. I appreciate that we are talking about a minor change that is consequent on a piece of legislation which is soon to be overtaken, but the Government have signed up to common commencement dates for the implementation of activities that will put a burden on business. This statutory instrument appears to come in 21 days after the order is made, which presumably will be tomorrow or the day after, and therefore will come in in late October, which is not one of the two commencement dates, which are, as I am sure the noble Earl will be aware, 1 October and 6 April. Why was this not brought forward only a matter of days to 1 October? Given its simplicity and apparently innocuousness in terms of changing things, why on earth did the department not get its act together for 1 October? Given that it is inconsequential and will shortly be overtaken by another Act, why did the noble Earl not wait until 6 April?

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this short debate.

I should probably refer at first to the mention by the noble Lord, Lord Young, of the Ofsted report. This does apply, as the noble Lord is aware, to old frameworks. We are addressing these issues now as part of the reform programme in the Enterprise Bill, among other legislation. The Ofsted report criticises the quality of the existing provisions, and not those that have been designed and put in place by employers through our reforms. We are committed to creating the 3 million apprenticeships by the end of the Parliament, but this will not be at the expense of quality.

We are ensuring that each apprenticeship is a paid job with substantial and sustained on and off-the-job training, lasting a minimum of 12 months. As we have said before, we will legislate to provide protection for the term “apprenticeship”. Under the new trailblazers scheme, employers are designing new, high-quality apprenticeships that address the specific skills requirements of their sectors. We are putting purchasing power in the hands of businesses and allowing employers to choose from which provider they buy training.

The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, mentioned statutory apprenticeships. What he said is not the case. Statutory apprenticeships include the existing apprenticeship programmes, which are included in the standards and frameworks. The noble Lord also asked about costs. These are consequential amendments and so no costs are associated.

My Lords, that is an immensely cheering thought, but it is not what I said. I said that the impact assessment has not been provided for this statutory instrument because it has been said that the calculations were done in respect of the original Bill. Since I have lost my impact statement for the original Bill, I would be grateful if the noble Earl could confirm what those costs were, so that I am reassured on that point.

If that is not available by the end of this debate, I will write to the noble Lord.

There was also concern over the quality of apprenticeships, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Young. We are improving quality. This is central to our reforms. Employers are developing new standards to ensure that apprenticeships meet the skills needed by their sectors. The published trailblazer quality statement sets out a range of measures to retain and improve quality, including the requirement for all apprenticeships to last at least 12 months. The new standards will replace existing complex frameworks, with short, simple, accessible standards written by employers in a language they understand. Quality and safety, the two underlying points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Young, must be at the front of these reforms.

My noble friend Lord Hodgson asked whether the order had any effect on the Enterprise Bill going through the House. It does not.

I welcome this debate on the issues that have been raised and I thank noble Lords for their contributions.

I heard what the Minister said—that the Ofsted inspection related to previous frameworks—but that still does not reassure me that we have got a grip. Just because employers write a short, simple description of training does not give me any reassurance that we really have a handle on quality.

The noble Lord is right in saying that this is an hors d’oeuvre—although I would not like to refer to it in that way, because it sounds a bit flippant. I was giving the Minister the opportunity to go away and have a look at this matter, because I intend to raise it again on the Enterprise Bill. I urge him to have a careful, close look—never mind that we have “new frameworks” or that the employer is writing these new, simple standards. I do not quarrel with that, provided that there is a genuine programme. My concern is that here we have training providers, who go and find an employer, and the supervision after that is pretty minimal, as I have been told. We need to ensure that there is a process whereby we can guarantee every single employer has been fully investigated, has a track record in applying a proper training programme and is not just exploiting young people for cheap labour—and also that there is a safe working environment.

I am not asking the Minister for a response here today, as that would be unreasonable, but I am trying to provide him with an opportunity to go away and have a look at the process. If he can come back to me between now and that part of the Enterprise Bill with some written information, it would further the debate.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Young, for that point. Yes, this matter will be looked at very carefully before the next stage of the Enterprise Bill, and I shall discuss it with the Minister taking it through this House.

I do not think that the Minister has responded to me about the commencement dates issue. If he cannot do so today, can he please confirm it in writing to me?

Motion agreed.